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Big Worries About John Kerry

LOS ANGELES -- John Kerry is going to have to decide who he wants to be when he grows up politically. His post-primary campaign has been so dramatically unfocused and ineffectual that -- even as George Bush has taken more serious blows to his credibility than any sitting president since Richard Nixon in the first years of his second term -- Kerry has not been able to open up a lead nationally or in the essential battleground states.

Kerry is making moves to muscle up his Democratic presidential candidacy, with a $25-million let's-make-some-introductions advertising campaign, an effort to sharpen his message and a sped-up vice presidential search. The next month will be critical. If he can open a five- to eight-point lead nationally and establish leads that mirror those of Al Gore's 2000 wins in Democratic-leaning battleground states, his campaign will be sufficiently renewed to make the race. If, on the other hand, he continues to hold even nationally and trail behind Gore's showings in the states that will tip the balance in the Electoral College, there will come a round of questioning -- prior to the Democratic National Convention in July -- about whether the party is making the right choice.

Kerry will still be the nominee. Modern political parties lack the flexibility to clean up messes, no matter how obvious the need. The was proven in 1996, when the Republican National Convention dutifully nominated Bob Dole, despite the fact that no honest observer thought he had a chance of winning.

Will Kerry be the Dole of 2004? That's the question that the Massachusetts senator needs to sort out this month.

The decisions Kerry makes now will determine whether his campaign is for real. And the pressure for some kind of signal is only going to increase as the month passes.

In southern California this week to contribute to Robert Greenwald's upcoming documentary on media issues, I had a chance to talk with political activists, journalists and entertainment-industry insiders. They were all for getting rid of George Bush. But they were also, to a one, convinced that Kerry's campaign wasn't doing what was necessary to accomplish that task. They still thought Kerry would carry California -- a must-win state for the Democrats -- but they were worried that he was slipping even there. And they were convinced that his failure to come on strong was eliminating enthusiasm for his candidacy.

Writer and activist Arianna Huffington, who has written a good new book about the Bush crowd, Fanatics and Fools, was particularly concerned. A none-of-the-above voter in 2000, she's determined to achieve regime change in the White House this year and she recognizes that Kerry offers the only realistic hope for sending Bush back to Texas. But she is so worried about Kerry's cautious campaigning that she has penned a letter to the candidate, which she hopes hundreds of thousands of activists will sign. The letter urges the presumptive Democratic nominee to, "Offer voters a bold moral vision of what America can be. A vision that is bigger than the things that divide us. A vision that brings hope and soul back to our politics and appeals to more than voters' narrow self-interests. A vision that makes America once again a respected force for good in the world.

(You can learn more about Huffington's recent projects by visiting her www.fanaticsandfools.org website.)

I don't know whether a letter will get John Kerry's attention, let alone whether it will get him to recognize that his campaign really is in trouble. But I do know that it is right to target messages toward Kerry, himself.

Again and again, people asked me: Who is advising Kerry? The answer is that the names don't really matter.

Like any soon-to-be-nominated presidential candidate, Kerry is getting advice from every corner. The noxious Democratic Leadership Council, which every election season commands Democrats to run as Republican-lite centrists, is indeed bending his ear. But Kerry is getting advice from credible and competent sources, as well.

The problem is that the senator seems to be having a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to messaging.And, unfortunately, this is a challenge that only he is in a position to resolve.

No one else but the candidate can cure what ails this presidential campaign. That's because only the candidate can send the a broad and meaningful message that says his campaign really does promise fundamental change. Kerry cannot count on the "Beat Bush" message to carry him to victory in November. Nor should he assume that just promising to be kinder and gentler than Bush will be enough.

John Kerry needs to present himself as the candidate who offers America a clean break from Bushism.

If he does so, he will win.

If he fails to do so, he will be this year's Bob Dole -- without the sense of humor.

Banned in Kalamazoo

Shouldn't college students seeking knowledge--especially knowledge that might challenge their own biases--be encouraged? Not so, it seems, according to the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign and the College Republicans of Kalamazoo College. When seven sophomores at the school showed up at Wings Stadium in downtown Kalamazoo to see George W. Bush at a campaign rally on May 3 and presented the tickets they had obtained for the event, security officers would not allow them in. The problem, according to these students, was that College Republicans volunteering at the event fingered them as liberals who did not support Bush. And such citizens were not welcome at the rally.

