Bernard Weiner's Blog -- 2005
January 13, 2005
DEMS SHOULD DENY GONZALES THE A.G. POST
The Democrats, picking and choosing their fights carefully, decided: 1)
during the Electoral College vote to simply raise the issue of vote fraud in
Ohio and elsewhere, but not challenge Bush's victory there; and, 2) to
bloody and otherwise rough up Alberto Gonzales -- just enough to promise a
knockout later if he were to be named to the Supreme Court -- but otherwise
to let him escape into the Attorney General's office.
I sorta agree with the first tactic, but, as a result of Gonzales' shameful
bob-and-weave performance during his hearing, disagree with the second.
Gonzales, now more than ever, is vulnerable, and his appointment should be
resisted forcefully. Whether the Democrats will have the guts and smarts to
try to deny him the A.G.'s job is unknown.
Prior to the hearing, it was assumed that Gonzales, being the anti-Ashcroft
in personality, would finesse his way though the tough questions. But he
didn't. He hemmed and hawed, dodged and stammered, tried to delay and
postpone answering (he "didn't remember," or "didn't recall," or "it was
very complicated, I'll have to get back to you on that," and so on).
What the Dems gave Gonzales every opportunity to do was to concede that his
original torture memos were wrong, either legally or morally. But Gonzales
refused to go there.
ENABLING DICTATORSHIP IN U.S.
It's plain why he wouldn't want to make such an admission. First, he might
leave himself open to civil or criminal prosecutions or impeachment in the
future. But mainly, it seems, because he and his Bush/Rove masters, want to
leave open the legal precedents established by Gonzales' memos that permit
torture and other extreme actions in the so-called "war on terror."
The key precedent, of course, which the senators barely alluded to, was
Gonzales' legal interpretation of presidential powers. According to
Gonzales' memos, a president can do pretty much whatever he wants -- order
torture, abrogate laws, set up re-education camps for dissidents, hold
suspects forever without a hearing -- as long as he asserts he's doing it as
"commander-in-chief" during "wartime." That way lies dictatorship. To hell
with the Bill of Rights, international law, the Geneva Conventions, the
separation-of-powers -- Bush wants it, Bush can do it, according to
Gonzales seems happy to serve as a functionary who is "only following
orders," never raising any moral/ethical questions about the matters upon
which he is asked to comment. When the Nazis tried that after World War II,
the Allies placed them in the dock at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.
In short, putting a man in charge of the nation's law-enforcement system who
countenances and encourages torture and dictatorial government should stoke
Democrats' resolve. If they let him slide into the A.G.'s chair, the country
will be in an even stinkier manure pile than the one John Ashcroft is
leaving for us.
It's time to fire up the progressive/moderate forces and mobilize them to
pressure their Senators to vote a resolute NO against the nomination of
Alberto Gonzales. If they won't lead on their own out of political
cowardice, we the public will have to provide them political cover to do so.
Write your Senator today; organize to put group pressure on the Senate;
write letters to your local newspapers. Let's do it.
GETTING ELECTORAL DEBATE STARTED
As I indicated above, I wish the Democrats had attacked the Ohio issue
frontally at the Electoral College vote. They had more than enough
ammunition to challenge Bush's certified "victory" in that state.
What happened in Ohio was a shameful demonstration of Karl Rove's dirty,
anything-goes-to-win tactics, as carried out by Ohio's Secretary of State
Kenneth Blackwell -- who, surprise!, just happened to chair the Bush-Cheney
campaign in that state. Instead of certifying the vote, Blackwell should
have been indicted for interfering with fair and honest voting in a federal
But the Dems in Congress were correct in their analysis that they didn't
have the juice and the votes in the House and Senate to prevail in
challenging the validity of Bush's victory. And so they were able to do
little more than interrupt the Electoral College voting for a few hours in
order to document for the first time in the national mass-media -- even if
it was on the little-watched C-SPAN -- the massive vote suppression, voter
intimidation, and lack of recount paper trail in Ohio and other states.
Thanks go to Senator Barbara Boxer, whose
to the Ohio certification was needed in order to get the debate started.
At least now, thanks to Boxer and Representative Stephanie Tubb Jones and,
John Conyers' final
report on what happened in Ohio, there is at least a documented record,
and the American public can no longer claim total ignorance of what happened
in that state.
PAPER TRAIL OR PAPER BALLOTS?
When Bush&Co. finally fall -- perhaps sometime in late 2005 or early 2006 --
the true investigations about the illegalities of the 2000 and 2004 voting
process will begin, and, we can hope, indictments will flow.
In the meantime, electoral reform is the #1 issue that needs to be dealt
with in this country, long before the midterm election in 2006 and the next
presidential balloting in 2008. If we can't get our electoral house in
order, there is little hope for meaningful progress in any other area of our
The first order of business should be to bring back the hand-counted paper
ballot, monitored by citizen-observers from both parties. That foolproof
method of voting and vote-counting works in much of the civilized world.
What we have here in this country, which the Electoral College debate the
other day made clear once again, is broken and is an open invitation to
manipulation and fraud.
Postscript: Is it possible that the post-election 49% per cent favorable
rating for Bush, which is the same percentage he enjoyed just prior to the
presidential election, indicates that that percentage is the true vote he
received in November? If so, wouldn't that suggest that the early
Kerry-victory exit polls probably were accurate? Just asking.
TWO MORE FOR THE BUSH BUNKER CREW
In an earlier essay, "Bush
Heads for the Bunker", I observed how Bush's early Cabinet nominations
offered convincing evidence that Bush&Co. are making no tack toward the
center, but instead are continuing their march to the extremist right.
Purges of reality-based Cabinet and lower-level officials continue apace,
and, in their stead, we get the likes of such Bush&Co. toadies as Donald
Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice, Porter Goss,
Steve Hadley, Harriet Miers, Margaret Spelling and so on, with Tom DeLay
still in control of the House. (Meanwhile, over at CIA headquarters, Goss
continues the Administration's purge of reality-oriented agents and
Now we get two final Bush&Co. appointments that do nothing to alter that
earlier conclusion that Bush is bringing his tiny coterie of trusted toadies
into the bunker with him, and those who don't go along with that
fantasy-is-reality crowd will have to stand out in the cold as shunned
The first such appointment is that of Robert Zoelleck as Deputy Secretary of
State. The incompetent Rice, who disgraced her previous post as National
Security Advisor, will continue to take her marching orders from Cheney and
Rumsfeld and Rove. The first two were key founders of The Project for The
New American Century -- the
extremist group that dominates the Administration's
foreign/military policy -- and Zoelleck, who probably will administer the
State Department for Rice, has been associated with PNAC as well. Not a good
CHERTOFF IS OFF THE MAINSTREAM CHARTS
The newest nomination is that of hard-liner Michael Chertoff to head the
Department of Homeland Security. He takes the place of Bush's first choice
Bernard Kerik, who was so dirty in so many ways that it's hard to believe
that White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, in charge of the vetting process,
saw fit to okay the nomination.
Chertoff is far smarter than Kertik (he's mentioned as a possible Supreme
Court nominee), which makes him far more dangerous. Chertoff, too, has
"issues," mainly to do with his attitude toward civil liberties -- he was a
prime creator of the overeaching Patriot Act, for example -- and it will be
interesting to see how the Democrats handle his hearing. For more on
In short, the Bush bunker crew is now in place, and if the Democrats are
going to have any claim to the title of Opposition Party, they'd better move
on the most egregious of those nominations. The most obvious ones are
Gonzales, Rice and Chertoff. At least one of those (Gonzales?) has to go
down if the Democrats are going to have any credibility in Bush's second
term. Let's get cracking.
February 17, 2005
GOTCHA JOURNALISM, MIDEAST LESSONS & DEMS A-RISIN'
Let's take a quick crack at some of the bigger stories out
there in Politicsland this week: the power of partisan bloggers, what's
happening in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, and the newfound spine
discovered in the Democratic Party.
Bloggers are feeling their oats these days. The rightwing ones "got" Eason
Jordan, the leftwing ones "got" Jeff Gannon.
Jordan, head of CNN's news operation, felt forced to resign after bloggers
picked up on his exaggerated remarks at a supposedly closed, off-the-record
conference in Davos, Switzerland. Jordan accused Coalition troops and Iraqi
police forces of deliberately targeting journalists, several of whom have
been killed or wounded. He tried to walk back his comments and be more
temperate, but the damage was done, and the rightwing went after him with a
"Jeff Gannon" (real name James Guckert) was the so-called "reporter" at the
White House who has been asking GOP-spin questions of Press Secretary Scott
McLellan for nearly two years now, and who was called on by Bush at a recent
news conference for yet another GOP-type question.
His style of questioning clearly was partisan, but that wasn't the real
issue; there are lots of opinionated writers in that press room. He brought
attention to himself by virtue of his arrogant attitude and his suspect
Leftwing bloggers began nosing around and discovered that Gannon was not his
real name, he had no journalistic experience, he was given White House press
credentials virtually the day he applied, the website he works for (Talon
News) is little more than a front for GOP propaganda owned by a Texas
Republican operative, etc.
But then the continued digging struck personal and ideological paydirt.
Bloggers learned that even as late as when he joined the White House press
corps, Guckert had been advertising himself as a stud escort (complete with
nude photos) for military men interested in some hot action. And that this
GOP-shill non-journalist had been given access to classified information
about Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA agent outed by "two senior White
In both of these cases, Jordan and Gannon/Guckert chose not to respond
openly and honestly to queries about what they had done, and thus the
blogging frenzy grew even more intense. Always a bad mistake.
Jordan and/or his superiors at CNN, seeing the Dan Rather-like handwriting
on the wall, decided to cut their losses quickly. Jordan resigned
immediately, the effect of which was to take the story off the blogosphere
and front pages. At which point, several of the original bloggers who broke
the story became somewhat contrite at the fact that their writing had led to
a full-scale resignation when all they meant to do was to bloody up his
reputation and, by inference, that of CNN (which they tend to regard as a
"liberal" news network).
Gannon/Guckert, perhaps sensing that the cat was out of the bag and his
indiscretions and Plame-connections were about to hit the fan, quickly
resigned from Talon News, scrubbed all his stories from his websites, and
exited the White House.
POWER USED OR ABUSED
It's nice to know that an alternative press has that kind of clout -- given
that the corporate mainstream press barely does much investigative reporting
these days -- but it's possible that such gotcha journalism is getting out
During part of my two-decade tenure as a newspaper/magazine reporter, I had
occasion to be involved in a few investigative-journalism stories, and I
know how intoxicating and exciting it is to be on the hunt for the dynamite
revelations that will unmask the mighty, trying to scoop your fellow writers
as quickly as you can.
Journalists and bloggers easily `can lose sight of the magnitude of the
personal and institutional damage they can cause when they're in the midst
of that hunt. It would behoove us all to keep that in mind.
