Friday, December 14, 2007


[The "P-I"is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

Jan 1

Consider: the continuing provocation by North Korea, compared to the progress, however slow and difficult, in obtaining information from and about Iraq; the fact of North Korea's nuclear program contrasted with speculation about Iraq's; the missile capability of the former set against the relative impotence of the latter; our policy of restraint and patience toward one and our preparation to invade the other. They combine to expose the administration's plan for war with Iraq as irrational, not merely misguided or unwise, and the boasting in the National Security Strategy as fatuous.

In addition, the President is sinking into inanity. Asked by a reporter about the possible war with Iraq, he replied, "You said we're headed to war in Iraq - I don't know why you say that," an answer which would be credible only from someone not on the planet during the past few months. He then blithered into an answer to his own question: " I'm the person who gets to decide, not you."

He has added to the impression that this really is too much for him by imitating his father's rolling rationale for war with Iraq. Bush fils now is concerned that an attack by Iraq or by "a surrogate of Saddam Hussein" would cripple our economy. "This economy cannot afford to stand an attack," he said. The reporters apparently did not ask how Iraq would attack us or who the mysterious surrogates might be.1

Meanwhile the cost of the war has dropped from 100 to 200 billion to a mere 50-60 billion; Mitchell Daniels obviously has no intention of going the way of Lawrence Lindsey.

1. New York Times, Washington Post 12/31/02; Seattle P-I (Assoc. Press) 1/1/03.

Jan 2

I learned, by way of op-ed column by Leon Fuerth in yesterday's NY Times, that we have a new policy document, entitled National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. It was issued last month, apparently as an addendum to the National Security Strategy. Professor Fuerth sees two contradictions between our response to the North Korean problem and statements in the new document. The first is the contrast between our policy of caution and the claim that we "will not permit the world's most dangerous threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons." The other is our decision to permit a N. Korean ship to deliver missiles to Yemen, despite the statement, "Effective interdiction is a critical part of the U.S. strategy to combat WMD and their delivery means."

The latter, it seems to me, isn't a direct contradiction, as the Interdiction section of the new document concerns movement of WMD to "hostile states and terrorist organizations," which presumably doesn't apply to Yemen. The former quote may be inconsistent with our inaction regarding North Korea's nuclear plans, but the better contrast is between our reaction to that country's threats and the bombast about preemption in the National Security Strategy.

Professor Fuerth's most pertinent observation has to do with the risks of tough talk: "When using words as weapons, a leader must be prepared to back up his rhetoric with force. The president's nomination of North Korea as a member of the 'Axis of Evil' in his last State of the Union message now looks like a bluff that is being called."

Jan 4

The National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction is an odd document. Although it is an extension of the bellicose National Security Strategy, and restates part of it, the new document generally is restrained in tone. It gives the impression of detail by breaking down each topic into several subsections; however, in terms of substance, it is general and rather vague. It speaks of further studies and of policies to be adopted, but never quite gets around to saying what we're going to do. It is full of jargon and occasionally uses peculiar grammar. This is national defense policy MBA style.

The strategy has, we are told, three "pillars": Counterproliferation to Combat WMD Use; Strengthened Nonproliferation to Combat WMD Proliferation; and Consequence Management to Respond to WMD Use. Confusingly, these are presented first in summary form, then at somewhat greater length, the two separated by a reference to a different, though related topic. The summary is a copy, with some changes in language, of a section of the National Security Strategy.

The first pillar primarily refers to defense. The meaning of the term counterproliferation in this context isn't clear, nor is it in general. It is not defined in this document (nor in the National Security Strategy, where it also appears), but elsewhere I found "Counterproliferation refers to the use of military measures to address WMD threats to the United States and its allies." That seems to fit the use here, but doesn't really make much sense; the actions described in that definition and in most of the first pillar may counter the opponent's weapons, but don't counter their spread or increase, i.e., proliferation. The one exception is the Interdiction section; the other two sections of this pillar are Deterrence, and Defense and Mitigation.

The only reference to preemption occurs in the Defense and Mitigation section: "Because deterrence may not succeed, and because of the potentially devastating consequences of WMD use against our forces and civilian population, U.S. military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through preemptive measures." This certainly is more restrained than the repeated references to preemption in the National Security Strategy, which outlines steps to be taken to "support preemptive options."

The second pillar, as the redundancy in its title makes clear, does concern suppressing the spread of weapons. The opening statement in the summary is "The United States, our friends and allies, and the broader international community must undertake every effort to prevent states and terrorists from acquiring WMD and missiles." This is more at odds with the Yemeni incident than the language quoted by Professor Fuerth. However, this statement says too much; we don't plan to forbid all states from having dangerous weapons.2 That consideration probably led to the less-inclusive statement under Interdiction. The sections of this pillar are entitled Active Nonproliferation Diplomacy, Multilateral Regimes, Nonproliferation and Threat Reduction Cooperation, Controls on Nuclear Materials, U.S. Export Controls, and Nonproliferation Sanctions. Interdiction would seem to belong here also.

U.S. Export Controls makes clear where the administration's priorities lie. This section is two paragraphs long, but manages to tell business, not once but three times, not to worry. Export controls must meet national security goals "while recognizing the realities that American businesses face in the increasingly globalized marketplace." New legislation will be sought which will "give full weight to both nonproliferation objectives and commercial interests." The overall goal is to "focus our resources on truly sensitive exports to hostile states or those that engage in onward proliferation, while removing unnecessary barriers in the global marketplace."

Consequence Management is the euphemism for dealing with the effects of an attack. The summary tells us that the government "will develop and maintain the capability to reduce to the extent possible the potentially horrific consequences of WMD attacks at home and abroad." The more extended discussion is largely a reference to other sources, including the National Strategy for Homeland Security.

In between the summary and the expanded version, we are advised that

The three pillars of the U.S. national strategy to combat WMD are seamless elements of a comprehensive approach. Serving to integrate the pillars are four cross-cutting enabling functions that need to be pursued on a priority basis: intelligence collection and analysis on WMD, delivery systems, and related technologies; research and development to improve our ability to respond to evolving threats; bilateral and multilateral cooperation; and targeted strategies against hostile states and terrorists.

The method of seamlessly integrating the three pillars by means of the four cross-cutting enabling functions is taken up later under the heading Integrating the Pillars. In that section those enabling functions and their messages are as follows:

- Improved Intelligence Collection and Analysis: "A more accurate and complete understanding of the full range of WMD threats is, and will remain, among the highest U.S. intelligence priorities....." We must improve our "intelligence regarding WMD-related facilities and activities...."

- Research and Development: We have a "critical need for cutting-edge technology that can quickly and effectively detect, analyze, facilitate interdiction of, defend against, defeat, and mitigate the consequences of WMD." The new Counterproliferation Technology Coordination Committee "will assist in identifying priorities, gaps, and overlaps in existing programs and in examining options for future investment strategies."

- Strengthened International Cooperation: It "is vital that we work closely with like-minded countries on all elements of our comprehensive proliferation strategy."

- Targeted Strategies Against Proliferants: "A few states are dedicated proliferators, whose leaders are determined to develop, maintain, and improve their WMD and delivery capabilities...." "Because each of these regimes is different, we will pursue country-specific strategies...." The same effort must be made as to "terrorist groups which seek to acquire WMD."

As suggested in the last section, a state or group which receives WMD is a proliferant and also a proliferator. As to "proliferator", this clumsy usage probably originates in the notion that any entity which increases the number of those possessing WMD proliferates WMD, which would make it a proliferator, i.e., one which proliferates; this could apply either to the supplier or the acquirer. However, a more natural reading of the term would call only the supplier a proliferator. One could call the acquirer a proliferant, but it's awkward; "proliferant" suggests some sort of device, like a propellant.

Various web sites discussing WMD follow the same usage, in which a proliferator could be either the supplier or the acquirer; a proliferant is only the latter. In a few instances, "proliferant" is an adjective, as in "proliferant programs" or "proliferant behavior." All of this is too deep for me. The drafters of our new policy did refer once to senders and receivers, but even then in jargon: "supplier and recipient states of WMD proliferation concern."

This statement of national policy closes, under the heading End Note, with this: "The requirements to prevent, deter, defend against, and respond to today's WMD threats are complex and challenging. But they are not daunting. We can and will succeed in the tasks laid out in this strategy; we have no other choice." Oh, good; we're going to succeed because we must. At least we don't have to trust to the administration's talents.

Does some law mandate the submission of this statement? That might explain creating something which says so little and does it in such silly language.

The only other obvious reason would relate to developments in North Korea. The National Security Strategy is embarrassingly assertive, so perhaps a milder statement was desired, to cover the milder policy. The reference to country-specific strategies might be aimed in that direction. Making the revised policy more or less content-free also would be appropriate to that end.

1. NTI (Nuclear Threat Initiative) web site.
2. The corresponding statement in the National Security Strategy refers to "rogue states."

Jan 5

As we move nearer war with Iraq, the reason for doing so becomes more elusive, and the President now is fully into the mode of Bush père, offering a series of rationales for the war.

Basing an invasion on the fear of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is difficult to maintain, at least at present, since Iraq is allowing inspections which aren't disclosing anything. In addition, the administration doesn't appear to be very worried about WMD in Korea, where there is much better evidence of their existence.

No connection between Iraq and 9-11 has been made and any link to terrorism in general is so tenuous that it cannot serve as the excuse.

In October, the theory became the need to deter an attack by Iraq on the U.S. The President - or his advisors - asserted in the war resolution that Iraq might "launch a surprise attack against the United States...." In a speech in New Hampshire, the President warned us that Saddam Hussein "has a horrible history" of striking without warning, and that we "must do everything we can to disarm this man before he hurts one single American." In his speech in Cincinnati, he embellished on hat with a reference to Iraq's "growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical and biological weapons across broad areas." He expressed concern that "Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States."

A few days ago, the effect on the economy became the reason to fear such an attack.

On Friday he told troops at Fort Hood, "you will be fighting not to conquer anybody, but to liberate people." This imitates the high-moral-principle rationale from 1990, although less persuasively. It was at least possible to believe that driving Iraq out of Kuwait was undertaken to liberate the Kuwaitis; I doubt that anyone thinks that we're about to invade Iraq to liberate the Iraqis.1 At one point, the President used the weakness of the terrorism theory as a bridge to the current one: "America seeks more than the defeat of terror: We seek the advance of human freedom in a world at peace."

1. 4/6/03: I was mistaken about this. Increasingly, "liberation" has become the official rationale, and it appears to be at least accepted as such, if not wholly believed, by those supporting the war; it allows one to feel that the war is just.

Jan 10

I've avoided the favorite theory on the left about our designs on Iraq, that it's all about oil. Little as I respect the Bush administration, I have difficulty accepting the notion that it is about to kill a lot of people in order to control Iraqi oil fields. However, the NY Times reported a few days ago that the "national security team is assembling final plans" for the administration of post-surrender Iraq. Included is the quick takeover of the country's oil fields ("to pay for reconstruction"), which makes it a bit harder to avoid cynicism. (The Times offered the story under the head, "U.S. Is Completing Plan to Promote a Democratic Iraq." More liberal bias.)

In the same issue, Thomas Friedman offered the opinion that the war "will certainly be - in part -about oil." He thinks that denying that would be "laughable" because "it is impossible to explain the Bush team's behavior otherwise." He offered a variation on the oil theme, thereby melding two of the 1990 rationales: we're going to take over Iraq because Saddam with WMD could dominate the Middle East, threatening our oil supply.

Mr. Friedman thinks that war over oil is OK, as long as we're noble about it. To avoid being "immoral," we must encourage domestic energy conservation, share the wealth, and promote democracy: "I have no problem with a war for oil - provided that it is to fuel the first progressive Arab regime, and not just our S.U.V.'s, and provided we behave in a way that makes clear to the world we are protecting everyone's access to oil at reasonable prices - not simply our right to binge on it. "

Too many people have no problem with this war. I have a problem with that.

Jan 17

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has issued its decision in the third appeal in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Unimpressed by the presence of more than a hundred professors, lawyers and organizations as amici for Mr. Hamdi, the Court held that his confinement may continue at the discretion of the government.

The decision may be limited to the circumstances of the case: an American citizen captured during a military operation and identified with an enemy force. The court referred to Hamdi's capture in "a zone of active combat" six times and, for variety, in an "active combat zone" once. It distinguished the case of Jose Padilla, so perhaps the decision is limited to the battlefield context. However, the Court's general approach and some of its language would make that a risky bet; in the Padilla case, the government already has cited the Hamdi decision in support of a motion aimed at reversing a decision to allow access to counsel.

The stated issue in the current Hamdi appeal was "whether a declaration by a Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy setting forth what the government contends were the circumstances of Hamdi's capture was sufficient by itself to justify his detention." In its decision on the second appeal ("Hamdi II"), the Court had held that "if Hamdi is indeed an 'enemy combatant' who was captured during hostilities in Afghanistan, the government's present detention of him is a lawful one." Therefore the factual question was whether he is an "enemy combatant." The answer to both questions was yes.

The reasoning is more than a little muddy. In Hamdi II, the Court had declined to dismiss Hamdi's petition. "In dismissing, we ourselves would be summarily embracing a sweeping proposition - namely that, with no meaningful judicial review, any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant could be detained indefinitely without charges or counsel on the government's say-so." However, that is exactly what the Court did.

The Court attempted to reconcile the two opinions. The distinction, it said, is that Hamdi is not "any American citizen alleged to be an enemy combatant." He is an American citizen "captured and detained by American allied forces in a foreign theater of war during active hostilities and determined by the United States military to have been indeed allied with enemy forces." However, in Hamdi II, the Court recited that Hamdi was "captured as an alleged enemy combatant during ongoing military operations in Afghanistan," so the explanation seems merely to mask a change of mind.

The government did alter its manner of saying that Hamdi is an enemy combatant. It submitted an declaration by the mysterious but now famous Michael Mobbs, but all this accomplished was to attribute the claim to an unknown individual of unknown qualifications, applying undisclosed criteria.

The District Court recognized that Hamdi's status as an "enemy combatant" was the crucial question, found the Mobbs declaration to be insufficient proof and attempted to go behind it. The Court of Appeals, however, would have none of that. At least in this context, the sufficiency and even the existence of the declaration are unimportant: once the government has decided that a prisoner is an enemy combatant, an enemy combatant he is.

In various ways, the Court attempted to show that its decision was not quite that bald. As part of its rationale, it made several references to the Constitution and its separation of powers. After reciting war-related powers of the President and Congress, the Court noted, "Article III contains nothing analogous to the specific powers of war so carefully enumerated in Articles I and II." By itself, this establishes nothing; if the courts were limited to deciding cases explicitly described in the Constitution, they would have very short calendars. In Hamdi II, the Court stated that "the Supreme Court has shown great deference to the political branches when called upon to decide cases implicating... military affairs." In the present opinion, that was interpreted as follows: "The judiciary is not at liberty to eviscerate detention interests directly derived from the war powers of Articles I and II."

The Court did not directly address the question whether detention interests directly derived from war powers were involved, but it relied upon the provision in the Constitution that the President, as Commander in Chief, has "the power to wage war which Congress has declared," and impliedly held that, in effect, there has been a declaration of war. "Congress authorized the President 'to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks' or 'harbored such organizations or persons.' " Under this authority, the President ordered "United States armed forces to Afghanistan to subdue al Qaida and the governing Taliban regime supporting it." "During this ongoing military operation," as the Court loosely put it, Hamdi was captured.

The Court acknowledged that a habeas corpus petition normally would lead to a factual inquiry into the circumstances of the detention. However, that too would cross the boundary which the Court visualizes between the branches. Contemplating a factual inquiry "begs the basic question in this case," which in the course of the opinion became "whether further factual exploration would bring an Article III court into conflict with the warmaking powers of Article[s] I and II."

The amicus brief filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights stated that the term "enemy combatant" is found in only three Supreme Court cases, "Quirin, where it refers to unlawful combatants, violators of the laws of war, and in Yamashita. . . and Madsen v. Kinsella. . ., both of which use it in the same manner as Quirin." I have to take their word for the frequency of its use. (The Court, in a footnote, said that "the term is one that has been used by the Supreme Court many times," but cited the same three cases.) The rest of the statement in the amicus brief is misleading. In re Quirin used the term only once and, although it was in the context of a discussion of unlawful combat, "enemy combatant" was used to mean exactly what it appears to mean, someone fighting for the enemy. In re Yamashita used the term repeatedly, with the same meaning. In Madsen, it appears in a quote from Yamashita which was addressed to another issue; there was no enemy combatant in that case.

However, the general point raised, that the term may be misused here, is valid and central. This and related concepts, drawn from earlier military models, are poor guides to the current situation. However, the Court not only was unconcerned about any present mismatch, it was willing to give the administration a blank check: "As the nature of threats to America evolves, along with the means of carrying those threats out, the nature of enemy combatants may change also." Separation of powers doctrine leaves definition of that change to the executive.

The Court discussed the need for the military to detain enemy combatants free of interference by the judiciary. In a conventional context, that would be clear enough; the issue is whether it applies here, which brings us back to whether it is proper to label Hamdi an enemy combatant. The Court's decision terminates all inquiry into that question even though, as the District Court commented, "the circumstances of Hamdi's surrender and detention are anything but clear...."

Hamdi was not seized by American forces, but by a Northern Alliance unit. It is not specified when he was taken prisoner, although apparently it was after September 11, 2001; the Court's statement is: "While serving with the Taliban in the wake of September 11, he was captured when his Taliban unit surrendered to Northern Alliance forces with which it had been engaged in battle." The District Court noted that the alleged battle isn't described: "a close inspection of the declaration reveals that Mr. Mobbs never claims that Hamdi was fighting for the Taliban...." "It does not say that the unit to which Hamdi was 'affiliated' was ever in any battle while Hamdi was 'affiliated'"

We do not know whether Hamdi was aware of the association between the U.S. and the Northern Alliance or even of the September 11 attacks at the time of his capture, so we do not know whether he willingly joined or remained in a force he knew to be in opposition to the U.S. Whether, at the time of the capture, the bands known as the Northern Alliance had become "allies," is not revealed, nor is there any discussion of what being an ally means, requires or implies. What should be the status of one fighting against a tribe which suddenly becomes our ally?

At one point, the Court referred to "thousands of alleged enemy combatants, including Hamdi," but the modifier is insignificant, as an allegation is all that is needed: "Thus, it is undisputed that Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan during a time of armed hostilities there. It is further undisputed that the executive branch has classified him as an enemy combatant." That is all the decision really is about.

Hamdi argued that the "war" has ended, and with it ended the government's right to detain him as a combatant. The Court was prepared to defer to the government's determination of the end of hostilities, but instead accepted its argument that "American troops are still on the ground in Afghanistan, dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the very country where Hamdi was captured and engaging in reconstruction efforts which may prove dangerous in their own right." Satisfied that, "under the most circumscribed definition of conflict," the war has not ended, the Court rejected Hamdi's claim. The problem is that, under definitions the government will employ, the war may never end, which means Hamdi will remain a prisoner for as long as the government chooses to hold him. That carries with it implications for freedom which even the Fourth Circuit should be able to recognize.

There is one more aspect of the decision which is troubling. As with much of the opinion, it is difficult to analyze the relevant passage by way of paraphrase or summary because it makes so little sense, so let us look at it almost in full. Referring to the District Court's critique of the Mobbs declaration, the Court of Appeals said this:

...We think this inquiry went far beyond the acceptable scope of review. To be sure, a capable attorney could challenge the hearsay nature of the Mobbs declaration and probe each and every paragraph for incompleteness or inconsistency, as the district court attempted to do. The court's approach, however, had a signal flaw. We are not here dealing with a defendant who has been indicted on criminal charges in the exercise of the executive's law enforcement powers. We are dealing with the executive's assertion of its power to detain under the war powers of Article II. See Eisentrager, 339 U.S. at 793 (Black, J., dissenting) ("[I]t is no 'crime' to be a soldier."); cf. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 363 (1970) (explaining that elevated burden of proof applies in criminal cases because of consequences of conviction, including social stigma)....

The Court distinguished enemy combatants from those accused of crimes. As it noted earlier, the former are detained not as punishment but to remove them from the action. However, its point here is that, because no criminal charges have been filed against Hamdi, the District Court's rejection of the absurdly insufficient Mobbs declaration is inappropriate, or, in the Court's language of pompous submissiveness, "To transfer the instinctive skepticism, so laudable in the defense of criminal charges, to the review of executive branch decisions premised on military determinations made in the field carries the inordinate risk of a constitutionally problematic intrusion into the most basic responsibilities of a coordinate branch." In short, it is improper to challenge the declaration because Hamdi is being treated as a soldier, and it is no crime to be one. The protections of the criminal law are available only to those who might suffer adverse consequences.

In re Winship is a case involving the application of adult criminal law standards to juveniles; it has nothing to say regarding enemy combatants. As to Johnson v. Eisentrager, and leaving aside the dubious use of a comment in a dissent as authority, Justice Black was not distinguishing between enemy combatants and civilians charged with crimes; he was objecting to the conclusion of a military tribunal that certain German soldiers were war criminals. One decision deals with civilian criminal law, the other with (conventional) war; the Court's conclusion is in no way supported by slapping these unrelated decisions together.

The notion that there are no adverse effects "including social stigma" of being designated an enemy combatant is ludicrous. If the Court of Appeals is determined to prevent the District Court from challenging the government's assertions, it needs a more sensible theory than the lack of serious consequences.

The most glaringly illogical aspect of this passage is the conclusion that it is better to be an alleged criminal than an alleged enemy soldier. If the former, one has some procedural protection; if the latter, throw away the key. Serial killers, even some terrorists under the baffling system now in place, have more rights.

As a further irony, if the dissent in Eisentrager were to be applied here, its message would be that merely being a soldier in an enemy force is not a crime. Thus far, Hamdi has not been charged. However, John Walker Lindh was charged with numerous crimes and bullied into pleading guilty to two of them. His case is not entirely the same as Hamdi's but the basic situation is the same: capture while in the service of the Taliban.

This decision seems to me to be misguided in two fundamental ways. The first is that we need a new theory. The concepts and terms being used, derived from conventional warfare, are not entirely appropriate to the present situation. Forcing cases to fit these obsolete molds will not produce just results.

The other is that we have lost our objectivity, to say nothing of our dedication to civil liberties. Any decision which begins with a recital of the events of September 11, and transitions to the issues of the case with "in the wake of this atrocity,..." isn't going to keep its focus. We don't do any service to the memories of the victims by telling an administration which has little respect for our traditions that it may do as it pleases.

Jan 25

After pardoning four men on death row, Governor Ryan of Illinois commuted the sentences of the remaining 167 inmates. The commutation is a stunning move, if only because of the number of cases, and has prompted editorials pro and con. One of each appeared in the Washington Post, approval coming from William Raspberry and dissent from George Will. Scott Turow wrote a column for the New York Times which provides valuable insight, as he was a member of a commission appointed by Governor Ryan to study the Illinois death penalty.

Mr. Raspberry is not an "absolutist," as he puts it, on the death penalty, but concluded, as did the Governor, that the system is too badly broken to patch up. "The Republican Ryan was, as they used to say about defecting liberals, mugged by reality." Mr. Will has escaped such an attack.

Governor Ryan referred to Justice Stewart's comment that capital punishment is "cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual." In other words, the death penalty is imposed capriciously, with no more logic or fairness than a natural disaster. Will finds the Governor's response to be equally illogical, "capriciousness cubed," consisting of "undiscriminating commutations, most of them benefiting killers about whose guilt there is not a smidgen of doubt." Will only mentions the question of guilt, and does not address the issue of whether the death penalty had been imposed fairly. Reference to Turow's column would have provided reasons to be skeptical about both: "false confessions that had been coerced or dubiously reported by the police; mistaken eyewitness identifications; murderers who portrayed innocent people as accomplices; jailhouse informants who became witnesses in exchange for the kinds of favors that clearly tempted lies; and a statutory structure that provided an obvious pathway to arbitrariness in deciding who was to die."

Turow did not elaborate on the last point, but I would assume that he had in mind the statute which listed twenty "eligibility factors," circumstances which, if found by the jury, authorize the death penalty. The most troublesome factor, one which has produced a controversial decision in Washington, is homicide in the course of a felony; in Illinois, fifteen felonies qualified for the death penalty. The commission unanimously recommended reducing the number of eligibility factors, and by majority vote reduced it to five, excluding felony murder. The majority explained the exclusion: "Since so many first degree murders are potentially death eligible under this factor, it lends itself to disparate application throughout the state. This eligibility factor is the one most likely subject to interpretation and discretionary decision-making."1 In less cautious language, the application tends to be arbitrary.

It is fair enough to question whether blanket commutation should have been replaced by case-by-case analysis. I suspect that time constraints were part of the problem. Turow points to more principled factors. As to the clemency decision in general, no one suggested any alternative solution; Governor Ryan "either had to accept the results of a system everyone agreed needed to be fixed or exercise the clemency powers the state constitution imposed on him." Within the context of commutation, distinctions were problematic: "Knowing the details of so many of these cases, I could see how difficult it was to draw the line."

Mr. Will complains that the action was "explicitly, even exuberantly, anti- democratic." By this he means that the governor thwarted the intent of the capital punishment statutes; the "chief executive vowed to not carry out the consensus of the people, as carefully codified by their elected representatives, in conformity with U.S. Supreme Court standards." Leaving aside the degree of care exercised by anyone, it is stretching the matter a bit to call the action undemocratic. Illinois law gives the governor the right of commutation. One might as well call any executive action undemocratic, so that isn't much of an indictment. Democratic or not, the clemency power is part of the same system which Mr. Will wants vindicated. In fact, the members of the Supreme Court who are supportive of capital punishment resort to the existence of that power as an excuse for not overturning death-penalty judgments. In Herrera v. Collins, Chief Justice Rehnquist devoted several pages to praise for the existence of the clemency power. "Executive clemency has provided the 'fail-safe' in our criminal justice system.... It is an unalterable fact that our judicial system, like the human beings who administer it, is fallible."

Will tempers his criticism with a similar, if pro-forma, acknowledgement that the system might have flaws, in the form of his ritual recital: conservatives "should remember that capital punishment is a government program, so skepticism is warranted." An interesting variation, one which found an adverse moral, was offered by Die Welt, quoted in the Post: "The death penalty is un-American because it postulates the infallibility of a government institution. America's democracy is based on the mistrust of government, on the ability to revise all decisions." Turow also drew the conclusion Will's formula suggests: "perhaps the best argument against capital punishment may be that it is an issue beyond the limited capacity of government to get things right."

Mr. Will discounts the possibility that anyone innocent has been executed. He concedes that the fact that innocent men have been found on death row "might seem to justify the inference that, nationally, some innocent persons have been executed." It might seem to make the inference inescapable. Will's riposte: "But none of the many groups opposed to capital punishment provides the name of any such person." OK, let's keep on with the executions until one is named; if the first one identified is the guy executed yesterday, well, oops.

This debate exists only because we have the death penalty. Why should we? Not quite three years ago, commenting on Governor Ryan's imposition of a moratorium on executions, Will said that there are two arguments for capital punishment, deterrence and proportionality. He was concerned then that deterrence might be "vitiated by sporadic implementation." Apparently he now has given up on it; restrictive rules have reduced "the death penalty's ability to deter, and even the ability of social science to measure its deterrent power." The "remaining realistic case for capital punishment is proportionality...." He also offered that rationale in 2000: executing a murderer "heightens society's valuation of life by expressing proportionate anger at the taking of life." However, this time, victims' rights come into the formula: "It is disrespectful of life, and of the victims' survivors, not to take a life for an especially heinous murder." In support of consideration of the survivors, Will quotes Turow's recent novel: Reversible Errors:

Turow articulates the way capital punishment serves those whose lives are permanently lacerated by grieving for murder victims: "Their pain was not due to some fateful calamity like a typhoon, or an enemy as fickle and unreasoning as disease, but to a human failure, to the demented will of an assailant and the failure of the regime of reason and rules to contain him." For the grieving, capital punishment meant "an end point, a sense of an awful equilibrium being restored to the world."

I wonder whether Turow, who supported the clemency order, would approve the use of this quote. Leaving aside the source, the idea conveyed is a bizarre one. The death of the perpetrator is necessary to restore the victims' equilibrium, to provide, in the current jargon, closure. Are we that primitive? Does vengeance really help us to cope? In addition, the execution makes up for the failure of the system to prevent the killing. We can't do it right before the fact, so we'll make up for that afterward; we'll bury our mistake.

Will's complaint that the rules restricting imposition of the death penalty "have helped make its administration capricious" has some merit. Certainly the Supreme Court's meandering course leaves one with the sense that its decisions are based more on procedure than on substance and that the outcome is dependent more on the makeup of the Court than on any principle.

Will points out the obvious and, for death-penalty opponents, inconvenient fact that the Constitution assumes the existence of capital punishment. That doesn't end the inquiry, but it does force opponents into arguments which are not notable for their cogency. One of those is "evolving standards of decency," the theory that a practice formerly accepted now is in disrepute. That is a tough argument to make here, as 38 states and the federal government have the death penalty. Evolving-standard analysis frequently is illogical, as it tends to be measured by reference to state statutes. This leaves the Court in the anomalous position of judging a state statute by reference to other state statutes: adjudication by referendum.

