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No Integrity At The White House

by The Daily Brew

Last night, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh denounced the Bush administration's approach to Iraq last night while accepting the Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism at the Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Hersh began his acceptance speech by discussing the difficulties today's reporters face, especially in Washington. "I have never seen my peers as frightened as they are now" commented Mr. Hersh, who was recently described as a "terrorist" by Senior White House advisor Richard Perle. Mr. Hersh also spoke of his own frustration with the Bush administration. "There is no real standard of integrity because the White House doesn't have any," he said.

While Mr. Hersh's observation that the White House is deliberately intimidating the Washington press may be correct, it is disingenuous at best to blame President Bush for the White House's success in this effort. The catastrophic failure of our national press corps began well before Mr. Bush assumed office, at a time when American journalists were free to critique Mr. Bush with little fear of retribution.

During the Presidential campaign of 2000, journalists had the ability to compare Bush's mendacious campaign sloganeering with his record as the governor of Texas with little to fear from the White House. They did not, and Mr. Bush was able to convince a large segment of the American public that he was somehow qualified to be the President. The press was then free to point out the breathtaking and criminal tactics Mr. Bush's campaign used to steal the Presidential election in Florida. They did not, and the American public was sufficiently lethargic to embolden the Supreme Court to sweep these tactics under the rug and install Mr. Bush into office. Early in Mr. Bush's term, the press was again free to point out the easily predictable disaster that would result were Mr. Bush's tax proposals written into law. Again, the press took a pass, and since that time millions of Americans have lost their jobs and slipped into poverty. Perhaps most catastrophically, the press was free to point out that Saddam Hussein had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of September 11, and that White House assertions to the contrary where a most odious form of political sleight of hand. The press again failed to make the public aware of these basic facts, and as a result, our democracy stands poised to embark on a war of aggression in violation of both international law and the wishes of virtually the entire world community.

The significance of these failures cannot be overstated. Opinion polls conclusively demonstrate that the American public is fundamentally misinformed about key facts that have driven the Iraq debate. It is these misconceptions that are allowing the Bush administration to pursue a foreign policy that is decidedly not in our national security interests. One can only wonder if support for the war would fall to levels seen in our NATO allies (levels that would make the attack political suicide) were Americans made aware of the same stories that have received widespread attention in the foreign press. Would the American public support the war if they were aware that, contrary to Mr. Bush's assertions, Iraq and al Qaeda are essentially enemies? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were originally provided by the American military? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that the Bush administration had grossly overstating Iraq's military capabilities and the threat posed by Iraq to American interests? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that the White House was spying on UN counsel members in an attempt to influence their votes? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that Dick Cheney's former employer Halliburton, which still pays him a million dollars a year pension, is all but certain to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in the conflict and its aftermath?

We will never know the answer to these questions, because the press has never informed the American public of these and other key facts. The British press, on the other hand, has informed its public, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is perilously close to losing his job as a result. One can only wonder if Mr. Bush would suffer a similar fate were Mr. Hersh and his colleagues to finally stand up to the intimidation emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. One thing is certain. Whatever retribution the press might receive pales in comparison to the price that will be paid by American servicemen, Iraqi citizens, and America's stature in the world for their failures. It is long past time for a little courage, men and women of the press. --(c) 03.13.03

If This Were A Dictatorship...

by The Daily Brew

As horrific as war may be, there are circumstances where the alternative is worse. Living in a country like Iraq may well be one. The Bush administration, in its relentless marketing of its coming attack, has insured that there is no need to recount the hell-hole that is Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Suffice it to say that Iraq is in essence a prison, run by a sociopath who is given to attacking his neighbors and entertained by torturing his countrymen. While Iraq is hardly the world's only despotic dictatorship, if there is a list of countries that would benefit by overthrowing their government, Iraq is certainly close to the top.

Overthrowing Saddam, however, is not a legitimate end unto itself. If Saddam is simply replaced with another repressive dictator, the Iraqi people will have paid the terrible price for nothing. If that dictator eventually becomes hostile to the United States and seeks weapons of mass destruction, the United States will have gained nothing as well. Let us not be relativists in this regard. Not all governments are created equally. History has demonstrated that as flawed as it may be, democratic governance is superior to all other forms. As a general rule, democracies tend to be far less threatening to their neighbors and far kinder to their citizens. One may argue that Iraq is so rife with internal hatreds and incompatible competing interests that it cannot be transformed into a stable democracy. It is beyond contention, however, that were it so transformed, the lives of both the Iraqi people and the rest of the world would be infinitely better.

It is also clear that the Iraqi people have little prospect of ending the rule of Saddam Hussein and forming their country into a democracy on their own. Like most of the world's dictators, Saddam is sufficiently well armed that it has little to fear from his subjugated population. This is a bitter irony, as Saddam's dominance over the Iraqi people, as with the dominance of many other dictators in the world, is a direct result of weapons supplied by supposedly civilized democracies, and the world's largest arms merchant is none other than the United States.

Thus, the case could be made that the US government that assisted in arming Saddam Hussein should atone for its sins and attack him, and that such would be in the interest of not only the American public, but also the Iraqi people and the world at large. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is uniquely incapable of making that case. The Bush administration cannot justify an attack on Iraq because the Bush administration has shown nothing but contempt for the fundamentally American concept of democratic government that might actually make it worth it.

At the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, Bush's father openly encouraged the people of Iraq to rise up against Saddam Hussein in revolt. Both the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south responded, and in March of 1991, it was clear that they had a better than even chance of succeeding. It was at this juncture that the prior Bush administration lost its nerve and sold these rebels down the river. Fearing a post-Saddam Iraq ruled by the majority Shiites would align itself with Iran, Bush allowed Saddam to attack the Kurds in the north with helicopters, and allowed the Iraqi army to literally penetrate the US line in the South to put down the Shiites. Two years later, Bush had lost his job, but Saddam remained in power.

