Shock and Sham

Anyone surprised by O’Neill’s ‘shocking’ allegations hasn’t been paying attention.

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Vice President Dick Cheney and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia spent part of last week duck hunting together at a private camp in southern Louisiana just three weeks after the court agreed to take up the vice president’s appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration’s energy task force.

While Scalia and Cheney are avid hunters and longtime friends, several experts in legal ethics questioned the timing of their trip and said it raised doubts about Scalia’s ability to judge the case impartially. But Scalia rejected that concern Friday, saying, ‘I do not think my impartiality could reasonably be questioned.’… The pair arrived Jan. 5 on Gulfstream jets and were guests of Wallace Carline, the owner of Diamond Services Corp., an oil services company in Amelia, La.”

– From ‘Trip With Cheney Puts Ethics Spotlight on Scalia’, the Los Angeles Times

Ask the people if they know what’s happening in the private sector and they are all aware that there is a flurry of activity in the private sector, and they tell you that there’s either nothing available or that the salaries are too low. Job creation is being left to the bankrupt state, and wealth creation is going to people who don’t employ. The supplemental money should be a one-time injection, but it is not being used to lay the groundwork for a vigorous, autonomous economy. We are headed toward the mafia capitalism of [Boris] Yeltsin’s Russia,” said [Isam al-Khafaj, a former CPA employee who now heads Iraq Revenue Watch].

– From David Enders’ ‘Fighting for a job in Iraq‘, Asia Times

Let’s start with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, or rather the administration’s reactions to his revelations in the Ron Suskind book, The Price of Loyalty, and on “60 Minutes.” Along with a classic description of the President in meetings as “a blind man in a room full of deaf people,” there were at least two major revelations here — that war with Iraq was at the top of the Bush administration agenda in its very first National Security Council meetings after taking office in January 2001 (“From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go”); and that, as Clintonista Sidney Blumenthal put it in a recent piece in the British Guardian, Vice President Cheney is indeed “the power behind the throne.” (Recounts Blumenthal: “When O’Neill argues that out-of-control deficits will cause a ‘fiscal crisis,’ Cheney ‘cut him off. ‘Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,’ he said … ‘This is our due.’ In the end, Cheney fires O’Neill, the first vice-president to dismiss a cabinet member.”).

Cheney, by the way, offered a strange little backhanded acknowledgement of this state of affairs via a “joke” he made in a hair-raising speech he gave to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles the other day:

“This is not my first meeting with the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, but it has been a while. I was last here in April of 1990, when I was Secretary of Defense, back in the days when I had a position of real power and influence in Washington, D.C. (Laughter.)”

Laughter indeed.

As for those accusations about the planning to “take out” Saddam way back in February 2001:

“Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld spoke at the second [National Security Council] meeting [in February 2001] about how removing Mr. Hussein would ‘demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about’ and help transform the Middle East, the book said. Mr. Rumsfeld talked at the meeting ‘in general terms about post-Saddam Iraq, dealing with the Kurds in the north, the oil fields, the reconstruction of the country’s economy, and the ‘freeing of the Iraqi people,’ the [Suskind] book said.

‘From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country,’ the book quotes Mr. O’Neill as saying. ‘And if we did that, it would solve everything. It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying, `Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'”

There were other “revelations” as well, but I’d like to focus here on how the Bush administration dealt with all this. The initial reaction — before the Sunday of O’Neill’s “60 Minutes” interview — was clearly to ride out the mini-storm, just as they had so many others. They assumed perhaps that it would stay inside a distinctly no-boil media teapot. Give Press Secretary Scott McClellan credit, then, for the best non-O’Neill line of the whole imbroglio: “We’re not in the business of doing book reviews.”

“Q: Scott, on the O’Neill book, did the former Treasury Secretary make false claims or accusations? And if so, what were they?

Mr McClellan: David, you’ve heard me say repeatedly that we’re not in the business of doing book reviews. I don’t get in the business of selling or promoting or critiquing books. I would say that you all are well aware of a lot of these facts on issues that have been raised over — that some of you raised over the weekend.

