Organized labor is opposed to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
Progressive farm groups are opposed to CAFTA.
Environmental groups are opposed to CAFTA.
Civil rights groups are opposed to CAFTA.
Human rights groups are opposed to CAFTA.
Virtually all of the organizations that are associated with what is loosely defined as the Democratic coalition are opposed to the trade deal that Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin says "will hurt American workers, hurt the workers of Central America and create instability in Central America that will force more immigration into the United States."
So, of course, Senate Democrats must have been united in opposition to the Bush administration's proposal to expand on the failed model of the North American Free Trade Agreement -- which has wrecked havoc with the economies of the U.S., Mexico and Canada -- to create a free trade zone that extends from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Circle. Right?
Just before the July 4 Congressional break, when the Senate voted on CAFTA, a dozen Republicans abandoned the administration to vote "no." That meant that, if Democrats had been united in their opposition, the trade deal would have been easily defeated and the president's plan to make it easier for multinational corporations to exploit workers, communities and the environment throughout the hemisphere would have been dealt a fatal blow.
Instead, ten Democrats -- New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman, Washington's Maria Cantwell, Delaware's Tom Carper, California's Dianne Feinstein, Arkansas's Blanche Lincoln, Washington's Patty Murray, Florida's Bill Nelson, Nebraska's Ben Nelson, Arkansas's Mark Pryor and, Oregon's Ron Wyden, as well as Vermont Independent Jim Jeffords, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for the president's proposal.
As a result, CAFTA won by a 55-45 margin.
Make no mistake, it was a failure of focus on the part of Democrats that gave Bush's trade policies Senate approval.
Fortunately, the fight is not done. Opposition to CAFTA is more widespread in the House of Representatives, which still must vote on the measure. More House Republicans have broken with the president on the issue and House Democrats appear to be more united in their opposition than ever before.
As U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, a steadfast foe of corporate-sponsored free trade deals notes, opposition to CAFTA has grown as members of both chambers "who (once) blindly accepted these agreements are now beginning to read the fine print."
Feingold's right. The trend is against CAFTA.
The sad thing is that, because 10 Democrats and Jeffords are still blindly accepting the flawed arguments of the Bush administration -- just as they did the flawed arguments of the Clinton administration before it – a trade pact that could do severe harm to workers, farmers and the environment in the U.S. and abroad cleared the Senate. Had those Bush Democrats bothered to read the fine print -- and to make a break with the corporate funders of so many of their campaigns -- the CAFTA fight would already be done.
This July 4th, a diverse coalition of groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, Code Pink, The Culture Project, Not In Our Name, United For Peace and Justice, and WEDO (Women's Environment & Development Organization) are asking people across the United States to join the call to shut down the Guantánamo prison camp and demand an immediate independent investigation into the widespread allegations of abuse taking place there. Click here to check out CCR's Guantánamo Action Center, where you can sign petitions, contact your elected reps, download fliers and stickers and find other ways to get involved in the growing campaign to shut down Gitmo.
Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation has launched an epic struggle over the direction of the Supreme Court. Potentially at stake are the future of legal abortions, affirmative action for minority groups, government aid to religious schools and other issues that have long divided US society. Justice O'Connor was often the crucial swing vote on a court where many of the biggest rulings have come on 5-4 decisions, as public interest groups from both left and right have been busy pointing out.
The Alliance for Justice and the People for the American Way are both working overtime to rally opposition to what is widely expected to be a divisive, far-right appointment by the President. Click here to find out what you can do to help.
On this July 4th, when it comes to challenges facing America, the Bush Administration demonstrates that the conservative agenda is, to borrow a phrase, part of the problem, not the solution. But progressives need to seize the opening created by the reckless, reactionary and divisive rightwing policies to put forth positive initiatives that address the challenges facing the country.
These initiatives not only need to be large enough to address the festering problems facing us, but also broad enough to engage new allies and attract new supporters, and clear enough to be both compelling and comprehensible.
Anyone interested in a savvy primer on good progressive ideas would have found it at a featured panel--"Five Initiatives for a More Perfect Union,"--at the Campaign for America's "Taking Back America" conference last month in Washington, DC.
Five leading thinkers and organizers argued--as Yale Professor Jacob Hacker put it--that while conservative policies are "in shambles," the Right has managed to "transform the straw of slim margins and unpopular policies into the gold of big policy victories." Progressives, then, need to communicate to the American people that they have good ideas, and that government has a critical role to play in "a new and uncertain era."
