The End of Arrogance…NOT.
The welcome end of a Pissant and an international joke, more likely. The opening paragraphs from an article in Der Spiegel:
There are days when all it takes is a single speech to illustrate the decline of a world power. A face can speak volumes, as can the speaker’s tone of voice, the speech itself or the audience’s reaction. Kings and queens have clung to the past before and humiliated themselves in public, but this time it was merely a United States president.
Or what is left of him.
George W. Bush has grown old, erratic and rosy in the eight years of his presidency. Little remains of his combativeness or his enthusiasm for physical fitness. On this sunny Tuesday morning in New York, even his hair seemed messy and unkempt, his blue suit a little baggy around the shoulders, as Bush stepped onto the stage, for the eighth time, at the United Nations General Assembly.
He talked about terrorism and terrorist regimes, and about governments that allegedly support terror. He failed to notice that the delegates sitting in front of and below him were shaking their heads, smiling and whispering, or if he did notice, he was no longer capable of reacting. The US president gave a speech similar to the ones he gave in 2004 and 2007, mentioning the word “terror” 32 times in 22 minutes. At the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations, George W. Bush was the only one still talking about terror and not about the topic that currently has the rest of the world’s attention.
“Absurd, absurd, absurd,” said one German diplomat. A French woman called him “yesterday’s man” over coffee on the East River. There is another way to put it, too: Bush was a laughing stock in the gray corridors of the UN.
The American president has always had enemies in these hallways and offices at the UN building on First Avenue in Manhattan. The Iranians and Syrians despise the eternal American-Israeli coalition, while many others are tired of Bush’s Americans telling the world about the blessings of deregulated markets and establishing rules “that only apply to others,” says the diplomat from Berlin.
But the ridicule was a new thing. It marked the end of respect.
Right, like the Little Pissant ever earned or deserved anything but contempt, derision, and ridicule from the get-go. Good freakin’ riddance.
The Real Sarah Palin
JUNEAU, Alaska, By Nick Jans — I sat on the bank of the Kobuk River in northwest arctic Alaska on a mid-September morning. Upstream somewhere, wolves were howling — their chorus filling the silence, close enough that I could hear the aspiration at the end of each wavering call. Behind me, the slate-gray heave of the Brooks Range spilled off toward the north, the shapes of some peaks so familiar I’ve seen them in my sleep. The nearest highway lay 250 miles away. This is the Alaska where I spent half my life, and the only place that’s ever felt like home — the land of Eskimo villages, waves of migrating caribou and seemingly limitless space.
Though I was beyond the reach of the Internet and cellphones, and life was filled with rutting bull moose, incandescent autumn light and fresh grizzly tracks, I knew that thousands of miles to the south, the rest of the country was getting a crash course on our governor, Sarah Palin — someone who believes that climate change isn’t our fault; is dead set against a woman’s right to choose; has supported creationism in the schools; and was prayed over by a visiting minister at her church to shield her against witchcraft.
How was I to explain to all my lower 48 friends and writing colleagues how such a person could have been elected to lead our state — let alone been chosen to possibly become vice-president? Truth be told, I was as startled as anyone when I heard the news. At first I thought the McCain campaign’s announcement was some sort of bad joke.
In the broadest sense, Palin is a poseur. Alaska is too large and culturally diverse (it’s only a bit smaller than the entire lower 48 east of the Mississippi, and once was divided into four time zones) to be summed up by some abstract, romanticized notion. And even if it could be, it sure wouldn’t be symbolized by Palin. “The typical Alaskan? She couldn’t be farther from it,” says Alaska House Minority Leader Beth Kertulla.
Still, Palin is a genuine Alaskan — of a kind. The kind that flowed north in the wake of the ’70s oil boom, Bible Belt politics and attitudes under arm, and transformed this state from a free-thinking, independent bastion of genuine libertarianism and individuality into a reactionary fundamentalist enclave with dollar signs in its eyes and an all-for-me mentality.
Palin’s Alaska is embodied in Wasilla, a blue-collar, sharp-elbowed town of burgeoning big box stores, suburban subdivisions, evangelical pocket churches and car dealerships morphing across the landscape, outward from Anchorage, the state’s urban epicenter. She has lived in Wasilla practically all her life, and even now resides there, the first Alaska executive to eschew the white-pillared mansion in Juneau, down on the Southeast Panhandle.
Folks in the Mat-Su Valley, as the area is known, overwhelmingly support their favorite daughter’s policies — including a state-sanctioned program where private pilots chase down and kill wolves from small aircraft, and another that favors oil drilling offshore in the arctic sea ice and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These same voters forage at McDonald’s and Safeway in their hunter camouflage, and make regular wilderness forays up and down the state’s limited highway grid with ATVs, snowmobiles and airboats in tow behind their oversize trucks. Sometimes I imagine I can hear the roar echoing across the state, all the way to the upper Kobuk, where easements for the highways of tomorrow are already staked out across the tundra.
Like many Alaskans, I resent Palin’s claims that she speaks for all of us, and cringe when she tosses off her stump speech line, “Well, up in Alaska, we….” Not only did I not vote for her, she represents the antithesis of the Alaska I love. As mayor, she helped shape Wasilla into the chaotic, poorly planned strip mall that it is; as governor, she’s promoted that same headlong drive toward development and despoilment on a grand scale, while paying lip service to her love of the place.
As for that frontierswoman shtick, take another look at that hairpiece-augmented beehive and those stiletto heels. Coming from a college-educated family, living in a half-million-dollar view home, basking in a net worth of $1.25 million, and having owned 40-some registered motorized vehicles in the past two decades (including 17 snowmobiles and a plane) hardly qualifies Palin and her clan as the quintessential Joe Six-Pack family unit — though the adulation from that quarter shows the Palins must be fulfilling some sort of role-model fantasy.
Palin can claim to know Alaska; the fact is, she’s seen only a minuscule fraction of it — and that doesn’t include Little Diomede Island, the one place in Alaska where you actually can see Russia. So she can ride an ATV and shoot guns. Set her down in the bush on her own and I bet we’d discover she’s about as adept at butchering a moose and building a fire at 40 below zero as she is at discussing Supreme Court decisions. And that mountain-woman act is only the tip of a hollow iceberg.
Palin, and by extension, the McCain campaign, has hijacked our state for political purposes, much to the chagrin of the tens of thousands of Alaskans who loathe what she stands for. Her much-touted popularity among residents has eroded over the past six weeks to somewhere in the mid-60s — not exactly what you’d expect in support of a home girl making a White House run.
There are no doubt a variety of reasons for this decline, but many Alaskans are embarrassed — not just by her, but for our state and for ourselves. What’s with the smug posturing, recently adopted fake Minnesota accent, and that gosh-darn-it hockey mom pitch? Maybe it plays well in Peoria (and presumably Duluth), but it’s all an act. “She’s definitely put on a new persona since she’s been a vice-presidential candidate,” says Kertulla, who has worked closely with Palin for the past 18 months. “I don’t even recognize her.”
Affectations aside, there’s plenty about Palin we Alaskans do recognize, and all too well. She’s already proven to us that her promises of transparent government, attendant to the will of the people, are bear pucky. We know about her private e-mail accounts and her systematic obstruction of the Alaska Legislature’s investigation of the so-called Troopergate scandal. But let’s turn to her environmental record, where a similar pattern of obfuscation continues.
First, Palin pushed hard, along with sport hunting and guiding interests, to help defeat a ballot initiative that would have stopped the state’s current aerial wolf control program, which had been criticized by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council for flawed science. Now her administration has pointedly refused to respond to repeated public information requests (I’m one of the petitioners, and a potential litigant), regarding the apparently illegal killing of 14 wolf pups at their dens on the Alaska Peninsula this spring by state personnel, including two high-level Department of Fish and Game administrators. A biologist at the scene admitted to an independent wolf scientist that the 6-week-old pups were held down and shot in the head, one by one. This inhumane practice, known as “denning,” has been illegal for 40 years. But a simple request for information on the details of this operation, including to what extent the governor was involved in the decision, has resulted in a typical Palinesque roadblock and a string of untruths.
