Flushing Cheney

The veep's been shoved out of the shadows. Does that mean he's headed for the exit?

| Mon Feb. 2, 2004 4:00 AM EST

What a week! Strange quotes, strange events, strange sightings. It was the sort of workaday week that makes you wonder whether the planet got itself trademarked by Ripley's Believe It or Not while we weren't looking, or maybe it was just entered in some new "reality" show in which we were all to be locked in with an odd group of jokesters. The question is this: When we finally emerge will there be a prize for the survivors? Will we discover, for instance, that our President and his administration have headed down a path of slow-motion implosion, the same one he sent our economy, with its reputed future trillion-dollar deficits, down a while back?

Advertise on MotherJones.com

But let me begin by taking you on a modest tour of the week-that-was, starting off with that category of "sightings." Over the last year, I think it could safely be said that the three men hardest to spot have been Saddam Hussein, finally found in December in his "spiderhole"; Osama Bin Laden, still undetected in his "cave," assumedly somewhere on the Pakistani side of the Afghan border; and Dick Cheney, our stealth vice president (or president, depending on your interpretive druthers) in his bunker in Washington. Well, in the last week-plus, Cheney has been spotted, and then spotted again, and again and again: first, bird-shooting with a Supreme Court justice, then speaking in Los Angeles on the war on terror, next visiting Davos, Switzerland, followed by Italy where he continued to flog those long- discounted Iraqi "trailers" as evidence of massive Saddamite WMD programs, and finally seeking the Pope's blessing at the Vatican, where in a small spectacle of curious taste he came bearing a gift. "During Mr. Cheney's visit on Tuesday, the vice president presented the pope with a gift that symbolized peace: a crystal dove," according to Eric Schmitt and Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Perhaps it wasn't "peace" the vice president had in mind, but "pieces" -- as in all the better to smash it into...

Anyway, it was a week of Cheney glut with Cheney quotes old and new popping up. Unlike Elvis sightings, Cheney sightings have been rare enough that it's worth spending a little time on them.

You might say that the vice president, suddenly under attack by the Democrats as the symbol of an extremist administration and with his poll numbers in free fall, had been flushed out, like one of those game birds he and Supreme Court Justice Scalia hunted together recently. (Wouldn't you have liked to be a little bird -- a very small and unmeaty one, of course -- listening in on what the potential Chief Justice of the second-term Bush Supreme Court had to say to the administration's first-term "eminence grise," and vice versa? I doubt they were trading Lord of the Rings subplots, and they couldn't have been discussing the potentially embarrassing Guantanamo cases that will appear before the court this year. That would have been unethical.)

Cheney, in the light of day, seemed to be blinking hard and looking just a little unsteady, though our press managed to explain all this in slightly encoded, exceedingly polite language, meant to carry a punch mainly for your basic insider or news jockey. Take Eric Schmitt of the New York Times in this passage:

"Vice President Dick Cheney, on a five-day trip through Switzerland and Italy, is stepping out of his self-imposed seclusion and into what administration officials and political analysts say is a calculated election-year makeover to temper his hard-line image at home and abroad.

...

Democrats acknowledge they are seeking to make Mr. Cheney a lightning rod for criticism of the administration.... But aides say none of this has shaken Mr. Bush's trust in Mr. Cheney, who still wields huge, though largely unseen, influence on issues from Iraq to tax policy. The two meet weekly for a private lunch in a small dining room off the Oval Office. Mr. Cheney has repeatedly said he has no presidential aspirations of his own, allowing him to focus solely on Mr. Bush's agenda."

It's a lovely passage really. That little word" makeover" -- as in a before-and-after commercial for some women's beauty product -- and that super last line. So that's what he's been doing all these months -- selflessly focusing "solely on Mr. Bush's agenda."

