Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Lone Star Iconoclast, the local newspaper in Crawford, Texas (Pres. Bush's hometown) has come out in support of...JOHN KERRY.

Kerry Will Restore American Dignity2004
Iconoclast Presidential Endorsement

Few Americans would have voted for George W. Bush four years ago if he had promised that, as President, he would:
• Empty the Social Security trust fund by $507 billion to help offset fiscal irresponsibility and at the same time slash Social Security benefits.
• Cut Medicare by 17 percent and reduce veterans’ benefits and military pay.
• Eliminate overtime pay for millions of Americans and raise oil prices by 50 percent.
• Give tax cuts to businesses that sent American jobs overseas, and, in fact, by policy encourage their departure.
• Give away billions of tax dollars in government contracts without competitive bids.
• Involve this country in a deadly and highly questionable war, and
• Take a budget surplus and turn it into the worst deficit in the history of the United States, creating a debt in just four years that will take generations to repay.

These were elements of a hidden agenda that surfaced only after he took office.

The publishers of The Iconoclast endorsed Bush four years ago, based on the things he promised, not on this smoke-screened agenda.

Today, we are endorsing his opponent, John Kerry, based not only on the things that Bush has delivered, but also on the vision of a return to normality that Kerry says our country needs.

Four items trouble us the most about the Bush administration: his initiatives to disable the Social Security system, the deteriorating state of the American economy, a dangerous shift away from the basic freedoms established by our founding fathers, and his continuous mistakes regarding terrorism and Iraq.

President Bush has announced plans to change the Social Security system as we know it by privatizing it, which when considering all the tangents related to such a change, would put the entire economy in a dramatic tailspin.

The Social Security Trust Fund actually lends money to the rest of the government in exchange for government bonds, which is how the system must work by law, but how do you later repay Social Security while you are running a huge deficit? It’s impossible, without raising taxes sometime in the future or becoming fiscally responsible now. Social Security money is being used to escalate our deficit and, at the same time, mask a much larger government deficit, instead of paying down the national debt, which would be a proper use, to guarantee a future gain.

Privatization is problematic in that it would subject Social Security to the ups, downs, and outright crashes of the Stock Market. It would take millions in brokerage fees and commissions out of the system, and, unless we have assurance that the Ivan Boeskys and Ken Lays of the world will be caught and punished as a deterrent, subject both the Market and the Social Security Fund to fraud and market manipulation, not to mention devastate and ruin multitudes of American families that would find their lives lost to starvation, shame, and isolation.

Kerry wants to keep Social Security, which each of us already owns. He says that the program is manageable, since it is projected to be solvent through 2042, with use of its trust funds. This would give ample time to strengthen the economy, reduce the budget deficit the Bush administration has created, and, therefore, bolster the program as needed to fit ever-changing demographics.

Our senior citizens depend upon Social Security. Bush’s answer is radical and uncalled for, and would result in chaos as Americans have never experienced. Do we really want to risk the future of Social Security on Bush by spinning the wheel of uncertainty?

In those dark hours after the World Trade Center attacks, Americans rallied together with a new sense of patriotism. We were ready to follow Bush’s lead through any travail.

He let us down.

When he finally emerged from his hide-outs on remote military bases well after the first crucial hours following the attack, he gave sound-bytes instead of solutions.

He did not trust us to be ready to sacrifice, build up our public and private security infrastructure, or cut down on our energy use to put economic pressure on the enemy in all the nations where he hides. He merely told us to shop, spend, and pretend nothing was wrong.

Rather than using the billions of dollars expended on the invasion of Iraq to shore up our boundaries and go after Osama bin Laden and the Saudi Arabian terrorists, the funds were used to initiate a war with what Bush called a more immediate menace, Saddam Hussein, in oil-rich Iraq. After all, Bush said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction trained on America. We believed him, just as we believed it when he reported that Iraq was the heart of terrorism. We trusted him.