Is it unfair to tar the current Bush administration with the decisions the prior one? Perhaps, but it is worth noting that many of the players are the same. Colin Powell and Dick Cheney may have worn different hats, but there is no doubt that they were as instrumental in forming foreign policy then as they are now. There is also little doubt that Bush is even less comfortable with democracy, either in America or Iraq, than was his father.

Bush once quipped that "If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - so long as I'm the dictator." The trouble is, he meant it. The evidence is simply overwhelming that the Bush administration has little use for the consent of the governed either in America or abroad.

Outside of the United States, the Bush administration has been overt in its contempt for democratic rule. From the Bush administration's giddy reaction to the military coup that temporarily ousted Hugo Chavez from the Venezuelan Presidency to the totalitarian government that was allowed to replace the Taliban in Afghanistan, Bush has repeatedly shown little affinity for exporting America's most precious value; our system of governance. The explanation for this reticence is that Bush simply does not share this most important American value.

Bush gained his office only by having his brother purge voters in Florida. Having freed himself from the requirement that he actually be elected, Bush relentlessly sought to free himself from other confines of democratic rule from the day he assumed his stolen office. Prior to 9/11, Bush began quietly by conducting the public's business far away from public view, hiding the activities of not only his administration, but also those of his father, via executive order. After 9/11, Bush was no longer content with merely running the government in secret. Constitutional checks on Bush's power were summarily revoked via the so-called Patriot Act, where Bush assumed a variety of dictatorial powers, including the ability to indefinitely detain American citizens, without any hearings, bail, or even charges. Bush is now proposing even more egregious changes to the Patriot Act, demanding the power to summarily strip American's of their very citizenship. If the past is any guide, Bush will not only be given these new powers, he will then seek even more. From its inauspicious start right up to the present, the Bush administration's single guiding principle has been the continuous and ravenous concentration of power, the public be damned.

So as Bush plunges the world into an economic catastrophe to attack Iraq, we can be confident of only one thing. The only outcome that might possibly justify the death and destruction that lie ahead is the very outcome that Bush has no absolutely no interest whatsoever in pursuing. -- (c) 02.13.03

China And Wal-Mart: Expanded Trade Will Liberalize? Yeh, Right.

by The Daily Brew

After a contentious debate, on May 24, 2000, the House voted 237-197 to extend permanent normal trade relations to China, which guaranteed Chinese goods the same low-tariff access to the US market as products from most other nations, contingent on China's eventual entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The bill passed the Senate the following September, and was signed into law by President Clinton. Pro-trade theorists had successfully argued that expanded trade would liberalize China, eventually opening and democratizing its society. So how has it worked so far?

On April 1 of the following year, a U.S. EP-3E surveillance aircraft flying in international airspace was forced to land on Hainan Island, China, after being rammed by a Chinese fighter jet. Chinese authorities immediately boarded the U.S. plane, which contained highly sensitive U.S. surveillance technology, and refused U.S. officials request for access to the plane's crew for more than 60 hours. The crew were eventually held for a total of 11 days, and released to the U.S. only after President Bush was made to apologize to the Chinese for the incident. The plane itself was eventually shipped back to the U.S. in boxes, along with a bill from the Chinese government for one million dollars.

Nevertheless, all was apparently forgiven, and few months later on November 11, 2001 the pro-trade theorists won round two when President Bush welcomed both China and Taiwan's accession to the (WTO), saying "We also look forward to the great benefits we know that greater trade will bring to all our peoples."

Five months after China's admission into the WTO, the US State Department's annual human rights report accused China of religious repression. Nicholas Kristoff's column in today's NY Times illustrates just what that means. He writes that secret Communist Party documents released in the just published book, "China's New Rulers," say approvingly that "60,000 Chinese were killed, either executed or shot by police while fleeing, between 1998 and 2001," and calculates that to be 15,000 a year, suggesting that 97 percent of the world's executions take place in China. Kristoff then reminds us that a good portion of this carnage is straightforward religious persecution, and that it is well documented that scores of Christians and members of the Falun Gong sect have died in police custody.

In some parts of China, Kristoff reports, the authorities brutally crush independent churches, and that "according to interviews with church members and statements smuggled out of prison, dozens of church members were arrested at the same time and were beaten with clubs, jolted with cattle prods and burned with cigarettes; when they fainted, buckets of water were poured on them to revive them. Interrogators stomped on the fingers of male prisoners and stripped young women prisoners naked and abused them."

Thus it would appear that the Chinese people have yet to see any of rewards promised by expanded trade, so who exactly is benefiting from China's membership in the WTO? That one's easy; the Chinese leadership who use the taxes on trade to finance their police and military operations, and the multi-national corporations like Wal-Mart who use Chinese labor to lower their costs.

At about the same time China gained admission to the WTO, Wal-Mart moved its worldwide purchasing headquarters to China. Today, Wal-Mart is the largest importer of Chinese-made products in the world, buying $10 billion worth of merchandise from several thousand Chinese factories. There is no question that if prices are lower at Wal-Mart, it is because of these factories.

What is life like in the factories? As Charlie Kernaghan of the National Labor Committee reports, "In country after country, factories that produce for Wal-Mart are the worst," adding that Wal-Mart's labor policy "is actually lowering standards in China, slashing wages and benefits, imposing long mandatory-overtime shifts, while tolerating the arbitrary firing of workers who even dare to discuss factory conditions."