Finally, Will notes that the commutations almost coincided with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He thinks that Roe, supported by many of the same people who oppose the death penalty, turned the liberal formula on its head: it "was made by a judicial fiat that overturned the evolving consensus on abortion policy set by 50 state legislatures." I don't know whether such a consensus was emerging; however, the juxtaposition is valid in a sense not mentioned by or applicable to Mr. Will, but one which troubles me profoundly: why is the debate between camps which are selectively pro-life? What accounts for the association of support for abortion with opposition to the death penalty and vice versa? Respect for human life should lead to opposing, or at least seriously questioning, both. The peculiar dichotomy may break down, but if it does, it may be in the form of a relative indifference to life, accepting both.

1. Report of the Governor's Commission on Capital Punishment, 4/15/02, p. 72.

Jan 28

When reading history, I used to be puzzled at how national leaders could take their people down paths which were obviously ill-chosen, the most usual being that toward war. After the events of the past sixteen months, I still am unenlightened, but no longer regard other times and places as different from our own. Tonight President Bush led us further down that path, to cheers from the Republicans and more applause from the Democrats than respect for the office required.

The State of the Union address was notable for two careful deviations from last year's script. There no longer is an axis of evil: as to Iran, we merely support the aspirations of its people; as to North Korea, we will not be blackmailed, whatever that means, and will consult with other Asian nations. Last year the deficit was promised to be "small and short term;" it now is so obviously persistent, deep and intractable that there were no promises, assurances or forecasts, and it was mentioned only once, in a bromide about economic growth and spending discipline.

The President made a good beginning in his denunciation of Iraq. He listed biological and chemical weapon stocks and pointed out that there is no evidence of their destruction. He complained about lack of cooperation and obstruction. He alleged that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium, presumably for nuclear weapons. Assuming his facts to be straight, this was sound, or would be if he were speaking to the UN and arguing that it should enforce its resolutions. As a call to unilateral action, it doesn't come close to making it, but few seem to notice the difference. He went on at much greater length, and here and there tried to show that Iraq is an imminent threat to us, but each new category was weaker than the one before, either because the facts are suspect, the supposed threat is unconvincing, or the issue is an obvious makeweight, such as Saddam's human rights violations.

As a whole, the speech seemed to me to be pompous, shallow, demagogic and hypocritical. It will be interesting to see tomorrow's commentary; I probably will be in a smaller minority than usual.

Feb 2

On Wednesday, the P-I reported the State of the Union address under the screaming headline, "We seek peace." One could hardly find a statement which less accurately described the portion of the President's speech devoted to Iraq. The paper had offered a better commentary, in advance, in the form of a Horsey cartoon showing Bush at rehearsal unable to keep a straight face while reciting, "War is our last resort."

Wednesday's subhead was another quote, but modified. The paper had "but President says if war comes, 'we will prevail.' " The actual line was "if war is forced upon us,... we will prevail." Apparently even the P-I isn't gullible enough to repeat that formula.

Feb 3

The excessive concentration of power in the executive, so well described by Arthur Schlesinger, was reversed for a time, ultimately leading to an opposite extreme in the impeachment of President Clinton. How quickly the pendulum has swung back.

With Nixon in mind, but also noting a longer trend, Dr. Schlesinger observed that the imperial presidency had produced the idea that excessive deference was due "run-of-the-mill politicians, brought by fortuity to the White House," an apt description of the present incumbent. Nixon and his defenders sought to deflect attacks by demanding respect for and protection of the office of president. Schlesinger was not impressed: "...I would argue that what the country needs today is a little serious disrespect for the office of the Presidency;..." He didn't intend "serious disrespect" to denote personal animosity or partisan venom, as in the Clinton experience, but rather the withholding of deference in aid of serious criticism, specifically "a refusal to give any more weight to a President's words than the intelligence of the utterance, if spoken by anyone else, would command."1

There would be fewer absurd headlines like the recent one in the P-I if we adopted that standard.

1. The Imperial Presidency, 411.

Feb 13

This note refers to one of a series of initiatives to the voters sponsored by a local activist, Tim Eyman. His proposals have had two general themes, tax cuts and public votes on any tax increases. Most of his proposals have been directed, unsuccessfully, to reducing annual auto license tab fees to $30. Two earlier Eyman initiatives were invalidated by the courts because they violated a provision of the state constitution that legislation, whether a bill in the legislature or an initiative, may have only one subject. For background, see Nov. 6 and 8, 2001 and Nov. 2, 2002. Sound Transit is an agency created pursuant to another public vote in 1996, whose mission is to improve regional transit; one of its projects is a light-rail system which has run over budget, has revised its plans numerous times, and has yet to lay a foot of rail. Its funding comes in part from a tax attached to license-tab fees. Eyman, among others, would like to kill the rail project or at least require a new vote on its current plan. For background on Sound Transit, see April 11, 2001.

Initiative 776 was declared unconstitutional by the King County Superior Court. The result provides a double irony. This is the third time that an Eyman-sponsored initiative has been invalidated based on its violation of the one-subject rule, and this time it happened because Eyman cannot resist larding his measures with political posturing. Contrary to Eyman's post-decision whine that his group is incredibly careful in drafting, they are inept and apparently unteachable. If the initiative had kept to substantive matters, it probably would have survived unscathed.

Section 1 of I-776 is the usual Eyman rant about politicians who don't keep their promises, including a claim of what the people want, in this case the following:

...The people want a public vote on any increases in vehicle-related taxes, fees and surcharges to ensure increased accountability. Voters will require more cost-effective use of existing revenues and fundamental reforms before approving higher charges on motor vehicles.... Voters will require more cost-effective use of existing revenues and fundamental reforms before approving higher charges on motor vehicles.... This measure provides a strong directive to all taxing districts to obtain voter approval before imposing taxes, fees and surcharges on motor vehicles.. ..

The Court found this to be related to the initiative's subject, limiting the fee for auto license tabs to $30. However, as Eyman had made clear in the campaign, one of his targets was Sound Transit. He couldn't stop at cutting off its funds, but had to vent his anger at its failure to deliver the promised system. One of the ellipses above contains this: "Also, dramatic changes to transportation plans and programs previously presented to voters must be resubmitted."

In Section 7, Eyman again indulged his dislike for Sound Transit and his fantasy of making public policy.

If the repeal of taxes in section 6 of this act affects any bonds previously issued for any purpose relating to light rail, the people expect transit agencies to retire these bonds using reserve funds including accrued interest, sale of property or equipment, new voter approved tax revenues, or any combination of these sources of revenue. Taxing districts should abstain from further bond sales for any purpose relating to light rail until voters decide this measure. The people encourage transit agencies to put another tax revenue measure before voters if they want to continue with a light rail system dramatically changed from that previously represented to and approved by voters.

The court added the emphasis, to acknowledge that this section is more advisory than Section 1. However, in its ruling, the two passages were lumped together, the Court holding that they introduce a second subject. The rationale is not free of ambiguity, but stripped to its essentials, it is that

...when I-776 asks voters to establish a policy regarding public votes on transportation programs, there is no connection to license tabs and fees. As argued by Sound Transit, I-776 seeks to achieve two unrelated purposes: 1) set licenses fees at $30.00 and 2) establish a new state policy encouraging public votes on transportation programs that are not funded by and thus, do not affect the $30.00 fee. This court concurs.

The offending sentence from Section 1 ("must be resubmitted") could be read as mandatory. Section 7 is, as the Court emphasized, precatory only, but that did not affect the result.

Voters should not have to guess whether a section is precatory or mandatory when voting for or against an initiative. Rather, voters should be able to assume that language placed in the body of an initiative serves a legitimate and necessary purpose for effectuating the legislation.

This probably is sound enough, especially where, as with this measure, the precatory portion has been pushed as a reason to vote yes. However, the Court declined to look at matters outside the initiative text, so the issue is posed in rather stark terms.

Eyman has a better shot at reversing this decision than he did with the earlier initiatives. The Court found no Supreme Court authority for the proposition that precatory sections are to be taken into account for single-subject purposes, and some of the language of the opinion blurs the distinction between the two subjects. The decision would have been more secure if the Court had ruled separately on the Section 1 and 7 issues. Even within Section 7, there is a gradation, from "expect" to "should" to "encourage." By basing the decision on all of these statements, the Court weakened the effect of the apparent directive in Section 1, "dramatic changes to transportation plans and programs previously presented to voters must be resubmitted," especially by pairing it with the mild parallel statement in Section 7 that the people "encourage transit agencies to put another tax revenue measure before voters if they want to continue with a light rail system dramatically changed from that previously represented to and approved by voters."

Mar 2

The level of support for the invasion of Iraq continues to baffle me. It is advocated by presumably sensible columnists as well as by the easily led and is accepted by a majority of the people and much of the opposition party. Why? It is being pushed by an accidental president whose credibility in general is poor and whose credibility on this issue is nil due, among other factors, to his inability to decide why we're about to do it; the latest excuse is that it will help the Palestinian peace process. The principal theme, that Iraq is a unique menace, is ludicrous; it is militarily weaker than the country we defeated easily in 1991, it is powerless even to control all of its territory, its borders are so porous that we can slip in anyone we want, its skies are patrolled, it is bombed regularly and inspectors are running around peeking into its secret corners.

At every opportunity, the administration tries to suggest a connection between Iraq and 9-11. Although none of the 9-11 terrorists came from Iraq, polls indicate that about 30% of Americans believe that one or more of them did.1 Salem, Oregon recently defeated a resolution opposing the war; the mayor voted against it in part because the 9-11 terrorists came from Iraq. Another reason was that several of her family have been in the military, a variation on the notion that we must "support the troops," which seems to morph into supporting whatever war the troops are thrown into.

Suggestions that the draft be reinstated so panicked Secretary Rumsfeld that he dismissed the value of draftees in foolish and offensive terms. His distress is understandable; if there were a draft, attitudes would be different: there would be a risk of harm to someone we know. Also, if we had a fiscally honest administration, one which acknowledged the financial cost and told us how much taxes would have to rise to pay it, enthusiasm would tend to wane. This administration has been honest about very few things, but its pretense that the war will have no cost, human or fiscal, goes beyond mere politics.

Three events in the past two days are potentially significant.

One of the complaints against Iraq is that some of its missiles can go a few miles farther than is allowed under Resolution 687. This did not seem to be a major violation, but the inspectors took a serious view of the matter and ordered destruction. Iraq began destruction yesterday. Compliance obviously lessens the excuse for war, so the administration dismissed the move as an insignificant contribution to disarmament, merely the tip of the iceberg. That dismissal may not play.

The Turkish parliament failed to authorize staging an invasion on Turkish soil. A majority of those voting consented, but that was short of a majority of those present, so the measure failed. The ruling party may try to present the resolution again next week, but it faces overwhelming public opposition.

Despite its comments on the destruction of the Iraqi missiles, the administration apparently realized that it is a meaningful step, so yesterday the White House shifted ground again: not only is the destruction of these missiles inadequate progress toward destroying WMD, disarmament never will be enough to forestall the invasion; now there must be regime change also. Although in a sense this position is no surprise, there never before has been the naked rejection of disarmament as a sufficient response. The new position thus far has been articulated only by Ari Fleischer, and reported only by The New York Times, so corrections or denials may issue, but none has so far (at 8:30 p.m. Sunday 3/2). Assuming that the President stands by that declaration, he will have parted company with the U.N.; the article stated Fleischer's position to be that "both would be necessary conditions because disarmament was the United Nations' goal and changing Iraq's government was the president's."2

Maybe these events will slow the rush to war, but probably not. The message continues to be: we're going to war; we'll figure out why later; in the meantime, support the troops.

1. 3/22/03: I've seen other estimates of this belief at 40% and Gallup reports that "about half say that [Saddam Hussein] was personally involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."
2. President Bush had given an ambiguous version of the new demand a few days before: "Should we be forced to commit our troops because of [Hussein's] failure to disarm, the mission will be complete disarmament, which will mean regime change."

Mar 3

Of the eight announced Democratic Presidential contenders, four voted for the war resolution. Governor Dean, supposedly anti-war, gave his position recently on The News Hour on PBS. When Gwen Ifill pointed out that he had repeatedly used the qualifier "unilateral," he fell back to a position that invasion is OK if sanctioned by the U.N. As Michael Kinsley put it, deferral to the U.N. is "an awfully convenient resting point for bet-hedging politicians." True, there is a significant difference between invasion with and without that sanction: the latter would be a violation of international law and possibly self-destructive. However, the former, on the current record, cannot be justified either. U.N. consent obtained through bullying, threats of unilateral action and bribery is no consent at all, but even absent that pressure, a U.N. directive to wage war has no moral authority if it is not justified by the facts. The U.N. does indeed need to enforce its resolutions, but invasion would seem not to be the option of choice at this point.

Mar 5

The Fleischer formula, disarmament plus regime change, has begun to turn up in sources other than the NY Times. A column in the Boston Globe on March 3, entitled "A war policy in collapse," listed that change of position, the vote in Turkey and the destruction of missiles as evidence that Mr. Bush's plans may be in tatters. The author, James Carroll, was appropriately cautious: "No one of these developments by itself marks the ultimate reversal of fortune for Bush, but taken together, they indicate that the law of 'unintended consequences,' which famously unravels the best-laid plans of warriors, may apply this time before the war formally begins." Mr. Carroll relied on several additional events in reaching that conclusion.

Prime Minister Blair recently expressed disapproval of the American position on global warming. Mr. Carroll seemed to think that this "clear effort to get some distance from Washington" only could indicate an impending breach; it is as likely an attempt to save face with the home folks while continuing to march to Mr. Bush's war drums.

A speech by George H.W. Bush raised a question:

The president's father chose to give a speech affirming the importance both of multinational cooperation and of realism in dealing with the likes of Saddam Hussein. To say, as the elder Bush did, that getting rid of Hussein in 1991 was not the most important thing is to raise the question of why it has become the absolute now.

This one is at least an embarrassment to the President; faced with his father's comments, he was forced to explain why Hussein's ouster now is an aim, leading to his confusing version of the new formula: "Should we be forced to commit our troops because of his failure to disarm, the mission will be complete disarmament, which will mean regime change."

The renewed demand for regime change prompted Hussein to ask why he should bother disarming if his country is to be invaded in any case. In Mr. Carroll's view, this shows that the new demand "undermined the early case for war" and is "fatal to the moral integrity of the prowar position." If the crucial event is a Security Council vote for war, or some other expression of international approval, that may be so. To an administration determined to invade no matter what, it isn't a problem; Hussein's hesitation in destroying missiles (and the slow pace) simply are added to the list of his delaying tactics.

Another issue is a possible Russian veto. Experts on the News Hour last night opined that Russia was bluffing, that it would abstain. The morning papers reported a meeting at which Russia and France stated they would cast their vetos, so it's anyone's guess. A veto would be a diplomatic defeat, but, again assuming that Bush is going to war with whatever support he has, is that really a roadblock?

The capture in Pakistan of a senior Al Qaeda operative, in Mr. Carroll's view, "highlighted the difference between the pursuit of Sept. 11 culprits and the unrelated war against Iraq. Osama bin Laden, yes. Saddam Hussein, no." That distinction seems to be lost on most people, and isn't likely to cause any soul-searching among the Bush people.

The administration's contradictions, evasions and seeming ineptness regarding the length, cost and nature of an American occupation were noted. They have resulted in some criticism in Congress, but I don't see a reversal of the war resolution in sight.

There were a few more events on the list. I certainly agree that all of them reveal flaws in the Bush world view, but I doubt that they indicate or will lead to second thoughts about the war. Mr. Carroll ended by saying, "The hope now is that - even before the war has officially begun - its true character is already manifesting itself, which could be enough, at last, to stop it." I hope so too, but I doubt it.

Mar 6

The President held a news conference tonight. The purpose, I assume, was to convince the public that he knows what he's about. No doubt the true believers are still on board, but he certainly could not have convinced anyone who was at all skeptical. The questions were almost laughably mild and inept, but the President still failed to answer most of them, falling back on speeches about high principle. His repeated themes were the threat to the U.S. and the goal of bringing democracy to Iraq. The obvious questions regarding those claims were not asked, at least not clearly enough to pin him down.

The advocates for ordinary citizens are their elected representatives and the press. They can protect us from oral sex in the Oval Office, but war obviously is just too much for them.

Mar 9

The P-I, for no obvious reason, ran a column on its op-ed page by "a staff writer for the Riverfront Times in St. Louis," protesting the possibility that CBS will drop coverage of the NCAA basketball finals in favor of war reports. The point of view is revealing: "Escapism - especially in times of war - is a staple of any sane mind. And there is no more pleasant diversion than sports, the cream of which occurs in late March." Leaving aside the importance of televised sports and specifically of "March Madness," this reflects an attitude which helps to make possible the war about to be covered. Yes, an occasional retreat from the ugliness of the world can be sanity-preserving, but it becomes pathological if one simply withdraws from reality. Increasingly, Americans live in a sort of twilight zone in which the distinction between reality and fantasy is blurred, in which the model, for war among other things, is a video game. The impending war has public support or tolerance in part because it will have no more reality to most Americans than any other TV show.

Mar 15

The P-I has tended to follow the line of most of the media in that its news stories present the administration's Iraq policy as if it made sense. The paper has, however, taken a moderately skeptical position editorially, one elaborately and redundantly qualified: "So far, however, the evidence of Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction remains sufficiently absent and Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspectors remains sufficiently high that there is insufficient justification for military force at this time." (February 26) On March 7, reviewing the President's news conference, it declared that "We, like many Americans, remain unconvinced of the direct connection between al-Qaida and Iraq, or that Iraq presents a clear and present danger to us." However, that column had a wistful quality to it: "At a huge moment in American history, the president of the United States left us wanting more. We were eager for clarity and precision -- and it was not to be. President Bush delivered little more than what we've heard over and over; not much new in this 'news' conference." It seems that the P-I, while not convinced, would like to be.

The Seattle Times came to this same desire for reassurance from the opposite direction: it is for the war, but isn't sure why. On February 23, referring to the impending invasion as "Saddam Hussein's war," it asserted that the "war - if it comes - will be a just action, taken by a president who has reached the boundaries of diplomacy and moved to prevent further attacks on the world's democracies." "Entering Iraq...has become necessary. The longer democracies wait, the more emboldened are its [sic] enemies." "Indifference causes war to happen when murderous dictators rise - whether in Germany, Cambodia, Yugoslavia or the Middle East."

Perhaps aware, while reciting these dubious generalities, that it was in over its head, the Times sought help. After arguing that the President had authorization for war from Congress and the U.N., it said, "Ultimately, we understand Bush's real authority comes from the American people. Before he acts, he must go before us another time and tell us why we can no longer delay." Let's roll - oh, and by the way, why are we doing it?

Meanwhile, the administration is being offered an insight into the foolishness of the National Security Strategy, the Iraq policy and its contempt for international law, but doesn't seem to hear the message. The U.S. reportedly is trying to dissuade Turkey from sending troops into Iraq on the heels of an American invasion. "We said to them, 'We oppose unilateral force,'" a senior U.S. official said, very possibly with a straight face. Turkey isn't fooled: "If the safety of America's citizens is so important that its army will come 10,000 miles from home to fight in Iraq, then what about us?" asked a member of the ruling party. "Don't we have a right to defend our own interests in the country next door?"1

Apparently the administration also is worried that Iran might join in. Pandora's box is open.

1. Los Angeles Times 3/15/03.

Mar 19

Here we are again, on the brink of a George Bush adventure, the purpose of which he can't or won't explain, hoping that it will not be as bad as it looks. This time the potential for harm is far greater.

In leading us this way, the administration seems determined to turn itself into a parody of Oceania in 1984. The slogans of the Party were War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength. The administration hasn't matched the second, although its post-9/11 policies tend slightly in that direction, but certainly the other two are in play, the first as its policy, the last as the nature of the public response on which the war policy depends. One important difference is that the government does not have a Ministry of Truth; the facts, contemporary and historical, are available. However, the media largely have parroted the official line, disguising or at least overlooking its illogic and hypocrisy.

Listening to various spokesmen for the administration, notably but by no means exclusively the President, evokes this passage from "The Principles of Newspeak," an appendix to 1984:. "Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all."

Mar 22

Certainly the higher brain centers are in no danger of overuse in Congress. Faced with massive deficits, the Republicans are about to slash taxes again. The Democrats, as usual, can do no more than offer a mild suggestion to be slightly less irresponsible. Just to add to the sense of looming fiscal disaster, the President will ask his minions for $80 billion for phase one of Operation Whatever (I've forgotten, no doubt having repressed, the euphemism). They will promptly appropriate it, not troubling their silly heads over where the money is going to come from. An article in the Washington Post noted that the war funding request had been delayed until both houses had approved the tax cuts. Deception may have been intended, but hardly was necessary.

Mar 26

Ari Fleischer, who clearly has no trouble believing six impossible things before breakfast, tells us that we need the tax cut "to make sure that the economy can grow" and that the reduction in revenue will enhance our ability to wage war. ("The stronger the economy, the stronger we are as a country. The stronger we are as a country, the stronger our military.") In addition, we need the stronger economy created by those tax cuts so that "when the war is over, our military has jobs to come home to."1

In the distant past, a tax increase during wartime not only was considered financially necessary but also was part of the shared sacrifice; we would "support the troops" by paying for the war. No longer. Now, not only is there no cost to war, it is our patriotic duty to benefit from it. Supporting the troops requires tax cuts; we must, however reluctantly, do our duty and accept them.

1. Washington Post 3/26/03.

Mar 27

On March 23, the Los Angeles Times carried a thoughtful column by Arthur Schlesinger in which he offered a position of reasoned, responsible opposition: "Now that we are embarked on this misadventure, let us hope that our intervention will be swift and decisive, and that victory will come with minimal American, British and civilian Iraqi casualties. But let us continue to ask why our government chose to impose this war."

He also asked why the Democratic Party had collapsed; why had it "let the opposition movement fall into the hands of infantile leftists?" I assume that he refers to the protest marchers. I have to admit that my reaction to them has been ambivalent, agreeing with their dismay that we have reached this point and glad for a demonstration that not everyone is mindlessly accepting Bush's rationale du jour, but not quite ready to stand alongside them. There is too much resemblance to the WTO rioters and others of the knee-jerk left.

Maybe that's too smug a point of view. I can sympathize with the view of a couple, whose son is in the war zone, who organize protests. They see no inconsistency in supporting the troops and opposing the war. "We're actually surprised that people have trouble with this one.... If you saw one of your kids getting into a car with a drunk driver, would you stand by the side of the road and salute? Or would you do everything in your power to stop the car?"1

1. Washington Post 3/26/03.

Mar 28

Media coverage of the buildup to war, where not actually favorable, was complacent. Some still recite the administration line - NBC introduces its broadcast with an "Operation Iraqi Freedom" logo - but some critical articles and columns have begun to appear.

It is surprising that criticism is more evident after the beginning of the war than before, but the greater oddity is not the current questioning but the previous silence.

Part of the change is due to the pace of the invasion, which has led to complaints of miscalculation and bad planning. Part is due to a belated realization that war brings casualties. If Baghdad were taken in a few days with minimal deaths, things might return to the status quo ante. However, even as a temporary phenomenon, the change is noteworthy, and is widespread enough that the administration and conservative commentators are complaining about negativism.

Mar 30

Complaints that the war is not progressing as it should may not be valid or realistic, but they are the main thrust of the new critical attitude of at least some reporters. Secretary Rumsfeld's habitual arrogance has not been diminished by any sense that his campaign is not going well, but he does seem to resent the carping: his condescension now is a little edgy.

Mr. Rumsfeld implied that we may attack Syria because of its alleged transshipment of supplies to Iraq. No one has contradicted him, which is ominous. Also ominous is the statement by Iraq's vice president that we have not seen the last suicide bombing and that they may not be confined to Iraq: "We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land."

Apr 4

Secretary Rumsfeld dismissed some criticisms of the progress of the war by referring to mood swings among the media. There is some truth in that; reports have moved from emphasizing early success to unexpected Iraqi resistance to the collapse of the Republican guard, the last leading to predictions of the taking of Baghdad.

The media may be forgiven their mood swings, as the changes of emphasis in part have merely reflected comments by the military or administration officials. Today, in what seemed to be a major change in strategy, Rumsfeld proposed setting up a provisional government in southern Iraq, not waiting for the fall of Baghdad, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Meyers suggested that Baghdad might be "isolated" rather than invaded.

Apr 7

Secretary Powell denied that the administration has any intention of invading Syria or Iran. Should we take that as a statement of policy? Is it an example of the State and Defense Departments having conflicting ideas, not yet resolved by the President? That does seem to be the pattern. Now State and Defense are arguing over who will be appointed to the still amorphous reconstruction regime.

The day after the announcement of the strategy to avoid invading Baghdad, the invasion began. Resistance has been reported to be light, so this switch isn't likely to attract much criticism; so far no one seems to have noticed the change of plan. Polls indicate that the favorable news has sent approval of the war even higher, 77% overall, according to the Washington Post. It will be interesting to see whether it survives the aftermath.

Apr 9

The gloating has begun. President Bush smirkingly demonstrated Saddam's fingers being pried from the throats of the Iraqi people. Vice President Cheney described the defeat of a weak opponent, after more difficulty than he predicted, as "one of the most extraordinary military campaigns ever conducted."

Mr. Cheney is of the opinion that, "coming on the heels of the Afghanistan operation last year, it's proof positive of the success of our efforts to transform our military to meet the challenges of the 21st century."1 He referred only to the military side of the "Afghanistan operation," but the comparison is instructive in other ways: bin Laden and Omar apparently still are at large, the new regime is powerless to control most of the country, the Red Cross and U.N. are confined to Kabul because of the danger, we're doing nothing to improve the situation and the administration didn't ask for any funds for Afghanistan in its budget proposal. Maybe we'll do better this time, if we aren't too busy invading Syria.

The rationale for the invasion of Iraq has been flexible of late: if Iraqis eventually can be portrayed as welcoming the invaders, as the media are trying to show today, then it will have been about freedom and democracy. If any WMD are found, it will have been about them. As to the former, and assuming that something better than the Afghan model emerges, what will the calculus be: how many dead and maimed does it justify?

If all else fails, it was about America's standing tall.

1. Washington Post, 4/9/03.

Apr 10

On April 7, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Virginia v. Black, 538 U. S. ____ (2003), decided a case involving the conviction of three men for violating, in two unrelated incidents, a Virginia statute prohibiting cross burning. The statute made cross burning a crime only if intended to intimidate, but included a provision making the act prima facie evidence of intent. In the trial of one of the defendants, an instruction permitted the jury to infer intent from the act.

The Virginia court held that the statute was unconstitutional:

Under our system of government, people have the right to use symbols to communicate. They may patriotically wave the flag or burn it in protest; they may reverently worship the cross or burn it as an expression of bigotry.... While reasonable prohibitions upon time, place, and manner of speech, and statutes of neutral application may be enforced, government may not regulate speech based on hostility -or favoritism -towards the underlying message expressed.

....Additionally, a statute that sweeps within its ambit both protected and unprotected speech is overbroad. Accordingly, we hold that Code § 18.2-423 violates the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The convictions in each of these appeals will be vacated and the indictments will be dismissed.

The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of the conviction resulting from the jury instruction on intent and remanded the other two. As demonstrated by the remand, its decision is not as strong an affirmation of First Amendment rights as the Virginia ruling; the Supreme Court held that the ban could be constitutional if intent were proved. The decision contains five opinions, producing mixed and in some instances not altogether clear messages. However, seven of the Justices found the statute to be an infringement to one degree or another. The case is significant, especially now: it upholds the right to express unpopular, even despised, ideas absent intimidation.

Perhaps I am assigning too much importance to a divided decision which is unwilling to fully endorse a vigorous statement of First Amendment rights. However, I am not confident that the administration, which allegedly has gone to war to bring freedom to Iraq, is as concerned about preserving it in the United States. Therefore even a qualified reaffirmation of free-speech rights, in a tough case, is no small event.

Justice Scalia, perhaps the greatest source of concern regarding civil liberties, concurred in part of the lead opinion; that part included the following:

...The hallmark of the protection of free speech is to allow 'free trade in ideas' -even ideas that the overwhelming majority of people might find distasteful or discomforting.... If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.

The decision relied upon R.A.V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S. 377 (1992), which held that "content-based discrimination was unconstitutional because it allowed the city 'to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.' " The majority opinion in that case was authored by Justice Scalia. R.A.V. produced the usual plethora of opinions, including vigorous claims that Scalia's theory contracted or confused First Amendment jurisprudence. Whatever the merit of those objections, Scalia used political dissent as the prime example of protected speech:

... We have long held...that nonverbal expressive activity can be banned because of the action it entails, but not because of the ideas it expresses - so that burning a flag in violation of an ordinance against outdoor fires could be punishable, whereas burning a flag in violation of an ordinance against dishonoring the flag is not.

This would be encouraging were it not for a statement made by Justice Scalia in a recent speech. Asked about the Justice Department's pursuit of terrorism suspects and whether their rights are being violated, he said, "The Constitution just sets minimums. Most of the rights that you enjoy go way beyond what the Constitution requires." He did not specify what rights he believed are constitutionally protected, but said that in wartime, one can expect "the protections will be ratcheted right down to the constitutional minimum."1 If the President succeeds in convincing Scalia and his fellow conservatives that we are in a permanent state of war, we may learn where the minimum lies.

1. Associated Press, 3/18/03.

April 12

The lead opinion in the cross-burning case was written by Justice O'Connor, concurred in by Chief Justice Rehnquist. Today I received an e-mail link to a column by Nat Hentoff in The Village Voice which mentions the Scalia speech and equally worrisome statements by Justices Rehnquist and O'Connor.