The Iconoclast, the President’s hometown newspaper, took Bush on his word and editorialized in favor of the invasion. The newspaper’s publisher promoted Bush and the invasion of Iraq to Londoners in a BBC interview during the time that the administration was wooing the support of Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Again, he let us down.We presumed the President had solid proof of the existence of these weapons, what and where they were, even as the search continued. Otherwise, our troops would be in much greater danger and the premise for a hurried-up invasion would be moot, allowing more time to solicit assistance from our allies.

Instead we were duped into following yet another privileged agenda.

Now he argues unconvincingly that Iraq was providing safe harbor to terrorists, his new key justification for the invasion. It is like arguing that America provided safe harbor to terrorists leading to 9/11.

Once and for all, George Bush was President of the United States on that day. No one else. He had been President nine months, he had been officially warned of just such an attack a full month before it happened. As President, ultimately he and only he was responsible for our failure to avert those attacks.

We should expect that a sitting President would vacation less, if at all, and instead tend to the business of running the country, especially if he is, as he likes to boast, a “wartime president.” America is in service 365 days a year. We don’t need a part-time President who does not show up for duty as Commander-In-Chief until he is forced to, and who is in a constant state of blameless denial when things don’t get done.

What has evolved from the virtual go-it-alone conquest of Iraq is more gruesome than a stain on a White House intern’s dress. America’s reputation and influence in the world has diminished, leaving us with brute force as our most persuasive voice.

Iraq is now a quagmire: no WMDs, no substantive link between Saddam and Osama, and no workable plan for the withdrawal of our troops. We are asked to go along on faith. But remember, blind patriotism can be a dangerous thing and “spin” will not bring back to life a dead soldier; certainly not a thousand of them.

Kerry has remained true to his vote granting the President the authority to use the threat of war to intimidate Saddam Hussein into allowing weapons inspections. He believes President Bush rushed into war before the inspectors finished their jobs.

Kerry also voted against President Bush’s $87 billion for troop funding because the bill promoted poor policy in Iraq, privileged Halliburton and other corporate friends of the Bush administration to profiteer from the war, and forced debt upon future generations of Americans.

Kerry’s four-point plan for Iraq is realistic, wise, strong, and correct. With the help from our European and Middle Eastern allies, his plan is to train Iraqi security forces, involve Iraqis in their rebuilding and constitution-writing processes, forgive Iraq’s multi-billion dollar debts, and convene a regional conference with Iraq’s neighbors in order to secure a pledge of respect for Iraq’s borders and non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs.

The publishers of the Iconoclast differ with Bush on other issues, including the denial of stem cell research, shortchanging veterans’ entitlements, cutting school programs and grants, dictating what our children learn through a thought-controlling “test” from Washington rather than allowing local school boards and parents to decide how young people should be taught, ignoring the environment, and creating extraneous language in the Patriot Act that removes some of the very freedoms that our founding fathers and generations of soldiers fought so hard to preserve.

We are concerned about the vast exportation of jobs to other countries, due in large part to policies carried out by Bush appointees. Funds previously geared at retention of small companies are being given to larger concerns, such as Halliburton — companies with strong ties to oil and gas. Job training has been cut every year that Bush has resided at the White House.

Then there is his resolve to inadequately finance Homeland Security and to cut the Community Oriented Policing Program (COPS) by 94 percent, to reduce money for rural development, to slash appropriations for the Small Business Administration, and to under-fund veterans’ programs.

Likewise troubling is that President Bush fought against the creation of the 9/11 Commission and is yet to embrace its recommendations.

Vice President Cheney’s Halliburton has been awarded multi-billion-dollar contracts without undergoing any meaningful bid process — an enormous conflict of interest — plus the company has been significantly raiding the funds of Export-Import Bank of America, reducing investment that could have gone toward small business trade.

When examined based on all the facts, Kerry’s voting record is enviable and echoes that of many Bush allies who are aghast at how the Bush administration has destroyed the American economy. Compared to Bush on economic issues, Kerry would be an arch-conservative, providing for Americans first. He has what it takes to right our wronged economy.

The re-election of George W. Bush would be a mandate to continue on our present course of chaos. We cannot afford to double the debt that we already have. We need to be moving in the opposite direction.

