Daily MoJo


The Butler Did It
An under-fire White House opts for the simplistic way out of its WMD claims scandal.

Sugarcoating the Cost
Thirty-three deaths since the end of ‘major combat’ in Iraq is bad enough. The true number may be much higher.

Ready, Set, Apologize!
As the election season heats up, Democrats play politics with the NAACP.

The Butler Did It

“White House officials said the document [the main prewar intelligence summary on Iraq’s weapons program partly declassified Friday] was one of those drawn on by speechwriters as they put together the State of the Union address. The official who gave the briefing today said Mr. Bush was unaware of the State Department’s skepticism. The president ‘is not a fact checker,’ the official said.

The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials, the official said.”
–From Richard W. Stevenson’s report in Saturday’s New York Times

Mystery solved, blame apportioned: The president is not a “fact checker” (in any sense of the phrase) and the speechwriters did it. It’s like blaming the murder in a British upper class mystery on the butler and closing the case.

Blood in the (political) waters

The Zogby International polling group just released its first presidential poll since June 12, when George W’s job performance stood at 58% positive, 42% negative. Here’s part of the Zogby summary):

“Bush Job Performance Slips to 53% Positive, 46% Negative; More Voters (47%) Say It’s Time for Someone New Than Say He Deserves Re-election; Two-in-Three Say it Makes No Difference if WMDs Are Never Found

“President George W. Bush’s job performance rating has slipped to 53% positive, his lowest since the terrorist attacks in 2001, according to a poll of 1,004 likely U.S. voters by Zogby International. His negative rating reached 46%, just under his pre-9/11 unfavorable of 49%… For the first time, more likely voters (47%) say it’s time for someone new in the White House, compared to 46% who said the President deserves to be re-elected.”

Take a moment to consider that final “for the first time” – that means for the first time since he took office, and on a day when at least three more American soldiers died in Iraq and a number have been wounded or injured.

A resignation

All honor to those who resign in public and in protest. Several of our diplomats resigned in protest before the war began. We know that there are now a number of our soldiers in Iraq who would like to resign in protest but obviously can’t. However, a former Iraqi exile, Isam al-Khafaji, a professor of political economy at the University of Amsterdam and a member of the Democratic Principles Working Group convened by the U.S. State Department last fall to discuss the future of Iraqi governance, has just written an open letter to Paul Wolfowitz, published in the Toronto Globe and Mail, resigning from an Iraqi body meant to consult on the reconstruction of the country. He has again left Iraq. He writes in part:

“On July 9, with deep sorrow, I respectfully submitted my resignation as a member of the Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council to U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

“I did this with great sadness but, in doing so, I was able to leave Iraq with a clear conscience. If I stayed any longer, I might not be able to say that. I feared my role with the reconstruction council was sliding from what I had originally envisioned — working with allies in a democratic fashion — to collaborating with occupying forcesÉ.

“Iraq is now in almost total chaos. No one knows what is going on. We’re not talking here about trying to achieve an ideal political system. People cannot understand why a superpower that can amass all that military might can’t get the electricity turned back on. Iraqis are now contrasting Saddam’s ability to bring back power after the war in 1991 to the apparent inability of the U.S. to do so now.”

Impeachment (or what didn’t he read and when didn’t he read it?)

Here’s the latest explanation for those increasingly infamous sixteen symbolic words in the State of the Union address, according to The Washington Post.

“President Bush and his national security adviser did not entirely read the most authoritative prewar assessment of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, including a State Department claim that an allegation Bush would later use in his State of the Union address was ‘highly dubious,’ White House officials said yesterday.

“The official said Bush was ‘briefed’ on the NIE’s contents, but ‘I don’t think he sat down over a long weekend and read every word of it.’ Asked whether Bush was aware the State Department called the Africa-uranium claim ‘highly dubious,’ the official, who coordinated Bush’s State of the Union address, said: ‘He did not know that.'”

If that doesn’t sound like squirming, I don’t know what does.

In this context, perhaps the most striking news development of the week not to make it to the front pages of our major newspapers was: A mainstream candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency brought up the issue of impeachment.