Apr 16

According to Thomas Hobbes, "...during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man...."1 That is the state of nature, in Hobbes' view, a state at least briefly restored in Baghdad after its "liberation." Such a picture is too dramatic for modern tastes; to Donald Rumsfeld, the chaos, the looting, killing and suffering, are merely "untidy." That description came in response to annoying questions from the press and was intended to be dismissive and condescending in his usual style. Instead, it was wonderfully prissy, a perfect reflection of how little the effects of war bother its planners.

1. Leviathan, Chapter XIII.

Apr 20

The Chairman and a member of the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property have resigned in protest of the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the looting of Baghdad's antiquities museum, saying that it should never have been allowed to happen. Various reports indicate that specific requests and warnings were given to the administration prior to the invasion.

The May-June issue of Archaeology Odyssey arrived yesterday. Despite the issue date, it must have been written before the beginning of the war. It included an article entitled "At Risk! Ancient Sites in Iraq," concerned, as the title indicates, with damage to historic structures and ruins. However, it also contained a warning about looting:

Thousands of archaeological sites in Iraq, birthplace of the world's most ancient cities and earliest writing systems, may soon be threatened by one of the oldest scourges known to man: war. At the invitation of the Pentagon, American archaeologists have supplied military strategists with information about ancient sites to minimize collateral damage. Concern also remains high about postwar looting: Following the Gulf War in 1991, mobs raided nine of Iraq's 13 regional museums.....

So not only did we have warnings from knowledgeable people, we had the last war as a guide.

An Iraqi archaeologist expressed the anger: "A country's identity, its value and civilization resides in its history. If a country's civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation."1

Perhaps nothing could have been done. That appears to be the official line: as our house philosopher tells us, stuff happens. After all, we have our priorities. A cartoon summed them up: two men are sitting in the ruins of the museum; one says, "If only we'd located this thing in the middle of an oil field...."2

1. New York Times, 4/18/03.
2. Ben Sargent, Austin American-Statesman, 4/18/03, from a link to the Washington Post (Universal Press Syndicate).

Apr 24

Being a moderate Republican must be frustrating. Senators Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio loyally voted for the Iraq war resolution, but have been targeted because they think that the size of the proposed tax cut should be limited to the level of irrationality and irresponsibility rather of than madness or wilful destruction, depending on your view of what goes on in the White House.

A recent press release by The Club for Growth, in which it described itself as "one of the nations [sic] leading free-market political advocacy organizations," announced that it will run - perhaps by now already is running - television ads in the Senators' home states criticizing their votes to reduce the Bush tax cut. "Senators Voinovich and Snowe have single-handedly thwarted the central piece of President Bush's economic stimulus package,"' said Club president Stephen Moore, apparently ignoring the Democratic votes. The release described the two obstructive Senators as "Franco-Republicans," and included "screenshots," one of each Senator with the legend "Stands in the Way" and one of Jacques Chirac labeled "Stood in the Way." A French flag flutters in each picture.

The Club's statement announcing the ads rambled on at length, omitting few tax-cut clichés. The best line was another quote by the club president: "The goal of the terrorists is to disable the U.S. economy. Pro-growth tax cuts are a powerful defense mechanism to foil this strategy." Mr. Moore must have been a classmate of Ari Fleischer's at the Institute of Neo-Voodoo Economics.

Today President Bush made the policy of intimidation official by campaigning for his tax cut in Ohio. "Some in Congress say the plan is too big," he said in a speech at a plant in Canton. "Well, it seems like to me they might have some explaining to do."

Senator Jeffords has left the Republican Party. The self-destructive tendencies of the Party and its supporters might push others in the same direction.

Apr 30

In the May issue of Liberty, R.W. Bradford tells us that he became aware of the evils of totalitarianism when he heard, as a child, how Nazis and Communists mistreated people.

They held their prisoners in secret locations, depriving them of what they were used to and comfortable with: food, sleep, water, knowledge of time, and whether it was day or night.

They played on their prisoners’ secret and darkest fears, used physical force against them, made them wear black hoods, held them in stress positions for hours on end, gave them encouragement to talk by pistol whipping them and even, in some cases, by capturing their children to provide them with an incentive to talk.

Then the punch line: "Every phrase I’ve used to describe totalitarian treatment of captives is a direct quotation from a Wall Street Journal article titled, 'How Do U.S. Interrogators Make a Captured Terrorist Talk?' (March 4)."

Little of Bradford's description qualifies as a direct quotation, but it follows the account in the Journal, and his point, that we are using or at least contemplating methods which we associate with evil regimes, is valid.

The WSJ article referred specifically to the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It stated that Mohammed's children "were captured," and that the U.S. has "access" to them. Otherwise, its description of interrogation techniques was similar to a that in an article in The Washington Post on December 26, 2002. Both paint an unpleasant picture of what we are or are becoming; the Post described interrogations in Afghanistan:

Those who refuse to cooperate inside this secret CIA interrogation center are sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, according to intelligence specialists familiar with CIA interrogation methods. At times they are held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights -- subject to what are known as "stress and duress" techniques.


According to Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment, captives are often "softened up" by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms....

The Post report was quoted in The Nation on March 31, 2003, in an article examining and rejecting the arguments for torture.

...As Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and an expert on the Middle East, writes in his new book, The Stakes, "We cannot defend what we stand for by subverting our own values in the process." In the current climate, conservatives may dismiss such talk as soft-minded idealism. In fact, nobody has more adamantly insisted that the war on terrorism is, at root, a conflict about values than George W. Bush.

One of those expressions of values was in this year's State of the Union address, in which the President described torture methods allegedly administered to prisoners in Iraq, and concluded, "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." The practices he listed are more awful than those described above, but the hypocrisy remains. As The Nation put it, "For the same government that denounces such practices to soften the rules when its own interests are at stake sends a disturbing message: that American moralizing is meaningless....."

In its December article, The Post reported that, at a September Congressional hearing, the head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center, referring to the treatment of suspected terrorists, said "This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off." That does seem to be all that this administration needs to know: 9-11, the day the world changed.

May 10

Governor Dean made a political mistake: he raised an unpleasant possibility, one which we should keep in mind, but which does not flatter American self-regard. He said, in a recent speech, "We have to take a different approach. We won't always have the strongest military." Senator Kerry apparently has decided that, since the Republicans keep winning, he should emulate their "patriotic" mindset. Dean's statement "raises serious questions about his capacity to serve as commander in chief," his camp asserted in a campaign news release. "No serious candidate for the presidency has ever before suggested that he would compromise or tolerate an erosion of America's military supremacy."1 Perhaps Kerry felt the need to shift the spotlight from his "regime change" remark; never mind that his attack on Dean more or less missed the point. In rebuttal, Dean pointed out that former President Clinton had said much the same a year ago: "This is a unique moment in U.S. history, a brief moment in history, when the U.S. has preeminent military, economic and political power. It won't last forever. This is just a period; a few decades this will last."

Military superiority depends on economic power. The news articles I've seen do not indicate whether Dean went into that, but Clinton did. He declined to take sides in the Dean-Kerry dispute, but, as reported by The Post, elaborated on his earlier statement: " 'In all probability, we won't be the premier political and economic power we are now' in a few decades, he said, pointing to the growth of China's economy and the growing economic strength of the European Union." 2

In addition to the possibility that other economies may catch up to ours, we have a serious present weakness, our dependance on foreign investment to fund our military spending. We might be able, alone, to fund the levels contemplated by the Bush administration, but clearly it is unwilling to ask the country to do so: as costs explode, taxes are cut. The claims that the deficit will be covered by reductions in other spending, or that tax cuts will produce enough additional revenue to cover the loss, can't be taken seriously. One has to assume that Bush and Co. are content with borrowing, and with the purchase by foreign investors of a significant fraction of the bonds.

Our status as a debtor nation has been addressed - and ignored - for a long time. An article by Niall Ferguson in The New York Times on April 20 discussed this in the context of our imperial ambitions. He pointed out that the cost of rebuilding Iraq will be funded in part by foreign investors. "For the fact is that America is not only the world's biggest economy. It is also the world's biggest borrower. Its muscular military power is underwritten by foreign capital." Ferguson thinks that this is problematic for an imperialist: "This could make for a fragile Pax Americana if foreign investors decide to reduce their stakes in the American economy, possibly trading their dollars for the increasingly vigorous euro."

Ferguson can't be accused of trying to find reasons to oppose American imperialism. His only complaint appears to be that we aren't sufficiently committed to it.3

1. Dean and Kerry comments: Washington Post, 4/29/03.
2. Clinton comments: Washington Post, 5/1/03.
3. See "The Empire Slinks Back," New York Times Magazine, 4/27/03.

May 13

A column by Jeff Kemp in today's P-I argues against proposals to solve the state's fiscal problems by expanding legal gambling. Mr. Kemp's principal argument is that gambling is a social and personal evil, destructive of families. Certainly it is a dubious activity to receive official sanction, encouragement and exploitation.

Mr. Kemp notes in passing one effect of gambling on public policy: "Gambling is addictive for individuals and governments alike. Once a person gets hooked on gambling it's difficult to quit. And government is just as hard to wean from gambling once it becomes accustom[ed] to the revenue." He doesn't pursue the latter point, perhaps because it leads directly to the reason for the state's need for gambling: its unwillingness to create enough revenue by more legitimate means, e.g., taxes.

I don't know whether Jeff Kemp shares his father's views on tax policy, but it is relevant to note that the tendency of Washington, other states and the federal government to resort to substitute revenue sources and accounting gimmicks is due in part to the wave of tax cutting with which the elder Kemp is identified. I acknowledge that Jack Kemp's advocacy of lower taxes is grounded in the belief that cutting taxes will, in the long run, bring increased revenue. However, apart from the deficiencies in that theory, cuts in federal taxes have become, for Republicans and many Democrats, an obsession divorced completely, except in cynical rhetoric, from their supposed beneficial effects. At the state level, little effort is made at theory, other than to emulate the Bush pretense that cuts are designed to help ordinary people.

Perhaps this is an appropriate time to demonstrate that I don't always disagree with Jack Kemp, although that will require an abrupt change of subject.

I rarely refer to, the collection of conservative columnists. A few of them appear regularly and others occasionally in papers I read and I'm not, on the whole, sufficiently impressed by their contributions to civic discourse to look for more. However, having seen a reference somewhere to Jack Kemp's views on the war, I visited that web site about a month ago to look up his columns. I discovered some very insightful comments on Iraq, which, unfortunately, influenced very few of his fellow Republicans and not enough Americans of any category. In addition to their intrinsic merit, they illustrate how good sense can be overpowered, at least temporarily, by loyalty.

On October 1, 2002, Mr. Kemp recognized the progress made by inspections in the early 90s: "Far from being a failure due to a lack of enforcement authority, UNSCOM was succeeding in its primary objective -- disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and destroying the capability to produce more of them in the future." He stated the case for inspections clearly: "if the inspectors have immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to sites, the degree of Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions on nuclear weapons can be verified fairly rapidly and other troubling questions on biological and chemical weapons could be answered within a year." This, of course, required a degree of patience not to be found elsewhere.

He added that "Congress must give the president an effective legislative mandate to enforce Iraq's disarmament as called for by a series of U.N. resolutions, which would entail the authority to use military force if necessary." That was an error; such a resolution led to the invasion. Kemp meant it to serve inspection and disarmament and made clear that it should authorize military action only if all else failed, but the administration had other ideas.

On October 17, Kemp was clearer about the limited nature of the military force he envisioned: "I do not believe Iraq would resist [inspections], but if they do, by all means...apply the force required, but only that required to successfully effect the search and destroy any weapons discovered." This resembles the position taken by Jessica Tuchman Mathews of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in March, 2002.

Kemp certainly did not endorse the administration line about deposing Hussein: "There is no need to burn down the house to gain entry, and disarmament is the goal, not a pre-emptory unilateral regime change. Regime change should only be undertaken as the ultimate means, if necessary, to effect disarmament." As Dr. Mathews had put it, "rather than seeking to oust Saddam Hussein from power, the U.S. goal ought to be to thwart his continuing attempt to acquire these weapons [of mass destruction]. The inability to make a clear choice between these two aims was the Clinton administration's costliest foreign policy error. The Bush administration seems prepared to make a choice -- but the wrong one."1

Kemp was suspicious of the war hawks but gullible about the President: "To his great credit, Bush has not been snookered by those whose agenda is more one of conquest than disarmament. He clearly does not intend to allow himself to be stampeded into immediately using his newly authorized grant of power from the Congress to invade Iraq, as evidenced by his unambiguous statement last week that military action is neither imminent nor unavoidable."

On November 19, Mr. Kemp urged full and proper use of Resolution 1441: "it's time to give inspections a chance to succeed in disarming Iraq." He then went further, suggesting adding a carrot to the stick: "we would enhance our chances for success by announcing that if the inspections are successful and Iraq cooperates in disarming, then we will lift the embargo and remove sanctions. " In perhaps his most pointed comment, Kemp said "it's time to lower the level of bellicosity that has been raised by some in Washington...." He ended this column by reminding his readers that the 9/11 terrorists had not needed WMD and that we should be concentrating on eliminating any repetition of that tragedy, a point lost on most.

Kemp criticized the Clinton administration's Iraq policy, which certainly is fair, and it leads to a more general point: our policy toward Iraq has been flawed, to put it mildly, for virtually the entire reign of Saddam Hussein.

Much of Kemp's January 7 column was devoted to the contrast between our restraint regarding North Korea and our war plans for Iraq. He acknowledged that identical treatment might not be appropriate, but wondered why diplomacy was not an option regarding Iraq, and expressed concern that "we might actually be stimulating WMD proliferation among small, weak nations if we go to war with Iraq without having in hand concrete and convincing evidence that it has failed to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction."

On January 22, he expressed dismay that we were headed toward war when the inspections were making progress. "To date, U.N. inspectors appear to have the access they demand and to have found nothing suspicious beyond about 16 unused artillery shells..." Instead, "officials" were suggesting other rationales for war: Iraq failed to fully cooperate with inspectors; it imported missile engines and other non-WMD equipment and materials barred under the U.N. arms embargo; it fired on U.S. planes patrolling the no-fly zones. Kemp found the new rationales be "insufficient to justify bombing or invading and occupying Iraq as long as U.N. inspectors continue to have unfettered access to Iraq sites and personnel."

He offered the sensible suggestion that we "give U.N. inspectors all of the intelligence information we can to help in their search." However, his mood had changed: "We should open direct communications with Iraq..., but not to negotiate or offer Hussein a carrot of some kind - quite the contrary. Now is the time to...tell them precisely what they must do to avoid war. Give Iraq a detailed checklist of items and actions we demand before we will stand down militarily." Kemp was being overwhelmed by the bellicose attitude which he criticized.

On February 18, Kemp told us that the President "has always said war in Iraq is not inevitable, but there appeared to be only two possible alternatives: 1) the threat of war followed by Saddam Hussein's abdication or disarmament; or 2) all-out war followed by prolonged U.S. military occupation." The odd formulation of the first alternative seemed to indicate an abandonment of his hope for inspections. Kemp attributed the second alternative to the war hawks and rejected it because "invading and occupying a Muslim country portends political and social turmoil across the Middle East and escalating terrorism around the world." Further, the hawks' scheme "is the first step in a much larger, ill-considered foreign-policy gambit to try and remake the entire Middle East through U.S.-induced chaos - a strategic nightmare."

Kemp was of the opinion that Bush had a third way in mind, that he merely gave the impression of going along with the hawks' plan because their strategy "offered the perfect opening gambit" for what Kemp believed to be Bush's preferred strategy: "peaceful envelopment." The hawks' plan also "provided a fallback position." The probably imaginary third way was a naïve and peaceful variation on the neocons' dream of marching into Iraq amid flowers and cheers:

...The purpose of Operation Peaceful Envelopment is not to conquer and rule over people but to control territory temporarily to ensure order, root out any proscribed weapons and get a provisional government established. Allied military forces would be replaced as quickly as possible by a temporary U.N. force.
...The military's objective would be to envelop Iraq as peacefully as possible in a security mantle and escort a caretaker governor into Baghdad. Action would not begin with aerial bombardment or involve lightning attacks on Iraqi military installations or strikes on civilian infrastructure. Overwhelming military presence would be established in Iraq but unleashed selectively only if Iraqi forces resist.

The final column in this series is of March 25. Alternatives to war were history, but decisions needed to be made about the aftermath. The main thrust of his comments was to reject the advice of Charles Krauthammer and Richard Perle to dump the U.N. Kemp believed, sensibly, that this would be a blunder.

He went on to make a comment about competing world views which is insightful, and in which his earlier resistance to war returns, but now expressed in general terms. "The common hubris of the left and some of my neoconservative friends alike is their belief that pre-emptive military force may legitimately be used other than in unambiguous self-defense against a present or imminent threat to a nation's or a people's security." The "some" seems to be misplaced, but numeric qualifiers aren't important to the point that he makes, which is a valid one.

The only difference between many on the left and the right today seems to be whether they believe preventive war must be waged through the United Nations, as liberals desire, or by ad hoc coalitions of the willing, as some neocons prefer....


Even liberal supporters of the United Nations now seem to agree that the organization may appropriately use force to enforce its own demands, even if those demands are not directly related to repelling a present or imminent threat of attack on a member of their own.

Kemp had an entirely different view of the function of the U.N.; here he returned to the mood of his earlier columns:

...The promise of the United Nations was not to legitimize war but rather to provide a collective forum to help avoid war and a mechanism of collective security if members were attacked or in imminent danger of being attacked. The terrible irony of this war is that the United Nations is being criticized, not for failing to keep the peace, but for failing to wage war to enforce one of its resolutions....

These columns provided sensible views, marred only by Kemp's unwarranted confidence in the President; they were capped by a significant final insight, in its turn diluted by a refusal to recognize that George W. Bush is among those making that charge against the U.N.

1. Washington Post, March 4, 2002.

May 25

Several members of Congress, including Senators Lugar, Biden and Hagel, are concerned, even outraged, that the pacification and reconstruction of Iraq are progressing so slowly and that Congress and the public are not being kept fully informed as to the administration's plans, expectations and cost estimates. The Senators expressed these views in a recent grilling of Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz.1

It is amazing that such intelligent and serious people could be so naïve. What did they expect when they voted for a resolution authorizing a secretive, dishonest, obsessed government to invade Iraq? What did they expect the effects of war to be? Did they expect them to be merely, in the famous phrase, untidy?

Senator Lugar has discovered that "The planning for peace was much less developed than the planning for war." Was that in doubt? The Senator now is committed to a reconstruction effort stretching over five years and costing billions of dollars. Did he have that in view when he voted "Aye?" What is his explanation to voters that those billions will not go to reducing the deficit or keeping schools open? Polls indicate that the public thinks that we have an obligation to rebuild Iraq, but if they were told candidly what the choices are, instead of the administration's you-can-have-it-all line, Iraq would fall swiftly to the bottom of the table.

Senator Biden berated Wolfowitz for not acknowledging the facts: "When is the president going to tell the American people that we're likely to be in the country of Iraq for three, four, five, six, eight, ten years, with thousands of forces and spending billions of dollars? Because it's not been told to them yet...home constituency doesn't understand that." Has the Senator told that to his constituents? Did he do so when he cast his vote for the war?

Senator Hagel observed, apparently without irony, that "we may have underestimated or mischaracterized the challenges of establishing security and rebuilding Iraq."

1. New York Times, 5/22/03.

June 11

The New York Times published an extended exposé of Jayson Blair's sins of commission and its of omission. If it thought that a detailed, unforced confession would blunt criticism, it has been disappointed. Apparently anxious to reaffirm the principle that no good deed goes unpunished, the media applied themselves with vigor, indignation and sarcasm to the Blair scandal.

If the issue is the quality of journalism at The Times, most of the criticism hasn't made the point which most needs making, that The Times and the media in general have been derelict in reporting the fact that the Bush administration has led us to the edge of a precipice - to the edges of several simultaneously, if you don't mind a fractured metaphor. Let's deal with one chasm into which we've already tumbled, Iraq.

I have just read The Day the Presses Stopped,1 dealing with the publication of the Pentagon Papers by The Times and later by The Washington Post. The Times, The Post and many of the critics might profit by reading it; as then, we are governed by an administration which has led us into war by devious means. In 1971, The Times and The Post stuck their necks out to publish the Defense Department's study of how we ended up where we did, in the belief that the truth would serve the public interest. The same cannot be said of their performance regarding this war, although The Post's reporting has improved. (One critic which has moved beyond Blair is The Nation, which has made pointed, negative, repeated - almost obsessive - comments on The Times' coverage of the war, especially the reporting of Judith Miller on WMD.)

In addition to less-than-skeptical news coverage, enthusiasm for war has been striking on the op-ed pages of both papers; The Post could have been mistaken in the pre-war period for a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bush & Co.

Two major columnists for The Times, Thomas Friedman and William Safire, were enthusiastic about invading Iraq, but have taken a position at odds with the administration on various domestic issues. The combination, in my view, doesn't work.

Mr. Safire's position is clear, and has been explicitly described by him: he is a foreign-policy hawk and a domestic libertarian. Whether those are compatible positions in general I do not know, but in the present context, they force him to do an abrupt and disorienting about-face at the water's edge.

Safire denounced the military tribunals, looser guidelines for FBI activity, the Total Information Awareness program and Patriot Act II. These are principled, and I think correct, positions, but they cannot be reconciled with his unquestioning support for the invasion of Iraq; the same theory of government and the same mindset underlie both.

Take two of his arguments as illustrations of the similarity of the positions he accepts and rejects. On November 15, 2001, he said this as to the military tribunals:

Misadvised by a frustrated and panic-stricken attorney general, a president of the United States has just assumed what amounts to dictatorial power to jail or execute aliens. Intimidated by terrorists and inflamed by a passion for rough justice, we are letting George W. Bush get away with the replacement of the American rule of law with military kangaroo courts.

Is Iraq different? Intimidated by terrorists and inflamed by a passion for rough justice, we let the President, misadvised by neocon hawks, get away with replacing international law with military domination.

On March 6, 2003, he asked how we should feel about launching a pre-emptive strike, and answered as follows:

We are launching this attack, already too long delayed, primarily to defend ourselves. This is a response to reasonable fear. We know Saddam is developing terror weapons and is bound on vengeance; we know he has ties to terror organizations eager to use those weapons for more mass murder;... we know Americans are terror's prime targets....

The miliary tribunals were proposed primarily to defend ourselves. They were a response to a fear as reasonable as the prospect of attack by Iraq or the belief it would hand WMD to terrorists.

Mr. Safire's defense of civil liberties is admirable - and in the present environment, very important - but he can't have it both ways. A government which arrogantly decides to do whatever it damned well pleases abroad, heedless of contrary opinion, principle, logic and international law will do what it damned well pleases at home, heedless of contrary opinion, principle, logic and the Constitution.

Mr. Friedman was so caught up in the post 9-11 fervor that he was less concerned about violations of civil liberties than Safire. He advocated the war, not minding either before or after that the stated reasons were pretextual.

Mr. Friedman's inconsistencies are less striking than Mr. Safire's, in part because his views are more ambiguous; he calls them neoliberal. "Neoliberals believe in a muscular foreign policy and a credible defense budget, but also a prudent fiscal policy that balances taxes, deficit reduction and government services." His June 11 column offered that definition and, apparently as an application of it, criticized "George Bush's maniacal tax cuts." (High marks for the description). He noted that the cuts will result in reduced services, jeopardize Social Security and make us even more dependant on foreign capital. However, so will spending billions of dollars invading and rebuilding other countries. The early estimate of the cost of our recent exercise in muscular foreign policy was 100 to 200 billion dollars, and there is no reason to doubt its accuracy. That would pay for a lot of services.

Unlike Safire, Friedman didn't buy the administration line as to why we had to invade Iraq. He didn't believe that Saddam was a threat and acknowledged that the war was carried out for reasons of policy or, as he put it, was "a war of choice." I'm not sure how he can retain his liberal credentials, neo or otherwise, spending 100 billion on a discretionary war while jeopardizing Social Security.

1. David Rudenstein, University of California Press 1996.

June 13

Leaving my theory of philosophical inconsistencies aside, Mr. Safire's support of the war was, according to all of the evidence to date, based on a faulty factual assumption; Iraq wasn't a threat. Mr. Friedman doubted the threat all along, but he managed to find other rationales which are equally hard to accept.

On June 4, Friedman told us that "there were actually four reasons for this war: the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason and the stated reason."

The "real reason" for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn't enough because a terrorism bubble had built up over there - a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured....
...Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world....

His "real reason" leaves out oil; on January 5, he thought that was a significant factor.

It does seem that invading Iraq resulted from something akin to the "real reason:" the need felt by President Bush to strike at someone; the years-long obsession with Iraq, the Middle East and American hegemony on the part of some of his advisors; the moral and military vulnerability of Hussein; oil.

The "right reason" for the war was "to build a progressive Arab regime."

... The real weapons that threaten us are the growing number of angry, humiliated young Arabs and Muslims, who are produced by failed or failing Arab states - young people who hate America more than they love life. Helping to build a decent Iraq as a model for others - and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - are the necessary steps for defusing the ideas of mass destruction, which are what really threaten us.

This has been Friedman's dubious theme for some time: make us safe from Muslim terrorists by invading a Muslim country and remaking it in our image.

The "moral reason" for the war was that Saddam "had killed thousands of his own people, and neighbors, and needed to be stopped." Friedman thinks that Bush could not gain support for the war using the moral reason. I didn't think it would fly either; in fact, it proved to be popular and eventually became an important fallback position for the administration. As Friedman concedes, he adopted it also. On April 27, referring to a picture from a burial ground, reportedly of Hussein's victims, he said,

As far as I'm concerned, we do not need to find any weapons of mass destruction to justify this war. That skull, and the thousands more that will be unearthed, are enough for me....

Whether you were for or against this war, whether you preferred that the war be done with the U.N.'s approval or without it, you have to feel good that right has triumphed over wrong. America did the right thing here. It toppled one of the most evil regimes on the face of the earth,...

That statement reveals more than intended: this is a "feel-good" rationale. Candid reporting about the casualties would make us feel less good.

It seems to me that, for the administration, the moral or "liberation" argument was an obvious makeweight. In addition, it had technical problems which made it difficult to put forward as the administration's reason for invading Iraq. As Harold Meyerson has pointed out, freeing Iraq from a dictator "was never a sufficient reason for the United States to go to war, as Bush and his aides clearly understood. Even under the theory of preemption as they propounded it, the preemptee can't simply be a totalitarian thug; he has to pose a threat to us as well."1 He referred, I assume, to the National Security Strategy, which bases preemptive military action on threats to our security:

...While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country;...

...The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security.... To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

Despite Mr. Meyerson's reminder, the administration now seems content to hide behind the moral reason.

This brings us to the reason actually advanced. The "stated reason"' was "that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction that posed an immediate threat to America." It was adopted "because the Bush team never dared to spell out the real reason for the war, and (wrongly) felt that it could never win public or world support for the right reasons and the moral reasons...."

What if no WMD are found? In answering that, Friedman distinguished between "his" war and Bush's; the former apparently consists of tagging along behind the real one, claiming collateral benefits. Because his war was right and moral, he isn't very concerned about any misstatements by the administration.

...Finding Iraq's W.M.D.'s is necessary to preserve the credibility of the Bush team, the neocons, Tony Blair and the C.I.A. But rebuilding Iraq is necessary to win the war.... Mr. Bush's credibility rides on finding W.M.D.'s, but America's future, and the future of the Mideast, rides on our building a different Iraq....

Is credibility important only to the present administration? Would America's future not be affected by our being a liar as well as a militarist? Never mind: the important thing is that Iraq must be rebuilt and transformed; if not, Mr. Friedman's war will have been in vain.

1. Washington Post, 5/13/03.

June 15

The invasion of Iraq, we were told, was necessary to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction which were a threat to the United States. Any doubts as to the truth of such claims were reenforced as the war began: no such weapons were used by Iraq in its defense. As has been noted, if they were not used to repel an invader bent on regime change, when would they have been used?

This week will mark three months since the invasion of Iraq began and no such weapons have been discovered. The initial search, based on intelligence about specific sites, is winding down.

If the administration's pre-war story were sound, those weapons shouldn't have been hard to find. On February 5, Secretary Powell told the Security Council, "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough agent to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets." He identified "active chemical munitions bunkers." He claimed that, in November, "a missile brigade outside Baghdad was dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agent to various locations, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq."

The failure to find WMD has led, in Britain, to stinging criticism of the government by the media and by members of Parliament. Reaction has been much more restrained here, which makes one wonder whether we are prepared to accept anything which feels like a response to 9-11. However, without in any degree taking the administration's side, a case can be made for reserving final judgment on the accuracy or truthfulness of the administration's WMD claims. On June 8, Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for the Pentagon, wrote to the New York Times to complain that critics were inconsistent; having asked for more time for the UN inspections, they should apply the same standard now. The comparison is neither disinterested nor persuasive, but the conclusion is sound enough: let the administration have as long as it reasonably requests before passing judgment on its claims, warnings, rationales and intelligence. There is no urgency and we should make an assessment which will stand up.

We can, however, draw some preliminary conclusions about the WMD issue. The most obvious is that the administration is not very confident that any will be found; concessions and fallback positions are appearing almost daily.

