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Sidney Blumenthal

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About Sidney Blumenthal

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  1. When Senator John McCain appeared at the Conservative party conference in Bournemouth last October as the presumptive next president of the US, the stars seemed fixed in the firmament for him. The myth of McCain appeared as invincible as ever. His war story - a bomber pilot shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, held prisoner for five years and tortured - is the basis of his legend as morally courageous, authentic, unwavering in his convictions, an independent reformer willing to take on the reactionaries of his own party, an "American maverick" as he calls himself in his campaign autobiography. The titles of his books reflect the image: Character Is Destiny, Why Courage Matters, and Faith of My Fathers. Defeat at the hands of George Bush in the battle for the Republican nomination in 2000, in which he was subjected to dirty tricks, completed his canonisation. The press corps so venerated him that he called them "my base". McCain's political colleagues, however, know another side of the action hero - a volatile man with a hair-trigger temper, who shouted at Senator Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor to "shut up", and called fellow Republican senators "xxxxhead ... f***ing jerk ... asshole". A few months ago, McCain suddenly rushed up to a friend of mine, a prominent Washington lawyer, at a social event, and threatened to beat him up because he represented a client McCain happened to dislike. Then, just as suddenly, profusely and tearfully, he apologised. Many Republicans who have had dealings with McCain distrust him (not just conservatives but traditional Republican moderates too). While taking rightwing positions on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, his simmering resentment of Bush led him virtually to caucus with the Democrats in early 2001 (before September 11). Then, abruptly, he rushed to embrace Bush. McCain's political advisers believe that he would easily be elected president in 2008, but fear that he might not capture the nomination. In 2000 he did not win a primary state where the voting was restricted to Republicans. So McCain decided to let the election take care of itself as he won over the party faithful. He campaigned enthusiastically for Bush in 2004. He sought to reconcile with the religious right, whose leaders he had called "agents of intolerance" in 2000. McCain had belatedly taken the lead in opposing Bush's torture policy, an issue that could not be more personal for him. But after the supreme court last year declared Bush's secret tribunals for detainees and use of extreme interrogation techniques illegal, the president sought congressional approval of his version. At first, McCain fought Bush, but the right attacked him. McCain quickly capitulated, even agreeing to suspension of habeas corpus. Someone close to him explained to me that McCain calculated he could continue to play the issue when he became chairman of the Senate armed services committee in the next Congress. Asked about the chance that the Democrats might take control, McCain declared: "I think I'd just commit suicide." As the neoconservatives abandoned Bush's sinking ship, McCain welcomed them aboard. "McCain began reading the Weekly Standard and conferring with its editors, particularly Bill Kristol," the New Republic magazine reported. And he hired a board member of the neocon Project for the New American Century, Randy Scheunemann, as his foreign-policy aide. McCain positioned himself as consistently belligerent, even to Bush's right: in favour of bombing Iran and North Korea. He also proposed a "surge" of troops into Iraq, an idea gleaned from the neocons. If Bush had adopted the Iraq Study Group approach of diplomacy and redeployment, which McCain had assailed as "dispiriting", the right would have hailed McCain as a prophet with honour. However, importuned by the same neocons who had sold it to McCain, Bush seized upon the "surge". McCain had trapped himself. He is now chained to Bush. As Bush's war has escalated, McCain's popularity has nose dived. Still the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, he might have made himself more acceptable to the base, but his political strategy has shattered his myth. Bearing the burden of Bush, he may have become unelectable. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1999728,00.html
  2. Bush confronted a popular two-term Democratic president credited with peace and prosperity. Clinton's vice president was his natural successor. Republican positions on domestic policy were almost uniformly unpopular. As governor of Texas, Bush turned his inexperience in national government into a virtue: he was outside the fray and free of its rancour. The Republicans had shut down the federal government twice and impeached Clinton. Bush promised to "change the tone in Washington". He said that he was "a uniter, not a divider". It was Bush who first assumed the mantle of "compassionate conservatism". He picked a fight with the draconian Republican house majority leader, Tom DeLay, who was against Clinton's programme for deferring tax-credit payments to the working poor. He also distanced himself from some of his own party's positions on social issues, saying that the Republicans had too often portrayed "America as slouching toward Gomorrah". Bush appeared to reject the right-wing economic hard line, instead emphasising issues associated with the Democrats such as education. It was essential for him to try to erase Democratic management of the economy from the campaign. Under Clinton, 22 million jobs were created, poverty reduced by one-quarter, and the greatest deficit had been replaced by the greatest budget surplus. Bush fostered the notion that none of this had happened as a result of difficult policy decisions and that the economy ran on automatic pilot. Bush's press conference to announce he would not answer questions about his past drug use and alcoholism made him an empathetic figure of his generation in contrast with traditional Republican troglodytes. And the attacks on Bush as shallow, simplistic and ignorant only contributed to the image of the scion as a man of the people. In order to shift discussion away from Bush's proposals, which were not generally accepted, he strained to make the election a contest of personalities. Al Gore was painted as hopelessly dour, dull and dutiful. His mastery of policy was turned into an object of derision, a nerdy quirk. Before the debates, the formidable Gore was depicted as mean, nasty and unfair. Gore was finally goaded into taking the bait and tried to demonstrate his niceness by agreeing with the nice Bush. Clinton had advised relentlessly drawing the sharpest possible differences on policy but was ignored, and nearly tore his hair out. Once in office, a closed, harsh and ideological president replaced the seemingly open-minded, tolerant and pragmatic candidate. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1667429,00.html