Our I-love-Alaska governor was also instrumental in defeating a ballot initiative to stop development of a gargantuan open-pit mine incongruously known as Pebble near the headwaters of the most productive salmon watershed in the state, Bristol Bay. The current mine design calls for building the world’s largest earthen dam to hold back an enormous lake of toxic waste — this in a known earthquake zone. Crazy stuff, yet Palin openly opposed the initiative, in lock step with international mining corporations that invested millions of dollars in a misinformation campaign.
But Palin’s certified anti-environmental whopper is her lawsuit against the Bush administration (of all outfits) for listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. She claimed Alaska’s own experts had completed a review of the federal data and concluded that the listing was uncalled for. The truth was, state biologists had come to the opposite conclusion. But that report was never released, and her researchers had a gag clamped on them. Palin simply didn’t want anything to get in the way of offshore oil drilling in moving pack ice — where there is no way to contain, let alone clean up, catastrophic spills.
Whenever science or rules get in Palin’s way, she blows them off. Says homesteader Mark Richards, co-founder of the Alaska Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (a moderate conservation group), “Palin, like Governor Murkowski before her, is part and parcel of the good-ol-boy network that says, ‘Alaska is open for business.’”
Want to talk to Sarah? As governor, she has been accessible only on her carefully chosen terms, a trend we’re now witnessing on the national stage. And how about those Katie Couric moments when she drifts just a skosh off a well-rehearsed script? Are those a recent phenomenon, brought on by all this new information, pressure and the liberal-gotcha media? Nah. She’s been spouting “political gibberish” (to quote gubernatorial opponent Andrew Halcro) since she arrived on the Alaska scene. Yet somehow she continues to get away with it.
In the end, Palin’s attempt to cash in on the Eau d’Alaska mystique as she supports its destruction sickens those of us who do love this land, not for what it will be some day, after the roads and mines and pipelines and cities and malls are all in, but for what it is now. What we see before us is the soul of an ambitious, ruthless, Parks Highway hillbilly — a woman who represents the Alaska you probably never want to meet, and the one we wish never existed. That said, we’re all too willing to take her back. The alternative is just too damn frightening.
The failure of Bush policy
Excerpts from Andrew Bacevich at TomDispatch.com, via Salon [corrections of The Pissant’s title my own, not Bacevich’s]:
The events of the past seven years have yielded a definitive judgment on the strategy that the Bush administration conceived in the wake of 9/11 to wage its so-called global war on terror. That strategy has failed, massively and irrevocably. To acknowledge that failure is to confront an urgent national priority: to scrap the Bush approach in favor of a new national security strategy that is realistic and sustainable—a task that, alas, neither of the presidential candidates seems able to recognize or willing to take up.
On Sept. 30, 2001, Pissant Bush received from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memorandum outlining U.S. objectives in the war on terror. Drafted by Rumsfeld’s chief strategist, Douglas Feith, the memo declared expansively: “If the war does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.” That aim, as Feith explained in a subsequent missive to his boss, was to “transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally.”
When it came to implementation, the imperative of the moment was to think big. Just days after 9/11, Rumsfeld was charging his subordinates to devise a plan of action that had “three, four, five moves behind it.” By December 2001, the Pentagon had persuaded itself that the first move—into Afghanistan—had met success. The Bush administration wasted little time in pocketing its ostensible victory. Attention quickly shifted to the second move, seen by insiders as holding the key to ultimate success: Iraq.
Fix Iraq and moves three, four and five promised to come easily. Writing in the Weekly Standard, William Kristol and Robert Kagan got it exactly right: “The Pissant’s vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq.”
The point cannot be emphasized too strongly: Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and his (imaginary) ties to al-Qaida never constituted the real reason for invading Iraq—any more than the imperative of defending Russian “peacekeepers” in South Ossetia explains the Kremlin’s decision to invade Georgia.
Iraq merely offered a convenient place from which to launch a much larger and infinitely more ambitious project. [...]
In either case—whether the strategy of transformation aimed at dominion or democratization—today, seven years after it was conceived, we can assess exactly what it has produced. The answer is clear: next to nothing, apart from squandering vast resources and exacerbating the slide toward debt and dependency that poses a greater strategic threat to the United States than Osama bin Laden ever did.
In point of fact, hardly had the Pentagon commenced its second move, its invasion of Iraq, when the entire strategy began to unravel. In Iraq, Pissant’s vision of regional transformation did die, much as Kagan and Kristol had feared. [...]
John McCain says that he’ll keep U.S. combat troops in Iraq for as long as it takes…
The United States will not change the world’s political map in the ways top administration officials once dreamed of. There will be no earthquake that shakes up the Middle East—unless the growing clout of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas in recent years qualifies as that earthquake. Given the Pentagon’s existing commitments, there will be no threats of “you’re next,” either—at least none that will worry our adversaries, as the Russians have neatly demonstrated. Nor will there be a wave of democratic reform—even Rice has ceased her prattling on that score. Islam will remain stubbornly resistant to change, except on terms of its own choosing. We will not change the way “they” live.
In a book that he coauthored during the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Kristol confidently declared, “The mission begins in Baghdad, but it does not end there.” In fact, the Bush administration’s strategy of transformation has ended. It has failed miserably. The sooner we face up to that failure, the sooner we can get about repairing the damage.
McLiar campaign shows Palin is wholly unprepared and untrustworthy
E.J. Dionne writes:
John McCain’s campaign acknowledged this weekend that Sarah Palin is unprepared to be vice president or president of the United States.
Of course, McCain’s people said no such thing. But their actions told you all you needed to know.
McCain, Barack Obama and Joe Biden all subjected themselves to tough questioning on the regular Sunday news programs. Palin was the only no-show. And it’s not just the Sunday interviews. She has not opened herself to any serious questioning since McCain picked her to be next in line for the presidency.
McCain’s advisers clearly don’t trust Palin to answer questions about policy and don’t want her to answer many of the questions that have been raised about her tenure as governor of Alaska.
Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, gave the game away when he said on “Fox News Sunday” that she would not meet with reporters until they showed a willingness to treat her “with some level of respect and deference.”
Deference? That’s a word used in monarchies or aristocracies. Democracies don’t give “deference” to politicians. When have McCain, Obama, Biden or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton asked for deference?
A few hours later came the announcement that Palin would grant an interview to ABC News’s Charlie Gibson. Recall that Gibson was the co-host of an ABC News debate last April during which Obama faced a relentless pounding. Here’s hoping that a sense of fairness will lead Gibson to be comparably tough on Palin this week. If he treats her more deferentially than he did Obama, we will know that McCain’s war on the media is working.
From the moment Palin was picked, reporters immediately began to ask questions, a lot of them. Because she was so little known outside Alaska, her views on many issues, particularly foreign policy, are a mystery. Voters also need to know how McCain went about reaching what will probably be the most important decision he makes during this campaign.
A week ago, Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times cited McCain sources questioning “how thoroughly Mr. McCain had examined her background before putting her on the Republican presidential ticket.” She reported that Palin had been selected “with more haste than McCain advisers initially described.” (She also mistakenly reported that Palin belonged to the Alaskan Independence Party. It was her husband, Todd, who had been a member.)
McCain’s people trashed Bumiller, saying she had opted to “make up her own version of events.” Steve Schmidt, McCain’s chief strategist, said the Times had written “an absolute work of fiction” about the vetting process while Karl Rove told his Fox News viewers that the Times “got it wrong.”
It turned out that the McCain side misled journalists. Bumiller was right about the vetting. The lesson is that McCain’s counselors are not interested in fair treatment, and they are certainly not interested in the truth.
If the media cave to McCain’s pressure, it will be the third time this decade that conservative attacks led reporters to tilt to the right.
During the 2000 battle over Florida, Al Gore’s perfectly defensible efforts to win a hand recount ran into a buzz saw of criticism from nonpartisan commentators, many of whom urged Gore to withdraw “gracefully.” In the buildup to the Iraq war, the Bush administration and its supporters savaged the patriotism of many who raised questions about its strategy and its plans. Now, McCain hopes Palin will skate through the next two months without any real scrutiny or questioning.
