Daily MoJo


State of the Uranium
Bush has been forced to admit that he made a gaffe in his pre-war State of the Union, and the Democrats are actually trying to use it against him, this time.

The GOP Master Plan
It may be no surprise that Republicans are plotting to take over Washington — but the thing is, it’s working.

On Slavery and Security
At the nexus of West Africa’s slave trade, Bush spoke of the evils of slavery. Too bad the locals weren’t allowed to hear it.

Paying for Filipino Peace
The US is backing peace talks with Muslim separatists with millions of dollars in aid.

State of the Uranium
One of the more prominent casualties in the war on Iraq seems to be the body of evidence for Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, and the victim is in real danger of giving up the ghost (despite Bush’s best efforts to staunch the bleeding). The latest blow? In as roundabout a way as possible, the White House has conceded that part of Bush’s State of the Union address in January, where he made the case for war, was wrong. Bush claimed that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, in an effort to start building nuclear weapons. The evidence he used was, to put it bluntly, phony.

Bush’s case for war was largely based on the idea that Saddam was a hair’s breadth away from achieving either nuclear capabilities, chemical and biological weapons, or both, and that therefore it was too dangerous to let him alone. The evidence that Bush cited for the nuclear weapons was a British dossier. The dossier, in turn, proved to be based on a crude forgery that the CIA had already debunked. As the Washington Post reports:

“The administration’s statement capped months of turmoil over the uranium episode during which senior officials have been forced to defend the president’s remarks in the face of growing reports that they were based on faulty intelligence.

As part of his case against Iraq, Bush said in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 28 that ‘the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.’

The International Atomic Energy Agency told the U.N. Security Council in March that the uranium story — which centered on documents alleging Iraqi efforts to buy the material from Niger — was based on forged documents. Although the administration did not dispute the IAEA’s conclusion, it launched the war against Iraq later that month.

It subsequently emerged that the CIA the previous year had dispatched a respected former senior diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson, to Niger to investigate the allegation and that Wilson had reported back that officials in Niger denied the story. The administration never made Wilson’s mission public, and questions have been raised over the past month over how the CIA characterized his conclusion in its classified intelligence reports inside the administration.”

The claims and counterclaims are becoming increasingly complicated. The White House spin goes something like this: OK, fine, the evidence was forged, and the president should not have said what he said. He simply made a bad judgement call based on what he knew at the time.

But Wilson says that he went to Niger on order from the Office of the Vice President, and that the top reaches of the Bush administration must have heard about the phoniness he discovered. There are reports from other intelligence sources, cited by NPR and the New York Times that suggest that the Vice President’s Office did, in fact, know the uranium evidence was bogus. As Josh Marshall writes for The Hill:

    “The White House disputes [an NPR reporter’s] source’s account. But the upshot of the source’s accusation is pretty damning. If true, the White House really wanted to put the Niger uranium story in the speech. But faced with their own intelligence experts telling them the story was probably bogus, they decided to hang their allegation on the dossier the British had released last September.

    I’m willing to believe the president didn’t know. Presidents, after all, rely on their top advisors. But it seems clear that many of his chief advisors must have known.

    The only other explanation is extreme incompetence at the vice president’s office or a desire to believe that was so great that it overrode all the evidence.

    Fifteen years ago, the president’s father was widely ridiculed for claiming he was ‘out of the loop’ on key points about the Iran-contra affair. Now his son and all his top advisers are claiming they were similarly ‘out of the loop’ on a key point about the centerpiece of their entire foreign policy agenda.

    To paraphrase Bob Dole’s 1996 election zinger, where’s the ridicule?”

No ridicule, yet, but the Democrats, perhaps emboldened by Bush’s steady slow-but-steady slippage in the polls, do finally trying seem to be trying to get some traction on this issue. The presidential hopefuls are issuing statements, and this is just the beginning of the piling-on, as Judy Desk reports for Inside Politics:

    “Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe thundered, ‘This may be the first time in recent history that a president knowingly misled the American people during the State of the Union…It was not a mistake. It was no oversight and it was no error.’

    And Democratic presidential contenders released a series of smirking statements:

    Congressman Richard Gephardt of Missouri declared that Bush needs to rein in his rhetoric. ‘This president has a pattern of using excessive language in his speeches and off-the-cuff remarks. This continued recklessness represents a failure of presidential leadership,’ he said.

    Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, a relentless critic of the administration’s intelligence operation, says the whole thing begs one question: ‘Mr. President, what else don’t we know?'”