According to Ted Hufstader and Julia VanAusdall--two of the Kalamazoo Seven--here's what happened. Last week, the students heard that Bush would be appearing at Kalamazoo during a bus tour through the swing states of Ohio and Michigan. Hufstader maintains that this group of friends, which was made up mostly of Bush detractors (some of whom have engaged in protests in the past), only wanted the chance to see and hear the president. They were, he says, not interested in waging any anti-Bush action. "We wanted to get a better idea of what he's like," Hufstader notes. "All we get are little soundbites on the news." And he points to the fact that one of the seven was an international student as evidence of their sincerity: "We would not have done anything to jeopardize this student's standing in the country."

So Hufstader hit the Internet and discovered that tickets for the Bush rally would be handed out at a local Chamber of Commerce office. ("The tickets are free and will be distributed on a first come first serve basis," the chamber's website reported.) Last Friday morning, he and Lisa Dallacqua arrived at that office at seven in the morning and waited--in the rain--for two hours. Inside, they were asked to show a photo ID and to provide their addresses--and the addresses of several friends for whom they were obtaining tickets. "We later heard that some people who wouldn't declare they were Republicans were denied tickets," Hufstader says. "But we didn't see that happen." Hufstader and Dallacqua were given seven tickets, and their names and the names of their friends were placed on a list that would be checked at the rally.

When the gang arrived at Wings Stadium--home of the Kalamazoo Wings, a minor league hockey team--they had to pass through a series of checkpoints. Hufstader maintains they were each dressed conservatively--"you know, khakis and sweaters"--and sported no political buttons or any other accouterments of dissent. At one of the checkpoints, they were spotted by a member of the College Republicans. He was familiar with the political predilections of several of these students and asked how they had received tickets. "We stood in line," Hufstader says he replied. At another checkpoint, Hufstader and his friends saw several College Republicans talking to the volunteers working security. The security people then told Hufstader, Dallacqua, VanAusdall and the others (Laura Lonneman, Leah Busch, Shanna Barkume, and the international student whose identity Hufstader and the others are currently protecting) that they could not enter. "They told us," Hufstader says, "that we failed a background check, that we had been identified by volunteers as a potential threat, and that if we didn't leave we would be arrested."

Hufstader and the others insisted they simply wanted to hear Bush and demanded to see what list--if any--indicated that they had failed a background check. They argued their point until local police showed up and said they would be arrested unless they departed. The police officers explained the rally was a private event and the organizers could pick and choose who would attend. The police took their tickets and escorted them seven blocks away from the stadium.

"Several things anger us," says Hufstader. "It may have been a private event, but the tickets didn't say that and we were never told that. We felt misled. But we felt worse about the College Republicans. We were very disappointed that our peers singled us out for what they thought we might do. And we later heard they had been trained to find potential threats at the event. But we were not a threat. We're even friends with some of these College Republicans. This was a sad commentary about the bitter divide of American politics. Look how hard it was for us to hear a contrary view. We wanted to see the president and then talk about what he said afterward. We felt like we were being blacklisted by our campus peers, and this is a campus that is supposed to be open to different political views."

Did the College Republicans put the kibosh on the Kalamazooans? I emailed the head of the group at Kalamazoo College and have not yet heard back from him. Is it standard practice for the Bush campaign to ban from its rallies citizens who do not pledge allegiance to the candidate? I called the Bush campaign and was passed to Merrill Smith, a regional spokesperson. No word back from her either.

But it's no surprise that the Bush campaign--like other campaigns--stage-manages its public events to the fullest extent possible and tells non-supporters to keep out (or be locked up). Bush did not engage in drive-by campaigning in Kalamazoo to provide local citizens the opportunity to see him in action. He hit the town in search of a middle-of-America backdrop, a screaming throng, and upbeat footage on the local news shows. After all, campaigns are about candidates, not voters. So while Hufstader and his pals did not get to see Bush in person wax about the glories of freedom they did at least receive a lesson in modern politics.

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If you want to read about how local election boards block college students from voting, check out this story in Rolling Stone.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the official website: www.bushlies.com.

An Open Letter to George Bush

Last week in this space I asked where were the former US diplomats speaking out against George Bush's dangerous foreign-policy as fifty-two of their British counterparts did recently in an eloquent Open Letter to Tony Blair.

Well, yesterday, fifty-three former US diplomats criticized the White House for pursuing a foreign-policy which is sacrificing America's credibility in the Arab world and endangering the safety of its diplomats and soldiers in the Middle East. The letter's central charge is that the Bush Administration is providing uncritical support for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharonat a time when Washington's strategy in the Middle East is in tatters. The retired diplomats, including John Brady Kiesling and Ray Close who are both featured in The Nation's forthcoming forum on Iraq, urge the Bush Administration to change course.