But this — I think it appears to be more about trying to justify personal views and opinions than it does about looking at the results that we are achieving on behalf of the American people. And the President is someone who is always forward looking, and he’s going to continue to be forward looking. He’s going to continue to focus on the results that we are achieving and building upon those results, to strengthen our economy even more and to make our world — continue to make our world a safer and better place.”

As a former book reviewer I can admire that one. Wouldn’t want to “sell or promote” Suskind’s book, would we? 60 Minutes later — or by Sunday to be exact — they had already pivoted on a dime and sent Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, among others, out to talk about the President’s decisiveness in cabinet meetings. (“He drives the meeting, asks tough questions. He likes dissent.”). No blind man talking to the deaf there, no sirree. On day three of damage control, they turned to the charge that the administration came into office spoiling for war in Iraq and escalated, hauling out the President himself as a rebuttal witness. As is his wont, he took full responsibility — and dumped it on… Knock, knock. Who’s there? Bill. Bill who? Bill Clinton and “regime change” was my middle name.

George’s explanation was simple: Forget the book review, Clinton did it.

“‘The stated policy of my administration towards Saddam Hussein was very clear,’ Bush told reporters during an appearance with Mexican President Vicente Fox in Monterrey, Mexico. ‘Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.’

During the early months of his presidency, Bush said the administration’s Iraq policy focused on ‘fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks’ in an effort to monitor Hussein’s military and weapons programs.”

Folks, here’s the truth, so help me Bill: Iraq back before 9/11 was just your basic ho-hum, no-fly zone of boredom. This is almost as amusing as McClellan’s “book review” line. According to ABC news, however:

“President Bush ordered the Pentagon to explore the possibility of a ground invasion of Iraq well before the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, an official told ABCNEWS, confirming the account former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill gives in a book written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind. The official, who asked not to be identified, was present in the same National Security Council meetings as O’Neill immediately after Bush’s inauguration in January and February of 2001.

‘The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,’ the official told ABCNEWS. ‘That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.'”

Given what’s happened to O’Neill, I wouldn’t want my name used either. (In fact, don’t use my name.)

On the same day, a mere 75 days faster than the Justice Department launched an investigation of who in this administration outed Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to Robert Novak (in retribution for a New York Times op-ed by her husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, embarrassing the administration over those 16 Niger-Yellowcake words in the State of the Union address), the Treasury Department, O’Neill’s former bailiwick, launched an investigation “into why a document stamped ‘secret’ was used to illustrate an O’Neill interview Sunday night.”

And then it was pure guns-of-August time and so Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld arrived on the scene to deny everything and accuse O’Neill of “sour grapes.” (“The idea that [the president] came into office with a predisposition to invade Iraq, I think is a total misunderstanding of the situation.”) By then, a punchy O’Neill was wondering what hit him, muttering about still voting for George, and wishing he could take back some of what he said.

Now let’s reconsider the major revelation in all this. I don’t want to denigrate the importance of the Suskind book or the “60 Minutes” interview. It’s always fascinating when someone formerly high-up in an administration that prides itself on close-mouthedness breaks ranks and blabs. But the “shock” of all this reminds me of those wonderful close-to-final lines in the film Casablanca when the French police chief pronounces himself “shocked, shocked” and then suggests rounding up “the usual suspects.”

In all this “shock,” if you think about it for a minute, there’s so much sham. Our world of mainstream news is so closed, so blinkered, that the O’Neill description of Bush — a blind man talking to a roomful of the deaf — seems to me to catch something of our media as well. Sometimes, I suspect, the “news” should be the very opposite of what we call news. In this case, for instance, the truly shocking headline would have been: “Bush administration revealed not to have any intention of making war on Iraq before 9/11.”

No one who bothers to read the various documents that came out of neocon think-tanks like PNAC (Project for the New American Century) in the 1990s could believe that, when these characters and their allies made it into office, they wouldn’t be thinking about what our vice president ever so politely calls “pursuing a forward strategy for freedom in the greater Middle East.” The problem wasn’t wanting that “forward strategy,” or even planning for war in Iraq, but initiating it. Without Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks, this would have been a far harder trick, even given a Republican dominated Congress. It would certainly have riven the country. Yes, it’s useful and fascinating to know, thanks to O’Neill’s eyewitness account, that they were thinking on taking office just as they had been thinking out of office, but had these fellows not been beating the war drums from early on, given their quite open track record on the subject, that would have been shocking.