Now, having said that, do I feel that Gannon/Guckert has been maltreated by
delving into his personal life, including linking to the salacious photos he
himself posted in his stud-escort websites? A bit perhaps. But he was
behaving in a manner reminiscent of former Democratic Senator Gary Hart,
thinking he was untouchable and daring the media to try to get him.
Gannon/Guckert, apparently a gay man, is a symbol of GOP hypocrisy --
pretending to a moral rectitude they do not sustain in their personal lives.
(See Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Bennett, Tom DeLay, et al.) In this
case, the GOP miscreant effectively was gay-bashing while in the closet
Plus, and much more serious, is Gannon/Guckert's involvement in what appears
to be a national-security breech. Who provided classified material to this
non-journalist agitprop specialist? Who smoothed his way into the White
House press corps? Who vetted this potential security risk, given the
possibility of his being blackmailed about his hidden sexual preferences and
Eason Jordan's "crime" was politically incorrect opinion, expressed
unjudiciously. (Actually, he may have been onto an incendiary issue worth
exploring.) The questions surrounding Gannon/Guckert raise serious questions
about potentially illegal White House conniving to influence public opinion
-- in tandem with their admitted payment of payola to a number of
influential journalists, to spout the GOP line. A much more thorough
investigation is called for on these matters, bipartisan if possible.
HOPE OR FANTASY IN MIDDLE EAST?
1. Following the certification of the Iraq election results, it's plain that
the Bush Administration, by pushing for and rushing to democratic voting
there, may have guaranteed the exact opposite result of what they were
hoping and planning for.
We shall have to see how the political jockeying goes in the next few
months, but it's entirely possible that the huge Shia victory will lead to
tight Islamist rule, closely aligned with Iran. And that whatever government
assumes control, even if Chalabi were to run it, it will feel compelled to
move toward asking the U.S. occupation troops to leave ASAP. $300 billion
spent on this war (entered into based on lies and deception), tens of
thousands of dead and wounded -- for what?
2. Iran and Syria clearly are being targeted by the Bush Administration, and
once again, the U.S. citizenry is being asked to accept on faith, not
evidence, that there are good reasons for moving toward regime-change in
those two countries. One can hope that Congress will not fall again for this
Administration's "trust-us" style of foreign/military policy, but demand
incontrovertible proof. And that they'll resist any attempt to drag the U.S.
into further quagmire wars in that area of the world. Won't we ever learn?
3. Sharon and Abbas have established a hopeful working relationship, and the
immediate Israeli/Palestinian tensions have been reduced. But this temporary
truce may be but a chimera, since the larger and most important issues are
not being dealt with at this stage.
My guess is that this cease-fire period will last for some months, but when
push comes to shove -- that is, when Israel continues the Occupation in the
West Bank, refusing to close down its huge settlements there -- the
slaughter and repression will return, big time.
And when that happens, after the high expectations raised, the anger in
Palestine and the rest of the Arab Middle East will build into a force that
could well bring the United States to its knees in that critical region. The
Bush Administration seems to know only two ways of dealing with such
situations: the use of force (incompetently managed at that), and the
shining on of the inhabitants in order to buy time. Neither works anymore.
If the U.S. wants to give itself some political elbow room as it attempts to
alter the geopolitical realities in the oil-rich Arab states, it must
engineer a true and just peace in Israel/Palestine. The only way that can
happen is for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands, pull back
from its settlements there, and thus permit a geographically and
economically viable state of Palestine to fluorish on its borders (assuming
the Palestinians will recognize Israel's right to exist, within secure
But if you think the Bush Administration will go that route, you're in
denial. The current cease-fire they've helped arrange appears to be designed
only to tamp down the fires of the intifada, to buy time so that Bush&Co.
can carry out their hegemonic plans without too much interference.
DEMS ACTUALLY CAN STAND UP STRAIGHT
The Democrats are demonstrating, much belatedly, that their party is growing
a spine in standing up to the worst policies and behaviors of the
Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean -- joined at times by Bill Clinton, Al
Gore and others -- are demonstrating courage and street-smart cleverness in
their statements and actions. They certainly are cognizant of the Dems'
minority status in Congress, but they aren't giving in easily; rather, they
are coming out fighting, as they should.
On some key issues -- for example, opposing Bush's reckless Social Security
moves, or in trying to keep the Administration's extremist court nominees
from receiving Senate approval -- the Dems are banding together tightly. On
other issues, such as approving Condeleezza Rice as Secretary of State and
Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General, there are embarrassing slidebacks
(what on earth is going on with Diane Feinstein and Hilary Clinton and
The next four years are going to be a nasty dogfight with the GOP, but at
least Reid, Pelosi and Dean seem willing to mix it up, as a true Opposition
Party should, which is a welcome change from the let-us-roll-over-for-you
Dem approach of the past few years.
February 24, 2005
BUSH'S ACID-TEST TRIP TO "OLD EUROPE"
Why did Bush feel obliged to travel to "old" Europe", and how did he do
The lapdog corporate press refers to his trip as "a charm offensive," and
has repeated the Administration's spin that Bush has been successful,
because French and German leaders have backed away from their overt
anti-Bush statements and policies, and NATO has come on board the U.S.
bandwagon with regard to the Iraq War.
More realistic observations would indicate that Bush's alleged "charm"
didn't really accomplish all that much; indeed, his manner of dealing
with the European powers was somewhat off-putting to many.
Bush deigned to listen to most of the leaders -- as long as they stayed
five-minute limit. Many found that condescending attitude to be
insulting to them personally, and to their nations in general.
But such behavior is typical of Bush. He doesn't like dealing with people
that aren't hand-picked for loyalty; he can't control the situation, and
And, since tens of thousands were demonstrating loudly against him and his
policies outside the various summit venues in Belgium and Germany, it must
have seemed clear to Rove and Bush that holding a free and open "town-hall"
forum where the questions could potentially be embarrassing could not be
tolerated. So Bush
of such a forum in Germany, even though his hosts had fought long and hard
for getting the American President in front of such a group, and Bush
originally had agreed to do so.
As I see it, Bush was in Europe for three main reasons:
1. Bush policies had isolated the U.S. in world affairs, because so
many leaders and populations had opposed so many of Bush policies, on
everything from Iraq to global warming. This was his opportunity, through
the photo ops and diplomatic dinners, to show that the U.S. was now being
treated warmly by the European community. In short, the spin was important,
not necessarily the substance.
2. Bush needed some sort of political fig leaf to cover over European
anger at his Iraq invasion. He never would be able to bring them on board
with regard to the phony reasons for invading that country, but he wanted to
come away with something, anything, to show that the U.S. had broad support
on some aspect involving Iraq. So he browbeat the assembled NATO leaders
into agreeing to provide more help in training Iraqi police and security
forces to aid in the transition to democracy.
He received promises of this aid, mainly reluctantly and with begruding
financial donations -- some countries said they would assign one or two
police trainers to the project -- and then could go out and boast that 26
NATO countries were helping in Iraq. In effect, as Jon Stewart quipped on
"The Daily Show," Bush was using a variation of the Pottery Barn rule: "We
broke it, and now you get to pay for it."
3. The main reason Bush went to Europe was to make sure to get a kind
of advance authorization for war against Iran -- which, if Scott Ritter's
sources are accurate, will take place in June. Bush didn't couch his Iran idea in "authorization"
terms, but he obtained general consensus that Iran should not be permitted
to become a nuclear power in the Middle East (even though both the U.S. and
CRANK UP THE PEACE MOVEMENT
You can bet that when Bush delivers his televised speech this summer,
announcing that American bombers are blasting Iran's nuclear facilities, he
will mention that he does so with the full backing of the European allies,
as well as that of the U.N. Security Council.
In short, it's time for the worldwide community opposed to further slaughter
in the Middle East region to crank up the protest machinery that brought
more than 10 million dissenters to the streets prior to the Iraq invasion.
At the very least, even if we can't stop the U.S. (and/or Israel) from
attacking Iran, we can hold their feet to a very hot fire and use our
leverage for peace and "regime change" in the United States.
I'm writing this the day before Bush is expected to go head to head with
Russia's Putin, his buddy in the Kremlin that Bush has been verbally
battering for doing damage to his country's democratic institutions,
especially so in how he's managing the press.
(This from a U.S. Administration that has been paying off reporters and
pundits to spout its line, producing its own phony "news reports" that it
passes off as network reporting, and smoothing the way for a gay
prostitute/dirty-tricks specialist with no journalistic training to become
part of the White House press corps, throwing puffball GOP-spin questions to
Bush and his press secretary.)
Let's see who else Bush can offend while on foreign soil.
WHO'S THE WHITE HOUSE GANNON-ENABLER?
Which brings us back to the "Jeff Gannon" scandal. Or rather scandals, since
there really are two:
* The first centers around the question of who arranged for "Gannon"
(real name James D. Guckert) to obtain entrance to the White House, avoid
the normal FBI/Secret Service vetting, be provided with scoops days and
hours before the real reporters, and be called on to speak directly to Bush
and Rove and other high-ranking officials.
The fact that Guckert was selling his body at $200 an hour to gay Marines is
neither here nor there -- except that this secret life might have made him
open to being blackmailed, and thus a national-security danger. (Or, a
new theory circulating: that Guckert might have been blackmailing
officials in the White House, who then did what he asked.)
What is important is that someone, perhaps Karl Rove or one of his aides, or
Press Secretary McClellan, was willing (or coerced) to violate all the rules
and sensible regulations to get this GOP shill into the White House, where
he was very useful to them.
Ranking Congressional Democrats are
calling for an official investigation into this scandalous
behavior and national-security lapse, but you can pretty well guess that the
Republicans will not initiate any such probe. If the Democrats want to have
an investigation, they probably are going to have to initiate it themselves,
which may not be such a bad idea. At least, it might get the issue out there
in the mainstream press.
* Which brings us to Scandal #2: The mainstream press, by and large,
has ignored this entire sorry episode, as if by not mentioning it, it simply
It must be killing Fox News and the others not be covering this story --
sex, politics, scandal, their usual fodder -- but the word has gone out from
on high (read: Rove) that the Gannon story must die a quick death by being
I have the feeling that the bloggers, who in the main are the ones keeping
this Gannon pot bubbling, have merely touched the tip of the iceberg on this
story. By unraveling this scandal, much more devastating crimes might be
revealed. So stay tuned; this "third-rate" story is not going away.
BUSH CAUGHT ON SECRET AUDIOTAPES
Bush and Rove are seething at the release of
audiotapes made when Bush was preparing to run for president in the
late-'90s. They were made by one of Bush's confidants, Doug Wead, who, like
a good Republican, figured there was a way to make money off this rising
young GOP politician. (Wead is flogging his book that just came out -- quelle coincidence!
What we learn from the tapes is that Bush already then was trying to figure
out how to spin such explosive issues as his past drug-use history, and how
to deal with fundamentalists anxious to use homosexuals as their punching
bags. On the first point, Bush seemed to be admitting using marijuana and
said he never denied using cocaine.