This public rebuke was a rare display of dissent for state department personnel. The last broadside from American diplomats came during the Vietnam War. Click here to read this Open Letter to George W. Bush.

Stop War Profiteering!

As readers of this space don't need to be told, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton has been a prime beneficiary of the invasion of Iraq, raking in some $9 billion in contracts to rebuild Iraq's oil industry and service the US troops.

However, since the occupation began, news reports have regularly documented a pattern of fraud, waste, and corruption by Halliburton--from alleged overcharges of $61 million for fuel and $24.7 million for meals to confirmed kickbacks worth $6.3 million. Meanwhile, Halliburton has failed to rebuild key oil infrastructure, has provided shoddy services to US troops, and has taken jobs away from qualified Iraqi businesses and workers. Shockingly though, Halliburton's role has only increased, to the point where, as the AP reported last Tuesday, the company's executives say that Halliburton is receiving about $1 billion a month for Iraq work this year.

Moreover, federal authorities are currently investigating whether Halliburton broke the law by using a subsidiary to do business in Iran, whether the company overcharged for work done for the Pentagon in the Balkans and whether it was involved in an alleged $180 million bribery scheme in Nigeria. (The company admitted in 2003 that it improperly paid $2.4 million to a Nigerian tax official.)

Join the United for Peace and Justice coalition in Houston on May 19 for a lively protest against war profiteering and crony capitalism outside Halliburton's annual shareholder meeting. Halliburton needs to be held accountable, not made more profitable. Click here for a schedule of the day's events, click here for info on housing and transportation, and click here to help circulate word about the protest to activists and the media.

Torture at Abu Ghraib

The shocking photos of US soldiers torturing Iraqis detainees shown last Wednesday on CBS's Sixty Minutes II provoked immediate international outrage. Now, veteran American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh's explosive article in the current issue of the New Yorker, "Torture at Abu Ghraib," details a secret fifty-three page Army report which documents systemic and illegal abuse of Iraqi prisoners in US custody. Acording to Major General Antonio Taguba's internal report, "Sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses"--including burning detainees with phosphoric liquid, brutal beatings and the sodomising of one detainee with a chemical light or a broom stick--date back to the previous October.

The report, according to Hersh, "amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he [Taguba] draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees."

The revelations have led Amnesty International and other human rights and Iraqi groups to call for an independent investigation into what Amnesty is describing as a "pattern of torture."

In an exchange with CNN's Wolf Blitzer Sunday morning, Hersh talked about the Taguba Report and the responsibility of the military-intelligence officers and private contractors assigned to Abu Ghraib. He also expressed outrage that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers told CBS's Face the Nation that he hasn't even read the internal Army report. Click here to read the full transcript of the CNN conversation. P.S. Notice Blitzer's lack of interest in pursuing Hersh's statement that we should get out of Iraq.

An Interview With Joseph Wilson

On the morning of July 14, 2003, I was reading Bob Novak's column in The Washington Post. He was doing his best to defend the Bush administration from the red-hot charge that George W. Bush had misled the country during the State of the Union address when he declared that "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Months after the speech, this sentence triggered a near-scandal, for it turned out there had been no strong factual basis for the allegation, which was meant to suggest Hussein was close to acquiring nuclear weapons. The White House asserted it had had no reason to be wary about using this piece of information. Then, on July 6, 2003, former ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote a piece in The New York Times and publicly revealed that in February 2002 he had been sent to Niger by the CIA to examine the allegation and had reported back there was no evidence to support this claim. Prior to his Times article, Wilson, the last acting U.S. ambassador in Iraq, had been one of the more prominent opponents of the Iraq war. Yet he had not used the information he possessed about Bush's misuse of the Niger allegation to score points while debating the war. His much-noticed Times op-ed was a blow for the White House, and Republicans and conservatives struck back. One front in that counterattack was the Novak column.

"His wife, Valerie Plame," Novak wrote, "is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate" the Niger charge. With this passage, Novak blew the cover of Wilson's wife, who had worked clandestinely for the CIA for years. I immediately called Wilson, whom I had gotten to know over the past months and whom I had recruited to write for The Nation. Somewhat jokingly, I said, "You never told me Valerie was CIA." He responded, "I still can't." As we discussed the Novak column, it became clear to me that this leak--apparently part of an effort to discredit and/or punish Wilson for opposing the White House--had ruined his wife's career as a clandestine officer, undermined her work in the important field of counterproliferation, and perhaps even endangered her and her contacts. And it might have been against the law. I told Wilson about the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which made it a serious federal crime for a government official to reveal the identity of a covert officer. He and his wife were unaware of the law. The following day, I checked further and concluded that it was possible that White House officials--or "administration sources," as Novak put it--had indeed broken the law.