“U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham said on Thursday there were grounds to impeach President Bush if he was found to have led America to war under false pretenses. While Graham did not call for Bush’s impeachment, he said if the president lied about the reasons for going to war with Iraq it would be ‘more serious’ than former President Bill Clinton’s lie under oath about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

‘If in fact we went to war under false pretenses that is a very serious charge,’ Graham, the senior U.S. senator from Florida, told reporters in New Hampshire. ‘If the standard of impeachment is the one the House Republicans used against Bill Clinton, this clearly comes within that standard.'”

Perhaps it’s still too soon to ask whether the President will go down for the count, but already, when it comes to the lies of war, the fingers are pointing at the White House (National Security Adviser Condolleezza Rice), the secret house where the Vice President seems to hide out, and the Pentagon (where Wolfowitz of Arabia’s name is on various lips). And, as the historian of imperial decline Immanuel Wallerstein points out, one lesson of Watergate is that you create fall guys at your peril. The pointing finger moves and, lo and behold, people begin to blab.

I’ve watched over the last three months as the issue of impeachment has slowly made its way from fringe sites like Counterpunch toward the mainstream. John Dean (the classic Watergate fall guy who blabbed) brought it up in a law journal and Robert Scheer out on the left coast began to mention it in his Los Angeles Times columns, and Dennis Kucinich was probably the first presidential candidate to raise the issue, but now we’ve hit the edge of the mainstream with Graham. After all these years, not just Watergate but the Clinton impeachment process is starting to come home to roost.

Boston Globe columnist Derrick Z. Jackson, writing on Republican obstructionism over investigating the lies of war ends his latest this way:

“To be clear, Clinton indeed did a lot of bad things in his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. I wrote before the impeachment that he should resign. But it is a far more grave matter if we discover that a president’s claims in effect claimed the lives of 224 American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians. Five years ago Henry Hyde said [in the Clinton impeachment hearings], ‘The president is the trustee of the nation’s conscience.’ It is time to lay bare the conscience of the White House with full public hearings. The way his claims are crumbling, hearings may be the only thing that will stop Bush from plunging his dagger of deceit right through the heart of our democracy and the hearts of our soldiers.”

Admittedly, the next election may beat impeachment to the punch, but the idea, along with proposals for public hearings of a potentially Bush-lethal nature, is in the air — the same air where “Vietnam” has just been joined by “Watergate,” which, as Jim Lobe says in his latest piece in Asia Times, is “about the worst combination for a sitting president that anyone could possibly imagine.”

As a reader wrote me:

“One can say a lot with only 16 words. Consider this 16 word sentence: ‘President Bush should be impeached and brought to justice for starting an illegal war of aggression.’ Imagine if a leading Democrat were to say these words. I bet that neither the Bush administration nor the media would dismiss it as just a short sentence worthy of no special attention.”

That arrived just a few days ago and already a leading Democrat has come close to saying those words.

Eric Margolis, the Toronto Sun columnist, offers a summary of the case against George W and the litany of lies he is responsible for, and ends: “Of course, all politicians lie. But lying to get one’s country into an unnecessary war is an outrage, and ought to be an impeachable offence.”

The wilder shores of the future

Let me just suggest five improbable things that have been on my mind at a moment when many of yesterday’s improbables seem increasingly probable.

*Tony Blair resigns: In the wake of the death – assumedly a suicide – of arms expert David Kelly, Blair’s government seems to be tottering. Admittedly, he has no opponent of stature challenging him in his party and no need to call an election for years, so there’s no reason to believe he won’t squeak by. And yet, conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in a not dissimilar position when her own party felled her. Blair’s departure would shake the Bush administration to its roots and would open up the possibility of something truly improbable – a British troop withdrawal from Iraq, which only days ago would have seemed literally inconceivable. Imagine the impact of that on administration plans.

*The 50% frontier is broken in the polls: Here’s something to watch for in the coming weeks and months. (I assure you Karl Rove is already in a tizzy over this.) Bush’s polling figures are dropping. Of course, it could be a momentary blip, but given ongoing events in Iraq I think not. It’s now possible to imagine them sinking in the near future close to that magic 50% mark, the Florida frontier dividing line, the national split of 2000. Of course, the first question is: will the polls fall to that 50% divider, but the second question is: can they break that barrier? Will Bush’s bedrock political support begin to erode under the weight of events? Keep your eye on this one. The next point is tied closely to it.