In the meantime, despite the fact that the Supreme Court recently accepted the Cheney energy-task-force case, there has been next to no writing in the mainstream about how, from the beginning, this administration emphasized global energy flows, the redirection of those flows our way, and the “protection” of them. I recommend a piece on the subject that Mike Klare wrote in 2002 and that was recently posted at, barely updated (it didn’t need it). After an analysis of the early energy moments of this administration back in 2001 and a discussion of its global energy/military policies, Klare concludes in a way that fits all too well with O’Neill’s Iraq war revelations:

“As a result, a two-pronged strategy governs U.S. policy toward much of the world. One arm of this strategy is to secure more oil from the rest of the world, and the other is to enhance the capability to intervene. While one of these objectives arises from energy preoccupations and the other from security concerns, the upshot is a single direction for U.S. dominance in the 21st Century. It is this combination of strategies, more than anything else, that will anchor the United States’ international relations for years to come.”

One small detail of the initial occupation of Baghdad, noted in passing at the time, but seldom commented on since, stays in my mind. Amidst all the looting of unprotected Iraqi ministry buildings, there was one odd bit of planning. American troops were quickly sent to guard the Oil Ministry building. You explain it.

Klare is about as sensible as you can get on a subject that should be basic to any news analysis of the world as seen by this administration. But it’s not a view that we see much of, do we?

Meanwhile in Iraq

I can’t help thinking that there’s a charade-like aspect to the news everywhere. On Iraq too, it’s hard to find people in the mainstream writing the obvious — the sort of thing any attentive soul should really be able to see without a lot of expertise.

But let’s back up a minute and start with a vivid description I ran across recently — thanks to the always interesting suggestions at — of the CPA, our “brain center” in Iraq, imprisoned in its Baghdad Green Zone. Here’s part of an interview by Mark Stoller with a nameless but obviously well-informed journalist in Baghdad at The Blogging of the President: 2004 website:

“Most of the people in the Green Zone never leave, or only leave with massive army escort and then only to go directly to meetings in ministries. They call the area outside of the Green Zone, the Red Zone. In other words: all of Iraq is the Red Zone. So, very few people in the CPA have the slightest idea what’s going through the minds of Iraqis. They either have brief conversations with people on the street, when they’re surrounded by armed troops. Inevitably, the Iraqis tell them they are very happy with the US occupation. What else would they say? I never, ever meet Iraqis who are happy with the US occupation. Or they meet with their own Iraqi staff or staff at the ministries, who are similarly positive–sycophantic to their bosses. The ignorance is so great that I generally find when I meet with CPA officials they start interviewing me, because I know far more about Iraq than they do.

On top of it, living conditions in the Green Zone are unbearable. Since the Rashid bombing, many live in massive dorm rooms–200 or more to a room–with senior officials and soldiers crashing out on bunk beds. There aren’t enough toilets or showers. Everyone is sick of the KBR cafeterias that offer a constant array of college cafeteria food: sloppy joes, burgers, limp salads. Nobody can eat in Iraqi restaurants. Most have never eaten Iraqi food. My friends in the CPA tell me they are truly depressed, truly miserable. People are leaving. People are forgetting Iraq and focusing on hooking up with each other… Nobody knows what anyone else is doing, nobody knows what is happening in the ministries they are advising. It’s total chaos.”

At this point, I think the question is simply whether this administration can bumble through in Iraq, cluelessly, planlessly, until November 2004 before the roof falls in. In that sense, it hasn’t been a wonderful week for them. Just to toss together a few of the incendiary straws floating in an increasingly stiff breeze: There were the four American soldiers who died Saturday bringing the total American military dead since the war began to 500 (along with two Iraqi civil defensemen, and earlier in the week, a Turk and two Indians, contract workers for Halliburton’s Kellog, Brown & Root, and various Iraqis, none of whom much matter to us or “count” when it comes to casualties). What does count, though, is that 500 marker of American deaths on the road to hell.

