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The Nation

In France, Running Against Bush

PARIS -- American elections do not usually turn on the question of how the candidates for president propose to relate to foreign countries.

But elections in other countries often feature debates about how potential presidents or prime ministers might relate to the U.S.

That is certainly the case in France where the two contenders in today's presidential contest have taken distinctly different stances with regard to whether France should maintain or alter what are now relatively strained relations with the U.S.

The issue is not anti-Americanism versus pro-Americanism, as the sillier U.S. commentators might suggest. France actually has reasonably good relations with the U.S., which is generally an ally of the European state. U.S. and French troops have fought side-by-side in Afghanistan and shared intelligence in the war on terror. They have reasonably solid trade relations and deep cultural ties going back to the days when the French were essential backers of the American revolution..

Rather, the issue is whether France should maintain an explicit policy of setting her own agenda when it comes to international affairs or follow the lead of Tony Blair's Britain and establish a policy of generally deferring to Washington -- even when the leaders there may be less than competent. Far from being offended by froeign leaders who seek to keep their distance from the U.S. and its presidents, Americans should recognize the value of having international allies who are willing to speak bluntly about what they think to be mistaken policies of a U.S, president.

The Socialist Party candidate, Segolene Royal, has made French independence in international affairs an central focus of her campaign. At a rally in Toulouse, before 17,OOO cheering supporters, she declared, "We will not genuflect before George W. Bush. In Europe, we will defend the emergence of a multi-polar world, safe from the imperial temptations of another age."

There have been no such statements from the conservative front runner in the race, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy is no Blair-like puppet. He allows as how "the messianic side of Americans can be tiresome."

But the conservative has distanced himself from retiring President Jacques Chirac's policy of distancing the French from the Bush administration. Sarkozy, who served with Chirac and has the outgoing president's endorsement, says he shares the current president's opposition to the war in Iraq. But he also talks about wanting to "rebuild the transatlantic relationship" with the U.S., and protests that "profound, sincere and unfailing" French relations with the U.S. do not amount to submission.

Royal is not so sure.

Referring to a trip to Washington on which Sarkozy met with Bush and requested that they be photographed together, she says, "I shall not be the one to shake George Bush's hand like nothing happened [in the sometimes bitter pre-war debate over Iraq], without a word on our tactical and strategic disagreements in fighting religious extremism and terrorism.

Specifically, Royal says, "I am not for a Europe that allies with the U.S. I have never been, and will never. apologize to President Bush for the position of France on the issue of refusing to send troops to Iraq."

Sarkozy denies making any apologies. He says that, under his leadership, France would be an independent player that would not be afraid to tell U.S. presidents when they are wrong.

But that has not stopped Royal's backers from trying to chip away at Sarkozy's popular appeal -- most of which appears to be rooted in the appeal of his tough approach to domestic issues such as crime and immigration -- by referring to him as "an American neo-conservative with a French passport." and producing a 9O-page review of Sarkozy's links with U.S. right wingers that refers to the conservative candidate as a "French unit of Bush & Company."

Linking Sarkozy to Bush is smart politics for Royal and her backers, According to a recent poll for the Paris newspaper Le Monde, the American president has a six percent approval rating in France.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Conservatism Crashes and Burns

Before the GOP candidates auditioned for the Republican nomination, the Campaign for America's Future held a great debate between the American Prospect's Bob Kuttner and the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol on an apt subject: "Can Conservatives be Trusted to Govern?"

Kristol had the misfortune of standing behind a podium with a large red "Con" sign. That pretty much summed things up. "I feel that I'm here to adopt that poor orphan," he joked at the beginning.

The crowd--and the political momentum--was on Kuttner's side. "The Bush era was conservatism's moment," he said. "It all crashed and burned."

Like the GOP candidates, Kristol's opening statement included a spirited defense of Ronald Reagan yet barely mentioned George W. Bush. "Reagan stopped being President eighteen years ago," Kuttner rebutted. He should tell that to the Republican presidential hopefuls in California.

Kristol wouldn't back down from his vociferous support of the war in Iraq, which he helped engineer. But he was pessimistic about the GOP's chances to retain the White House. "I bet right now that the odds are better than 50-50 that Republicans will lose in '08," he said.