If you want to find some evidence of real attitude in our elite press, do remember to check out those final paragraphs of pieces it's undoubtedly assumed that next to no one reads and where a reporter can finally run free. Yesterday, for instance, David Sanger of the Times had a front-page piece on Bush's Risky Options, focusing on how the President might respond to the call by the former head of the Iraqi Survey Group, David Kay (along with endless Democrats and Sen. John McCain who has no love for the younger Bush) for an independent commission to look into American prewar WMD intelligence.

Sanger pointed out that White House officials have been in "a slow retreat... day-by-day, fact-by-fact" from prewar, wartime, and postwar WMD assertions. (Condoleezza Rice's most recent fallback position, however, when it comes to Saddam's links to "terrorists," sounds a bit of a fall-forward position to me: "With Saddam Hussein, we were dealing with somebody who had used weapons of mass destruction, who had attacked his neighbors twice, who was allowing terrorists to run in his country and was funding terrorists outside of his country.")

Here, in any case, are Sanger's last two paragraphs, just about as snarky as you can get in the Times:

"Only Mr. Cheney, the man who made the most extensive claims about Iraq's readiness to strike out, has failed to back down publicly. Last Friday he was on the air again, talking about Mr. Hussein's mobile biological weapons units, which now appear, Dr. Kay says, to have had no such purpose.

"'We'll have to get Cheney the new memo,' one White House official said after Mr. Cheney's comments.'As soon as we write it.'"

But Cheney really didn't need snarky reporters to do his job for him. In the quotes department last week he did pretty well for himself.

How much is much -- or Cheney blames "empire" on his wife

From Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing in the Washington Post comes the following:

"During his stopover at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, forum founder Klaus Schwab asked Cheney about his controversial Christmas card, interpreted by some to be sly hint about the country's status as a modern empire. The card featured a quote from Benjamin Franklin: 'If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?'

"'Do you consider the United States to be an empire?' Cheney was asked. After jocularly blaming his wife for choosing the card, Cheney insisted 'it did not refer, or should not be taken as some kind of indication that the United States today sees itself as an empire,' and he said that if the United States were an empire, 'we would currently preside over a much greater piece of the Earth's surface than we do.'"

Think that one over for a minute, while you consider the following little quote from Secretary of State Colin Powell, off visiting the former Soviet hinterlands. According to Kim Murphy of the Los Angeles Times, Powell arrived in Moscow after a visit to Georgia to "soothe" (other words in our press for his behavior: "mollify," "assure," "reassure") the Russians about our good intentions despite our relatively new bases in the former SSRs of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, our military trainers in Georgia (after all, it's been a state of the Union ever since the American Revolution?), our demand that the Russians get their troops out of that small country, and Powell's recent comments about future basing plans in former Eastern European Soviet satellites like Rumania, Bulgaria and Poland. He said:

"The U.S. does not want to build bases all over the world. There is no need to."

No more, at least, than the 700-odd we already have including the new ones in the old Soviet borderlands. If we were an empire, by Cheney's calculations and with Powell's quote in mind, maybe we'd have 1,400 bases.

Murphy elaborated in the following fashion:

"U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on Monday said the U.S. has no plans to create military bases in Georgia. At the same time, U.S. officials have not ruled out a long-term security presence in the strategically important Caucasus republic, once a part of the Soviet empire and still a crucial component of the Kremlin's effort to maintain an extensive sphere of influence and counter NATO's expansion toward its western frontier...

For the United States, the region provides a window onto crucial theaters in the war on terrorism, including Afghanistan and Iraq. It also encompasses a crucial transport route for oil riches from the Caspian Sea."

For anyone who lived through the Cold War (or, were it possible, the British "Great Game" against the Russians in Central Asia), this sort of language -- and there was plenty of it in the press this week -- would sound oddly familiar. Every spot on Earth -- or at least in that vast "arc of instability," aka the oil lands of our planet -- is actually "strategically important" and a "window" onto something else, and everything we don't control, a danger. But what's to be a "window" for us is evidently meant to be a windowless wall for the Russians who are to be left out in the cold. If the Bush administration could, they would undoubtedly exile the Russians to Siberia and good riddance -- though, thought about another way, with its oil and natural gas deposits, Siberia could certainly be considered "strategically important" and a "window" onto something else.

