The Beltway Bandit

An online journal of politics, culture, and sports

Saturday, July 26, 2003

I'M BAD BUT THIS IS WORSE -- That might be the best strategy for Governor Gray Davis [D-CA] as he faces a recall election in October. Apparently, a significant chunk of California dislikes Governor Davis, but dislikes the recall vote even more.
As Gov. Gray Davis claws for political survival, heading into California's Oct. 7 recall election, he'll be counting on more than a few unlikely friends in the electorate — like David Savell.

Never mind that Savell, 25, is a Republican and no fan of Davis. To him, the governor is a career politician sadly lacking in scruples and charisma.

But the thought of unsheathing an electoral guillotine less than a year after Davis won reelection gives Savell qualms. Despite his distaste for the governor, Savell says, he will vote against the recall.

"Gray Davis doesn't have the right stuff to lead the world's fifth-largest economy," proclaimed Savell, a salesman at a Concord auto dealership. "But I'm someone who does not believe that recalling him will help fix the problems of the state."

Recent public opinion polls indicate that 20% to 30% of potential voters in the Oct. 7 election share those feelings — dislike for Davis coupled with distaste for the recall. They constitute a crucial bloc of voters in the strange political calculus of an unprecedented recall election.
Well, banking on that kind of "support" in the recall election won't be very dignified for Governor Davis, but he has not had a very dignified tenure in California. In this day and age I guess a Democrat's gotta do what a Democrat's gotta do.

A GREAT SHOW IS ENDING -- And I mourn its passing. To console yourself, go buy this and this. I did and it made me feel a bit better.

3 MORE U.S. DEAD IN IRAQ -- The killing goes on in Iraq--with no end in sight.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed guarding a children's hospital in Baqouba, northeast of Baghdad, and four were wounded in a grenade attack Saturday morning.

The deaths of the soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division brought to 161 the number of troops killed in action in Iraq since the start of the war, 14 more than in the 1991 Gulf War.
...
There had been a number of explosions and bursts of gunfire in the city throughout the day, but no reports of soldiers injured or killed. Guerrilla-style attacks on American forces have been averaging 12 a day, according to the military.
So far, the attacks have grown more deadly not less, since Uday and Qusay were killed in a fire fight with the 101st Airborne on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the general security situation in Iraq is getting worse, not better.
Baghdadis have complained that kidnappings, car thefts and carjackings are getting worse in the city, which is patrolled by Iraqi police, many carrying sidearms. There are about 60 police stations.
How is James Baker, the Bush family lawyer/troubleshooter going to solve this one?

TEXAS REDISTRICTING DEAD -- For now. It seems the Texas GOP and Rep. Tom DeLay [R-Hell] have given up on their virtually unprecedented plan to redistrict Texas to obtain more Republican seats in the House of Representatives.
"In essence, redistricting in this session is dead," Mr. Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, said. "We will continue to do everything we can to bring everyone together."
...
A bloc of 11 Democrats and one Republican has prevented the bill from coming up for debate in the Texas Senate. Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, will call a second special legislative session on the issue probably "sooner than later," Mr. Dewhurst said.
In other words, the GOP has delayed their coup against democracy, not given it up.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO... -- What four little words have gone missing from Mr Bush's speeches in the last few days?
Weapons of mass destruction have proven hard to find in Iraq and now they've disappeared from President Bush's speeches.

A reliable staple of past addresses, the four words did not cross his lips during two public appearances in Pennsylvania and Michigan on Thursday. Nor did Bush use the phrase on Wednesday in a formal update for Americans on the progress U.S. forces have made in Iraq that he delivered from the White House Rose Garden.
Oh, those four little words!

Thursday, July 24, 2003

REPORT: NO IRAQ/AL QAEDA LINK -- To the surprise of absolutely no one, the recently-released report on the 9/11 attacks reveals there is no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for the murder of over 3000 Americans in a single day.
The report of the joint congressional inquiry into the suicide hijackings on Sept. 11, 2001, to be published Thursday, reveals U.S. intelligence had no evidence that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks, or that it had supported al-Qaida, United Press International has learned.

"The report shows there is no link between Iraq and al-Qaida," said a government official who has seen the report.

Former Democratic Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, who was a member of the joint congressional committee that produced the report, confirmed the official's statement.

Asked whether he believed the report will reveal that there was no connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, Cleland replied: "I do ... There's no connection, and that's been confirmed by some of (al-Qaida leader Osama) bin Laden's terrorist followers."

The revelation is likely to embarrass the Bush administration, which made links between Saddam's support for bin Laden -- and the attendant possibility that Iraq might supply al-Qaida with weapons of mass destruction -- a major plank of its case for war.

"The administration sold the connection (between Iraq and al-Qaida) to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war," said Cleland. "What you've seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends."
Every Democrat with a spine must speak up loudly, publicly, and repeatedly about the shameful political manipulation of intelligence and outright lies the Bush regime has committed. Those Democrats without a spine should report to the National Institutes of Health and volunteer for a battery of risky medical experiments.

CIA TORPEDOES THE NSC -- The Nelson Report has some interesting tidbits today. Read on...

9. Until or unless the President steps in to provide leadership, the long-awaited showdown between the "neoconservatives" and the "pragmatists" will soon reach crisis proportions…this, due to CIA director George Tenet's extraordinary decision to name the President's staffers responsible for misleading, or false, pre-Iraq war intel, Administration sources confirm today.

-- and the war has just begun, intelligence community sources warn. The Iraq/Niger debacle is but one of "a whole series of stories which are ready to break", a source told us today, adding, "I've never seen such hostility and disdain as now being expressed between the White House and the CIA. Never…"
10. As we reported on July 17, Tenet's lengthy, closed Capitol Hill testimony "outed" not just NSC non-proliferation staffer Bob Joseph, but also Deputy National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, and, by implication, Condi Rice, and Vice President Cheney, if not Bush himself.