On July 16, 2003, I wrote a piece that appeared in this space noting that the Wilsons had been slimed by the Bush administration and that this leak might have harmed national security and violated the 1982 law. It was the first article to report that the leak was a possible White House crime. Few reporters in Washington paid attention to the story, but the posted piece received a tremendous flood of traffic. Not until two months later, when the news broke that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to conduct an investigation, did the Wilson leak story go big-time.

Since then, Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from the matter, and Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, has been investigating. Reporters and observers have spent months guessing and theorizing about the identities of the leakers and wondering whether the leak investigation is progressing. In his new book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity, Wilson writes that he was told by a source that in March 2002 (months before he went public on his Niger trip but while he was a vocal critic of the march to war) the Office of the Vice President held a meeting in which a decision was made to do a "workup" on Wilson--that is, to dig up dirt on him. As for the leakers, Wilson writes that after talking to reporters and others he believes it was "quite possibly" Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, who exposed his wife's identity. He also writes, "The other name that has most often been repeated to me in connection with the inquiry and disclosure into my background and Valerie's is that of Elliott Abrams, [a National Security Council aide] who gained infamy in the Iran-Contra scandal during the first Bush administration." Moreover, Wilson maintains that Bush strategist Karl Rove was instrumental in disseminating information about him and his wife.

Wilson doesn't have proof. He is essentially sharing hunches and leads. (An April 30, 2004, New York Daily News story, citing an "inside source," reports that Fitzgerald's probe has been focused on Libby and Rove.) But Wilson's book is far more than an account of the leak affair and Nigergate. He writes breezily about his years as a smooth and assertive foreign service officer (including his rather dramatic face-off against Saddam Hussein in 1990, when Wilson was the last acting ambassador in Iraq before the first Gulf War), and he passionately chronicles his role in the public debate that preceded Bush's invasion of Iraq. (Disclosure: he has several kind references to me in the book.) The night before his book was to be released, he talked with me about the leak, his wife, the war, and what lies ahead in Iraq.

In 2000, you donated $1000 to George W. Bush's presidential campaign. Why? Any regrets?

I thought he would be the better of the two Republican presidential candidates then in the running. When he talked about compassionate conservatism, it seemed as if he was interested in reprising the first Bush administration. I had been happy with parts of its foreign policy. But after Bush lost the New Hampshire primary and tacked hard to the right in South Carolina to beat John McCain, it was clear to me he was not a good choice. I declined to sign a letter of former ambassadors supporting him. About that contribution--I was wrong. I admit my error.

When I called you the morning of July 14, 2003, about the Novak column, you initially said you were not eager for anyone to write about the matter. Did you believe that the impact of the leak could be contained?

It was not that I thought it could be contained. I did not want to add additional fuel to the fire. I believed that the appropriate point of inquiry was the CIA. When I first I read it, I realized that only if 150 people in the entire world had seen the column, you could be sure that 149 of them were heads of intelligence services here in D.C. I understood the importance to Val's career and the security implications. After all, CIA station chiefs in Beirut and Greece had been assassinated.

You talked with Novak before the column appeared. Did you ask him not to identify your wife?

He said he had it from a CIA source and he was looking for a confirmation. I said I would not say anything about my wife. He then wrote it had come from "two senior administration officials." I then called him and said, "Well which was it--a CIA source, or administration sources?" He said he had misspoken the first time. If you're a journalist who's been in this town a long time, it seems to me you know your way in and out of questions of sourcing. The serious journalists I've spoken to over the years have all been very precise about their sources. I did find this lack of precision curious.

What do you think that means?

I have no idea. And then afterwards, Novak was quoted as saying he had contacted the CIA and it had told him not to go with the story. But apparently he didn't understand some part of that no. [Editor's note: Novak says he received what he considered to be a weak request from the CIA not to publish Valerie Plame's name.] Maybe because they didn't scream he assumed he could get away with it. And it appears he has.

Why did the leak receive not a lot of notice at first?

I have no idea what drives the news cycle.

Did you try to bring it to the attention of other reporters?

No. Principally because Valerie and I realized that for all the hardship it may have imposed upon us, the real crime was the crime against the national security of the country and the responsibility for investigating that crime lay with the appropriate authorities. We have tried to avoid giving the impression that we thought of ourselves as victims. We thought that the country was the victim.