On the latter issue, Bush was clear he would not gay-bash for votes. Of
course, when it became convenient to do so during the campaign, he did so,
thus, yet again, revealing his Machiavelliian hypocrisy.
Finally, I'm sad to report that blogger Robert Dreyfuss of TomPaine.com has
called it quits, and that the political-analysis website YellowTimes.org
appears to have thrown in the towel and ceased operations. Add those losses
to last year's disappearance from the internet of the invaluable Media
Whores Online, and the blogger Hesiod, and we all suffer. But there still is
a lot of important progressive reporting and analysis going on in the
cyberether; if you're not that familiar with what's out there, I urge you to
log on to the best of those sites via our
Internet page, and to our
March 23, 2005
Schiavo Manipulation, Anti-War Demos, Cowardly Rummy
Some brief thoughts on the Schiavo case, last weekend's anti-war rallies,
and how Rumsfeld yet again attempts to escape responsibility for the
disaster that is the Iraq War.
Poll after poll shows that the American people, by a wide margin, think that
the Congress sticking its nose into the Schiavo family's tragic business is
cynical political gamesmanship at its worst. So why did Karl Rove and his
lackeys in Congress decide to go for it?
One doesn't have to look far for the reasons why. An anonymous memo
circulated to all GOP senators laid it out:
>>"ABC News obtained
points circulated among Senate Republicans explaining why they
should vote to intervene in the Schiavo case. Among them, that it is an
important moral issue and the 'pro-life base will be excited,' and that it
is a 'great political issue -- this is a tough issue for Democrats'."
In other words, using Terri Schiavo as a prop throws some red meat to the
GOP's fundamentalist wing, and ties up the Democrats in a political knot.
And it worked in both cases: the pro-life forces jumped on board
enthusiastically, and most Democrats ran for cover.
Even though a federal judge has ruled there is no reason to overturn years
of state-court decisions in this case, there is no end to this tragic
controversy. Appeals will drag on forever, or until the brain-dead Schiavo
succumbs to the withdrawal of her feeding tube.
In the meantime, and after she dies, right-to-lifers will use her has a
poster-child prop to raise big bucks for their organizations.
The whole thing is sick, and the initial polls seem to indicate that the
American public is turned off by the crass manipulation for political
But, thanks to Rove and the rest, the Schiavo brouhah trumped the anti-war
protests in the mass media over the weekend.
ANTI-WAR RALLIES NEED BOOSTER-SHOT
As a matter of fact, one would be
hard put to find
much mention of those Saturday protests -- 800 major demonstrations
around the United States, many thousands marching in capitals abroad -- amid
the all-Schiavo, all-the-time coverage in the corporate mass-media.
I went to the anti-war rally in San Francisco. Impending rain no doubt kept
away a lot of would-be marchers, but something else is happening in the
anti-war movement that needs to be addressed, especially if what happened in
San Francisco is typical of the demonstrations elsewhere across the United
Mass demos are, in a way, becoming overly predictable paint-by-numbers
events. The march itself -- with all the colorful street performers and
musicians and puppets and signs and such -- is fun, filled with determined,
grassroots citizens. But the formal rallies, despite the fiery rhetoric, is
becoming, dare I say it?, boring.
It's the choir preaching to the choir. And that choir, by traditional rule,
has to be made up of every constituent part of the progressive movement,
even if that means 25 speakers. So there is the obligatory Native American
speaker, Latino speaker, Palestinian speaker, war veteran speaker, labor
union speaker, African American speaker, and on and on. It goes on for
The speeches are fine, don't get me wrong -- filled with justified anger,
rage and inspiration -- but they are directed to the already-convinced, and
we aren't the one who need to hear it.
The Bush war on Iraq has entered into its third year. The polls indicate
that most Americans think the war was begun in error, and is not worth the
death and money spent on it. More and more traditional/moderate Republicans,
ordinary middle-class families (many with sons and daughters sent to Iraq),
small business owners seeing the economy tank while $300 billion goes to the
war effort abroad, et al. -- all are suspicious of Bush's war.
In short, there is a large constituency out there that perhaps could be
brought into the active anti-war ranks -- maybe not all marching, but many
contacting their elected officials, organizing in their churches, writing
letters, etc.-- but few in the peace movement are engaged in that kind of
They're content speaking to themselves, not noticing or caring that hundreds
of folks walk away from the rally while the speechifying drags on.
In the anti-Vietnam War days, we Movement activist types finally came to
realize that the war wouldn't end until ordinary, middle-class Americans
abandoned Nixon and his mad war policies. So, across the country, we made
sure to meet them in non-threatening surroundings -- church picnics,
community events, school classes, in their homes, one-on-one meetings, etc.
-- and let the human contact work its magic.
They discovered that despite the hippie garb and habits that so outraged and
threatened them, we were just ordinary, worried young people, sincere in our
beliefs; we came to know these bourgeois types as caring, anxious,
Within a few months, many of them were marching with us, or at least doing
anti-war work in ways that felt more comfortable to them. Nixon shortly came
to understand that he'd lost his middle-class base, and ended the war.
I don't want to make it seem that it was us scruffy anti-war protesters that
ended the war -- but our activities, especially in eroding the pro-war base
in the American middle class, certainly had some salutary effect in bringing
that immoral war to a close. And it could help in bringing this war -- one
that not only is immoral but incompetently managed, and which will in the
long run do untold damage to the national interests of the United States --
to an end as well.
SEE RUMMY RUN
Speaking of the Iraq War, did you catch
recent remarks blaming NATO ally Turkey for the problems the U.S. is
having in Iraq?
As is always the case, Bush and his cronies are never responsible for what
goes wrong, not ever. They take credit when something good happens in Iraq,
or elsewhere, but if negative things happen, it's always someone else's
fault -- or nobody's fault, caca just happens.
This time, on "Fox News Sunday," Rummy was asked about the quick rise of the
Iraqi nationalist insurgency and how America seemed unprepared for that
situation. It was Turkey's fault, said Rumsfeld, because the Turkish
Parliament wouldn't let U.S. military forces enter Iraq from the north, and
thus the insurgents had time to scatter and hide out, avoiding a pincer
movement from the South and North that would have rounded them up, or
So Bush and Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, the ones in charge of
launching the war, did not have all their ducks lined up in a row, and OKd
the invasion anyway. How many Americans died needlessly because of the
tunnel-vision rush to start this unnecessary war by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld and
the rest of the Bush neo-cons ?
Wasn't my fault, said Rummy; the Turks ate my homework.
May 10, 2005
Is a Civil Left/Right Dialogue Possible?
It is often difficult to engage rightwing letter-writers. Usually, there are
no arguments in their short diatribes, just curses, insults and invitations
for us to engage in anatomically-impossible physical maneuvers. When we
write them back asking for their reasoned arguments about what made them so
angry, the usual response is either more name-calling or silence.
My most recent essay,
to U.S. Troops Serving in Iraq" -- where I urged American soldiers to
become more actively engaged in trying to stop a slaughter that was based on
lies and deceptions -- generated a high volume of
correspondence, including a number of heated denunciations of the usual
But I didn't want to just let it go at that, and so I responded as
humorously and/or as seriously as I could to some of the more intriguing
letters in an effort to stimulate a genuine debate about Iraq. In a good
many cases, it worked! In several of about a half-dozen such letters,
dialogues actually developed (slightly edited for this blog). But printing
key excerpts from those discussions is not why I'm writing this piece.
I don't reply to letter-writers vituperatively opposed to my point of view
because I expect that either of us will alter the thinking of the other. If
that happens, that's a bonus. No, I do so in an attempt to reach angry
letter-writers on a more human level. The aim is to show that it's possible
for a passionate right-winger and a passionate left-winger to communicate
civilly (but with heated opinions) and engage in rational discourse -- in
short, to demonstrate that both are patriotically motivated but from totally
I desire to get them to accept that despite my being a
liberalpeacenikpinkodirtycommie, I care for our country as much as they do,
and that our disagreements have more to do with whether or not making war on
Iraq, for example, enhances or endangers America's national security. When
that kind of discussion happens, as it does in some of the correspondence
below, I find my heart warmed.
Such dialogue, in a society so bitterly divided between right and left,
gives me hope that perhaps there can be a meeting ground where civility and
mutual respect rule, even when both sides are vehemently opposed to each
other. If it can happen in cyberspace, maybe something similar can happen in
Washington, D.C., where the Democrats and Republicans seem locked into
deadly, don't-give-an-inch combat. (Note: This move toward comity only works
if the majority political party is not bent on destroying the minority as a
LETTER#1: "PRE-EMPTIVE" WAR AS NECESSITY?
I'm confused. Is Weiner's letter to our troops in Iraq, or to those of Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi? It's hard to tell the way it's worded. ... If we took this
attitude in WWII we'd all be speaking German or Japanese. After Europe was
bled white in WWI, it was this very fear of war and its devastating
consequences that Hitler capitalized on in the 1930s. If force had been used
when Hitler violated the Versailles Treaty upon occupying the Rhineland in
1936, fifty million people might not have been slaughtered worldwide. And it
was idealist pacifism that led directly to that conflict. War sucks. Only a
nihilistic fool like Hitler enjoys it. I was in the service myself for six
years. Tense moments are not fun at all.
...If you can't tell who's good or evil in the Iraq war, you have no
business being either a journalist or a teacher. Lyndie England is about to
be sentenced, and her boyfriend Granger is already serving ten years for
what was done to prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The other side saws off their
living prisoners' heads with steak knives, videotapes the sickness as PR
stuff, then puts them in bags or freezers. I have no problem distinguishing
who's acting like sympathetic human beings. What's your problem?
As I wrote previously, you and I know who the good guys are, but, to
repeat, "if you're an ordinary Iraqi citizen, does it really matter
whether your children are killed or maimed by Zarqawi's bombs or by
America's bombs?" If our aim is to win over the hearts and minds of the
mass of Iraqi's civilian population -- thus getting them to take the lead
in uprooting the insurgent terrorists -- we need to distinguish ourselves
by our actions much more, and quit killing and torturing so many Iraqi
citizens, either deliberately or by "collateral-damage accident."
Try to imagine the equivalent of 100,000 Iraqis dead in American citizens,
and how upset we would be with a figure that high. My concern always has
been, first and foremost, because I'm an American, is how to best insure
that America's national interests are protected; I don't believe this war,
in the short run or the long run, is in our country's national interests.
On the contrary, the war -- the way it was based on lies, the arrogant
(and incompetent) way the Occupation has been handled, the systemic use of
torture, etc. -- endangers our national interests. Thanks for your taking
time to elucidate your arguments, which are solid ones, even if I don't
accept them all.
EQUATION OF SADDAM WITH 9/11
Sir, I don't have to imagine 100,000 dead Americans. The stench of 3,000
filled my nostrils....
I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Saddam Hussein, Iraq's
brutal secular dictator, had nothing to do with the 3000 dead on September
11, 2001. It was the work of a terrorist organization called Al-Qaida, led
by an Islamic fanatic named Osama bin Laden. Bush rightly went after that
group, and their Taliban supporters, in Afghanistan, but somehow bin Laden
got away. And then Bush seemed not to pay all that much attention to him
and al-Qaida after that.