Here, then, are five initiatives for the next time you hear some ethically challenged rightwinger (think Tom DeLay) claim that progressives are obstructionists with no good ideas:
1) "America Needs a Raise." Stewart Acuff, the organizing director of the AFL-CIO, called attention to the value of a bill called the Employee Free Choice Act. Among other things, it would require employers to recognize unions when workers signed cards and petitions seeking union representation. Acuff stressed that it was vital that we mobilize and empower workers and secure workers' rights in a new economy and in the face of Bush's ruthless and systematic attack on American labor. (Click here to read Acuff's Nation editorial on the legislation.)
2) "Pre-school for All: The Best Economic Development Investment." Julie Burton, director of Project Kid Smart with People for the American Way, cited the benefits of providing pre-school for every American child. Pre-school would improve kids' lives. Studies in Chicago and Michigan, for instance, found that kids who attend a quality pre-school learn to read faster, are more likely to attend college, earn higher salaries, have more stable marriages and, perhaps not coincidentally, are also less likely to commit a crime.
Equally important is that pre-school, as Burton explained, is also a terrific investment in America's economic future. People who attend pre-school develop the skills necessary in a modern workforce, and every dollar spent on pre-school reaps the nation $7 down the road. Pre-school generates higher tax revenues and requires less spending on "remedial services."
3) "Affordable Healthcare for All." Hacker's solution to the health care crisis with 45 million uninsured in this country is to expand Medicare--A program Americans know well and those in it like it a lot. Hacker proposes that employers be required either to provide workers with health care coverage or to enroll their employees in Medicare for a modest fee. This plan would cover virtually all of the uninsured and cost less than other leading health care proposals. This doesn't mean that progressives should stop fighting for universal health care (or what is sometimes --and clunkily-- known as single-payer); yet this idea represents a good step on the road to a more civilized society.
4) "A True Family Values Agenda." Sen. Barack Obama's policy director Karen Kornbluh argues that contrary to the rightwing drumbeat, progressives are the ones who stand up and fight for family values. Progressives need to address the kitchen-table problems that married women and single mothers grapple with every day--and offer solutions that will make a real difference in their lives. Mothers are now working longer hours, commuting more, and have less time to spend with their kids. Kornbluh urges progressives to rally behind ideas like refundable credits that will help families pay for child care and education; early education and after-school programs and lengthening the school year; making college tuition affordable; providing seven days of sick leave for all workers, and ensuring that workers get to keep their pensions and health insurance if they become part-time workers or take off time to care for their kids.
5) "Apollo: New Energy for America." The United Mine Workers' President Cecil Roberts urged the adoption of an Apollo Project to end our nation's crippling dependence on foreign oil. He laid out an agenda crafted by the Apollo Alliance--a coalition of labor unions, environmental groups and urban leaders--which would organize a 10 year drive for energy independence that would create 3 million new jobs and set America free from foreign oil.
This new strategy to achieve energy independence, as Roberts argues, would break the zero-sum framework of jobs vs. the environment and instead make the case that America can simultaneously create good-paying union work while promoting clean air and clean water in communities nationwide.
ApolloAlliance.org reports that Washington State passed the nation's first eco-friendly legislation that will slash utility costs, increase employee production and save taxpayers' money by using state-of-the-art building construction techniques. And Democratic governors from Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Mexico have all urged the White House to "embark on an unprecedented national mission to achieve energy independence within the decade by boldly investing in efficiency, new technology, and alternative energy."
In the end, then, these five initiatives form some of the building blocks that will help define a forward looking domestic progressive agenda and win over people disillusioned with Bush's anti-worker, anti-family policies. Enjoy your July Fourth. Then work to build a country that is healthier, fairer, cleaner and more secure.
This morning, President Bush said he will make a quick decision on a nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and issued a thinly veiled warning to the US Senate not to block his choice. In response, public interest groups and concerned citizens are sounding the alarm on what could be Bush's biggest opportunity yet to cement his reactionary agenda for years to come.