What's been the attitude at the CIA about the leak?

I only know what I've heard and what I've seen publicly. I have not been in touch with the CIA since I came back from Niger. Valerie has, of course, but we don't talk about it. But I think it's safe to say that those of her former colleagues who have spoken out publicly have made it very clear that there has been a breach of trust between the clandestine service of the CIA and the White House.

Has CIA chief George Tenet said anything publicly about the leak or the investigation?

I haven't seen anything. I don't know. I probably would have noticed. But I might not have.

Is Valerie still working at the CIA?

She still works there. She still goes to work every day. Obviously her job has changed and her ability to do certain things has been lost. There are things she will not be able to do in the future. And we'll see in the long term how this works out.

Is she still working in the counterproliferation field?

I can't tell you that.

Have you heard from the federal investigators recently?

Not in a while. I have all the confidence that Pat Fitzgerald and the FBI investigators who are working with him are proceeding aggressively and doing everything they can to get to the bottom of this. At the same time, I'm appalled that they haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet, and I have to conclude that the reason is because administration officials in the know are simply stonewalling. The president made it very clear in a public comment that he expected his senior officials to cooperate with the investigation because he wanted to get to the bottom of it. Now either the president was just not being serious when he made that statement, or else his senior staff is disobeying him, or else he doesn't have any authority over his senior staff. You take your pick. We have both spoken to the FBI. But we don't talk about the investigation.

But in your book you speculate about the source of the leak--

It's not so much that I'm voicing my speculation. It is more that I am sharing with people outside the Beltway what credible sources here in Washington have shared with me. And what they have gleaned is that as early as March there was a meeting in the offices of the Vice President at which the decision was made to do a workup on me. The cause of this was my appearance on CNN when I was asked about forged documents [that contained the allegation about Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger] and about the State Department spokesman's statement that the United States had simply fallen for these forgeries. I said that I believed that if the U.S. government looked into its files it would find that it knew far more about the Niger business than the State Department spokesman was letting on. And I went further and said that I thought that the State Department spokesman was either being disingenuous or else was so far out of the loop he didn't deserve to pick up the meager salary that they pay those guys. Typical hyperbole from me.

So you believe this signaled to the White House that you knew--because of your trip to Niger a year earlier--that the we-were-duped cover story was false? And that because of this, White House officials felt threatened by you and ordered a so-called "workup" on Joe Wilson?

Which I interpreted to mean they basically mounted an intelligence operation to find out everything they could on me and my habits and everything else. Which in and of itself I find rather appalling. Who's responsible for running intelligence operations or doing investigations on people? It certainly isn't the White House.

Maybe in the Nixon administration.

Maybe that's where these guys learned this.

As you know, it is possible that Fitzgerald could conduct a thorough investigation and still at the end of the day conclude there is not enough evidence to prosecute anyone. In that case, have you considered calling for the release of a public report that would describe what his investigators learned?

I haven't. I've had some chats with people up on the Hill about this. Given that I'm not a victim, I have no particular standing to make such a request. The people who have standing to do so are members of Congress. I think that some would be very interested in doing this. I believe it's important to understand that whether or not the special counsel finds evidence of a crime that enables him to prosecute, it is an irrefutable fact that the national security of the United States has been violated. The person who did this falls into the category of what George H.W. Bush once called the "most insidious of traitors." So they can hide behind a criminal investigation--which is what of course the administration is doing--but that does not get them out from under the charge that somebody decided that his or her political agenda was more important than the national security of my country and that this person was prepared to betray a national security asset to defend that agenda. And that person could still be in their position and still have security clearance.

Your detractors on the right say you're a publicity hound who has tried to exploit the leak and cash in by writing a book. Your response?

I don't know quite how to respond to that other than to make the point that for the better part of six months in 2003, I worked behind the scenes, maintaining my anonymity, to try and encourage the government to 'fess up to the [uranium-from-Niger] falsehood that was in the president's State of the Union Address. That was nothing more or less than doing one's civic duty. I did not insert those sixteen words into the president's speech, and I wasn't part of the conspiracy to leak the name of a national security asset. If you read the book, you find it is far more than a diatribe against this administration. It also recounts my career in some of the most difficult places in the world, where I often was working on issues of war and peace. I would submit to you that it is probably far more substantive than the recent book published by [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes.

Before the war, you were one of the few former diplomats--establishment types--who were out there vigorously and consistently opposing the Bush administration on the question of war in Iraq. Why were there not more? Were you lonely?