-- yesterday, Hadley performed a virtual repeat of Tenet's highly qualified "taking responsibility" pose by making it clear that if he has to take a fall, then Ms. Rice needs to explain why she didn't read the memos he gave her.

11. As one Administration source put it, privately, today: "Between Tenet and Hadley, Condi now has the choice of saying she's a fool, or a liar…if not both. Bottom line is she failed to protect the President…look at all this lame stuff about him not being a 'fact checker'. It's just incredible."

-- even before last week, a source close to the White House told us, "the President now sees that he's exposed on the intel problems. And he now sees who's been manipulating him, and he's not happy about it. No president likes to be embarrassed, but this stuff goes to the heart of all the reservations, pre-9/11, about his intelligence, his attention span, and his interest in foreign affairs."

12. Three weeks ago, this source speculated that it would be "difficult" for Bush to fire the senior officials responsible, for obvious reasons, since they would include Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Rice, at a minimum, and that Tenet seemingly had so ingratiated himself at the personal level, he could escape punishment.
-- today, while no one wanted to speculate about Rummy and Cheney, in the absence of new disclosures, disparate Administration sources confirm that it is "generally accepted" that Tenet will be fired from the CIA, if only because of what he started last week.

13. Where this gets really interesting is the apparent response of neoconservatives: just prior to Hadley's self-destruction yesterday, a source reported talk of trying to replace Tenet with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; replacing Wolfowitz with Hadley; and moving Bob Blackwill immediately up to Deputy NSC advisor…even though Blackwill is not a neo-con.

-- parenthetically, sources explain that for neo-cons, Blackwill enjoys the considerable virtue of loathing, and being loathed by, the "leaders" of the pragmatists, Secretary of State Powell, and Deputy Secretary Armitage. State sources say Blackwill was "fired" as Ambassador to India, due to his management of the Embassy, and how he worked with Armitage in various India/Pakistan crises.
Well well well. 'The Iraq/Niger debacle is but one of "a whole series of stories which are ready to break", a source told us today'? I can't wait.

3 MORE DEAD G.I.s IN IRAQ -- Soldiers from the 101st Airborne were ambushed by Iraqi guerrillas in northern Iraq and three U.S. servicemen were killed by rocket-propelled grenades.
Since President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, 42 U.S. troops have died from hostile fire, including Thursday's fatalities. Another 57 have died in accidents and what the Pentagon calls "nonhostile" incidents.
Drip drip drip.

9/11 REPORT FULL OF HOLES -- Although the official report on the 9/11/01 catastrophe is released today and condemns the U.S. intelligence community for missing obvious clues and reacting slowly to information, one person in a position to know believes the most important facts are still under lock and key:
Sen. Bob Graham (news, bio, voting record), D-Fla., asked if he thought the Sept. 11 attacks could have been prevented, said on CBS' "The Early Show" he thought the answer "is probably yes. The most significant set of events, in my opinion, are in the section of the report that has been censored and therefore won't be available to the American people."
Only when all the relevant information has been released will the public truly know everything that went wrong--and why it went wrong--in the months leading up to that murderous attack.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

ATTACK RALPH NADER...NOW! -- Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect has a suggestion guaranteed to warm the hearts and fire the spirits of any true liberal: Democrats should ferociously attack Ralph Nader now.
I kept noticing in 2000 that most of the people who lectured me on how corrupt Gore was and how Nader was the courageous choice were people for whom the outcome of the election, on a personal level, didn't really matter. Some were young people, whose idealism is to be admired but who were by and large demographically insulated from some of the harsher realities of American life. But most were older, white, left bourgeoisie, tenured and cocooned in the carapace of self-righteous satisfaction, whose own lives wouldn't change much one way or the other no matter which party won. In fact, if anything, Bush's elevation was good for them personally, because they wouldn't suffer directly from federal budget cuts and were probably in a bracket that benefited from his tax cuts (as was I, but at least I had the sense to vote against my own interests). Among people who were directly affected by which candidate won, Nader was seen as the ornament of frippery that he was. I promise you, you could not have gone to the corner of Lenox Avenue and 145th Street in October of 2000 and found four Nader voters. And at that intersection and the many others in America like it, by my lights, the moral case for Nader crumbles to dust.

So here's a thought for an enterprising Democratic candidate: Attack Nader right now, and with lupine ferocity. Say he's a madman for thinking of running again. Blast him especially hard on foreign policy, saying that if it were up to the Greens, America would give no aid to Israel and it would cease to exist, and if it were up to the Greens, America would not have even defended itself against a barbarous attack by going into Afghanistan. Have at him, and hard, from the right. Then nail him from the left on certain social issues, on abortion rights and other things that he's often pooh-poohed and dismissed as irrelevant. Cause an uproar. Be dramatic. Don't balance it with praise about what he's done for consumers. To the contrary, talk about how much he's damaging consumers today by not caring who's in charge of the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Communications Commission.

This would be, for some clever Democrat, the defining Sister Souljah moment of this campaign. Except times 50, because Sister Souljah was a second-tier rapper no one had heard of and Ralph Nader is one of the most famous Americans of the last half-century. Anyone who did this would automatically look tough. The candidates are running around now saying things like, "I'll be as tough as Bush." Well, you can say that 7,000 times and it doesn't matter. You have to do something to show people you're tough. That's the only way a message like that is delivered in a campaign. Then, people will look at what you've done and say, "Hey, that guy's pretty tough."
Amen, brother. Any Democratic candidate with the stones to do that will have earned my respect, that's for sure. In truth, the Dems have little to fear from Mr Nader, who is bent on destroying the Democratic party anyway. The man has made himself an enemy of liberalism. It's long past time liberals starting fighting back.