  3. At the low point of his presidency, after a disastrous first year of his second term, his domestic programmes out of favour, his foreign policy out of strategy, George Bush has at last attracted an imitator. David Cameron, 39, the new leader of the Conservative party, a fresh face without wear and tear, unabashedly claims to personify the future. He seems to embrace aspects of Blair's policies, so as to present himself as Blairite without the burdens of having been Blair: a "reformer" without a past. His implied promise is to conserve Blair's achievements and continue some version of their logic, while casting doubt on the commitment of Blair's rivals and critics within his party. Cameron is New Labour without Labour, just New. But the strategy is not new; it is adapted from the playbook of Bush's 2000 campaign. Bush confronted a popular two-term Democratic president credited with peace and prosperity. Clinton's vice president was his natural successor. Republican positions on domestic policy were almost uniformly unpopular. As governor of Texas, Bush turned his inexperience in national government into a virtue: he was outside the fray and free of its rancour. The Republicans had shut down the federal government twice and impeached Clinton. Bush promised to "change the tone in Washington". He said that he was "a uniter, not a divider". It was Bush who first assumed the mantle of "compassionate conservatism". He picked a fight with the draconian Republican house majority leader, Tom DeLay, who was against Clinton's programme for deferring tax-credit payments to the working poor. He also distanced himself from some of his own party's positions on social issues, saying that the Republicans had too often portrayed "America as slouching toward Gomorrah". Bush appeared to reject the right-wing economic hard line, instead emphasising issues associated with the Democrats such as education. It was essential for him to try to erase Democratic management of the economy from the campaign. Under Clinton, 22 million jobs were created, poverty reduced by one-quarter, and the greatest deficit had been replaced by the greatest budget surplus. Bush fostered the notion that none of this had happened as a result of difficult policy decisions and that the economy ran on automatic pilot. Bush's press conference to announce he would not answer questions about his past drug use and alcoholism made him an empathetic figure of his generation in contrast with traditional Republican troglodytes. And the attacks on Bush as shallow, simplistic and ignorant only contributed to the image of the scion as a man of the people. In order to shift discussion away from Bush's proposals, which were not generally accepted, he strained to make the election a contest of personalities. Al Gore was painted as hopelessly dour, dull and dutiful. His mastery of policy was turned into an object of derision, a nerdy quirk. Before the debates, the formidable Gore was depicted as mean, nasty and unfair. Gore was finally goaded into taking the bait and tried to demonstrate his niceness by agreeing with the nice Bush. Clinton had advised relentlessly drawing the sharpest possible differences on policy but was ignored, and nearly tore his hair out. Once in office, a closed, harsh and ideological president replaced the seemingly open-minded, tolerant and pragmatic candidate. But the palimpsest of the nearly forgotten earlier Bush remained to be discovered by David Cameron as a map to political fortune. Cameron's profession to be a true "compassionate conservative" is step one. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1667429,00.html
  4. In the beginning, seasoned political reporters at the Washington Post disdained the Watergate story as insignificant, implausible and unserious. But two young journalists doggedly pursued every lead, helping bring about Richard Nixon's resignation. Three decades later, Bob Woodward had come to embody the ultimate Washington insider. Over the past month, however, he has personified the stonewalling and covering up he once shattered to launch his brilliant career. His unravelling is as surprising and symptomatic a story of Bush's Washington as his making was of Nixon's. On October 27, the night before Vice-President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was indicted on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, Woodward appeared on CNN. Asked about the case, he said: "I'm quite confident we're going to find out that it started as a kind of gossip ... There's a lot of innocent actions in all of this ... I don't know how this is about the build-up to the war." He expressed his sympathy for those who might be indicted: " ... what distresses me is, you know, so and so might be indicted and so and so is facing ... And it is not yet proven." He concluded with invective against Patrick Fitzgerald, "a junkyard dog prosecutor". On November 16 Woodward admitted he had been called to testify on November 3 before the prosecutor, having been given up by a source after Libby's indictment. Woodward, it turned out, was the first journalist to learn Plame's identity. "I hunkered down," he told his own newspaper. "I'm in the habit of keeping secrets. I didn't want anything out there that was going to get me subpoenaed." Woodward claimed he heard about Plame in an interview he conducted in June 2003 for his book Plan of Attack, which failed to contain this startling information. While two Post reporters testified before the prosecutor, Woodward hid his role as material witness. With the disclosure, the storyteller lost the plot. Woodward advocates no ideas and is indifferent to the fate of government. His fabled access has been in the service of his technique of accumulating mountains of facts whose scale fosters an image of omniscience. As his bestsellers and wealth piled up, he lost a sense of journalism as provisional and inherently imperfect, seeing it instead as something engraved in stone. But his method made him particularly vulnerable to manipulation by cunning sources. Woodward's 2002 book Bush At War, based partly on selected National Security Council documents leaked to him at White House instruction, was invaluable to the administration for its portrait of Bush as strong and decisive. Its omissions are as striking as its fragmentary facts, such as the absence of analysis of the disastrous operation at Tora Bora that allowed Bin Laden to escape. Plan of Attack includes intriguing shards of information about the twisting of intelligence to justify the war, but he fails to develop the material and theme. By the publication of Plan of Attack, Woodward was "hunkered down," hiding his "secrets" from his newspaper, its readers and the prosecutor. He cryptically told one of the subpoenaed Post reporters to "keep him out of the reporting". He said there were "reasonable grounds to discredit" Joseph Wilson, the whistleblower. He asserted that a CIA assessment had determined that Plame's outing had done no damage, but the CIA said no damage assessment report had been done. But when a source outed Woodward to the prosecutor, his cover-up was revealed. Above all, the extent of his credulity is exposed. It is more than paradoxical that the reporter who investigated Nixon and worked closely with professionals in government alarmed by the abuses should exhibit so little scepticism about Bush. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1654480,00.html