If you consider yourself a champion of human rights, the next time you are in Wal-Mart, consider the fact that your purchases are financing a partnership between one of the most ruthless corporations and brutal totalitarian dictatorships in history. If you consider yourself a patriot, remember the Chinese treatment of our US servicemen when our plane was brought down, and ask yourself if you really want your dollars financing those thugs? If you consider yourself a Christian, you may also want to think about the fact that the few dollars you might save on Christmas presents by shopping at Wal-Mart will help enable a terrorist state to continue to torture and murder your fellow Christians. If you believe in free trade, you might want to ask yourself if things are panning out in China as promised. Ask yourself; how many Chinese people need to die before we draw some conclusions about the failure of this experiment in long distance social engineering via trade policy? 12.02.02

Dems, "The Art Of War," And Taking Chances

by The Daily Brew

If von Clausewitz was correct, and war is simply politics by other means, then the reverse is also true, and politics is simply war by other means. Plainly, the Republicans figured this out the day Richard Nixon was forced to resign, and have behaved accordingly ever since.

Rather than fester in meaningless debates about whether the party should move left or right, the Democrats would do well to realize that no matter what they do, unless they begin to apply time tested principles for armed combat in their political struggles, they are unlikely to reverse their fortunes.

A good place to start would be by reading "The Art of War," written over two millenia ago by Sun Tzu [circa 400-320 B.C.] and widely believed to be the oldest book to formalize the concepts and principles of warfare. The text has more than withstood the test of time, and is taught in military academies throughout the world. The concepts and principles taught by Sun Tzu have become recognized as broadly applicable, and are currently put to use by business strategists, athletic teams, Islamic terrorists, and Republican political operatives. Sun Tzu wrote that "it is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected." The Democrats might want to give it a try.

Sun Tzu believed that all warfare is based on deception. "If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant."

This should not present a problem for the Democrats. While the GOP's arrogance may be at its apex, the Democrats are actually far stronger than they now appear. If the Democrats can win the Presidential election in 2004, it is easy to conceive that they will also pick up at least 3 Senate seats and a dozen or so in the House. How different will the national agenda look with these relatively modest gains?

"If he is taking his ease, give him no rest."

The GOP is clearly at ease, and Sun Tzu's counsel is thus to attack. The days of accommodating Bush must come to an end. This should not be problematic. After supporting Bush's most ill-advised adventures in both tax and foreign policy, Democrats were rudely kicked out of power by Bush, who actively campaigned against them as obstructionists. Perhaps we have not yet tested the true measure of spinelessness on the part of Democrats, but it seems unlikely that Democrats will continue to rely on subservience to their adversary as their governing principle.

"If his forces are united, separate them."

Their failure to heed this portion of Sun Tzu's precepts is perhaps where the Democrats have failed most miserably, and Republicans have operated most successfully. For years, religious conservatives would readily break ranks with the plutocratic wing of the GOP over the issue of abortion, thereby allowing Democrats to win elections. Once they wised up and began to hang together, the GOP became a far more formidable opponent. Combined with their newfound unity, the Republicans then actively aided and abetted the rise of the Green Party, paying for ads and recruiting candidates to split the Democratic vote. Grover Norquist then watched gleefully as the Democrats were divided and fell.

How could the Democrats reinvigorate this natural wedge in the Republican Party? I would suggest they begin by putting the abortion issue in play. The GOP controls the White House, the Senate, and the House. While they all campaign as friends of religious right, is there any doubt that this is simply a ruse by the GOP to attract their votes? After all, two years ago, the GOP also controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. While the plutocrats were quickly rewarded with a massive tax cut, I don't seem to recall the religious right being similarly rewarded with a ban on abortion.

Call their bluff. Have a few maverick Democratic Congressman from rural Southern districts introduce legislation banning abortions, all abortions, including cases of rape and incest. The remainder of the Democrats would be free to keep a safe distance. Then dare the GOP to pass it. They never will, because they know the minute they do, the gender gap becomes unbridgeable, and they become the permanent minority party. But in the meantime, as they bottle it up in committee, watch them squirm as the religious right grows increasingly incensed at the great betrayal. Which feeds directly into Sun Tzu's next bit of wisdom:

"Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

Would anything catch the GOP more off-guard than a Democratic sponsored push to outlaw abortion? Is the GOP really prepared to follow through on the rhetoric they routinely blather at the religious community to gain their votes? Is there any issue that will more decisively divide the GOP's base? Were Sun Tzu in the Democratic Party, he would be putting a women's right to choose on the legislative agenda.

Before you write to attack me as a sell-out to women's rights, recognize that I don't believe for a minute that such legislation would ever get to Bush's desk. The GOP simply cannot afford to match their rhetoric on this issue with action. But even if they did, it is far better that it arrive there now, before Sandra Day O'Conner retires. As currently constituted, the Supreme Court would strike it down. And simply by having the issue in play, it would be far easier for Senate Democrats to filibuster a Scalia-like replacement for O'Conner, were she to retire. Of course, Democrats could choose not to take any risks, not to confront Bush, not to try to divide the Republican base. After all, it is working so well, why change things? --11.11.02

Bush Keeps The Yahoo Vote With Anti-Registration Gun Stance

by The Daily Brew

Many were alarmed when the TIPS program was proposed by the Bush administration. TIPS would have mailmen and meter readers spying on the general public as a part of the war on terror. For many, the idea of a "civilian corps" spying on their fellow citizens at the bequest of the government was eerily reminiscent life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In short, the most un-American thing that could be imagined.