Turns out that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were much more interested in invading
and occupying Iraq, even before 9/11 even happened. Had to do with oil or
something, and gaining political hegemony of the Greater Middle East. So,
invading Iraq as payback for 9/11 didn't make much logical sense -- which
is why the Bush Administration kept suggesting an Iraq/9/11 connection, in
order to get around that little problem in the public mind.
Turns out that the anthrax attack may have originated on American soil,
and that Kim Il-Jong, another madman dictator, has been permitted to carry
out his nuclear armaments program at least partially because the U.S. has
been fixated on the Iraq project while pretty much ignoring what was
happening on the Korean Peninsula.
Are there terrorists, madmen, fanatics, etc., out there who want to do
harm to the U.S.? You bet, and they need to be combated in a wide variety
of ways. But attacking and invading and bombing before there is any
imminent threat ("pre-emptive" wars) may not be the most effective sort of
military, political, diplomatic action. Tends to harm the effort, and
exacerbate the problems, more than it helps. The Law of Unintended
Consequences and all that.
Again, my main emphasis is on protecting the vital national interests of
the United States. You think the Bush way of dealing with the situation
does that; I heartily disagree, even thinking it endangers our national
interests. Surely two citizens, both of whom love their country, can agree
to disagree. Thanks for taking the time to clarify your thoughts; you're a
good debater. Now I've got to get back to work. Thanks again for writing.
HITLER IS BROUGHT INTO THE FRAY
I say let's just agree to disagree, but a couple of parliamentary points.
First, Hitler had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Did that make him any
less of an enemy or a danger to us? In point of fact, I myself was long
interested in invading and occupying Iraq and kicking Saddam's ass before
Bush and Cheney ever were. Should have been done in '91. It would have saved
us a lot of headaches, and we wouldn't have had to pay for the same real
You may be right there. But Saddam was not Hitler. He had fantasies
but he wasn't trying to conquer most of the world, as was Hitler, in
tandem with the Japanese/Italians. He was a two-bit, mean sumbitch in his
own neighborhood, a class-A bully, who roared loudly in order to frighten
his foes, and anxious to get his hands on more weapons to make himself
even scarier. But (see below), his situation changed after the '91 war.
...By the way, what do you consider imminent? A month? A week? An hour?
Or do you believe we should wait until we're spitting out liquified lung to
I'd say when there is verifiable proof of intent to do us major
harm. No more magical WMD that exists only because our leaders claim it
exists, and then get tens of thousands of people killed and wounded on
that say-so, which turns out to be false. If we had intelligence that the
Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor, then it's time for legitimate
pre-emptive action and big time. But using "pre-emption" loosely --
meaning they might someday decide to work toward doing us harm -- no way.
But that's the prevailing ethos of the National Security Strategy of the
U.S. under Bush-Cheney.
WASTE THE SUCKERS!
I say hit 'em first, and hard! Uncivilized maniacal bastards! They're mass
murderers and psychotics at the throats of their own people and looking to
get their hands around ours. What part of that reality don't you understand?
What has America ever left in an occupied land except for dead soldiers and
liberty? Don't you see that! I say it's time to drag these assholes kicking
and screaming into the 21st Century, because it's the only way we'll survive
in the long run. By standing by and letting rogue states like the DPNK and
Iran build their toys with joy is deferring state-sponsored mass murder on a
My guess is that Iran can be managed in some way short of war, but
NK and its maniacal leader give me the shivers. Not sure what to do there.
Call me a right wing maniac, which I'm sure you're going to do anyway. I
cannot see how you figure that invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam was a
bad move. He was a nightmare to his people and a nightmare waiting to happen
He was a bad, bad guy -- backed by U.S. administrations for many
years, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- who needed to be dealt
with seriously, at some point. But while Kim Il-Jung might well be a
certifiable loonybird, and hence way way dangerous, Saddam, for all his
faults, wasot crazy. He never wanted to do anything that would lead to his
demise, so he always backed and filled and made concessions, etc. By the
mid- and late-90s, he was a contained bad guy, with no weaponry to speak
of, not about to or able to do much harm to anybody, brutally running half
a country and stealing his people blind. He was no imminent threat, even
if "imminent" had been interpreted loosely.
This verbal jousting has been fun, Blackmore, but, like you, enough is
enough. Time to get back to work. But I appreciate your honest sharing of
your strong opinions; you're a solid debater. But, yes, we agree to
disagree, and leave it at that. Thanks.
You're a good fighter, and there's plenty of room in a free society for
both arguments - it's what keeps us vital, vigorous debate. It was a good
joust! At least both of us tried, despite our individual frustration with
the other's viewpoint at times, to maintain a civil debate. This country
could use a lot more reasoning and a lot less ranting. and I myself have
done plenty of both!. To be honest, you're the first person on the other
side I've debated with since well before the election that I actually
respect, for reasons stated.
Thanks. -- Blackmore
Letter#2: THE OIL QUESTION
...I don't think the "Troops" buy essays such as this. They are too
intelligent. Judging from the content of the Democratic Underground, I'm
sure you have found an audience whose standards are not quite as high.
...If you want to argue that Gulf War #I was "all about oil" then I might
accept that. In fact, I believe Bush the elder should have been more
forthright in stating that as one of our objectives. Saddam's attempt to
gain the Kuwait and Saudi oil fields by force would have been a disastrous
blow to the world economy. It was in the national interest of almost every
nation to ensure that it didn't happen.
Of course. Why not say that oil was a major reason for going in? And
why not say it today as well? Why so skittish?
If you wish to argue that our relationships with the Mideast is in great
part dedicated to ensuring a stable and predictable oil supply, I would
agree. In fact, I would agree. Again, our economy, and much of the developed
and developing world economies depend on petroleum. Without it, millions
would suffer terribly. Given that, I do not see us invading every
oil-producing country that we have shaky relations.
The policy as I understand it, especially given that our military is
stretched way too thin, is not necessarily to invade each and every
country but to use Iraq as the example of what can and might be done
unless the recalcitrant governments bend to the political will of the U.S.
in terms in regard to the oil/gas fields. The problem is that several of
those countries can continue to thumb their noses at the U.S. -- up to a
point -- because they know we don't have the manpower, and maybe not even
the national will, to make good on those threats of invasion.
...I take strong exception to pieces like your "To the Troops." You
assume that they are brainwashed idiots. That is the first, and usually
last, mistake a poor commander makes and the mistake the ideological of the
left always seems to make. It is something that Kerry never learned and kept
repeating back to his Senate seat. The only takers were those on the left,
who frankly believe anything that fits their preconceptions. The "Troops"
have a better understanding of the situation than you do.
I referenced the opposition being voiced by many conservatives AND
military officers speaking anonymously and, when retired, openly from the
military. I certainly didn't mean to come off sounding condescending to
the troops, but a good many of them are 18- or 19-year-old first-time
warriors, all too eager to accept the supposed wisdom of their civilian
Letter#3: TROOPS WON'T, CAN'T ACT
Finally, let's close with a position, by writer J, that several others
made -- including others who liked the thrust of my article -- about why it
was senseless of me to write it; my response follows.
Dear Dr. Weiner:
While I agree with everything you have written, I think that most of the
grunts that read the article will be pissed off. They know that at any
moment they may be killed or maimed and the last thing they want to hear is
that it's all for naught.
Seeing the situation from a distance gives us perspective. Living in
constant fear doesn't lend itself to rational thought. Yes, there are those
soldiers who will grasp what you're talking about and feel that they should
act on it.
However, you're asking people, who are already in grave danger, to further
endanger themselves by speaking out. How many people do you know who would
willingly do that? How many people do you know who have spent time in grave
danger? How many people do you know who, given that situation, would speak
out against those who have total control over their lives?
Perhaps a handful will take the risk. But you've placed a tremendous guilt
trip on those who can't.
This isn't an intellectual exercise to these unfortunate men and women. At
best, those to whom you've gotten through, will feel resentment for their
predicament. And I don't think this serves them well.
Don't ask our troops to act on the immorality of their situation. If you can
get a big enough megaphone, ask the American public to scream out against
the fascists who are now controlling their destiny and ours.
I understand where you're coming from. I had to deeply consider this
point before I wrote my "Open Letter to U.S. Soldiers Serving in Iraq."
But, having lived through the many years it took to generate oppositional
critical mass during the Vietnam War, and knowing some of the soldiers who
died there during that period when the opposition to the war was making
its shaky way forward, I decided I was morally obliged to write the letter
to U.S. troops in Iraq.
I don't want to see five or ten more years go by, with so many more
thousands killed and maimed, without at least trying to raise the issue
about the need for strengthening an opposition to the Iraq war, both
within and outside the military.
I realize that some of those troops will be resentful and angry -- already
some letters along those lines are pouring in, along with supportive ones
-- but we've got to start somewhere. If articles such as mine can get the
dialogue started, from within and without the military, then we in the
opposition to the continued occupation will just have to deal with that
I'm not trying to guilt-trip anyone. All I'm saying is that if those
within and without the military are serious about trying to stop the
killing, we all may have to what we can do, be it a little or a lot. Some
will be able to do more than others, some will feel they are not in a
position (yet) to do much at all.
The important point is to get the war-opposition momentum building, and
the discussion heightened to a new level. Thanks for writing and for your
thoughtful, compassionate expression of concern for the troops.
Any further thoughts about this left/right debating issue? Send them to
May 19, 2005
EXCLUSIVE: THE SECRET "PERCENTAGES AGREEMENT"
Turns out that my Ph.D. dissertation -- that tome yellowing in a closet
upstairs -- contains information that corrects Bush's ignorant distortions
about World War II history. Bush, in Europe recently for ceremonies marking
the end of that war, revived the old conservative canard that the U.S. and
Britain "gave away" Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Bush compared the
Yalta Agreement to Chamberlain's Munich capitulation and to the
Hitler-Stalin pact. He couldn't have been more wrong.
And, even though there were numerous corrective articles since Bush's May 7
speech in Riga -- see
here -- none of them mentioned the key element of the wartime meetings
between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin: the so-called "percentages
Few know about this episode -- in fact, few in government at the time were
brought into the loop about it, it was such a closely guarded secret -- and
I'm happy to share it here, based on the research done for my dissertation,
the essence of which involved the origins of the Cold War.
As war in Europe was heading toward a victory for the Americans, Brits and
Russians, the Big Three had to figure out the post-war geopolitical
landscape. At a meeting between Churchill and Stalin in Moscow in 1944
(which may or may not have included Roosevelt's representative Averill
Harriman), Churchill, on a half-sheet of paper, improvised some numbers that
would indicate which ally should have what share of responsibility in the
various countries -- "take the lead" was the euphemism -- both in the
immediate situation and, by implication, after the war was over.