It is hugely unfortunate that the first big story about Palin - other than questions raised about whether she fired the head of the Alaska state police for refusing to dismiss her former brother-in-law - concerned her 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy. It’s not just that Bristol Palin should be left alone, but also that the intense interest in this story gave McCain’s bullies an excuse to push aside legitimate questions about Palin’s record and knowledge.
Of course, Palin’s handlers are being hypocritical: They want to focus on her family life and her identity as a hockey mom when doing so helps them and to push aside any story that mars this perfect picture. Conservatives are always against identity politics until they are for it.
Nonetheless, what matters is not Palin’s personal life but whether she is prepared to assume the presidency if called upon. The actions of McCain’s lieutenants suggest that they know the answer. And they are doing everything they can to keep the media from finding it.
Frank Rich on the McLiar-Apallin’ Pairing
From Truthout, Frank Rich on the McLiar-Apallin’ odd-couple pairing:
[...] McCain’s address, though largely a repetitive slew of stump-speech lines and worn G.O.P. orthodoxy, reminded us of what we once liked about the guy: his aspirations to bipartisanship, his heroic service in Vietnam, his twinkle. He took his (often inaccurate) swipes at Obama, but, in winning contrast to Palin and Rudy Giuliani, he wasn’t smug or nasty.
The only problem, of course, is that the entire thing was a sham.
As is nakedly evident, the speech’s central argument, that the 72-year-old McCain will magically morph into a powerful change agent as president, is a non sequitur. In his 26 years in Washington, most of it with a Republican in the White House and roughly half of it with Republicans in charge of Congress, he was better at lecturing his party about reform than leading a reform movement. G.O.P. corruption and governmental dysfunction only grew. So did his cynical flip-flops on the most destructive policies of the president who remained nameless Thursday night. (In the G.O.P., Bush love is now the second most popular love that dare not speak its name.)
Even more fraudulent, if that’s possible, is the contrast between McCain’s platonic presentation of his personal code of honor and the man he has become. He always puts his country first, he told us: ‘I’ve been called a maverick.’ If there was any doubt that that McCain has fled, confirmation arrived with his last-minute embrace of Sarah Palin.
We still don’t know a lot about Palin except that she’s better at delivering a speech than McCain and that she defends her own pregnant daughter’s right to privacy even as she would have the government intrude to police the reproductive choices of all other women. Most of the rest of the biography supplied by her and the McCain camp is fiction.
She didn’t say ‘no thanks’ to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ until after Congress had already abandoned it but given Alaska a blank check for $223 million in taxpayers’ money anyway. Far from rejecting federal pork, she hired lobbyists to secure her town a disproportionate share of earmarks ($1,000 per resident in 2002, 20 times the per capita average in other states). Though McCain claimed ‘she has had national security as one of her primary responsibilities,’ she has never issued a single command as head of the Alaska National Guard. As for her ‘executive experience’ as mayor, she told her hometown paper in Wasilla, Alaska, in 1996, the year of her election: ‘It’s not rocket science. It’s $6 million and 53 employees.’ Her much-advertised crusade against officials abusing their office is now compromised by a bipartisan ethics investigation into charges that she did the same.
How long before we learn she never shot a moose?
Given the actuarial odds that could make Palin our 45th president, it would be helpful to know who this mystery woman actually is. Meanwhile, two eternal axioms of our politics remain in place. Americans vote for the top of the ticket, not the bottom. And in judging the top of the ticket, voters look first at the candidates’ maiden executive decision, their selection of running mates. Whatever we do and don’t know about Palin’s character at this point, there is no ambiguity in what her ascent tells us about McCain’s character and potential presidency.
He wanted to choose the pro-abortion-rights Joe Lieberman as his vice president. If he were still a true maverick, he would have done so. But instead he chose partisanship and politics over country. ‘God only made one John McCain, and he is his own man,’ said the shafted Lieberman in his own tedious convention speech last week. What a pathetic dupe. McCain is now the man of James Dobson and Tony Perkins. The ‘no surrender’ warrior surrendered to the agents of intolerance not just by dumping his pal for Palin but by moving so far to the right on abortion that even Cindy McCain seemed unaware of his radical shift when being interviewed by Katie Couric last week.
That ideological sellout, unfortunately, was not the worst leadership trait the last-minute vice presidential pick revealed about McCain. His speed-dating of Palin reaffirmed a more dangerous personality tic that has dogged his entire career. His decision-making process is impetuous and, in its Bush-like preference for gut instinct over facts, potentially reckless.
As The New York Times reported last Tuesday, Palin was sloppily vetted, at best. McCain operatives and some of their press surrogates responded to this revelation by trying to discredit The Times article. After all, The Washington Post had cited McCain aides (including his campaign manager, Rick Davis) last weekend to assure us that Palin had a ‘full vetting process.’ She had been subjected to ‘an F.B.I. background check,’ we were told, and ‘the McCain camp had reviewed everything it could find on her.’
The Times had it right. The McCain campaign’s claims of a ‘full vetting process’ for Palin were as much a lie as the biographical details they’ve invented for her. There was no F.B.I. background check. The Times found no evidence that a McCain representative spoke to anyone in the State Legislature or business community. Nor did anyone talk to the fired state public safety commissioner at the center of the Palin ethics investigation. No McCain researcher even bothered to consult the relevant back issues of the Wasilla paper. Apparently when McCain said in June that his vice presidential vetting process was basically ’a Google,’ he wasn’t joking.
This is a roll of the dice beyond even Bill Clinton’s imagination. ‘Often my haste is a mistake,’ McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, ‘but I live with the consequences without complaint.’ Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country? Should the unexamined Palin prove unfit to serve at the pinnacle of American power, it will be too late for the rest of us to complain.
We’ve already seen where such visceral decision-making by McCain can lead. In October 2001, he speculated that Saddam Hussein might have been behind the anthrax attacks in America. That same month he out-Cheneyed Cheney in his repeated public insistence that Iraq had a role in 9/11 - even after both American and foreign intelligence services found that unlikely. He was similarly rash in his reading of the supposed evidence of Saddam’s W.M.D. and in his estimate of the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq. (McCain told MSNBC in late 2001 that we could do with
fewer than 100,000.) It wasn’t until months after ‘Mission Accomplished’ that he called for more American forces to be tossed into the bloodbath. The whole fiasco might have been prevented had he listened to those like Gen. Eric Shinseki who faulted the Rumsfeld war plan from the start.
In other words, McCain’s hasty vetting of Palin was all too reminiscent of his grave dereliction of due diligence on the war. He has been no less hasty in implying that we might somehow ride to the military rescue of Georgia (’Today, we are all Georgians‘) or in reaffirming as late as December 2007 that the crumbling anti-democratic regime of Pervez Musharraf deserved ’the benefit of the doubt‘ even as it was enabling the resurgence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. McCain’s blanket endorsement of Bush administration policy in Pakistan could have consequences for years to come.
‘This election is not about issues’ so much as the candidates’ images, said the McCain campaign manager, Davis, in one of the season’s most notable pronouncements. Going into the Republican convention, we thought we knew what he meant: the McCain strategy is about tearing down Obama. But last week made clear that the McCain campaign will be equally ruthless about deflecting attention from its own candidate’s deterioration.
What was most striking about McCain’s acceptance speech is that it had almost nothing in common with the strident right-wing convention that preceded it. We were pointedly given a rerun of McCain 2000 - cobbled together from scraps of the old Straight Talk repertory. The ensuing tedium was in all likelihood intentional. It’s in the campaign’s interest that we nod off and assume McCain is unchanged in 2008.
That’s why the Palin choice was brilliant politics - not because it rallied the G.O.P.’s shrinking religious-right base. America loves nothing more than a new celebrity face, and the talking heads marched in lock step last week to proclaim her a star. Palin is a high-energy distraction from the top of the ticket, even if the provenance of her stardom is in itself a reflection of exactly what’s frightening about the top of the ticket.