But the Bush administration's naked power grab for these and other civil liberties has proceeded unhindered by a worried, yet impotent illuminati. After all, how many Democratic leaders voted for the civil rights-crushing PATRIOT act? The fact is, Bush has safely disposed of virtually all of the rights Americans might have possessed preventing unfair and/or unwarranted persecution by the government, excepting of course those conferred by wealth.

Bring guns into that picture, and everything changes.

Once guns rights are on the table, the constitution starts to mean something to Bush because a cross section of the public willfully ignorant of the more egregious violations start to take notice of common sense suggestions, like registering guns.

More specifically, once you start talking about gun rights, an army of under-achieving white men in the south and west, (the heart of "Bush country"), who likely don't understand all their rights are already gone start getting extremely agitated because they think their guns somehow matter. These are the absolute core of Bush's base, and no Republican has a chance of getting elected anywhere in flyover without them. Hammered by the economic reality of the place of rural America in a global economy, they may have lost their good paying jobs, but like hell are they giving up their guns. The driver behind this mentality is the belief they might need them to "keep the federal government in line." These are the actual "rural values" Karl Rove and George Bush have to worry about. What is even more scary than the mentality of these yahoos bent on insurrection is the fact that the Bush administration has no choice but to gratify their paranoia.

Even as a demented sniper played a slow motion version of the tragedy at Columbine High School in the Nation's Capital yesterday, Bush was forced to express concern about the "privacy rights" of the trailer park set in the rural south and west. The same George Bush who decided that if he terms an American citizen an "enemy combatant," they no longer have the right to a trial, a lawyer, or even a phone call. For everything else, Bush is like the anti-Constitution. But once you start talking gun rights, he starts sounding like the ACLU.

Our cars are licensed. Our marriages are licensed. Our businesses are licensed. The government has full access to our financial records. Even our dogs are licensed. All of that is just fine, but somehow it becomes a constitutional crisis for the Bush administration if a skinhead with a swastika tattooed on his neck is asked to register an assault weapon. And America apparently can't do a damn thing about it.

As they say in Texas, yee-ha. --October 17, 2002

What then?
© September 21, 2002
The Daily Brew

On the 12th of September in this space, I suggested Democrats ought to join the debate on the coming invasion by asking the administration about its plans for a post-Saddam Iraq. Happily, James Fallows had already been thinking along those lines, and in the November Atlantic Monthly, he answers some of my question with his piece "The Fifty-first State" where he queries: "Going to war with Iraq would mean shouldering all the responsibilities of an occupying power the moment victory was achieved. These would include running the economy, keeping domestic peace, and protecting Iraq's borders-and doing it all for years, or perhaps decades. Are we ready for this long-term relationship?"

Fallows quickly comes to the same conclusion that I had drawn, that a "quick in-and-out attack" is simply not a viable option. As reported by Fallows, "the tone of the political debate reflects a dawning awareness of this reality." He reports that during his extensive interviews with a variety of sources "whether in favor of war or not, [they all] recognized that military action is a barbed hook: once it goes in, there is no quick release."

I'll resist the temptation to excerpt the many possible negative outcomes predicted by Fallows' panel of experts. I recommend you read them for yourself in Fallows' article (http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/11/fallows.htm), as they offer a sobering view of exactly what we are getting ourselves into. Instead, I will simply repeat what some of the optimists said. Former CIA director James Woolsey told Fallows "This could be a golden opportunity to begin to change the face of the Arab world." Fallows quoted Thomas McInerney, a retired three-star general, from the Senate hearings this past summer, "Our longer-term objectives will be to bring a democratic government to Iraq ... that will influence the region significantly." Fallows then quotes Rumsfeld from a Pentagon briefing a few days later, "Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if Iraq were similar to Afghanistan-if a bad regime was thrown out, people were liberated, food could come in, borders could be opened, repression could stop, prisons could be opened? I mean, it would be fabulous."

I agree. It would be fabulous. But nobody believes for a second such an outcome is assured no matter what we do, and even the most optimistic hawk cannot possibly believe getting there is going to be easy, even if we get lucky and Iraq at some point becomes a beacon of freedom and democracy for the region. So the question remains; are the American people willing to make the enormous sacrifices that will be required to even attempt to reshape the heart of the Middle East? Because if they aren't, invading Iraq is certain to create catastrophic instability in the world's energy markets, and thus the global economy, for decades. And even if the American people are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, the Bush administration has provided no assurance that it is.

During the Presidential debate of October 3, 2000 in Boston, moderator Jim Lehrer asked Bush "How would you go about, as president, deciding when it was in the national interest to use U.S. force?" For anyone hoping that Bush is planning on sticking around Iraq to do the hard work necessary to turn Iraq into a democracy and avoid utter chaos in the Middle East, his answer was ominous. Bush rattled off his talking points; if it's in our vital national interests, whether or not the mission was clear, whether or not we were prepared and trained to win, and whether or not there was an exit strategy. Then Bush sought to distinguish himself from Al Gore. 

"The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders."

Oh really?

Equally interesting are the writings of Paul Wolfowitz, as Mr. Wolfowitz appears to be the chief architect of the Bush administration's plans for invasion. In his article "Remembering the Future" published in The National Interest No. 59, Spring 2000, Wolfowitz wrote:

"Promoting democracy requires attention to specific circumstances and to the limitations of U.S. leverage. Both because of what the United States is, and because of what is possible, we cannot engage either in promoting democracy or in nation-building simply by an exercise of will."