Bitter-enders in Washington

Oh, and as if to help Cheney along this week, a new bio of Tony Blair, the British PM with no less than nine lives, just appeared claiming that Cheney, according to a Blair aide, had "waged a guerrilla war against the process" of seeking UN approval before the war. (Mike Allen, 'War Issues Cloud Cheney Trip', the Washington Post):

"The book says Cheney considered Blair and his pleas for multilateral military action against Hussein to be an irritant. It asserts that Cheney told a high-ranking British official during the summer of 2002, when Bush was denying he had decided to go to war, 'Once we have victory in Baghdad, all the critics will look like fools.'"

I guess this, then, was the week of the fools, one in which Cheney looked increasingly like Washington's version of the sort of "bitter-ender" Rumsfeld et al. were always yakking about. The Nelson Report, a Washington insider's newsletter, commented on the vice-presidential emergence this way: "Some observers amused themselves with speculation that Cheney's bizarre ceremonial with the Pope is just part of a 'come out of the cave' PR campaign orchestrated by his staff, as part of an effort to rehabilitate his public image."

Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service pointed out that Cheney himself commented on his outing this week:

"In a[n]... interview, Cheney told USA Today he was not worried about his image as the administration's Machiavelli, skilled in the quiet arts of persuading his 'Prince' to pursue questionable policies, adding, surprisingly unselfconsciously, 'Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually.'"

A few days ago, in a fascinating piece posted at antiwar.com, Lobe asked the question that has been quietly nibbling at the edge of the mainstream press ever since. He wrote in part:

"While Democratic rivals battle for the presidential nomination in a succession of grueling primary elections, Vice President Dick Cheney appears to be fighting to secure his spot on the Republican ticket behind President George W. Bush.

The vice president, whose moderation and 35-year Washington experience reassured voters worried about the callowness and inexperience of Bush during the 2000 campaign, is seen more and more by Republican Party politicos as a drag on the president's reelection chances in what is universally expected to be an extremely close race...

Reports were already surfacing two months ago that a discreet 'dump-Cheney' movement had been launched by intimate associates of Bush's father (former president George H.W. Bush) - his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and former secretary of state James Baker, who now has a White House appointment as Bush Jr.'s personal envoy to persuade official creditors to substantially reduce Iraq's 110-billion-dollar foreign debt.

In addition to their perception that Cheney's presence would harm Bush's reelection chances, the two men, who battled frequently with the vice president when he was defense secretary in the first Bush administration, have privately expressed great concern over Cheney's unparalleled influence over the younger Bush and the damage that has done to U.S. relations with longtime allies, particularly in Europe and the Arab world."

In her latest column, the New York Times' Maureen Dowd took this up quite bluntly -- it's obviously the talk of Washington right now -- concluding:

"Dick Cheney, who declared that Saddam had nuclear capability and who visited C.I.A. headquarters in the summer of 2002 to make sure the raw intelligence was properly interpreted, is sticking to his deluded guns. (And still trash-talking those lame trailers.)

The vice president pushed to slough off the allies and the U.N. and go to war partly because he thought that slapping a weakened bully like Saddam would scare other dictators. He must have reckoned there would be no day of reckoning on weapons once Saddam was gone.

So it had to be some new definition of chutzpah on Tuesday, when Mr. Cheney, exuding more infallibility than the pope, presented him with a crystal dove."

The same Nelson Report, by the way, had this bit of scuttlebutt on the subject:

"About Vice President Cheney: on the one hand, no one predicts that he will be involuntarily dropped from the ticket, even if they haven't heard the reported reaction from President Bush, when urged, over Christmas, to do just that by serious money players who enjoy that level of access - for the record, Bush said 'no way,' and cited factors of loyalty. But... the rumors persist, not least because of the well-known, public antipathy of what recent journalism calls "the Scowcroft wing' of the party..."