By hurling charges of sexism and elitism at any easily cowed journalist who raises a question about Palin, McCain operatives are hoping to ensure that whatever happened in Alaska with Sarah Palin stays in Alaska. Given how little vetting McCain himself has received this year - and that only 58 days remain until Nov. 4 - they just might pull it off.
Censorship at the EPA
EPA Tells Its Staff: Don’t Answer Watchdogs’ Queries
The Environmental Protection Agency has told its staff not to answer questions from the agency’s internal watchdog, news reporters or the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, according an internal memo that an environmental group released Monday.
The June 16 memo to the staff of the EPA’s enforcement division told them that if they’re contacted by the EPA inspector general’s office, an independent internal watchdog that monitors the agency, or by the Government Accountability Office, the investigators who work for Congress, they’re to forward the call or e-mail to a designated person.
“Please do not respond to questions or make any statements,” it adds. The memo sets down the same procedure, with different contact people, for queries from reporters.
EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith wouldn’t say whether any specific incident triggered the memo, but said it was consistent with existing policies and intended to coordinate responses.
John Walke, a former EPA air pollution attorney, said the inspector general’s office ordinarily has unfettered access to agency employees so they can speak candidly and anonymously.
The memo appeared as the Senate Environment and Judiciary committees are trying to get EPA to release information about its global warming policies, and after EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson declined to testify this week before the two committees.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said last week that he was instructing the EPA inspector general’s office to investigate whether there was any wrongdoing in failing to cooperate with Congress.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility obtained the memo and released it to reporters.
“The intent was to control any unscripted release of information to an investigator or to a reporter,” said Jeff Ruch, the director of the environmental group. “We’re not sure what the specific triggering event was, but there’s so much chum in the water that they were certainly biting at something.”
The EPA’s Smith said that Robbi Farrell, the chief of staff of the enforcement division, sent the memo to managers in her office “to ensure consistency and coordination” among staffers who respond to the inspector general and the congressional investigators. It will help with “tracking and record-keeping obligations,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith also said the procedure was developed in part as a response to a 2007 inspector general report about follow-ups on audits at EPA. That report, however, didn’t critique EPA staff members’ contacts with reporters and investigators.
“There is nothing in the procedure that restricts conversation between enforcement staff, the press, GAO and the IG and the procedure is consistent with existing policies,” Smith’s statement said.
But Walke, who worked for the EPA as an attorney from 1997 to 2000 and now works for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said, “If the agency has advance notice of who they want to talk to and about what, it allows them to do spin control and manage the damage fallout.”
The EPA inspector general’s office conducts audits, evaluations and investigations of the EPA and its contractors “to promote economy and efficiency and to prevent and detect fraud, waste and abuse,” its Web site says.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has criticized Johnson for not testifying about alleged White House interference with the EPA. Boxer has called on Johnson to release a finding the EPA prepared and sent to the White House in December that found global warming endangers the public welfare.
“Stephen Johnson is turning the EPA into a secretive, dangerous ally of polluters, instead of a leader in the effort to protect the health and safety of the American people,” Boxer said in a statement Monday in response to reports about the memo.
A copy of the memo as released by PEER:
/US 06/16/2008 11:22 AM
Subject PLEASE REMIND STAFF re: RESPONDING TO GAO, IG AND PRESS
Please remind your staff at your next staff meeting of the following policies and procedures.
1. If you are contacted by a reporter, please forward the call or email to Laura Gentile and Roxanne Smith, cc Robbi. Please do not respond to questions or make any statements.
2. If you are contacted directly by the IG’s office or GAO requesting information of any kind, please forward their call or email to Gwen Spriggs, cc Robbi. Please do not respond to questions or make any statements.
Thanks very much for your continued attention to these important procedures.
Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power
By Tim Shorrock
The last several years have brought a parade of dark revelations about the George W. Bush administration, from the manipulation of intelligence to torture to extrajudicial spying inside the United States. But there are growing indications that these known abuses of power may only be the tip of the iceberg. Now, in the twilight of the Bush presidency, a movement is stirring in Washington for a sweeping new inquiry into White House malfeasance that would be modeled after the famous Church Committee congressional investigation of the 1970s.
While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.
Salon has also uncovered further indications of far-reaching and possibly illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency inside the United States under Bush. That includes the alleged use of a top-secret, sophisticated database system for monitoring people considered to be a threat to national security. It also includes signs of the NSA’s working closely with other U.S. government agencies to track financial transactions domestically as well as globally.
The proposal for a Church Committee-style investigation emerged from talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress, according to sources involved. (Pelosi’s and Conyers’ offices both declined to comment.) Looking forward to 2009, when both Congress and the White House may well be controlled by Democrats, the idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror to undermine the Constitution and U.S. and international laws. The goal would be to implement government reforms aimed at preventing future abuses—and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials.
“If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal and has been involved in several high-profile congressional investigations.
“You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.”
The parameters for an investigation were outlined in a seven-page memo, written after the former member of the Church Committee met for discussions with the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Common Cause and other watchdog groups. Key issues to investigate, those involved say, would include the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities; the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of extraordinary rendition and torture against terrorist suspects; and the U.S. government’s extensive use of military assets—including satellites, Pentagon intelligence agencies and U2 surveillance planes—for a vast spying apparatus that could be used against the American people.
Specifically, the ACLU and other groups want to know how the NSA’s use of databases and data mining may have meshed with other domestic intelligence activities, such as the U.S. government’s extensive use of no-fly lists and the Treasury Department’s list of “specially designated global terrorists” to identify potential suspects. As of mid-July, says Steinhardt, the no-fly list includes more than 1 million records corresponding to more than 400,000 names. If those people really represent terrorist threats, he says, “our cities would be ablaze.” A deeper investigation into intelligence abuses should focus on how these lists feed on each other, Steinhardt says, as well as the government’s “inexorable trend towards treating everyone as a suspect.”
“It’s not just the ‘Terrorist Surveillance Program,’” agrees Gregory T. Nojeim from the Center for Democracy and Technology, referring to the Bush administration’s misleading name for the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program. “We need a broad investigation on the way all the moving parts fit together. It seems like we’re always looking at little chunks and missing the big picture.”
A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration’s alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores—without warrants or court orders—the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.
According to several former U.S. government officials with extensive knowledge of intelligence operations, Main Core in its current incarnation apparently contains a vast amount of personal data on Americans, including NSA intercepts of bank and credit card transactions and the results of surveillance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. One former intelligence official described Main Core as “an emergency internal security database system” designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law. Its name, he says, is derived from the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”
Some of the former U.S. officials interviewed, although they have no direct knowledge of the issue, said they believe that Main Core may have been used by the NSA to determine who to spy on in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Moreover, the NSA’s use of the database, they say, may have triggered the now-famous March 2004 confrontation between the White House and the Justice Department that nearly led Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI director William Mueller and other top Justice officials to resign en masse.
The Justice Department officials who objected to the legal basis for the surveillance program—former Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey and Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel—testified before Congress last year about the 2004 showdown with the White House. Although they refused to discuss the highly classified details behind their concerns, the New York Times later reported that they were objecting to a program that “involved computer searches through massive electronic databases” containing “records of the phone calls and e-mail messages of millions of Americans.”
According to William Hamilton, a former NSA intelligence officer who left the agency in the 1970s, that description sounded a lot like Main Core, which he first heard about in detail in 1992. Hamilton, who is the president of Inslaw Inc., a computer services firm with many clients in government and the private sector, says there are strong indications that the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance operations use Main Core.
Hamilton’s company Inslaw is widely respected in the law enforcement community for creating a program called the Prosecutors’ Management Information System, or PROMIS. It keeps track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all stored data components of a case, from the name of the initial investigators to the telephone numbers of key suspects. PROMIS, also widely used in the insurance industry, can also sort through other databases fast, with results showing up almost instantly. “It operates just like Google,” Hamilton told me in an interview in his Washington office in May.