As Nan Aron, executive director of the Alliance for Justice, said today, "The impact of Justice O'Connor's replacement will affect the lives of all Americans not just for four years but for forty. A new justice--a lifetime appointee--has the awesome power of deciding critical issues affecting our workplaces, our civil rights, our environment and our privacy"
The Alliance as well as the People for the American Way are both working to rally opposition to what is widely expected to be a divisive, far-right appointment by the President. Check out their websites (here and here) for info on what's expected next and what you can help do about it.
As the 229th anniversary of the founding of the American experiment approached, President Bush provided a painful reminder of how far the United States has drifted from the ideals of her youth.
Speaking to soldiers who would soon be dispatched to occupy Iraq, Bush sounded an awfully lot like the King George against whom George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the other revolutionaries of 1776 led their revolt.
America was founded in opposition to empire. The Declaration of Independence was a manifesto against colonialism. And the wisest of the founding generations abhorred imperialism.
Their opposition to empire was not merely rooted in their own bitter experience. It was, as well, rooted in a faith that American freedoms and democracy would suffer if the nation embarked upon a career of empire.
So, while Bush suggests that other lands must be occupied to preserve liberty at home, the patriots of our time recall will do well to recall words spoken on another July 4.
When America was younger and truer to her ideals, on Independence Day, 1821, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams appeared before the US House of Representatives and declared:
And now, friends and countrymen, if the wise and learned philosophers of the elder world, the first observers of nutation and aberration, the discoverers of maddening ether and invisible planets, the inventors of Congreve rockets and Shrapnel shells, should find their hearts disposed to enquire what has America done for the benefit of mankind?
Let our answer be this: America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.
She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own.
She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.
She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force....
She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit....
[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield: but the motto upon her shield is, Freedom, Independence, Peace. This has been her Declaration: this has been, as far as her necessary intercourse with the rest of mankind would permit, her practice.
John Nichols's new book, Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books) was published January 30. Howard Zinn says, "At exactly the when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift--a collection of writings, speeches, poems and songs from thoughout American history--that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country." Frances Moore Lappe calls Against the Beast, "Brilliant! A perfect book for an empire in denial." Against the Beast can be found at independent bookstores nationwide and can be obtained online by tapping the above reference or at www.amazon.com
"A nation's success or failure in achieving democracy is judged in part by how well it responds to those at the bottom and the margins of the social order.... The very problems that democratic change brings--social tension, heightened expectations, political unrest--are also strengths. Discord is a sign of progress afoot; unease is an indication that a society has let go of what it knows and is working out something better and new."
Those are not the thoughts of a great civil rights leader, nor of a prominent progressive reformer.
They are the words of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the "swing" vote on the US Supreme Court, who on Friday announced that she is stepping down.
O'Connor joined the Court as an ideological conservative and, for the most part, served as such. But, as the above quote from her 2003 memoir, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice, suggests, the first woman to serve on the nation's highest court was a conservative of the modern age.
Her nuanced stances on issues such as abortion rights--she defended the court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion as "a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce"--distinguished her from the Court's conservative judicial activists, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. (To get a full sense of what is at stake, see the list of 5-to-4 decisions where O'Connor cast the deciding vote, which follows this piece.)
With O'Connor's exit, the Court will move in one of two directions. No, not right or left. With O'Connor out, the Court will either go backward or forward.
If President Bush nominates and the Senate confirms an activist soul mate for Scalia and Thomas, the Court will not simply become more conservative.
It will move back toward the days before Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower used their nominations in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s to wrench the judicial branch out of a dark and undistinguished past. Those selections made the Supreme Court a functional branch of government, rather than an obstructionist defender of an often corrupt old order.
People for the American Way President Ralph Neas put it best when he said Friday, "A Scalia-Thomas majority would not only reverse more than seven decades of Supreme Court legal precedents but could also return us to a situation America faced in the first third of the twentieth century, when progressive legislation, like child labor laws, was adopted by Congress and signed by the President but repeatedly rejected on constitutional grounds by the Supreme Court."
Neas understands his history well. The contemporary image of the Supreme Court as a defender of civil liberties and civil rights, and an ally of progress, is one that developed over the course of the twentieth century. It was not always so. And there are no guarantees that it will remain so.
As such, this is not merely a battle over a Court vacancy, nor even over the balance on the bench.
If the Court moves backward to the bad old days, so too will the nation.