On May 30, President Bush, referring to the famous two trailers, fudged from weapons to weapon-producing devices:

You remember when Colin Powell stood up in front of the world, and he said, 'Iraq has got laboratories, mobile labs to build biological weapons.' They're illegal. They're against the United Nations resolutions, and we've so far discovered two. And we'll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them.1

National Security Advisor Rice had this to say on June 8 about Iraq's weapons: "No one ever said that we knew precisely where all of these agents were, where they were stored."2 However, on March 30, Secretary Rumsfeld had said "We know where they are. They're in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat." Perhaps that isn't "precise" by Dr. Rice's standards. In any case, she now hopes that interviews will lead us to something: only "a fraction of the people who were involved" in the weapons programs have been interviewed and "we've always known that the strongest evidence...will come from talking to the people who were involved."3

Also on June 8, Dr. Rice changed the subject from weapons to weapons programs:

The fact is this was a program that was built for concealment. We've always known that. We've always known that it would take some time to put together a full picture of his weapon of mass destruction programs.4

The President echoed this on June 9:

Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program.5

That obviously programmed statement tells us that now we're merely seeking to verify the existence, at some unspecified time, of a weapons program which was revealed by intelligence "throughout the decade." That isn't quite the same as "Saddam Hussein has dangerous weapons today," as the President stated on October 8, 2002, or that Hussein "is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons," as he said in his State of the Union address, or "Saddam Hussein possesses chemical and biological weapons," as Rumsfeld said on January 20.

Perhaps Iraq destroyed all of those weapons just before we invaded, as Mr. Rumsfeld now suggests. But then how did our intelligence, which could produce the detailed information utilized by Secretary Powell, manage to miss such a massive operation? How could Rumsfeld be so certain about the weapons before the war, and - now that he has possession of the country - say, as to the failure to find any, "I don't know the answer"? Is it possible that Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz spoke the truth when he said that the WMD threat was merely bureaucratically convenient, i.e., not necessarily true but saleable? The administration seems to be down to this consoling argument, offered by Viceroy Paul Bremer: "I think we'll find something at some point. It's hard to believe Saddam would have put his people through so much misery and given up millions of dollars if he didn't have something to hide."6

The President ended his tactical retreat on June 9 with this:

Asked whether U.S. credibility was at stake in the search for weapons of mass destruction, Bush shifted the focus to the ouster of Saddam. "The credibility of this country is based upon our strong desire to make the world more peaceful and the world is now more peaceful after our decision," he said. "History and time will prove that the United States made the absolute right decision in freeing the people of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein.7

The number of dead and permanently injured Iraqis takes some of the glow from "freeing" the rest and it's difficult to see benefits to most of the survivors at this point; hence the appeal to time and history. The world is more peaceful? Iraqis and Americans are dying regularly in Iraq, terrorists have killed about 60 people, including Americans, in Saudi Arabia and Morocco and reciprocal killing continues in Israel and Palestine. WMD may not prove to be the justification for the invasion, but the liberation and pacification theories aren't looking too good either. _________________________

1. Washington Post, 5/31/03.
2, 4. NBC, "Meet the Press" 6/8/03.
3. Washington Post, 6/9/03, reporting an interview on ABC's "This Week" 6/8.
5. Washington Post, 6/10/03.
6. 6/3/03.
7. 6/9/03.

June 20

Federal judges rarely are accused of excessive modesty. To the contrary, one of the arguments for the election of judges is that life tenure goes to the head. However, in the assertiveness department, judges are amateurs compared to the executive branch, or at least to its present incumbents; when told by the Justice Department to get out of the way, the judiciary not only obliges but confesses its unworthiness.

The latest manifestation is Center for National Security Studies v. U.S., decided June 17, in which the District of Columbia Circuit allowed the government to withhold the names of people it detained following 9-11. The Washington Post, in its house editorial on June 18, aptly described the theory underlying the decision: "The government need only whisper the words 'national security,' the court says in effect, and the courts will roll over."

"Various 'public interest' groups," as the Court dismissively described them, submitted a request to the Justice Department in October, 2001 asking, under the Freedom of Information Act, for the following information about those detained in the post-9/11 sweep:

1) name and citizenship status; 2) location of arrest and place of detention; 3) date of detention/arrest, date any charges were filed, and the date of release; 4) nature of charges or basis for detention, and the disposition of such charges or basis; 5) names and addresses of lawyers representing any detainees; 6) identities of any courts which have been requested to enter orders sealing any proceedings in connection with any detainees, copies of any such orders, and the legal authorities relied upon by the government in seeking the sealing orders; 7) all policy directives or guidance issued to officials about making public statements or disclosures about these individuals or about the sealing of judicial or immigration proceedings.

This may be excessive, but items 1, 2 (place of detention) and 4 are matters of fundamental concern in any free society: whom has the government detained and why; where are they? According to the Court, plaintiffs specifically raised questions about mistreatment of the detainees, imprisonment without probable cause and interference with the right to counsel.

The detainees at issue were divided by the government and by the Court into three groups: "individuals who were questioned in the course of the investigation and detained by the INS for violation of the immigration laws;" "individuals held on federal criminal charges;" "persons detained after a judge issued a material witness warrant to secure their testimony before a grand jury..." In response to plaintiffs' FOIA request, the government released some information, but, as to INS detainees, withheld the detainees' names, locations of arrest and detention, the dates of release, and the names of lawyers. As to criminal detainees, the government withheld the dates and locations of arrest and detention, the dates of release, and citizenship. It withheld all requested information with respect to material witnesses.

Plaintiffs sued to enforce their request. The District Court ordered the government to disclose the names of the detainees and their lawyers, but held that the government was entitled to withhold all other information. Both sides appealed.

The Court of Appeals divided 2-1; the majority opinion is, in part, simply an application of the exceptions to disclosure in FOIA, and is an illustration of the fact that public disclosure acts operate as much to prevent as to facilitate disclosure. However, the application of the exemptions in this case is influenced by an attitude of subservience which makes clear that the courts are not to be relied upon to protect anyone's liberties if the government says "terrorism."

The Court held that the names of those detained could be withheld under the exemption set out in 5 U.S.C § 552(b)(7), which insulates "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings...." The Justice Department submitted two declarations allegedly supporting its claim that disclosure would so interfere. That was enough. Under 7(A), the government has the burden of demonstrating a reasonable likelihood of interference with the investigation. "The government's declarations, viewed in light of the appropriate deference to the executive on issues of national security, satisfy this burden." This is because "in the FOIA context, we have consistently deferred to executive affidavits predicting harm to the national security, and have found it unwise to undertake searching judicial review." To make sure that the point was not lost, the Court added,

The need for deference in this case is just as strong as in earlier cases. America faces an enemy just as real as its former Cold War foes, with capabilities beyond the capacity of the judiciary to explore. Exemption 7(A) explicitly requires a predictive judgment of the harm that will result from disclosure.... It is abundantly clear that the government's top counterterrorism officials are well-suited to make this predictive judgment. Conversely, the judiciary is in an extremely poor position to second-guess the executive's judgment in this area of ational security....

The Court offered several arguments as to the dangers of disclosure. On the whole, the Court's rationale is not convincing, but the arguments are superfluous; once the Court deferred to the government, the matter was decided.

Like Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, this decision gives the government open-ended powers: prosecutors always can allege interference with an investigation, so people can be detained secretly, with or without charges.

Rather than simply deferring to the government, the dissenting judge would have allowed it to withhold information, but only on a better showing: "I would therefore remand to allow the government to describe, for each detainee or reasonably defined category of detainees, on what basis it may withhold their names and other information."

The dissent agreed that "uniquely compelling governmental interests are at stake: the government's need to respond to the September 11 attacks - unquestionably the worst ever acts of terrorism on American soil - and its ability to defend the nation against future acts of terrorism." Whether 9-11 should give rise to unique prosecutorial rights is debatable; certainly that is an easily abused notion. However, the dissent retained a sense of balance:

...But although this court overlooks it, there is another compelling interest at stake in this case: the public's interest in knowing whether the government, in responding to the attacks, is violating the constitutional rights of the hundreds of persons whom it has detained in connection with its terrorism investigation - by, as the plaintiffs allege, detaining them mainly because of their religion or ethnicity, holding them in custody for extended periods without charge, or preventing them from seeking or communicating with legal counsel.

As to the issue of deference, the dissenting judge was not so easily persuaded:

...Invoking the "heightened deference to the judgments of the political branches with respect to matters of national security," ... the government refuses to identify the specific categories of information that would actually interfere with its investigation, but rather asks us simply to trust its judgment. This court obeys....

Like the Fourth Circuit in Hamdi, the majority found separation of powers to be an excuse for inaction. The dissent's statement on this point is a little unclear. Assuming that concept to have any significance, the response should be - and the dissent's may well have been - that separation of powers is not honored or enforced by the judiciary's becoming subservient to the executive.

A government which operates in secret can abuse its power. This is not an academic concern; the administration's mistreatment of these detainees is documented by the report of the Inspector General of the Justice Department. The response: ''We make no apologies for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public from further terrorist attacks,'' said Barbara Comstock, a spokeswoman for the department."1 Perhaps the White House should have considered Ms. Comstock as Ari Fleischer's replacement.

1. New York Times 6/2/03.

July 3

On July 2, President Bush reacted to continuing attacks on American forces in Iraq in his signature blustering style: "bring 'em on." His use of this foolish phrase has been criticized for encouraging attacks on our forces, which is stretching things a bit. However, his outburst indicates how defensive he is about the situation. Viceroy Bremer announced that the Iraqi opposition is becoming desperate, a reaction which seems to refect a similar anxiety. Whether the attacks show desperation, they are numerous and deadly. Judging from several recent news reports, the attacks, combined with the lack of any prospect for an early return home, are having a serious effect on morale.

The number of casualties usually is reported with reference to the date of the President's speech on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, in which he said that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." The report always includes that phrase or some variation, and usually nothing else. Describing the speech solely in those terms ignores the celebratory nature of the occasion. Bush was there to swagger, pose for reelection campaign photos and declare victory. In fact, his next sentence was "In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." That makes the continued combat more difficult for him to accept and to explain.

The government announced a reward of $25 million for information leading to the capture of Saddam Hussein or proof that he is dead. This hardly is a surprise. Bush is not riding as high in the polls as before and needs something which will signify success. Capturing or killing Saddam would do that; so would finding weapons of mass destruction.

A dead or imprisoned Saddam could actually change the situation, assuming that the guerrilla fighters are taking orders from him or hoping for his return. However, its major benefit to Bush would be symbolic: we said we would take him out; see, we have.

Finding WMD would have the same symbolic benefit, as well as validating the excuse given for the war. The definition of WMD by now is flexible, so virtually anything that looks like toxic chemicals or biological agents or plans to produce them will do. If whatever turns up was no threat to us, he'll hope no one notices.

July 12

The Fourth Circuit preserved its status as the graveyard of civil liberties by denying, 8-4, an en banc rehearing in the latest appeal in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (Hamdi III).1 Mr. Hamdi will remain incarcerated at the government's discretion.

There was no opinion of the court, but two of the dissenters (Judges Luttig and Motz) filed opinions, as did two of the majority (Judges Wilkinson and Traxler), who also were members of the panel which decided the appeal. The circumstances of Hamdi's capture form a major issue in this exchange. Mr. Hamdi no doubt has something to say about that; however, he wasn't allowed to participate.

The exchange between the four judges is not edifying. It does little to clarify the principles which should govern cases of this sort and the arguments by the members of the panel do nothing to make its opinion more persuasive. The dissenters do not exactly stake out a bold liberal position; Judge Luttig seems to be committed to even more deference to the executive than the panel, and Judge Motz is willing to place the burden of proof on the prisoner. Judge Luttig's opinion is an exercise in syntactical and analytical obscurity; only its hostile tone is clear.

The panel decision turned on this formula:

Thus, it is undisputed that Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan during a time of armed hostilities there. It is further undisputed that the executive branch has classified him as an enemy combatant.

At times, the first half of the formula was expressed somewhat more specifically: "Hamdi was captured in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict...." The first half turns out to be dispositive: capture "in Afghanistan during a time of armed hostilities there" or capture "in a zone of active combat in a foreign theater of conflict" eliminates any serious scrutiny of the government's assertion that the prisoner is an enemy combatant. The proof offered on the second point was the infamous Mobbs Declaration, a hearsay statement that Hamdi is an enemy combatant. That was adequate because, once the first requirement is satisfied, a mere allegation establishes the second.

As to the first half of the formula, both dissenting opinions questioned whether capture in a combat zone is a meaningful test. As Judge Luttig put it,

The embedded journalist or even the unwitting tourist could be seized and detained in a foreign combat zone. Indeed, the likelihood that such could occur is far from infinitesimal where the theater is global, not circumscribed, and the engagement is an unconventional war against terrorists, not a conventional war against an identifiable nation state.

Judge Motz concurred, using as examples American journalists covering the war in Iraq or a member of a humanitarian organization working in Afghanistan.

Indeed, under the panel's holding, any American citizen seized in a part of the world where American troops are present - e.g., the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines, or Korea - could be imprisoned indefinitely without being charged with a crime or afforded legal counsel, if the Executive asserted that the area was a zone of active combat.

Judge Traxler offered this rebuttal:

Afghanistan is an identifiable nation state and Hamdi was in a conventional war situation. Every resident within Afghanistan (including Hamdi as was explicitly alleged) was in law an enemy, until determined by the Executive to be a friend.... American journalists and American tourists who venture into a country with whom we are at war without the approval of our military, or who fail to return to this country in time of war, necessarily expose themselves to many risks, including this one....

This is somewhat disingenuous. Although Hamdi may be limited to Afghanistan, the panel opinion is full of sweeping generalizations about deference to the administration, and there is no reason to think that the definition of a zone of combat would be exempted. In addition, the point regarding the journalist, tourist or aid worker applies to Afghanistan. According to Judge Traxler, anyone, however innocent of anti-American impulse, could be imprisoned merely because a) he was in Afghanistan in late 2001 and b) some faceless functionary in the DOD asserts that he's an enemy combatant.

Despite Judge Luttig's criticism of the panel's definition of a combat zone, it turns out that he really isn't concerned about that. His complaint is that the panel wrongly concluded that capture in such a zone had been conceded by the petitioner; hence the "undisputed" in the formula. Here is where Hamdi's banishment from the proceedings is the most poignant. The panel held that he had conceded the issue, based on statements by the lawyers hired by his father, acting as next friend; neither the father nor his lawyers have had any contact with Hamdi since his capture. Leaving aside whether those statements were clear concessions, what an unfair - not to say stupid - way to decide an issue concerning a man's freedom.

As to the second factor, Judge Motz rejected the panel's standard of proof:

To justify forfeiture of a citizen's constitutional rights, the Executive must establish enemy combatant status with more than hearsay. In holding to the contrary, the panel allows appropriate deference to the Executive's authority in matters of war to eradicate the Judiciary's own Constitutional role: protection of the individual freedoms guaranteed all citizens....

In other words, something more than the allegations of the Mobbs Declaration is required. Judge Motz argued that the panel's interpretation of Supreme Court decisions was faulty and concluded,

Without any acknowledgment of its break with precedent, the panel embarks on a perilous new course - approving the Executive's designation of enemy combatant status not on the basis of facts stipulated or proven, but solely on the basis of an unknown Executive advisor's declaration, which the panel itself concedes is subject to challenge as "incomplete[ ]" and "inconsisten[t]" hearsay....

This sounds good, but it doesn't lead far. In Judge Motz' view, the fact of capture in a combat zone could justify a rebuttable presumption of enemy combatant status, shifting the burden to the prisoner to prove a negative. This "would seem to be the course dictated by precedent." What that precedent might be is not revealed. This strange procedure is triggered by the mere presence in a combat zone, a test which she earlier ridiculed.

Judge Motz offered an alternative suggestion: if the government produced support for the conclusions in the declaration, a court could review it, "ex parte and in camera if necessary." As Judge Wilkinson responded, this "would likely please no one...."

None of the opinions examines the concept of "enemy combatant." All are content to let the government do what it wishes with people so labeled. The implication is that this is a well-defined status and that indefinite detention incommunicado is the proper treatment of one so classified. How anyone is able to reach this conclusion is a mystery.

There are, it seems to me, three problems with the use of this term: there is disagreement as to what it means; the government isn't applying it legitimately; it is a concept borrowed from another time and culture, which may not fit here, however defined.

The American Bar Association Task Force on Enemy Combatants issued a report on August 8, 2002. It noted that the "government maintains that individuals declared to be 'enemy combatants' may be detained indefinitely and have no right under the laws and customs of war or the Constitution to meet with counsel concerning their detention." It adds, with some understatement, "The term 'enemy combatant' is not a term of art which has a long established meaning."

"Enemy combatant" comes to us from Ex parte Quirin, which uses it only once, in this passage:

By universal agreement and practice the law of war draws a distinction between the armed forces and the peaceful populations of belligerent nations and also between those who are lawful and unlawful combatants. Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. The spy who secretly and without uniform passes the military lines of a belligerent in time of war, seeking to gather military information and communicate it to the enemy, or an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property, are familiar examples of belligerents who are generally deemed not to be entitled to the status of prisoners of war, but to be offenders against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals....2

I read that as stating that "enemy combatant" is a generic category, those who fight for the enemy, of which there are two subcategories, lawful and unlawful combatants. Under that interpretation, the phrase "an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property," refers to one who is an enemy combatant and comes secretly through the lines.... That person also would be an unlawful combatant. The amici in Hamdi III filed a brief before the panel which read that phrase as stating that an enemy combatant is one who comes secretly through the lines.... Under that interpretation, "enemy combatant" and "unlawful combatant" are equivalent. Judge Wilkinson, who authored the panel decision, stated in a footnote to his opinion on rehearing that the "government does not concede that Hamdi is a prisoner of war, but rather asserts that he is an unlawful combatant." (As a variation, the District Court had ordered the government to produce the name and title of the individual who made the determination that Hamdi was "an illegal enemy combatant." I don't know how one reads that).

Neither the panel opinion nor the government's brief on that appeal claim or recite that Hamdi is an unlawful combatant, so perhaps Judge Wilkinson is adopting the amici's position that the terms are equivalent and interchangeable. This isn't likely; neither the government nor the Court are that casual about terminology, nor is it a sensible reading of Quirin. The panel opinion stated that

It has long been established that if Hamdi is indeed an "enemy combatant" who was captured during hostilities in Afghanistan, the government's present detention of him is a lawful one. See, e.g., Quirin, 317 U.S. at 31, 37 (holding that both lawful and unlawful combatants, regardless of citizenship, "are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by pposing ilitary forces");...

This seems to use "enemy combatant" in the inclusive sense. In rejecting an argument under The Geneva Conventions, the Court said,

Hamdi and the amici make much of the distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants, noting correctly that lawful combatants are not subject to punishment for their participation in a conflict. But for the purposes of this case, it is a distinction without a difference, since the option to detain until the cessation of hostilities belongs to the executive in either case. It is true that unlawful combatants are entitled to a proceeding before a military tribunal before they may be punished for the acts which render their belligerency unlawful. Quirin, 317 U.S. at 31. But they are also subject to mere detention in precisely the same way that lawful prisoners of war are. Id....

Finally, the panel used the fact that Hamdi has not been charged with a crime to support its ruling.

None of this is conclusive, but it isn't sensible to assume that dozens of references to "enemy" are to be interpreted "unlawful." We are left to conclude that Judge Wilkinson misspoke in his recent opinion, but that seems more likely than the alternative.

Under either definition, there is a distinction between lawful and unlawful combatants and certain rights attach to the former status. According to Quirin, the former are to be treated as prisoners of war; the latter may be tried before military commissions for war crimes. Assuming that the Quirin concepts have any relevance to an unconventional war, they should be applied honestly. Thus far, there is, apart from Judge Wilkenson's footnote, no allegation that Hamdi is an unlawful combatant. Based on the government's allegations, Hamdi would be a lawful combatant, a soldier for the Taliban. The government's brief in Hamdi III stated that the "detainee at issue in this case, Yaser Hamdi, was seized as an enemy combatant and taken into control of the United States military in Afghanistan, after the Taliban unit he was with surrendered." It referred to "the challenged exercise of military authority at issue here - i.e., the capture and detention of the enemy in a time of active war." All of this indicates that, at least at present, Hamdi is considered as a captured member of an enemy force, i.e., a lawful combatant. However, he is not being treated as a prisoner of war; POWs are not held incommunicado.

The final problem with the use of the term and concept "enemy combatant" is that it has been imported from another time and situation, and does not fit here, at least not without analysis and reappraisal, neither of which I have seen.

The truth is that the government simply has decided that it will do as it pleases with anyone it captures. Resort to the "enemy combatant" label merely is a matter of juridical convenience, a blanket to throw over its actions when challenged, a blanket under which compliant courts like the Fourth Circuit will not peek.

Leaving aside terminology, the government's reliance on Quirin is misplaced. The ABA report criticized its present use:

...Quirin does not stand for the proposition that detainees may be held incommunicado and denied access to counsel, since the defendants in Quirin were able to seek review and they were represented by counsel. Since the Supreme Court has decided that even enemy aliens within the United States are entitled to review, that right could hardly be denied to United States citizens.

Another problem for the government is that detention is lawful only if pursuant to statute: "No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress. 18 U.S.C. §4001(a). The ABA report quoted from the legislative history:

The twofold purpose of the amended bill is (1) to restrict the imprisonment or other detention of citizens by the United States to situations in which statutory authority for their incarceration exists and (2) to repeal the Emergency Detention Act of 1950 (Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950) which...authorizes the establishment of detention camps....

Enactment of 4001(a) and repeal of an act authorizing detention camps would seem to be a strong indication that Congress doesn't approve of indefinite imprisonment without charge. However, the Justice Department argues that the statute doesn't apply here: §4001(a) "Constitutionally could not interfere with the president's power as commander- in-chief."3 Hamdi argued that his detention was unlawful under §4001, but the panel disagreed, primarily on the ground that the resolution authorizing the attack on Afghanistan "necessarily includes the capture and detention of any and all hostile forces arrayed against our troops."

The ABA report repudiated the administration's position on the issue of access to counsel in cases such as Hamdi's. Referring to citizen prisoners held in the U.S., the report stated,

...[A] United States citizen detainee should not be denied access to the courts and he or she should, at the very least, have the right to contact an attorney in order to seek habeas corpus relief.


...Indeed, the right to prompt judicial review may well be hollow unless citizen detainees are afforded meaningful access to counsel and to the effective assistance of counsel in order to appropriately challenge their detention.

"Hollow" is a good description of the Fourth Circuit's notion of judicial review.

1. See note of 1/17/03 for my comments on the panel opinion.
2. 317 U.S. 1, 30-31; emphasis added, footnotes omitted.
3. 7/20/02.

July 20

News reports speculate on who is responsible for the infamous 16-word sentence in the State of the Union speech claiming that Iraq had obtained uranium from Africa. They seem to overlook the obvious answer. Michael Kinsley summed up the situation in his column in The Washington Post on July 16:

The media are in a frenzy of speculation and leakage. Senators are calling for hearings. All of Washington demands an answer: Who was the arch-fiend who told a lie in President Bush's State of the Union speech? ...

Linguists note that the question "Who lied in George Bush's State of the Union speech" bears a certain resemblance to the famous conundrum "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" They speculate that the two questions may have parallel answers....

After all, Mr. Bush is the President, the one who made the speech advocating war, the one who pushed the war button. He's also the one who complained during the 2000 campaign that the "buck stops here" sign had been moved from the oval office to the Lincoln bedroom. One assumes that he intended to adopt Truman's theory that the buck has to stop with the guy in charge. Everyone seems to be saying that it isn't Mr. Bush.

In addition to arguing over who decided what the President would say, his aides are at work diminishing his stature in other ways. Mr. Bush, reporters were told by a resolutely anonymous "senior administration official," is not a "fact-checker." 1 Presumably this was a clumsy attempt to be snobbish - he's the commander-in-chief , not someone delegated to verify citations - but it conveys the message that he doesn't know or care whether statements he makes are accurate.

There are competing versions of the speech story, differing mainly in the role, if any, of the CIA. They agree that the Africa line was not a contribution by the President, but probably was put in by a speechwriter. Its exact form, attributing the uranium claim to the Brits is said to have been a "stylistic" matter.2 Policy, including invading another country, is influenced by rhetorical whim. Here's the speech, George; read it.

The White House distributed part of a National Intelligence Estimate; that part, by an amazing coincidence, was eligible for declassification just in time to argue that there was support for the 16 words. However, the "senior official" revealed that neither the president nor National Security Advisor Rice read the entire NIE, thereby missing the State Department warning that the African uranium story was "highly dubious." This is easy to believe about Mr. Bush. It's baffling about Dr. Rice; what is her job, if not to be fully informed about national security matters? National security was, allegedly, the significance of the uranium story and the reason for invading Iraq.

1, 2. Washington Post 7/19/03.

July 21

President Bush has designated six of the prisoners at Guantánamo, including two British subjects and one Australian, as "eligible for trial" before military commissions. Under the order creating the commissions, a person may be "eligible" for such treatment if the President determines that there is reason to believe that he

- is or was a member of al Qaeda;

- "has engaged in, aided or abetted, or conspired to commit, acts of international terrorism, or acts in preparation therefor, that have caused, threaten to cause, or have as their aim to cause, injury to or adverse effects on the United States..." or

- has "knowingly harbored" someone falling into those categories.

The Defense Department claimed that there is evidence that the six "may have attended terrorist training camps and may have been involved in such activities as financing al Qaeda, providing protection for Osama bin Laden, and recruiting future terrorists."

Whether they will be tried is said to be up to Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz. According to The Washington Post, "officials" said that Wolfowitz' decision whether to try them will depend in part on "the results of the detainees' interrogations,"1 which indicates that the prosecutions may have been threatened to induce cooperation; thus far, this seems to be the principal function of the commissions. The Guardian offered a more dramatic version: the two British eligibles would be given the choice to "plead guilty and accept a 20-year prison sentence, or be executed if found guilty. American legal sources close to the process said that the prisoners' dilemma was intended to encourage maximum 'co-operation'."2

A few days ago, it was reported that, following an appeal by Prime Minister Blair, proceedings against the Brits would be "suspended" pending discussion with Her Majesty's government. It helps to have an influential advocate. (The same courtesy will be extended to the Australian, although his government seems less concerned.) The PM's intervention could result in elimination of the possibility of the death penalty or transfer to British custody.

The other Guantánamo prisoners continue to be detained for as long as the government pleases without charges, American due process or rights afforded under international law.

Criticism of the military commissions and of the government's treatment of those at Guantánamo and elsewhere has been muted. Post-9/11, the government is given a pass on matters allegedly connected to national security, by some because they accept the government's arguments, by others out of fear of seeming unpatriotic.

Withholding rights from noncitizens is not confined to those captured abroad and detained in Cuba. The government pulled Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri from the federal court system, a month before trial, placing him in a military brig. It threatens to do the same to Zacarias Moussaoui. It refuses to disclose information about aliens detained after 9-11 and holds secret deportation hearings.

July 4 traditionally is marked by naturalization ceremonies, at which patriotic themes dominate. This year was no exception; with no apparent sense of irony, the government issued this press release on June 30:

The Department of Homeland Security today launched a weeklong commemoration of the Nation's independence that highlights the importance of legal immigration and citizenship.

As part of the commemoration, the Department's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) will welcome approximately 9,500 new Americans at 50 naturalization ceremonies across the United States. The theme of the ceremonies will be "Celebrating a Nation of Immigrants."

"Welcoming new citizens to the United States is one of the most important things that we do as a nation," Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said. "Immigrants invigorate our national spirit and reinforce the ideals and principles that are the foundation of our great nation."

He added, "These ceremonies are more than an opportunity to welcome our newest citizens and celebrate their contributions to our nation. They also remind us that in a troubled world the United States still stands as a beacon of hope and opportunity. We will preserve that legacy by securing our borders and protecting our citizens."

We won't preserve the tradition of standing as a beacon of hope and opportunity by extending due process to noncitizens; we'll do it by securing our borders, an odd message to the new Americans. Given the present mood, one might consider "the importance of... citizenship" something of an understatement. Candor would require a warning to future immigrants that they have no rights until that magic transformation occurs.

Prospective Americans have reason to worry; what about those of us already in the club?

Two of the alleged enemy combatants, Hamdi and Padilla, are American citizens; Padilla was arrested in the U.S. Neither has been charged with any crime, but both are under indefinite detention in military prisons. A fundamental tenet of American law is the non-involvement of the military in civilian affairs. Military detention of citizens violates that principle, and opens the door to domestic law enforcement by the military and to the elimination of due process for all of us.

1. Washington Post, 7/3/03.
2. The Guardian Unlimited, 7/6/03.

July 26

The African uranium story gets better with each revision.

Now we are told that the National Security Council received two memos and a phone call from the CIA warning of doubts about the alleged Iraqi shopping trip. Although Dr. Rice has denied having knowledge of such doubts, one of the memos was addressed to her. Both went to Steven Hadley, deputy national security advisor, who also received the phone call.

Hadley accepted responsibility for failing to remove the Africa story from the State of the Union speech. He forgot that he had been told that it was unreliable. Rice apparently had more important things to do, or perhaps she also forgot. The President, of course, had no part in all of this. When it suits his purpose, he is the man in charge; when it doesn't, he wraps himself in the mantle of lowered expectations. The irresponsibility ploy worked for Reagan because he obviously was detached and because he was aw-shucks likable. Bush can't play that game; his free pass is entirely a product of 9-11 and the war on terrorism. He can't continue to blame everyone else and plead ignorance without tarnishing his warrior's armor.

