Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
The canonization of Margaret Thatcher began with nanoseconds of news reports that the former British prime minister and conservative icon had died at the age of 87. On MSNBC, my pal Chuck Todd remarked, "We lionize her over here." There was insta-commentary about how she saved Britain from economic despair and the rest of the world from the Soviets (with some help from a guy named Ronald Reagan). Excess ruled. Two small examples: Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the Democrat running for Congress in South Carolina (and sister of Stephen Colbert) issued this statement: "When I talk to younger women about their careers, I point to Margaret Thatcher as a role model; she's a tough consensus builder who cared about everybody and put her country's fiscal house in order." Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) proclaimed,
Baroness Thatcher's record of creating explosive economic growth and a stronger nation by embracing conservative values makes the utter failure of Obama's stale liberalism starker and more disturbing…She is still hated by leftists who would rather live in equalized misery than allow people to achieve as much as they can work for, leftists who now hold the levers of government in the United States…While many mourn, Baroness Thatcher reminded us "I fight on I fight to win." The best way to honor Baroness Thatcher is to crush liberalism and sweep it into the dustbin of history. What are you doing this morning to defeat liberal politicians?
On Valentine's Day, the Senate banking committee held a hearing with the nation's top financial regulators. As a junior member, freshman Democrat Elizabeth Warren had to cool her heels waiting for a turn. But when it came, she made better use of the few available minutes than most of her colleagues: "Can you identify when you last took the Wall Street banks to trial?" she demanded.
Flummoxed, the officials tried to sidestep the question. Then the Massachusetts senator brought down the hammer: "There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I'm really concerned that 'too big to fail' has become 'too big for trial.'"
Ka-boom. More than a million people ended up watching viral videos of the exchange. Wall Streeters were ticked off. Warren had achieved what veteran legislators crave to do: shape the national discourse while winning attention—all in her quiet but forceful, law-school-prof way. And wittingly or not, she had accomplished another difficult task: establishing a path forward for herself within the clubby, tradition-bound upper chamber.
Basically, there are two ways for a newbie senator to start her tenure: with bombast or with reserve. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have been recent examples of the former, each roaring into the Senate looking to establish himself as the tea party senator. Two decades earlier, Paul Wellstone, the former professor and community organizer, hit the Senate as a progressive firebrand. He held a press conference at the Vietnam War memorial to argue against war in the Middle East and cornered George H.W. Bush at a reception, causing the president to ask, "Who is this chickenshit?"
Last year, we noted that HBO's hit show Game of Thrones—which features dragons, sword fights, and zombie armies—is at its core a tale of intense political intrigue. Alliances are forged and broken; backroom deals are cut; principles are sacrificed. It's a dirty game—and not just because there's no indoor plumbing. And we imagined what might happen if super-PACs and dark-money outfits existed in the Seven Kingdoms. The result: political attack ads that went viral. With the third season starting this week—and the show (according to our spies) becoming even bleaker—here are those ads once again. They remain a fitting commentary, for as in the real world, politics in Westeros is not getting any less sleazy.
One of the hot jobs in the US government—chairman of the Federal Communications Commission—is about to become vacant, and President Barack Obama's pick for this position will say much about his priorities and what it takes to win a job within his administration.
The current chairman, Julius Genachowski, was a Harvard Law classmate of Obama and longtime Washington denizen with several stints in the private sector, and last week he announced he's splitting after four years in the post. Genachowski has had a rollicking tenure at the more-important-than-ever agency. His FCC approved the controversial NBC/Comcast merger, but it killed AT&T's $39 billion bid for T-Mobile. He developed a national broadband plan, while pushing for universal broadband access and contending with spectrum crunch. He's had to navigate the knotty issue of net neutrality (at one point angering both Verizon and public interest advocates). His tenure has vividly demonstrated that the FCC chairman's office is a node for cutting-edge policy issues related to economic development, technology, education, and media.
The past week has brought about a 10-years-after review of the Iraq war—particularly an examination of how the Bush-Cheney administration sold the war prior to the invasion launched on March 19, 2003. Pundits and politicians have relived those days—and somberly reconsidered the run-up to the war, the role of the media in enabling the swindle, and the consequences of that military action. MSNBC has aired a documentary based on the book I cowrote with Michael Isikoff, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. Showtime featured a documentary on Dick Cheney that centered on the war. The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University released a study noting that the war cost US taxpayers $2.2 trillion and consumed the lives of 4,488 members of the US armed services and at least 123,000 to 134,000 Iraqi civilians.
One of the most shocking reactions to the anniversary came—perhaps no surprise—from one of the leading neoconservative drum majors for the war, Richard Perle. As a member of the Defense Policy Board advisory committee, Perle, who had been a hawk's-hawk assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan years, began calling for war in Iraq nanoseconds after September 11. He told CNN, "Even if we cannot prove to the standard that we enjoy in our own civil society they are involved, we do know, for example, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Osama bin Laden. That can be documented." In 2002, he suggested a war against Iraq would be a cakewalk: "It isn't going to be over in 24 hours, but it isn't going to be months either." He asserted Saddam was "working feverishly to acquire nuclear weapons." He claimed the post-invasion reconstruction in Iraq would be self-financing. He got everything wrong.
On Wednesday morning, NPR's Renee Montagne interviewed Perle. It wasn't a grilling. Perle was allowed to explain his Iraq war fever, noting that "we had intelligence assessments" indicating Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He pleaded his case by remarking that after 9/11, "You ask yourself what could happen next, you do the obvious thing….[The Bush administration] made a list of potential threats and on that list the single most important potential threat was another attack with a weapon of mass destruction. So then you make a list of who has weapons of mass destruction and who might be motivated either to attack or enable someone else to attack the US. And Iraq was clearly on that list." Perle then offhandedly observed, "It's easy a decade later to say, well, it turned out this fact or that presumption was wrong." He insisted that the biggest "blunder" with Iraq was the post-invasion occupation.
This is all standard fare for a neocon who won't let go. But the final exchange of the interview was a chilling driveway moment:
Montagne: Ten years later, nearly 5,000 American troops dead, thousands more with wounds, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead or wounded. When you think about this, was it worth it?
Perle: I've got to say I think that is not a reasonable question. What we did at the time was done with the belief that it was necessary to protect this nation. You can't a decade later go back and say we shouldn't have done that.
That was cold. In the Showtime documentary, Cheney predictably expresses no regrets, saying, "I did what I did. It’s all on the public record, and I feel very good about it. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it in a minute." Yet here is Perle going beyond no regrets to deny it is even worthwhile to consider the human costs of the war when assessing the decision to invade Iraq. His comment is modern-day Strangelove and yet another reason he deserves the nickname he earned in the 1980s: the Prince of Darkness. What transpires within Perle's soul, ultimately, is not all that important. The true tragedy is that anyone would seek—let alone heed—the advice of a man so averse to considering a basic (and moral) calculation.