But that turns out to be the least of it this week. There were those rumors — floated perhaps by alienated OPEC diplomats — that the oil organization might consider pegging crude oil prices to the Euro, not the dollar, which would be a more than symbolic slap in the face. Just mentioning the possibility probably puts added pressure on the dollar in the very week when, as Immanuel Wallerstein points out in his latest column, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) issued a report treating “the U.S. government to the kind of public reprimand it usually reserves for dubious Third World regimes. It says in effect that the basic economic policies of the Bush regime are dangerous for the U.S. and the world… [According to the IMF] The U.S. is headed to a debt level of 40 percent of GDP, ‘an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country….This trend is likely to continue to put pressure on the U.S. dollar, particularly because the current account deficit increasingly reflects low saving rather than high investment.'”

Then there were the Kurds pushing against the CPA for something barely short of an independent Kurdistan, the Sunnis organizing politically, and with those 30,000 protestors marching in Basra, the Shiites… well, there, undoubtedly, lies the real oppositional tale not just of the moment but of the future. Finally, there was the Turkish prime minister threatening that, should Iraq fall into internecine strife (and Kurdistan implicitly become anything close to a reality), his country would intervene. This news comes from a piece in the Turkish press spotted by the eagle-eyed editor of that got, as far as I can tell, no attention here:

“Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said yesterday that in the event of Iraq’s disintegration, Turkey will intervene. Erdogan stated that Iraqi Kurds are trying to take the oil regions under their control and “this should not be allowed. Kurds should be prevented from playing with the fire,” warned Erdogan.”

And speaking of playing with fire, there was Ayatollah Sistani insistently striking matches and moving them ever closer to the last bit of foundation under America’s teetering version of Iraq: After all, the clear and present danger of Saddam’s Iraq, the 9/11 connection, the weapons of mass destruction arsenal have all evaporated and what’s left in our explanation arsenal is overthrowing a brutal dictator in the name of “democracy.”

I can imagine a little dialogue in Washington right now that might go something like (you fill in the names): “Who said democracy? “I didn’t say democracy, did you?” “I didn’t, did you?” “Not me, did you?” and so on…

I mean who expected a bunch of Shiites in Iraq to take us seriously? “Democracy” was the last code word we had for getting what we wanted out of Iraq. We didn’t mean actual elections, honestly folks, not ones at least that might result in any version of a Shiite-style republic. What we meant by “democracy” was obscure “caucuses” — a word, by the way, for which, according to Robin Wright and Daniel Williams of the Washington Postthere is no precise equivalent in Arabic… nor any history of caucuses in the Arab world, U.S. officials say.”

There’s a bit of an irony here. We were bringing them “democracy,” but when some of them actually demanded the promised goods, we said, impossible, can’t be done in the time available, and insisted instead that the Shiites in particular settle for a process of choosing so obscure and indirect that it just might result in a government which we would feel comfortable turning “power” over to.

Unfortunately for the Bush men, Ayatollah Sistani has as of yet refused to give in on the matter of elections. As Dilip Hiro describes the situation in the Nation magazine (Sectarianism in Iraq):

“Although Bush dropped the earlier plan of having Iraq’s Constitution framed by a committee of ‘experts,’ he and [CPA head] Bremer have been unwilling to let Iraqis elect the provisional assembly to take over sovereignty from the CPA by July 1. The reasons offered — electoral rolls not being up to date and ration-card identification disenfranchising returned exiles — are spurious. Since every Iraqi carries an ID giving name, address and age, and since the 250 parliamentary constituencies are demarcated and have been used five times between 1980 and 2000, there is no need for updated electoral rolls or the use of ration-card IDs. At an estimated 250,000, the number of Iraqi returnees is a mere 1 percent of the population. Washington’s real reason for depriving Iraqi voters of the right to elect the transitional assembly lies in a poll by the Baghdad-based Center for Research and Strategic Studies, which found that 56 percent of respondents wanted an Islamic Iraq.”

This Shiite insistence, not the armed resistance of the Sunni minority, may prove the administration’s deepest problem. Juan Cole at his Informed Comment website describes the present increasingly incendiary situation this way:

al-Hayat reported that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s representative in Karbala, Shaikh Abdul Mahdi al-Karbala’i, warned that the coming days will witness demonstrations and strikes, and possibly confrontations with the occupation [Coalition] forces if they insist on ‘their colonialist plot and in designing the politics of this country in ways that serve their interests.’ Al-Karbala’i called everyone in his Friday sermon before hundreds of worshippers ‘to support the religious leadership,’ affirming that ‘the Shiite leadership in Najaf takes a great interest in the process of transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people through general elections.’