The President's friends, official and otherwise, have been scrambling to find a way of convincing us that a false - or at the very least, misleading and irresponsible - statement, offered as a basis for invading another country, was unimportant. We have been told that it was literally true: Britain did make such a report. As Michael Kinsley has pointed out, this has problems at the most elementary level: Bush said that Britain had "learned" that Iraq sought to purchase uranium; this implies that the report is true and verifiable. However, we now know that the White House was well aware that the story was at least suspect.

Another excuse is that the uranium claim was only one of many justifications for going to war. However, most of the others have unravelled too. For example, immediately following the uranium claim, the President stated, "Our intelligence sources tell us that [Saddam Hussein] has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." This too has been discredited. Much was made of alleged chemical or biological weapons; none have been found, nor have the large stocks of materials claimed or implied to exist. There is no evidence for the alleged connections to al Qaeda or to "terrorists."

All of the talk of weapons of mass destruction and dealings with terrorists was the preamble to the excuse for pre-emptive war: "America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country and our friends and our allies." That excuse vanishes if there was no threat. There was no threat if there were no such weapons.

What's left? Liberation and the ending of human rights violations. These are noble aims and the charges are well-grounded in fact, but the argument is entirely unbelievable as the reason for the war.

A new line has emerged. On July 24, William Kristol clued us in: "Bush's words, though probably a mistake, didn't change anything. The vote to authorize war had taken place months before."1 A variation was offered by Thomas Sowell the same day: "Did these words mislead Congress into authorizing military action against Iraq? No - because it authorized military action months before that speech was made."2 The new message is that the State of the Union speech was merely a rhetorical exercise, not to be taken seriously.

Sowell's argument is fallacious. Congress had authorized military action, but only if necessary; in his speech, the President argued that it might be. He was seeking approval for war from Congress, from the people and from the world. If Kristol is correct, the President was deceitful, pretending not to have made a decision: "we seek peace;" "if war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause;" "if Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm..., we will lead a coalition to disarm him."

To use discredited information and misleading arguments in seeking approval for a decision to go to war is reprehensible; if the decision already had been made, it hardly is less so.

1. The Washington Post, 7/24/03.
2. See

Aug 1

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." So said the President in the State of the Union address. When that story blew up, the administration's response was ducking, weaving and finger-pointing. Amid various unconvincing explanations of how the claim came to be made, George Tenet and, later, Steven Hadley were selected to be scapegoats. This only called further attention to the efforts by President Bush and National Security Advisor Rice to distance themselves from the issue. Now they have decided to take responsibility.

However, their version of responsibility may not resemble anyone else's. Here is Mr. Bush on the subject at a news conference on July 30:

Q. Mr. President, you often speak about the need for accountability in many areas. I wonder then why is Dr. Condoleezza Rice not being held accountable for the statement that your own White House has acknowledged was a mistake in your State of the Union address regarding Iraq's attempts to purchase uranium. And also, do you take personal responsibility for that inaccuracy?

A. I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course, absolutely. I also take responsibility for making decisions on war and peace. And I analyzed a thorough body of intelligence, good, solid, sound intelligence that led me to come to the conclusion that it was necessary to remove Saddam Hussein from power. We gave the world a chance to do it.

Remember, again, I don't want to get repetitive here but it's important to remind everybody that there was 12 resolutions that came out of the United Nations because others recognized the threat of Saddam Hussein. Twelve times the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions in recognition of the threat that he posed. And the difference was is that some were not willing to act on those resolutions. We were, along with a lot of other countries. Because he posed a threat.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person and America is lucky to have her service. Period.1

There! I've said I'm responsible. Now leave me alone. And Condi's really neat, so leave her alone too.

Did we expect something more than a pro-forma concession? The President wasn't about to admit that the African-uranium claim was flawed and that he was at fault for making it. One could have hoped that some brave reporter might ask what body of intelligence he "analyzed" and whether that included warnings that the uranium story was suspect. However, that merely would have led to further evasion. To Mr. Bush, the important fact is that he led us into this noble war.

Dr. Rice offered her version of responsibility-taking in an interview the same day.2 Much of it was an attempt to say that a warning given about one speech can't be expected to carry over to another, in this case from a speech in October to the State of the Union in January.

GWEN IFILL: ...Did you know, or should you have known, that the information that went into the president's State of the Union speech regarding the purchase, or the efforts to purchase uranium in Niger or from Africa, another country in Africa, did you know that that information was not correct?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: When the line was put into the president's State of the Union address and cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency, when I read the line I thought it was completely credible and that in fact it was backed by the agency.

What happened here is that we are really talking about two different processes. The State of the Union was put together, the speech went out for clearance, but the speech that the president had given in Cincinnati in October had also been sent out for clearance.

... And in that speech, a line had been there about the uranium issue and Saddam Hussein seeking uranium in Africa. And Director Tenet had called Steve Hadley and he told him, in no specifics, he told him I don't think you should put that in the president's speech because we don't want to make the president his own fact witness....

What we learned later, and I did not know at the time, and certainly did not know until just before Steve Hadley went out to say what he said last week, was that the director had also sent over to the White House a set of clearance comments that explained why he wanted this out of the [October] speech.

I can tell you, I either didn't see the memo, I don't remember seeing the memo, the fact is it was a set of clearance comments, it was three and a half months before the State of the Union. And we're going to try to have a process now in which we don't have to depend on people's memories to link what was taken out of the speech in Cincinnati with what was put into the speech at the State of the Union....

Dr. Rice stated that the uranium claim was "credible," which is a fudge. On the one hand, that is something less than saying that the claim was true and the report was legitimate and reliable. On the other, it does not admit that both the report and the claim were suspect. The statement that the CIA cleared the line is disingenuous; "acquiesced" would better fit the descriptions of the contacts between the agency and the White House.

Dr. Rice's response isn't about accuracy; it's all about process, the message being that the line would have been appropriate if the right steps had been followed. Dr. Rice now sees a need for a specific procedure to remind the White House staff that an explosive and controversial claim has been dropped from an earlier speech. This shows how little the facts matter. The CIA director's October comments were for "clearance," not to be studied for content. If he said that the Africa story was nonsense, that would have been taken only as disapproval of the line for the speech then being written. Apparently it would be standard procedure to keep putting the line into subsequent speeches until the Director failed to object. After all, it's only a justification for war.

GWEN IFILL: Should you have seen the memo?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, the memo came over. It was a clearance memo. It had a set of comments about the speech.... And when Director Tenet says something - takes something out of a speech, we take it out. We don't really even ask for an explanation. If the DCI, the director of Central Intelligence, is not going to stand by something, if he doesn't think that he has confidence in it, we're not going to put that into a presidential speech. We have no desire to have the president use information that is anything but the information in which we have the best confidence, the greatest confidence.

And so when Director Tenet said take it out of the speech, I think people simply took it out of the speech and didn't think any more about why we had taken it out of the speech.

For some reason the reference is to "the memo," but there were two. Dr. Rice didn't admit that she should have seen the memos, even the one which was addressed to her.

GWEN IFILL: Do you feel any personal failure or responsibility for not having seen this memo and flagged it to anybody else who was working on this speech?

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Well, I certainly feel personal responsibility for this entire episode. The president of the United States has every right to believe that what he is saying in his speeches is of the highest confidence of his staff. That's why we go through a clearance process.

That's why the process is so rigorous. In this one case, the process did not work. We did have a clearance from the agency, but frankly, looking back, perhaps we should have remembered that it was taken out of the Cincinnati speech. We simply didn't. And what I've assured the president, and what I want to assure myself, is that our future processes will be ones in which we double-check to make sure that something has not been taken out of a speech, in which perhaps we get an affirmative answer from the principals that they in fact will stand behind an element of a speech as important as the State of the Union.

But what I feel, really, most responsible for is that this has detracted from the very strong case that the president has been making....

Again, this has the feel of something said to persuade everyone to forget the issue and move on. Not only is there no genuine acceptance of responsibility, there is a reinforcement of the impression that the National Security Advisor has no independent opinions or knowledge of national security issues. Her role, as here self-described, is to supervise a vetting process. The effect of that is to shift responsibility for what the President says back to the intelligence agencies.

1. New York Times 7/31/03.
2. 7/30/03.

Aug 6

The authors of the house editorials of The Washington Post have struggled with the Moussaoui case for months. They wish to preserve the integrity of the federal criminal justice system but, like the government, find its principles inconvenient in the case of defendants such as Zacarias Moussaoui.

On January 27, 2003, they complained that Moussaoui had turned the proceedings into a "circus;" he had "cleverly" demanded to depose an al-Qaeda witness, whom Moussaoui says will exonerate him from participation in 9-11. The editorial writers think that defendants like Moussauoi "effectively blackmail the government by threatening to call key detainees as witnesses." They accept the government's assertion that calling the witness "potentially threatens important interests in the war on terror."

It isn't possible, in their view, to reconcile the government's interests with the restrictions of a criminal trial. The solution: remand the defendant to a military commission. "The administration deserves credit for having tried to bring the Moussaoui case under the regular order. But the better part of valor now is to end the experiment." As one commentator put it, "in a jarring reversal of presumptions, the Post portray[s] not the advent of military commissions, but rather the prospect of a fair trial in federal court, as the novel experiment."1

Ending the experiment would cause the Post regret, but not for the defendant: "It's hard to imagine a case for which a military tribunal would be more appropriate than that of a foreign al Qaeda operative accused of conspiring to kill thousands who proudly confesses his affiliation." He's a bad man, and can't expect to be afforded our advanced notions of justice.

On June 5, the editorial writers again noted the dilemma regarding Moussaoui's demand to depose the al Qaeda witness. They acknowledged that he has that right and that the government is making up new rules as it goes along, rules which interfere with that right. They almost seemed to have some concern about Moussaoui's fate: "Nobody should be convicted in an U.S. court without the ability to make the best case on his own behalf. Not even Mr. Moussaoui." But no, it's the court which must be protected, not the defendant; the solution still is to take him out of the criminal justice system, so that the denial of his rights will not sully it.

On July 6, they recommended that the government come up with rules to determine which al Qaeda prisoners would be tried in court and which by military commission, rather than leaving that to be decided ad hoc.

Otherwise the law becomes a mere instrument of arbitrary state power, not a predictable system of ordered liberty. Among other dangers, the threat of designation as an "enemy combatant" - and the consequent indefinite detention - can too easily become a club to threaten defendants who will not plead guilty or cooperate.

However, as to Mr. Moussaoui, no new rules are required: "The dangers - both to national security and to civil liberties - of trying some al Qaeda suspects in federal court are sufficient that some may have to be removed to military custody, as we have urged in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui."

The house column returned to the subject on July 17. Again, it seemed to start off with concern for the defendant's rights, only to abandon them:

The Sixth Amendment makes clear that "the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor."... Under normal circumstances, there would be no question that the defense could have access to such a witness - nor, constitutionally speaking, should there be such question now. The Constitution's language is absolute, after all, and admits no national security exception. Fair-trial rights in American courts cannot be contingent on other governmental interests, even pressing ones.

That said, ....

That said, send Mr. Moussaoui to the military commission.

This time, the focus was on the court system's defects rather than its purity. The great experiment "has shown how easily an al Qaeda defendant can tie the system in knots - and how little ability the system has to untie itself." Actually, the system is functioning normally - the prosecution has been ordered to make the witness available - which the government doesn't like. However, according to the Post, Congress must come up with rules to create "a federal court system that can fully protect fair trial rights in the worst terrorism cases without damaging national security."

No details were provided on July 17, but in a column on August 4, two issues were identified, both peculiar to the Moussaoui case: acting as one's attorney, and what to do about "witnesses detained abroad who have potentially exculpatory information in a domestic criminal trial."

The first is a problem only if we accept the government's claim that national security would be compromised by letting Moussaoui personally interrogate the al Qaeda witness. The risk is not obvious to me, perhaps only because of my ignorance in these matters. The Post proposed a limitation of the right of self-representation to cure whatever risk that might be.

As to the second issue, the Post said that one possible solution would be "to give the jury a declassified summary of the testimony a witness would likely have given - a summary that errs on the side of generosity to the defendant's account of events." It isn't clear whether this is intended to deal with the witness' detention abroad, the government's reluctance to produce the witness in open court, the sensitivity of the information, or all of the above.

The suggestions were offered in the context of the editorial writers' conviction that the "experiment" of using normal procedures and forums has failed and that the blame for the failure is on Moussaoui.

In trying Mr. Moussaoui in federal court, rather than before a military tribunal, the government sought to demonstrate that America's courts were a viable venue for the most complex terrorism cases. Instead, however, the case is demonstrating the opposite: that an al Qaeda defendant can tie the legal system in knots and force the government and the courts to choose between compromising important national-security interests and honoring basic constitutional trial norms....

Leaving aside whether the government had such a noble aim, this is a false analysis. It is not a matter of an al Qaeda defendant deviously distorting the system. Moussaoui has done nothing but insist on a right the Post elsewhere admitted to be his, to call witnesses in his defense. The choice to which the government may be forced is not between "compromising important national-security interests and honoring basic constitutional trial norms." It is the choice between producing the witness or dismissing the prosecution. At least that was the choice before military commissions and "enemy combatant" status were taken out of mothballs.

The passage just quoted continued as follows:

... This is a terrible turn of events, one that will encourage more frequent use of the far less accountable military tribunal system. And that system is, in any event, not available for all possible defendants. Many foreign governments will not extradite people to them, and U.S. citizens, mercifully, are not permitted to be tried before them. For at least some terrorism-related cases, in short, the federal courts must be able to produce fair trials using predictable rules....

Trials are not being forced into military tribunals by any terrible turn of events. To the contrary, as the Post conceded on July 6, the government is holding the threat of trial by military tribunal, or indefinite detention without trial, over the heads of criminal defendants as a means of forcing them to give up rights the courts afford. Fair trials under predictable rules are available now; the government just isn't willing to submit to them.

The editorial page staff should read the rest of the paper. On June 16, one of the Post's op-ed writers, William Raspberry, pointed out "the only legally defensible conclusion: that the government must choose between its competing interests in prosecuting Moussaoui and protecting its intelligence...."

In addition to its other defects, the editorial writers' position is naïve. They assume that only the rights of non-citizens are at issue; trial by military commission is "mercifully" - and presently - not a risk for citizens. However, that hasn't prevented the government from declaring Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, who are citizens, to be enemy combatants and holding them incommunicado indefinitely. They may not be the last, as reference to the news pages would reveal. The Post reported on July 29 that the defendants in the Lackawanna case, all citizens, were intimidated into guilty pleas and long sentences by the threat of labeling them enemy combatants.

Mr. Raspberry offered this evaluation of the current willingness to restrict liberties:

... Make the danger vivid enough and those who ought to be protecting our liberties - the legislatures, the governmental bureaucracies and, too often, the media - will look the other way. So will too many Americans.

It isn't that Americans are ignorant of the facts. We know about Guantanamo and Moussaoui and the difficulty of locating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But most of us don't know what to think of all these things until those we trust -- our political leaders, public intellectuals and the press -- help us sort them out.
Someone needs to remind us that what is special about America is not just its power, unprecedented in the world, but also its principles. The one is secure enough, the other in more peril than we're willing to admit.


1. Column by Joanne Mariner on FindLaw, 2/3/03.

Aug 9

An op-ed column in The Seattle Times on August 8 coined a phrase for the investigation of the administration's numerous deviations from strict truth regarding Iraq:

Now it is time to launch the War on Error. Errorists have infiltrated the Bush administration.

The author, Jenny Durkan, also had an appropriate response to the argument that the uranium claim was an unimportant detail:

And what helped launch our troops? Do not underestimate any part of the State of the Union address. Remember the national mood. The term "imminent threat" was defined by our post-9-11 context. The White House spoke of nuclear disaster and "mushroom clouds" on national TV. It ent our collective frayed nerves and fears right over the edge.

I've been collecting articles, speech texts and other material related to the administration's claims regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They include the original claims, disclosures of contrary information, waffling, new theories, etc. At this point, they run to 549 pages on Word Perfect with no end in sight. That is not a measure of the validity of the official line, but it does indicate how much difficulty the administration has encountered in justifying its excuse for invasion.

The current debate is over how the African-uranium line found its way into the State of the Union address. The White House explanation is that it happened by inadvertence, that the staff forgot that the claim had been disapproved for an earlier speech. Call it the "oops" theory. One of the recent contributions to the debate is an article in The Washington Post1 which makes that theory difficult to accept.

One of the White House dodges is that so much time elapsed between the two speeches - early October to late January - that, of course, they couldn't be expected to remember the warning that the uranium story was unreliable. However, apparently there was discussion of the issue in December. The Post article reveals that the CIA "arranged to have a similar allegation deleted from a speech that John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was to give Dec. 20 before the U.N. Security Council." 2 Perhaps it's still too much to expect the NSC staff to remember a warning for a month or perhaps they weren't consulted. It was only the U.N.

The other half of the White House explanation is that the uranium claim in the State of the Union speech was both an isolated instance and an unimportant part of the rationale for war; neither is true.

Thanks to The Post, we know of six instances of essentially the same claim, made immediately before and after the State of the Union; In looking for the source material, I came across a seventh.

  1. January 20: A report by the President to Congress referred to the declaration Iraq submitted to the U.N. on December 7, 2002. It stated that the declaration "failed to deal with issues which have arisen since 1998, including: ... attempts to acquire uranium and the means to enrich it." 3

  2. January 23: In an op-ed piece, NS Advisor Condoleezza Rice asserted that "Iraq has filed a false declaration to the United Nations that amounts to a 12,200-page lie. For example, the declaration fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad, ..."4

  3. January 23: A document entitled "What Does Disarmament Look Like?" was issued by the White House. It contained this entry under the heading "Nuclear Weapons": "The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from abroad." 5

  4. January 23: Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, referring to the declaration, complained that there "is no mention of Iraqi efforts to procure uranium from abroad." His speech also was entitled "What Does Disarmament Look Like?"6

  5. January 26: Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a speech before the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, asked: "Why is Iraq still trying to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?7

  6. January 27: Ambassador John Negroponte addressed the Security Council. Referring to the declaration, he asked, "Where is the evidence to credibly and completely account for recent attempts to procure and enrich uranium?8

  7. (January 28: State of the Union address)

  8. January 29: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in a prepared statement at the commencement of a news conference, said that Saddam Hussein's regime r"ecently was discovered seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa."9

The African-uranium claim didn't show up in the President's speech by inadvertence, or because a speechwriter wanted a flashy line or through miscommunication. It was part of a well-orchestrated case for war appearing, in addition to the State of the Union, in seven formal statements in ten days. Whatever the CIA or the State Department intelligence division thought of it, Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, Negroponte and Bush (or whoever makes his decisions for him) were determined not only to use the story but to lean on it, hard. Whether it was true was of little importance.

1. Walter Pincus, The Washington Post 8/8/03.
2. Previously reported by Mr. Pincus in The Post 6/13/03; also reported by USA Today 6/12/03 and CBS News 7/17/03.
3. Communication from The President of The United States Transmitting A Report on Matters Relevant to The Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq, Resolution of 2002, Public Law 107-243. See
4. The New York Times 1/23/03.
5. See
6. Transcript on
7. Transcript on ; reported in The New York Times, 1/27/03.
8. This is the one not included by The Post. I found the transcript at, a site for the U.S. Embassy in Brussels. It appears on other embassy web sites as well.
9. Transcript. See

Aug 12

The Washington Post ran a story about Mount Rainier yesterday, under the caption "A Dream of a Mountain, A Nightmare of a Volcano" As it revealed, skies have been clearer than usual in the Puget Sound basin this summer, which has made it possible to see Rainier "less as an intermittent aesthetic pleasure" and more for what a government agency warns that it really is: "a monumental threat."

The article, while interesting and, in its own way, revealing, does not explore the national security implications. Our reporter has uncovered the facts.

The Bush administration may be considering preemptive action. "This rogue mountain has a history of attacking its neighbors without warning," a senior official said. A recent, still partly classified, report states that Rainier has a history of unprovoked use of weapons of mass destruction, huge volcanic mudflows known to the intelligence community as "lahars." "Rainier does this every 500 to 1000 years," the official said. He paused dramatically, then added, "the last such attack occurred 500 years ago."

Informed of these statements, a liberal spokesman noted that the next attack might not come for another 500 years, even supposing that the administration knew what it was talking about and had reported the facts candidly. "I'd like to see the entire report, including dissenting opinions," the spokesman said. "The real story usually is in the appendix." Another critic of the administration pointed out that Rainier is not the threat it once was. "We've been monitoring it for years now, and there's no sign of sinister activity. An enhanced inspection regime is all that's required."

Asked for a response, the senior official summed up the administration's position as follows: "Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a lahar."

The Defense Department is rumored to be making plans for a surgical strike. A knowledgeable source declared, "We'll take Rainier out before it hurts one single American. The people of Tacoma will welcome us a liberators." Collateral damage is expected to be light.

Apologies to Blaine Harden.

Aug 22

Five months have passed since the commencement of war on Iraq. Where are we in the search for weapons of mass destruction?

At the beginning of June, it was reported that a task force of more than 1,300 experts had been formed to search for WMD or, perhaps, for WMD programs; only 250 to 300 of those experts would actually look at suspected sites. The assignment for the remainder was not specified, but other reports have spoken of looking at documents or interviewing Iraqis. Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, who will lead the team, described the project as "a deliberate process and a long-term effort." 1

In Mid-June, former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay was hired as an adviser charged with "refining the overall approach for the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," reporting to the CIA. 2 How this will mesh with the military project is unclear.

Kay and Dayton were interviewed on August 1 after testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

"Every week, it is phenomenal what we're finding," Dayton told reporters afterward.

Kay told reporters that during the first six weeks of the effort, investigators have uncovered useful documents about Iraq's WMD programs and are getting increased cooperation from Iraqis.

He also said the team has "found some physical evidence" related to Iraqi weapons, though he declined to characterize that evidence.

The task of finding physical evidence related to Iraq's weapons programs was made more difficult by the destruction during the war and the looting afterward, he said.

"I think we are making solid progress," he said. "It is preliminary. We're not at the final stage of understanding fully Iraq's WMD program, nor have we found WMD weapons.

"It's going to take time. The Iraqis had over two decades to develop these weapons, and hiding them was an essential part of their program...."3

Apart from that, about the only WMD news was the disclosure that "engineering experts" from the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that the most likely use for two mysterious trailers found in Iraq was to produce hydrogen for weather balloons rather than to make biological weapons, thus differing from the official position of the DIA and the CIA, but agreeing with British experts.4

So, this is where we are: there is no evidence of WMD; evidence of two WMD-producing devices has been further discredited; there are optimistic but hedged predictions of future discoveries.

A significant feature of the post-invasion phase of the story is the revelation that the administration had much less information than it claimed. The uranium controversy is an example, but the issue is more general and the deception more pervasive.

The administration claimed to have relevant, current and reliable intelligence. Sometimes the claim was implicit, as in the President’s radio address on September 28, 2002:

The danger to our country is grave and it is growing. The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.5

Sometimes the claim was explicit, as when Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz made the case for war in his speech on January 23 to the Council on Foreign Relations:

...I think it is very important to make it clear we have a powerful case. It is a case grounded in history. It is a case grounded in current intelligence, current intelligence that comes not only from American intelligence, but many of our allies; intelligence that comes not only from sophisticated overhead satellites and our ability to intercept communications, but from brave people who told us the truth at the risk of their lives. We have that; it is very convincing.... 6

Apart from the reference to history, that statement is now, to borrow a phrase, inoperative. On July 9, Secretary Rumsfeld presented the new paradigm to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder. We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light, through the prism of our experience on Sept. 11.7

That can be interpreted in more than one way. For the present, let's assume the version most favorable to the administration, that Iraq's weapons or ties to terrorism had to be reevaluated in terms of their possible use directly against the U.S. However, that leaves us with the original questions: What weapons? What ties to terrorism?

The restatement has been forced by events. We have not found any WMD and indications are that intelligence was limited after the United Nations inspectors left Iraq in 1998.

National Security Advisor Rice took the Rumsfeld formula a step further; new evidence would be unimportant:

The question of what is new after 1998 is not an interesting question. There is a body of evidence since 1991. You have to look at that body of evidence and say what does this require the United States to do? Then you are compelled to act.8

Is that an accurate description of the administration’s policy and its level of information? As a policy, that we should go to war based on obsolete information, it is only a little this side of crazy. As a description of the state of intelligence about Iraq, it undoubtedly goes too far - some post-1998 information was available - but it does acknowledge how limited the information was. In doing so, it conflicts with the representations made before the war and exposes the deceit inherent in them.

The administration has combined accusations of revisionism with its revisions of the case for war. Referring to "the dictator in Iraq," President Bush said on June 17, "I know there's a lot of revisionist history now going on, but one thing is certain. He is no longer a threat to the free world, and the people of Iraq are free." 9 But we were taken to war on the premise that Saddam was a threat to us; the substitution of the "free world" suggests that the original claim was shaky. Saddam, according to the President, isn't a threat to that undefined world now, but there's no evidence that he was before, so nothing has been said. The people of Iraq certainly aren't masters of their own fate, which is the only meaningful definition of freedom.

On June 21, Mr. Bush offered another change of script:

The intelligence services of many nations concluded that he had illegal weapons and the regime refused to provide evidence they had been destroyed. We are determined to discover the true extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, no matter how long it takes. 10

But the administration claimed in the runup to the war that Iraq possessed WMD, not merely that it hadn't proved otherwise. This statement also fudges on the meaning of "had" (how Clintonesque). Had illegal weapons when? The claim before the war was that Iraq possessed such weapons at that moment, but the only solid intelligence refers to much earlier periods and this statement appears to use "had" in that sense. As with many recent statements, the subject at the beginning is weapons, at the end weapon programs.

Secretary Rumsfeld's comments also illustrate the shift. Pre-war, he had said, "There's no debate in the world as to whether they have those weapons. There's no debate in the world as to whether they're continuing to develop and acquire them...." 11 That was then; this is now: Iraq "had 12 years to conceal its programs," and "uncovering those programs will take time." 12 Before there were weapons in plain sight; now there are well-concealed weapon programs.

Mr. Rumsfeld also offered a form of an argument which turns up occasionally, that the reason for the war was Iraq's flouting of U.N. resolutions. "The United States did not choose a war - Saddam Hussein did. For 12 years he violated 17 United Nations resolutions without cost or consequence." 13 Not only did we not start the war - apparently it just sort of happened - we can wrap ourselves in the U.N. flag. This is less revisionism than chutzpah.

The most extended recent justification came in a formal statement by the President at the beginning of a press conference on July 30:

On national security front [sic], it has been 90 days since the end of the major combat operations in Iraq. The nation has been liberated from tyranny and is on the path to self-government and peace. The Iraqi governing council is meeting regularly.... Soon representatives of the people will begin drafting a new constitution and free elections will follow. After decades of oppression, the people of Iraq are reclaiming their country and are reclaiming their future.

The rise of a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to the stability of the Middle East, and a stable Middle East is critical to the security of the American people....

We know that Saddam Hussein produced and possessed chemical and biological weapons, and has used chemical weapons. We know that. He also spent years hiding his weapons of mass destruction programs from the world. We now have teams of investigators who are hard at work to uncover the truth.

The success of a free Iraq will also demonstrate to other countries in that region that national prosperity and dignity are found in representative government and free institutions. They are not found in tyranny, resentment, and for support of terrorism. As freedom advances in the Middle East, those societies will be less likely to produce ideologies of hatred and produce recruits for terror.

The United States and our allies will complete our mission in Iraq, and we'll complete our mission in Afghanistan. We'll keep our word to the peoples of those nations. We'll wage the war on terror against every enemy who plots against our forces and our people. I will never assume the restraint and goodwill of dangerous enemies when lives of our American citizens are at risk. 14

The third paragraph uses the ambiguous time frame for possession of weapons, segues to weapon programs and offers the now-standard excuse for not finding them.

The statement adds alternative reasons for the invasion: liberation from tyranny, a chance for self-rule, inspiration to other Muslim nations and a victory in the war against terror. However, to date we have substituted one authoritarian rule for another, have set up a puppet council which includes the notorious Ahmed Chalabi, and, so far from inspiring better behavior or combating terror, have inspired jihad.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz articulated, during a visit to Iraq, one of the final, non-ideological, fallback positions:

I'm not concerned about weapons of mass destruction. I'm concerned about getting Iraq on its feet. I didn't come on a search for weapons of mass destruction. 15

In other words, we must concentrate on repairing the damage we've done. Forget why we did it. At times, the democracy argument has the same flavor: never mind why we came; we're here and we're going to do something noble.

The ultimate fallback is simply that we've done it, and everyone should rally around. The alternative would be to admit that it was a mistake, or even a wrong, and we're not about to do that.

1., 6/1/03.
2. The Wall Street Journal, 6/20/03.
3., 8/1/03; see The Washington Times, 8/1/03.
4. The New York Times, 8/8/03.
5. Transcript, U.S. Department of State's Office of International Information Programs (
6. Transcript on, ½3/03.
7. The New York Times, 7/19/03; see Associated Press/, 7/9/03.
8. The New York Times, 7/19/03.
9. The Washington Post, 6/17/03.
10. Mr. Bush’s weekly radio address, 6/21/03:
11. Transcript,, 9/13/02.
12. Testimony to Senate Armed Services Committee: Associated Press/, 7/9/03.
13. Ibid.
14. Transcript, 7/30/03:
15. Associated Press/, 7/22/03

September 1, 2003

On December 6, 2001, Attorney General Ashcroft defended the government's response to 9-11 in these words:

We need honest, reasoned debate; not fearmongering. To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens; to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists - for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil.