With a Court guided by a majority determined to reverse the progress made on issues ranging from reproductive freedom to privacy rights, affirmative action, church-state separation, environmental protection, consumer safeguards and worker rights, Neas warns, America would return to a time when the judicial branch took as its mandate the preservation of the status quo against the march of social progress.
"A Supreme Court with additional justices who do not meet consensus standards could radically rewrite our nation's fundamental definitions of justice," says Neas.
In so doing, it could also rewrite our sense of time. Instead of living in 2005, Americans could find themselves dragged backward to those nineteenth-century days when the Supreme Court was the nation's primary barrier to social and economic justice.****************************************************************
People for the American Way has compiled a list of 5-to-4 rulings in which Sandra Day O'Connor was the decisive Justice. Here are some of the decisions that the group says are in danger of being overturned:
1. Grutter v. Bollinger (2003): Affirmed the right of state colleges and universities to use affirmative action in their admissions policies to increase educational opportunities for minorities and promote racial diversity on campus.
2. Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. EPA (2004): Said the Environmental Protection Agency could step in and take action to reduce air pollution under the Clean Air Act when a state conservation agency fails to act.
3. Rush Prudential HMO, Inc. v. Moran (2002): Upheld state laws giving people the right to a second doctor's opinion if their HMOs tried to deny them treatment.
4. Hunt v. Cromartie (2001): Affirmed the right of state legislators to take race into account to secure minority voting rights in redistricting.
5. Tennessee v. Lane (2004): Upheld the constitutionality of Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act and required that courtrooms be physically accessible to the disabled.
6. Hibbs v. Winn (2004): Subjected discriminatory and unconstitutional state tax laws to review by the federal judiciary.
7. Zadvydas v. Davis (2001): Told the government it could not indefinitely detain an immigrant who was under final order of removal even if no other country would accept that person.
8. Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (2001): Affirmed that civil rights laws apply to associations regulating interscholastic sports.
9. Lee v. Weisman (1992): Continued the tradition of government neutrality toward religion, finding that government-sponsored prayer is unacceptable at graduations and other public school events.
10. Brown v. Legal Foundation of Washington (2003): Maintained a key source of funding for legal assistance for the poor.
11. Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia (1996): Said key antidiscrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act apply to political conventions that choose party candidates.
12. Federal Election Commission v. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Committee (2001): Upheld laws that limit political party expenditures that are coordinated with a candidate and seek to evade campaign contribution limits.
13. McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003): Upheld most of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, including its ban on political parties' use of unlimited soft-money contributions.
14. Stenberg v. Carhart (2000): Overturned a state ban on so-called partial birth abortion.
15. McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky (2005): Upheld the principle of government neutrality toward religion and ruled unconstitutional Ten Commandments displays in several courthouses.
I just posted the below comments at my blog at www.davidcorn.com. I am happy to share these first-reaction thoughts here.
I was not happy to see the flood of mails with similar subject headings: "O'Connor resigning." From a parochial point of view, a titanic fight over a Supreme Court nomination can really ruin a summer in Washington. (Actually, despite the heat, summers in Washington tend to be quite pleasant; the town slows down, Congress is gone for a good spell, traffic eases, there's plenty of parking, and I can catch up on a year's worth of filing.) But, worse, the expected war over the nominee (whoever it is) will be ugly. It should be ugly. There will be much at stake. But ugly is ugly--and the Democrats are hardly in a strong position to block George Bush if he makes a not-dumb choice. So the pessimist in me--which is usually, though not always, right when it comes to predicting the success rate (or lack thereof) rate for the Dems--fears that after all the ugliness transpires Bush will win out, and the court will veer further to the right. The operative question may be, How much?
Let's be clear about this. During the nuclear option fight, the Democrats were not able to court enough Republicans to prevent Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist from killing the judicial filibuster in an up-or-down vote. It took a tilted-to-the-GOP compromise fashioned by so-called moderates in both parties to thwart (perhaps temporarily) Frist's desire to eliminate the judicial filibuster. Any fight over a Bush nominee to the Supreme Court will eventually have to come down to a with-us-or-against-us vote. That means if Bush nominates someone who the Democrats believe warrants a filibuster, there will be a replay of the nuclear option drama. Only this time it will be more dramatic. The Democrats will threaten a filibuster; Frist will threaten the nuclear option. And those same six or so Republicans whom the Democrats tried (and failed) to win over as a bloc on the nuclear option fight will again be the targets for the Democratic leaders. But what would make these GOPers side with the Democrats this time, especially when the stakes are higher? And, unlike the last episode, these Republicans will not be saved by the bell of a compromise that kicks the can down the road (to mix metaphors). There will be more pressure on them to stick to the party line when a Supreme Court nomination is at stake.