He added that it would ‘never henceforth allow the rights of the Iraqi people and the oppressed religious community [the Shiites] to be stolen from them, and would never compromise on their rights.’ He said that ‘The religious leadership is intent proceeding with this battle until the end. What is asked of you now is not to abandon [Grand Ayatollah Sistani] to himself, since leaving him in the lurch would expose us to the wrath of God and the curses of history.’ He asked the worshippers to ‘forget your disputes and to unite for the sake of the greater cause,’ pointing out that ‘apathy and negligence will lead to more long years of repression.’ He warned of enemies of the Shiites who were meeting behind closed doors to plot the political future of the Iraqi people.”

“Colonialist plot.” Uh-oh. This is serious stuff and it drove L. Paul Bremer, our viceroy in Baghdad, who’s looking ever less cocky these days, back to Washington yet again for “consultations.” It also drove American reporters and columnists into some typically dreadful reportage in a language both unexamined and remarkably blinkered.

Here from the same Washington Post piece, for instance:

“Sistani has refused to see any U.S. official, and Washington is not sure how many of the indirect communications have reached the aging and reclusive cleric, U.S. officials add. The United States is still looking for people who know Sistani well enough to act as go-betweens for the negotiations or to explain Sistani’s thinking. Senior U.S. officials note that the current uncertainty is just a part of the political process in a country with no experience in democracy.”

A country with no experience of democracy. No wonder they’re demanding it! What about from a country with no desire to deliver real democracy?

Gee, Sistani’s thinking must be complicated indeed. Democracy is when the majority rules via free elections; the Shiites are a majority in Iraq; elections would undoubtedly mean a Shiite majority. Poor aging, doddering, out-of-touch Sistani looks pretty “democratic” and clever to me. Even if he doesn’t get his elections, he’ll be well-positioned for any post-American future, untainted by the brush of American “colonialism.”

Here’s another passage from the same piece — and pretty typical of reporting from Iraq in our press: “One Governing Council member said that if Sistani pushes too far, members would revolt and the council might collapse. That would leave the United States without an Iraqi face on its authority here and with dim prospects for transferring the management of Iraq to Iraqis.”

Imagine that! There’s a good definition of democracy for you. An “Iraqi face” on our authority. No wonder we don’t really want an election. Here’s another version of the same sort of thing from Washington Post columnist David Ignatius on the bleakly amusing prospect of Bremer and the Bush administration turning to – of all places — the UN for help in convincing Sistani that “democracy” shouldn’t really mean “democracy,” not in Iraq anyway. Ignatius begins by suggesting that (Bremer’s U.N. Lifeline):

“Bremer’s problem is that America’s indispensable ally in Iraq — the Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani — isn’t budging in his demand that elections precede the handover of sovereignty. In part it’s a power grab by Sistani, who knows these elections will lock in the power of Iraq’s Shiite majority.”

Ah, a “power grab.” I wonder, just out of curiosity, how Ignatius described the Florida maneuverings of George & Co back in 2000. A power grab? Ignatius then continues:

“So things have come full circle in Iraq: After bypassing the United Nations on its rush into Iraq, the Bush administration now realizes that it needs [UN head Kofi] Annan’s help in getting out. Bremer hopes the Monday meeting will produce a process for bringing the international organization back into Iraq. The fact-finding team will buy time until the July 1 transfer — assuming Sistani goes along. Once Iraq regains its sovereignty, the United Nations can then help write election laws, compile reliable voter rolls, appoint an election commission and write a new constitution. The United States can help in these nation-building tasks. But they will be easier for Iraqis to swallow with a U.N. seal of approval — which should take the sting out of occupation.”

Look at the language there. We “bypassed” the UN in our rush “into” Iraq. We’re talking invasion here. Now, if we can just recruit the UN, we can somehow bypass Sistani, “buy time,” make our version of “nation-building” “easier to swallow,” and “take the sting out of occupation.”