Our efforts have been carefully crafted to avoid infringing on constitutional rights....1

This is, at least in retrospect, a bizarre statement.

Honesty and reason have not been the hallmarks of the Ashcroft Justice Department; fearmongering has.

The most notable advocate of pitting "Americans" against immigrants and citizens against non-citizens is John Ashcroft; he was already embarked on that course in December, 2001. It is difficult, even allowing for his characteristic duplicity, to imagine what his comment on that subject was intended to accomplish.

Nothing, apart from the invasion of Iraq, has gone so far to erode national unity as the administration's police-state mentality. One application of that, the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo, including the threat of the death penalty, has done more than anything else, again excepting the Iraq war, to give arguments to our enemies and pause to our friends.

The claim that the government's actions and policies have been sensitive to constitutional rights is absurd and Ashcroft must have known it to be so; why else the defensive tone?

The heart of the statement, the part frequently quoted, is this warning: "to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists...." This is at once foolish and threatening, like its author. If lost liberty were only a phantom, there would not be 140 resolutions against the Patriot Act from states, counties and cities; the Republican House would not have voted to deny funding for "sneak and peek" searches.

Mr. Ashcroft's Patriot-Act campaign tour and the repeated hints of worse legislation to come prompted me, in search of perspective, to reread several books which describe the post -WWII red scare.2

That era was marked by prejudice and politics dressed up as concern for national security, irresponsible accusations, unreasoning fear, hearings at which nothing resembling due process applied, and the ruination of careers. But most striking was the pervasiveness of the repressive mindset. People were harassed not only by HUAC and McCarthy, but by executive-branch loyalty boards. The search for subversives took place not only in and by the federal government but also at the state and local level. Private employment was put under the loyalty microscope. There were groups of self-appointed patriots who monitored colleges and the media, sometimes being hired by them to purge their undesirables and to certify their purity.

As bad as some of the current measures are, the total picture does not begin to compare to the Cold-war repression. It does not, that is, with two notable and related exceptions.

There was nothing in the cold-war lexicon to compare exactly to "enemy combatant." Even though the U.S. was engaged in mortal, if indirect, conflict with an enemy that actually had nuclear weapons, an enemy later dubbed the "evil empire," even though espionage existed, and even though a shooting war erupted in Korea, no one dusted off "enemy combatant." There were similar, even more paranoid labels: "subversive," "disloyal," "security risk," "fellow-traveler," "pink," "red," and the ultimate, "Communist." These labels were applied indiscriminately and sometimes led to persecution. However, no citizen was thrown into prison, to be held indefinitely at the government's whim, incommunicado, as a result of being so branded.

There was a theoretical parallel. The Emergency Detention Act, which was Title II of The Internal Security (McCarran) Act of 1950, authorized the President to apprehend and detain "each person as to whom there is reasonable ground to believe that such person probably will engage in, or probably will conspire with others to engage in, acts of espionage or of sabotage" in the event of "(1) Invasion of the territory of the United States or its possessions, (2) Declaration of war by Congress, or (3) Insurrection within the United States in aid of a foreign enemy...." However, the Emergency Detention Act provided for some procedural safeguards, including habeas corpus, and although several detention camps were established, they never were used. The Act was repealed in 1971.

The second distinguishing feature of the current period is the military commission. Although kangaroo courts were littered across the cold-war landscape, none of them had the power of imprisonment or death. No civilian was tried or threatened with trial before a military tribunal.

For the vast majority of us, the present crisis presents, thus far, much less danger than the earlier time. However, the potential threat to civil liberties is serious because of the blurring of the line between civil and military authority, between justice and war.

1. Testimony of Attorney General John Ashcroft to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 12/6/01:

2. These are the sources which were close at hand:
Burns, The Crosswinds of Freedom, vol. 3 of The American Experiment, pp. 230-59.
Caughey, "McCarthyism Rampant" and Preston, "Shadows of War and Fear" in Reitman, ed., The Pulse of Freedom.
Caute, The Great Fear.
Commager, "Washington Witch Hunt," "Red-Baiting in the Colleges," "What Ideas Are Safe?" and "Is Freedom Really Necessary?" in Freedom and Order.
Galbraith, "My Forty Years with the FBI" in Annals of an Abiding Liberal.
McCullough, Truman, pp. 549-53; passim.
Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, pp. 1046-84.
Morison, Commager & Leuchtenburg, A Concise History of the American Republic, pp. 684-95.
Pells, The Liberal Mind in a Conservative Age, pp. 262-345.
Phillips, A Partisan View, pp. 161-84.
Rovere, "Arthur Miller's Conscience" in Wickenden, ed., The New Republic Reader.
Schlesinger, The Oppenheimer Case in The Politics of Hope.
D. Trilling, "The Oppenheimer Case: A Reading of the Testimony" in Kurzweil, ed., A Partisan Century.
Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case, pp. 505-23, 548-65.

September 6, 2003

Conservatives habitually think that any change is for the worse: "a conservative is a person who does not think that anything should be done for the first time." Conservative old people think that the world is gong to hell. As a old person of at least partly conservative views, I might be expected to subscribe to these thoughts. Until now, I have contented myself with declaring that we live in a post-classical age. Apart from giving my crotchets a more elegant tone, that allows me to think that the world is, more or less, going to hell without admitting that I'm old and conservative.

We are told that the prevailing American political philosophy is conservatism, but is that accurate? Is it even a philosophy? Irving Kristol referred to neoconservatism as an impulse, which seems apt for contemporary American "conservatism," in which the neo version seems to be dominant. Neoconservatives insist on being called intellectuals, but there is little intellectual content in the present program. It does indeed seem to be an impulse, a drive to remake the world in a way which will suit a set of personal preferences. This is an urge with which I can sympathize, strongly, but for me that remains a harmless fantasy. As a theory of government, it's a little scary.

The Bush administration, the objective manifestation of the prevailing attitude, is "conservative" only in the sense that it isn't liberal. Its program is radical, in that it wants to alter the core assumptions, principles and social compacts which have characterized American politics and international relations for decades and which provide the only basis for long-term stability. This administration may be reactionary, but conservative it is not.

(Some time back, I saw a column by George Will in The Washington Post which questioned, from the standpoint of certain beliefs, whether the Bush administration deserves to be called conservative. I wouldn't use the same tests. I would simply ask whether it stands for the preservation of traditional, accepted, established ways of doing things; clearly it doesn't. Still, it's interesting that a major commentator on the right doesn't think that Bush measures up.)

Leaving all of that aside, what is the future of what we must call, for lack of a better term, American political conservatism? The usual image is of a juggernaut; we have the choice of climbing aboard, getting out of the way, or being run over. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the image were to persist through next year. After all, one can't stop a juggernaut with nothing, and the Democrats are pretty close to having nothing. Actually, they have several competing and antagonistic versions of almost-nothing, which is worse yet. Can they, feckless to the end, simply stand aside and watch the dread machine run down? Probably yes, but don't ask for the time frame. American conservatism, it seems to me, is nearing the implosion stage, measured by hubris and desperation.

Republicans talk of creating a lasting majority. However, they don't appear to be confident that they can accomplish this by successfully competing in the marketplace of ideas. Instead, they resort to falsification, secret decisions, changes in legislative rules, annual redistricting, bullying lobbyists and sending the police after boycotting Democrats.

Mr. Bush, and more particularly, his guru Mr. Rove, are described as politically astute. However, their technique seems to be to do whatever they want and expect that no one will complain. Few have, but that's not a strategy; that's arrogance combined with luck. Bush & Co. have taken extreme and potentially disastrous positions affecting nearly every aspect of policy, domestic and international. Some of this has been pursued with knowledge that a majority of the people disapprove.

Of course, I may be wrong; perhaps conservatism will continue to move from success to success, but I don't think so. Karl Rove's hero is said to be Mark Hanna. This isn't the Gilded Age, as much as American "conservatives" would like it to be.

September 9, 2003

Many of those who supported the war expected a quick action, one which would produce satisfying results at relatively little cost. At its most shallow, this was an expectation to feel good, shout "USA!" and return to life as before. The continued fighting, including the daily casualties, have not matched that expectation and have led to some decline in support. The financial cost, reaching staggering proportions, also has had an erosive effect, but so far this is mitigated by the fact that the President not only won't raise taxes to cover the cost, but still peddles the opiate of permanent cuts. However, the need to at least partially acknowledge the reality in Iraq has led to a new approach by the administration, one which carries with it the risk of wholesale defections.

The President's speech Sunday night was, in effect, an admission that whatever it is that we are doing there will take a long time and cost a great deal; patience and another $87 billion were requested. Apart from that figure, no details were offered, so this might still be shrugged off, but a new and unwelcome concept has entered into the discussion: sacrifice.

Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there, and there they must be defeated. This will take time and require sacrifice.

Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure.1

Mr. Bush compared the task as now described to the rebuilding of our defeated enemies after WWII:

America has done this kind of work before. Following World War II, we lifted up the defeated nations of Japan and Germany and stood with them as they built representative governments. We committed years and resources to this cause.... America today accepts the challenge of helping Iraq in the same spirit, for their sake and our own.

This theme, that we are reliving the late 40s, has been rehearsed for some time. It surfaced in a vague form on June 26 in a speech in London by Condoleezza Rice, in which she urged Europeans to look to the Middle East "with the same vision, determination and patience that we exhibited in building a united transatlantic community after 1945." 2 On July 31, an anonymous "senior official" referred to the rebuilding of West Germany as "a generational commitment" and said that 9/11 gave the United States "the same kind of impulse toward the Middle East." The official claimed that we must "have a transformation of that region if we're not to have terrorists stalking the American people for generations to come," and that there must be "a generational commitment" to that task as well.3 On August 7, Dr. Rice wrote in an op-ed piece that "America and our friends and allies must commit ourselves to a long-term transformation in... the Middle East." 4

The President echoed this in a speech to the American Legion on August 26:

More progress will come in Iraq, and it will require hard and sustained efforts. As many of you saw firsthand in Germany and Japan after World War II, the transition from dictatorship to democracy is a massive undertaking. It's not an easy task. In the aftermath of World War II, that task took years, not months, to complete.5

Therefore, the president's remarks on Sunday were not a new departure, but part of a sales program evolving over the past two months.

I doubt that the voters will be as enthusiastic about sacrifice and long-term dedication as the global thinkers in the White House. If they grasp, even in general terms, what is meant by this "generational commitment," many of them may decide that the war wasn't such a good idea after all.

1, 2 & 5. Transcripts,
3. The Washington Post, 8/1/03.
4. The Washington Post, 8/7/03.

September 13, 2003

Most of the reactions to the President's speech on Sunday have been critical in one way or another. Some have demanded a statement of the administration's plan, including its exit strategy, which is a major step forward. However, all assume that we must in some sense "succeed" in Iraq and I have come across only one which asks the fundamental question: Why are we there? A column in The Cleveland Plain Dealer takes the honor: "What the hell are we doing in Iraq? That's the 87-billion- dollar detail."1 We need a meaningful answer. It isn't possible to evaluate the request for funds or any statement of strategy without knowing what it is that we seek to accomplish.

In recent statements, apart from ritual references to WMD, which no one takes seriously, the President and his advisors have offered two reasons for "staying the course" in Iraq: victory in the war against terror and democratization.

One certainly could quarrel with the President's treating all of the attacks in Iraq as examples of terrorism. Some of them, such as the bombing of the UN, the Jordanian Embassy and the Shia mosque clearly fit the definition. Others are, and at times have been conceded to be, part of guerilla warfare; as such, they could be regarded as an extension of the Iraqi defense against invasion. In testimony on September 9, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz impliedly adopted this interpretation by asserting that the war isn't over. That doesn't square with the President's version of events, and it was an irritated and probably ill-considered response to criticism of "post-war" planning, but it is more accurate than the official line.

However we categorize them, these attacks occur in Iraq because we are there, because our invasion and our continuing presence have invited them. Claiming that we are combating terrorism in Iraq is about like saying that we killed nineteen terrorists on September 11th. Attempting to shore up the false terrorism excuse for the invasion by pointing to terrorism that it caused marks a new low in the administration's attempts to justify its actions.

However, let's set that aside and inquire why defeating whoever it is that is attacking us and others is crucial to the global war on terrorism and to our security.

There are two possible explanations: the fighting in Iraq is important in itself or, regardless of whether it is, we cannot be perceived to have failed. It's difficult to see anything in the former theory. In fact, until our continued presence in Iraq prompted jihadists to enter the country, it was difficult to see any connection between Iraq and worldwide terrorism. The longer we stay the less safe we will be from terrorist retaliation, certainly in Iraq and probably at home.

The administration's argument really has to do with perception, not direct effects: we have started something which we must finish in order not to seem weak, vulnerable or irresolute. Secretary Rumsfeld was quoted to that effect a few days ago:

"We know for a fact . . . that terrorists studied Somalia and they studied instances where the United States was dealt a blow and tucked in and persuaded themselves they could, in fact, cause us to acquiesce in whatever it is they wanted us to do," he told reporters aboard his plane.

"The United States is not going to do that...."2

On Sunday, the President expanded on the theme:

There is more at work in these attacks than blind rage. The terrorists have a strategic goal. They want us to leave Iraq before our work is done. They want to shake the will of the civilized world. In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken.3

He had said as much to the American Legion on August 26:

Retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder attacks. There will be no retreat.

...The war on terror is a test of our strength. It is a test of our perseverance, our patience, and our will....4

If that sounds a bit reminiscent of Vietnam, there's a reason. In that speech, the President also said, "Our military is confronting terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places so our people will not have to confront terrorist violence in New York, or St. Louis, or Los Angeles." On Sunday, he said, "We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities." We're still playing dominoes.

The invasion, the occupation and the prior sanctions have caused immense suffering in Iraq, and we have a moral obligation to contribute to restoration of a decent level of life. The invasion has done harm to our security by providing militant Muslims with another excuse to hate us, and by diverting attention and resources from more useful applications. Both of these must be addressed, but the former does not require long-term American occupation of Iraq and the latter would be exacerbated by it.

Although democratization is the subject of stirring phrases, and its invocation is useful in winning support, its importance to the administration is as a tool in the battle against terrorism. Sunday's speech shows this:

... In Iraq, we are helping the long suffering people of that country to build a decent and democratic society at the center of the Middle East... This undertaking is difficult and costly - yet worthy of our country, and critical to our security.

The Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations. The triumph of democracy and tolerance in Iraq, in Afghanistan and beyond would be a grave setback for international terrorism.... Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat.

This leads us into the murky area of nation-building, which Mr. Bush disdained, with some reason, as a candidate. Certainly we should aid in restoring order and institutions of government in Iraq, because we destroyed them. We have an interest in seeing that the successor government is stable and peaceful. However, there may be several paths to that goal, not all of which will resemble "democracy" as the administration defines it. Insisting on a specific form of government may be counterproductive. A recent Zogby poll for the American Enterprise Institute reported that 31.5 per cent of Iraqis said the US and UK should help make sure a fair government is set up in Iraq, but 58.5 per cent thought the Iraqis should work this out themselves; 38.2 per cent said that democracy could work well in Iraq, while 50.2 per cent agreed with the statement that "democracy is a western way of doing things and it will not work here."5 This is hardly definitive, but it tends to confirm that attempting to dictate results may be disastrous.

In addition, the rhetoric about democracy, in and out of government, leads too far. Are we committed to overthrowing every undemocratic regime? Have we not survived the existence of many? Do we not count several as allies? Is Iraq a special case? If so, in what way would the absence of democracy in Iraq pose a threat to us?

We don't have 180,000 troops in and around Iraq because we are committed to giving it democracy. Perhaps we have them there to fight the ill-conceived war on terrorism, but there are other possibilities. What are our aims and intentions with regard to Iraq's oil, American military bases and American domination of the Middle East? Does our present and projected force level have something to do with those issues? Our resistance to U.N. supervision may relate to them; democratization and fighting terrorism don't require American control.

Finally, Iraq needs to be put into a rational perspective. Does the magnitude of any threat justify distorting our entire policy, domestic and international? Are we ready to rebuild Iraq and let our own infrastructure, physical and cultural, rot? Even if we sacrifice domestic programs, where is the money going to come from?

All of these questions may have satisfactory answers, but they won't be answered unless we ask them. If we don't, and simply take the administration's word that we must press on, the word of people who have yet to be honest, we are fools and deserve whatever happens to us. However, the greater burden may be borne by the next generation. If we have no concern for our own well-being, we should demand answers on its behalf.

1. Dick Feagler, 9/10/03.
2. Article by Dana Priest in The Washington Post, 9/8/03 .
3, . Transcript,
5. [Financial Times] 9/10/03. The sampling is small.

September 17, 2003

In a speech on June 24, Senator Robert Byrd complained of a change of direction in foreign policy:

Mr. President, last fall, the White House released a national security strategy that called for an end to the doctrines of deterrence and containment that have been a hallmark of American foreign policy for more than half a century.

This new national security strategy is based upon pre-emptive war against those who might threaten our security. 1

The Senator certainly is correct that the new strategy endorses preemptive war and that it moves away from former policies. However, deterrence still is part of the program, and now is being used as the excuse for staying the course in Iraq.

On this topic the National Security Strategy begins by claiming that the old form of deterrence theory is inadequate:

In the Cold War, especially following the Cuban missile crisis, we faced a generally status quo, risk-averse adversary. Deterrence was an effective defense. But deterrence based only upon the threat of retaliation is less likely to work against leaders of rogue states more willing to take risks, gambling with the lives of their people, and the wealth of their nations.2

The psychological aspect of this is dubious, and sounds more like a means to an end than sound analysis. In any case, it is a transition to the new form of deterrence:

Traditional concepts of deterrence will not work against a terrorist enemy whose avowed tactics are wanton destruction and the targeting of innocents; whose so-called soldiers seek martyrdom in death and whose most potent protection is statelessness. The overlap between states that sponsor terror and those that pursue WMD compels us to action.

For centuries, international law recognized that nations need not suffer an attack before they can lawfully take action to defend themselves against forces that present an imminent danger of attack. Legal scholars and international jurists often conditioned the legitimacy of preemption on the existence of an imminent threat - most often a visible mobilization of armies, navies, and air forces preparing to attack.

We must adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries.....

After an extended discussion of the option of preemptive attack, the Strategy returns to a formula including deterrence:

It is time to reaffirm the essential role of American military strength. We must build and maintain our defenses beyond challenge. Our military's highest priority is to defend the United States. To do so effectively, our military must:

assure our allies and friends;
dissuade future military competition;
deter threats against U.S. interests, allies, and friends; and
decisively defeat any adversary if deterrence fails.

The old policy was to deter attacks by the threat of retaliation. The new strategy adds the fact or threat of preemptive war.

At times, as Senator Byrd suggests, the administration has seemed to reject deterrence altogether. In remarks to the National Press Club on September 10, Secretary Rumsfeld came close to that:

But we have, in fact, entered a new security environment in this 21st century.... We can no longer stake our security on the assumption that terrorist states can be counted on to avoid actions that lead to their own destruction -- the old concept of deterrence. That theory has been overtaken by events. Certainly, such logic did not stop the Taliban regime from harboring al Qaeda as it executed attacks on the United States. They were not deterred, if you will. It did not stop the Iraqi regime from defying the 17th U.N. Security Council resolution, even with thousands of coalition forces massing on its borders. They, too, were not deterred. 3

However, that says more than Mr. Rumsfeld meant; almost immediately he added this:

As the president said in his address to the country, "For America, there will be no going back to the era before September 11th, 2001, to false comfort in a dangerous world. We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength, they are invited by the perception of weakness."

Although negatively stated, this is deterrence theory. The same argument underlies the current excuse for remaining in Iraq: if we leave without defeating the terrorists in Iraq, we will invite further attacks. Under that assumption, Iraq presents a situation we might call negative deterrence by misadventure: we've created a mess that we can't walk away from because terrorists would draw the wrong inference.


September 19, 2003

A Washington Post poll last month found that 69 percent of Americans thought it at least likely that Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks on 9/11. However, on Wednesday President Bush said, "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th."1

The next morning, The Seattle P-I ran a front-page story on the statement, under a banner headline, "No Iraq link to 9/11 found." The New York Times, by contrast, ran a brief report on page 18. Does this reflect a different view of the importance of the event or a desire by The Times to soft-pedal criticism of the administration? Based on the Times' recent performance, it's difficult not to opt for the latter explanation.

There could be a third view, that the President's statement is insincere and therefore not worthy of much attention. Candor does not come naturally to this administration, so caution might be in order.

Consider the comments by Vice President Cheney last Sunday, during an interview on "Meet the Press." Mr. Cheney followed the established line: deny knowledge of any connection, but imply it. He was not surprised, he said, at the 69% figure; small wonder, given the administration's efforts in planting the idea. Among his attempts to reinforce the misapprehension was the claim that "succeeding" in Iraq will strike "a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11."2

Secretary Rumsfeld more or less anticipated the President's remarks during a press conference on Tuesday. Asked whether he believed that "Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 attacks," he responded, "I've not seen any indication that would lead me to believe that I could say that.... Not to my knowledge, I should say."3 This is a bit more cautious than Mr. Bush's comment, but it still seems to be adopting a new line.

However, when National Security Advisor Rice appeared on "Nightline," also on Tuesday, she was quoted as follows:

"We have never claimed that Saddam Hussein ... had either direction or control of 9/11," Rice said when asked about the public perception of a link. "What we have said is that this is someone who supported terrorists, helped to train them (and) was a threat in this region that we were not prepared to tolerate." Defending Saddam's ouster, she said he represented a threat in "a region from which the 9/11 threat emerged."4

That falls about half way between the Bush and Cheney versions. Dr. Rice only absolved Hussein from direction or control, not from all involvement; she alleged training and support of terrorists, which still allows those so inclined to trace that to 9/11; she echoed Cheney's hint about a region from which 9/11 emerged, a concept as suggestive as it is vague.

The Vice President may have been out of the loop or his embarrassing performance may have prompted a decision to come clean. Perhaps Dr. Rice failed to receive another memo, or perhaps her carefully hedged admission will serve as an alternate official position: "What the President meant to say was...."

However firm the denials regarding 9/11 turn out to be, the administration still is trying to have it both ways, by reiterating its claim that Saddam Hussein had close ties to al-Qaeda.

Therefore The Times had ample reason to be skeptical, but the President's concession still was front-page news, no less so for possibly being insincere.

4. Yahoo! News/Reuters 9/16/03

October 13, 2003

If one needed the excuse of an anniversary to discuss events in Iraq, there would be only a short wait at any time. October 1 marked five months from the declaration that major operations were over. On October 19, we will be seven months past the start of the invasion. The currently fashionable anniversary is six months from the toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein on April 9, which is taken to be symbolic of the end of the old regime. On any such date, the view of the situation by the administration and its critics is markedly different, and becoming more so with each milestone.

The testimony of David Kay provides an illustration. Dr. Kay testified before a joint session of several Congressional committees on October 2. The President, in a speech the next day, claimed that Kay's findings vindicated the decision to go to war:

Let me tell you what the report said. It states that Saddam Hussein's regime had a clandestine network of biological laboratories. They had a live strain of deadly agent called botulinum. And he had sophisticated concealment efforts. In other words, he's hiding his programs. He had advanced design work done on prohibited long-range missiles.

Specifically, Dr. Kay's team discovered what the report calls, "Dozens of WMD related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."...1

I first saw these comments in an article in The International Herald Tribune; it noted, pertinently, that the President "made no specific mention of Kay's statement to Congress on Thursday that no such weapons had been found in the current search." Another article in the same issue summed up the significance of the failure to find any:

The preliminary report delivered by the chief arms inspector in Iraq forces the administration of President George W. Bush to come face to face with this reality: that Saddam Hussein's armory appears to have been stuffed with precursors, potential weapons and bluffs, but that nothing found so far backs up administration claims that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the world. 2

The President made reference to the team's report, but his quote is from Kay's testimony to Congress which, as far as I know, is all that is publicly available. The testimony was an interesting mix of the administration line - we've found nasty things and we'll find more - and candor. Kay's statement as to actual weapons illustrates the combination:

We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone. We are actively engaged in searching for such weapons based on information being supplied to us by Iraqis.3

Of the three categories of WMD, the search appears to have eliminated two from serious consideration. As to chemical weapons, Kay said this:

...Information found to date suggests that Iraq's large-scale capability to develop, produce, and fill new CW munitions was reduced - if not entirely destroyed - during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of UN sanctions and UN inspections....

We...have not yet found evidence to confirm pre-war reporting that Iraqi military units were prepared to use CW against Coalition forces. Our efforts to collect and exploit intelligence on Iraq's chemical weapons program have thus far yielded little reliable information on post-1991 CW stocks and CW agent production, although we continue to receive and follow leads related to such stocks....

His comments on nuclear weapons were equally negative:

Despite evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material. However, Iraq did take steps to preserve some technological capability from the pre-1991 nuclear weapons program.

That leaves biological weapons. Kay made a weak pass at supporting Bush's excited claim on May 30 regarding trailers, but again candor prevented going very far:

We have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile BW production effort. Investigation into the origin of and intended use for the two trailers found in northern Iraq in April has yielded a number of explanations, including hydrogen, missile propellant, and BW production, but technical limitations would prevent any of these processes from being ideally suited to these trailers. That said, nothing we have discovered rules out their potential use in BW production.

Most of his remarks on biological weapons were inferences from what seemed to him to be suspicious activities or organizational structures:

With regard to biological warfare activities, which has been one of our two initial areas of focus, ISG [Iraq Survey Group] teams are uncovering significant information - including research and development of BW-applicable organisms, the involvement of Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) in possible BW activities, and deliberate concealment activities. All of this suggests Iraq after 1996 further compartmentalized its program and focused on maintaining smaller, covert capabilities that could be activated quickly to surge the production of BW agents.

Debriefings of IIS officials and site visits have begun to unravel a clandestine network of laboratories and facilities within the security service apparatus. This network was never declared to the UN and was previously unknown. We are still working on determining the extent to which this network was tied to large-scale military efforts or BW terror weapons, but this clandestine capability was suitable for preserving BW expertise, BW capable facilities and continuing R&D - all key elements for maintaining a capability for resuming BW production.

"Suitable for preserving...a capability for resuming" is a pretty weak indictment.

Dr. Kay's discussion of biological programs and materials has a speculative and conspiratorial tone. The Iraqi Intelligence Service sponsored graduate study abroad in biological science, "the only area of graduate work that the IIS appeared to sponsor." In R&D, nonpathogenic organisms served as "surrogates for prohibited investigation with pathogenic agents"; certain processes "would have been directly applicable to anthrax"; "one scientist confirmed" that a production line "could be switched to produce anthrax in one week if the seed stock were available." Perhaps this demonstrates a plan to develop biological weapons, but it seems thin even for the hedged conclusions by Kay and certainly doesn't justify the President's claim of vindication.

The only reference to any biological agent is the following, again emphasizing concealment more than the material:

A very large body of information has been developed...that confirms that Iraq concealed equipment and materials from UN inspectors when they returned in 2002. One noteworthy example is a collection of reference strains that ought to have been declared to the UN. Among them was a vial of live C. botulinum Okra B. from which a biological agent can be produced.

This is, to say the least, not a smoking gun. As Maureen Dowd put it, perhaps a trifle flippantly, "we know now that America's first pre-emptive war was launched basically because Iraq had...a vial of Botox?" Or, as she added, more neutrally, "botulinum toxin...can either be turned into a deadly biological weapon or a pricey wrinkle smoother."4 (If you want a disinterested source, try the FDA article "Botulinum Toxin: A Poison That Can Heal" at

Even if it were stronger, the evidence would provide support for the war only by coincidence: Kay makes clear that most of it was discovered only after the invasion; note his comment above that the "clandestine network of laboratories and facilities within the security service apparatus...was previously unknown."

Dr. Kay also inadvertantly refuted the administration's pre-war overstatement of the threat: "our understanding of the status of Iraq's WMD program was always bounded by large uncertainties and had to be heavily caveated."

1. Transcript of speech,
2. Herald Tribune, 10/4-5/03; first article by David Stout, second by David E. Sanger.
3. All quotes are from the transcript of Dr. Kay's testimony at
4. The New York Times, 10/9/03.

October 17, 2003

A month ago, President Bush said, "We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11th."1 It is clear now that this was meant to make a record, not to mark a change of strategy, let alone to reflect a concession. When called to account, the administration can point to that statement and claim righteously that no one was misled. Meanwhile it continues to mislead.