Since the late 1980s, Inslaw has been involved in a legal dispute over its claim that Justice Department officials in the Reagan administration appropriated the PROMIS software. Hamilton claims that Reagan officials gave PROMIS to the NSA and the CIA, which then adapted the software—and its outstanding ability to search other databases—to manage intelligence operations and track financial transactions. Over the years, Hamilton has employed prominent lawyers to pursue the case, including Elliot Richardson, the former attorney general and secretary of defense who died in 1999, and C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. The dispute has never been settled. But based on the long-running case, Hamilton says he believes U.S. intelligence uses PROMIS as the primary software for searching the Main Core database.
Hamilton was first told about the connection between PROMIS and Main Core in the spring of 1992 by a U.S. intelligence official, and again in 1995 by a former NSA official. In July 2001, Hamilton says, he discussed his case with retired Adm. Dan Murphy, a former military advisor to Elliot Richardson who later served under President George H.W. Bush as deputy director of the CIA. Murphy, who died shortly after his meeting with Hamilton, did not specifically mention Main Core. But he informed Hamilton that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involved something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem,” Hamilton told me. He added, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” Hamilton also provided copies of letters that Richardson and Gray sent to U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department on Inslaw’s behalf alleging that the NSA and the CIA had appropriated PROMIS for intelligence use.
Hamilton says James B. Comey’s congressional testimony in May 2007, in which he described a hospitalized John Ashcroft’s dramatic standoff with senior Bush officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card, was another illuminating moment. “It was then that we [at Inslaw] started hearing again about the Main Core derivative of PROMIS for spying on Americans,” he told me.
Through a former senior Justice Department official with more than 25 years of government experience, Salon has learned of a high-level former national security official who reportedly has firsthand knowledge of the U.S. government’s use of Main Core. The official worked as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the Bush White House. He would not agree to an interview. But according to the former Justice Department official, the former intelligence analyst told her that while stationed at the White House after the 9/11 attacks, one day he accidentally walked into a restricted room and came across a computer system that was logged on to what he recognized to be the Main Core database. When she mentioned the specific name of the top-secret system during their conversation, she recalled, “he turned white as a sheet.”
An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”
The alleged use of Main Core by the Bush administration for surveillance, if confirmed to be true, would indicate a much deeper level of secretive government intrusion into Americans’ lives than has been previously known. With respect to civil liberties, says the ACLU’s Steinhardt, it would be “pretty frightening stuff.”
The Inslaw case also points to what may be an extensive role played by the NSA in financial spying inside the United States. According to reports over the years in the U.S. and foreign press, Inslaw’s PROMIS software was embedded surreptitiously in systems sold to foreign and global banks as a way to give the NSA secret “backdoor” access to the electronic flow of money around the world.
In May, I interviewed Norman Bailey, a private financial consultant with years of government intelligence experience dating from the George W. Bush administration back to the Reagan administration. According to Bailey—who from 2006 to 2007 headed a special unit within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence focused on financial intelligence on Cuba and Venezuela—the NSA has been using its vast powers with signals intelligence to track financial transactions around the world since the early 1980s.
From 1982 to 1984, Bailey ran a top-secret program for President Reagan’s National Security Council, called “Follow the Money,” that used NSA signals intelligence to track loans from Western banks to the Soviet Union and its allies. PROMIS, he told me, was “the principal software element” used by the NSA and the Treasury Department then in their electronic surveillance programs tracking financial flows to the Soviet bloc, organized crime and terrorist groups. His admission is the first public acknowledgement by a former U.S. intelligence official that the NSA used the PROMIS software.
According to Bailey, the Reagan program marked a significant shift in resources from human spying to electronic surveillance, as a way to track money flows to suspected criminals and American enemies. “That was the beginning of the whole process,” he said.
After 9/11, this capability was instantly seen within the U.S. government as a critical tool in the war on terror—and apparently was deployed by the Bush administration inside the United States, in cases involving alleged terrorist supporters. One such case was that of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Oregon, which was accused of having terrorist ties after the NSA, at the request of the Treasury Department, eavesdropped on the phone calls of Al-Haramain officials and their American lawyers. The charges against Al-Haramain were based primarily on secret evidence that the Bush administration refused to disclose in legal proceedings; Al-Haramain’s lawyers argued in a lawsuit that was a violation of the defendants’ due process rights.
According to Bailey, the NSA also likely would have used its technological capabilities to track the charity’s financial activity. “The vast majority of financial movements of any significance take place electronically, so intercepts have become an extremely important element” in intelligence, he explained. “If the government suspects that a particular Muslim charitable organization is engaged in collecting funds to funnel to terrorists, the NSA would be asked to follow the money going into and out of the bank accounts of that charity.” (The now-defunct Al-Haramain Foundation, although affiliated with a Saudi Arabian-based global charity, was founded and based in Ashland, Ore.)
The use of a powerful database and extensive watch lists, Bailey said, would make the NSA’s job much easier. “The biggest problems with intercepts, quite frankly, is that the volumes of data, daily or even by the hour, are gigantic,” he said. “Unless you have a very precise idea of what it is you’re looking for, the NSA people or their counterparts [overseas] will just throw up their hands and say ‘forget it.’” Regarding domestic surveillance, Bailey said there’s a “whole gray area where the initiation of the transaction was in the United States and the final destination was outside, or vice versa. That’s something for the lawyers to figure out.”
Bailey’s information on the evolution of the Reagan intelligence program appears to corroborate and clarify an article published in March in the Wall Street Journal, which reported that the NSA was conducting domestic surveillance using “an ad-hoc collection of so-called ‘black programs’ whose existence is undisclosed.” Some of these programs began “years before the 9/11 attacks but have since been given greater reach.” Among them, the article said, are a joint NSA-Treasury database on financial transactions that dates back “about 15 years” to 1993. That’s not quite right, Bailey clarified: “It started in the early ‘80s, at least 10 years before.”
Main Core may be the contemporary incarnation of a government watch list system that was part of a highly classified “Continuity of Government” program created by the Reagan administration to keep the U.S. government functioning in the event of a nuclear attack. Under a 1982 presidential directive, the outbreak of war could trigger the proclamation of martial law nationwide, giving the military the authority to use its domestic database to round up citizens and residents considered to be threats to national security. The emergency measures for domestic security were to be carried out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army.
In the late 1980s, reports about a domestic database linked to FEMA and the Continuity of Government program began to appear in the press. For example, in 1986 the Austin American-Statesman uncovered evidence of a large database that authorities were proposing to use to intern Latino dissidents and refugees during a national emergency that might follow a potential U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. During the Iran-Contra congressional hearings in 1987, questions to Reagan aide Oliver North about the database were ruled out of order by the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, because of the “highly sensitive and classified” nature of FEMA’s domestic security operations.
In September 2001, according to “The Rise of the Vulcans,” a 2004 book on Bush’s war cabinet by James Mann, a contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”
It is noteworthy that two key players on Bush’s national security team, Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, have been involved in the Continuity of Government program since its inception. Along with Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s first secretary of defense, both men took part in simulated drills for the program during the 1980s and early 1990s. Addington’s role was disclosed in “The Dark Side,” a book published this month about the Bush administration’s war on terror by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer. In the book, Mayer calls Addington “the father of the [NSA] eavesdropping program,” and reports that he was the key figure involved in the 2004 dispute between the White House and the Justice Department over the legality of the program. That would seem to make him a prime witness for a broader investigation.
Getting a full picture on Bush’s intelligence programs, however, will almost certainly require any sweeping new investigation to have a scope that would inoculate it against charges of partisanship. During one recent discussion on Capitol Hill, according to a participant, a senior aide to Speaker Pelosi was asked for Pelosi’s views on a proposal to expand the investigation to past administrations, including those of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. “The question was, how far back in time would we have to go to make this credible?” the participant in the meeting recalled.
That question was answered in the seven-page memo. “The rise of the ‘surveillance state’ driven by new technologies and the demands of counter-terrorism did not begin with this Administration,” the author wrote. Even though he acknowledged in interviews with Salon that the scope of abuse under George W. Bush would likely be an order of magnitude greater than under preceding presidents, he recommended in the memo that any new investigation follow the precedent of the Church Committee and investigate the origins of Bush’s programs, going as far back as the Reagan administration.