The above analysis is based on the assumption--or presumption--that Bush will nominate a jurist whom the Democrats can sell as filibuster-material. If he does not do so, then what will the Dems and the progressive outfits do?
Of course, they will correctly note that replacing O'Connor--often the key swing vote on the court on crucial matters (such as abortion rights)--will change the ideological composition of the Supreme Court. Bush's social conservative supporters have been demanding he select someone who will clearly shove the court toward the right. Much has been written and pundited on this topic. Will he go with proven conservative jurist and please the Dobson crowd? Or will he reward Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, a Bush loyalist who conservatives suspect (for whatever paranoid reasons they have) might turn out to be another David Souter? Is Bush planning a surprise for everyone? (Orrin Hatch?)
In any event, the Democrats and progressives may be placed in the position of having to oppose an experienced jurist whose opinions they do not like on policy grounds. They should fight such a nominee vigorously, and they should be upfront about their reasons. Rather than label that person an "extremist," they ought to argue that the Senate ought not to confirm a nominee who is likely to vote to curtail or eliminate abortion rights, to favor corporate polluters over consumers, or to restrict the federal government's ability to advance social justice. The "extremist" strategy, I fear, is worn out and ineffective. It worked for Robert Bork, thanks to his too-honest writings and wacky beard. But most of the far-right jurists on the list of potential nominees will be able to appear before a Senate committee, not drool, answer questions about their opinions politely, and come across as intelligent and somewhat reasonable people, not extremist monsters plotting to lead America into a Time of Darkness. So progressives, beware, the E-word is probably not your friend.
And there's this to think of: Bush will probably get another Supreme Court pick soon. Perhaps real soon. Chief Justice William Rehnquist may not be there much longer--by choice or not. One smart move for Bush would be to nominate for the O'Connor vacancy a decidedly conservative person but one who is well-equipped to beat back the expected charges of extremism from the left and who goes on to be confirmed. (Does Gonzales fit this bill?) Next--for the Rehnquist opening--Bush could nominate a true conservative whacko, a Bork II. The Democrats and the left would have a tough time redeploying the extremist attack, even if it were warranted this time. Once more--from a political perspective--Democrats and progressives ought to think carefully about how and when they use the charge of extremism. They can only cry "wolf" so many times--even if Bush unleashes a pack of wolverines.
Will any good come out of this? It may be entertaining, for a while, to watch the tussle that ensues between social conservatives and the White House if Bush does not nominate a person to their liking. That would certainly have reverberations for the Republican presidential race, perhaps causing a more divisive primary contest. Then again, if Bush does decide to elevate Gonzales--a fellow who has protected Bush's legal backside numerous times during Bush's political career--and nominate the first Hispanic-American to the highest court of the land, the Democrats might find it more difficult to stop the drift of Hispanic-American voters toward the GOP.
All in all, this battle is Bush's to lose. A clever move or two on his part could place the Democrats and progressives at serious political disadvantage. They must now devise a damn smart and sophisticated campaign of opposition designed for more than the vacancy of the moment.
Each day, while pharmaceutical companies prosper, 8,500 people in the global South die of AIDS. Thanks to strict intellectual property laws that keep drug prices sky-high, only 7 percent of HIV-positive people in low to middle-income countries have access to antiretroviral medicine.
But last week, Brazil--already renown for having one of the most progressive AIDS policies in the world--took a bold stand against big pharma. On June 25th, health minister Humberto Costa announced that Brazil will break the patent of the antiretroviral drug Kaletra, which is manufactured by the US company Abbott Laboratories, unless the company dramatically reduces its prices. Brazil intends to make a generic version of the drug, which it says will cost barely half of the $2,630 per patient the country annually pays Abbott. In doing so, Brazil will be able to extend its free AIDS treatment program to tens of thousands more HIV-infected citizens.
Brazil maintains that its decision is completely legal under the WTO framework, which allows poor countries to break patents in cases of national health emergencies (Brazil will still have to pay a 3 percent royalty to Abbott). Costa hopes that Brazil's action will embolden other poor and disease-ridden countries--which have been bullied into submission by trade pressure from the United States and other powerful nations--to follow suit.