John Kerry has 30 years of experience looking out for the American people and can navigate our country back to prosperity and re-instill in America the dignity she so craves and deserves. He has served us well as a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and has had a successful career as a district attorney, lieutenant governor, and senator.

Kerry has a positive vision for America, plus the proven intelligence, good sense, and guts to make it happen.

That’s why The Iconoclast urges Texans not to rate the candidate by his hometown or even his political party, but instead by where he intends to take the country.

The Iconoclast wholeheartedly endorses John Kerry.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

I am predicting that this upcoming presidential debate will be the most watched in history. Here are some thoughts on it from US News & World Report:

The great Iraq debate

Tue Sep 28
By Kevin Whitelaw

For a supposedly impromptu debate, this one has already been almost totally scripted. The two sides have dickered over just about everything--a rule preventing candidates from quizzing each other directly, the height of the podiums, you name it. When President Bush and Sen. John Kerry walk onto the stage at the University of Miami in Coral Gables on Thursday, they will even know what kind of pen and notepad they can use. The scripted cordiality even extends as far as the opening-bell handshake. All that's left is what the two men will actually say.

The one thing that's certain is that the subject of Iraq will be front and center. It has been several decades, really going back to Vietnam, since world affairs cast such a long shadow over an American election--and much, much longer since a formal debate on foreign policy has been such a pivotal event in the race for the White House. After months of shadow boxing, the stakes are especially high for Kerry. The debates could well be his best--and perhaps final--chance to reverse his weeks-long slide in the polls.

But the volatility in Iraq makes the issue a gamble for both candidates. The beheadings of two American contractors last week by the most wanted men in Iraq (story, Page 30) were a grisly reminder of the potential for an October surprise that could yet sway this election--in either direction. For Bush, the run-up to the debate was a chance to claim some of the perks of incumbency, starting with his address before the United Nations General Assembly. His appearance afterward in the Rose Garden alongside an Iraqi prime minister who paid homage to his administration was a welcome coda. "I thank you, Mr. President, for your determination to stand firm with us in Iraq," Ayad Allawi told a joint press conference. At the same time, the surging violence in Iraq's festering insurgency has only sharpened Kerry's attack. Accusing Bush of "lecturing" rather than leading at the United Nations, Kerry charged that Bush is living in "fantasyland" and "does not have the credibility to lead the world."

Defining the war.
Pivotal, perhaps, will be whether voters believe Bush's contention that Iraq is "central" to the war on terrorism or Kerry's case that it has been a "profound diversion" from the pursuit of Osama bin Laden. "The two sides are taking diametrically opposed views of where we're at and where we're headed," says Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University. "The issue is starting to revolve around which team has the better chance of getting a reasonable outcome." Kerry has developed a detailed critique of Bush's handling of the postwar period that runs from failing to send enough troops to prevent looting to failing to plan for the complex reconstruction in the aftermath. His bottom line: "We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure." Which, in turn, has given Bush an opening to accuse Kerry repeatedly (if inaccurately) of believing "America would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power."

Their views on what to do next in Iraq are not wildly divergent, although Kerry insists that he would be more successful enlisting the support of now reluctant allies. But rather than focus on the minutiae of policy, the candidates are likely to use Iraq as the main battlefield to confront their media-generated images--Kerry as a flip-flopper and Bush as an unwavering (although perhaps too stubbornly so) leader. "The administration wants to turn anything Kerry says about Iraq into talking about John Kerry's inconsistencies," says James Lindsay, a vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations. "What Kerry will want to say is what the president is doing is not courageous conviction, but tremendous incompetence."

The reality is obviously more complex. While Kerry famously equivocated in explaining his vote for the Iraq war and against the $87 billion aid package, he has actually been quite consistent in his vision of postwar Iraq. His calls for turning power over to Iraqis and building up Iraqi security forces predated Bush's formal endorsement of those strategies. Bush, meanwhile, has changed course on Iraq several times, adjusting to political realities, for example, by reversing his opposition to an interim government.

