Political MoJo

Is Saddam Verdict Another "Mission Accomplished" Moment?

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 11:26 PM EST

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote skeptically about predictions that Saddam's imminent sentencing would give the GOP a last-minute election bump. Sure, the verdict gives Bush and Republican candidates something to crow about for a couple of days, but the announcement is so unsurprising as to be anti-climactic. Its timing is still subject to speculation. But perhaps the more important question is what the verdict means for Iraq. Does it, as Iraqi blogger Riverbend fears, mark the beginning of Bush's own personal disengagement with the war, another "Mission Accomplished" moment he can use to claim success and move on?

I'm more than a little worried. This is Bush's final card. The elections came and went and a group of extremists and thieves were put into power (no, no—I meant in Baghdad, not Washington). The constitution which seems to have drowned in the river of Iraqi blood since its elections has been forgotten. It is only dug up when one of the Puppets wants to break apart the country. Reconstruction is an aspiration from another lifetime: I swear we no longer want buildings and bridges, security and an undivided Iraq are more than enough. Things must be deteriorating beyond imagination if Bush needs to use the 'Execute the Dictator' card.

Sentencing Saddam to hang may make for a nice line to add to stump speeches, but it won't change things on the ground. It won't end the insurgency or the civil war or turn the lights back on. It won't bring the troops home or chart a course for victory. Even if the timing was a Rovian plot, it just goes to further demonstrate how out of touch the administration is from the reality of Iraq—and its own electorate. Which is why, come Wednesday, this hopefully will be remembered as the November surprise that wasn't.

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Watching Fox News Sunday (So You Don't Have To)

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 8:36 PM EST

I tuned in expecting dispatches from that alternate reality where the polls are all wrong and the Republicans' vaunted 72-hour turn-out-the-vote operation will secure the House come Tuesday. Instead Chris Wallace served up softballs to Missouri's Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskill and grilled House Majority Leader John Boehner over his recent comments that seemed to blame the generals on the ground for the chaos in Iraq.

FNS had invited McCaskill and Republican incumbent Jim Talent on the show; but only McCaskill accepted. Does this suggest that McCaskill, tied in a statistical heat with Talent, sees more upside in reaching out to presumed Republican-leaning Fox News viewers than Talent does in reaching his base? If that was the calculation, McCaskill capitalized by crisply dealing with the two biggest issues in her race, Iraq and stem cell research. Chris Wallace kicked off the interview with a unique interpretation of the day's main news story, the sentencing of Saddam Hussein, when he said that "we have the news today that Saddam Hussein is no longer oppressing his people, that he faces a sentence of death. Doesn't that count for something?" Saying that Hussein "is no longer oppressing his people" hardly seems like news--I don't think there was much oppressing going on in that spider hole three years ago either--but it set McCaskill up to trumpet her prosecutor's credentials and to say that she's a big supporter of the death penalty. Then she quickly turned to Afghanistan, making the case that the Taliban "presents more of a threat to our country than the Sunni shooting the Shia and the Shia shooting each other."

That line of argument seems a productive way for Democrats to answer the charge that they have no plan for Iraq other than to leave: to remind people that Iraq is not the key battle in the war on terror but a distraction. As McCaskill put it, "We took our eye off that ball. We put all of our eggs in the Iraqi basket. And the security of our country has suffered." Read the transcript here.

John Boehner, who is probably in for a miserable week, kicked it off by taking some heat from Wallace over his defense of Rumsfeld on CNN on Wednesday. But you don't get to be House Majority Leader by abandoning your offense under attack. In response to Wallace's repeated questions about why Speaker Dennis Hastert was doing no national media (hint: starts with F and ends with O-L-E-Y), Boehner got off a zinger to his own rhetorical question, Where are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? "I think they'd be on the border welcoming people as they come across."

And This Man Wants to be President?

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 1:14 PM EST

Rudy Giuliani went to Pennsylvania this weekend to try and shore up Rick Santorum's tottering campaign for re-election to the Senate. "He really is something very, very special," Giuliani said of Santorum. "We can't afford to lose someone like that."

"After September 11, there is no excuse for not adequately seeing the threat," Giuliani said in a Wilkes Barre speech Friday. "If Rick Santorum is not re-elected and his opponent is elected and people like his opponent are elected, they are going to push us very, very hard to go back on defense against terrorists rather than being on offense the way we are now."

In an accompanying "Dear Conservative" fund raising note, Santorum pleads, "The stakes in this race are incredibly high! The choices voters will make on Tuesday will decide which party leads our country -- the common-sense, conservative leaders dedicated to defeating Islamic fascists and those who want to kill Americans, or the far-left liberal defeatists like John Kerry who will cut-and-run in the War on Terror and demoralize our troops by implying they are 'uneducated.'"