  5. On June 21, network news reported that the Pentagon had claimed that 47 enemy operatives had been killed in Operation Spear in western Iraq. Last month, the Pentagon declared 125 had been killed in Operation Matador, near the Syrian border. "We don't do body counts on other people," Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defence, stated in November 2003. On January 29 this year, the day before the Iraqi election, President Bush announced that it was the "turning point". On May 2 2003, he stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln behind a banner saying "Mission Accomplished" and the next day proclaimed that the "mission is completed". On June 2 this year, he declared: "Our mission is clear there, as well, and that is to train the Iraqis so they can do the fighting." Last week, Bush retreated to his ultimate justification, that Iraq was invaded because Saddam Hussein was involved with the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks, a notion believed by a majority of those who voted for him in 2004: "We went to war because we were attacked ..." On March 16 2003, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, prophesied: "We will, in fact, be greeted as liberators ... I think it will go relatively quickly." Only last month Cheney assured us that the insurgency in Iraq is in "the last throes". On June 18, General William Webster, the US commander in Baghdad, said: "Certainly saying anything about 'breaking the back' or 'about to reach the end of the line' or those kinds of things do not apply to the insurgency at this point." The war has reached a tipping point - not in Iraq, but in the US. Every announcement of a "turning point" heightens the rising tide of public disillusionment. Every reference to September 11 strains the administration's credibility. Every revelation of how "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy" for war, as in the Downing Street memo, shatters even Republicans' previously implacable faith. On June 21, a Gallup poll reported that Bush's approval rating was collapsing along with support for the war. Only 39% of Americans support it. "The decline in support for the war is found among Republicans and independents, with little change among Democrats." (Since March, Republican support has fallen 11 points to 70%.) "They're starting to talk numbers again," Pat Lang remarked to me about the return of body counts. Lang is the former chief at the Defence Intelligence Agency for the Middle East, south Asia and counter-terrorism. "They were determined not to do that. But they can't provide a measurement to tell themselves they're doing well. As you know, it means nothing." Lang, who served as an intelligence officer in Vietnam, observes: "For almost all of the war, Vietnam was a better situation than Iraq. During the conduct of the war the security situation was far better than this." The Iraqi elections are "irrelevant to the outcome of the war because the people who voted were the people who stood to gain". Iran is the long-term winner. "Iran intends to pull the Shia state of Iraq into its orbit. You can be sure that Iranian revolutionary guards are honeycombed throughout Iraq's intelligence to make sure things don't get out of hand." About the "euphoria" after the election, especially echoed by the press corps, Lang simply says: "Laughable, comical, pathetic." Bush's Iraq syndrome is a reinvention of Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam syndrome. In December 1967, Walt Rostow, LBJ's national security adviser, famously declared about the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese: "Their casualties are going up at a rate they cannot sustain ... I see light at the end of the tunnel." The official invitation to the New Year's Eve party at the US embassy in Saigon read: "Come see the light at the end of the tunnel." The Tet offensive struck a month later. "Even when what happened was really more positive than it seemed to be - the Tet offensive in 1968 was a military disaster for the Vietcong and North Vietnamese army - no one believed it because there was no light at the end of tunnel," Harry McPherson, who was President Johnson's counsel in the White House, told me. For a modern instance, McPherson cited the statement this week by Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska: "The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq." Bush's light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel vision can only accelerate the cycle of disillusionment. His instinctive triumphalism inevitably has a counter-productive effect. His refusal to insist on responsibility for blunders - indeed, rewarding and honouring their perpetrators - enshrines impunity and hubris. His doctrine of presidential infallibility, the election being his only "moment of accountability", can no longer be sustained by reference to September 11. His defence of the abuse and torture of detainees at Guantánamo and other prisons in violation of laws formerly upheld by the US blots out his attempts to explain the purity of his motives. In The Quiet American, Graham Greene's 1955 novel on the wages of naive arrogance in Vietnam, the world-weary British journalist Fowler remarks to Pyle, the US agent, with the best of intentions: "Oh, I know your motives are good, they always are ... I wish sometimes you had a few bad motives, you might understand a little more about human beings. And that applies to your country too, Pyle." http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1512334,00.html
  6. Using the White House as a machine of centripetal force, Rove spread fear and fused its elements. Fear of the besieging terrorist, appearing in Bush TV ads as the shifty eyes of a swarthy man or a pack of wolves, was joined with fear of the besieging queer. Bush's support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was underscored by referendums against it in 11 states - all of which won. The evangelical churches became instruments of political organisation. Ideology was enforced as theology, turning nonconformity into sin, and the faithful, following voter guides with biblical literalism, were shepherded to the polls as though to the rapture. White Protestants, especially in the south, especially married men, gave their souls and votes for flag and cross. The campaign was one long revival. Abortion and stem cell research became a lever for prying loose white Catholics. To help in Florida, a referendum was put on the ballot to deny young women the right to abortion without parental approval and it galvanised evangelicals and conservative Catholics alike. This was linked to what is euphemistically called "moral values", which is social and sexual panic over the rights of women and gender roles. Only imposing manly authority against "girly men" and girls and lurking terrorists can save the nation. Above all, the exit polls showed that "strong leader" was the primary reason Bush was supported. Brought along with Bush is a gallery of grotesques in the Senate: more than one new senator advocates capital punishment for abortion; another urges that all gay teachers be fired; yet another is suffering from obvious symptoms of Alzheimer's. The new majority is more theocratic than Republican, as Republican was previously understood; the defeat of the old moderate Republican party is far more decisive than the loss by the Democrats. There are no checks and balances.