Meanwhile, over at The Nation, David Corn, cites further evidence, from the former deputy director of the CIA, that Bush misrepresented the evidence to make his case for war. The former CIA leader gave interviews to major papers right before the holiday weekend (timing that Corn thinks is important), and told them that while analysts had reason to believe Saddam Hussein wanted weapons of mass destruction, there was little hard evidence that he actually possessed them. It’s a nuance, but it’s a crucial nuance. The president made the case for war based unequivocally on the existence of the weapons, not the tyrant’s ill intentions:

    “The day before Independence Day, Richard Kerr, a former CIA deputy director who is leading a review of the CIA’s prewar intelligence on Iraq’s unconventional weapons, held a series of interviews with journalists and revealed that his unfinished inquiry had so far found that the intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had been somewhat ambiguous, that analysts at the CIA and other intelligence services had received pressure from the Bush administration, and that the CIA had not found any proof of operational ties between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime.

    In other words, Bush lied.

    Bush had said that intelligence gathered by the United States and other nations had determined — ‘no doubt’ — that Hussein possessed WMDs, and he had declared that the Iraqi dictator was ‘dealing’ with al Qaeda. Kerr’s statements undermined these vital assertions Bush had made to justify the war.”

The GOP Master Plan
Republican Party groupie, Grover Norquist, has been chatting it up with reporters, pronouncing that Republicans have paved there way for “decades of dominance” in the House and the Senate. As Chris Suellentrop of Slate points out, such statements from Norquist are nothing new. The real problem is not Norquist’s doomsday prophecies, but rather what is actually happening on the ground.

In Texas for instance, Republicans have been finagling a re-districting scheme to gain up to five seats in the state House, thus ending the narrow Democratic majority. The fiasco has been dragging on for months, and try as they might the Texas Dems have been unable to put the issue to bed. The Republican effort — inspired by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay — is not just a bad idea for Texas, but a terrible national precedent. The Washington Post comments that such a move could inspire other states to engage in their own mid-term, never-ending redistricting wars. That would be enough to give the entire nation a severe bureaucratic headache, as well as take a significant toll on the Democratic Party.

But it’s not just the Texas Republicans who are deep into the planning of a major takeover. Washington Republicans have been designing a foolproof plan to exile the Dems to a political gulag for the upcoming years. In his feature in the Washington Monthly, Nicholas Confessore draws an alarming picture of the little-noticed Republicans lobbying the lobbyists. The GOP has been nuzzling its way into the heart of Washington’s lobbyist district. For years K Street was known for its bipartisan atmosphere, but after the 1994 takeover of Congress, Republicans began focusing their efforts on undermining this arrangement. Every week lobbyists gather with elected Republicans to discuss the latest K street job openings and whom they should support for each position. Rick Santorum, Republican senator from Pennsylvania, oversees these meetings and ensures that lobbyists know which candidate the GOP favors. Needless to say, Santorum is not in the business of vying for eligible Dems — it’s a solely Republican show. The lobbyist organizations have become a crucial part of an increasingly powerful Republican political machine. Confessore writes:

“The corporate lobbyists who once ran the show, loyal only to the parochial interests of their employer, are being replaced by party activists who are loyal first and foremost to the GOP. Through them, Republican leaders can now marshal armies of lobbyists, lawyers, and public relations experts–not to mention enormous amounts of money–to meet the party’s goals. Ten years ago, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the political donations of 19 key industry sectors–including accounting, pharmaceuticals, defense, and commercial banks–were split about evenly between the parties. Today, the GOP holds a two-to-one advantage in corporate cash.

That shift in large part explains conservatives’ extraordinary legislative record over the last few years. Democrats, along with the press, have watched in mounting disbelief as President Bush, lacking either broad majorities in Congress or a strong mandate from voters, has enacted startlingly bold domestic policies–from two major tax cuts for the rich, to a rollback of workplace safety and environmental standards, to media ownership rules that favor large conglomerates. The secret to Bush’s surprising legislative success is the GOP’s increasing control of Beltway influence-peddlers. K Street used to be a barrier to sweeping change in Washington. The GOP has turned it into a weapon.”