Churchill, the ultimate realist, realized that the Soviet Union had many
millions of troops on the ground in Eastern Europe, and in no way was he
going to convince President Roosevelt that America should take on that Red
Army while the Allies were still trying to defeat Germany and Japan.
HERE ARE THE NUMBERS
Churchill, interested in protecting what he could of the collapsing British
Empire, kept Greece in England's "sphere of influence" and, acknowledging
that Stalin already had Eastern Europe in his grasp, OKd the Soviet Union
"taking the lead" in that region. Churchill wrote Roosevelt that they might
as well acknowledge the realities on the ground in Eastern Europe since
"neither you nor we have any troops there at all, and [the Soviets] probably
will do what they like anyhow."
The percentages agreed to by Stalin and Churchill, and acquiesced to by
Roosevelt, included the Soviet Union "taking the lead" in Eastern Europe at
50% in Yugoslavia, 90% in Rumania and so on in Hungary, Bulgaria, et al.;
Great Britain would "take the lead" in Greece at 90%. During the rest of the
war, the three allies scrupulously abided by the "percentages agreement."
Stalin believed he had been given carte blanche in Eastern Europe, and
likewise that Churchill could do what he wanted in Greece.
Realizing that carving up Europe into zones of influence might not look good
if the word got out, Churchill suggested to Stalin that maybe it would be a
good idea to burn the half-sheet of paper with the percentages on it.
(Stalin said it was OK for Churchill to keep it.)
At Yalta in 1945, worried about what Stalin might do in post-war Eastern
Europe, the Americans and English tried to ameliorate the situation by
having everyone sign a "Declaration on Liberated Europe," promising
democracy and all other good things. But Stalin saw the document as little
more than a piece-of-paper formality; he didn't let that stop him from
setting up the protective satellite-state governments in Eastern Europe,
which eventually became the Warsaw Pact alliance.
And, the U.S. and Great Britain, not anxious immediately to fight another
major war, this one against their Soviet ally, and anxious to rebuild their
own war-torn societies, did little but bluster against Stalin's post-war
tactics in Eastern Europe. (In truth, Stalin saw the Eastern European
satellites as a strategic buffer between the Soviet Union and the West; he
gave no indication that he was interested in moving militarily into Western
JOSH MARSHALL GETS TO THE NUB
Josh Marshall sums up the controversy:
"In making this argument [Bush joined] a rich tradition of maniacs who
believe that at the end of World War II we should have joined with the
defeated remainder of the German army and fought our way through Eastern
Europe to the border of Russia and, in all likelihood, on to Moscow to
overthrow the Soviet Union itself -- certainly not a difficult proposition
considering what an insubstantial land Army the Soviet Union had at the
If that seems like an over-dramatic alternative scenario, then you just
aren't familiar with the history of the period.
Roosevelt didn't hand the Baltics, Poland and the rest of what became the
Warsaw Pact countries over to Soviet rule. The Red Army was there in force
already. The question was whether we were able and willing to remove them
The president also makes common cause, though whether he's familiar with
the history he's wading into I don't know, with those who argued before
the war and after that the US and the UK made their fundamental error in
the war itself, by allying with the Soviets against Nazism rather than
with Nazism against the Soviets."
Bush, for whatever partisan motive, chose to revive this historical
period in his Riga speech -- as seen through a dated, Cold War,
anti-Communist prism -- but he got a good deal of his facts wrong.
And now you know the Rest of the Story.
U.S. FLUSHED ITSELF ALONG WITH KORAN
It would have been so easy, and helpful in defusing the situation, for the
Bush Administration to say something like: "We don't condone any disrespect
for the Holy Koran, and if some guards at Guantanamo or elsewhere were
guilty of such abhorrent behavior, we will punish them severely."
Given the heat the U.S. has taken with regard to the abusive treatment of
prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere, and with the "rendering"
of suspected Islamist terrorists to countries where they are tortured
mercilessly, you'd think the Bush Administration might want to show it is
actively engaged in turning around the perceived public image of America as
engaged in a "crusade" (Bush's original word) against Islam.
But, per usual, the Bush Administration goes into denial mode about the
message, and tries to focus all anger and attention on the messenger,
Newsweek. The brouhaha is reminiscent of Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" story on
Bush's AWOL history during the Vietnam War. From Rove's point of view in
both instances: "We can't deny the essence of these stories, so we will find
some flaw in the way they were delivered, and divert focus in that
(Plus, if the Administration is lucky, it will get a bonus: It will bring
those news organizations, and journalists in general, into disrepute -- thus
alienating the public even more from independent sources of information --
and scare the bejusus out of journalists, so that reporters and editors may
well censor themselves from making accusatory statements about anything the
Administration does in the future.)
MUSLIMS AREN'T ACCEPTING DENIALS
All the belated Administration and Newsweek denials and retractions carry no
weight in the Muslim world. Rumsfeld denied the existence of torture of
detainees at Abu Ghraib, but the locals knew all too well what was happening
to their husbands and fathers in those prisons -- and, when the photos of
that torture and sexual humiliation were revealed, everyone else knew
Rumsfeld had lied, too.
Given all the other stupid (and largely ineffective) interrogation
techniques employed by U.S. guards at prisons around the world, aimed at
humiliation and destroying the will of suspected Islamist terrorists, it is
not a great leap to believe that a good many of the interrogators spat on,
sat on, crushed underfoot, insulted and probably threw the Koran into the
toilet. Indeed, there are a host of reports of them doing just that; for a
good starting point, see ##Juan Cole's "Guantanamo Controversies: The Bible
and the Koran ( www.juancole.com/2005/05/guantanamo-controversies-bible-and.html
Neither Newsweek, nor the Pentagon, has unequivocally denied that the
Administration investigated the use of Koran-abuse as an interrogation
technique. Newsweek's "retraction" contained numerous qualifiers. In short,
the essence of the story no doubt is true, and Muslims around the world
believe it to be true as well.
The Bush Administration needs to come clean on the entire torture/abuse
story -- including release of the internal Pentagon report mentioned by
Newsweek, in which the Koran incident no doubt is included -- and on its
many lies and deceptions that have set the stage for increased violence in
Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world. But you and I know the
Bush Administration will never do so, not while it can bash a newsmagazine
May 31, 2005
Moving Toward Civility With Passion: An Iraq War Debate
I often hear progressives (including myself) say: "With all the voluminous
evidence of how we were lied to, with all the documentation of how the plans
for the Iraq War were laid prior to 9/11 and then solidified in 2002 nine
months before the invasion of that country, how come there isn't more
outrage in the American populace about the war, the shredding of the
Constitution and Bill of Rights, the use of torture as official state
Apparently, once certain assumptions are made, correct or not -- that 9/11
justifies all Bush Administration acts, that Saddam Hussein was a key
supporter of international terrorists responsible for 9/11, that once troops
are on the ground in a war no questions should be asked -- then there's no
reason to doubt either the administration that took us to war or the
policies that are keeping us there. See what you think.
What follows lends some credence to the above conclusion. It's a debate I
had with a Crisis Papers reader last week about the Iraq War. It
begins with Robert Gruber suggesting I have committed something close to
treason; in the end, the two of us are agreeing to disagree about the war
but honoring and respecting each other and our mutual love of country.
With his permission, I'm publishing excerpts of our long email debate as a
demonstration of how, by both debaters treating the opponent with respect
while not backing down from passionate advocacy, a civil conversation can
transpire even in our culture's super-heated partisan atmosphere . (For a
similar experiment, see my May 10 blog,
"Is a Civil
Left/Right Dialogue Possible?")
As you'll read, neither Gruber nor I have changed our essential attitudes
about the war, but we both understand more clearly where the other guy is
coming from, and know that those positions are sincerely held and
intelligently based, even if we disagree vehemently with them; each of us
also found that we were forced to come to terms with possibly flawed
arguments in our own positions.
I take two lessons from this debate: 1) I now better understand why facts
don 't necessarily matter when debating issues that touch great emotion, be
it religion or politics. (Gruber, for example, says even if he were to agree
that Bush lied us into war, and that Saddam wasn't connected in any way to
9/11, it's still a just and necessary war, regardless.) And, 2) If we two
ordinary citizens could carry on an intense but civil debate in the
cybersphere, maybe it's possible for pro-war and anti-war zealots to do
likewise in the halls of Congress, without resorting to below-the-belt
I watched American society degenerate into a fratricidal political civil war
during the Vietnam era-- with name-calling leading at times to violence and
even death -- and I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening
again with the Iraq War. That is a large part of my motivation for compiling
So here we go, starting with Gruber's red-hot reaction to my recent
to U.S. Troops Serving in Iraq", in which I urged them to become more
active in helping end the conflict. My responses are indented and
Dear Bernard Weiner:
Tokyo Rose could not have put the case any more eloquently than you did.
Your "letter" is full of lies, suggesting that the bulk of the insurgents
are disgruntled Iraqis, not ex-Baathists, criminals, foreign jihadists, all
of whom are so mad at America that all they want to do is kill Americans (so
why are they blowing up their fellow citizens so barbarically?). Your
attempt to sound sincere is so condescending that it wanted to make me puke.
You should be ashamed of writing that drivel.
Dear Robert Gruber: You seem to be suggesting that not only am I
insincere in what I wrote, but that my writings are treasonous. If the
latter is true, and if the current polls are correct that more than 50% of
the country shares many of the views I expressed about the Iraq war (how
the Bush Administration got us in on the basis of lies, and how we need to
end the Occupation as quickly as feasible), shouldn't the military start
rounding up half the U.S. population and put them in concentration camps
for giving "aid and comfort" to the "enemy"?
Is it not possible that half the country might be correct in its
assessments, that we love our country and our soldiers as much as you do,
but simply disagree with the policy that got out troops involved there and
with the occupation that may be America's undoing? We went through this
with Vietnam -- with more than 58,000 U.S. deaths and several million
Vietnamese killed -- and it brought our society into a near-civil war
politically. Why make the same mistakes and head in the same direction
I'd be interested in hearing your arguments in favor of the war and
Occupation, rather than simply engaging in name-calling and telling me how
ill my writings are making you. Let's have a conversation. -- Bernard
...I do not agree that it is treasonous to oppose this, or any, war. What
is closer to treason, however, is to foment discord and sap the morale of
our fighting force which I believe is the intent of your letter. Soldiers
are following orders, and should do so, as that is their mission. Your
mission is to influence political leaders in particular and the populace in
general. Leave the soldiers out of this.
...I am an American, who has no ties to a foreign government or
foreign terrorists; I am interested only in the welfare of American troops
and in enhancing and protecting America's national interests.
In that, I am no different than you; we each approach the issue of the war
from that standpoint. You apparently believe that America's soldiers and
America's national interests are best served by following the current
Administration's policies; I believe that we are endangering our troops
and our national-interests by the way we got into the war, and by our
Occupation policies ever since.
Do you really want to question my patriotism? Do you really want to equate
me with a foreign enemy? Do you really want to accuse me of treason? If
the answer to those questions is yes, then you'd best alert Attorney
General Alberto Gonzalez and have me charged -- along with millions of
others who think likewise.