SPEAKING FOR A SHAMELESS SCOUNDREL -- Is Scott McClellan, White House spokesman. The subject is an illegal White House leak to right-wing columnist Robert Novak that revealed the secret identity of a CIA agent--who just happens to be the wife of Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, a key critic of Mr Bush's lies about Iraqi WMD.
Q. The Robert Novak column last week identified the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson as a CIA operative who was working on WMD issues. Novak said that identification is based on information given to him by two administration sources. That column has now given rise to accusations that the administration deliberatively blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative, and in so doing, violated a federal law that prohibits revealing the identity of undercover CIA operatives. Can you respond to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you for bringing that up. That is not the way this President or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. And, certainly, no one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step.

Q. So you're saying --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying that that is not the way that this President or this White House operates, and I've seen no evidence to suggest there's any truth to it.

Q. Are you saying Novak was wrong in saying that it was two administration sources who were the source for --

MR. McCLELLAN: I have no idea who "anonymous" is. I often wish --

Q. It's not anonymous. He says senior administration officials.

MR. McCLELLAN: That would be anonymous.

Q. Well, that would be senior administration --

Q. Like the guy who briefed us last week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Whether it's anonymous senior administration officials or just anonymous sources, it's still anonymous.

Q. Is Novak lying? Do you think he's making it up?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you our position. I'll let the columnist speak for himself.

Q. You're saying, flatly, it did not happen, nobody --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you, flatly, that that is not the way this White House operates. I've seen no evidence to suggest that there's any truth to that.

Q. That's different from saying it didn't happen. Are you saying, absolutely, it did not happen?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying no one was certainly given any authority to do anything of that nature. And I've seen no evidence to suggest there's any truth to it. I want to make it very clear, that is simply not the way this White House operates.

Q. If it turns out that somebody in the administration did do that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not even going to speculate about it, because I have no knowledge of any truth to that report.

Q. What's the extent of your knowledge? Don't you want to get some more facts? I mean, how do you know that no one in the administration -- Robert Novak has been around for a long --

MR. McCLELLAN: If I could go find "anonymous," Terry, I would.

Q. Does the President support a criminal investigation --

MR. McCLELLAN: Did you have something?

Q. Can I follow on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, Richard.

Q. I'm not following.

MR. McCLELLAN: You answer his question and -- (laughter.)
I think all that speaks for itself, but we haven't heard the last of this, I hope.

SO MUCH FOR THAT THEORY -- If the belief was that the death of Uday and Qusay Hussein would bring a halt to the deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq, that belief should now be shattered. Two more American soldiers died in attacks today and another nine were wounded. A British soldier died during a training exercise. The beat goes on.

YES, IT'S LADIES NIGHT -- But the feeling ain't quite right. The Mayor of a town in Andalusia is banning men from being out and about on Thursday nights from October onward. Why? To "encourage" them to help with chores at home. Defiance of the curfew will result in a five-euro fine.
"Who does the mayor think he is to fine me if I go to a bar?. I'll go to a bar on Thursday, and if they fine me I'll pay it...but we'll be seeing each other in court," resident Jose Damas told state television.
Fight the power, hombre!

WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? -- A direct mail campaign from the right-wing religious group Traditional Values Coalition has been making waves recently with its subject matter. Abortion? Nope. Human cloning? Nope. Gay rights? Nope. The importation of cheaper U.S. made pharmaceuticals from Canada and Europe? Yes.

However, there is much more to this than meets the eye. Why, you might ask, would the Traditional Values Coalition, which normally concerns itself with things like gay rights and sex on television, concern itself in the high-stakes battle over making healthcare more affordable in the United States by importing drugs from other countries? Well, the truth is somewhat more complicated. It seems the pharmaceutical industry is behind this, using the Traditional Values Coalition as a cover so the campaign does not look like what it is: A rich special interest lobby trying to frustrate the common good for the purpose of fattening its profits.
The Traditional Values Coalition, which bills itself as a Christian advocacy group representing 43,000 churches, has mailed to the districts of several conservative House Republicans this sharply disputed warning: Legislation to allow the importation of U.S.-made pharmaceuticals from Canada and Europe might make RU-486, called the "abortion pill," as easy to get as aspirin.

The Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) portrays its campaign as a moral fight for the "sanctity of life." Documents provided to The Washington Post, however, show that drug lobbyists played a key role in crafting its argument and in disseminating the information to lawmakers. Pharmaceutical companies oppose the legislation -- which would legalize the reimportation of U.S.-made prescription drugs that sell for less in Canada than in the United States -- not over abortion but because it would erode their profits.

The bill, likely to be voted on this week, is popular with many lawmakers seeking to reduce the cost of medicine for older Americans without relying on government subsidies. Opponents say it would open the door to unsafe and less regulated drugs and drain profits that companies use, in part, to research and develop new medicines.

A recent TVC letter sent to Congress was signed by the coalition's executive director, Andrea Sheldon Lafferty. It was originally drafted, however, by Tony Rudy, a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies and a former top aide to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), computer records show. Lafferty also circulated a memo -- linking the legislation to RU-486's availability -- that was drafted by Bruce Kuhlik, a senior vice president at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group funded by the nation's biggest pharmaceutical firms.

A Republican close to TVC said Rudy also helped arrange funding for the group's direct-mail campaign, which targeted nearly two dozen Republicans even though they generally oppose abortion rights. Several Republicans said pharmaceutical companies, through their lobbyists, contacted other conservative groups, including the Christian Coalition, about waging a similar campaign against the reimportation measure. The Traditional Values Coalition was the only taker because several abortion opponents questioned the accuracy of the drug industry's argument, according to lawmakers and conservative activists.