The proposal has emerged in a political climate reminiscent of the Watergate era. The Church Committee was formed in 1975 in the wake of media reports about illegal spying against American antiwar activists and civil rights leaders, CIA assassination squads, and other dubious activities under Nixon and his predecessors. Chaired by Sen. Frank Church of Idaho, the committee interviewed more than 800 officials and held 21 public hearings. As a result of its work, Congress in 1978 passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which required warrants and court supervision for domestic wiretaps, and created intelligence oversight committees in the House and Senate.
So far, no lawmaker has openly endorsed a proposal for a new Church Committee-style investigation. A spokesman for Pelosi declined to say whether Pelosi herself would be in favor of a broader probe into U.S. intelligence. On the Senate side, the most logical supporters for a broader probe would be Democratic senators such as Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, who led the failed fight against the recent Bush-backed changes to FISA. (Both Feingold and Leahy’s offices declined to comment on a broader intelligence inquiry.)
The Democrats’ reticence on such action ultimately may be rooted in congressional complicity with the Bush administration’s intelligence policies. Many of the war on terror programs, including the NSA’s warrantless surveillance and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” were cleared with key congressional Democrats, including Pelosi, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Rockefeller, and former House Intelligence chairwoman Jane Harman, among others.
The discussions about a broad investigation were jump-started among civil liberties advocates this spring, when it became clear that the Democrats didn’t have the votes to oppose the Bush-backed bill updating FISA. The new legislation could prevent the full story of the NSA surveillance programs from ever being uncovered; it included retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that may have violated FISA by collaborating with the NSA on warrantless wiretapping. Opponents of Bush’s policies were further angered when Democratic leaders stripped from their competing FISA bill a provision that would have established a national commission to investigate post-9/11 surveillance programs.
The next president obviously would play a key role in any decision to investigate intelligence abuses. Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate, is running as a champion of Bush’s national security policies and would be unlikely to embrace an investigation that would, foremost, embarrass his own party. (Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s spokesman on national security, declined to comment.)
Some see a brighter prospect in Barack Obama, should he be elected. The plus with Obama, says the former Church Committee staffer, is that as a proponent of open government, he could order the executive branch to be more cooperative with Congress, rolling back the obsessive secrecy and stonewalling of the Bush White House. That could open the door to greater congressional scrutiny and oversight of the intelligence community, since the legislative branch lacked any real teeth under Bush. (Obama’s spokesman on national security, Ben Rhodes, did not reply to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment.)
But even that may be a lofty hope. “It may be the last thing a new president would want to do,” said a participant in the ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, he said, “some people see the Church Committee ideas as a substitute for prosecutions that should already have happened.”
10 things you should know about John McCain
John McCain is not who the mindless, fawning Washington press corps make him out to be.
10 things you should know about John McCain:
- John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has “evolved,” yet he’s continued to oppose key civil rights laws.1
- According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain “will make Cheney look like Gandhi.”2
- His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded Bush for vetoing that ban.3
- McCain opposes a woman’s right to choose. He said, “I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned.”4
- The Children’s Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children’s health care bill last year, then defended Bush’s veto of the bill.5
- He’s one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a “second job” and skip their vacations.6
- Many of McCain’s fellow Republican senators say he’s too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He’s erratic. He’s hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”7
- McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.8
- McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his “spiritual guide,” Rod Parsley, believes America’s founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a “false religion.” McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church “the Antichrist” and a “false cult.”9
- He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.10
1. “The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day,” ABC News, April 3, 2008
“McCain Facts,” ColorOfChange.org, April 4, 2008
2. “McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq,” Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008
“Buchanan: John McCain ‘Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,’” ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
3. “McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill,” ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
4. “McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned,” MSNBC, February 18, 2007
5. “2007 Children’s Defense Fund Action Council Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard,” February 2008
“McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion,” CNN, October 3, 2007
6. “Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady,” Associated Press, April 3, 2008
“McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,’” Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008
7. “Will McCain’s Temper Be a Liability?,” Associated Press, February 16, 2008
“Famed McCain temper is tamed,” Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
8. “Black Claims McCain’s Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: ‘I Don’t Know What The Criticism Is,’” ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
“McCain’s Lobbyist Friends Rally ‘Round Their Man,” ABC News, January 29, 2008
9. “McCain’s Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam,” Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008
“Will McCain Specifically ‘Repudiate’ Hagee’s Anti-Gay Comments?,” ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
“McCain ‘Very Honored’ By Support Of Pastor Preaching ‘End-Time Confrontation With Iran,’” ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
10. “John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record,” Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
A truth teller who deserves justice
by Joe Conason
A former Navy officer named Matthew Diaz came to Washington, D.C., on Thursday, eating lunch just a few miles from the Pentagon and only steps from the White House—those mighty institutions whose imperial will he defied by upholding the legal rights of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he served as a deputy legal counsel.
During the winter of 2005, sometime after he realized that the government was ignoring the landmark Supreme Court decision affording counsel and due process to every alleged terrorist in the military prison, Lt. Cmdr. Diaz printed out and mailed all of their names to civil rights attorneys in New York. That act ultimately resulted in his imprisonment in the Navy brig in Charleston, S.C., and the forfeiture of his military job and pension, and may yet lead to the permanent loss of his license to practice law.
But Diaz had come to the nation’s capital on April 3 to be praised, not buried—as this year’s winner of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth-Telling, which is named after the late soldier and journalist who exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam 40 years ago this month. Sponsored by the Fertel Foundation and the Nation Institute (where I serve as director of a fund supporting investigative journalism), the Ridenhour prize recognizes the bravery of whistle-blowers who uphold American values regardless of personal risk.
The Diaz story is extraordinary, yet profoundly and typically American. Having risen from poverty and tragedy to professional status and prestige through his own hard work, he gambled everything on a principle, and lost.
He grew up in a broken family, moved frequently as a child and often survived on food stamps. His father, a hospital nurse convicted of the sensational serial murders of a dozen patients, ended up on death row in California’s San Quentin prison when Matthew was a teenager. He soon dropped out of high school and joined the Army.
Whatever damage his early life inflicted on him, however, it did not destroy his intelligence and ambition, and eventually he obtained an associate’s degree in law enforcement, a bachelor’s in criminology and, after leaving the Army, a law degree while working for the Postal Service. He joined the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps and was sent to Guantánamo during the summer of 2004, in part because of his outstanding service record at his previous posts. By then he had been promoted to lieutenant commander and was expecting to move up again soon. The superior officer who evaluated him before he left for Cuba had described him as “the consummate naval officer” and “a stellar leader of unquestionable integrity.”
The problem was that within months after he arrived at the military prison, Diaz realized how the system there had been designed to conceal prisoner abuse and undermine human rights. Though Gitmo was no Abu Ghraib, he was nevertheless appalled by the conditions and the treatment of prisoners. Around the same time that his tour there began, the Supreme Court had ordered the Bush administration, in a case known as Rasul v. Bush, to provide habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners. By the winter of 2005, more than six months after that order came down, neither the Pentagon nor the Justice Department had taken any action to obey it. Indeed, Diaz believed that they had no intention of obeying it at all.
Looking back, the method he chose to bring a measure of justice to Guantánamo seems more than slightly eccentric (and very likely to be detected). Reviewing legal documents in his office, he had seen the name of Barbara Olshansky, a civil liberties attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who had requested the names of all the prisoners so that they could be provided counsel. There was no chance that she would receive a positive response from the Pentagon, but she did get a strange, oversize Valentine’s Day card at her office in New York. When she opened the big red envelope, there was a funny card inside, plus a 39-page printout listing all the 550 Gitmo prisoners. She told a federal judge about this odd and suspicious delivery. The judge instructed Olshansky to turn everything over to the FBI, whose agents quickly tracked down Diaz. He was arrested and charged with five felony counts, including the disclosure of classified information that could aid America’s foreign enemies.