"P.S.,'' says Santorum, "The pundits and polls have given up on me, but I know that together we can defy the odds."

Chalabi: Debacle in Iraq? Don't Blame Me. Blame Wolfowitz

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 3:27 AM EST

Dexter Filkins' New York Times magazine piece on Ahmed Chalabi is one of those stories that won't tell you much you may not already have had a hunch about; there are no Woodward-style deep-background revelations here, no radical reinterpretations, no smoking guns. What there is the kind of profile that only someone who has put in a lot of time--a good old-fashioned beat reporter--can write, with an arc that spans more than three years of actual observation of the man. (Filkins was stationed in Bagdad until recently and a couple of months ago wrote a searing assessment of what Western reporters can, and mostly can't, get in Iraq). This is not the be-all-and-end-all story on who used whom in the prewar intel manipulation game (did Chalabi push the nation to war, or did he just provide a convenient assist for the Cheney/Rumsfeld crowd that was determined to march to Bagdad no matter what?). But it's a terrific tale of a great gambler and a big loss that leaves you sympathizing with Chalabi even as you recoil from what he was allowed to do. Just a couple of highlights:

"The real culprit in all this is Wolfowitz," Chalabi says, referring to his erstwhile backer, the former deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz. "They chickened out. The Pentagon guys chickened out."

Chalabi still considers Wolfowitz a friend, so he proceeds carefully. America's big mistake, Chalabi maintains, was in failing to step out of the way after Hussein's downfall and let the Iraqis take charge. The Iraqis, not the Americans, should have been allowed to take over immediately — the people who knew the country, who spoke the language and, most important, who could take responsibility for the chaos that was unfolding in the streets. An Iraqi government could have acted harshly, even brutally, to regain control of the place, and the Iraqis would have been without a foreigner to blame....They could have done this, presumably, without an army (which most wanted to dissolve) and without a police force (which was riddled with Baathists).

[...]

W. Patrick Lang, a senior official at the Defense Intelligence Agency... visited the office of Senator Trent Lott, then the Senate majority leader. After introducing an Arab businessman to Lott, Lang sat in Lott's anteroom with a number of Capitol Hill staff members who helped draft the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided millions of dollars to Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress. They were praising Chalabi: "They were talking about him, that Chalabi fits into this plan as a very worthwhile, virtuous exemplar of modernization, somebody who could help reform first Iraq and then the Middle East. They were very pleased with themselves." Lang, an old Middle East hand who had worked in Iraq in the 1980's, said he was stunned. "You guys need to get out more," Lang recalls saying at the time. "It's a fantasy."

[...]

One of the people whom the I.N.C. made available to American intelligence was Adnan Ihsan al-Haideri... [Chalabi] didn't think much of Haideri or his information, he says, and was astonished to learn later that the information he provided became a pillar of the Americans' charges against Hussein.

"We told them, 'We don't know who this guy is,'" Chalabi said. "Then the Americans spoke to him and said, 'This guy is the mother lode.' Can you believe that on such a basis the United States would go to war? The intelligence community regarded the I.N.C. as useless. Why would the government believe us?"

And then, of course, there's the ever-popular (and not unlikely, according to Filkins' piece) theory that Chalabi has been an Iranian asset all along.

When we arrived at the [Iranian] border, Chalabi ducked into a bathroom and changed out of his camouflage T-shirt and slacks and into a well-tailored blue suit. Then we drove to Ilam, where an 11-seat Fokker jet was idling on the runway of the local airport... We landed in Iran's smoggy capital, and within a couple of hours, Chalabi was meeting with the highest officials of the Iranian government.

When the election came, Chalabi was wiped out.... One of his associates said of the Shiite alliance: "We know they cheated. You know how we know? Because in one area we had 5,000 forged ballots, and when they were counted, we didn't even get that many." He shrugged.

A Second Thought on Conservative Sex Scandals

| Sun Nov. 5, 2006 12:40 AM EST

Far be it from me to spoil everyone's enjoyment of the seemingly endless parade of busted Republican moral hypocrites. As if boy-chasing Rep. Mark Foley and mistress-keeping and allegedly mistress-beating Rep. Don Sherwood and allegedly cocktail-waitress groping Nevada state Rep. Jim Gibbons weren't enough, now we've got the meth-huffing, gay-prostitute-hiring Rev. Ted Haggard! Honestly, I haven't felt such satisfying schadenfreude since Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were caught with their respective pants down.