Does Mr. Wolfowitz still hold this view? If so, who or what is going to promote democracy in Iraq? Mr. Wolfowitz offers one possible answer in the same piece with this observation:

"In the former cases, as in Afghanistan, our strongest weapon may be the oppressed people themselves. But we have an obligation to deliver the support we promise them. Kennedy's failure to make good on his pledges to the Cubans at the Bay of Pigs, like Clinton's abandonment of the Iraqi opposition in 1996, was a moral failure that was also costly to American power and credibility. Even when the promises are vague, or only implicit-as with Eisenhower encouraging the Hungarians in 1956 or Bush the Iraqis in 1991-we must remember that our reputation will be determined by what people believe we promised rather than what we intended. This is a reason to promise carefully and deliver on the promises we make-but it should not become an excuse for refusing our help to those who need it, like the Iraqi opposition today."

While Mr. Wolfowitz plainly deserves kudos for his prescience in Afghanistan, surely he is not still suggesting that we are to rely on the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis to somehow hold a post-Saddam Iraq together? 

Thus, I arrive back where I started on September 12. Until and unless the Bush administration clearly articulates its plans in a post-war Iraq ("promising carefully" in the words of Mr. Wolfowitz) any congressional authorization of the invasion is premature. Absent such articulation, and given that any rational policy would necessarily entail a radical departure from their prior pronouncements, how else are we to determine whether they have any intentions of "delivering on the promises they make?" 

Iraq Attack: Cheering for the Cubs...er...Dems
The Daily Brew

By engaging the country in a pre-election debate about whether General Rove should invade Iraq, the Republicans have unwittingly handed Democrats a golden opportunity to show real foreign policy leadership, and to simultaneously race out in front of not only the Bush Administration, but the UN and our European allies as well. Unfortunately, the Chicago Cubs of politics are blowing it once again.

The key to any political debate is in the framing. By allowing the Bush administration to frame the debate as concerning whether or not we should invade Iraq, the Democrats have left themselves in the position of either following Bush's lead or merely voicing a cautious dissent. Neither position demonstrates leadership, and both elections and governance demand leadership.

What Democrats ought to do is to recognize that Bush has already made his decision. The administration has clearly stated that Bush is free to attack Iraq with no further authorization from Congress. In his speech before the UN General Assembly, Bush further made it clear that he intends to invade Iraq with or without the UN. Given recent troop movements and joint air operations in Iraq with British forces, for all practical purposes the invasion has already begun. Since the administration is treating a vote in Congress as a purely symbolic act; rather like Congress voting as to whether they favor the sun coming up in the morning, the Democrats should quit assisting Bush in creating the illusion that he cares whether they are on board, and also treat the attack as a given. Doing so allows Democrats not only to put the entire risk of the war squarely where it belongs, but also to begin to frame the debate not in terms of whether or not to invade, but rather in terms of what we plan to do with Iraq after Saddam has been deposed.

For here is where the truly relevant questions lie, and where the Bush administration has no well thought out answers. By framing the debate around post war Iraq, Democrats can show real leadership, not only to their constituents, but also to the world at large. Just as few doubt that the United States will quickly dispatch Saddam, there is no question that once Saddam Hussein is gone, the reconstruction of Iraq will be a long and painful process. The war promises to last a few weeks, perhaps even a few days. The reconstruction promises to last for decades. Framing the debate around the administration's post war plans gives Democrats the opportunity not only to reassert the primacy of their democratic values, but also to show that the Bush administration has not fully considered the consequences of its actions. This can be accomplished simply by asking some hard questions.

Is the administration committed to building a democratic Iraq that respects human rights and will serve as a beacon of freedom and tolerance to its neighbors? If so, why hasn't it done the same in Afghanistan? How does the administration plan on achieving these ends? How much of the blood and treasure of the American people is Bush willing to commit towards reconstructing Iraqi society into a pluralistic democracy? What role will the UN, our European allies, and Iraq's neighbors in the region play in this process? Why hasn't the Bush administration gained their commitment towards this effort in terms of troops, money, and other assistance?

Bush has already decided to go to war. What happens after the war is the real issue that will confront US policy makers for years to come. If the Democrats want to participate in the formulation of US foreign policy, or, heaven forbid show some leadership in that arena, this is as good a place as any to jump in.

© September 12, 2002

The Coming Slaughter
© September 4, 2002
The Daily Brew

So far, the debate over Operation Repair Dad's Legacy has taken place mostly between neo-conservatives who haven't fought in a war and conservatives who have. For a while, it looked like the veterans had the upper hand, but the chicken hawks cheered when Cheney struck what looked like the decisive blow last week. His argument, that the United States must act quickly to remove Saddam Hussein from power because "deliverable weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terror network or a murderous dictator, or the two working together, constitutes as grave a threat as can be imagined" seems to have settled the issue.

Perhaps liberals ought to chime in, because Cheney's imagination is obviously stunted. One can easily imagine a variety of threats that are at least as grave as that posed by Saddam Hussein. All one need do is imagine the situation in the Middle East at the conclusion of the war Cheney is trying so desperately to launch.

While Saddam is undoubtedly a murderous dictator who does finance fundamentalist terrorist groups, Saddam is for the most part a secular murderous dictator who has historically calculated his military activities in terms of real politic. As far as we know, neither he nor any of the terrorist groups he finances have ever directly attacked the United States. By way of comparison, the last secular leader driven from power in the Middle East was also a murderous dictator; the Shah of Iran. He was replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who immediately declared America the "Great Satan" and seized 52 American hostages. Given that background, it is fair to ask, if the United States invades Iraq, will whoever replaces Saddam be better or worse? Will Iraq's capabilities for producing weapons of mass destruction fall into the hands of people even more likely than Saddam to use them? Does removing Saddam from power make it more likely, or less likely, that weapons of mass destruction will ultimately be used against America? After all, isn't that really the threat with which we ought to be concerned?