The truth is that both you and I care deeply about our troops' welfare and
our national interests, but we come at those concerns from a different
point of view, each of us convinced that we are correct and that the other
is wrong. That's the way it works in a democracy; ideas are permitted to
clash, in a civil manner, each accepting the good faith of the opponent,
and out of that clash eventually comes a consensus. There is no consensus
at present; half the country tends to think the way you do, half tends to
think the way I do.
Given this passionate divide, it gets us nowhere to name-call and throw
threats around. That's why I'm interested in having a spirited, civil
debate with you. You are intelligent and articulate, and perhaps both you
and I can learn something from each other, even if we ultimately agree to
disagree. I hope you'll feel likewise, but if you continue to think of me
as a treasonous enemy, the well of good-faith debate gets poisoned from
I can tell you care deeply about our country, that you would not consciously
do things to aid and abet "the enemy," and I'm sure you want this nation to
be seen, as Ronald Reagan did, as a "shining city on a hill," i.e. a beacon
of freedom and hope in the world. I care about our troops' welfare, as you
do, but I also don't let their welfare interfere with the Iraqi mission.
...[A]ttempting to influence our soldiers is not the way to push the debate
forward, that it may have deleterious effects on their attitude and
performance and morale. Perhaps my comparing your behavior to that of Tokyo
Rose (an American actually) was overdone, although I strongly feel that
negatively influencing a soldier's mission makes that effort much more
Dear Bob: It warms my heart that you recognize my good-faith,
patriotic motives in opposing the Iraq War. Whether my "to the troops"
letter was well- or ill-advised is a separate question; some of those who
support my anti-war stance felt, as you did, that it was a mistake to
write it. I'll be happy to defend my position, but I certainly can
understand why some might be opposed to it. (Though suggesting treason
goes way beyond the pale.) OK, with that out of the way, let the rumpus
Operation "Iraqi Freedom" was not a "let's wake up this morning and
invade Freedonia" kind of war, rather it was the third phase of a war begun
in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. That war was never satisfactorily
concluded, as the U.S. and the U.K. set up "no-fly-zones" to protect the
Kurds in the North from genocide at the hands of Saddam, as well as protect
the Shia population in the South. Some argue that GWB the 43rd is attempting
to finish up what 41 started; I can't disagree with that. The point is that
there has been an ongoing state of war between Iraq and the U.S. for eleven
years, with no satisfactory resolution in sight. Remember, Iraq was the
aggressor nation against its neighbor Kuwait, a belligerent with Iran in the
1980's, and a supporter of Palestinian terrorism in Israel, and an overall
troublemaker in the region.
Wait a minute! You jumped from events in the '80s and 1990 straight
to an event in 2001. You skipped over an entire decade. Let's look and see
what was happening in that interim. Given the no-fly zones, Saddam had
effective control over less than 1/2 of his country. Given the post-war
inspection regime that destroyed the bulk of his weaponry, his military
might was virtually nil. Given the embargo, the country was broken
economically. In short, Saddam by mid-decade was a deeply contained
tyrant, impotent militarily, unable to do much but steal his country blind
(through loopholes in the oil-embargo plan). He wasn't going anywhere, and
he was incapable of doing much damage to his neighbors -- and certainly
not to the U.S.
September 11, 2001 changes everything.
On September 11, the U.S. was attacked by Islamist fundamentalists. This was
a wake-up call to our government that the world had changed, and that the
U.S. can not tolerate the lawlessness, the brutality, the extremism
reflected in anti-Western governments throughout the middle east, led by the
Iranians and Iraqis.
Whoa, big fella. You've made an amazing leap from 19 Islamic Saudi
fundamentalists to Iraq, which was ruled by a defiantly secular dictator,
who hated and stomped on anything looking like an Islamist movement. I
know it's important to the Bush case for war to somehow tie Saddam to the
terrorist plot, but it won't wash, no matter how convoluted your
True, 9/11 did serve as a wake-up call in the public mind about the
dangers posed by Wahhabism in the Muslim world. But the center of that
fundamentalist sect was in Saudi Arabia, certainly not in Iraq. One can
argue that post-9/11 Bush acted properly by going after the Wahabbist
Taliban in Afghanistan, which was harboring Al-Qaida terrorism. But we're
told by Bush Administration insiders that even before 9/11 and the
invasion of Afghanistan, Bush&Co. were planning on invading Iraq and
setting up shop there, for aims that had to do with control of oil and
remaking the geopolitical map of the Greater Middle East.
I have no doubt that the WMD argument was a convenient scare tactic,
however I see no proof that this argument was fabricated out of whole cloth.
I think Saddam was poorly served by his sycophantic minions, and his lack of
co-operation actually played into the American's hands. However, I have no
doubt that the U.S. would have continued to ratchet up the pressure on Iraq
regardless of the willingness of Saddam to allow unfettered UN inspections
to proceed. This was a regime change war that Bush was going to have,
regardless of the WMD argument.
No argument from me here. Bush&Co. used post-9/11 lies and
deceptions to scare us into an unprovoked war with a country they had
wanted to invade before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Now here is where we part company. You would say Ah ha!!! This is an
illegal war. Iraq hasn't attacked us, doesn't pose an imminent threat, and
therefore we have no business committing our blood, treasure, and reputation
to this risky scheme, this half-baked invasion, this unwarranted aggression.
Yes, I might well use those words.
Before I put too many words in your mouth, let me tell you why we had to
do this. I repeat: The world changed on Sept. 11
1) Status quo was no longer acceptable. Saddam Hussein's anti-American
agenda would dovetail nicely with Al-Qaeda. Unchecked, at some point,
Hussein would end up in bed with bin-Laden.
Again, there would have been no dovetailing, since Al-Qaida/Bin
Laden and Saddam Hussein despised each other. Bin Laden wanted to get rid
of Saddam, not ally with him. Saddam, as stated above, slaughtered and
imprisoned Islamists whenever and wherever he could do so.
2) Saddam's efforts to obtain WMD were well known. If he had none, or
moved them, or put his program on hiatus, had no bearing on his
future intentions, if given the opportunity and French complicity.
He did have WMD early on, he had used WMD on his own people,
but then had his stockpiles destroyed post-Gulf War I. Certainly, he had
ambitions to set himself up as a pan-Arab saviour (he only "got religion,"
as it were, when the U.S. was ready to invade and his needed all the Arab
help he could muster), and someday he'd try to reconstitute his WMD
program. But he was basically bereft of anything very threatening; he kept
talking as if he still had those capabilities, perhaps to make himself
seem bigger to his neighbors, but his military capabilities were
essentially nil. If and when he started to reconstitute his programs, at
some future time, the West would find out and do something about it. But
for the U.S. to invade a sovereign country on the basis of some
way-into-the-future possible risk is loony, not to mention a violation of
international law, devoid of imminent risk and exercising one's right to
3) We have to clean up the Middle East. It is a cesspool fomenting
anti-Americanism. We could not leave it as is, without an increased risk of
another 9/11 style attack, more devastating than the first.
Why do "we" have to "clean up" the Middle East as a unilateral
mission, or, to use Bush's word, "crusade"? Why not a United Nations
effort, an Arab League effort (with a lot of diplomacy), etc.? Partly
because Bush/Cheney/ Rumsfeld policy, as outlined in the National Security
Strategy of the United States, requires that the U.S. will not tolerate
any interference in fulfilling its goals, not by a nation-state and not by
an international body. It has to be a unilateral action, with pick-up
allies if necessary. Those who demur, or try to oppose, will be dealt with
in the harshest terms.
And what does "clean up" the Middle East mean, and suggest? Does "clean
up" mean to affect "regime change" in a number of autocratically-ruled
sheikdoms, by violence or coercion? If so, what are the implications of
such action, in infuriating the Islamic world, in becoming a pariah in
international politics? Further, what gives the U.S. the right to impose
its brand of "democracy" on societies little prepared, or in some cases,
even desiring such a development?
Finally, supposing for a moment that the motives are good, the way the
policy has been carried out is turning out to be a disaster. Instead of
leading to Western-friendly regimes implanted, U.S. incompetency in
diplomacy and military action (including the use of torture and sexual
humiliation and disrespecting of Islam) leads to more anti-Western
Islamist regimes, the exact opposite of what we were hoping for? What
then? Have the national interests of the U.S. been enhanced or endangered?
4) Saddam was a hugely destabilizing force in the middle east, preventing
progress on the Israeli/Palestinian situation.
He was a meddling nuisance, I grant you, paying off families whose
children blew themselves up in Israel. But the real causes of the
Israeli/Palestinian situation can be found in Palestine and Israel. And
don't get me started on how each has botched every serious attempt at
5) Saddam was a butcher, and terrorized his own people for too many
years. His killing fields were akin to Cambodia; his secret police were
torturers, intimidators, butchers.
We both agree: He was a VERY bad man, a tyrannical thug and
murderer. Nobody, in the Arab world or outside it, mourns his fall from
6) Saddam supported world terrorism.
Not really. Aside from his support of Palestinian suicide bombers, I
know of no further support for "world terrorism." He was a tyrant, to be
sure, but he was not suicidal himself; he always backed down in order to
save his own neck.
...What would the world be like today if we had not invaded back in March
We'll never know for sure. I could guess that not much would be
changed in the Middle East. Saddam would still be a petty dictator in his
own country, and not much of a threat outside it. The embargo eventually
would be lifted, but the no-fly zones still would be in place. He might at
some point start thinking about reconstituting his WMD program, but we'd
have time to figure out how to deal with that, rather than rushing into a
war before the U.N. inspectors completed their report documenting how weak
he really was. (And this time, the U.S. and its allies would be able to
present hard evidence, not weak surmise; what the Administration forced
Colin Powell to say at the U.N. before the U.S. invasion was nothing short
of embarrassing.) In short, the desire to invade Iraq even before 9/11
clouded Bush&Co. judgment and led to the horrific botches of the
Occupation. And we can discuss that disaster next, if you so choose.
Paint me that picture, make it prettier than the current mess in Iraq,
and I'll concede we were wrong. But all I want is how having done nothing,
the U.S. today would be a safer, more secure place and the people of Iraq
would be having a better future.
You admit that things are a "mess" in Iraq. I'm trying to indicate
that we might have had time, had we not invaded in a rush-job, to build up
a world coalition to deal with Saddam in another way, or maybe even a
military way down the line if he proved to be an imminent threat. The
Iraqi people certainly would have been worse off in terms of their
freedoms, but the U.S. shouldn't make foreign policy or wars based on
others peoples' interests but only on our own.
Repeating "the world changed on 9/11" may make you feel good, but the
mantra doesn't really explain away everything. Let's stick to facts. So,
the ball's in your court. Want to hit it back?