Talk about tortured language. You just wonder what reality these guys live in anyway?

This week Todd Gitlin, who’s launching a new column at the openDemocracy website, in his first piece had this comment on “democracy” — you know, that thing we’re so hot to export — as it’s practiced back in the good old US of A these days (The politics of anti-politics):

“The brontosaurian length of American election campaigns is not a tribute to our collective fascination with politics. To the contrary, such is the political lethargy of the world’s oldest democracy that the campaign must elongate itself if it is to have a chance of roping in even half of the electorate by the time the day finally comes for the people to make known their collective will.

The roughly two-year-long campaign is evidence of a perverse American disdain for political life and government. What a peculiar thing! This grandiose nation-state with planetary (indeed, interplanetary) reach and colossal global consequence is governed by a government held in contempt by most of its citizens.

In popular parlance, ‘politician’ is a curse-word. ‘Politics’ – as in ‘that’s just politics’ – is synonymous with pettiness, corruption, unreliability, and warped reasoning.”

Perhaps that’s why the Bush administration was in such a rush to get Halliburton and Bechtel into Iraq. Otherwise when Iraqi “democracy” hits, who’s going to have the dough to make American-style “donations” to the politicians?

What does the real world of Iraq planning look like then? Are we turning over power on July 1 and heading for home. Withdrawing? Taking the last helicopter out of Baghdad? Well, let me give it to you in a line from a recent Christian Science Monitor piece by Dan Murphy (US to begin drawdown in Iraq), “The US hopes to reduce its presence in Iraq to about 50,000 by the end of 2005, coalition officials say.”

50,000 if all goes well — and it won’t — by the end of 2005. Just remind me of what it is we’re planning to turn over to the Iraqis someday?

Oh, and p.s.on our little wars and what can be seen of them, should anyone care to look — Paul Rogers, also of openDemocracy and always a clear-eyed analyst, reports the following on Afghanistan (A war on several fronts):

“It has been clear for some time that Taliban elements have been regrouping in preparation for a possible substantial campaign in summer 2004. Recent Taliban actions have been directed against aid workers and other non-military targets rather than US forces, with the intention of damaging the morale of the Afghan military, police and public servants. There was, however, some expectation that such violence would diminish during the winter as Taliban units prepared for their coming campaign.

The latest spurt of violence suggests that even in the middle of winter, Taliban elements are able to undertake damaging attacks on a wide range of targets. At the very least this means that the United States will have to commit many thousands of troops to Afghanistan – against its original plan to withdraw most of its forces by as far back as eighteen months ago. In just over two years since the Taliban regime was overthrown, 100 US troops have been killed in Afghanistan. Afghan civilian, military, police and Taliban deaths are numbered in the thousands.”

Their world and welcome to it

Now, let’s return to our vice president — the man who never saw a bird he didn’t want to shoot, an oil executive he didn’t want to send him on a trip somewhere, or a homeboy Supreme Court judge he didn’t want to hang with — and that speech he gave to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles. Even though it was covered in the mainstream only by Maura Reynolds in the Los Angeles Times (Cheney Warns Against Complacency on Terrorism), James Sterngold of the San Francisco Chronicle (Cheney’s grim vision: decades of war) and Hil Anderson of UPI (“During his Beverly Hills speech, however, Cheney made no effort to counter any of O’Neill’s recollections nor would he take any questions from the assembled media following his appearance on the podium. What the vice president did do was to fan the flames of urgency over the war on terrorism, largely ignoring Saddam’s potential to threaten anyone other than the Iraqis.”) as far as I can tell, it was a barn-burner. Or maybe it was a city-burner.

Go read it yourself and then tell me that these guys weren’t just dying to get at Iraq back in February 2001. In this largely overlooked speech, the VP offered us the hard-core administration version of reality — we’re talking in Texas Chainsaw Massacre terms here — and it should be attended to. I mean, don’t go to sleep tonight and be scared, really scared.