  7. The unmaking of the president 2004 began on September 11 2001. By September 10, George Bush's poll numbers had reached 50%, the lowest of any president at that early point in his tenure. Having lost the popular majority in the 2000 election and being delivered the presidency by a five-to-four Supreme Court decision, Bush operated as though he had triumphed with a full-throated mandate. From the start, Bush ran a government based on secrecy, handed over the departments and agencies to more than 100 industry executives and lobbyists appointed to key positions, and exhibited belligerence towards anyone who raised a question about his right-wing imperatives. His bullying prompted Republican Senator James Jeffords of Vermont to cross the aisle, throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats. In only months, Bush's incompetence and arrogance had induced paralysis. He had already run his course. After September 11, as his poll numbers soared, Bush wrapped his radical agenda in the cloak of commander-in-chief. Now he would attempt to implement Karl Rove's ambition of a one-party state and the neo-conservatives' plan for an American imperium. Bush believed he had permanent political capital to forge a factional partisan political realignment. Afghanistan, almost unanimously supported in the country, solidified his popularity and certainty. The conservative wish-list came off the shelf. Civil liberties were curtailed in the Patriot Act, extremists were nominated as federal judges, environmental protections ravaged, and resources shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for Bush's ultimate objective - Iraq. The mid-term elections of 2002 ratified Bush's hyper-radicalism. In the face of the "war president", the congressional Democratic leadership demonstrated political ineptitude, division and confusion, and the Republicans tarred them as unpatriotic. Bush's belief in his inevitability became more intoxicating. After the Iraq "cakewalk", Bush landed on an aircraft carrier in uniform, proclaiming: "Mission accomplished." At home, he encountered no checks and balances from Congress. The fourth estate conducted press conferences as though suffering aphasia. The testimony of Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism chief, that the Bush administration had been indifferent to terrorism, shattered the atmosphere of silent obedience. His truth-telling encouraged the revolt of professionals throughout the national security bureaucracies - the CIA and other intelligence services, the military, and the State Department. Then the rationales for the war crumbled when no WMD were found and the "cakewalk" turned into a bloody quagmire. Suddenly, the Democrats came to life, providing a forum and focus for outrage against Bush's policies. At first, the movement gathered around Howard Dean, but with his stumbles he was not the man for the mission. Bush had counted on the Democrats once again picking an earnest but easily defeated candidate, but they turned instead to John Kerry. From March and through the early summer, Bush's campaign spent more than $100m in negative commercials trying to disqualify Kerry. Yet Kerry remained even, and with the Democratic convention pulled slightly ahead. In a typical Bush operation, he outsourced the smears to a group that filled the airwaves with lies about Kerry's genuine record of war heroism in Vietnam. The media, mostly cable TV, acted as conduit for Bush's falsehoods, and Kerry was tarnished. At the Republican convention, speaker after speaker stressed the Democrats' effeminacy - "girly men" - and hailed Bush as all-wise commander-in-chief. Once again, Bush believed he was impregnable. All he had to do was finesse the debates. But he was humiliated in all three. Kerry, however, possessed clarity, intelligence and maturity. Bush's response was a new ad, featuring wolves about to leap through the TV screen. But the projection of fear only exposed his vulnerability. The "war president" has fallen victim to his own hubris. As Thucydides wrote: "To conceive extravagant pretensions from success in war is to forget how hollow is the confidence by which you are elated. For if many ill-conceived plans have succeeded through the still greater fatuity of an oppo nent, many more, apparently well laid, have on the contrary ended in disgrace." Meanwhile, the people's own mobilisation has produced new voter registrations in the millions, and hundreds of thousands of activists have spread in the last week throughout the battleground states. The Republicans desperately cast out ploys to suppress these voters, many of them African-American. In the end, the American people refuse to be frightened into becoming an unrecognisable nation that disdains, as the Declaration of Independence said, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind". http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1337485,00.html
  8. Passing almost without notice earlier this month, the public release of The Civil Rights Record of the George W Bush Administration - the official staff report prepared by the US Civil Rights Commission - whose submission is required by federal law, was blocked by the Republican commissioners. None the less, it was posted on the commission's website: "This report finds that President Bush has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words." Bush has held the Civil Rights Commission in contempt since its June 2001 report on Election Practices in Florida During the 2000 Campaign. Then it concluded: "The commission's findings make one thing clear: widespread voter disenfranchisement - not the dead-heat contest - was the extraordinary feature in the Florida election ... The disenfranchisement of Florida's voters fell most harshly on the shoulders of black voters." Vast efforts to mobilise or suppress African-American, Hispanic and Democratic voters have already reached a greater level of intensity than in any modern campaign. The Republicans in Ohio, for example, have attempted to toss out new Democratregistrations because it was claimed they were written on the wrong weight of paper, a gambit overruled by a federal court. From Pennsylvania to Arizona, a Republican consulting firm is discouraging new Democratic voters from getting on the rolls. Meanwhile, the