It's been six months since nineteen fanatics controlled by Al Qaeda seized four airliners and wreaked bloody, fiery havoc on the United States. In the aftermath, stunned and angry Americans gave the Bush Administration their full-throated support for a war against the perpetrators of the atrocities and those who directed, financed or harbored them. Now, at the half-year mark, Bush's approval rating for this war still hovers above 80 percent, but hairline cracks are appearing in the consensus.
As John Nichols reports in this issue, Representative Dennis Kucinich's recent speech criticizing Bush's war went where no Democrat had gone before. His message--that Americans had not enlisted for the wider military effort the Administration is now undertaking or for the curtailment of civil liberties at home--evidently struck a nerve. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Senator Robert Byrd lectured Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz that there would be no more blank checks for the Pentagon, while Senate majority leader Tom Daschle mildly reproached the Administration by asking whatever happened to Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Omar.
Daschle's cautious criticism struck a Republican nerve. Senate minority leader Trent Lott blasted Daschle for trying to "divide the country." But the ancient dodge of hiding behind what Senator John Kerry in a recent speech called the "false cloak of patriotism" may not work this time around. Polls show that a majority of respondents don't want Bush to expand the war beyond Afghanistan unless there is hard evidence that the nation targeted is harboring terrorists. The renewal of fighting in Afghanistan with US troops heavily engaged is a reminder that there is an unfinished job in Afghanistan, not only mopping up Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants but helping the central government extend its writ outside Kabul. This is no time to embark on a global crusade against nebulous "evil."
The casualties US forces have been taking in the new fighting will mute the criticism, but Democrats, who had unwisely pledged to allow "no daylight" between them and Bush on the war, seem to be positioning themselves to begin asking some impolite questions. These are long overdue. The Administration has recently been committing US troops to a series of problematic missions, none of them more than distantly related to the original war on Al Qaeda authorized by Congress. In the strategically important Philippines, US "trainers" are in country aiding the hunt for a band of kidnappers; in Georgia US instructors will be at risk of becoming caught up in a civil war. There is high-level talk about committing US combat troops to Colombia's civil war, cynically transforming counternarcotics into counterterrorism. And then there is Iraq, glittering prize for a politically potent alliance of Pentagon hawks and Beltway conservatives.
Now that Democrats in Congress have regained their lost voice, they should use it more--asking tough questions, grilling officials about the new commitments, about exit and entrance strategies (i.e., what objectives are these troops being sent to achieve?). One might think Congress would be in a feisty mood these days after the way this Administration has ignored it--not even telling it about those secret bunkers where senior officials will ride out a terrorist strike. Apparently, the White House thinks Congress is expendable. It's certainly conducting the war as if it does.
Dennis Kucinich never doubted that millions of Americans had deep concerns about George W. Bush's ever-expanding war on ill-defined foes abroad and on civil liberties at home. But the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair admits he underestimated the depth of the discomfort until February 17, when he delivered a speech to the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, in which he declared, "Let us pray that our country will stop this war."
Recalling the Congressional vote authorizing the President's response to the September 11 terrorist attacks--a resolution supported by Kucinich and all but one member of Congress, California Democrat Barbara Lee--the Ohioan thundered, "We did not authorize an eye for an eye. Nor did we ask that the blood of innocent people, who perished on September 11, be avenged with the blood of innocent villagers in Afghanistan. We did not authorize the Administration to wage war anytime, anywhere, anyhow it pleases. We did not authorize war without end. We did not authorize a permanent war economy. Yet we are upon the threshold of a permanent war economy."
Kucinich's "Prayer for America" speech was interrupted by repeated standing ovations. But the real measure of the message's resonance came as the text of the speech circulated on the Internet--where a genuine worldwide web of opposition to the Administration's actions led to the posting of Kucinich's words on websites (including www.thenation.com) and dispatched them via e-mail. Within days, Kucinich received 10,000-plus e-mails. Many echoed New Jerseyan Thomas Minet's sentiments: "Since the 'Axis of Evil' State of the Union Address, I have been searching like Diogenes with his lantern for one honest person in Congress who would have the guts to speak out about the attack on Democracy being mounted by the Bush Administration. It has been a frustrating search indeed, and I was just about ready to give up hope when I ran across 'A Prayer for America.' Thank God for this man's courage." Others simply read, "Kucinich for President."
For Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor who led Democratic opposition to the US bombing of Yugoslavia and proposed establishing a Cabinet-level Department of Peace, speaking out against military adventuring is not new. But he says he's never experienced so immediate and enthusiastic a response. "We can't print out the messages as fast as we are receiving them," he says. "But I've read through a lot of them now, and they touch on the same themes: The Administration's actions are no longer appropriate, and it is time for Congress to start asking questions. The people understand something most of Congress does not: There is nothing unpatriotic about challenging this Administration's policies."
Kucinich was not the first Congressmember to express concern about Bush's plans. Lee cast her cautionary vote in September. In October, responding to reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Representative Jim McDermott criticized the speed with which the Administration had taken military action and the failure of the White House to adequately consult Congress. In December, Kucinich, McDermott and Lee joined five other House Democrats in signing a letter to Bush, written by Representative Tammy Baldwin, which noted, "We are concerned by those in your Administration and among our own ranks in the Congress who appear to be making the case for broad expansion of this military campaign beyond Afghanistan. Without presenting clear and compelling evidence that other nations were involved in the September 11 attacks, it is inappropriate to expand the conflict." Another letter, by Representative Peter DeFazio, called on the White House to comply with the War Powers Resolution before expanding the war. In February Senator Robert Byrd said that Congress should no longer hand the President a "blank check." Senate majority leader Tom Daschle suggested the war "will have failed" without the capture of Osama bin Laden--a statement rebuked by Republicans, who want no measure of success or failure applied to this war.
But Kucinich's speech was a clarion call. "For most people, Kucinich's speech represents the clearest Congressional criticism they have heard about the conduct of the war, and of the Administration's plans to expand it. That's enormously significant," said Midge Miller, who helped launch Senator Eugene McCarthy's antiwar challenge to President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. "Citizens look for Congressional opposition to organize around--they look for leaders to say something. When I read Kucinich's speech, I thought, This could be a turning point."
It has certainly been a turning point for Kucinich. Overwhelmed by invitations to speak, he says his top priority will be to work with Baldwin and others to encourage a broader Congressional debate over international priorities, Pentagon spending and the stifling of dissent. Expect battles in the House Democratic Caucus, where minority leader Dick Gephardt has been more cautious than Daschle about criticizing Bush. But Kucinich thinks more Democrats will begin to echo Senator Byrd's challenge to blank-check military spending in a time of tight budgets. Kucinich plans to encourage grassroots activists to tell members of Congress it is not merely necessary but politically safe to challenge "the Patriot Games, the Mind Games, the War Games of an unelected President and his unelected Vice President."
Kucinich, whose working-class district elected a conservative Republican before him, is confident Democrats from even the most competitive districts can safely join him in questioning the war. "The key," he says, "is to recognize that there is a great deal of unity in America around some basic values: peace and security, protection of the planet, a good quality of life for themselves and for others. When people express their patriotism, they are not saying--as some would suggest--that they no longer believe in these things. There's nothing unpatriotic about asserting human values and defending democratic principles. A lot of Americans are telling me this is the highest form of patriotism."
A place was found for Mr. Cheney
Where, even if the missiles rain, he
Can carry on his governing nonstop.
They then found bunkers down so far
That closed-lip Bushies even are
More secretive than they have been on top.
So if some heinous act occurred,
Our continuity's assured:
The government will run forevermore.
And since the Congress has no caves,
There'll be no Waxmans to make waves--
Which should make things much smoother than before.
Tuesday, March 5, midnight
How to Honor Pearl
Bureaucratic timidity and turf battles needlessly put many Americans at risk.
The Federal Communications Commission is presently conducting an inquiry--a "rulemaking"--to determine whether to relax, or even to eliminate, the remaining few regulations that limit how many me
The Bush Administration is turning into one big rehab center for the Iran/contra schemers of the Reagan/Bush White House. The latest case involves retired Adm. John Poindexter, who's been hired by the Pentagon to head a new agency, the Information Awareness Office. Created after September 11 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, it is developing high-tech systems to provide government officials immediate access to new surveillance and information-analysis systems. Its focus, of course, includes terrorist groups.
Poindexter certainly has extensive experience dealing with terrorists. As Ronald Reagan's National Security Adviser, he was a key mover in the Iran/contra scandal of the 1980s, when the Reagan White House tried to pull off a secret arms-for-hostages deal with the terrorist-supporting regime of Iran. Poindexter also was one of the few Reagan officials who, according to the available evidence, knew that proceeds from the arguably illicit arms sales to Iran were diverted to the Nicaraguan contras. He later testified that he had deliberately withheld information from Reagan on the diversion because "I wanted the President to have some deniability so that he would be protected."