Even without the support of the UN, its allies, a substantial portion of the American public, or even neighboring countries that Iraq has invaded from time to time over the past two decades, if the US attacks Iraq, the United States will almost certainly prevail. Which is to say, when the dust settles, it is unlikely that Saddam will remain in power. Beyond that, it is difficult to predict much about the outcome, except to note that the cost in terms of the lives of US servicemen is likely to be high, the costs in terms of the lives of Iraqis is likely to be astronomical, and the post-Saddam power struggle is likely to take place in a highly unstable environment.

With Saddam's army dug into the cities, the US forces will either keep their distance, bombing the Iraqi infrastructure and waiting to starve them out, or move in for urban combat that will be the next generation of the battles fought by the Russians in Chechnya. The slow starvation of Iraq would likely take too long, and provide too grim a spectacle, and thus appears off the table as a realistic policy option. Assuming the latter strategy, American forces will undoubtedly seek to avoid the casualties the Russians endured at the hands of the Chechens. They will have the advantages afforded by superior technology; precision guided munitions and night vision equipment. They will also likely emulate the Israeli's use of bulldozers in Gaza and the West Bank as weapons that effectively level cities and which are immune to booby traps.

Unfortunately, the Iraqis are also far better equipped than their Chechen counterparts. While Iraq's military capacity was largely useless in the turkey shoot on the open desert during the Gulf war, when deployed in urban environments by guerrilla fighters conducting ambushes, it is highly conceivable that the Iraqis will be able to inflict much higher casualties this time around. Rightly fearing, or heaven forbid experiencing, such casualties, US commanders will have little choice but to employ methods and tactics even more devastating and brutal than those employed by the Russians. Assuming the Iraqis dig in and fight as hard as the Chechens, (a reasonable assumption according to those familiar with the current sentiment in Baghdad), the end result will be a devastated Iraq having much of its infrastructure turned into rubble, thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of its citizens dead, and its Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd populations thrust into a power struggle created by the vacuum. Iraq's neighbors will likely choose sides in this struggle, and Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey will almost certainly participate in at least a proxy war, leading perhaps to a shooting war.

Swirling about in all of this instability will be the specter of various terrorist groups, including al Qaeda, who will naturally seek to use the situation to their advantage. While many in the Arab world will care little about the loss of life on the American side, they will likely perceive the death of so many Iraqis at the hand of such a technologically superior aggressor as approximating a genocide. This perception will provide the terrorists who have repeatedly attacked the United States with a decisive recruiting tool, not only for volunteers and financiers to inflict more terrorism against the United States, but more importantly, to acquire whatever weapons of mass destruction that might remain in the aftermath of the war, including the expertise of those in Iraq who know how to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Unlike Saddam, these groups have proven willing to ignore the United States military and economic superiority, and have attacked the United States repeatedly.

Bush and Cheney are correct; Saddam is a menace. But sometimes the menace you know is preferable to the menace you don't know. Liberals ought to join the debate and point that out.

How Not To Run a War

Assume for the sake of argument that it is a good idea for the US to kick Saddam Hussein out of Iraq. You might as well, because in case you haven't figured it out, sooner or later Bush is going to do just that. If you were 43, how would you go about it? How would you instigate an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation without making the United States an international pariah?

41 might opine that a prudent course would be to let your actions speak for you. Begin by mobilizing a massive build-up of force in the region, thereby signaling to all of our allies that you are serious. That way, when you sent your diplomatic team out to get the rest of the world on board, they would know that it was time to stand up and be counted.

43's plan was to first blather a bunch of bellicose rhetoric, and then to send Cheney out to call in the chits. Predictably, with no attack imminent, most of the world politely demurred. Bush had left them plenty of time to change their minds, so why show their cards now? 43 simultaneously gave the rest of the world a pass from standing beside the United States while painting himself into a corner. As stated by his own subordinate, Richard Perle, "the failure to take on Saddam after what the president said would produce such a collapse of confidence in the president that it would set back the war on terrorism."

Once the build-up was clicking, 41 took his case directly to the public. If there is one golden rule for the use of US military force, it is get the public behind you. Get on the TV. Look us in the eye. Tell us what you are going to do, and why you are going to do it.

43 had a big advantage over his dad here. Two months ago, better than 70% of the public approved of military action to remove Saddam. But almost as soon as Bush put the issue on the radar, he stopped talking about it in any meaningful way. If one disregards Bush's off the cuff statements from the golf course (watch this drive!), most of the play in the media has come from leaks at the Pentagon as amplified by the punditocracy, hardly a formula for rallying America to sacrifice its sons and daughters on some foreign battlefield. Predictably, support for the invasion has dropped steadily. The defection of prominent Republicans on the Sunday talk shows and in the editorial pages of the nation's newspapers only sped the descent of public approval.

The coup de grace will come when Bush finally decides it is time to make the case why young servicemen should die to clear the blight of Saddam from Daddy-one-term's legacy. But by then, Bush will be forced to trot out a bunch of lame reasons that the media have picked apart to show they don't make any sense. Establishing democracy in the Middle East? Sorry, tell that to your oil partners, the monarchy that rules Kuwait and the Saudi Royal family. Weapons of mass destruction? Not very compelling. Experts are already lining up on the cable shows to say Iraq doesn't have any capabilities, and even if they do, the national press has spilled the beans that Iraq got their start in the chemical warfare business with the complicity of the Reagan administration. Iraq is harboring terrorists? That logic can be extended all the way to Pakistan, and contrary to the nonsense spouted by Perle, any attack on Iraq is going to make it infinitely harder to earn the cooperation of suc! h nations in rooting them out. Saddam is a danger to his neighbors? That would explain why every country that borders Iraq is against the invasion.