And for a man who edits the Weekly Standard, Kristol seemed almost praiseworthy toward the Clinton's. "A decade of Rubinomics followed by a decade of Reaganomics--I'm fine with that," he said of the Clinton's economic policy and their guru Bob Rubin. On Iraq, he yearned for a Democrat who'd make George Bush's war a bipartisan affair. Sadly, Joe Lieberman is not running for President again.

Kristol ended by invoking his father Irving's old saying that a neoconservative is a "liberal mugged by reality." Soon it might be the other way around.

A (Small) Measure of Sanity

Yesterday, the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee proposed cutting $764 million from the Pentagon's $8.9 billion request for missile defense programs in Fiscal year 2008. Included in the cuts were $160 million from the missile defense system in Europe which would "temporarily halt" construction of silos in Poland but permit continuation of the ground-based radar in the Czech Republic and the R&D on the missile interceptors.

According to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, subcommittee Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher said there needs to be debate on "Eastern European deployment…adding that the administration is trying to go around NATO while ‘we should be working within NATO….'"

But even these minimal cuts might not hold. The subcommittee's ranking member, Republican Rep. Terry Everett, hopes that the money for the Polish site will eventually be restored and Republican Rep. Trent Franks said he was "dumbfounded" by the cuts and will offer amendments when the full House Armed Services Committee meets next week.

"If this cut holds, it affects the third interceptor site in Poland – the interceptors in Alaska and California are already deployed – but it doesn't kill it entirely," says Victoria Samson, Research Analyst at the Center for Defense Information. "The funding exists to start doing R&D on the proposed interceptors and leaves open the possibility for future cooperation on the Polish site."

Another critical and perhaps less noticed cut was $10 million for the proposed insidiously named Space Test Bed. According to a CDI report co-authored by Samson "this [program] would represent the first dedicated spacebased weapons program since 1993." The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) proposes spending $290 million on this system through FY13. (It is notable that the MDA reduced its request for FY08 from $45 million to $10 million which raises these questions: are other programs doing background research for the Space Test Bed on the down low? Or perhaps the work has been classified?)

"I'm glad to see that the entire FY08 budget for the proposed Space Test Bed is gone," Samson says, "let's see how that holds up in the budgetary process. This funding would weaponize space by stealth – a move that merits a serious debate of the pros and cons, as well as an acknowledgement of the potential consequences."

Debate? Acknowledgement of consequences? Both are in short supply in the New Cold War. If your representative is a member of the House Armed Services Committee let him or her know these cuts need to be retained – and new ones identified. Spending billions on a new nuclear arsenal, and a system that raises fears of a first strike capability, is no way to promote peace.

Why Is Oliver North Still Involved in the Middle East?

I receive scores of letters each week--some via snail mail, some by e-mail. Here's one I thought worth sharing. I suspect there are many people who, like this US sailor (and for the sake of privacy, I'm not sharing his name) want to know how the hell Oliver North is "in any way involved in any situation in the Middle East." As a service to this good sailor, and others who care about how those who shamed our country in the Iran-Contra scandal are back in this White House, I am attaching a few choice links to Nation articles and other sources.

.....

17 April 1007

To whoever is reading this...

I am currently a US Sailor aboard the USS John C Stennis operating in the Persian Gulf. I read your magazine a lot as I am currently enrolled in your subscription.

I am doing fine, I will be getting an honorable discharge this August as long as I don't do anything stupid and just do my job and stay out of trouble. I can't say I have enjoyed the military as it has its ups and downs. But I am proud of the fact that I have served my country as patriotic intentions were the reason for my enlistment. I have no regrets.

The main reason why I am writing is cause of a man I see on the news known as Oliver North. I had no clue who this man was or what he was about. My supervisor was outraged at the fact that he is a war commentator and speaking on the issues of strategies of warfare.

My supervisor educated me a bit on the Iran-Contra affair. Is there any possible way that The Nation magazine could run a small article explaining what Oliver North is about and the whole Iran-Contra affair. It is one thing to hear it from one person, but it's another to hear it from a group. I don't get any internet access to check it out myself, and if I do, I use it to check my accounts and pay bills. And if Oliver North is speaking out on the issue, who the hell is he to even be any way involved in any situation in the Middle East?