After the arms-for-hostages deal became public in late 1986, Poindexter "repeatedly laid out a false version" in order to distance Reagan from the most questionable weapons transactions, according to Iran/contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh. Poindexter, with his aide Oliver North, also attempted to shred and destroy records regarding their Iran/contra activities.
Poindexter was tried and convicted of five felonies, including obstructing official inquiries and lying to Congress. He was sentenced to six months in prison. But he walked. In a two-to-one decision in 1991, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned Poindexter's convictions on the ground that his trial had been tainted by his immunized Congressional testimony. (North, convicted of three counts, avoided jail for the same reason.) This was escape, not vindication. Since leaving government service, Poindexter, a physicist by training, has been active as a military technology consultant. But the record remains: Poindexter admitted withholding information from his boss, he destroyed government documents and he misled official investigators. Does that sound like someone to entrust with a new government agency?
No problemo for the Bushies. They have happily provided homes to other Iran/contra reprobates. Elliott Abrams, who as Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America in the Reagan years supervised contra policy, pleaded guilty to two charges of withholding information from Congress. Today, the fellow who downplayed reports of military massacres in Central America works for the National Security Council, overseeing human rights and democracy issues. (Abrams was pardoned by Bush I.)
Otto Reich ran a State Department office during the Iran/contra affair that "engaged in prohibited covert propaganda," according to a government inquiry. Now he has Abrams's old job at State. John Negroponte was US Ambassador to Honduras and facilitated a clandestine quid pro quo deal, under which the Reagan Administration sent aid to Honduras in return for Honduran assistance to the contras, at a time when Congress had banned the Administration from assisting the contras. Negroponte's embassy also suppressed information about human rights abuses committed by the Honduran military. Negroponte is currently our UN ambassador.
Perhaps the most significant Iran/contra rehabilitation concerns the President's father: "41" was an Iran/contra ringleader who lied about his role. After the scandal broke, Bush claimed he had not been "in the loop." But according to documents later released, he had attended high-level meetings on the Iran initiative and had participated in the Administration's quid pro quo with Honduras. It was only after Bush I was bounced out of office that his personal diary notes--long sought by investigators--became available. His entry for November 5, 1986 (two days after the Iran initiative was revealed by a Lebanese weekly), reads, "I'm one of the few people that know fully the details.... This is one operation that has been held very, very tight, and I hope it will not leak." That boastful note wins Bush the Elder a top spot in the roster of Iran/contra prevaricators. Yet he went on to become a rather important adviser to a high-ranking member of the present Administration.
There has been one exception to the all-is-forgiven rule at the Bush II White House. In October, Duane Clarridge, a CIA official involved in the scandal who was indicted for lying to Congress, was set to become an assistant in the NSC's counterterrorism office. But then the White House yanked the welcome mat. In speaking to one reporter, a disappointed Clarridge cited Abrams, noting that, unlike Abrams, he had not pleaded guilty. (Clarridge was pardoned by Daddy Bush before his case could be tried.) Poor guy, he does have a point. Why embrace Abrams--and Poindexter, Reich and Negroponte--but not Clarridge? Was secretly mining Nicaragua's harbor, a Clarridge initiative that earned a World Court ruling against the United States, worse than shredding, or lying to Congress, or covering up human rights abuses?
So is there anyone left to be rehabilitated? Oliver North has a good gig at Fox News, where he shares his expert opinions on how to deal with terrorists. (Sell them missiles and bring them a nice cake?) Richard Secord, the wheeling-dealing general-turned-arms-merchant who managed North's secret contra supply operation, may well be seeking business opportunities arising from the war on terrorism. Perhaps retired Gen. John Singlaub could be assigned a mission. Recently, at a conference of conservatives I bumped into Singlaub, who ran the World Anti-Communist League in the 1980s and plotted with North to raise money covertly for the contras from foreign countries. Are you active these days? I asked. "Yes," he said, adding no more. Same sort of stuff as always? "Yes," he replied and shifted his feet. Like what? I asked. He stalked off. The man can still keep a secret--sign him up. By the way, Robert McFarlane, Poindexter's predecessor as National Security Adviser and a co-author of the Iran deal and the contra policy, re-emerged in October as an adviser to an anti-Taliban Afghan fighter who was ambushed and killed during a botched operation. Maybe there's a spot available for him. When it comes to personnel, Iran/contra is no stigma for the Bush clan. In most instances, it seems to be a mark of honor.
Secrecy is the guiding philosophy of the Bush Administration.