[By the way, I wrote this last night before I had seen the Zogby figures. Thus does the improbable become probable in the twinkling of an internet eye.]

*John McCain challenges Bush for the 2004 nomination: Here’s a laugher certainly. Bush has already raised multi-billions of dollars more for his reelection campaign than all the Democrats combined and I doubt McCain has much of anything in his coffers. The president was only weeks ago, as he has been since 9/11, considered unchallengeable, nearly unassailable by Democrats, and even inviolable within the Republican Party itself. But the other week I heard Senator McCain, who was gung-ho for the war in Iraq, lecture Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at Senate hearings about how Americans would take bad news from Iraq only if the administration told them exactly what to expect (as if they knew) and offered them some “straight talk.” That, of course, was his signature phrase from his previous presidential run against Bush, whom he undoubtedly has no fondness for. A little light blinked on in my head and I thought to myself, he can do the poll projections better than I can. So, if things continue on a downward spiral, don’t rule out a divisive challenge within the Republican Party.

*The demonstrators take to the street again: On this one — which I don’t think the administration has even begun to consider — I suspect it’s a question of when, not whether. That vast movement of the prewar moment that uniquely demonstrated against a war which had not yet begun has not actually vanished. And when it reemerges I think it could do so massively – and, to offer one more improbable thought, in its forefront could be the families of our soldiers in Iraq, which would be stirring indeed.

*The US turns over the chaos that is Iraq to the UN (and the Iraqis) and withdraws its troops: This is the most improbable thought of all. Still, the papers do report that the Bush administration is considering “going back to the UN.” Admittedly, right now they are trying to recruit help still largely on their own terms. They’re undoubtedly checking to see what’s the least they can give up to get the kind of UN cover under which they might be able to pressure countries like India to send troops. Still, they’re back! Who woulda thunk it? Remember the UN? That superannuated “debating society,” that failed “League of Nations” we didn’t need then and would never need again? I note as well that Paul Bremer, our viceroy in Baghdad, has recently started talking about rushing a constitution for a new Iraq state into existence in 6-8 months with elections to follow and after an election withdrawing our troops (except, undoubtedly, for the ones already embedded in those permanent bases). Do I hear the sound of desperate exit strategies clinking onto the dining room table?

If they go down, will they go down shooting?

The answer, I think, is yes. Three incidents highlight the low-level, dirty political war underway to shut down the floodgates:

David Corn in his Nation magazine weblog “Capital Games” asks, “Did senior Bush officials blow the cover of a US intelligence officer working covertly in a field of vital importance to national security — and break the law — in order to strike at a Bush administration critic and intimidate others?” And he suggests that they indeed did, outing the wife of Joseph Wilson (the ex-ambassador who investigated the Niger yellowcake rumors for the CIA at the behest of the vice president and recently blew the lid on what the administration knew when in The New York Times) as a CIA agent while she was in the field working on issues involving weapons of mass destruction.

Robert Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the administration has quickly cracked down on soldiers from the Third Infantry Division who spoke out about Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz on ABC TV last week: “‘It was the end of the world,’ said one [Third Infantry] officer Thursday. ‘It went all the way up to President Bush and back down again on top of us. At least six of us here will lose our careers.'”

No less striking, reports Lloyd Grove of The Washington Post:

“Some folks in the White House were apparently hopping mad when ABC News correspondent Jeffrey Kofman did a story on Tuesday’s “World News Tonight” about the plummeting morale of U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq. So angry, in fact, that the next day, a White House operative alerted cyber-gossip Matt Drudge to the fact that Kofman is not only openly gay, he’s Canadian.”