PhRMA, one of Washington's most influential lobbying groups, has long paid other organizations -- often those with friendly-sounding names such as the United Seniors Association -- to promote legislation favored by Pfizer Inc., Eli Lilly and Co. and other leading drugmakers. The idea is to make the campaigns appear driven by seniors, who spend the most on medicines, or, in this case, Christian activists. Government watchdog groups say such campaigns, which generally do not have to disclose their financing, are deceptive and misleading. In the legislative fight over imported drugs, the United Seniors Association is warning lawmakers and voters of the "dangers of imported drugs."
Apparently, this blatant deception and under-handedness was so outrageous that even Congressional Republicans--including social conservatives--have loudly objected to the tactics of the pharmaceutical lobby and the Traditional Values Coalition.
House Republicans were so offended by the mailings that they recently barred the TVC and its leader, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, from attending future meetings of the Values Action Team, an umbrella group of socially conservative Republicans. "We stand united in opposition to the unethical and unacceptable tactics you have employed to force pro-life members of Congress to support your views," Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-Pa.) said in a letter to Sheldon.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), an abortion opponent who was targeted by the TVC mailings, said in an interview: "It makes me so angry I could spit."
Meanwhile, the odious Tom DeLay [R-TX], who appears to be a figure in this--and virtually every--sad chapter of gross cynicism on Capitol Hill, is vowing to defeat the measure to allow cheaper pharmaceuticals to be imported into the U.S. Hopefully, Mr DeLay and his allies have finally overplayed their hand.

THE WAR TRAP -- Harold Meyerson, one of the few true liberals left on The Washington Post's op-ed page has a thoughtful column today about what the Iraq War has done to the Democratic party--especially its presidential politics.
Dick Gephardt deserves Howard Dean. In a sense, he created him.

If anyone has personified the failure of the Democratic establishment to provide the party with a distinct profile during the Bush presidency, it's Gephardt. As House Democratic leader, Gephardt clung to Bush's Iraq policy until it all but unraveled over the past month. Gephardt's endorsement last fall of the administration's war resolution effectively derailed a bipartisan effort in the Senate to require the White House to win more international backing.

There was supposedly a method in this madness: By taking the war issue off the table, Gephardt argued, the Democrats could turn the midterm election campaign to questions of domestic policy, presumably their strong suit. We'll never know if this could have worked, because Gephardt and his fellow congressional leaders never developed a domestic message.

To millions of die-hard Democrats, it looked as if their party had sacrificed its principles on the altar of pragmatism and then had nothing pragmatic to offer. Neither conscience nor opportunism was given its due, and the rank-and-file was mightily indignant.
Go read all of it.

OKAY, OKAY. THE TRUTH IS... -- The White House's latest story about Mr Bush's lies in his 2003 State of the Union address regarding WMD is that Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley is to blame. Got that? Originally, it was no one's fault. Then it was CIA Director George Tenet's fault. Now it is Mr Hadley's fault.
He said he had failed to recall the CIA objections, which were included in two memos and a telephone conversation with Tenet in the days before Bush outlined his case against Iraq in an Oct. 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati.

Hadley said the CIA memos which had been sent to him were found over the weekend. White House officials had previously said they had not been informed of CIA doubts over the claim. Tenet last week acknowledged that his agency had cleared the State of the Union speech and should have removed the claim.
Hmmm. I see. Missing memos. Hillary Clinton was blistered in the press for missing memos which, in her case, turned out to be harmless. Let's see if the media shows similar ferocity in dealing with Mr Hadley and his missing memos. [Don't laugh, I suppose it could happen.]

Of course, left unexplained by all this is why Mr Hadley would be responsible for vetting such matters in Mr Bush's speech. Are we really expected to believe that Mr Hadley and not his boss, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, is responsible for ensuring the veracity of what Mr Bush says about intelligence matters in the State of the Union address? This story is less believable than the one blaming Mr Tenet--it doesn't even pass the smell test.

This won't let up. The more the White House changes the story, the more demands will grow that the actual truth come out. That's just the outcome Mr Bush and his handlers seem determined to avoid.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

FIRE IN THE EIFFEL TOWER SUMMIT -- But it has now been extinguished.
The best-known monument in Europe, the iron-laced Eiffel Tower has had more than 200 million visitors since it opened at the Paris Exhibition in 1889. It draws 6 million visitors a year, making it the world's most popular paying tourist attraction.
Thankfully, there were no reports of injuries. Let's hope the brightest flame in the City of Light is good as new very soon.

U.S. FIASCO IN SYRIA KILLS CIVILIANS -- The estimable Seymour Hersh has another great article in The New Yorker. This one is called The Syrian Bet and details how Syria has helped and tried to help the U.S. roll up Al Qaeda after September 11, 2001 by providing important intelligence about the group. Unfortunately, the Bush regime has gone out of its way to antagonize the Syrians, leading to the loss of an important source in the war on terror.
On the night of June 18th, Task Force 20, an American Special Operations team stationed in Iraq, expanded its operations dozens of miles inside Syria. Military intelligence had observed large numbers of cars and trucks speeding toward the border, and senior officers suspected that the vehicles were carrying fleeing members of the Iraqi leadership. Communications intercepts had indicated that there were more Syrian soldiers congregated along the border than usual, including some officers. The military concluded, according to a senior Administration official, that “something down there was going on.” Two days earlier, one of Saddam Hussein’s closest aides, Abid Hamid Mahmud, had been captured, and told his interrogators that he and Saddam’s two sons had sought refuge in Syria but were turned back. Although the Syrian government denied knowledge of the brothers’ whereabouts, the military was now ready to cross the border to stop any future flight attempts.