Imagine that. "Serious money players" directly asked the President to drop Cheney. If you want to check out who those money men might have been, you could start by running down the lists of "Pioneers" ("the 241 individuals who have raised a minimum of $100,000 for the Bush 2004 reelection effort") and "Rangers" ("the 151 individuals who have raised a minimum of $200,000 for the Bush 2004 reelection effort") posted at the Texans for Public Justice website.

Spiderholes all around

Dan Froomkin of the Post found this quote from our President, who had other spiderholes than the vice president's on his mind:

"'Boy, that speech in Iowa was something else,' Bush said, referring to Howard Dean's field holler after placing third in the [Iowa] caucuses Monday.'Talk about shock and awe. Saddam Hussein felt so bad for Governor Dean that he offered him his hole.'"

My question is this: If George sends troops or one of his hunter-killer teams after Dean and captures the elusive governor in that hole somewhere on the reforested slopes of Vermont, will we see the inside of his mouth too?

Oh, and then there was the day the President visited the Nothin' Fancy Café in Roswell, New Mexico and had the following exchange with the press corps:

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.

Q Mr. President, how are you?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.

Q What would you like?

THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Q Sir, on homeland security, critics would say you simply haven't spent enough to keep the country secure.

THE PRESIDENT: My job is to secure the homeland and that's exactly what we're going to do. But I'm here to take somebody's order. That would be you, Stretch -- what would you like? Put some of your high-priced money right here to try to help the local economy. You get paid a lot of money, you ought to be buying some food here. It's part of how the economy grows. You've got plenty of money in your pocket, and when you spend it, it drives the economy forward. So what would you like to eat?

Q Right behind you, whatever you order.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm ordering ribs. David, do you need a rib?

Q But Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Stretch, thank you, this is not a press conference. This is my chance to help this lady put some money in her pocket. Let me explain how the economy works. When you spend money to buy food it helps this lady's business. It makes it more likely somebody is going to find work. So instead of asking questions, answer mine: are you going to buy some food?

Q Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good. What would you like?

Q Ribs.

THE PRESIDENT: Ribs? Good. Let's order up some ribs.

Q What do you think of the democratic field, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: See, his job is to ask questions, he thinks my job is to answer every question he asks. I'm here to help this restaurant by buying some food. Terry, would you like something?

Q An answer.

Q Can we buy some questions?

THE PRESIDENT: Obviously these people -- they make a lot of money and they're not going to spend much. I'm not saying they're overpaid, they're just not spending any money.

Q Do you think it's all going to come down to national security, sir, this election?

THE PRESIDENT: One of the things David does, he asks a lot of questions, and they're good, generally."

You can hardly buy a question, no less an answer from this administration. But imagine, for a minute, if Howard Dean had had this conversation with the press any time in the last two months just how he might have been diced up for it.

And speaking of empires: Tips on how to improve relations with the United (no empire here) States of America and associated bases (but far less than the number needed to qualify for imperial status)

This week 73 year-old Nguyen Cao Ky, the former South Vietnamese prime minister, visited Vietnam for the first time since his ignominious flight to a U.S. aircraft carrier deck as Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, was falling April 1975. Jane Perlez of the New York Times, in a report on his visit, offered a little lesson in "diplomacy" vis-à-vis our country in the Age of the Younger Bush:

"Mr. Ky's visit, though informal, comes with some behind-the-scenes encouragement from the Bush administration. Last year, an American official suggested to the government here that it try to mend fences with Mr. Ky as a way to help Vietnam improve its image in the United States... In the months leading up to Mr. Ky's arrival, Vietnam took several conventional steps to foster better relations with Washington.

A United States Navy vessel docked in Ho Chi Minh City in November, the third such visit in nearly three decades. The head of the Vietnamese military, Pham Van Tra, visited the Pentagon last fall and met with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan told Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in December that Vietnam would try to meet the requirements needed for membership in the World Trade Organization by 2005."