(Thus does historical farce repeat itself as absurdity. In 1965, Morley Safer, then a reporter in Vietnam for CBS TV news did a piece that showed US Marines setting Vietnamese peasant houses on fire with Zippo lighters. President Lyndon Johnson was outraged to see such scenes on TV. He immediately called his old friend CBS President Frank Stanton at the crack of dawn the morning after. Among the milder of his comments was this: “Frank, this is your President, and yesterday your boys shat on the American flag.” As I wrote long ago in my book, The End of Victory Culture, “Safer, Johnson insisted, must be a Communist. When at Johnson’s urging Safer was investigated by the FBI, the CIA, and finally the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the president was informed that he was not a Communist, only a Canadian, he insisted, ‘Well, I knew he wasn’t an American.’ Johnson remained convinced that Safer’s report was an enemy plot.”)

Maureen Dowd wrote her Sunday column in The New York Times about the administration’s attempted smear of Kofman, and adds this:

“What we are witnessing is how ugly it can get when control freaks start losing control. Beset by problems, the Bush team responds by attacking those who point out the problems. These linear, Manichaean managers are flailing in an ever-more-chaotic environment. They are spending $3.9 billion a month trying to keep the lid on a festering mess in Iraq, even as Afghanistan simmers.”

A new entry in my “Where’s ?” contest

A reader asks, Where’s Poppy? We know that before the war the elder Bush wasn’t exactly thrilled with his son’s unilateralist policies and his former aide and alter ego Brent Scowcroft was sent out into the world to write warning op-eds on Iraq policy. But then Poppy, even through his surrogates, fell silent. So where’s Poppy now?

And here’s another Where’s entry, suggested by the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius: Where’s Tariq Aziz? Where are the Iraqi scientists? Where, in fact, are all the high level Iraqi prisoners from the previous regime? You would think we might have heard something from one of their interrogations to back at least some administration claim or other, and yet not a peep, not a single shred of information that might at this moment of crisis help the administration. Ignatius writes in part:

“As political crises mount in Washington and London over evidence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, it would be especially useful to have the testimony of a leading expert on the subject, Saddam Hussein’s science adviser, Amir Saadi.

Saadi (the seven of diamonds in the coalition’s deck of cards) surrendered voluntarily to U.S. authorities in Baghdad on April 12. He was the first senior Iraqi official to do so. Because he had never been a member of the Baath Party, U.S. officials were hopeful that he would provide honest information.

Saadi’s silence, I suspect, is evidence that the Pentagon and the White House have concluded that any public release of his testimony would undercut their position.”

Jonathan Steele in the British Observer reports today, “The continued detention of leading Iraqi scientists and other officials by US forces is swiftly turning into a major human rights row. ” To which I say, given this administration, join the crowd.

Tom Engelhardt

Additional contributions from Tom Engelhardt can be found throughout the week at TomDispatch.com, a weblog of The Nation Institute.

Sugarcoating the Cost
Last Thursday, press reports tallied the US soldier death toll at 33 — that is, 33 soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since Bush declared an end to so-called “major combat” in Iraq on May 2. But what the Administration isn’t telling us is that not only does the death toll far exceed the numbers commonly reported by the media and Pentagon, but some of the alleged non-combatant deaths are iffy at best. Could these sugar-coated numbers trumpeted by Bush and the media be an attempt to divert attention away from what’s really happening in Iraq?

Writing in Editor and Publisher, Gregg Mitchell notes that last Thursday’s press acounts gave quite a forgiving number. The actual figure, which Mitchell argues is rarely reported by the media, is much worse if non-combatant deaths are taken into consideration. All of this begs the question: Are non-combatant deaths any more acceptable?

“[A]ctually the numbers are much worse — and rarely reported by the media.

According to official military records, the number of U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq since May 2 is actually 85. This includes a staggering number of non-combat deaths. Even if killed in a non-hostile action, these soldiers are no less dead, their families no less aggrieved. And it’s safe to say that nearly all of these people would still be alive if they were still back in the States.

Nevertheless, the media continues to report the much lower figure of 33 as if those are the only deaths that count.”