"Brazil's decision to put people with HIV and public health first, before protecting big pharma's monopolies…will decrease the price of that critical medicine not only in Brazil but also worldwide," says Asia Russell of Health GAP, an organization that advocates for affordable AIDS treatment.
As of last Friday, Brazil has given Abbott a final ten-day window to voluntarily lower prices before creating a generic version of Kaletra. Russell hopes that Brazil will stand firm: "Because generic competition continues to depress prices over time, a compulsory license [to produce the generic version] will help Brazil save more lives than relying on Abbott--a US drug company that recently increased the American price of one of its AIDS drugs 400 percent--with no justification."
You don't have to be a die-hard fair trade activist to agree that when corporate avarice comes before saving lives, enough is enough. To learn what you can do to be a part of the global fight for affordable AIDS treatment, click here .
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing email@example.com.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
"We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th attacks."
George W. Bush -- September 17, 2003
To the extend that George Bush had retained the slightest shred of dignity through the whole ugly Iraq imbroglio, it was found in his refusal to fully embrace the biggest of the Big Lies told by his aides: The claim that the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein had played a role in the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The president was never honorable in this regard. He did not go out of his way correct the confusion among the American people, a majority of whom believed around the time of the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq that Hussein's regime was somehow linked with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. Nor did he step up to challenge the misinformation being spread by members of his administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, about a supposed connection between Iraq and al-Qaida. And, early on, he actually tried to defend Cheney's statements.
But, even before the the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States established that there was no collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaida, Bush was a good deal more cautious than Cheney. And when the president was directly confronted this spring by reporters and asked whether he shared the vice president's view that a connection had been established, Bush detached himself fully from his vice president's mad ranting and made it clear that he knew of no evidence to support the charge.
In other words, Bush made at least some effort to avoid echoing Cheney's Big Lies.
On Tuesday night, however, the president abandoned the narrow patch of high ground that he had staked out and dove into the raging flood of deceit that his administration had unleashed.
In what was billed as a major address regarding Iraq, Bush mentioned the September 11 attacks no less than five times.
Before 750 members of the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army's Special Operations unit, who had been assembled at Fort Bragg, N.C., to give Bush a respectful and unquestioning audience, the president declared, "The troops here and across the world are fighting a global war on terror. This war reached our shores on September 11, 2001. The terrorists who attacked us -- and the terrorists we face -- murder in the name of a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance and despises all dissent. Their aim is to remake the Middle East in their own grim image of tyranny and oppression, by toppling governments, driving us out of the region and exporting terror."
Bush went on to claim that, "After September 11, I made a commitment to the American people: The nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war."
By suggesting that the invasion and occupation of Iraq should be seen as part of a legitimate and necessary response to September 11, as he clearly did on Tuesday, Bush made a deliberate break with reality -- not so complete a break, perhaps, as that of Cheney and the wingnut faction of the administration, but a break all the same.
The president speech was written and delivered with the intent of deceiving the American people into believing things that were never true.
Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, to be sure, but he ruled as a militant secularist, who gave Christians and members of other religious and ethnic minorities positions of power and authority within the governments he assembled. Hussein saw the rise of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida as a threat, and he meticulously -- sometimes violently -- kept that threat out of Iraq. To the extent that elements of al-Qaida are now on the ground in that country, it is not as a result of Hussein's invitation but as a result of his removal.
The point here is not to defend Hussein. The point is to recognize reality: The invasion and occupation of Iraq did not control the spread of terrorist activity in the Middle East. It handed the terrorists new opportunities for recruitment, and it gave them new territory in which to operate. Until the president acknowledges these fundamental realities -- and his own responsibility for making things worse -- it will be impossible to undo the damage.
George Bush set out to deceive to the American people Tuesday. That was morally wrong, and tactically foolish.
But George Bush also deceived himself, by engaging in the fantasy that some new spin will allow him to avoid taking responsibility for making the world a more dangerous place. Ultimately, that is the bigger, and far more dangerous lie.