To summarize the minimal "conventional steps" to better relations with the U.S., you open your economy to us, let our Navy's ships dock at your ports, visit the Pentagon to improve military-to-military relations, and -- voila, as they once said in Hanoi -- you're our friend. Oh, the Vietnamese would have let the State Department visit too, but the darn place didn't have any aircraft carriers.

If no one else can say a good word about Halliburton, then Halliburton will

Halliburton has struck back, launching a vigorous print and TV ad campaign to offset a wee bit of bad publicity it's received lately. Here's a note from the Houston Chronicle on the subject:

"In an advertisement in the Chronicle, Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar argued: 'Not many companies have our know-how, At one base, we flip thousands of omelets to feed the troops at breakfast. Simultaneously, in other parts of the country, we implement engineering plans to rebuild the country's oil infrastructure.

"'These are special skills, not special interests,' Lesar wrote."

Halliburton would only be a "special interest" if the U.S. occupied a much greater piece of the Earth's surface and wanted to build more bases on it.

How to send troops to Iraq

Japanese troops -- officially known as the Japanese Self-Defense Forces -- have now landed in southern Iraq to be part of our Coalition providing security to the country. For a Japanese government, hard at work trying to break open its "peace constitution" -- that artifact of the American occupation of Japan after World War II, much lauded by the Bush administration in the run-up to war -- our little war has proved fortuitous. Many official Japanese have been spoiling to send Japanese ground forces abroad in some kind of modified military role for the first time since 1945, and now, thanks to Iraq, it's happening; but as with other of our "allies" in Iraq, the sending of troops has been unpopular in Japan; so unpopular in fact that, according to Japan Today, the government has resorted to a curious ploy to make sure nothing goes wrong (Japan reportedly paying Y10 bil to Iraqis to guard SDF):

"The Japanese government is reportedly paying approximately 10 billion yen to Iraqi tribal leaders to provide bodyguards for the Self-defense Forces in Iraq. A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office said: 'It is rather cheap if we can buy security for our soldiers with that amount of money. In Iraq, oil money is distributed to those tribes. It is more important for the Japanese government to make one-time payments to the leaders than to pay them a salary. That will help their local economy and benefit Japan's foreign policy toward new Iraq...'

"Last year, Abdul Amir Rikaabi, the powerful leader of an Iraqi tribe, visited Japan and Koizumi made a confidential agreement with him in which Japan would pay a huge amount of money in exchange for protection, according to a source in the Prime Minister's Office."

So, hired Iraqis will defend the Japanese troops sent to bring "security" to Iraq. Well, it's just a wacky world, isn't it?

(By the way, one interesting resource for subjects Japanese is at the ZNET website.)

WMD where are you?

The third of our mighty trio of administration globe-trotters, Attorney General John Ashcroft offered the following slightly flat-Earth fallback position on those pesky missing weapons of mass destruction while hustling around Austria. According William Kole of AP, he said, "Weapons of mass destruction including evil chemistry and evil biology are all matters of great concern, not only to the United States but also to the world community. They were the subject of U.N. resolutions." And then he had a little vacation fun: "On Tuesday, Ashcroft planned to visit a military base where Austria's elite Cobra police commando unit is based. "

In the meantime, back in Washington, the administration's former WMD point man in Iraq, David Kay, blasted a hole in the bow of the ship of state by insisting that, by all odds, Iraqi WMD didn't exist. He made the following devastating comment (and then called for an independent commission to investigate): "It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment. And that is most disturbing."

Well, not all, as Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star points out (Truth catching up to Bush):

"[Kay's] conclusions are the same as those of Scott Ritter, a member of the first United Nations weapons inspections team that was withdrawn in 1998. And of Hans Blix, head of the reconstituted U.N. inspections team. And of Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

The only difference is that Ritter, Blix, and El Baradei -- who aren't of course "we" but "they" -- came to these conclusions before we invaded another country. Small difference.