There were a number of people who offered thoughtful commentary. But a number of very close friends of mine found the stridency of the other side to be really off-putting and found that it was extraordinarily difficult to have the serious debate that this country deserved before we went to war. They held back. Those people are clearly smarter than I am. The people who spoke out acted on their own consciences and on their own sense of what was doable. But there was a sense in some parts of this town that the deal was done and that the key decisions had already been made--which in retrospect seems to have been the case. I always thought that a vigorous debate would have yielded what I thought was the right approach: diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force. You had to be prepared to use force, but if you were going to use the force, it needed to be targeted at the national security objective you wanted to achieve. You needed to have in the calculation some risk/reward, some cost/benefit analyses. It always seemed to me that the invasion, conquest and occupation of Iraq as a means of disarming Hussein was the highest risk, lowest reward option, particularly when it was clear that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 [which led to revived weapons inspections in Iraq] was working.

Recently, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that no one a year ago--including himself--predicted that the situation in Iraq would be so difficult today. Before the war, weren't you, among others, warning that instability and U.S. casualties could continue for a long time after the invasion?

I think if you go back and you look at the interview that I did with Bill Moyers in February of last year, you will see that I suggested that this was a possible outcome. That interview stands the test of time.

You are now an adviser to John Kerry's presidential campaign. He has called for a more multilateral approach to Iraq. But does he really have much of an alternative plan for U.S. military action in Iraq? How would he be handling the insurgency and instability differently than Bush?

I don't speak on behalf of John Kerry. I sit on its foreign policy advisory group, and I have the title of senior foreign policy adviser. But the reason I don't speak on behalf of the Kerry campaign is that I would have to speak on their talking points and that is way too constraining for me. So I support him, I speak in support of him, and I offer the campaign my advice privately. My own sense of where we are now is that the speech that Kerry gave in September [urging a more multilateral approach] is clearly where the administration is beginning to move toward. That's a good thing. Unfortunately, the situation is deteriorating so fast that--and this is not Kerry's position but my own--we need to take some steps rather quickly. The first thing we need to do is stabilize the situation. We need to realize that we are fighting a multi-front war, one front against one or two insurgencies, and a third to ensure public safety and the provision of basic services.

If you contrast the way they did this war with the way they did Bosnia--when I was political adviser to the commander in chief of US forces in Europe--the differences are absolutely striking. In Bosnia, we went in heavy and in such an intimidating fashion that nobody dared take a shot at us, and if they did it was just going to bounce off the Bradley fighting vehicles. We put 30,000 people--20,000 American--into a tiny piece of real estate. In Iraq, we put in 130,000 into a vast piece of territory, and they're all lightly armored because the Rumsfeld doctrine is to move faster, further and more lethally. He didn't factor in what it would take to occupy the territory. Also, when you go in and you do an operation, you have to separate the belligerents, and the first thing you have to do is be responsible for the provision of all the basic services, even if they are not core military tasks. It's only when the situation becomes somewhat stable and when people understand you mean business that you can begin to transfer some of these non-core activities to the NGO community, which is better suited to do it but less able to provide logistical support and security in an unstable situation. In Iraq, we ended up using not the military but contractors, and contractors were responsible for their own security and their own logistical support. This made it problematic because no American business is better able to contend with a high-risk security situation than the U.S. military.

But what should be done in the coming weeks and months?

Given the way the situation is deteriorating, if we don't get our arms around it pretty quickly, the debate is going to turn serious over the question of abandoning the whole project. For example, retired general William Odom, the former chief of the National Security Agency, is now advocating getting out of Iraq and leaving it to the Europeans to get more involved. In a way, I like that as a negotiating position. You say this so the Europeans come to realize that their interests are at stake. We need to have a new sense that collective, international interests are at stake in Iraq. I've always thought the Europeans would eventually recognize that their interests are in play in Iraq. Still, they need to be encouraged to participate fully in the reconstruction. We have not done that. And there are a number of things that need to be done. We need to offer them a significant place at the table. Senator Joe Biden has talked about a multilateral board of directors for Iraq under a general U.N. rubric, bringing together countries that are prepared to put their military and economic assets into play.

My own sense is that the first countries we should go to are countries capable of projecting military force such as--and I hate to say it--France. France can project military force, and it has the political will and can take casualties. It is a little stretched now because it is doing two operations in Africa. But what we do is go to France and other countries and demonstrate to them that the leadership model has changed and that they need to be part of the solution. And we should make the points to them that the failure of the United States in Iraq will mean that the U.S. leadership is taken off the table the next time there is a problem that involves their region and that instability in the Middle East doesn't play very well for restive populations at home. We should get rid of this idea that the reconstruction contracts are primarily for the United States, and see what these other nations can bring to the table.