Sometime after midnight, Army helicopters and Bradley Fighting Vehicles attacked two groups of cars heading into Syria, triggering enormous explosions and fireballs that lit up the night sky. A gas station and nearby homes were destroyed. Task Force 20 sped across the border into Syria. Five Syrian guards were injured and flown to Iraq in American helicopters for medical treatment, and several other Syrians were seized, handcuffed, and detained before being released.

Pentagon officials subsequently praised the nighttime mission. “I’m confident we had very good intelligence,” Air Force General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference on June 24th. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters, “There were reasons, good reasons, to believe that the vehicles that were violating the curfew that existed in that area were doing it for reasons other than normal commerce.” Asked if he believed that senior Iraqi leaders had been killed in the raid, Rumsfeld said, “We’re trying to find out.”

In fact, according to current and former American military and diplomatic officials, the operation was a fiasco in which as many as eighty people—occupants of the cars and trucks as well as civilians living nearby—were killed. The vehicles, it turned out, were being used to smuggle gasoline. The Syrian government said little publicly about the violation of its sovereignty, even when the Pentagon delayed the repatriation of the injured Syrian border guards—reporters were told that the guards had not been fully interrogated—for ten days.
The Syrians had been cooperating with the U.S. against Al Qaeda, including giving the Bush regime information about terror operations that probably saved hundreds of American lives. Nevertheless, neocon hardliners in the Pentagon [that means Mr Rumsfeld, Mr Wolfowitz, and Mr Feith] and the administration [that probably means Mr Cheney] opposed any cooperation with Syria on ideological grounds and an opportunity to pursue a diplomatic opening with Syria has been squandered.
In Washington, there was anger about what many officials saw as the decision of the Bush Administration to choose confrontation with Syria over day-to-day help against Al Qaeda. In a sense, the issue was not so much Syria itself as a competition between ideology and practicality—and between the drive to go to war in Iraq and the need to fight terrorism—which has created a deep rift in the Bush Administration. The collapse of the liaison relationship has left many C.I.A. operatives especially frustrated. “The guys are unbelievably pissed that we’re blowing this away,” a former high-level intelligence official told me. “There was a great channel at Aleppo. The Syrians were a lot more willing to help us, but they”—Rumsfeld and his colleagues—“want to go in there next.”

“There is no security relationship now,” a Syrian foreign-ministry official told me. “It saddens us as much as it saddens you. We could give you information on organizations that we don’t think should exist. If we help you on Al Qaeda, we are helping ourselves.” He added, almost plaintively, that if Washington had agreed to discuss certain key issues in a back channel, “we’d have given you more. But when you publicly try to humiliate a country it’ll become stubborn.”

Robert Baer, a retired C.I.A. officer who served in Syria and is the author of a new book, “Sleeping with the Devil,” on Washington’s relationship with the Saudis, agreed that the Syrians had more to offer. “The Syrians know that the Saudis were involved in the financing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and they for sure know the names,” Baer told me.

“Up through January of 2003, the coöperation was topnotch,” a former State Department official said. “Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the Administration got heavy- handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.”

Differences over Iraq “destroyed the Syrian bet,” said Ghassan Salamé, a professor of international relations at Paris University who served, until April, as Lebanon’s minister of culture. “They bet that they could somehow find the common ground with America. They bet all on coöperation with America.” A Defense Department official who has been involved in Iraq policy told me that the Syrians, despite their differences with Washington, had kept Hezbollah quiet during the war in Iraq. This was, he said, “a signal to us, and we’re throwing it away. The Syrians are trying to communicate, and we’re not listening.”
This is yet another diplomatic failure in an administration marked by such failures. The Bush regime simply won't cooperate with anyone that refuses to offer complete subservience. That is cooperation as far as the Bush regime is concerned: complete subservience. The loss of our access to Syria's trove of Middle East intelligence is a serious blow against us in the war on terror.

GOPers WORRIED ABOUT BUSH -- No link for this Associated Press story because I got it off Fleet Street, not the Internet, but consider this sizable section of the story:
For the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, rank-and-file Republicans say they are worried about President Bush's re-election chances based on the feeble economy, the rising death toll in Iraq and questions about his credibility.

"Of course it alarms me to see his poll figures below the safe margins,'' said Ruth Griffin, co-chair of Bush's 2000 campaign steering committee in New Hampshire. ``If he isn't concerned, and we strong believers in the Bush administration aren't concerned, we must have blinders on.''

The worries emerged as Griffin and nearly two dozen other GOP stalwarts were interviewed by The Associated Press in advance of the Republican National Committee's meeting this week in New York, site of the 2004 GOP presidential convention and the starting point of Bush's wartime surge in popularity.

Bush's poll ratings skyrocketed after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center as he led the nation in mourning and then to war with blunt talk and a confidence that soothed an anxious nation.

Polls show that about six of every 10 Americans still approve of the way he's doing his job, a solid rating that Republicans say will overcome Bush's current problems and carry him to re-election.

But the president has seen a drop in other early warning indicators, including the number of people expressing confidence in his credibility and leadership along with his handling of the economy and postwar Iraq.

A recent CNN-Time poll found that 47 percent view Bush as a leader they can trust, down from 56 percent in March. A thin majority of voters said they harbor doubts about his leadership.

Some Republicans say they fear the drop is the result of Democrats harping on 16 words in Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address in which he cited a British report suggesting that Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa for a nuclear weapons program.

The claim has been challenged by U.S. intelligence officials. Top-level White House aides have said the words should not have been in the speech; Bush said the phrase had been cleared by CIA director George Tenet.

Several GOP backers said they were surprised that Bush didn't shoulder any blame himself, appealing to voters who consider him a straight-shooting leader and tend to support him even when they disagree with his policies.

``For the first time he's waffled a little bit on the Niger-uranium story,'' said former Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt of Arkansas, a member of the 165-person RNC. ``They didn't confront that totally. They let Tenet take the bullet.''