... [R]egardless of the debating points you might make, or ripostes I may
come back with, at the end of the day, it will be difficult to influence
your views on Iraq, and similarly, I don't think you can make much headway
with mine. The reason I came to this conclusion is that we both are coming
at the Iraq conflict from much different angles. I don't like putting words
in your mouth (you've chastised me for that already) but I think you look at
Iraq as just another unwarranted police action premised on falsities,
deceptions, and malevolent motivations (Power, oil wealth, perhaps to assure
Bush's re-election). On the other hand, I look at this as something of true
historical import; that is best summed up by Fouad Ajami's recent Wall
Street Journal op-ed article,
That article encapsulates for me what this whole Iraqi War is about. Atop
Ajami's reflections on the positives for the Arab people, I would only add
that these benefits for the Middle East will also accrue to the U.S. via a
more free, and therefore safer, world.
I want you to know I do not support our willy-nilly intervention in each and
every hot spot around the globe, so just because we went into Iraq we should
now invade North Korea, Iran or Cuba. The containment you speak of in Iraq
was not a long-term solution, and forces (see also the article about
Russia's complicity with Saddam in subverting the oil-for-food program) were
building to unwarrantedly end sanctions, which would then green-light Saddam
for unfettered mischief making. Aside from the UK, no other nation really
cared about the deeper issues of freedom and liberation in the Middle
In any event, the lives lost, the treasure spent, the destruction realized,
and our good reputation lost are all terrible casualties of this war. But I
really believe that a higher purpose will be served in the end. If not, then
George Bush should be judged a most-failed President, and I would truly fear
for the security and way of life for future generations. However, I, like
Mr. Ajami, hope this is the Middle East's version of Europe in 1848. I guess
we will have to wait more than a few years before we can draw that
Bob: ... Half the country, and much of the world, is agitated by the
lies and deceptions that undergird this war, but you don't want to address
those; to you, it seems, the ends justify the means so let's not talk
about the means. This is very sloppy, dangerous thinking. America is, or
was, much admired and beloved in the world precisely because it stood for
something more than the raw exercise of power; it represented a moral
force where the means was all important. This is what distinguished
America from so many other countries in the world, for which the ends were
all-important and the means were ignored or downplayed. But that moral
force is not the America most of the world knows, and fears, these days.
We now have proof of what many of us suspected at the time, that the Bush
Administration had begun moving to invade Iraq pre-9/11 and that the
decision to invade had been made no later than mid-2002. WMD was a
smokescreen to justify the bombing and invasion. In its weakened state,
Iraq was no military threat to anyone, certainly no imminent threat to the
U.S. and its allies. There was no WMD, no nuclear program, no drone planes
to attack the U.S. mainland, no connection between Saddam and 9/11. There
was simply this brutal bully who thumbed his nose at outsiders and
terrorized his people -- a description that could describe many dictators
around the world.
But we didn't overthrow the other bad guys; this dictator sat on the
world's 2nd largest oil reserves, could not fight back against America's
might, and could serve as a model for altering the geopolitical landscape
in the Greater Middle East. And so the invasion of Iraq began, in such
haste and with no-postwar plan that it got a lot of Americans (and Iraqis)
needlessly killed. Now we're bogged down in that quagmire, and attracting
all sorts of Saudi and other jihadists to the fight. Iraq is a disaster,
and the U.S. is determined to keep its hardened military bases there,
which can be used to effect "regime-change" in other Arab countries.
You seem to be saying: "Well, OK, lots of mistakes were made and bad
policies executed to get us to this point. But if the jihadists can be
defeated in Iraq, then we can move on to other countries in the area and
defeat that extremist Islamist movement there. If we have to bomb and
invade those other countries, so be it. Eventually, the anti-Western Arabs
will see the fate that's in store for them unless they change their ways,
and will give in to our just demands."
It's possible that the all-chips-in gamble Bush&Co. are taking with this
policy may pay off. But I doubt it. And at what cost? Everlasting
slaughter, terrorism, occupations, torture as state policy, bankrupting
our treasury, our country a pariah in international affairs, loss of our
soul as we abandon the moral high ground, etc. -- no thanks. Too high a
price to pay, even if it were to work. But, as former empires have
discovered, it doesn't always work. The Law of Unintended Consequences
invariably shows up as "idealistic" policies run headlong into dirty
realities on the ground. The Bush Administration has sown the seeds of
permanent war, and will reap the whirlwinds of blowback. That means you
and me and our sons, and millions of others will suffer because of these
misguided, arrogant policies and decisions.
All you, and your fellow neo-cons, can see is the wondrous world of
(enforced) peace and stability at the end of the war rainbow. Beware of
idealists -- especially those who have never participated in actual wars
themselves; to them, it's all a huge international chess match. But there
are real people, and real consequences, involved. And those participants
have precious little influence on changing the situation because of the
lies and deceptions visited upon them by their rulers and those who
manipulate them in support of those rulers.
You think we'll emerge on the other side "eventually" and all will be
peaches and cream. I'd love to believe that, but my understanding of
history, political realities and the inevitable incompetencies and
mistakes that accompany war tell me there's a far different, and more
horrifying, future in store for us, for the region, for the world, and all
because some ivory-tower ideologues got the power to try out their
grandiose high-tech experiment and couldn't resist pushing the buttons.
I'm disappointed in your reluctance to seriously debate how we got here,
and our present horrors, by your going quickly to the end vision; you
think we'll get there eventually -- oh those glorious ends! -- but you
choose to ignore the great cost of the means. To quote Hemingway, there's
a huge shitstorm coming.
I re-read your responses to my original commentary and gleaned from them
the "micro debating points" you allude to. I can't help but feel a little
overwhelmed over all the statements, assertions, and accusations you throw
out, as each point would require quite a bit of research, etc, and really
for what end?
To the end of seeing how much of the justification for this war was
based on fact and how much on fiction. If fact, then the war might be
morally and practically justified; if based on false statements and
deceptions, then we all were lied to mightily and the reasons for war were
Remember that toppling a brutal tyrant never figured in the original
reasons supplied by the Bush Administration to justify the need to rush to
war; it all had to do with WMD, mushroom clouds over America, drone planes
delivering toxic substances to the East Coast, Saddam was working with Bin
Laden on 9/11. None of that was true, and you don't have to take my word
for it. The Administration's own WMD-hunters found nothing, after spending
untold millions of dollars and two years of searching; plus, Bush himself
admitted there was no Saddam/9/11 connection. The idea of invading Iraq to
topple a brutal dictator came up in a big way only after all the other
supposed reasons were shown to be untrue. Again, there are a great many
brutal tyrants all over the world; we don't bomb and invade their
countries. But we did that with regard to Saddam -- and the plans for that
were laid long before 9/11 even happened. Doesn't all that mean anything
to you? ...
To prove that we had no justification for invading Iraq? That we are an
aggressor nation hell-bent on world domination? You see, the degree to which
Saddam's military was or was not broken, he was or was not in possession of
WMD, was or was not a threat, is a bit in the eye of the beholder.
What official, or unofficial "beholders" have demonstrated the
existence of stockpiles of WMD, a nuclear program, drone planes for
delivering toxics, Saddam's connection of 9/11? Show me some and at least
I can decide for myself, rather than take your "beholder"'s word for it.
I have postulated that he was an ongoing threat, a destabilizing force
for evil, and a potential direct threat to the U.S. via giving sanctuary to
terrorists and /or potentially supplying them with WMD.
I might even be willing to agree with most of the charges in that
sentence, but none of them add up to anything approaching an imminent
threat, which is what international law requires for the initiation of a
"pre-emptive" invasion in self-defense.
...So the real debate topic is "Was Saddam Hussein a big enough threat to
the U.S. to justify the military action taken?" RG for the affirmative, BW
for the negative. Implicit in the whole debate is that there is some
objective criteria as to what constitutes a threat. ... Honestly I have no
interest in digging up Scott Ritter's reports on WMD, or UNSCOM's and
figuring out whether or not the WMD was a purposeful lie or just poor
<-> Again, why do you want to avoid how Americans got bamboozled
into this war? The only reason I can figure out is because it might weaken
your case, might compromise your ends-justifies-the-means, tunnel-vision
approach to this war. "Who cares how we got here? We're here. Let's move
on and finish the job." Interesting set of moral principles you've got
there. ... I find it fascinating to watch you dance away from meaningful
debate issues I raise; instead you quickly move to other areas. You never
have chosen to provide an answer to the ends-justifies-the-means
philosophy that apparently underlays your support of Bush's Iraq policy.
You sure as hell don't want to address the lies and deceptions that led
the country into war ...
You ask me if it means anything to me that GWB & Co. lied, misled, etc.
to the American people to justify this war. I could go over Colin Powell's
UN speech, and compare that to your arguments as to why Saddam was not an
imminent threat, and how we embarked upon a deadly, costly adventure with
little or no reason. I can read Paul O'Neil's books how we were spoiling for
a war, take Joe Wilson's yellow cake lies more seriously, etc. But at the
end of the day, I still support this effort.
In other words, if I interpret correctly, the end justifies the
means. Very dangerous moral philosophy to rest on, because others can use
the same argument when bashing your brains out.
I would posit that beginning with Carter, all the way through Clinton
(including Bush #1 and RR) our leadership did not take seriously enough the
threats to U.S. interests presented by Islamic fundamentalism, in all its
Couldn't agree more.
I think Bush made a strategic error in not explaining this upfront to the
YES! You've put your finger right on it. In a democratic republic,
major wars should follow education and broad assent. In an authoritarian
society, which is what we fast are becoming under Bush&Co., the citizenry
need not be consulted; The Leader, who believes himself to be receiving
his marching orders from God, just acts on his own -- launching a
so-called "pre-emptive" war based on lies -- and propagandizes the stupid
masses into going along. That approach, as so many authoritarian leaders
have learned to their displeasure, tends to work for awhile but eventually
collapses onto them.
I think he and his advisors figured the easier rationale would be WMD,
etc. Not that those reasons were not legit, but who is to say one's actions
have to be defined by only one motivation? That's why I can't get excited
about the purported illegality or immorality of this effort. Do the means
justify the ends, you ask. We no longer have the comfort of time. Your
preferred course of action (build coalitions, use UN, Arab league,
sanctions) were all non-starters for reasons I've noted before. We had to
get this transformation started, because otherwise, we and our children and
their children would continue to live in a world of fear. I do not believe
we could have attempted this transformation in any other way, unfortunately.
<-> But you've just suggested above how Bush might have done it:
openly and honestly laid out to the peoples of the U.S. and the world the
dire necessity for such extreme action, maybe spent the better part of a
year in this project while getting the massive coalition in place,
energized various international bodies and leaders in support. Obviously,
the reason why he didn't take this tack is that he realized it would be
rejected by his own party, the American people, the international
community, etc., because it was all based on a pre-decided war plan that
couldn't stand public scrutiny. Tunnel-vision into violence. No room for
another option. No creative thinking in terms of alliance-building. (But
the neo-cons abhor alliances or anything else that will interfere with
their moving aggressively in the world while there's no countervailing
force to stop them.)