There was his warning about the next terrorist attack (“Instead of losing thousands of lives, we might lose tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives as the result of a single attack, or a coordinated set of attacks”); there was his reassurance that we’re fighting in Iraq lest Toledo be next (“We have, today, more than 125,000 Americans serving in Iraq. They are confronting terrorists every day in that country, so that we do not one day meet the same enemies on the streets of our own cities”); there was the use of the “war on terrorism” as a yardstick to measure everything from illegal immigrants (“The problem we have today is we have millions of illegal, undocumented workers in our midst. We do not know when they came. We do not know how long they stay. We do not know what they do while they’re here. We do not know when they leave. From the standpoint of homeland security and securing the nation’s borders, it is a major hole, if you will, in terms of our overall situation.”) to the value of Afghanistan (“The Afghan people are building a decent, a just, and a democratic society — and a nation fully joined in the war against terror”); there was the assurance that preventive war — one, two, three, many Iraqs — is our future (“Given these realities, there can be no waiting until the danger has fully materialized. By then it would be too late. And so we are waging this war in the only way it can be won — by taking the fight directly to the enemy”); there was “the enemy,” just one Enemy; and above all, there was the invocation of a chilling analogy.

9/11, the vice-president insisted, wasn’t really a new Pearl Harbor:

“There are certain moments in history when the gravest threats reveal themselves. And in those moments, the response of our government must be swift, and it must be right. September 11th has been aptly compared to December 7, 1941 — another day in our history that brought sudden attack, national emergency, and the beginning of a sustained conflict. Perhaps a closer analogy can be drawn, not to the days of Franklin Roosevelt and World War II, but to the decisions that faced Harry Truman at the outset of the Cold War… In a short time, our government created the architecture of national security we know today: the Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council… All those early commitments, made by one President and carried forward by eight of his successors, helped to bring victory in the Cold War…”

Note not only the invocation of the creation of a new infrastructure of war and national security under Truman, but the mention of those “eight successors.” I mean, folks, here’s Dick Cheney’s reality — and you’re not going to find much about it in our papers or on the prime-time news: In the gospel according to Cheney, we’ve entered what former CIA director and distinct kook James Woolsey has called “World War IV.” It’s just begun and, on the pattern of the Cold War, which qualifies as World War III, it’s going to last the next fifty years or so. This is a terrorizing vision from the man who, if Paul O’Neill is right, is just behind that chair in the Oval Office.

I leave you with this small comment from James Fallows, part of a piece in this month’s Atlantic on all the prewar planning on postwar Iraq that the administration managed to ignore or sideline:

“This is the place to note that in several months of interviews I never once heard someone say ‘We took this step because the President indicated …’ or ‘The President really wanted …’ Instead I heard ‘Rumsfeld wanted,’ ‘Powell thought,’ ‘The Vice President pushed,’ ‘Bremer asked,’ and so on. One need only compare this with any discussion of foreign policy in Reagan’s or Clinton’s Administration… to sense how unusual is the absence of the President as prime mover… It is possible that the President’s confidants are so discreet that they have kept all his decisions and instructions secret. But that would run counter to the fundamental nature of bureaucratic Washington, where people cite a President’s authority whenever they possibly can (‘The President feels strongly about this, so …’). To me, the more likely inference is that Bush took a strong overall position-fighting terrorism is this generation’s challenge-and then was exposed to only a narrow range of options worked out by the contending forces within his Administration.”

Additional dispatches from Tom Engelhardt can be read throughout the week at, a web-log of The Nation Institute.


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Democracy and journalism are in crisis mode—and have been for a while. So how about doing something different?

Mother Jones did. We just merged with the Center for Investigative Reporting, bringing the radio show Reveal, the documentary film team CIR Studios, and Mother Jones together as one bigger, bolder investigative journalism nonprofit.

And this is the first time we’re asking you to support the new organization we’re building. In “Less Dreading, More Doing,” we lay it all out for you: why we merged, how we’re stronger together, why we’re optimistic about the work ahead, and why we need to raise the First $500,000 in online donations by June 22.

It won’t be easy. There are many exciting new things to share with you, but spoiler: Wiggle room in our budget is not among them. We can’t afford missing these goals. We need this to be a big one. Falling flat would be utterly devastating right now.

A First $500,000 donation of $500, $50, or $5 would mean the world to us—a signal that you believe in the power of independent investigative reporting like we do. And whether you can pitch in or not, we have a free Strengthen Journalism sticker for you so you can help us spread the word and make the most of this huge moment.

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