Democratic party has more than 10,000 lawyers deployed to defend against voter suppression, 2,000 stationed in Florida; civil rights groups are sending out more than 6,000 lawyers. Bush v Gore remains an open wound; and now the battle over voting rights, over democracy itself, is being fought again. Since 2002, when Republicans exploited terrorism to besmirch the patriotism of Democrats in the midterm elections, what can only be called a new Democratic party has been summoned into existence by extra-party groups. More than 100,000 activists are tramping through the precincts. In Ohio alone, more than 300,000 new Democratic voters have been added, Cecile Richards, director of America Votes, told me. These registrations of literally millions of new voters did not just happen; they were organised. The polls, nearly all showing a dead-even race, fail to account for the new voters, who have no past records. They do not measure those for whom a mobile is their main phone - 6% of the population - who will vote Democrat by a margin of two-and-a-half to one. The Democracy Corps poll, however, filters in newly registered voters. Four months ago, the newly registered made up only 1% of the sample. One month ago, they comprised 4%. Now they are at 7% and rising. And they will vote for Kerry over Bush by 61% to 37%. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uselections2004/...1332231,00.html
  9. 'Bring them on!" President Bush challenged the early Iraqi insurgency in July of last year. Since then, 812 American soldiers have been killed and 6,290 wounded, according to the Pentagon. Almost every day, in campaign speeches, Bush speaks with bravado about how he is "winning" in Iraq. "Our strategy is succeeding," he boasted to the National Guard convention on Tuesday. But, according to the US military's leading strategists and prominent retired generals, Bush's war is already lost. Retired general William Odom, former head of the National Security Agency, told me: "Bush hasn't found the WMD. Al-Qaida, it's worse, he's lost on that front. That he's going to achieve a democracy there? That goal is lost, too. It's lost." He adds: "Right now, the course we're on, we're achieving Bin Laden's ends." Retired general Joseph Hoare, the former marine commandant and head of US Central Command, told me: "The idea that this is going to go the way these guys planned is ludicrous. There are no good options. We're conducting a campaign as though it were being conducted in Iowa, no sense of the realities on the ground. It's so unrealistic for anyone who knows that part of the world. The priorities are just all wrong." Jeffrey Record, professor of strategy at the Air War College, said: "I see no ray of light on the horizon at all. The worst case has become true. There's no analogy whatsoever between the situation in Iraq and the advantages we had after the second world war in Germany and Japan." W Andrew Terrill, professor at the Army War College's strategic studies institute - and the top expert on Iraq there - said: "I don't think that you can kill the insurgency". According to Terrill, the anti-US insurgency, centred in the Sunni triangle, and holding several cities and towns - including Fallujah - is expanding and becoming more capable as a consequence of US policy. "We have a growing, maturing insurgency group," he told me. "We see larger and more coordinated military attacks. They are getting better and they can self-regenerate. The idea there are x number of insurgents, and that when they're all dead we can get out is wrong. The insurgency has shown an ability to regenerate itself because there are people willing to fill the ranks of those who are killed. The political culture is more hostile to the US presence. The longer we stay, the more they are confirmed in that view." After the killing of four US contractors in Fallujah, the marines besieged the city for three weeks in April - the watershed event for the insurgency. "I think the president ordered the attack on Fallujah," said General Hoare. "I asked a three-star marine general who gave the order to go to Fallujah and he wouldn't tell me. I came to the conclusion that the order came directly from the White House." Then, just as suddenly, the order was rescinded, and Islamist radicals gained control, using the city as a base. "If you are a Muslim and the community is under occupation by a non-Islamic power it becomes a religious requirement to resist that occupation," Terrill explained. "Most Iraqis consider us occupiers, not liberators." He describes the religious imagery common now in Fallujah and the Sunni triangle: "There's talk of angels and the Prophet Mohammed coming down from heaven to lead the fighting, talk of martyrs whose bodies are glowing and emanating wonderful scents." "I see no exit," said Record. "We've been down that road before. It's called Vietnamisation. The idea that we're going to have an Iraqi force trained to defeat an enemy we can't defeat stretches the imagination. They will be tainted by their very association with the foreign occupier. In fact, we had more time and money in state building in Vietnam than in Iraq." General Odom said: "This is far graver than Vietnam. There wasn't as much at stake strategically, though in both cases we mindlessly went ahead with the war that was not constructive for US aims. But now we're in a region far more volatile, and we're in much worse shape with our allies." Terrill believes that any sustained US military offensive against the no-go areas "could become so controversial that members of the Iraqi government would feel compelled to resign". Thus, an attempted military solution would destroy the slightest remaining political legitimacy. "If we leave and there's no civil war, that's a victory." General Hoare believes from the information he has received that "a decision has been made" to attack Fallujah "after the first Tuesday in November. That's the cynical part of it - after the election. The signs are all there." http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1305360,00.html