Do you have any aspirations to serve in the U.S. government again?

It is not an ambition of mine. Now, if there was a request, and it seemed to match my skill set and my experience....

Could you be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate?

I have done nothing to impugn my country, to denigrate my country. I have insisted only, throughout the run-up to the war, that we have a debate based on a set of commonly accepted facts, on which we could base a decision to send 130,000 of our sons and daughters to kill and die for our country. I have also insisted, as is the right of any citizen, that the U.S. government be held accountable for what it has said to the American people and to the Congress of the United States. Neither of those are disqualifying positions.

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DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research....[I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer....Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the official website: www.bushlies.com.

Democracy is on the Ballot

On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush donned a flight suit and landed in a jet on the Abraham Lincoln's flight deck off the coast of San Diego. There, in front of sailors and camera crews, the President of the United States pranced around with a banner behind him that said, "Mission Accomplished."

A year later, as we note in our lead editorial this week, "Bush is unable to admit error and continues to promote a false triumphalism. Instead of leveling with the American people about his administration's miscalculations, he forbids the release of pictures showing the caskets of dead troops returning home, and instead of discussing options for ending a war that should never have been waged, he offers nothing but insulting and insensitive 'stay the course' rhetoric."

Perhaps the most egregious lesson that we should take away from May 1st is that this http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> administration routinely abuses its power and regularly tramples democracy without batting an eye.

In his excellent http://www.wwnorton.com/catalog/spring04/005942.htm "> forthcoming book, Losing America, Senator Robert Byrd delivers a wakeup call to all citizens. Charging that http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00090t "> Bush is destroying our civil liberties and undermining the Constitution's checks and balances, Byrd warns that "In times of war or crisis, it becomes very easy to cloak everything under the unassailable mantle of national security, or even the more euphemistically effective 'patriotism.'"

Part of the blame for an executive branch that has broken free of accountability lies with Congress, which cravenly capitulated to Bush's White House in the run-up to war. When Bush lied about the presence of http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=040205 "> WMD in Iraq, Congress--including, sadly, too many Democrats---ignored the truth and handed the President a blank check in voting for the resolution authorizing war against Iraq. (Click http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021014&s=editors "> here to read The Nation's Open Letter to Congress on the eve of that vote.)

But the real villains in this pre-war period wasn't Congress; they were, of course, http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=00090t "> Bush and his top lieutenants. They not only lied about WMD in Iraq, they also deceived the public about Saddam's Al Qaeda connections--and we now know that the http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Bush Administration illegally diverted funds earmarked for Afghanistan to Kuwait and Iraq. It is also increasingly clear that Bush's scheme has parallels with Reagan's deceptions in the Iran Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.

Bush, in truth, disdains free and fair debate and abhors honesty in government, principles that form the foundation of democracy. In his http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/031600023X/002-3037997-069... "> new book Worse than Watergate, http://www.twbookmark.com/authors/66/2937/index.html "> John Dean convincingly argues that Bush is a greater danger than even the notoriously paranoid Nixon. "No one died for Nixon's so-called Watergate abuses," observes Dean.

On the all-important domestic front, Bush and his cronies have lied about the cost of the new Medicare law and stonewalled the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. In front of the Supreme Court last Tuesday, Bush's lawyers defended Vice-President Cheney's right to keep his Energy Task Force a secret and asserted blanket immunity for the executive branch from almost any public scrutiny. Meanwhile, at John Ashcroft's Justice Department, Jose Padilla and other so-called "enemy combatant" detainees are forbidden from even seeing a lawyer or appearing in a court of law.

Another example of Bush's thuggish abuse of power comes from http://www.avalonpub.com/carroll_graf.html "> Joseph Wilson's new book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity (Carroll & Graf). Wilson, a former US ambassador, alleges that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Cheney's Chief of Staff, or Elliot Abrams illegally leaked the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA agent involved in counter-espionage as political payback for Wilson going public with his doubts that Saddam Hussein ever tried to purchase enriched uranium from the small African nation of Niger.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently observed that this administration constituted "a sort of elected dictatorship." While I consider "selected dictatorship" a more appropriate phrase, (can't forget Florida!), Krugman's point is crucial: This administration will abuse any law and assert any privilege to attack its critics and achieve its goals. If democracy gets trampled underfoot, then Bush's attitude is, simply,tough.