The White House has been engaged in what is admitted to be a PR campaign. Part of that campaign has been the recycling of the suggestion that Saddam was involved in 9-11 and of the argument that the invasion of Iraq was connected to those attacks. The claim need not be made directly. When the President begins with a reference to 9-11, segues through a discussion of terrorism in which he says "we're striking our enemies before they can strike us again," 2 and moves on to Iraq, the audience gets the hint. They also do when a discussion of terrorism and Iraq follows something like this:

I vowed on September the 11th -- after September the 11th, that I would do everything in my power, with a great country, to hunt down those who killed Americans, plotted against Americans, and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what we are doing.3

In a recent speech, the Vice President followed a similar pattern, preceding a lengthy discussion of Iraq with "There is only one way to protect ourselves against catastrophic terrorist violence, and that is to destroy the terrorists before they can launch further attacks against the United States." Perhaps concerned that he was being too subtle, Mr. Cheney also trotted out the al-Qaeda connection:

...Saddam Hussein... cultivated ties to terror -- hosting the Abu Nidal organization, supporting terrorists, making payments to the families of suicide bombers in Israel. He also had an established relationship with al Qaeda, providing training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons, gases, making conventional bombs....4

Another ploy is to pose a false dilemma by pointing out that the alternative to invasion was to leave Saddam Hussein in power. This takes two forms, both set forth in President Bush's speech in Portsmouth. The first is the argument from threat:

I acted because I was not about to leave the security of the American people in the hands of a madman. I was not about to stand by and wait and trust in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein....5

In other words, the choice was between action and risking disaster. However, like the pre-war claims, the validity of the formula depends on the dubious proposition that Iraq was a threat to us. Bush (in Milwaukee), Cheney and Condoleezza Rice (in a speech in Chicago),6 have attempted to establish that by selective quotes from David Kay's testimony. However, as to chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, a fair reading of his testimony leads to the opposite conclusion. The speeches also refer to findings by the Kay team regarding missiles. That part of Dr. Kay's testimony is the most detailed, but there still is little substance. The findings refer to plans and programs; no prohibited missiles are mentioned. Most of the findings are attributed to statements by unidentified "detainees and cooperative sources." However, taking all of his findings at face value, the most that could be said is that Iraq was working toward missiles with ranges up to 1300 kilometers, about 807 miles, hardly a threat to the U.S.

The second form of the argument is the appeal to morality:

Who can possibly think that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein still in power? Surely not the dissidents who would be in his prisons or end up in mass graves. Surely not the men and women who would fill Saddam's torture chambers, or the women in his rape rooms. Surely not the victims he murdered with poison gas. Surely not anyone who cares about human rights and democracy and stability in the Middle East. There is only one decent and humane reaction to the fall of Saddam Hussein: Good riddance. 7

No one would argue for the return of Saddam, but that isn't the issue. The question is whether we should have invaded Iraq. Leave aside, for the present purpose, the extreme unlikelihood that we acted for reasons of morality, which would make the President's recital irrelevant. Leave aside whether such a moral impulse would excuse killing and maiming large numbers of Iraqis, sacrificing our troops, plunging ourselves further into debt, incurring the distrust and enmity of large parts of the world and compromising future efforts to deal with real threats. There remains the question of justification. Saying that our unilateral invasion was justified because Saddam was bad is equivalent to my walking up to someone on the street, blowing him away and arguing that, because he was a bad man, I deserve a medal, not prison. Vigilante justice cannot be tolerated among citizens, nor can it between nations. Even the assertive, arrogant National Security Strategy doesn't claim that preemptive war is justified by moral considerations; only a threat to national security will do so, and the administration is no closer to showing that.

1. This slightly garbled statement is taken from the official transcript at www. News accounts changed the ending to "September the 11th."
2, 5, 7. Portsmouth, NH, 10/9/03;
3. Milwaukee, 10/3/03;
4. Washington, D.C., 10/10/03;
6. Chicago, 10/8/03;

November 1, 2003, Saturday

Are we preparing an exit strategy for Iraq? There have been reports over the past few weeks which would suggest that.

The reports had two themes: transfer of security responsibility to Iraqis will be accelerated, and plans are in place to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq significantly by next summer. However, transferring more responsibility to Iraqis could have an aim other than withdrawal.

In early September, Secretary Rumsfeld referred to increased Iraqi involvement as a means of avoiding an increase in American troop strength:

There are a number of people calling for additional U.S. forces to go into Iraq. And our commanders, to a person, have told me, from General Sanchez, General Abizaid, General Myers, all have said they believe that they have right number of U.S. forces in the country at the present time.

What they want is what we're doing, and that is to increase the Iraqis involved in providing for their own security.

Ultimately, every country has to do that. And rather than flooding the zone with more Americans, which means you have to have more force protection, more support, it is, we believe, vastly better to continue to invest in encouraging the Iraqis to provide the kinds of increases and ramping up of their own security capabilities.

He did make a weak pass at relating the transfer to an exit strategy, but only in response to a question:

[Q]: What is the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: It's what I just described. It is to see that we work with the Iraqis to pass off to them political responsibility for their country -- they already have a cabinet, they already have a governing council, they already have city councils all across that country, they're working on a constitutional process -- and see that they assume more and more of that responsibility as fast as they're capable of doing it. That's our goal. And the same thing's true with respect to security. That's our exit strategy.1

Other reports have indicated that the point of turning security responsibility over to Iraqis is to allow American troops to concentrate on finding and eradicating the guerrillas and terrorists.

However, in early October, reports appeared in The Washington Post indicating that a partial withdrawal was expected. One said that security duties in Mosul would to be turned over to Iraqi "police officers and troops." This was described as "pulling [American] troops out of small camps scattered throughout Mosul and consolidating them at larger bases on the outskirts." Therefore the move hardly is dramatic, but the commanding general was quoted as saying that total forces in the north could be reduced next year. Again, standing alone that could be discounted, as northern Iraq has been the least troubled area. However, the move was said to be in keeping with "plans now being discussed by top U.S. commanders to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq from about 130,000 troops to less than 100,000 by the middle of next year..." This plan reportedly would "further reduce U.S. forces to about 50,000 by mid-2005."2 Another article referred to "well-developed plans to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to about 90,000 by midsummer, with further cuts planned for the next 12 months."3 A third referred to troop levels of 100,000 and 50,000 but stated that these were proposals which had not been approved by Secretary Rumsfeld, and added,

Some of the advocates of the troop drawdown concede that they consider it a "best-case" scenario. The "mid-case," said one defense expert, is that the security situation continues as it is and Iraqi units prove unreliable, requiring more U.S. troops than the drawdown plan would provide, while the worst case is that conditions worsen and Shiite attacks increase, increasing the number of U.S. casualties and possibly requiring U.S. reinforcements.4

The strongest indication of a plan to turn over security to the Iraqis was found in comments by Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, who found himself in the middle of the problem when, on a visit to Baghdad, his hotel was hit by rocket fire. David Ignatius reported these comments by Mr. Wolfowitz:

"This terrorist act will not deter us from completing our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves from the type of criminals who did this," Wolfowitz said when he met with reporters three hours after the attack. He argued that "the big news" wasn't the rocket attack on his hotel, but "that Iraqis are fighting and killing these people."

Earlier - not much earlier - there would have been a pledge that we would defeat the terrorists; now the Iraqis will. Ignatius continued,

The rest of Wolfowitz's day was a series of meetings that had been arranged days before to encourage his strategy of stabilizing Iraq by giving Iraqis greater responsibility for security...

At every stop he repeated his pitch that Iraqis must take responsibility for their country. "The fight is going to be won at the end of the day by the Iraqi people," he told reporters....5

In a separate report, Ignatius offered more details of Wolfowitz's change of emphasis:

To achieve that rapid transfer of power, Wolfowitz is pushing to train five security forces: the New Iraqi Army, which should total 40,000 by next summer; a revitalized Iraqi police; a new corps of border guards; a Facilities Protection Service to guard vulnerable oil pipelines and other infrastructure, and a new 22,000-member Iraqi Civil Defense Corps that would operate like the National Guard in America. The only way to field all these security forces quickly, Wolfowitz has concluded, is to recruit elements of the old Iraqi army....

The last is a dramatic reversal of the policy enacted by Viceroy Bremer of disbanding the army. The report continued:

Building up Iraqi security forces is Plan A for eventually withdrawing U.S. troops, but it isn't clear that Wolfowitz has a good Plan B. Hopes have faded for a broad multinational force.6

Whether that comment reflects Wolfowitz's views or is only a conclusion by Ignatius isn't clear.

A pessimistic view of withdrawal had been offered by the commander in Iraq, General Sanchez, on October 5:

"I see us being here awhile yet," said Sanchez, a straight-talking tank officer who took command of the coalition forces in June. "The political processes have to take their natural course until we have a representative government in place, and that's going to take some time. And even after that occurs, given the pace at which the Iraqi army (is) standing up, it's going to be awhile after that because the army being formed will not be sufficient for the defense of the country.

"So it's going to be a few years before we can draw down as the security situation here stabilizes, as you can build additional coalition capacity to allow the U.S. to draw down some of its forces over time.7

The President had an opportunity on Tuesday to sort this out, but he ducked, a maneuver aided by the form of the inquiry:

Q. ...And the second question, can you promise a year from now that you will have reduced the number of troops in Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: The second question is a trick question, so I won't answer it. 8

Leaving aside the demand for a promise, why did he not indicate a plan, however tentative or qualified? Were the reports of force reduction unreliable or premature? Did he simply want to leave his options completely open? Would an affirmative answer, however hedged, be considered politically unwise? Or was he simply caught off guard, inadequately briefed as to the details of his policy? Any of these could have been true.

On Thursday the President apparently endorsed the first half of the formula:

The Bush administration has told the Pentagon to revamp and accelerate its plans for putting Iraqi security forces on the streets of Baghdad and other areas where American forces have come under attack, even if their training is significantly shortened, according to military and administration officials.

President Bush's desire to speed up - yet again - the rate at which Iraqis are put on the streets to supplement the 130,000 American troops in Iraq was the dominant subject at a meeting of the National Security Council in the White House Situation Room on Wednesday morning.

"He made it clear that it's not happening fast enough," said one senior official familiar with the discussion. 9

Whether that is or will be linked to withdrawal still is unknown.

Rhetoric by President Bush would not lead one to think that any plan of withdrawal is under consideration. He told the nation on September 7 that the U.S. will not be driven into retreat by terrorism: "In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge. In this, they are mistaken." On August 26, he said that "Retreat in the face of terror would only invite further and bolder attacks. There will be no retreat." On Tuesday, commenting on the violence of last weekend, he reiterated that seemingly uncompromising position: "It is dangerous in Iraq because there are some who believe that we're soft, that the will of the United States can be shaken by suiciders [sic]..."10 Mr. Bush's remarks have, at times, graduated from determination to bluster; the most egregious example is his boast, "Bring 'em on!"

Pundits have declared that we cannot "cut and run." William Kristol and Robert Kagen put that more or less in the form of a warning: "We trust the president knows he cannot cut and run in Iraq."11 "Cut and run" is not exactly a term of art, but anything that looks like a withdrawal in the face of continuing attacks will be so labeled. Nevertheless, withdrawal may be at least under consideration.

In predicting what position the administration will take, it is relevant to look for other indications of lessening our involvement in Iraq.

Secretary Rumsfeld directed a now-famous memo to his assistants on October 16. It described our ongoing wars as follows: "It is pretty clear that the coalition can win in Afghanistan and Iraq in one way or another, but it will be a long, hard slog." Despite the White House spin, this is a downbeat assessment. The tone of the memo is, if not one of discouragement, certainly one of disillusionment, and public patience for a long, hard course is wearing thin.

The occupation has strained American military capacity to the limit. Our ability to respond to any other crisis is severely impaired, and even maintaining the present troop strength in Iraq will be difficult, as well as increasingly unpopular. Attempts to persuade other countries to contribute troops largely have failed.

The much-publicized reorganization of the effort in Iraq, putting coordination in the hands of the NSC, clearly demonstrates Bush's dissatisfaction with the situation. It also may foreshadow a shift away from tight control of Iraq; Rice and the NSC staff don't look decisive, still less like hands-on managers.

The decision to allow international oversight of some reconstruction funds is another step away from the virtually unilateral control demanded as recently as the runup to the meeting of the Security Council.

After rejecting demands by the French for rapid devolution to the Iraqis, the administration is planning to follow that path. The timetable is much less ambitious than the French proposal, but clearly there is a new emphasis. Secretary Powell has suggested a deadline for a completing a constitution which even the Governing Council thinks too optimistic.

All of this is consistent with the idea that the administration is working toward at least partial withdrawal.

However, the possibility of withdrawal depends on the security situation next year, and not solely for military reasons. The generals and the Defense Secretaries can make all the plans they want; the plans will be implemented only if they don't interfere with re-election.

Bush probably has a bias against withdrawal prior to pacification because his core constituency is hawkish, and because some influential "muscular liberals" also subscribe to the we-can't-afford-to-fail view.12 Is that a prudent political stance? It depends on whether Bush should be more afraid of losing supporters of the war than of alienating those who have, at whatever stage and for whatever reason, decided that the casualties aren't justified. Let's consider whether he should worry more about the latter. The issue is whether the war already is a millstone which he needs to shed.

Not long ago, the White House thought that the war was a political plus, as demonstrated by the tableau on May 1. No doubt it recognized the truth of this cynical observation by William Greider:

The excitement of an occasional war is, in fact, one of the few remaining opportunities for alienated citizens to feel connected again with their nation’s higher politics. So long as the wars are relatively quick and painless, they provide a rallying point for ordinary citizens, a momentary illusion of shared national purpose. The war making offers a fantasy of power for those who are, in fact, powerless....13

However, the war has not been quick and painless and its political benefits rapidly are being replaced by risks. Attacks on U.S. forces average two dozen per day (33 per day this week). The number killed in action since May 1 now exceeds the total lost in combat during the invasion. A longer conflict and mounting casualties might be tolerated if the people believed them to be justified, but that is becoming a difficult concept to sell.

The threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was the principal excuse for the war, but none have been found, nor is there any reason to think that any will be. The administration's attempts to substitute weapon programs as the threat has had limited success; liberation and democratization are losing some of their allure as the costs become known. The only excuse which still seems to resonate is the alleged involvement of Saddam Hussein in 9-11; even that may fade, as the President has admitted that there is no such connection (although he continues to imply it).

The war has brought the administration's credibility to a low ebb. Its various claims in justification of the war have been shown to be false or, at the least, irresponsibly exaggerated. The problem has been made worse by implausible excuses and attempts to shift the blame to the CIA, which has led to that agency's knocking the ball back into the White House's court. The leak of Victoria* Plame Wilson's identity has led to an investigation and more embarrassment.

The administration has attempted to hide the casualties, literally and figuratively. Its literal hiding of the casualties has been effective; there won't be any pictures of returning caskets because the bases to which they return won't allow photographs. Its attempts to downplay casualties and other bad news have been less successful and now are bordering on the surreal. The attacks over the weekend elicited this response from the President: "There are terrorists in Iraq who are willing to kill anybody in order to stop our progress. The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react."14 By that standard, utter disaster would be the best indication that we are winning. At some point, a program which paints Mr. Bush into that corner needs to be reassessed.

The military has attempted to prevent criticism by the troops or reports of low morale from reaching the press, without much success. Its attempt at propaganda, through phony letters home, backfired. Low morale and extended tours for reservists have led to agitation by military families. For reasons which elude me, the administration has made all of this worse by cutting military benefits. That has led to the formation of a Veterans' Party in Florida, not exactly where Bush would like to have troubles.

The President declared the fund-raising meeting in Madrid a success, but the reality was less encouraging: most of the pledges were in the form of loans or forgiveness of debt, little in the way of grants. This leaves us in the position of funding the reconstruction. Congress approved most of the President's $87 billion demand, but defied him by also making part of it a loan. This turned out to be a temporary gesture, and would have been misguided if carried out, but it illustrates the unpopularity of our assumption of the burden of funding Iraq's recovery. The pre-war assurances that Iraqi oil would pay for it provides another example of false statements coming home to roost.

Even though most Iraqis are not reacting with violence, our presence is viewed with increasing suspicion. A poll taken in Iraq recently illustrates this:

The results found 67 percent of Iraqis view the US-led coalition as an occupying force, while only 46 percent of the population considered them as such when US troops rolled into Baghdad April 9, said the Iraqi Centre for Research and Strategic Studies.

Over the same timeframe, those who viewed the US forces as liberators slumped from 43 percent to 15 percent, the study said.15

The Iraqi Governing Council has been annoyingly assertive, pressing for more control, even to the extent of an op-ed piece in the New York Times. It has claimed that it could provide, at less cost, services now under U.S. control; scandals in contract awards and performance do nothing to detract from this claim nor to enhance Mr. Bush's image.

Finally, there is the decline of the President's standing in the polls. The drop is not irreversible, but it has to be worrisome. Entirely eliminating Iraq as an issue probably isn't possible, short of capturing Saddam next October, but Bush needs to defuse it. There is going to be increasing pressure to find a plausible way to declare victory and, if not get out, at least dramatically reduce the losses.

Under the core-constituency policy, any doubts as to Iraq's ability to maintain order without us would be resolved in favor of leaving a large force there. The contrary policy, looking to the factors just listed, would have the bias in favor of early withdrawal. Ironically, if the hawks win the argument, the attacks will have had the unintended effect of prolonging American control of Iraq.

This morning, in his weekly radio address, the President offered a blend of themes: we can't be intimidated, but we're turning control over to the Iraqis. He began by reciting the standard, flag-waving formula:

During the last few decades, the terrorists grew to believe that if they hit America hard - as in Lebanon and Somalia - America would retreat and back down. Five years ago, one of the terrorists said that an attack could make America run in less than 24 hours. They have learned the wrong lesson. The United States will complete our work in Iraq. Leaving Iraq prematurely would only embolden the terrorists and increase the danger to America. We are determined to stay, to fight and to win.

Then he described our strategy. First, we are aggressively hunting down the attackers, their funds, and their supplies of weapons.

Second, we are training an ever-increasing number of Iraqis to defend their nation. Today, more than 90,000 Iraqis are serving as police officers, border guards and civil defense personnel. These Iraqi forces are also supplying troops in the field with better intelligence, allowing for greater precision in targeting the enemies of freedom. And we are accelerating our efforts to train and field a new Iraqi army and more Iraqi civil defense forces.

Third, we are implementing a specific plan to transfer sovereignty and authority to the Iraqi people....16

How do we read that? Transfer of control probably is being contemplated for all three reasons mentioned: depending on how well the Iraqis perform, and how much pacification is achieved, transfer of control may obviate the necessity of increasing American troop strength, allow American troops to concentrate more on active operations, or even allow partial withdrawal. In addition, I think that we are watching the rehearsal of a fallback scenario - to be available in case that millstone gets any heavier - in which victory will consist primarily in creating that shining new Iraqi state. If fighting continues, well, doesn't every free, democratic nation have a few problems?
* Correction: Valerie

1. National Press Club, 9/10/03;
2. 10/23/03.
3. 10/29/03.
4. 10/19/03.
5. The Washington Post, 10/27/03.
6. The Washington Post, 10/26/03. The Post seemed to be alone in reporting on the proposed troop levels and almost so as to the details of Wolfowitz's comments; there was minor confirmation of the latter in The Los Angeles Times.
7. The Chicago Tribune, 10/5/03.
8. Transcript, News Conference, 10/28/03;
9. The New York Times, 10/30/03.
10. Transcript, press conference, 10/28/03;
11. The Weekly Standard, 9/15/03.
12. See Thomas Friedman ("It's No Vietnam") in The New York Times and Richard Cohen ("Vietnam It Isn't") in The Washington Post, both 10/30/03.
13. Who Will Tell the People, p. 362.
14. Transcript, photo opportunity, 10/27/03;
15. Yahoo News/AFP 10/23/03; see Knight-Ridder Washington Bureau 10/23/03.
16. Transcript,

November 4, 2003, Tuesday

A few days ago, the President told us that the increasingly deadly attacks in Iraq were a sign that the opposition is desperate, which in turn was a sign that we are prevailing. That was a foolish and, one might say, desperate formula, as was tragically demonstrated Sunday.

The loss of sixteen lives when a helicopter was shot down, together with three more killed in other types of attacks, left the President silent. Well, not silent, just unable to talk about the events, even to express sympathy for the families. In a speech in Birmingham, Alabama yesterday, he stuck to his script, telling inane jokes, babbling about entrepreneurship, praising tax cuts, talking about anything but the fact that his policies have led to Sunday's losses. The only even indirect reference was this, near the end:

We have got a great United States military. (Applause.) And some of the best have fallen in service to our fellow Americans. We mourn every loss. We honor every name. We grieve with every family. And we will always be grateful that liberty has found such brave defenders. (Applause.)

We have put the best on the job of securing America and defending the peace. Five-hundred soldiers in the 877th Engineer Battalion, the Alabama National Guard, are deployed. They're fixing roads so life will be better. They're rebuilding orphanages. They're repairing schools. These proud sons and daughters of Alabama were responsible for demolishing the final hideout of the thugs, the sons, of Saddam Hussein. (Applause.)

We're grateful for them, and I'm grateful to their families for making the sacrifice. You see, freedom's home is America. We're freedom's defender.... 1

The President reportedly has not attended a memorial service for any of those who have died in Iraq, and his Pentagon forbids pictures of their coffins as they arrive home. His tribute to them is hollow, as false as his rationales for sending them to die.

Not satisfied with being insincere, Mr. Bush was deceptive, trotting out the tired, but apparently still effective, implication of a tie between 9-11 and Iraq, weaving the two together over seven aragraphs of his speech, ending with this:

...A free Iraq will be a peaceful Iraq. And a free and peaceful Iraq are important for the national security of America. A free and peaceful Iraq will make it more likely that our children and grandchildren will be able to grow up without the horrors of September the 11th....

Apparently afraid that he'd not made clear to his audience that invading Iraq is all that stands between them and certain disaster, he added, "We'll defeat the terrorists there so we don't have to face them on our own streets." Can't you just see the Iraqi air force, which didn't leave the ground in March, dropping parachute troops onto the streets of Birmingham?

Perhaps the President isn't able to improvise, or his speechwriters need more than a day to make alterations. Surely the White House web site would note the sad events. Not so. On the home page, the latest entries were the text of his Birmingham speech and a two-paragraph statement regarding the passage of the funding bill. The only possibly relevant passage in the latter is this: "Our country is being tested. Those who seek to kill coalition forces and innocent Iraqis want America and its coalition partners to run so the terrorists can reclaim control." Like the comments in his speech, this could have been written any time in the past several weeks.

The featured items on the "Iraq" page of the web site were David Kay's statement to Congress on October 2 and a piece entitled "100 Days of Progress in Iraq." The 100 days begin May 1, so that brings us up to August 8. Under "Latest News," the most recent entry was from October 27. Under "Global Messages," the latest entry was dated November 3, but was a statement by Condoleezza Rice on October 30. The material under "Liberation Update" was dated November 3, but it led off with this, followed by pages of happy talk:

News accounts are painting vivid pictures of the joy and relief of free Iraqis, who are living without fear of Saddam's brutality and beginning to enjoy freedoms unknown for decades.

No bad news allowed.2

A "Press Gaggle" on the plane en route to Birmingham provided the only indication that President Bush even knows that a helicopter went down:

Q Scott, will the President mention the attack on the Chinook that killed 16?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President often talks about the service and sacrifice that our men and women in the military -- and he has often said, and I believe he will continue to say, that we mourn the loss of every fallen soldier. They are serving and sacrificing for an important cause, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and elsewhere. The President has always said we mourn the loss of every life of our troops and our thoughts and prayers are with their loved ones, with their families. And we'll continue to talk about -- I mean, the President has talked about how there are dangers that still exist in parts of Iraq, particularly the Baghdad area, and the area north to Tikrit.

That suggests that the President's remarks were evasive and inadequate by design, or at least by habit.

Q How was he kept abreast of the event yesterday?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was notified in the morning by traveling staff, and then he was updated later in the day, as well.

Q By whom? MR. McCLELLAN: By traveling staff.

Q Was he in contact with Rumsfeld on the phone, or anything?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any updates on that side. I mean, he's always in close contact with administration officials.

That's reassuring, especially as he doesn't read newspapers.

1. All quotes are from the White House web site,
2. Quotes from were taken at about 11 p.m PST, 11/3/03. As of Tuesday, at 10 a.m. PST, the only change which had been made to that web site was to post a rearranged excerpt from the Birmingham speech as the latest "Global Message."

November 7, 2003

The President made two speeches yesterday. The occasion for one was the signing of the war funding bill. He again avoided anything resembling a direct acknowledgment of the downing of a helicopter Sunday, in which fifteen - now changed again to sixteen - died. The only reference to loss of life was this:

Recent attacks have shown, once again, the cruelty of the enemy. They don't care whose lives they take - men, women, or children. They're cold-blooded. They're heartless. We're engaged in a massive and difficult undertaking, but America has done this kind of hard work before.

Well, Sunday is recent.

The President also managed to slip in the ritual association of Iraq with 9-11:

On September the 11th, 2001, America grieved for our losses, and we made a commitment. We determined to conduct the war against terror on the offensive. We determined to confront and undermine threats abroad before they arrive in our own cities.

We're waging this war in relentless pursuit of the al Qaeda network. We're waging this war in Afghanistan against Taliban remnants and al Qaeda killers.

We're waging this war in Iraq against Saddam loyalists and foreign terrorists who seek the return of tyranny and terror. We're pursuing long-term victory in this war by promoting democracy in the Middle East so that the nations of that region no longer breed hatred and terror.1

The second speech was given on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of National Endowment for Democracy. Again, he stayed away from Sunday's events and offered a completely sanitized picture:

...The former dictator ruled by terror and treachery, and left deeply ingrained habits of fear and distrust. Remnants of his regime, joined by foreign terrorists, continue their battle against order and against civilization. Our coalition is responding to recent attacks with precision raids,...

Maybe the following was the reference to Sunday, code word "sacrifice:"

Securing democracy in Iraq is the work of many hands. American and coalition forces are sacrificing for the peace of Iraq and for the security of free nations. Aid workers from many countries are facing danger to help the Iraqi people. The National Endowment for Democracy is promoting women's rights, and training Iraqi journalists, and teaching the skills of political participation.

Or maybe not.

The major theme was the grand plan for remaking the Middle East.

...We've reached another great turning point -- and the resolve we show will shape the next stage of the world democratic movement.

Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East - countries of great strategic importance - democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free. (Applause.)
Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere. But some governments still cling to the old habits of central control....
In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council are also working together to build a democracy - and after three decades of tyranny, this work is not easy....

Then a pause for a pledge to stay the course: "...The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people, and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region...." Stated more realistically, we got ourselves into a mess and don't know how to get out.

Finally, a blend of noble rhetoric, Ricean history and neocon imperialism:

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace. (Applause.)

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech [by President Reagan] at Westminster [Parliament], America has put our power at the service of principle. We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom - the freedom we prize - is not for us alone, it is the right and the capacity of all mankind. (Applause.)

Working for the spread of freedom can be hard. Yet, America has accomplished hard tasks before. Our nation is strong; we're strong of heart....2

We're strong; they bleed. We're resolute; they die. We're principled; they're expendable. That's vision, and leadership.

1. "President Signs Wartime Supplemental." 11/6/03.
2. "President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East." 11/6/03.

November 21, 2003, Friday

On November 15, The Washington Post ran a story on criticism of the Sharon regime: "Four former chiefs of Israel's powerful domestic security service said in an interview published Friday [November 14] that the government's actions and policies during the three-year-old Palestinian uprising have gravely damaged the country and its people." On Wednesday, November 19, The Seattle Times, in an editorial entitled "Tough Guys Talk Peace," noted that the four "want their country to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Otherwise, they say, Israel is headed toward catastrophe and might not survive as a democracy...." The Times offered several comments:

A notable pattern repeats itself, with those closest to the conflict urging peace, willing to take risks and deal with the consequences.

Their criticism of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is hard on the heels of a complaint by the current Army chief of staff, who said the strict policy of closures on Palestinian cities only increases Palestinian resentment.


They know all the rhetorical shorthand and shibboleths, and confront them head-on.


Predictably, the loudest opponents will be those farthest from the conflict, the most adamant for the fight to continue, and the least tolerant of fresh views.

The parallel is not perfect, but attitudes toward our involvement in Iraq come to mind - to mine that is; The Times didn't note any similarity.

On March 15, I made reference to The Times' bewildered advocacy of the invasion of Iraq. Since then it has offered numerous comments, which are illustrative of the gyrations required to maintain support for the war.

The Times began with a more or less conventional view: Saddam Hussein was a threat to our security. On March 18, the day before the war began, it said, "We are fighting to remove Saddam and his sons from Iraq and thereby increase the safety of the United States and our friends." On March 27, it thought that the official theory had been vindicated:

Three-thousand chemical suits found in a central Iraqi hospital, coupled with gas masks and nerve-gas-antidote injectors found at another, may add up to this war's ultimate purpose.

A goal of the U.S.-led war is to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But its twin purpose is finding and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Alas for the WMD excuse, those ambiguous finds did not indicate the presence of chemical weapons.

On April 9, the rationale began to mutate:

The swift progress of the past few days marks Iraq's transition from war zone to peace. Next comes the task of rebuilding Iraq into a democracy.

The following day, The Times, celebrating, continued the redefinition:

Liberation is a stunning sight.

A Baghdad crowd toppled a 20-foot bronze statue of Saddam Hussein with the kind of good-riddance fervor reminiscent of East Germans bringing down the Berlin Wall....
We've broken the old order. Now we must help the Iraqis build a new, far-better order....

... One middle-aged Iraqi man beating a huge portrait of Saddam with a shoe summed up aptly the hope felt by his fellow countrymen: "This man has killed two million of us." While many trials lie ahead, this man grasps that death at the hands of a brutal dictatorship will not be his future.

This is the universal fall-back. No WMD? No matter. We have eliminated an evil dictator. The Times also endorsed, on April 13, the positive form of the administration's domino theory: "A democratic Iraq can serve as a model to nations throughout the region."

However, doubts began to creep in: had we been led into this war, however noble its collateral benefits, by fraud? This is from June 22:

The Bush administration took the United States into a preemptive war against Iraq based on the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

In the aftermath of a lightning war, neither of those basic premises, asserted for months by the president and senior officials, has held up.

The Times drew the obvious conclusions:

In the absence of more information, fully aired in public, Americans are left to wonder about the administration's judgment, honesty and competence.