There is one saving grace for Bush. However idiotic he has been in conducting the build up to the war, Israel has been even more so. Back when 41 was in charge, a liberal government in Israel held itself in check while Saddam rained scuds on Tel Aviv. The Israeli silence in the face of Iraqi attacks gave the world a stunning portrait of who was the aggressor in the Middle East. Not this time.

The Israelis have been out in front, publicly encouraging Bush to attack. Sharon is set to visit 43's kid brother on the eve of the Florida primary. Has anyone in the Knesset thought this through? Rightly or wrongly, the larger Arab world has long viewed America as far too complicit in furthering the interests of Israel. Yesterday's defeat of Muslim backed incumbents like Cynthia McKinney to Jewish backed challengers has hardly changed that view. With all of the Arab world lining up against an invasion, why on earth would Israel want to be viewed as instigating the attack? If the war destabilizes any of the other Arab states, who do you think they are going to blame? If Saddam does have weapons of mass destruction, who do you suppose he is going to use them on? If Sharon responds by nuking Baghdad, how long do you suppose it will be before the Arab world responds in kind? Too bad for the United States and Israel that neither Bush nor Sharon have ever learned that so! metimes discretion truly is the better part of valor.

(c) August 21, 2002
The Daily Brew

Pants On Fire
© July 9, 2002
The Daily Brew

Why did corporate America decide it was OK to lie to their investors, the SEC, and the public? How did corporate America get the idea that they could tell huge whoppers without getting caught? Who is responsible for giving them the idea that deceit was a sure fire path to riches? That one's easy. Rush Limbaugh.

From 1992 until today, Limbaugh has been without question the single most influential political commentator in America. After making possible the GOP's 1994 congressional takeover, Limbaugh was named an honorary member. It was Limbaugh's GOP majority who then changed the law in 1995, shielding outside accountants, law firms, CEOs and directors from liability for false corporate reporting. Limbaugh and his 20 million listeners cheered them on every step of the way as they passed the bill over President Clinton's veto. In the past five years since the GOP congress made that law, over 1,000 public companies have been forced to restate misleading reports.

Today, Limbaugh's influence is equally felt among Republican lawmakers and their corporate sponsors. Limbaugh is the highest paid personality on the radio. His contract is reported to be worth over a quarter of a billion dollars. When a guy earns that kind of money, the corporations take notice. Especially the five or six global giants that control 95% of the US media. And what did they notice? They noticed that no lie was too big, no story too tall; Limbaugh could say virtually anything and get away with it.

Day after day, lie after lie, Limbaugh keeps them coming. Whether accusing Hillary Clinton of murder, or denying that global warming is real, no whopper is too big for Limbaugh to throw at his credulous sheep. Not content with helping the GOP destroy the bedrock regulatory oversight that had made the American financial system the envy of the world, Limbaugh spent the remainder of the 90s as a veritable poster child for earning huge profits by lying about progressive politicians and policies.

So it came as no surprise that the rest of the corporate media would follow suit. Whether misquoting Al Gore, making up stories about president Clinton's White House staff, or misreporting the voter fraud that installed their candidate in the White House, all across America the corporate media have adopted Limbaugh's modus operendi. And guess what? Just like Limbaugh, they get away with it!

Limbaugh's latest lie, which has been picked up and amplified by the corporate media, is that all this permissiveness is somehow Bill Clinton's fault. But 7 years and $70 million dollars in special prosecutors later, we know that Clinton's only lie...was about his private life. And even the most self-deluded ditto-head would have to admit that Ken Starr and the GOP Congress made damn sure Clinton didn't get away with it.

No, Rush, corporate America didn't convince themselves they could get away with lying because they watched Bill Clinton get crucified for a white lie about his personal life. They decided they could get away with it because they had watched you get rich repeatedly raping of the truth for ten years in front of 20 million Americans on a daily basis.

Moderate Muslims Criticize Fundamentalists; Moderate Christians Should Do The Same
© July 5, 2002

The Daily Brew

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a group of men who hold themselves out as the model of Christian behavior in the United States ran a political smear campaign to defeat John McCain in the South Carolina presidential primary. The campaign, bearing false witness against McCain with hateful lies that will not be repeated here, worked. George Bush won South Carolina, and then went on to win the Republican nomination. Shortly afterwards, but well before the final nomination was decided, Mr. McCain took umbrage at these so-called "Christians," and publicly referred to these men as "evil." After having just witnessed their considerable political clout within his party first hand, it was a courageous thing to say.

A similar dynamic is at work in much of the Arab world. Moderate Muslims in countries like Saudi Arabia and Palestine check their voices for fear that they will be persecuted by pious Muslim fundamentalists. To suggest that the Koran does not bless the suicide bombers in Palestine, or that Islam could tolerate women voting in Saudi Arabia, risks serious consequences, due to the considerable political power of Islamic religious leaders who hold contrary views.

Nevertheless, courageous voices in the Arab world have begun to speak out. A recent report, produced by the U.N. Development Program and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, detailed the grave economic damage that fundamentalist Islamic doctrine wrecks on Muslim societies. In brief, the report placed the blame for the economic catastrophe of the Arab world on the restrictions on the freedom to speak, freedom to innovate, freedom to affect political life, a shortage of women's rights, and a shortage of quality education. One hopes that reports such as this will encourage those courageous Arab voices, and that the damage wrought by religious fundamentalism will push those societies towards more tolerant and productive social policies.