  10. John Kerry's political education is far deeper than that of senators who have merely legislated. He has journeyed to the heart of darkness many times and emerged to tell the tale. It was not simply that Kerry's commander in Vietnam was the model of the blood-thirsty bombastic colonel in Apocalypse Now. Kerry's combat experience didn't end in the Mekong, but moved into the dangerous realm of high politics. From his first appearance on the public stage, giving voice as a decorated officer to the anti-war disillusionment of Vietnam veterans, when Richard Nixon and his dirty-tricks crew targeted him, he has uncovered cancers on the presidency. This is why the Bush administration fears him. He has explored the dark recesses of contemporary history, often without political reward. Tarred as a "flip flopper" by Bush's $85m TV ad campaign, Kerry in fact is one of the most consistent politicians of his generation. In his first month as a senator, in January 1985, he discovered the thread that would unravel the Iran-contra scandal - the creation of an illegal foreign policy apparatus run out of the national security council by Reagan's military aide, Oliver North, and the CIA director, William Casey. Kerry had the training and instincts of a prosecutor. As a district attorney in Massachusetts, he smashed the local mafia. Now, as senator, he has surrounded himself with tough investigators. In south Florida, they found men accused of drug-running who were shipping guns to the Nicaraguan contras and claiming to be instructed by the NSC. They tracked down a contra adviser in Costa Rica known as "Colonel Flaco", who had evidence that North was involved in financing the contras with Colombian drug money. The path led further, to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and to Saudi funding sources. Kerry won support from Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee to launch an official investigation, in large part because of the drug aspect. (Concerned about heroin addiction among Vietnam veterans, Kerry had followed the geopolitics of drugs.) North learned of Kerry's work and told the Secret Service and the FBI that Kerry was protecting a possible presidential assassin. The FBI harassed "Flaco" and determined he was no threat, but he was intimidated into silence. Republican staffers leaked information about Kerry's investigation to the Reagan White House and justice department. An assistant US attorney in Florida, prosecuting a case based on Kerry's leads, was ordered by the justice department to drop the matter. Virtually the entire Washington press corps dismissed Kerry's effort as a fantastic delusion and ignored it. In October 1986, Kerry questioned the neoconservative assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Elliot Abrams, who brazenly lied about foreign funding for the contras. This testimony led, in time, to Abrams pleading guilty to a felony. (He was pardoned by Bush Snr and is now NSC chief for Middle East policy.) A month later, the Iran-contra story broke in a Lebanese newspaper. However, Kerry was excluded from the congressional investigating committee for the sin of having been prematurely right. As consolation, he was given chairmanship of the subcommittee on terrorism, narcotics and international operations. After three years, he reported that "individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking; the supply network of the contras was used by drug trafficking organisations; and elements of the contras received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers. In each case, one or another agency of the US government had information regarding the involvement, either while it was occurring, or immediately thereafter." Kerry's work on the contra-drugs connection led him to discover a link to BCCI, an international banking operation that was a front for drug running, money laundering and terrorism. He launched an investigation that exposed its criminal "corporate spider web" in 1992. His report pointed to new areas that should be investigated, including "the extent to which BCCI and Pakistan were able to evade US and international nuclear non-proliferation regimes to acquire nuclear technologies". From Vietnam onwards, Kerry has probed the inner recesses of government, pursuing a persistent and cumulative investigation into the underside of national security and terrorism. If the Democrats had held the Senate for a sustained period of time, his proposal to regulate the netherworld of money laundering, which was not enacted, might even have helped stymie al-Qaida. He has experienced the abuse of justice; had his patriotism impugned; battled enemies foreign and domestic; tried to restore accountability; and fought on, down to today - which is why he is running for president. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1266305,00.html
  11. By virtue of a deal struck before the committee investigated, the belligerent Republican majority got timorous Democrats to separate the inquiry into halves, leaving the question of the Bush administration's culpability for a second report, almost certainly to be filed after the election, if at all. This unholy arrangement enabled the report to put the burden of blame on the CIA. For months, Bush and his national security team escalated its rhetoric about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. But there was no national intelligence estimate (NIE) until demands by Democratic senators on the intelligence committee forced its writing. Most take months to assemble, but this one was slapped together in about three weeks. "Most of the major key judgments in the intelligence community's October 2002 NIE, Iraq's Continuing Programmes for Weapons of Mass Destruction, were either overstated, or were not supported by the underlying intelligence reporting," the report states. The freakish cognitive dissonance at the NIE's core should have been detected at the start. It broke down its judgments into levels of confidence from high to moder ate to low. Utter absence of proof, however, did not deter the conclusion from being stamped "high confidence". What the report does not note is the name or background of the NIE's director: Robert Walpole, a former national intelligence officer on nuclear weapons, a factotum of the secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld. Walpole had demonstrated his bona fides in an incident that prefigures the WMD debacle, the writing of the alarmist report of the Rumsfeld commission in 1998, which asserted the ballistic