Twelve days ago, The Washington Post reported that the Bush White House had concluded that George W. Bush--who was facing sinking polling numbers regarding the war in Iraq--needed to "shift strategies." He would (of course) not be implementing any policy changes, the paper noted; his new approach" would be "mostly rhetorical." Yet in his prime-time speech on Iraq--delivered before a quiet audience of troops at Fort Bragg on Tuesday evening--Bush proved the Post report wrong. There was no shift of strategy--rhetorical or otherwise. Bush delivered a flat recital of his previous justifications of the war, while offering vague assurances that (a) he realizes (really, really) that the war in Iraq is "hard" work and that (b) his administration is indeed winning the war. On that latter point, Bush mentioned no metrics (as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call them)--that is, concrete indicators--to demonstrate that he holds a more accurate view of the war than, say, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel who days ago exclaimed, "The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." Bush's plan this night was rather transparent: assert success...and then assert it some more.
At other points during the war when the White House became worried about public opinion, the White House dispatched Bush to make a major speech on the war. But those speeches had little, if any, impact on the public mood, the policy debate, or the events in Iraq. His Fort Bragg address can be filed in the same folder. It was an artificial event; Bush was standing at the podium and reading words off a TelePrompTer that were written by a speechwriter not because he had anything new or significant to say but because the White House had no better PR alternatives at this moment. (What no flight suit?) And in this White House reconsidering policy is not an option.
So Bush warmed up and doled out the usual fare. He didn't even bother to come up with new lines of "disassembling." Once more Bush claimed the war in Iraq was an appropriate and mandatory response to 9/11. He repeatedly referred to the enemy in Iraq as "the terrorists," not the insurgents, continuing his strategic effort to blur the distinction between the foreign jihadists who have flocked to Iraq to kill Americans and the homegrown insurgent thugs who blow up US troops and Iraqi civilians for a different set of motivations. Bush keeps tying the insurgency in Iraq to 9/11: "Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York and Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home." Many--and probably most--of the enemy forces faced by US troops in Iraq are not followers of Osama bin Laden. According to recent estimates gathered by the Brookings Institution, there are now about 16,000 insurgents and about 1,000 foreign fighters engaged in the war against the US military and the interim Iraqi government. And Bush neglected to mention the recent intelligence report noting that Iraq--thanks to his invasion--has become an effective breeding ground for the anti-American terrorists who may indeed look to attack the United States elsewhere.
Such facts are perhaps too subtle or nuanced to fit into the hit-the-bastards-before-they-hit-us view Bush wants to sell to the public. He noted, "We are fighting against men with blind hatred and armed with lethal weapons who are capable of any atrocity. They wear no uniform; they respect no laws of warfare or morality." That is true. But if the war in Iraq is nothing but a fundamental battle of good (us) against evil (them), then why is the US military, as the administration has acknowledged, negotiating with certain leaders of the insurgency? Can you cut a deal with evil?
Bush continued to maintain that Iraq is "a central front in the war on terror." How did he prove this case? He quoted Osama bin Laden, who once said, "This third world war is raging in Iraq. The whole world is watching this war." You see, Bush attacked Iraq (which had no weapons of mass destruction and no operational ties to the terrorists who mounted the horrific attacks of 9/11), a war ensued, Islamic fundamentalists rushed to Iraq to do battle with the Americans, bin Laden welcomed this opportunity to have his followers kill US troops (who might otherwise be coming after him or securing Afghanistan), and that is Bush's proof the war in Iraq is "a central front in the war on terror." In essence, because bin Laden said so after Bush invaded Iraq.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on who was wrong on Iraq, NPR's vacancy in Baghdad, and Karl Rove's hypocrisy.
Bush tried to acknowledge the troubles in Iraq, while pushing the good news: "Our progress has been uneven, but progress is being made." He also said, "In the past year, we have made significant progress." In case anyone missed the message, he noted, "The progress in the past year has been significant, and we have a clear path forward." He also remarked, "We have made progress, but we have a lot more work to do." What signs of progress did he point to? He claimed that 160,000 Iraqi security troops have been trained and that NATO and several nations have joined in the training effort. Bush did not address the fact that several nations have pulled troops out of Iraq. But he did concede that these Iraqi security forces "are at different levels of readiness." How different he didn't fully explore. For example, how many of these troops are capable of fighting the insurgents on their own? Bush's answer: "some." When Senator Joe Biden returned recently from a trip to Iraq, he said he had been told that of the 107 Iraqi battalions being trained, only three were operational. Three certainly is "some."