So I'm not going to nit-pic your statements because even if I agreed with
all your arguments (which I don't) about the duplicity of the Bush
administration, it would not make me arrive at your conclusion, i.e., that
the war is one big mistake. So I'm prepared to leave it at that and state
that I hope some day we both see that this "pre-emptive" war was a
beneficial development for global security.
As I've noted previously, it's possible that this huge, all-chips-in
gamble will pay off "some day" the way you suggest. Other empires have
moved in similar directions based on similar beliefs; certainly that
hubris was at work for the U.S. in Vietnam. ("Just a little longer...just
a few more troops...we're just about to turn the corner...just be patient
and hang in there...just trust us...etc.") But my guess is that by doing
it all the way Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz have done it, they've
stirred up a hornets' nest that will just grow bigger and more angry; our
invading and occupying armies will be bogged down in the big muddy (or
sandpile) for years, maybe decades, trying to deal with cultures they know
not in the most brutal ways, etc. etc.
In the end, after all the trillions spent and all the lives lost, another
administration will have to try to undo the great damage done to our
treasury, our social programs, our infrastructure, our sense of ourselves
as a great and moral nation. That's how I see it, even though I'm willing
to admit that there is a slight possibility that the future you see down
the road "some day" might come to pass. But, in truth, I don't think so.
Your arguments provide one of the most cogent, honest and strong arguments
for Bush's war that I've seen in a long time. Not that I agree with it,
but I definitely can see an intelligent mind grappling with the
complexities and emerging with a firmly-based opinion. I hope, on your
end, you likewise can see a somewhat-intelligent mind struggling with this
complex issue and emerging with a different opinion. Out of this kind of
dialogue can come compassion and comity.
Which leads me to a question: Would you object if I put together a
compilation of some of the best of our respective responses over the few
days? Obviously, I'd run it all by you first and you can decide if I've
been fair or not, and whether you approve or would want to make changes.
If you say no-go, that's the end of it; we'll just appreciate out little
conversation between ourselves. But I think others might get something
important out of it as well. Ultimately, it will be your decision. ...
I've enjoyed our back and forth regarding the Iraqi conflict. I think
this has, indeed, helped clarify some thoughts for me and allowed me to
seriously consider arguments that previously I gave short shrift. I would
not mind at all you using our emails as a basis or support for whatever
writing/article/posting you might have in mind.... Look forward to hearing
from you, Enjoy the weekend.
All the best, Bob
October 28, 2005
Libby's Indictment: A Window Into the White House Cesspool
With Scooter Libby's indictment, the first shoe has been dropped in the
Plamegate criminal case. Whether there will be other shoes is problematic.
Fitzgerald says the case is almost wrapped up, but that Rove is not out of
the woods yet. The fact that Rove and Cheney weren't also indicted Friday is
disappointing, to be sure -- they are the real movers and shakers in the
Bush Administration -- but we don't know what's going on behind the scenes.
Is Rove working out a plea bargain that will be announced in a few days?
Could Fitzgerald simply not have all the ammo he needed by October 28 to
bring charges against Rove and Cheney, but is rounding up that last-minute
evidence? Did Fitzgerald present charge(s) to the Grand Jury against
suspects other than Libby whom the panel wouldn't indict? We simply don't
know at this point (I'm writing this the same day as the indictment); maybe
the inevitable leaks will help us understand more as the story unfolds.
What is clear is that Libby seems to have been caught redhanded concocting a
false story and, under oath, sticking to those coverup lies in both his FBI
interrogations and Grand Jury testimony. A definite no-no.
WILL THIS CASE GO TO TRIAL?
If Libby goes to trial, you can bet that the potential witness list will
include Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Hadley, Rice, maybe Bush, and a whole host
of high-ranking neo-con underlings (Wurmser, Hanna, Feith, et al.). Libby --
and Cheney and Rove -- definitely would not want that to happen. Testifying
under oath in a criminal trial is a lot different from leaking your spin to
the media, and you could wind up in the slammer easily on perjury charges.
Since Libby is Cheney's alter-ego (Rove = Bush), you know that Libby wasn't
a solo cowboy in revealing Plame's identity; after all, as the indictment
makes clear, Libby heard about Plame from Cheney. The ball of lies Libby
concocted seemed designed to deflect attention away from his closest
associates, so there is no way Libby would go to trial and put them in
perjury-jeopardy by having them testify.
In short, this case is not going to court. As I see it, Libby has two
1. Libby cops a plea to one of the charges, and no trial takes place.
2. Bush pardons Libby "pre-emptively" before a trial begins. (Remember that
Bush's father pre-emptively pardoned Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger
before he even was charged, thus protecting Bush Sr.'s own liability in the
Iran-Contra scandal. Like father like son?)
I suppose Libby could decide to go to trial; he falls on the sword and takes
the sole blame, and every other endangered Administration witness called
takes the Fifth. Bush then pardons Libby. But in all three instances, we
find out little or nothing.
THE LARGER ISSUE OF THE WAR
Is Fitzgerald essentially closing up shop by charging only Libby, or could
there be more indictments to come?
Fitzgerald, without giving anything away, said that if he needed to employ a
grand jury for future indictments, he would do so. But he gave no indication
in his press conference that he had anything major working. (But, earlier,
he apparently told Rove that though he would not be indicted on Friday, the
investigation is still open. Who knows, maybe he just wants to keep Rove in
legal, and emotional, limbo while he finishes off the case.)
Any hope that Fitzgerald's probe would somehow touch openly on
Administration manipulation of lies to take the country to war in Iraq was
quashed by the Special Counsel at his news conference. He made it plain that
his investigation would not go there, even though the "context," as
Fitzgerald put it, certainly involved the Administration's selling of that
war. But there was no mention by the Special Counsel of the role of the
White House Iraq Group in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson;
Libby and Rove were key members of that group.
As is clear, Libby's actions are inextricably linked to the struggle to
promote the attack on Iraq; after all, Ambassador Joseph Wilson's opposition
to the war, which set off the Administrations' anger, involved the Bush
cabal's lies about alleged Iraqi nuclear activity.
THE FOCUS IS VERY NARROW
Instead of looking wide and deep, Fitzgerald chose to focus very narrowly on
provable facts relating only to this minute aspect of the coverup. The fact
that Libby, a key principal to the events, chose to lie meant that the
federal probers could not get a good handle on the motivations behind the
outing of Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald made plain that he wasn't about to touch
the third-rail issue of the war-lies; it will be up to those who feel
strongly about the war issue to tie all the threads together and make that
(Even though we know that Fitzgerald was interested in the original forged
Niger documents alleging an active Iraqi nuclear-program -- the reason why
Joe Wilson was sent to Africa in the first place to check out that story --
the Special Counsel gave no indication that his investigators would continue
to delve into that explosive issue, even though the forged-documents scandal
is breaking open right now in Italy.)
But in a way, though the Special Counsel's narrow focus was disappointing,
the full indictment, with all the detailed facts about Libby's bullshit
cover story, opens up a window through which we can glimpse the moral
cesspool that was (and is) the Bush Administration in its dealings then and
now with regard to the Iraq War.
Even if Rove and Cheney and Bush escape indictment, their credibility is in
tatters, their power diminished, their focus scattered. But, and this is a
very big but, Bush&Co. still hold the reins of power and can do, and are
prepared to do, a great deal of damage in their weakened, cornered state.
In short, the Administration has been bloodied badly, but not fatally
wounded. An indictment of Rove probably would have been extremely helpful in
delivering that coup de grace, but, for whatever reason, Fitzgerald didn't,
or couldn't, go there, and Libby looks like the designated scapegoat.
If the Congress were to establish serious and high-level investigations of
the entire Plame affair, or if the House were to pass an impeachment
resolution -- thus putting Administration officials under oath during
depositions -- that would be the beginning of the end of Bush&Co. power. But
that's not about to happen right now in a GOP-ruled Congress, and
Bush/Rove/Cheney, no matter how suspect and politically-damaged, still rule
from the White House. That's important to keep in mind in the next weeks and
GOP SPIN-POINTS AGAINST INDICTMENT
The GOP spin against Fitzgerald started even before the Libby indictment was
revealed. In the main, it's designed to make light of the charges (none for
the leak itself in espionage terms, rather only about "minor" matters like
lying and perjury), and to question Fitzgerald's "partisan" motives. (Of
course, when Clinton was in the dock, lying and perjury were extremely grave
matters to GOP leaders, anything but "minor.")
I thought Fitzgerald handled those charges rather deftly in his news
conference, saying he has no party affiliation, that he was given his
authority by Bush's Justice Department, and that lies and perjury concerning
national-security matters are not "minor" but go to the heart of protecting
the lives and cover of our spies and those with whom they come into contact.
By sticking only to the facts of this one indictment and refusing to engage
in surmise outside that narrow purview (and by having no leaks emerging from
his prosecutorial team, unlike Kenneth Starr's politically-charged probe of
Clinton), Fitzgerald gave rightwing critics little on which to hang their
denunciations of his investigation.
THE REAL SCANDAL IS THE WAR
I'm as consumed as the rest of you with the Libby indictment, and whether
other shoes will drop. But the broader scandal right now is not which
official lied to government investigators, but the war itself. Hundreds and
thousands are continuing to die because of Bush neo-con lies and deceptions
that took us to war in Iraq, and yet and still, with the Republicans in
charge of the Congress, there are no official investigations there of how
Americans were bamboozled into attacking Iraq.
Remember that Republican Sen. Pat Roberts promised before the election that
his Intelligence Committee would investigate how the White House used and
perhaps abused the intelligence to take the country to war, but, after Bush
was declared the winner, Roberts said there was now no reason to hold such a
probe, even after the bombshell revelations of the Downing Street Memos and
other proofs of Bush Administration duplicity and war-crimes.
That's the real scandal and the real danger when one party controls the
three branches of government, plus the mainstream media. Congressional
oversight is effectively abandoned, and the timid Democrats, seemingly
unfamiliar with the concept of "opposition party," barely make any
significant noise. The Democrats, most of whom voted for the war and
continue to fund it, are essentially silent.
In addition, there is the other major scandal that basically has been swept
under the rug: the shoddy election and electronic vote-counting system we
have in this country that appears to have resulted in manipulated election
results in 2004. Again, the Democrats are basically silent, therefore the
Republicans need do nothing to find out what happened and how to prevent
such electoral corruption in the future. (And why should they want to find
out? They benefit from the easily-manipulated system, which is run by
Republican-supporting e-voting companies.)
If the Libby indictment can serve as a wedge to get to these larger issues,
then the two-year-long Plamegate investigation may have borne good fruit.
But, since Fitzgerald isn't going to speak openly about what he found -- the
political and ideological slime and dirt he had to wade through over the
past two years -- it's up to us to get those facts out to the American
In short, the Libby indictment is a small victory for justice, and does some
damage to the power-mad Bush Administration, but if we truly want to get
this crew's reckless, dangerous policies out of the White House, the ball is
back in our court. No other way to say this: We've simply got to ratchet up
our efforts. Organize, organize, organize.
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