``I'm not sure they've totally gotten their act together,'' Hammerschmidt said.
If even RNC members are now willing to publicly admit they are concerned about Mr Bush and his electability in 2004, how much longer can the elite media tell us he is invulnerable?

10 QUESTIONS FOR DICK CHENEY -- House Democrats have 10 questions for Dick Cheney. Here's the first:
According to The Washington Post, June 5, 2003, you made "multiple" "unusual" visits to CIA to meet directly with Iraq analysts. The Post reported: "Vice President Cheney and his most senior aide made multiple trips to the CIA over the past year to question analysts studying Iraq's weapons programs."

These visits were unprecedented. Normally, Vice Presidents, yourself included, receive regular briefings from CIA in your office and have a CIA officer on permanent detail. In other words, there is no reason for the Vice President to make personal visits to CIA analysts.

According to the Post, your unprecedented visits created "an environment in which some analysts felt they were being pressured to make their assessments fit with the Bush administration's policy objectives."

Questions:

1) How many visits did you and your chief of staff make to CIA to meet directly with CIA analysts working on Iraq?
2) What was the purpose of each of these visits?
3) Did you or a member of your staff at any time direct or encourage CIA analysts to disseminate unreliable intelligence?
4) Did you or a member of your staff at any time request or demand rewriting of intelligence assessments concerning the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Go read all of them.

APPROPOS OF NOTHING -- This is a funny column in the Toronto Star. Read it.

TWO WHITE HOUSE OFFICIALS SHOULD BE IN JAIL -- The White House campaign to intimidate those who have revealed the Bush regime's lies about Iraq WMD has reached a new and very illegal low.
The identity of an undercover CIA officer whose husband started the Iraq uranium intelligence controversy has been publicly revealed by a conservative Washington columnist citing "two senior administration officials."

Intelligence officials confirmed to Newsday yesterday that Valerie Plame, wife of retired Ambassador Joseph Wilson, works at the agency on weapons of mass destruction issues in an undercover capacity - at least she was undercover until last week when she was named by columnist Robert Novak.

Wilson, while refusing to confirm his wife's employment, said the release to the press of her relationship to him and even her maiden name was an attempt to intimidate others like him from talking about Bush administration intelligence failures.

"It's a shot across the bow to these people, that if you talk we'll take your family and drag them through the mud as well," he said in an interview.

It was Wilson who started the controversy that has engulfed the Bush administration by writing in the New York Times two weeks ago that he had traveled to Niger last year at the request of the CIA to investigate reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium there. Though he told the CIA and the State Department there was no basis to the report, the allegation was used anyway by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union speech in January.

Wilson and a retired CIA official said yesterday that the "senior administration officials" who named Plame had, if their description of her employment was accurate, violated the law and may have endangered her career and possibly the lives of her contacts in foreign countries. Plame could not be reached for comment.

"When it gets to the point of an administration official acting to do career damage, and possibly actually endanger someone, that's mean, that's petty, it's irresponsible, and it ought to be sanctioned," said Frank Anderson, former CIA Near East Division chief.

A current intelligence official said that blowing the cover of an undercover officer could affect the officer's future assignments and put them and everyone they dealt with overseas in the past at risk.

"If what the two senior administration officials said is true," Wilson said, "they will have compromised an entire career of networks, relationships and operations." What's more, it would mean that "this White House has taken an asset out of the" weapons of mass destruction fight, "not to mention putting at risk any contacts she might have had where the services are hostile."

Deputy White House Press Secretary Claire Buchan referred questions to a National Security Council spokesman who did not return phone calls last night.

"This might be seen as a smear on me and my reputation," Wilson said, "but what it really is is an attempt to keep anybody else from coming forward" to reveal similar intelligence lapses.

Novak, in an interview, said his sources had come to him with the information. "I didn't dig it out, it was given to me," he said. "They thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it."

Wilson and others said such a disclosure would be a violation of the law by the officials, not the columnist.
This is an outrage. Revealing the name of an undercover CIA operative is not only deeply immoral and unpatriotic, it is, as noted above, a felony. Democrats in Congress should make it clear that there must be a full and official investigation of this deplorable act. Those responsible must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

SADDAM'S SONS LIKELY DEAD -- U.S. officials are now saying they are "reasonably certain" that Saddam Hussein's two sons, Uday and Qusay, died today in a fierce gun battle inside a house in Mosul, Iraq.

KRUGMAN ON FIRE -- No, that's not an announcement that Mr Bush's fondest dream has come true. What I mean is that Paul Krugman is smoking with his latest NY Times column "Who's Unpatriotic Now?"Mr Krugman notes that
in the last few days a series of hawkish pundits have accused those who ask such questions of aiding the enemy. Here's Frank Gaffney Jr. in The National Post: "Somewhere, probably in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is gloating. He can only be gratified by the feeding frenzy of recriminations, second-guessing and political power plays. . . . Signs of declining popular appreciation of the legitimacy and necessity of the efforts of America's armed forces will erode their morale. Similarly, the enemy will be encouraged."

Well, if we're going to talk about aiding the enemy: By cooking intelligence to promote a war that wasn't urgent, the administration has squandered our military strength. This provides a lot of aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden — who really did attack America — and Kim Jong Il — who really is building nukes.
Mr Krugman has been writing this sort of thing about Mr Bush for a couple of years now and has been dismissed by much of the elite punditocracy as a 'shrill' Bush-hater. Perhaps he is. But he's also correct and more and more people are finding it difficult to deny it.