Then there’s the case of First Sergeant Christopher Coffin, who was killed earlier this month. According to the Portland Press-Herald‘s Jen Fish, news of Coffin’s death came from a press release by Coffin’s unit which said that he had died after his vehicle crashed trying to avoid a civilian vehicle. But a more ominous account of the events came a day earlier, from US Central Command in Doha. CENTCOM revealed that a member of Coffin’s unit was killed by “an improvised explosive device” which hit his convoy. The report didn’t name Coffin directly, but he was the only soldier in his unit to die that day. Fish, however, cites a different report from Time, which points out that Coffin’s family and some US government officials have their own version of the events — they claim that Coffin’s vehicle was deliberately run off the road and surrounded by an angry mob.

“The details of Coffin’s death have been mired in confusion since the day it was announced by the military.

‘The case raises a very troubling question, which is, are combat deaths being disguised as accidents . . . so it would appear less harm is being caused by the Iraqi resistance than is the case?’ asked Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine.

Allen said that although he does not dispute that accidents happen, it seems that there are ‘an awful lot of accidents.'”

The events surrounding Coffin’s death are still a mystery. But the larger message rings loud and clear: the number of non-combatant deaths, or “accidents,” is questionable at best.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that casualties in this second Iraq war have now surpassed the total number of deaths in the Gulf War.

Ready, Set, Apologize!
After their scolding for skipping out on the NAACP’s annual convention last week, Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich, and Dick Gephardt flew to Florida to make amends. Much groveling ensued, with the candidates apparently competing to see how many times they could say “sorry” in the five minutes allotted for apologies. In spite of the time constraint, all candidates managed to squeeze in the obligatory Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, while trying to prove that they really were “down” with their black brothers and sisters.

Although NAACP president Kweise Mfume seems to have accepted their apologies, the whole flap only points to deeper problems in the Democratic Party. In Friday’s New York Times, Adam Nagourney points out that the week’s events have drawn attention to some perplexing differences between today’s Republican and Democratic parties. Nagourney writes:

“‘When is the last time you saw George Bush show up before the N.R.A.?’ James Carville, who was Bill Clinton’s campaign manager in 1992, said today, referring to the National Rifle Association. (The answer is never.)

‘The N.R.A. are very savvy politically,’ Mr. Carville said. ‘They understand what it is to win an election. They don’t make Republican presidential candidates go there and hold assault weapons up in the air.'”

So is the NAACP to blame for making a media-fest out of the candidates’ absences? The Dems were already scheduled to appear at the Human Rights Campaign’s presidential debate that week, and there are hundreds of groups vying for the candidates’ attention. Lieberman, Gephardt, and Kucinich, however, caved under the NAACP’s outcry. It is exactly the sort of thing — appearing to capitulate to constituency group pressure — that many Dems are trying to avoid this election season. p> But Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal doesn’t blame the NAACP for the Dems’ lousy planning. The NAACP, he points out, isn’t some insignificant little interest group, but the largest African American group in the nation — a key constituency if the Democrats have any serious desire to take back the White House next year.

“As recently as two presidential campaigns ago, the idea that any serious contender would bypass the NAACP forum was unthinkable. But as some news accounts of this fiasco noted, Messrs. Gephardt and Lieberman begged off because, according to the Associated Press, ‘the joint appearances are a common format for dozens of presidential forums being organized by labor unions, environmentalists, civil rights activists, abortion rights supporters and other interest groups active in Democratic politics. The NAACP was one such group.’

The Democratic Party now resembles a vast hospital nursery, with each colicky baby lying in a separate crib screaming for attention — right now, for me. And if a Joe Lieberman or Dick Gephardt doesn’t run right over and pour political formula down their throats, they’ll keep right on screaming. And so yesterday, Messrs. Lieberman, Gephardt and Kuchinich all scampered to Miami, stood before the NAACP convention and apologized. Mr. Lieberman: ‘I was wrong, I regret it, and I apologize.’ Then Sen. Lieberman suggested that Kweise Mfume belonged on the Supreme Court.”

Instead of dwelling on the candidates’ transgressions, activists like Jesse Jackson — who addressed the NAACP convention as well — chose to focus on the tasks ahead, stressing that black votes must return the south to the Democratic Party. And despite all the infighting, many recognize that contempt for Bush will ultimately bring the Party together. In that spirit, Rev. Jackson quickly brought everyone back to the point: “This has been overplayed at the expense of our own problems today. The problem is President Bush.”

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