missile threat from "rogue states" was imminent. That claim, used to bolster the case for a Star Wars programme, had been rejected by a similar commission two years earlier. The report also does not deal with the creation of an alternative intelligence operation inside the Pentagon, the Office of Special Plans, which bypassed regular channels to send fabricated material originating mostly in Ahmed Chalabi's disinformation factory. But buried in the appendix, Senator John D Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, included an account of an internal operation against the CIA conducted by the under-secretary of defence, Douglas Feith, an entrenched neo-conservative. While the CIA composed a report on the Iraq-al-Qaida connection, which the administration still trumpets, and for which the intelligence community could never find proof, Feith held briefings trashing the CIA on its impending report. Then, without informing the CIA, Feith's version was presented to the deputy national security adviser and vice-president. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1261608,00.html
  12. Edwards might well have been the Democratic standard-bearer if John Kerry hadn't early locked in the most seasoned operatives in the Iowa caucuses; as it was Edwards finished second. The Democrats decided to avoid characteristic factional warfare and to support the figure they believed could win. It was no judgment against Edwards, whose campaign was indefatigable, appealing in small towns and rural areas that had fallen off the map for Democrats. At the big Democratic dinner in March, where Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter anointed Kerry, Edwards raced to center stage to lift his arms alongside the next nominee - devoid of bitterness, and as public an announcement as he could make that he was campaigning for running mate. When Kerry chose Edwards their complementary natures were obvious, down to Edwards' succinctness. By having Edwards, Kerry acquired his "two Americas" theme as one of his own. And just as Edwards underscores the endurance of the southern Democratic tradition, he underscores the dead-end of conservatism in the person of Dick Cheney. The thread of the Democratic tradition in the south, now represented by Edwards, opposes that represented by Bush and Cheney. These southern politics have been in conflict since President Andrew Jackson split with his vice-president, the original theoretician of southern reaction, John C Calhoun. The Jacksonian slogan was "opportunity for all, special privilege for none". But the Calhoun wing of the party triumphed, leading to the civil war and the long rule of the Bourbons, or local oligarchs. African-Americans were disenfranchised under Jim Crow, and poor whites, sharecroppers and mill hands, like Edwards's father and grandfather, were manipulated by racial fears and hatred of intruding Yankees like Kerry's ancestors. The Bourbon Democratic party of the south came to an end with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Republicans, no longer the party of Lincoln, absorbed the new conservatism that followed, converting the once solid Democratic south into the solid Republican south. But the Republican project was never as stable as it seemed. In 1976, Jimmy Carter carried most of the south, and twice Clinton broke off important states and moved them into the Democratic column. Now this mantle, worn by Clinton and Carter, and before them Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman, falls on the shoulders of Edwards. Bush's supra-southern strategy involves exploiting patriotism, resentment and fear. The threat, real enough, is external, and it is brandished to maintain the status quo. His compassionate conservatism is an updating of planter paternalism. But his agenda is deregulation, low taxes and hydrocarbons. His politics in the south fundamentally rests on a division between godless them and God-fearing us. Beneath that, he requires a near unanimous white vote to compensate for the near unanimous African-American vote. If more than one-quarter to one-third of the white vote goes into the Democratic coalition, depending on the state, the Republicans lose. The solid Republican south must have a solid white vote in every southern and border state to maintain a Republican in the White House. A single crack topples the entire edifice. That fragility accounts for the ferocious struggle in Florida. The instant Kerry announced Edwards, the Republicans opened an attack on him as a trial lawyer. Yet, in 1998, when Edwards first ran for the Senate in North Carolina, his Republican opponent, Lauch Faircloth, spent $2m on advertising depicting Edwards and Clinton as "two tobacco-taxing liberal lawyers who are well known for stretching the truth". The ads backfired, Edwards won handily. In one of his cases, involving a girl left brain-damaged by hospital neglect, Edwards told the jury: "She speaks to you. But now she speaks to you not through a fetal heart monitor strip; she speaks to you through me." The tradition for which Edwards now takes his stand is as open to demagogues as to statesmen, but in the mouth of a statesman it can undo a demagogue. http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0708-05.htm
  13. At the Pentagon, on June 10, while business in Washington had officially halted as the body of Ronald Reagan lay in state, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld convened an emergency meeting on the Abu Ghraib scandal, according to a reliable source privy to its proceedings. Rumsfeld began the extraordinary session by saying that certain documents needed to "get out" that would show that there was no policy approving of torture and that what had happened in Iraq and Afghanistan was aberrant. The Senate armed services committee had been conducting hearings whose corrosive impact needed to be countered. Rumsfeld complained about "serial requests" for information from Congress. Yet he was even more upset by subpoenas of defence officials issued by the special prosecutor in the case of Valerie Plame. The Pentagon, Rumsfeld said, was nearly "at a stop" because of them. Rumsfeld admitted he was startled by the uproar over Abu Ghraib: "There are so many international organisations." On June 22, the White House released documents