So now we have to live through a farcical discussion of and investigation of our "intelligence community," an endless rehashing of "intelligence mistakes" as if none of this were at all obvious beforehand, as if this administration hadn't been intent on invading, intelligence or no, as if it weren't well known that Saddam's Iraq was, by April 2003, a pathetic shadow of its former military self and no threat to the United States (whatever the threat it posed to its own citizens). Beam me up, Scottie.

At his Informed Comment website, historian Juan Cole, seizing on the President's latest fallback position, offered a simple way of making this reality remarkably clear:

"Bush maintains that despite the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Saddam Hussein posed 'a grave and gathering threat to America and the world.'

"This allegation simply is not true, however much a monster Saddam may be. Let's look at the issue Harpers style:

US population: 295 million
Iraq population: 24 million
US per capita annual income: $37,600
Iraq per capita annual income: 700
US nuclear warheads: 10,455
Iraq nuclear warheads: 0
US tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 31,496
Iraq tons of lethal chemical weapons (1997): 0
Number of foreign troops and civilians US military has killed since 1968: approx. 2 million
Number of foreign troops and civilians Iraqi military has killed since 1968: approx. 250,000"

After rejecting an independent commission to investigate our "intelligence failures," the President, according to Dana Milbank and Dana Priest of the Washington Post, has just signaled his acceptance of such a commission in "an effort to get out in front of a potentially dangerous issue that threatens to cloud his reelection bid." Sooner or later, a friend of mine predicts, the President will announce the formation of just such a commission, to be led by the unimpeachable Lord (no "sexing up" here) Hutton.

How to organize intelligence the right way

Okay, maybe our intelligence stinks, but some people actually have assets on the ground. Rowan Scarborough of the conservative Washington Times reports (U.S. suspects Iraqi moles at Baghdad headquarters):

"Some senior administration officials suspect that Saddam Hussein's followers have penetrated the coalition headquarters in Baghdad and passed information to guerrilla fighters.

"A defense official told The Washington Times the suspicion at this point is not based on conclusive evidence, but on supposition. The source said some senior officials believe it is too much of a coincidence that Saddam loyalists know where and when to attack Army convoys. At times, attackers also seem to know the planned route of low-flying helicopters, more than 10 of which have been shot down since May."

No wonder the CIA is now setting up an Iraqi counterintelligence operation around some reliable intelligence guys who really know what they're doing -- Saddam's former (and much feared) intelligence operatives.

How to speak to terrorists and not end up in Guantanamo

Here's a group that the U.S. government has identified as terrorists, that had long-term ties to Saddam Hussein and whose forces may have helped Saddam put down the 1991 Shia rebellion. (Remember those killing fields which came to provide justification for our war over a decade later?) And a major neocon figure has just spoken at a charity event evidently meant to help them. No, we're not talking Al Qaeda here, but the Iranian group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

Of this, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post wrote in part (Charity Event May Have Terrorist Link):

"Pentagon adviser Richard N. Perle, a strong advocate of war against Iraq, spoke last weekend at a charity event that U.S. officials say may have had ties to an alleged terrorist group seeking to topple the Iranian government and backed by Saddam Hussein.

"The event, attended by more than 3,000 people Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, generated enough concerns within the administration that officials debated whether they had the legal authority to block the event, U.S. officials said yesterday. FBI agents attended it and, as part of a continuing investigation, the Treasury Department on Monday froze the assets of the event's prime organizer, the Iranian-American Community of Northern Virginia."

Note that Perle interrupted his book tour for An End to Evil: How to Fight the War on Terror, written with former Bush speechwriter David Frum, to give the speech. In a striking piece posted at Antiwar.com several days before Kessler's piece appeared, the website's columnist Justin Raimondo wrote (Richard Perle Supports Terrorism):

"He is the author of a book that criticizes the U.S. government for being too soft on terrorism. He was an advocate of invading Iraq - and most of the other Arab countries in the Middle East - long before 9/11. He wants us to give up a lot of our civil liberties, including submitting to a national ID card, and he's taken to the hustings promoting an approach to the "war on terrorism" that's more royalist than the king....