So not only will Bush's reelection campaign be on the line in November, but American democracy will be on the ballot, too. If Americans are serious about guarding their civil liberties, maintaining their freedoms, and increasing their security, they must heed Byrd, Dean and Wilson's powerful warnings to the republic--and vote to re-defeat Bush and re-install democracy in November.

Quid Pro Quack

Every judge knows that you don't vacation with friends and accept their generosity while their case is pending before you. But that's just what Justice Antonin Scalia did with Dick Cheney, whose energy case is being heard by the Supreme Court this week. Though it's unlikely he'll do so, Justice Scalia still has time to do the right thing and recuse himself from this case. (Technically, he can do so up until the Court renders a decision.)

As legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers wrote recently in The Nation, Scalia's determination to stay on the case, "tells thousands of federal and state judges that it can be OK to vacation with friends who have cases before them and to accept the generosity of those friends while their cases are pending. "

The DC-based group Alliance for Justice, a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women's, children's and consumer advocacy organizations, has created an online animated movie, Quid Pro Quack, which shows the absurdity of Scalia's refusal to recuse himself. Click here to watch the movie. It's fun and informative. And click here to sign the AFJ's petition to urge Scalia to "Choose to Recuse."

An Open Letter to Tony Blair

In an unprecedented open letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair published in both the Guardian and Independent newspapers on Tuesday, April 27, (and reprinted below), fifty-two former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials criticized Blair's unflinching support for George Bush's handling of postwar Iraq and Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" plan in the Occupied Territories.

Arguing that the Bush/Blair foreign-policy is only increasing bloodshed and instability in the region, the letter makes a powerful case for a fundamental shift in approach. Isn't it time for a group of retired American diplomats to band together and speak out against the http://www.thenation.com/directory/view.mhtml?t=000706 "> Bush Administration's policies which, as their British counterparts warn, "are doomed to failure?"

Doomed to Failure in the Middle East: A letter from 52 former senior British diplomats to Tony Blair

Dear Prime Minister,

We the undersigned former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close cooperation with the United States. Following the press conference in Washington at which you and President Bush restated these policies, we feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment.

The decision by the US, the EU, Russia and the UN to launch a "road map" for the settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort to resolve a problem which, more than any other, has for decades poisoned relations between the west and the Islamic and Arab worlds. The legal and political principles on which such a settlement would be based were well established: President Clinton had grappled with the problem during his presidency; the ingredients needed for a settlement were well understood and informal agreements on several of them had already been achieved. But the hopes were ill-founded. Nothing effective has been done either to move the negotiations forward or to curb the violence. Britain and the other sponsors of the road map merely waited on American leadership, but waited in vain.

Worse was to come. After all those wasted months, the international community has now been confronted with the announcement by Ariel Sharon and President Bush of new policies which are one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood. Our dismay at this backward step is heightened by the fact that you yourself seem to have endorsed it, abandoning the principles which for nearly four decades have guided international efforts to restore peace in the Holy Land and which have been the basis for such successes as those efforts have produced.

This abandonment of principle comes at a time when rightly or wrongly we are portrayed throughout the Arab and Muslim world as partners in an illegal and brutal occupation in Iraq.

The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement. All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful. Policy must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive. This is the view of virtually all independent specialists on the region, both in Britain and in America. We are glad to note that you and the president have welcomed the proposals outlined by Lakhdar Brahimi. We must be ready to provide what support he requests, and to give authority to the UN to work with the Iraqis themselves, including those who are now actively resisting the occupation, to clear up the mess.

The military actions of the coalition forces must be guided by political objectives and by the requirements of the Iraq theatre itself, not by criteria remote from them. It is not good enough to say that the use of force is a matter for local commanders. Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total 10-15,000 (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children. Phrases such as "We mourn each loss of life. We salute them, and their families for their bravery and their sacrifice," apparently referring only to those who have died on the coalition side, are not well judged to moderate the passions these killings arouse.

We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure.

Yours faithfully,

Sir Graham Boyce (ambassador to Egypt 1999-2001); Sir Terence Clark (ambassador to Iraq 1985-89); Francis Cornish (ambassador to Israel 1998-2001); Sir James Craig (ambassador to Saudi Arabia 1979-84); Ivor Lucas (ambassador to Syria 1982-84); Richard Muir (ambassador to Kuwait 1999-2002); Sir Crispin Tickell (British permanent representative to the UN 1987-90); Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker (ambassador to Iraq 1990-91), and 44 others.