The war was mercifully short, and an unambiguously murderous dictator has been deposed, but the war debate was never narrowly construed to be about the immorality of one man. It was about a military threat to the United States and our friends.

However, it did not want to dwell on whether the war was justified. What is done is done; it's time to move on:

At its core, this is about what comes next, rather than regrets about Saddam.

President Bush is raising his voice over Iran's nuclear capabilities. Can we have confidence in the intelligence that shapes his comments?

... The American people need to know more about this war before they are asked to approve the next one.

The last two comments certainly are sound, as far as they go. The doubts persisted on July 17:

The White House is making heads spin with contradictory explanations of how bogus intelligence survived to appear in the president's State of the Union address.

... Rumors that Iraq tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium ore in Africa were discredited or seriously in doubt four months before the accusation appeared in the president's Jan. 28 speech.

Another element of the White House case for war is coming under scrutiny: the links between Saddam and the terrorist group behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

The heart of the pre-emptive strike against Saddam was fear of Iraq's capacity to attack the U.S. and its allies. Evilness was not the primary stated and compelling reason for toppling Saddam.

The Times continued to wonder about the administration's honesty, but apparently couldn't bring itself to hold the President responsible:

Did President Bush lie to Congress and the American people? Such language is too harsh. But it is equally unpleasant to imagine the president surrounded by political hard-liners willing to shade the truth and tailor the facts to build the case they take into the Oval Office.

Senior civilian Bush appointees, especially at the Pentagon, have pressed for war on Iraq since they saw an unsatisfactory end to the first Gulf War.

If they sold this war with exaggeration and falsehood, the American people should know it, and remember it.

However, four days later, The Times was back into war mode: "The deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein, if true, are a blessing. Once their father is added to the list, it means that regime change in Iraq is irreversible." It found summary execution to be unacceptable, but imprisonment and trial would be inconvenient. How happy, then, that the boys gave the troops an excuse to take them out:

It cannot be the business of the United States Army to capture members of a political family and summarily have them shot, like the Communists did in 1918 with the family of Tsar Nicholas II. We are a country of law. And yet, it would have been a security problem to capture the sons of Saddam alive, just as it will be a problem to capture Saddam himself.

To put them on trial for crimes against humanity would be seen as political, and would be an incitement to terrorism from the opening gavel to the moment of execution. And it is unimaginable that Saddam, Qusay or Uday would be tried and not executed.

We could not leave any of them in Iraq after we left. We could imprison them in America along with Manuel Noriega, but it is surely not wise to begin filling U.S. prisons with a collection of deposed foreign rulers.

To end a dynasty requires the death of the ruler and his sons: That was the ancient rule. By fighting to the death, the sons of Saddam mercifully imposed that rule on themselves.

I would have assumed that we had moved beyond ancient rules. War fever is an amazingly effective engine of regression.

On September 8, The Times told us that the cost of the was is so small that we'll never notice:

President Bush last night asked for an extra $87 billion to wage war and peace in Iraq.

That works out to just under $300 per American, which is less than 1 percent of the average wealth produced per American per year. We can afford it; there is no question of that....

The theme continued on October 2:

American taxpayers are stuck with a huge bill for securing, running and restoring post-war Iraq. Get used to the idea. The financial burden is one the nation took on when it went to war.

This is wonderful. The Times, when not conjuring up ancient rules of regime change, is the self-appointed representative of those who can't get used to the idea of paying their fair share of taxes: The Times ran editorials calling for elimination of the estate tax and taxes on capital gains; it ran paid advertisements on the former issue; it endorsed Bush in 2000 in part because of the tax issues; publisher Frank Blethen testified before Congress in favor of estate tax repeal; The Times created a pro-repeal website, Whether the cost falls on this generation or on our heirs, the Blethen family, operators and majority owners of the paper, won't be greatly inconvenienced now that their income tax burden has been lightened and the estate tax is on its way out.

On October 10, The Times proposed sending in Turkish troops, probably a bad idea and one which has been shelved. On November 4, it proposed sending more American troops. In that column, it put aside all doubts and settled on a rationale for the war:

Here at home, support of the fundamental mission of the war - a free and stable Iraq - is still solid. Confidence in the decision-makers is less steady, and casualty reports stir doubts.

Here at home, where no one is being shot and taxes are only an unpleasant memory, where, in short, the war has no cost, support is solid. If the administration weren't so inept, there wouldn't even be disconcerting bad news.

November 24, 2003, Monday

On Thursday, Maureen Dowd wrote about President Bush's ludicrous visit to London, noting the necessity of shielding him from angry protesters. She concluded her remarks with four potent paragraphs. Referring to the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, she said,

There was a dispiriting contrast between G.W.B. shutting out the world and avoiding the British public, and the black-and-white clips this week of J.F.K. reaching out to the world and being adored by Berliners.

The Oxford Compact Thesaurus offers these words as alternatives to "dispiriting": disheartening, depressing, discouraging, daunting, demoralizing. Yes, the contrast between John Fitzgerald Kennedy and George Walker Bush, the realization that this foolish, ignorant, irresponsible man is President have that effect.

In February, 2001, Professor Emeritus Jon Bridgman gave the last of his winter lectures at the University, choosing as his subject the Kennedy presidency and the assassination. As usual, he ended with films, in that case newsreels of the funeral procession and the concluding scene in Camelot. The latter may have seemed a bit much to some, especially to those too young to have lived through those years, but I thought it was valid; as Professor Bridgman said, the world changed that day in November: the hope and idealism that were the best of the Kennedy years faded away. Samuel Eliot Morison, in his Oxford History of the American People, published in 1964, ended the book with this final comment,

With the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy something seemed to die in each one of us. Yet the memory of that bright, vivid personality, that great gentleman whose every act of and appearance appealed to our pride and gave us fresh confidence in ourselves and our country, will live in us for a long, long time.

followed by the closing lines from "Camelot." Romantic, yes; unrealistic, perhaps; but there was a spirit which made such flights of imagination excusable and appropriate, even for the hardheaded. Whatever revisionism, objective or partisan, may do to the Kennedy image, it will not negate the fact that he helped us to believe that good things could be done; that noble words were not merely tools to disguise dubious ends; that we were united in a common cause, not scratching for petty advantage; that charity was not a cover for political gain; that advancing the cause of democracy was a legitimate and truthful aim, not a fallback excuse for imperialism; perhaps above all, that mistakes should be acknowledged and lessons learned.

Ms. Dowd continued,

There was also a dispiriting contrast between the Bush administration, hiding the returning coffins of U.S. soldiers and avoiding their funerals, and the moving pictures of the Italian politicians and people, honoring their dead with public ceremonies and a week of mourning.

The Italians, drawn into the Iraqi quagmire out of misplaced solidarity, suffered a terrible loss. They reacted naturally, with grief and respect. The American dead and wounded, Jessica Lynch aside, come home in secret, forgotten by the president and the country which sent them into the line of fire. That "support the troops" could be the catch-phrase of the day is one of the bitterest ironies of this adventure.

Ms. Dowd concluded,

The bubble in London is just an extension of the bubble the Bush team lives in at home. It superimposes its reality on the evidence for war, the ease of the occupation, the strength of the insurgency and the continuing threat from Saddam and Osama.

Isolationism has been a foreign policy before. But for this administration, it seems to be a way of life.

It is so because the alternative is to engage in actual debate - and not just about Iraq - to submit the administration's world view, if a set of class-based biases and ideological fantasies can be so termed, to the test of the marketplace of ideas, a forum which would give Mr. Bush a serious case of agoraphobia.

My view of President Kennedy may be is idealized, influenced by his tragic death and the passage of time. However, in evaluating the present incumbent one needn't rely on the Kennedy image for support; by whatever measure one chooses, George Bush is a disgrace to his office.

The New York Times, 11/20/03.

November 26, 2003, Wednesday

Reports regarding a possible exit strategy for Iraq remain conflicting. 1 A step has been taken toward transfer of political control, but the future level of American troop strength is as unclear as ever. Several unpredictable factors will influence that decision: the security status; the role of the Iraqi governing body; political pressure in the context of a reelection campaign; and traps into which the administration may blunder through mistakes, operational or rhetorical.

Rhetorical traps are no small problem. When the President is on his own, his comments take two forms. Often they consist of preprogrammed lines strung together in whatever order they come to mind. Usually that avoids trouble by avoiding meaning, along with any question which may have been asked, but the possibility of a mistake always is present. The second form is the unrehearsed answer, which tends to be long on bluster. Despite the disaster in Iraq, or perhaps because of it, the President repeatedly has thrown down the gauntlet. This may endear him to the right and perhaps it impresses uninformed patriots, but he makes any eventual withdrawal more difficult. Nevertheless, he goes on framing the issue in terms of success or failure, intimidation or macho response, victory in Iraq or fighting on the streets of America.

When making a formal speech, the President has the advantage of a prepared text, but even those scripts have contained more than a few gaffes. Take as an example his speech in London on November 20.

...Whatever has come before, we now have only two options: to keep our word, or to break our word. The failure of democracy in Iraq would throw its people back into misery and turn that country over to terrorists who wish to destroy us. Yet democracy will succeed in Iraq, because our will is firm, our word is good, and the Iraqi people will not surrender their freedom. (Applause.)

We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq and pay a bitter cost of casualties, and liberate 25 million people, only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins. (Applause.) We will help the Iraqi people establish a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East. And by doing so, we will defend our people from danger.2

It's amazing that his advisors would put him in the position of plunging ahead or breaking his word.

Parts of the President's speech did not sound much like George W. Bush. As to style, they share that characteristic with the recent, widely praised speech in Washington.3 In London, the transformation extended to substance; Mr. Bush emerged as an intellectual, versed in British history and familiar with the great thinkers, no mean accomplishment for someone who doesn't even read newspapers.

...We're sometimes faulted for a naive faith that liberty can change the world. If that's an error it began with reading too much John Locke and Adam Smith. Americans have, on occasion, been called moralists who often speak in terms of right and wrong. That zeal has been inspired by examples on this island, by the tireless compassion of Lord Shaftesbury, the righteous courage of Wilberforce, and the firm determination of the Royal Navy over the decades to fight and end the trade in slaves.

It's rightly said that Americans are a religious people. That's, in part, because the "Good News" was translated by Tyndale, preached by Wesley, lived out in the example of William Booth....

Give us a break.

If the President ever read Adam Smith, he might come across uncongenial opinions. Smith took a dim view of national debt, and observed that wars, if they were funded by current taxation rather than borrowing, "would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken."4

The apparent need to reject any suggestion of retreat seemed to have led, during the U.K. visit, to a change in policy, or at least in bias, regarding withdrawal of troops. For weeks there had been speculation that troop levels would be lowered by next summer. On November 6, the Pentagon confirmed this; withdrawal would depend on security, but a specific target was set, reduction to 105,000 by May. That may have been put on hold, depending on whether two comments by Mr. Bush should be taken seriously. A joint press conference with Prime Minister Blair on November 20 included this exchange:

Q Could I ask both leaders about the agenda on Iraq? You are both engaged in an unpredictable and dangerous war, as we've seen today. And yet, you say you want to bring the troops home starting from next year. Now, how is that possible when the security situation is still so unresolved? You haven't got Saddam Hussein. Aren't you stuck in Iraq with your enemies holding the exit door?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I said that we're going to bring our troops home starting next year? What I said is that we'll match the security needs with the number of troops necessary to secure Iraq. And we're relying upon our commanders on the ground to make those decisions.

Q So you'll keep a certain number of troops in Iraq for a longer time?

PRESIDENT BUSH: We could have less troops in Iraq, we could have the same number of troops in Iraq, we could have more troops in Iraq, what is ever necessary to secure Iraq.5

Apparently realizing that his statement was too stark, Mr. Bush broke in clumsily after the PM had responded, and amended his answer. Iraqis are being trained for various military and police functions, he said, and American force level will depend on "how fast the new brigades of Iraqi army are stood up, how effective they are." He didn't, however, retract his statement that more troops might be sent.

Mr. Bush's confusion was so evident and the first answer was so flippant that we might suspect its reliability. However, in an interview the previous day, the President had given roughly the same answer:

Q Mr. President, am I getting this right, you will not have any withdrawal of any troops by the summer?

THE PRESIDENT: No. We will have troops on the ground that will match the security needs, is the best way to put that.

Q So you're not saying more or less?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm saying I'm going to listen to the generals who say, Mr. President, we've got -- we need more, we need less, we've got exactly the right number. They will tell me the number.....

Missing from most of the statements regarding troop levels, including the President's, is any reference to the Iraqis. Although much is being made of the transfer of political control, discussions of troop levels usually assume that this will remain our decision to make. Either the administration is assuming that American forces will be asked to stay, the transfer of power is less substantive than advertised, or the issue hasn't been thought through.

1. I made an attempt to hit this moving target on November 1.
2. Remarks by the President at Royal Banqueting House-Whitehall Palace, London, 11/19/03;
3. Remarks by the President at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, 11/6/03;
4. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book Five, Chapter III, "Of Public Debts."
5. President Bush, Prime Minister Hold Joint Press Conference, Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, London;, 11/20/03.

November 29, 2003, Saturday

President Bush visited the troops - some of them, briefly - on Thanksgiving Day. Under cover so tight that the Secret Service detail at Crawford didn't know his plans, he flew to Iraq, landed in darkness, posed in a military jacket, spent 2½ hours with the contingent at the airbase, said determined things and went home. Certainly there was some danger involved, but a secret trip, a visit only to a secure location and a rapid exit stand in stark contrast to the long tours and mortal risks he leaves the surprised troops to face. This was re-election grandstanding of the most exploitative sort.

November 30, 2003, Sunday

For months I have resisted the temptation to rant about the condition of the op-ed page of The New York Times, but the time has come, even though the occasion is offering a partial defense of one of its contributors.

When we moved to a more remote suburb in January, 2001, I could no longer receive home delivery of The Times. I tried mail delivery, which was unsatisfactory, so I resorted to buying the paper day by day, usually at Starbucks. I averaged five or six papers per week, which increased my latte intake considerably. Eventually civilization reached the hinterlands, and home delivery resumed. Sometimes I wonder why I tried so hard.

One might think that a paper which, no matter what it does, will be reviled by the right as a liberal rag would accept the role and not try to be "fair and balanced." One might think that a paper which in fact has been liberal at times would draw on that history and be so at a time when liberals are needed and hard to find. One also might believe in the tooth fairy.

The Times' op-ed page hasn't ceased to be a source of meaningful comment, but it has come close. The decline, in numbers and in quality, began with the retirement of Anthony Lewis, followed by the migration of Gail Collins and Frank Rich to editorial posts. A countermigration put Bill Keller and Nicholas Kristoff on the page; Keller left after a few months, appointed executive editor in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal.

Kristoff is perceptive, but erratic, and at times he seems uncomfortable in the role of pundit. Bob Herbert continues to fight the good fight and Maureen Dowd, who seemed to have lost focus for a time, has served up some appropriately disrespectful comments. Paul Krugman's expertise is economics; when he moves into politics, as he apparently feels compelled to do because of the void left by the three departures, he is usually right on the issues, but often fumbles or exaggerates.

Because the ranks thinned, it became common for much of the op-ed page, sometimes all of it, to be made up of guest columns. A Saturday in September was a memorable example. There were four columns, all by guests, including a moderately substantive one on foster care; the other three discussed the overuse of strollers, the overuse of disinfectants and the virtues of a covered tennis stadium. Apparently the world is, contrary to my impression, a safe, dull place.

Eventually David Brooks was added, which will lessen the need for guests by two per week and will rebalance the page as to the war in Iraq; apparently it was considered to be dangerously deficient in pro-war voices after Keller's departure. My impression of Brooks based on his appearances on "The News Hour," was of a generally sensible and moderate conservative. In that role, would be an asset to the page; however, he is not sensible or moderate as to the war.

A column by Robert Fisk appeared in the P-I on November 27. It criticized the media coverage of the war, and singled out Brooks' column on November 4 for especially harsh comment, suggesting that Brooks advocated atrocities by American troops. Brooks didn't do that. His comments about Iraq, on that occasion and others, deserve criticism but not misrepresentation.

Brooks' column was headed "A Burden Too Heavy to Put Down." A more accurate analysis of the situation in Iraq would be "a mess so deep that we can't extricate ourselves without help." Mr. Brooks told us that "Iraq is the Battle of Midway in the war on terror." He said that Saddam's men were evil. That part was standard stuff: nonsense about Iraq being the front line in the war on terrorism and the insupportable notion that we are privileged to invade any country whose ruler we deem to be cruel. However, Brooks apparently is concerned that, were the media to report the reality of the war, support at home might decline, which led to the controversial statements:

It's not that we can't accept casualties. History shows that Americans are willing to make sacrifices. The real doubts come when we see ourselves inflicting them. What will happen to the national mood when the news programs start broadcasting images of the brutal measures our own troops will have to adopt? Inevitably, there will be atrocities that will cause many good-hearted people to defect from the cause. They will be tempted to have us retreat into the paradise of our own innocence.

Somehow, over the next six months, until the Iraqis are capable of their own defense, the Bush administration is going to have to remind us again and again that Iraq is the Battle of Midway in the war on terror, the crucial turning point where either we will crush the terrorists' spirit or they will crush ours.

The president will have to remind us that we live in a fallen world, that we have to take morally hazardous action if we are to defeat the killers who confront us. It is our responsibility to not walk away. It is our responsibility to recognize the dark realities of human nature, while still preserving our idealistic faith in a better Middle East.

Fisk asked, "What is one to make of this vile nonsense? Why is The New York Times providing space for the advocacy of war crimes by U.S. soldiers?" Brooks certainly did not advocate war crimes, although his comments do reflect a casual attitude toward them. "Americans are willing to make sacrifices" is true at present only in the sense that some of them are willing for other Americans to suffer and die - if they aren't shown pictures. Mr. Brooks is stronger; he will accept casualties, pictures and "morally hazardous action." After all, we live in a fallen world, which excuses anything. Perhaps it is disgust with that sort attitude which led Fisk into excess.

December 8, 2003

Perhaps we'll have a test of David Brooks' atrocity theory (see my previous note), set out in his column on November 4. U.S. forces in Afghanistan killed nine children instead of the Taliban agent they were after. This wasn't intentional, so it doesn't quite pose the "moral hazard" he spoke of, but his view still would require us to chalk it up to the fortunes of war and press on.

Yesterday I found another comment on Brooks' column, in the current issue of The Progressive. Matthew Rothschild, in an Editor's Note entitled "Saving Lives or Face," excoriated the administration's unwillingness to admit the reality in Iraq. He proposed putting the U.N. in charge. "But this would amount to an embarrassment to Bush, and, like Lyndon Johnson before him, he would rather lose American lives than lose face." I hope that Mr. Bush isn't that callous, or at least that political considerations will force a reassessment. However, he continues to bluster and strike phony-tough poses, which makes Mr. Rothschild's appraisal hard to fault.

As to the page on which Brooks now appears, Rothschild said, "I have a habit of reading The New York Times op-ed page every day, and sometimes it’s hazardous to my health. Two recent columns almost made me physically ill." His reference is to the Brooks column and to Thomas Friedman's of October 30, which claimed, "This is the most radical-liberal revolutionary war the U.S. has ever launched - a war of choice to install some democracy in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world." Mr. Rothschild's comment was: "From Wolfowitz's mouth to Friedman's computer." That's not quite fair to Mr. Friedman; he's been clearer and more honest than the Deputy Secretary in saying that this war was optional. In a speech on November 4, Wolfowitz, in a confused attempt to "correct the record" as to his views on Iraq, said that "September 11th...made it a war of necessity, not a war of choice."1 This requires believing that Iraq was a menace to us, which Friedman has had enough sense to avoid.

A former administration official has outdone Friedman in candor. Richard N. Haass, director of policy planning for the State Department until June, wrote in an op-ed column entitled "Wars of Choice,"

Empire is about control - the center over the periphery. Successful empire demands both an ability and a willingness to exert and maintain control. On occasion this requires an ability and a willingness to go to war, not just on behalf of vital national interests but on behalf of imperial concerns, which is another way of saying on behalf of lesser interests and preferences.

Iraq was such a war. The debate can and will go on as to whether attacking Iraq was a wise decision, but at its core it was a war of choice. We did not have to go to war against Iraq, certainly not when we did. There were other options: to rely on other policy tools, to delay attacking, or both.2

However, this lacks the high-minded rationale which Friedman finds necessary as an excuse.

As to Brooks, Rothschild adopts an interpretation not far from Robert Fisk's:

Friedman’s newest companion on the op-ed page, David Brooks, wrote on November 4 that the United States in Iraq faces "scum," "sadist bands," "murderers," "bands of mass murderers," "terrorists," "the face of evil," and "killers."

Like every two-bit propagandist, he tries to make those on the other side less than human so they are easier to slaughter. And slaughter we must have, he argues.

Rothschild follows this with the "atrocities" quote, a reference to the "Midway" line and his summation: "I can’t recall reading a more chilling column." It is chilling, but not because Brooks is lacking in decency. The problem with his point of view, and Friedman's, is that they are naïve. Only that could explain Brooks' belief that Iraq is the front line in the war on terrorism and Friedman's that we win Middle Eastern hearts and minds by imposing Western ways at the point of a gun.


The same issue of The Progressive published letters which criticized a book review written by Mr. Rothschild for the October issue. The issue is whether the left should support the Democratic nominee for president. In his evaluation of a book by G. William Domhoff,3 Rothschild made the case for a third party, using the 2000 Green Party campaign as the reference.

- His first argument is that a separate party will advance a progressive agenda.

To my view, the one unassailable point of the Nader campaign was that so long as progressives automatically vote Democratic no matter how far to the right the party moves, we and our issues will continue to be slighted....

In Nader’s defense, he did raise issues that no Democratic candidate for President was coming close to: issues of corporate power, poverty in America, the IMF and the World Bank, empire.

The former comment undoubtedly is correct: the Democratic Party has drifted rightward on numerous issues and, until that changes, progressives indeed will be slighted. The latter is less cogent; Nader could have raised the same points, to larger audiences, as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. Of course, if his main aim was to be nominated, by someone, that wouldn't have been a good strategy.

- In addition, a third party campaign gets people involved. Rothschild claims, validly, that Nader "did energize and inspire a couple of million people who longed to work for something more in line with their views" than Gore’s platform. Perhaps a third party is needed as the instigator, but he acknowledges that Nader's "views have largely been taken up by Dennis Kucinich, and some of the Naderite energy has flowed to Howard Dean."

- Finally, a third party is a device by which a voter can follow his conscience. Rothschild recognized that the result may be a disaster: "the Nader campaign unfortunately - and, in hindsight, perhaps recklessly - tipped the balance to Bush...." I'm not sure why it requires hindsight to see the narcissistic irresponsibility of the Nader campaign, at least in battleground states. In any case, Rothschild stands on principle:

...I maintain that there is still a noble role to play for leftwingers who vote their conscience, who cast their ballot for the candidate that most represents their views, whether that be a Ralph Nader or a David McReynolds on the old Socialist Party line. As a movement strategy, this may be unwise, but there’s nothing wrong with individuals who proudly want to declare where they stand in the voting bo[o]th.

There's a lot wrong with that. Voting is the means by which we select those who rule us and is, therefore, too important to be used as a vehicle for self-affirmation. The Bush administration which Mr. Rothschild detests was a gift from, among others, Ralph Nader and those who voted for him in Florida.

1. Conference on Iraqi Reconstruction, George Mason University, 11/4/03;
2. The Washington Post, 11/23/03 .
3. Changing the Powers That Be: How the Left Can Stop Losing and Win.

December 18, 2003

The President was admirably restrained in his comments following the capture of Saddam Hussein. His brief address included this:

I also have a message for all Americans: The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated.1

Most of this is the usual nonsense about the nature of the resistance and the threat to the U.S., but he avoided gloating or overstating the importance of the capture.

Politically, Mr. Bush can afford to take the high road; attacking Howard Dean will be handled, at least for a time, by the other Democratic contenders. Dr. Dean's somewhat flustered reaction to the news included a statement that "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer." Senator Lieberman, who seems poised to join Senator Miller in the I-can't believe-I'm-a-Democrat ranks, obliged by offering comments that could have been drafted by a Bush speech writer:

"If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today - not in prison - and the world would be a much more dangerous place," Lieberman said. "The American people would have a lot more to fear."2

...Lieberman said that if Dean doesn't think Americans are safer with Hussein in custody, "he has climbed into his own spider hole of denial."

Lieberman said the former Vermont governor "has made a series of dubious judgments and irresponsible statements in this campaign." Those statements, he said, "signal he would in fact take us back to the days when we Democrats were not trusted to defend America's security."3

Lieberman has managed to move from whining over Al Gore's alleged slight to him to pseudo-macho posturing, the two tied together by electoral desperation.

Bush has received a ratings boost from the capture, which is hardly surprising; he also went up in the polls after his made-for-TV visit to the troops on Thanksgiving, so it doesn't take much. Whether the benefit of Hussein's capture is limited to the short term depends on several factors. One is whether the violence in Iraq subsides. Mr. Bush sought, by his comments quoted above, to explain away that possible problem. However, if the attacks and casualties continue as before, he will convince a shrinking fraction of the voters that the goal, whatever that now may be, is worth the cost, with of without Saddam.

Another problem for the administration is that having Saddam Hussein in captivity is a mixed blessing. Bush no doubt would have preferred to have him brought in dead or, in the alternative, captured next September or October. A trial, about which there has been much talk, most of it aimless, would give him a platform, and some of what he could say would not be pleasant for Mr. Bush to listen to; Hussein can tell too many tales which would embarrass previous Republican administrations and undermine the excuses for this war.

1. 12/14/03.
2. The International Herald Tribune, 12/15/03.
3., 12/ 16/03 .

December 20, 2003

The historian of the English eighties and nineties will, in his good time, depict the somewhat rapid progression from self-contented and contained provincialism to still more self-contented if less contained imperialism - in other words, the "possessive" instinct of the nation on the move....1

As with the British nineteenth century, so with the American twentieth and beyond. Self-absorption, ignorance and hubris move from the domestic smugness of the eighties to the imperial assertion of today.

The current, fallback, rationale for the invasion of Iraq is our duty to advance freedom and democracy:

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East....

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country.... We believe that liberty is the design of nature; we believe that liberty is the direction of history.... 2

However, high-minded excuses for imperialism are less than original. Here is one view from the British nineties:

To us - to us and not to others, a certain definite duty has been assigned. To carry light and civilization into the dark places of the world; to touch the mind of Asia and of Africa with the ethical ideas of Europe; to give to thronging millions, who would otherwise never know peace or security, these first conditions of human advance....3

America is not the first to be called to bring its light to the world.

... Has not a nation, like an individual ... a certain appointed task which, beyond all other nations, it is fitted to perform? Wilfully to neglect this ordained labour is, so to speak, the one unforgivable sin, because it is to defeat the purpose of the Universe as shown in the aptitudes which have been produced by the previous course of things. To sustain worthily the burden of empire is the task manifestly appointed to Britain, and therefore to fulfil that task is her duty, as it should also be her delight.4

It is our duty, our delight, to bring to Iraq, to the world, that "single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise,"5 whether or not they want it, and whether or not we destroy freedom and democracy at home along the way.

1. John Galsworthy, In Chancery.
2. Remarks by the President at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, 11/6/03;
3, 4. H.F. Wyatt, "The Ethics of Empire" (1897) in Goodwin, ed., Nineteenth Century Opinion
5. Introduction, National Security Strategy.

December 31, 2003

Howard Dean said that Saddam Hussein in custody doesn't make us any safer, for which he was denounced by some of his fellow Democratic candidates. I wonder how they explain these events since Saddam's capture on December 13: the official alert level was raised a notch (12/21); six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles were cancelled because some passengers were suspected terrorists (12/24); sensors were deployed in California because of fear of a biological attack (12/24); the U.S. ordered foreign airlines to carry marshals (12/29); heavy security is planned for all New Years' celebrations and Rep. Shays cautioned people not to go to Times Square (12/30); private flights were banned over Las Vegas, Hoover Dam and Manhattan (12/30).

Iraq has not been made safe for American troops, either. From December 13 to December 26, 12 were killed and 105 wounded.

I suspect that the administration will continue to ignore the casualties and claim that capturing Hussein validates the war. In other areas, reality has crept in. John Ashcroft finally recognized his conflict and recused himself - although not his department - from the Plame-Wilson leak investigation. The Department of Agriculture did a 180 and banned use of infirm cattle for food. Halliburton has lost its contract to supply overpriced gasoline to Iraq. However, it may be too much to hope that the President will do the right thing and push Congress to extend unemployment benefits. On December 27, he offered this warm sentiment:

We think of those among us who spend the holidays in sadness or solitude. We think of those facing illness, or the loss of a loved one, or the hardships of poverty or unemployment. And across our country, caring citizens are reaching out to those in need by volunteering their time. By serving a cause greater than themselves, Americans spread hope in our country, and they make our nation better, one life at a time.1

Caring citizens no doubt are helping the unemployed, but our government has refused to join them. Someone must explain to me why aid is noble if voluntary, uneven and inadequate, but wrong if collective and systematic; certainly voluntarism is a peculiar model when over two million have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks. By now, we know that compassion really isn't a conservative impulse, but Republicans could tell themselves that additional unemployment benefits would be spent, stimulating the economy. However, maybe they really don't believe in economic stimulus either. Maybe they don't believe in anything other than getting and keeping theirs.

1. Radio address;