MONEY SITUATION ISN'T SO BAD -- That's the opinion of Mary Lynn F. Jones of The American Prospect and The Hill, who writes that Democrats are in better position to challenge Mr Bush's money machine than most people think.
There's no doubt that Bush's handlers are happy with the president's take. But Bush has reason to be worried. The Democrats' totaled almost $31 million, and while it's spread out among the different candidates now, when the party chooses a nominee, he or she will have a good fund-raising base to tap into. Republicans also traditionally raise more than Democrats, so Bush's lead -- considering that he is a popular incumbent president -- isn't as daunting as it might seem.
Let's hope Ms Jones is correct. Money isn't everything, of course. Former Senator Phil Gramm [R-TX] boasted of his ready munny before the 1996 GOP primaries, but once actual human began voting, his candidacy died almost immediately. Mr Bush outspent Vice President Gore by $65 million in 2000 and still lost the popular vote. Nevertheless, Democrats cannot allow Mr Bush to drown their candidate in a blizzard of negative television ads, ending the race before it has begun. If Ms Jones is correct that the Democratic candidate will be able to compete with Mr Bush in 2004, a win becomes much more likely. But how badly will the Dems be outspent in the Congressional elections?

ARAB-AMERICANS ABANDON BUSH -- Mr Bush, who solidly won the Arab-American vote in 2000 isn't likely to do so well this time, according to a new Zogby poll. Why is this important? Well, Arab-Americans forma key voting bloc in Michigan, an important battleground state rich in delegates. If the Democratic candidate is more or less assured of winning the Arab-American vote, Michigan becomes an almost sure thing for the good guys on voting day.
“The mere 33.5% of Arab Americans who indicate support for the President’s reelection effort represent a significant drop in Arab American support for Bush who, in November 2000, beat Democrat Al Gore by a margin of 45.5 % to 38%” said AAI President James Zogby. “The most significant decline in support for President Bush occurred among the 20+% of Arab Americans who are Muslim. In 2000 they voted for Bush by a margin of 58.5% to 22.5%. This early 2004 poll indicates that Arab American Muslims would now support a Democrat by a 52 to 10 percent margin.”
Well, what do you know? Turns out voting for a right-wing Christian fundamentalist isn't a good idea for anyone who isn't a right-wing Christian fundamentalist. Who'da thunk it?

ANOTHER BROKEN PROMISE -- Mr Bush promised he'd reinvigorate Americorps, the popular and successful government volunteer program, with a hefty new infusion of cash. Turns out, that won't be happening any time soon.
AmeriCorps, the national service program, is facing a cash crisis, and it has warned of drastic cuts to popular initiatives like Teach for America, City Year and Save the Children if Congress does not appropriate $100 million in a few weeks. In New York, the financing would be cut by 68 percent and the number of volunteers who receive stipends would be reduced, to 599 from 1,959. Nationwide, 20,000 out of 50,000 positions would be eliminated, AmeriCorps officials said.

"Here we are in the middle of a recession, and there are no jobs out there," said Representative Norman D. Dicks, Democrat of Washington. "Why would we do this to volunteers right now?"
Why indeed. Ask the GOP.

SADDAM'S SONS KILLED? -- We've heard this stuff from the Bush regime before, but apparently, Saddam Hussein's sons may have been killed after a fierce firefight in Iraq. There are four charred corpses inside a house stormed by U.S. troops. One corpse is that of a bodyguard. The other is that of a teenager. We don't know enough about the other two corpses yet.

DON'T BE BUSHED -- It seems many Americans are catching on to Mr Bush and the fact that he is a serial liar. When asked in the most recent Time/CNN poll if Mr Bush is "a leader you can trust, or do you have some doubts and reservations," 51% say they have their doubts--against 47% that still trust him. As more details of this regime's shameless lies about Iraq [and hopefully many other subjects] are revealed, expect the former number to grow and the latter number to shrink. And Mr Bush's re-election prospects will shrink along with it.

SHIITE EXTREMISM GROWNS IN IRAQ -- In Iraq these days, a certain mullah named Muqtada al-Sadr is building his support among Shiites with his outspoken anti-American sermons and demands for the creation of an Islamic state to replace the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the American occupation.
Last Friday, Mr. Sadr gave a particularly fiery sermon, announcing that he was recruiting a private army and blasting Iraq's new US-backed governing council. "If you ignore the governing council, you'll be restoring good to your country," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Sadr supporters say the US sent troops to surround his house the next day, according to the AP. The response was angry and immediate; Sadr's followers staged a large demonstration in Baghdad on Saturday, and that more than 10,000 angry Shiites took to the streets of Najaf Sunday in protest. For many Shiites, Sadr articulates a frustration with the American presence in postwar Iraq.

"I don't think America would want to be occupied by Iraqis," Sabih said at a sermon on July 11. "We receive orders from the Hawza [religious scholars]. When they say we should be martyrs, we will. But we are waiting now to see what will be."
This isn't good news. The United States needs to internationalize the occupation of Iraq by involving the United Nations and other countries. Of course, to do that the Bush regime must first agree to cede much of the power in Iraq to the UN and the neocons in charge in Washington seem disinclined to do so. After all, the UN isn't aboard the neocon train--the absurdly ambitious project to remake the Middle East by intimidating or destroying the regimes in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran and leaving Israel in control of the entire region. And that's what invading Iraq was all about. [Well, that and the oil.] It wasn't about weapons of mass destruction. It wasn't about human rights abuses. It was about remaking the Middle East into something the neocons fancy. And we're all paying for their fantasies.

BUSH ADDS TO OUR SOLDIERS' MISERY -- When soldiers of the Army's Second Brigade, Third Infantry Division spoke out about their miserable conditions in Iraq on ABC's "Good Morning America" they probably thought they were merely expressing their First Amendment rights of free speech. Now, however, they know they were committing career suicide.
The brigade's soldiers received word this week from the Pentagon that it was extending their stay, with a vague promise to send them home by September if the security situation allows. They've been away from home since September, and this week's announcement was the third time their mission has been extended.