The modest, soft-spoken Diaz hardly seems like the kind of man who would buck the rules or make trouble. What his story shows, once again, is that the durable old stereotype of the military man who yearns for authoritarian rule and brutality is largely false. Until his court-martial last year, Diaz served as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, and like a number of his higher-ranking JAG superiors, he has proved that the most reliable defenders of the Constitution these days are not in the civilian ranks of government but among the senior military officers. It was the neoconservative law professors and political bureaucrats who authorized, encouraged and justified the worst depredations against human and constitutional rights, from Abu Ghraib to Gitmo. It was the men and women in uniform who warned against those policies and tried to amend them.
Although his offenses could have sent him to prison for many years, the military jury that convicted him on four of five counts last May sentenced Diaz to six months—a sign, perhaps, that his peers understood what he did and why.
Since his release last autumn, he has received little publicity—aside from a superb New York Times profile by Tim Golden—and he is no longer granting interviews while awaiting appeal. He did speak briefly during the awards luncheon at the National Press Club, where he thanked his attorneys, his family, and the Catholic Worker Movement that sustained him when he left the brig, penniless and homeless. Over a career in the military that spanned two decades, Diaz said, he has won many citations and commendations, but the Ridenhour prize meant the most to him for recognizing “an act of conscience.” He said that he had taken an oath, as a soldier and then a Navy officer, to uphold the Constitution. And he quoted the late Justice Louis Brandeis: “When the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law.”
The lawless government of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney prompted Diaz to do something that Joe Margulies, the lawyer of record in Rasul v. Bush, called “illegal but an act of tremendous courage.” The powerful men who bred contempt for the law may or may not ever be prosecuted, but if there is justice in the next administration, Matthew Diaz should be pardoned.
A Short but Complete Summary of the Bush Administration
Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
More Stunning Ignorance from Petulant King George the Idiot
Still stunning after all these years. From ThinkProgress:
In private meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week, Newsweek reports that Bush disowned the U.S. intelligence community’s judgments:
But in private conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week, the president all but disowned the document, said a senior administration official who accompanied Bush on his six-nation trip to the Mideast. "He told the Israelis that he can’t control what the intelligence community says, but that [the NIE’s] conclusions don’t reflect his own views" about Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, said the official, who would discuss intelligence matters only on the condition of anonymity.
Olbermann: “Neocon Job”
By Keith Olbermann
Thursday 06 December 2007 — Full text of Keith’s Special Comment
Finally, as promised, a Special Comment about the president’s cataclysmic deception about Iran.
There are few choices more terrifying than the one Mr. Bush has left us with tonight.
We have either a president who is too dishonest to restrain himself from invoking World War Three about Iran at least six weeks after he had to have known that the analogy would be fantastic, irresponsible hyperbole - or we have a president too transcendently stupid not to have asked - at what now appears to have been a series of opportunities to do so - whether the fairy tales he either created or was fed, were still even remotely plausible.
A pathological presidential liar, or an idiot-in-chief. It is the nightmare scenario of political science fiction: A critical juncture in our history and, contained in either answer, a president manifestly unfit to serve, and behind him in the vice presidency: an unapologetic war-monger who has long been seeing a world visible only to himself.
After Ms. Perino’s announcement from the White House late last night, the timeline is inescapable and clear.
In August the president was told by his hand-picked Major Domo of intelligence Mike McConnell, a flinty, high-strung-looking, worrying-warrior who will always see more clouds than silver linings, that what “everybody thought” about Iran might be, in essence, crap.
Yet on October 17th the President said of Iran and its president Ahmadinejad:
“I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War Three, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge to make a nuclear weapon.”
And as he said that, Mr. Bush knew that at bare minimum there was a strong chance that his rhetoric was nothing more than words with which to scare the Iranians.
Or was it, Sir, to scare the Americans?
Does Iran not really fit into the equation here? Have you just scribbled it into the fill-in-the-blank on the same template you used, to scare us about Iraq?
In August, any commander-in-chief still able-minded or uncorrupted or both, Sir, would have invoked the quality the job most requires: mental flexibility.
A bright man, or an honest man, would have realized no later than the McConnell briefing that the only true danger about Iran was the damage that could be done by an unhinged, irrational Chicken Little of a president, shooting his mouth off, backed up by only his own hysteria and his own delusions of omniscience.
Not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr. Bush.
The Chicken Little of presidents is the one, Sir, that you see in the mirror.
And the mind reels at the thought of a vice president fully briefed on the revised Intel as long as two weeks ago - briefed on the fact that Iran abandoned its pursuit of this imminent threat four years ago - who never bothered to mention it to his boss.
It is nearly forgotten today, but throughout much of Ronald Reagan’s presidency it was widely believed that he was little more than a front-man for some never-viewed, behind-the-scenes, string-puller.
Today, as evidenced by this latest remarkable, historic malfeasance, it is inescapable, that Dick Cheney is either this president’s evil ventriloquist, or he thinks he is.
What servant of any of the 42 previous presidents could possibly withhold information of this urgency and gravity, and wind up back at his desk the next morning, instead of winding up before a Congressional investigation - or a criminal one?
Mr. Bush - if you can still hear us - if you did not previously agree to this scenario in which Dick Cheney is the actual detective and you’re Remington Steele - you must disenthrall yourself: Mr. Cheney has usurped your constitutional powers, cut you out of the information loop, and led you down the path to an unprecedented presidency in which the facts are optional, the Intel is valued less than the hunch, and the assistant runs the store.
The problem is, Sir, your assistant is robbing you - and your country - blind.
Not merely in monetary terms, Mr. Bush, but more importantly of the traditions and righteousness for which we have stood, at great risk, for centuries: Honesty, Law, Moral Force.
Mr. Cheney has helped, Sir, to make your Administration into the kind our ancestors saw in the 1860’s and 1870’s and 1880’s - the ones that abandoned Reconstruction, and sent this country marching backwards into the pit of American Apartheid.
Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland ...
Presidents who will be remembered only in a blur of failure, Mr. Bush.
Presidents who will be remembered only as functions of those who opposed them - the opponents whom history proved right.
Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland ... Bush.
Would that we could let this president off the hook by seeing him only as marionette or moron.
But a study of the mutation of his language about Iran proves that though he may not be very good at it, he is, himself, still a manipulative, Machiavellian, snake-oil salesman.
The Bushian etymology was tracked by Dan Froomkin at the Washington Post’s website.
It is staggering.
March 31st: “Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon ...”
June 5th: “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons ...”
June 19th: “Consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon ...”
July 12th: “The same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons ...”
August 6th: “This is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon ...”
Notice a pattern?
Trying to develop, build or pursue a nuclear weapon.
Then, sometime between August 6th and August 9th, those terms are suddenly swapped out, so subtly that only in retrospect can we see that somebody has warned the president, not only that he has gone out too far on the limb of terror - but there may not even be a tree there ...
McConnell, or someone, must have briefed him then.
August 9th: “They have expressed their desire to be able to enrich uranium, which we believe is a step toward having a nuclear weapons program ...”
August 28th: “Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons ...”
October 4th: “You should not have the know-how on how to make a (nuclear) weapon ...”
October 17th: “Until they suspend and/or make it clear that they, that their statements aren’t real, yeah, I believe they want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon.”
Before August 9th, it’s: Trying to develop, build or pursue a nuclear weapon.
After August 9th, it’s: Desire, pursuit, want ... knowledge, technology, know-how to enrich uranium.
And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that the National Intelligence Estimate this week talks of the Iranians suspending their nuclear weapons program in 2003 ...
And you talked of the Iranians suspending their nuclear weapons program on October 17th ...
And that’s just a coincidence?
And we are to believe, Mr. Bush, that nobody told you any of this until last week?
Your insistence that you were not briefed on the NIE until last week might be legally true - something like “what the definition of is is” - but with the subject matter being not interns but the threat of nuclear war.
Legally, it might save you from some war crimes trial ... but ethically, it is a lie.
It is indefensible.
You have been yelling threats into a phone for nearly four months, after the guy on the other end had already hung up.