But it's worth pointing out that, all things being relative, Haggard was apparently not such a terrible guy. As the LA Times reports, "Though Haggard has spoken out on abortion and same-sex marriage from time to time, he is less fiery on those topics than many of his colleagues are. He has pushed, instead, for a broader concept of biblical values: He wants evangelicals to be more involved in protecting the environment and helping the poor. Haggard has not joined other evangelicals in campaigning against a Colorado initiative to provide domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples. He also stood out among conservative preachers for publicly praising a 2003 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law."

In other words, it seems the guy had a heart, and perhaps even some principles. Who knows? Maybe now that he's been outed as a man who like to have sex with other men, he can use what are evidently some impressive talents as a preacher and leader to help convince his fellow evangelicals that that's not such a terrible thing. Hey, a blogger can dream, can't he?

The Menendez-Kean Seesaw

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 7:00 PM EST

The well respected WNBC-Marist poll of New Jersey has Menendez comfortably ahead in the New Jersey Senate race. The pros have been all over the map on this one. Here's what Marist says:

"As campaign 2006 heads into the homestretch, Robert Menendez receives the support of 50% of likely voters, including those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate, compared with 42% who support Tom Kean, Jr. Eight percent remain undecided. There is an enormous partisan divide. 82% of Democrats support Menendez, and 81% of Republicans support Kean. The majority of independent voters back Menendez. He receives the support of 51% of independents likely to vote on Election Day compared with 39% for Kean."

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Rats Fleeing a Sinking Ship

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 12:12 PM EST

Vanity Fair's website is running interviews with leading neoconservatives who are trying to jump ship by attacking Bush as a nincompoop.

A few excerpts from the article by David Rose:

Richard Perle: "The levels of brutality that we've seen are truly horrifying, and I have to say, I underestimated the depravity." Perle holds the President responsible.

Kenneth Adelman, another leading neocon, once said taking Iraq would be a cakewalk. But now: "I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era."

Michael Ledeen, currently at the America Enterprise Insitute: "Ask yourself who the
most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes."

Army Times: Sack Rumsfeld

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 12:10 PM EST

On Monday Army Times (and Navy Times, Air Force Times, Marine Corps Times) published by Gannett, and sold to people in the services, will call for Rumsfeld's removal from office:
"Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt. This is not about the midterm elections. Regardless of which party wins Nov. 7, the time has come, Mr. President, to face the hard bruising truth: Donald Rumsfeld must go."

Texas Launches Virtual Border Patrol

| Sat Nov. 4, 2006 11:19 AM EST

President Bush's Operation TIPS, which would have created a million citizen spies, may have failed, but lay surveillance is alive and well. This week Texas debuted its "Texas Border Watch Website," a $5 million program meant to create armchair border patrollers who will notify authorities when they surveil illegals. The site currently has black and white cameras stationed at eight different outposts (there are supposedly 15 cameras but only 8 are on the site) along the 1,254 miles of the state's border with Mexico. Users, who need to sign up with their email and home city and state, can "Report Suspicious Activity" via email.

The state is working out glitches, like the grainy quality of the images that make it hard to distinguish say, between a person and a coyote, and the fact that some of the cameras are now obstructed so that all you see are bushes or passing cars. And there will eventually be 70 cameras total.

"I'm sure that as you start a big program like this that you will have some glitches," said Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is up for re-election Tuesday. "My wife's computer is not working this morning." Yet, more than technical problems the program has civil rights groups concerned that the site will encourage racial profiling and fradulent reports.

Hopefully the folks over at Boeing, who got a $67 million contract in September to create a "virtual fence" along the entire border, part of Congress' $1.2 billion border fence plan, are paying attention, and taking notes.

First Lady Calls Pombo the Environment's "Enthusiastic Steward"

| Fri Nov. 3, 2006 8:29 PM EST

As promised, Laura Bush stumped for Richard Pombo today and instead of touting his strengths, as, say, a force to be reckoned with for private property rights, she chose to focus on his environmental track record, calling him "an enthusiastic steward of our country's natural resources."

Uh, that's a bit like calling Mel Gibson a steward for religious harmony. "Because of his leadership," she went on, "wildlife, property and people will be protected from dangerous flooding." It's as if he were the captain of Noah's Ark!

Richard Pombo has used his position as chair of the House Resources Committee to try to overhaul the Endangered Species Act to eliminate habitat protection, and to weaken laws protecting the oceans.

The first lady, who's on a first name basis with the 14-year California state representative (her husband calls him The Marlboro Man) insists that Pombo "is committed to safeguarding local ecosystems. Richard promotes responsible conservation initiatives, programs that protect wildlife while also improving the lives of his constituents."

Read this week's interview with Pombo's opponent, wind-energy engineer Jerry McNerney, who currently holds a 2-point lead, here.