Bush hailed developments that have been mixed at best. He declared, "we are partnering coalition units with Iraqi units. These coalition Iraqi teams are conducting operations together in the field. These combined operations are giving Iraqis a chance to experience how the most professional armed forces in the world operate in combat." But media reports from Iraq note that Iraqi and American units have often not worked together effectively. American soldiers have expressed doubts about the abilities and commitment of their Iraqi counterparts. The Iraqis have voiced resentment about their American partners. (Click here for one depressing account.) In any event, US military officials have estimated it could take several years to train an effective Iraqi security force. Bush made no reference to such a timeframe. Instead, he tossed out catchy spin: "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down." Nor did he have anything to say about Rumsfeld's and Vice President Dick Cheney's recent comments on the insurgency. (Cheney said the opposition was in its "last throes," Rumsfeld noted that quashing the insurgency could take up to twelve years.)
No, everything policy-wise is fine. There is no reason for even minor adjustments. And Bush hid behind his commanders when necessary. "Some Americans ask me," he said, "'If completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops?' If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job." Then why do backers of the war complain about the porous borders (especially the Syrian border) that permit foreign jihadists to enter Iraq? Might that have something to do with there being not enough troops to secure the borders?
But never mind all that on-the-ground stuff; freedom is on the march. "Iraqis," Bush said, "will bind their multiethnic society together in a democracy that respects the will of the majority and protects minority rights." Let's hope he's right. But such happy-talk ignores the sectarian violence that appears to be on the rise within Iraq. The problem there is not merely that anti-American terrorists are using murder and mayhem to block the achievement of democracy. There are fundamental divides within the nation that are playing out--all too often in violent fashion--as well. But recognition of that would interfere with Bush's comic-book version of the evildoers-versus-us struggle in Iraq.
In this speech, Bush reprised the messianic and simplistic neocon analysis (or fantasy) that the war in Iraq has led to the spread of democracy elsewhere. He proclaimed, "Across the broader Middle East, people are claiming their freedom. In the last few months, we have witnessed elections in the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon. These elections are inspiring democratic reformers in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia." Well, Yassir Arafat's timely death did more than the war in Iraq to bring about the recent electoral success in the Palestinian Territories. The election in Lebanon was scheduled before Iraqis trekked to the polls. The Saudi election was a modest affair (and women need not apply). And in Egypt, democratic reformers howled about Laura Bush's support of an election law that allowed the ruling party to decide who could run against it.
Without showing much enthusiasm--is he war-weary?--Bush ended with the usual rah-rah. He suggested that anyone who counsels withdrawal is not part of the American tradition: "The American people do not falter under threat, and we will not allow our future to be determined by car bombers and assassins....Americans have always held firm, because we have always believed in certain truths. We know that if evil is not confronted, it gains in strength and audacity and returns to strike us again. We know that when the work is hard, the proper response is not retreat, it is courage." In other words, don't be wimps, don't listen to those who say that it might be time to rethink what the United States is doing in Iraq. Stay the course. Just do it. Believe.
With the polls registering what might be deepening skepticism about the war, this may be the most powerful political argument Bush has: Americans don't quit. His allies in Congress and the commentariat have been repeating a street-level variant of this message: America does not turn tail. It's the ultimate fall-back position for the pro-war crowd. It is not a policy argument; it's pushing a psychological button. And as the public mood appears to sour on the war, Bush-backers are also starting to accuse critics at home of undermining the war effort and--worse of all--demoralizing the troops in Iraq. Bush stayed clear of this scoundrel maneuver. But soon after his speech was done, Senator John Warner, the Republican chairman of the armed services committee, was on Fox News Channel warning unnamed persons of making "statements back home....that are troubling the troops." He added, "We here at home have to show a strong bipartisan support for our troops." This is the ultimate escape hatch for supporters of a war that is not going well: the critics are to blame. Bush ended his speech by thanking and praising the members of the US military and their families. He said nothing about the recently disclosed $1 billion shortfall in funding for veterans' health care.
Bush's speech will not alter the landscape--here or in Iraq. It was the rhetorical equivalent of treading water. Before the speech, NPR had asked me to talk about the address afterward with a conservative pundit. Minutes before we were to go on, an NPR worker called. We've decided, she said, that there was not enough in the speech to warrant an analysis segment. I could hardly protest.
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