Good material for a John Grisham conspiracy flick, but seriously scary stuff for a democracy. Norquist and company might try to argue that the Democratic Party once had a similar arrangement — Republicans balked at Democratic rule through 1994… But as Confessore points out, the Dems always had to dance between pleasing both their labor and corporate interests. What the Republican takeover of K street promises is a machine “premised on a unity of interests between party and industry, which means the GOP can ask for–and demand–total loyalty.” The world Confessore describes, in other words, is one where the GOP wouldn’t be ruled by corporate interests, nor would the corporate interests be ruled by the GOP. They would be one, to rule the rest of us (insert conspiracy theme music here…).

Confessore compares the current Republicans to William McKinley’s Republicans, over a century ago (and notes that Karl Rove is a fan of McKinley’s), who consolidated power with the help of the industrial barons of the time. He notes that change and reform eventually came when the people elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But only after The Great Depression.

On Slavery and Security
By most accounts, President Bush’s speech at Senegal’s Goree Island, site of a former slave castle and the first stop on his African tour, was a model of heartfelt eloquence. Pronouncing slavery a “sin,” Bush came closer than any American president ever has to apologizing for America’s role in the slave trade.

No one who actually lives on the island got to hear it, though. As Reuters reports, Goree’s residents were rounded up at dawn and herded into the island’s football stadium, where they were kept until Bush’s departure for the mainland about six hours later. As a result, the normally bustling tourist island was totally deserted during Bush’s speech.

“As the sun rose over Goree before Bush’s arrival, the only people to be seen on the main beach were U.S. officials and secret service agents. Frogmen swam through the shallows and hoisted themselves up to peer into brightly painted pirogues.

On Tuesday, shutters on the yellow and red colonial-style houses remained shut. The cafes were closed and the narrow pier deserted, apart from security agents manning a metal detector, near the sandy beach. A gunship patrolled offshore.”

The White House insisted it had nothing to do with closing down the island and temporarily imprisoning its residents — a decision apparently made for security reasons. Regardless of who ordered the round-up, locals were angry with Bush. Naturally enough, some compared his visit to that of Bill Clinton’s five years earlier, and Bush came up short.

“‘We understand that you have to have security measures, since September 11, but to dump us in another place…? We had to leave at 6 a.m. I didn’t have time to bathe, and the bread did not arrive,’ the father-of-four said.

‘When Clinton came, he shook hands, people danced,’ said former Mayor Urbain Alexandre Diagne.”

Paying for a Filipino Peace
Francis Ricciardone, the US Ambassador to the Philippines, announced Tuesday that the US will provide the country with financial aid if a peace agreement is reached between the Philippine government and a faction of radical Islamic rebels known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF. The announcement comes just as Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and MILF officials have agreed to resume peace talks in Malaysia, reports Juliet Labog-Javellana of the Philippines’ Inquirer News Service.

The US is already enthusiastically involved in Arroyo’s fight against Muslim militants. The US sends nearly $74 million in aid to the country, much of which goes to military training, with a focus on the island of Mindanao, where the approximately 13,000-strong anti-government MILF force resides. In addition, Glen Martin of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, the US provides training, weapons, helicopters and occasional air support to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The program has seen some tactical success, and the US has been recently spurred to stay involved because some recently captured militants have alleged that MILF has ties to Al-Qaeda.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has now adopted a softer approach — she agreed to lift arrest warrants on some MILF rebels in order to begin peace talks. The US’s offer of aid is its endorsment of those talks.

According to Ed Usman of the Manila Bulletin, Muslim leaders and MILF officials have long encouraged US participation in the peace process, stating that ” the US government has to rectify its blunders against [the Muslims of Mindanao].” Muslims feel that in helping the AFP fight the rebels, the US has helped the Philippine government step on their rights. The US occupied of the Philippines began shortly after the second World War and lasted until 1992, when the people kicked US troops out. Many Filipinos (not just Muslims) are skeptical of further American involvement in the country — efforts by the US to join forces with the AFP in May prompted protests and an eventual pull-out by the Philippine Senate, Martin reports. For now, the US promises military support in Mindanao and neighboring Basilian, where rebellions have also taken place and more aid if and only if a ceasefire occurs. Martin reports:

“Maj. Gen. Roy Kyamko, commander of the Philippine military’s Southern Command Base in Zamboanga, said the Basilan campaign defined an effective strategy for dealing with Islamic militants in the Philippines: Give troops the intensive training they need to fight effectively, unleash them for relentless pursuit and simultaneously provide aid to the civilian population.

Although this approach is not unlike policies that have failed to eliminate entrenched insurgencies around the world, from Vietnam to Colombia, Kyamko remains optimistic about its prospects.”

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