Any inputs would be nice. You can also email me with some education.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

GR (USN)

LINKS

Wikipedia Article

Iran/Contra Rehab: David Corn 2002

From Iran-Contra to Iraq

Iran/Contra: 20 Years Later

 

America's Mayor?

It's GOP Debate night and I'm dreading the idea of having to watch the Seven Dwarves (plus three) duke it out at the Reagan Library. I'm heading uptown in a taxi to an "Obama for Women" event (more on that later) --and my taxi driver looks like he's straight out of a Scorsese film. He's railing against Giuliani. "You know what we New York City taxi drivers used to call Rudy--Adolph or Benito," he cackles. "I can't wait for the rest of the country to find out who this guy really is."

 

Habeas Corpus is Missing

For the past seven years, George Bush has repeatedly violated the Constitution. Even worse, Congress has knowingly let it happen.

There's been the legalization of torture, warrantless wiretaps and the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which gives the president absolute power to decide who is an enemy of the US, to imprison people indefinitely without charging them with a crime, and to define what is -- and what is not -- torture and abuse.

This act represented an unprecedented attack on the basic system of habeas corpus--a fundamental Constitutional right that protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment. Translated from Latin it means "show me the body." It has acted historically as an important instrument to safeguard individual freedom against arbitrary executive power.

The MCA, passed by the Republican Congress soon before the 2006 elections, was sparked by the Supreme Court's ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the original military commission system established by President Bush to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay was unfair and illegal.

This wide-ranging legislation eliminated a cornerstone of the Constitution by depriving habeas corpus rights from certain individuals and allowing the US government to continue to hold hundreds of prisoners indefinitely and without recourse.

In response, the Restoring the Constitution Act, introduced by Senator and Presidential candidate Christopher Dodd, Congressman Jerrold Nadler and Congresswoman Jane Harman restores habeas corpus and due process to detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and to other detainees held by the federal government.

Moreover, this bill would prevent the current and future presidents from making up their own rules on torture, and make clear that the federal government must comply with the Geneva Conventions. The bill asserts that the Constitution is the law of the land -- and that no president can make up his or her own rules regarding torture and abuse.

The ACLU has created a website to help promote grassroots support for restoring the US Constitution. Sign the petition which will be delivered to Congress on June 26 (the one-year anniversary of the MCA's ratification), learn more about the issue, encourage others to get involved and implore your legislators to support Dodd and Nadler's bill. This is one issue left, right and center should agree on.

What If My Carrier Bumps Into Your Country?

At a news conference on Monday involving the President and European leaders, this exchange took place:

 

"Q: …[Y]our Secretary of State is going to a conference [on] Iraq where the Foreign Minister from Iran is going to be present. Do you expect her to have conversations with the Foreign Minister of Iran? What will she talk about? And if she does have a conversation, is there going to be a change of U.S. foreign policy?

 

"PRESIDENT BUSH: Should the Foreign Minister of Iran bump into Condi Rice, Condi won't be rude. She's not a rude person. I'm sure she'll be polite.

"But she'll also be firm in reminding this representative of the Iranian government that there's a better way forward for the Iranian people than isolation... [I]f, in fact, there is a conversation, it will be one that says if the Iranian government wants to have a serious conversation with the United States and others, they ought to give up their enrichment program in a verifiable fashion. And we will sit down at the table with them, along with our European partners, and Russia, as well. That's what she'll tell them."

 

So that, as far as we know, is the full diplomatic component of the Bush administration's Iran policy. Every nuance of that policy is regularly covered in the press. Take, for instance, a recent New York Times piece by Kirk Semple and Christine Hauser ("Iran to Attend Regional Conference"). It focused on Secretary of State Rice's comments on her willingness to talk with the Iranians, should she happen to "bump into" them. ("I would not rule it out.") Included in the piece was a brief version of the American laundry list of complaints about Iranian interference in Iraq ("The American military has said that some elements in Shiite-dominated Iran have been giving Shiite militants in Iraq powerful Iranian-made roadside bombs, as well as training in their use…"). Also mentioned was a knotty issue between the two countries -- the American kidnapping of five Iranian officials in Kurdish Iraq. ("…Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran's decision to attend the conference was not linked to any deal having to do with five Iranians who were detained in January by American troops in Irbil…").