It was bad news for the division's 12,000 homesick soldiers, who were at the forefront of the force that overthrew Saddam Hussein's government and moved into Baghdad in early April.

On Wednesday morning, when the ABC news show reported from Fallujah, where the division is based, the troops gave the reporters an earful. One soldier said he felt like he'd been "kicked in the guts, slapped in the face." Another demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quit.

The retaliation from Washington was swift.

"It was the end of the world," said one officer Thursday. "It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers."

First lesson for the troops, it seemed: Don't ever talk to the media "on the record" -- that is, with your name attached -- unless you're giving the sort of chin-forward, everything's-great message the Pentagon loves to hear.
This is the frozen limit. These cowardly chickenhawks in the Bush regime never had the guts to serve in the military and now they have the nerve to destroy the careers of real soldiers for making the mistake of telling the truth to a reporter. Where do they get the nerve?

AFGHANISTAN BACK IN THE ABYSS -- In case you thought all the bad news was coming from Iraq these days, the news that the Taliban has made a comeback in Afghanistan should put you in an even worse mood.
As the Taliban intensified their attacks on American and Afghan forces over the weekend, Gen F L "Buster" Hagenbeck said the Taliban and its allies have regrouped in Pakistan, recruiting fighters from religious schools in the city of Quetta in a campaign funded by drug trafficking.

Groups of fighters have crossed the porous border and divided eastern Afghanistan into three zones for launching attacks, he said.

They have been joined by al-Qa'eda commanders who are establishing new cells and who are sponsoring the attempted capture of American troops.

"There are large numbers of Taliban coming back into southern Afghanistan but there have been some recent successes in resisting them," said Gen Hagenbeck, acting commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Mr Bush has botched the job in Afghanistan. As Senator John Kerry [D-MA] said at the time, Mr Bush blundered by not committing more troops to the job of exterminating Al Qaeda in its caves during the battle of Tora Bora. Now, after a brief retreat, the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies are back. This is terrible. It was Al Qaeda that murdered our soldiers in Somalia and desecrated their corpses. It was Al Qaeda that murdered hundreds with the truck bombs that destroyed our embassies in Dar es-Salaam and Nairobi in August 1998. It was Al Qaeda that murdered our soldiers with the suicide boat attack on the USS Cole in 2000. And, of course, it was Al Qaeda that heartlessly slaughtered over 3000 people on September 11, 2001. As long as Al Qaeda endures Americans will live in grave danger around the globe. It must be annihilated. Mr Bush has failed to do it and, worse still, by diverting our energies with his silly invasion of Iraq, Mr Bush has failed to demonstrate that he even cares about destroying Al Qaeda. We need a President who does care and will do something about this.

NOW THIS IS FUNNY -- Go laugh.

BLAIR REELING -- The British public were always more leery of the case for war with Iraq than Americans and they have reacted with greater ferocity to the news that Mr Blair and Mr Bush lied to them--repeatedly. Prime Minister Blair's popularity is dropping like a stone:
A June poll found Labor had sunk to its lowest popularity rating since 1993, with backing from 38 percent of those questioned. While the long-ailing Conservatives continued to trail, they gained some ground, with support from 34 percent of respondents.

An ICM telephone survey, taken for the Guardian on Friday and Saturday among 1001 Britons, found Labor's lead over the Conservatives narrowed to two points, down from 12 in the same poll two months ago. Support for Blair's leadership, which has been declining since the end of the Iraq war, dropped four points to 37 percent.
Meanwhile, Mr Blair's Chancellor, Gordon Brown, is scheming to take the top job away from the Prime Minister. Let's hope he succeeds. Mr Blair's lies were as audacious as Mr Bush's and they both deserve a similar fate.

FALSE ADS SMEAR SENATE DEMS -- It's no secret that the Republicans are trying to force right-wing extremists on to federal benches across the country as part of their effort to roll back hard-won gains for women, minorities, and privacy rights. Now, a new low has been reached as right-wing groups are running television ads in heavily Catholic Rhode Island and Maine, accusing Democrats of being anti-Catholic because they refuse to rubber-stamp Mr Bush's latest drooling caveman.
The ads are being run by the Committee for Justice -- founded by C. Boyden Gray, a White House counsel in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, to help rally support for judicial nominees -- and the Ave Maria List, an organization of lay Catholics that works for the election of antiabortion candidates to Congress.

"Some in the U.S. Senate are attacking Bill Pryor for having 'deeply held' Catholic beliefs to prevent him from becoming a federal judge," the ads said. "Don't they know the Constitution expressly prohibits religious tests for public office?"

The ads did not specifically mention Pryor's strong opposition to abortion, although that is one of the issues cited by Democrats in questioning whether Pryor could set aside his personal views in determining issues of law as a federal judge.

David Carle, spokesman for Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the groups' charge "a false and detestable smear that's intended to chill debate" on Pryor's suitability for the bench. "The question in Mr. Pryor's case is not his religion, which in fact is shared by several members of the Judiciary Committee. It is whether he is capable of fairly and impartially applying the laws to everyone who comes into the courtroom, as he would be required to do as a federal judge," Carle said.
The Democrats must not let this vile slur go unanswered. I'd like to see some counter-ads air in Rhode Island and Maine, informing the people of the real reasons Democrats are hesitant to put Mr Pryor on the bench. After all, the people of Rhode Island and Maine--Catholic or not--have never been terribly friendly to the extremist agenda of The Federalist Society.

Monday, July 21, 2003

OH...AHEM -- Tom Tomorrow is almost always great. The latest is no exception. Go read it.

YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP -- Here is a real classic from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz:
"I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq," said Wolfowitz, who is touring the country to meet U.S. troops and Iraqi officials.
Priceless.