on policy on torture, including a directive signed on February 7 2002 by Bush stating that he has "the authority under the constitution" to abrogate the Geneva conventions, that the Taliban and al-Qaida as non-signatories were not covered by them, and that consequently Bush "declines to exercise that authority at this time". Rumsfeld's damage control was simply one front in the expanding Bush administration war for credibility. Vice-president Dick Cheney staged a preemptive strike last week by reiterating that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida had a relationship and insinuating that they were in league. His intended target was the 9/11 commission, which is dangerously independent. Its Republican co-chairman, Thomas Kean, replied that there was "no credible evidence" that Saddam and al-Qaida had collaborated. Bush entered the battle, repeating that there was indeed a "relationship". Then the Democratic co-chairman of the commission, Lee Hamilton, explained that al-Qaida had in fact approached Saddam seeking his help, but that it had been rebuffed. The rejection was the relationship. But Bush and Cheney's affirmative assertions made it seem that the "relationship" was affirmative. The urgency of Bush's credibility crisis surfaced in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showing the collapse of Bush's standing on terrorism, losing 13 points since April, putting Kerry even on the issue and one point ahead in the contest. But even more worrying was Bush's rating on trust. By a margin of 52% to 39%, Kerry is seen as more honest and trustworthy. Since March 3, the Bush-Cheney campaign has spent an estimated $80m on mostly negative advertising, to eliminate Kerry at the starting gate. The strategy was the acceleration of the lesson of Bush's father's victorious effort in the 1988 campaign when, 17 points behind in mid-summer, he shattered Michael Dukakis with a withering negative attack. Now, Bush's opponent is not only moving ahead, but the failed assault may insulate Kerry against future offensives. Bush had every reason to believe that his attack on Kerry's image would succeed. After September 11, he was able to impose his explanations on the public almost without resistance and to taint anyone who contradicted them as somehow unpatriotic. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1245877,00.html
  14. At the Reykjavik summit in October 1986, Reagan had agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons (to the consternation of his advisers) until Gorbachev insisted that testing for the Star Wars missile defence shield be suspended. Two of Reagan's utopian dreams collided. But after the exposure of the Iran-contra scandal, Gorbachev dropped the objection to Star Wars. Instead, he crafted a practical arms reduction agreement, the intermediate nuclear forces treaty. And, despite opposition from conservatives, Reagan seized upon it. With script in hand, Reagan was Reagan again. In September 1987, he addressed the United Nations general assembly: "I occasionally think how our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world." That December, Gorbachev came to the White House to sign the treaty. Then, in June 1988, Reagan went to Moscow, where he declared that "of course" the cold war was over and that his famous reference to the "evil empire" was from "another time." Reagan did not bring about the downfall of the Soviet Union. But he lent support to the liberalising reform that hastened the end. In reaching out to Gorbachev, Reagan blithely discarded the rightwing faith that totalitarian communism was unchangeable and that only rollback, not containment and negotiation, would lead to its demise. Reagan was acutely self-conscious about his about-face and on his trip to Moscow he explained it. "In the movie business actors often get what we call typecast," he said. "Well, politics is a little like that too. So I've had a lot of time and reason to think about my role." Reagan's embrace of Gorbachev rescued his own political standing. His rise in popularity to the mid-50s was essential in lifting his vice-president's presidential ambition, for the elder Bush was moon to Reagan's sun. Yet Bush distanced himself, adopting the "realist" view that Reagan suffered from "euphoria" and that nothing fundamental in the world was changing. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1235299,00.html
  15. Ronald Reagan's presidency collapsed at the precise moment on November 25 1986 when he appeared without notice in the White House briefing room, introduced his attorney general, Edwin Meese, and instantly departed from the stage. Meese announced that funds raised by members of the national security council and others by selling arms to Iran had been used to aid the Nicaraguan contras. Anti-terrorism laws and congressional resolutions had been wilfully violated. Eventually 11 people were convicted of felonies. In less than a week, Reagan's approval rating plunged from 67% to 46%, the greatest and quickest decline ever for a president. On December 17 1986, William Casey, the director of the CIA, was scheduled to testify before the Senate intelligence committee. But he collapsed into a coma, suffering from brain cancer, never to recover. Lt Col Oliver North, Casey's action officer on the NSC, explained to a select congressional investigation that Casey had been the mastermind in creating an "overseas entity ... self-financing, independent", that would conduct "US foreign policy" as a "stand-alone". Called "the Enterprise", it was the apotheosis of the Reagan doctrine, the waging of a global war for the rollback of communism. The hardline secretary of defence, Caspar Weinberger, and his neoconservative underlings were summarily dismissed, the NSC purged. "Let Reagan be Reagan," had long been the cry of conservatives. Now they screamed that Reagan was either being held prisoner or had sold out. In interviews with investigators, Reagan said he couldn't recall what had happened. But he retained his utopianism and idealism that had propelled him from leftwing liberal in Hollywood to rightwing man on horseback, switching ideologies but never his temperament. http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,...1235299,00.html
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