But something was missing -- as it is regularly from American reporting on the U.S./Iranian face-off. The Bush administration is, at this very moment, sending a third aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz, to the Persian Gulf. Although the three carriers and their strike forces will add up to a staggering display of American military power off the Iranian coast, American journalists aren't much impressed. Evidently, it's not considered off the diplomatic page or particularly provocative to mass your carrier battle groups this way, despite the implicit threat to pulverize Iranian nuclear and other facilities. Journalistically speaking, this is both blindingly strange and the norm on our one-way planet. If Iranians send the materials to make some roadside bombs into Iraq (as the Bush administration, at least, continually claims is the case), it's a huge deal, if not an act of war; but put the most powerful fleet in history off the Iranian coast. No sweat.

By the way, talk about a foreign policy based on standing on one massive foot (or rather one massive combat boot)!

Since our media seems to have more or less forgotten about the Nimitz and all those ships gathering in the Gulf, Tomdispatch.com asked Michael Klare to offer an update on the situation. He writes: "Rest assured, unlike us, the Iranians have noticed. After all, with the arrival of the Nimitz battle group, the Bush administration will be -- for an unknown period of time -- in an optimal position to strike Iran with a punishing array of bombs and missiles should the President decide to carry out his oft-repeated threat to eliminate Iran's nuclear program through military action. ‘All options,' as the administration loves to say, remain ominously ‘on the table.'"

Republican vs. Republican on Iraq

On Monday a Washington Post headline read: "GOP's Base Helps Keep Unity on Iraq." By Thursday, following President Bush's veto of a Democratic war funding bill, the long-suppressed GOP divide on the war was spilling out into the open.

Most Republicans still oppose setting a timetable for withdrawal and only four in the Congress voted for the Democratic proposal. But now they are split on the question of "benchmarks"--whether to require Iraqis to meet certain political goals in order to keep receiving US military support.

"Obviously, the president would prefer a straight funding bill with no benchmarks, no conditions, no reports," said Senator Susan Collins of Maine told the Los Angeles Times. "Many of us, on both sides of the aisle, don't see that as viable."

Still other Republican supporters of the surge, like Senator Lindsey Graham, are trying to have it both ways. According to the Washington Post, Graham "said he would support adding benchmarks, but with no repercussions should Iraqis fall short."

Doesn't that defeat the purpose of having benchmarks in the first place? Without consequences what's the incentive for the militia-plagued, secterian-driven Iraqi government to hammer out a compromise? And while we're at it, isn't it time for US politicians to stop blaming Iraqis for the mess in Iraq? After all, it was the Bush Administration's war of choice that made a bad situation even worse.

LAPD Gone Wild. Again.

All of a sudden it looked like the bad old days this week in Los Angeles. A peaceful pro-immigration rally in the downtown area Tuesday descended into chaotic violence as the LAPD charged in swinging with batons and firing more than 200 rounds of foam bullets.

The melee was sparked when a small group of protestors, their faces covered in bandanas, broke off from the rally, blocked traffic and starting peppering riot-ready police with epithets and filled water bottles.

These antics which marred the wonderfully peaceful tone of both this year and last's pro-immigrant demonstrations certainly merit excoriation. But not the heavy-handed over-reaction by LAPD.

Local news stations and Youtube brim with videos showing the cops swarming into the park where nothing was happening except thousands sitting on the grass listening to speakers. Several journalists and reporters were also manhandled and clubbed sparking a chorus of outrage from professional press organizations.

The violent police action comes just as Chief William Bratton is up for renewal of his tenure. Even his critics agree that Bratton has made noteable strides in reforming a once notorious department. A near unanimity of the 15 member city council had been leaning toward his re-appointment precisely because of his demonstrated support of authentic and deep police reform.

To his credit, Bratton came quickly to the scene of the confrontation. And his in his day-after press conference the Chief agreed that what he had seen had been both "disturbing" and "inappropriate." He announced two probes of the incident, but California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has called on the L.A. County District Attorney to open his own independent investigation.

Here's the L.A. Times piece on what happened to the reporters who were attacked. Kudos to the Times who had the good sense to quote me on the topic :)