You, Mr. Bush, are a bald-faced liar.
And more over, you have just revealed that John Bolton, and Norman Podhoretz, and the Wall Street Journal Editorial board, are also bald-faced liars.
We are to believe that the Intel community, or maybe the State Department, cooked the raw intelligence about Iran, falsely diminished the Iranian nuclear threat, to make you look bad?
And you proceeded to let them make you look bad?
You not only knew all of this about Iran, in early August ...
But you also knew ... it was ... accurate.
And instead of sharing this good news with the people you have obviously forgotten you represent ...
You merely fine-tuned your terrorizing of those people, to legally cover your own backside ...
While you filled the factual gap with sadistic visions of - as you phrased it on August 28th: a quote “nuclear holocaust” - and, as you phrased it on October 17th, quote: “World War Three.”
My comments, Mr. Bush, are often dismissed as simple repetitions of the phrase “George Bush has no business being president.”
Well, guess what?
Tonight: hanged by your own words ... convicted by your own deliberate lies ...
You, sir, have no business ... being president.
Good night, and good luck.
Bush’s old world disorder
Sidney Blumenthal writes in Salon:
Every aspect of Bush’s foreign policy has now collapsed. Every dream of neoconservatism has become a nightmare. Every doctrine has turned to dust. The influence of the United States has reached a nadir, its lowest point since before World War II, when the country was encased in isolationism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose soul President Bush famously claimed to peer through, is scuttling arms control agreements and cutting his own deals with the Iranians. The Turkish army is poised to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants that the Iraqi government and the U.S. allowed to roam freely. The resurgent Taliban, given a second life when Bush drained resources from Afghanistan for the invasion of Iraq, is besieging the countryside, straining the future of the Western alliance in the form of NATO. Pakistan, whose intelligence service and military contain elements that sponsor the Taliban and al-Qaida, remains an epicenter of terrorism. Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of martial law in Pakistan on Nov. 3 was his second coup, reinforcing his 1999 military takeover. Facing elections in January 2008 that seemed likely to repudiate him and an independent judiciary that refused to grant him extraordinary powers, he suspended constitutional rule. Toothless U.S. admonitions were easily ignored.
Gone are the days when the stern words of a senior U.S. official prevented rash action by an errant foreign leader and when the power of the U.S. served as a restraining force and promoted peaceful resolution of conflict. In the vacuum of the Bush catastrophe, nation-states pursue what they perceive to be their own interests as global conflicts proliferate. The backlash of preemptive war in Iraq gathers momentum in undermining U.S. power and prestige. The resignation last week of Bush’s close advisor, Karen Hughes, as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, whose mission was to restore the U.S. image in the world, signaled not only failure but also exhaustion. The administration’s ventriloquism act of casting words into the mouth of the president’s nominee for attorney general, former federal Judge Michael Mukasey, who would not declare waterboarding torture, demonstrated that Bush is less concerned with the crumbling of America’s reputation and moral authority than with preventing an attorney general from prosecuting members of his administration, including possibly him, for war crimes under U.S. law.
The neoconservative project is crashing. The “unipolar moment,” the post-Cold War unilateralist utopia imagined by neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer; “hegemony,” the ultimate goal projected by the September 2000 manifesto of the Project for the New American Century; an “empire” over lands that “today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets,” fantasized by neocon Max Boot in the Weekly Standard a month after Sept. 11, have instead produced unintended consequences of chaos and decline. Dick Cheney’s and Donald Rumsfeld’s presumption that successful war would instill fear leading to absolute obedience and the suppression of potential rivalries and serious threats—the “dangerous nation” thesis of neocon theorist Robert Kagan—has proved to be the greatest foreign policy miscalculation in U.S. history.
The quest for absolute power has not forged an “empire” but provoked ever-widening chaos. The neocons have been present at the creation, all right. But this “creation” is not another American century, in emulation of the post-World War II order fashioned by the so-called wise men, such as Secretary of State Dean Acheson, a consummate realist, who Condoleezza Rice continues to insist is her model. Squandering the immense influence of the U.S. in such a short period has required monumental effort. Now the fog of war clears. On the ruin of the neocons’ new world order emerges the old world disorder on steroids.
Musharraf’s coup spectacularly illustrates the Bush effect. His speech of Nov. 3, explaining his seizure of power, is among the most significant and revealing documents of this new era in its cynical exploitation of the American example. In his speech, Musharraf mocks and echoes Bush’s rhetoric. Tyranny, not freedom, is on the march. Musharraf appropriates the phrase “judicial activism,” the epithet hurled by American conservatives at liberal decisions of the courts since the Warren Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in schools, and makes it his own. This term—“judicial activism”—has no other source. It is certainly not a phrase that originated in Pakistan. “The judiciary has interfered: That’s the basic issue,” Musharraf said.
Indeed, under Bush, the administration has equated international law, the system of justice, and lawyers with terrorism. In the March 2005 National Defense Strategy, this conflation of enemies became official doctrine: “Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism.” Neoconservative lawyers, in and out of the administration, have strenuously argued that the efforts to restore the Geneva Conventions, place detainees within the judicial process and provide them with legal representation amount to what they denigrate as “lawfare”—a sneering reference to “welfare” and the idea that detainees are akin to the unworthy poor. Lawyers for detainees, meanwhile, are routinely insulted as “habeas lawyers,” as though they were agents of terrorists and that arguing for the restoration of habeas corpus proves complicity “objectively” with terrorists. Rather than cite these neoconservative talking points directly or invoke the authority of Bush, whose feeble protestations he brushed aside, Musharraf slyly quoted Abraham Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus in Maryland and southern Indiana during the Civil War. (The U.S. Circuit Court of Maryland overturned his act. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan that civilians could not be tried before military tribunals when civil courts were functioning.) In Musharraf’s version, Lincoln is his model, taking executive action in order to save the nation: “He broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary powers, he trampled individual liberties, his justification was necessity.” Musharraf, of course, as he suspends an election, leaves out the rest of Lincoln, not least the difficult election of 1864, which took place in the middle of the Civil War.
But where did Musharraf get his warped idea of Lincoln as dictator and America as an example of tyranny? Not quite from diligent study of American history. According to a 2002 interview with Ikram Sehgal, managing editor of the Defense Journal of Pakistan, Musharraf received this notion from his reading of Richard Nixon’s book “Leaders,” published in 1994, in which Nixon discusses Lincoln’s measures taken under extreme duress with ill-disguised admiration. Thus, for Musharraf, as for Cheney and Bush, Nixon’s vision of an imperial president lies at the root of their actions in creating an executive unbound by checks and balances, unaccountable to “judicial activism.” Since declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has rounded up thousands of lawyers and shut down the courts, while halting offensive military action against terrorists. In the name of combating terrorism, even as parts of his government are in league with them, he launches an attack on those who profess democracy.
The Bush administration finds itself devoid of options. Neoconservatives are left, happily at least for some of them, to defend torture. They have no explanations for the implosion of Bush’s policies or suggestions for remedy. Self-examination is too painful and in any case unfamiliar. Bush regrets Musharraf’s martial law, yet tacitly accepts that the U.S. has no alternative but to support him in the war on terror that he is not fighting—and is using for his own political purposes. On the rubble of neoconservatism, the Bush administration has adopted “realism” by default, though not even as a gloss on its emptiness. Bush still clings to his high-flown rhetoric as if he’s warming up for his second inaugural address. But this is not rock-bottom; there is further to fall.
The Promotion of Failure in the Bush Administration
Keith Olbermann is as eloquent as ever:
The War as We Saw It - New York Times
By BUDDHIKA JAYAMAHA, WESLEY D. SMITH, JEREMY ROEBUCK, OMAR MORA, EDWARD SANDMEIER, YANCE T. GRAY and JEREMY A. MURPHY
VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.
A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.
As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.
Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.
However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.
In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a “time-sensitive target acquisition mission” on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.
Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.
The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.
Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington’s insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made — de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government — places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.
Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict — as we do now — will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.
At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”
In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.
Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.
We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.
Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.