"In France, members of MEK were rounded up after a plot to attack Iranian embassies across Europe was exposed: fanatical MEK-ites set themselves on fire in protest. Clearly, these are a bunch of dangerous radicals, who might resort to violence at any moment. When the MEK connection to the January 24 event came out, the Red Cross and La Leche International, which had agreed to lend their names, withdrew. Even Rep. Tancredo, formerly a staunch defender of the group, backpedaled, withdrawing his support for the fundraiser.

"But not Richard Perle...

"For Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, to make a public appearance - in the middle of his book tour! - in front of a group that killed at least 6 U.S. citizens, and wouldn't hesitate to kill more in pursuit of their goals, is an outrage. If someone with an Arab name and connections to Muslim organizations had dared do such a thing, he would have been shipped to Guantanamo so fast his head would've spun off its axis. People are being jailed and deported for much less, these days: but I guess there's one standard for the Richard Perles of this world, and another for the rest of us."

Strange alliances in a strange world

Will this administration implode like a political dirty bomb before November 2004? Have the Democrats, thanks largely to Howard Dean, found something like their voices? (Check out Los Angeles Times' analyst William Arkin's piece on how close those voices still are to the Bush administration's national security positions.) Is the intelligence "community" in Washington, seething since last summer, ready to blow? If Bush finally agrees to an independent commission, how will he deal with an investigation of CIA director George Tenet whom he couldn't force to walk the plank at a far more advantageous moment in 2003?

How long can he offer his explanations without beginning to sound hollow, lame, tacky even to some of his own supporters? Haroon Siddiqui in the piece mentioned above offers this comment on his latest Iraq fallback explanation:

"... the White House is now trying a new tack: that Bush had never characterized Saddam's danger as 'imminent,' only as 'grave and growing.'

"There is a difference? The last time the White House tried such hair-splitting was when Bill Clinton argued it was not 'sex' that he had had with Monica Lewinsky. The difference in this case, of course, is that more than 500 Americans and nearly 15,000 Iraqi soldiers and civilians are dead."

Robert Scheer of the LA Times had a similar thought, in his latest column, "Baghdad is Bush's Blue Dress."

My gut feeling is that we are witnessing a process of slow change. I note, for instance, a small rise in the number of people who write me and sign their e-mails something like "a former Republican," or are outraged anti-imperial conservatives or libertarians. We're in a strange new world -- as I meant to indicate above -- and alliances, political bedfellows, even the definitions of left and right may be in the process of changing in interesting ways.

I leave you then with a few paragraphs from an environmental piece by Nick Jans that caught my eye in USA Today on the unhappiness that some hunters are now feeling with the Bush assault on the Western environment (Conservative sportsmen turn against Bush). He speaks of:

"...a powerful rumble of discontent...growing from what seems, at first glance, an unlikely source. Just weeks before the exemption [of Alaska's Tongass National Forest from former president Clinton's "roadless rule"] was declared, Dale Bosworth, chief of the Forest Service, received a petition from the Northern Sportsmen Network of Juneau, Alaska. It was signed by 470 gun clubs from across the USA, 40 of them based in President Bush's home state of Texas....

"'This is a constituency that is slow to anger, but the administration is starting to see a backlash,' [Chris] Wood [vice president for conservation at Trout Unlimited] says. 'The "Sportsmen for Bush" bumper stickers ... might be pretty scarce in 2004...'

"Whether this wide-flung group is capable of banding together with their traditional environmentalist foes to protect common interests remains to be seen. But the angry shouts are growing. When I look in the mirror, I see an ardent outdoorsman and an independent who once voted Republican. I won't make that mistake again."

You can read additional dispatches from Tom Engelhardt throughout the week at TomDispatch.com.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.