Sadly, the United States seems to be moving in the opposite direction. When the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the rather obvious observation that compelling school children to pledge their allegiance to God was coercive religious indoctrination, virtually every federally elected official rushed to speak out in favor of such coercive religious indoctrination. Perhaps this should come as no surprise, given that a solid majority of the citizens in the United States profess to believe in God. However, it may also be a measure of how powerful the influence of the politically active religious leaders who slandered John McCain has become. This should give pause to those who believe in God, yet don't agree with the doctrine of religious leaders who would tell scurrilous lies to effect the political process.

Just as moderate voices need to speak out against the destructive interpretations of the Koran by fundamentalist Islamic extremists in Arab lands, so also must moderate Christian voices must rise up against the intolerant, and doctrinally suspect, rants of self-proclaimed "Christian" leaders in America.

It is not the responsibility of secular Americans to denounce Jerry Falwell for accepting millions of dollars from the Reverend Sun Myoung Moon, as he did in the early 1990's. That is the responsibility of Christians, at least those who do disagree with Moon's claim that he is Savior. It is not the responsibility of the Jewish community to call Pat Robertson to task for saying "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist" as he did on the 700 Club, on January 14, 1991. That is the responsibility of Christians who do not share Robertson's bigoted views.

Until and unless Christians in America loudly and forcefully renounce these "Christian" leaders, they will continue to speak as the self-appointed political voice of Christians on secular political television shows and newspapers throughout America. Their vision of a theocratic state, governed by their narrow views of Christian doctrine, will continue its steady march towards legislative completion. If and when their visions become reality, we have only to look to the Arab world today to understand what our society will look like.

A Plan To Beat Bush
© June 24, 2002

The Daily Brew

For months, Democrats running for office this fall, their campaign consultants and pollsters, have all trembled in the face of Bush's 70 plus approval ratings. This has led to a rather odd dynamic in their campaign strategies. In places like Montana and South Dakota, incumbent democratic Senators are actually running ads touting their closeness to the President. Call me crazy, but I see this strategy as a disaster in the making.

I happen to believe Bush's popularity is a mile wide and an inch deep, because it is purely a function of the American patriotism stirred by the 9-11 attacks. But even if I'm wrong and it isn't, none of it is likely to rub off on any Democrat running for office, no matter how hard they grovel at Bush's feet. So the only thing running as a not-so-in-the-closet Republican is going to do is to dishearten their Democratic base.

Instead of this contrarian insanity, I would recommend a conventional campaign. For Democratic challengers willing to buck the "wisdom" Democratic campaign gurus are apparently preaching, I offer a bold strategy sure to get them into office:

Point out that the "GOP government" is a failure.

Instead of tripping all over yourself trying to prove your patriotism by promising your undying loyalty to Bush's war on terror, take that as a given. Then point out that for the average taxpaying American, no matter how good they may sound on paper, when you look at the data, the policies of the GOP controlled government have made things worse. All you have to do is point out the facts, and suggest that it is time for a change. By virtually every measure available, ever since Bush moved into the White House, things have deteriorated. OK, you might have to admit that for the millionaires in the audience, taxes are lower. But other than that, the facts are on your side.

The stock market? Down. Job growth? Down. Income growth? Down.

Crime? Up. Unemployment? Up. The deficit and national debt? Up.

Sure, the GOP will squeal that none of it is there fault, but come November, when the swing voters get in that booth, the buck is going to stop somewhere.

Ronald Reagan persuaded millions of blue collar union members to vote for him when he asked Americans "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" I would suggest a variation on that theme. I would ask, since the Republicans took over complete control of our government two years ago, can you name one thing that has gotten better? Whether we are talking about jobs, the environment, the health care system, the capital markets, or the even the social fabric, can you name one thing? The answer for a vast, vast majority of Americans is no.

You don't have to take on Bush personally. You don't have to educate the public about the rampant corruption and incompetence of the Bush administration. You can ignore the myriad of ways the Bush administration has used the war on terror to shred the Constitution, Cheney's secret energy policy, the failures that led to 9-11, and all of the cover-ups that continue to this day. You don't have to point out that the anthrax mailer, Osama bin Laden, and most of al Qaeda, are all still at large. You can give Bush a complete pass on all of this and still win.

You don't need to convince people not to like Bush. You don't even have to convince anyone that the across the board downturn in every economic, social and health indicator is Bush's fault. All you need to do is point out that the rise in unemployment and crime, the drop in consumer confidence and the US dollar, the return of deficit spending, the implosion of investor confidence, and the Enron, Arthur Anderson, and Merrill Lynch scandals, are symptoms of real problems in budget priorities and regulatory philosophy, and that the Democrats will fix them, and the Republicans won't.

The operatives in the White House have adopted a strategy of continually stoking the war on terror in a ploy to create fear they believe will keep Bush on top. All those terrorist warnings about dirty bombers make people edgy and uncomfortable. Karl Rove's plan is to steer the frightened herd toward the GOP, by promoting Bush as their protector. But Bush won't be on the ballot, and people blame al Qaeda for their anxiety, not the Democrats. A frightened herd is an unpredictable quantity, which creates a potential flip side to Karl Rove's "scare the daylights out of them" plan.

Fear is fungible. Given the right information, the anxiety of swing voters is just as likely to turn people against the GOP as toward them. All a cagey candidate has to do is to blur the line between the anxiety created by the war on terror with anxiety about the domestic policies of the Republicans, and the whole thing could blow up in Rove's face.

High levels of tension create a desire for change, and the Bush administration has turned up the tension to obnoxious proportions. To win, Democrats have to turn that tension against Republicans. Don't point fingers, don't cast blame. Simply point out the facts. The Republicans have been running the show, and things have gotten worse. Be a sunny optimist. Offer the can-do spirit that we can make things better. Offer America a new direction, and they will take it.


for the industrial strength version...

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