Kerry does run some risks trying to attack Bush's Iraq policy while the bullets are flying--and U.S. soldiers are dying. Already, the Bush team has implicitly challenged Kerry's patriotism. "You can embolden an enemy by sending mixed messages," Bush warned. As Boston University foreign policy Prof. Andrew Bacevich describes it, "Kerry has the tough task of distancing himself from the president's policies without opening himself to the charges of being a [George] McGovern," the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate who lost after being tarred as defeatist and out of the mainstream.

The essence of the Iraq debate is really who will better defend the nation from terrorists. Bush begins with the advantage of being able to claim tangible progress, such as killing or capturing nearly three quarters of al Qaeda's top leadership and ousting the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Kerry is trying to broaden the debate by arguing that Bush's Iraq war has actually been a setback in the larger battle against Islamic extremists. "At this point in time, the president's behavior in Iraq is creating a reinforcement of the image that al Qaeda is seeking to portray to the world that the West and the United States in particular are intent on crushing Islam," says Kerry's national security adviser, Rand Beers. "What Kerry would seek to do is remove George Bush as the image of America and seek to reverse that general opinion." The main ammunition for this argument would be global opinion polls, which show an alarming surge in antipathy toward the United States, especially in the Muslim world. "The reputation of the United States has never been lower," says University of Virginia history Prof. Melvyn Leffler.

Below the surface, there are actually many similarities in the candidates' worldviews. "Kerry and Bush really buy into a larger consensus about what America's role in the world should be and what the implication and meaning of 9/11 was," says Bacevich. It quickly becomes less of a debate about where America should go than how it should get there. "Bush in all his comments projects total confidence in the utility of American power, in the goodness of American power, and the virtues of the American people," says Lindsay. "With Senator Kerry, he can be seen projecting far less confidence about how beloved we are in the world, more skepticism about how others see us, and more sensitivity about the limits of American power."

In practice, this comes down to a debate about America's traditional alliances and Bush's practice of assembling "coalitions of the willing." "This president recognizes that as different problems come forward, they will require different groups of countries to deal with them," says Richard Falkenrath, a former Bush aide now at the Brookings Institution. Kerry, meanwhile, says that relations with allies need urgent repair: "We are weaker when we fight almost alone."
In many ways, there is a strange reversal of historic roles. Kerry (the Democrat) is promoting himself as the realist, while Bush (the Republican), with his proselytizing talk of spreading democracy, comes across as more the idealist along the lines of Woodrow Wilson. Richard Holbrooke, a top Kerry adviser on foreign policy, faults Bush administration officials for articulating a "sloppy neo-Wilsonianism" in which "they talk about democracy, but none of their policies advance it--not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Liberia." Yet Bush can, and does, point to accomplishments like an upcoming election in Afghanistan and plans for voting in Iraq.

True or false?
Much of this will come down to whether Kerry's new assault on Bush's credibility can be successful. The two candidates will trade competing facts, but the truth will very likely be quite elusive for viewers. Take, for example, the spat that broke out last week over the number of Iraqi police and soldiers. Months ago, the Bush administration was boasting about more than 200,000 Iraqi security forces, while more recently, Bush has talked about nearly 100,000 soldiers. Kerry puts the number of deployable soldiers at 5,000 and says that no police officers are fully trained. As is often the case with statistics, it all depends on definition. The early training for Iraqi forces was so spotty that Washington was forced to start the count at zero a few months ago. The Pentagon says it has nearly 39,000 police who have completed a multiweek training course and who are on duty in a probationary status. Few, if any, though, have completed the mandatory half-year mentoring program.

That kind of complexity is almost certain to get lost in a 90-minute debate, but America will still be listening.

Monday, September 27, 2004

An opinion piece:

Bush's America asks: Why us?

By Imad Khadduri

Monday 27 September 2004, 3:03 Makka Time, 0:03 GMT

As the US presidential elections approach, the American public is facing an important challenge and responsibility as it is confronted by the spectre of a dangerous potential outcome of a second Bush term.

President Bush's public pronouncements and stated efforts to build democracy in Iraq (after failed weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaida accusations) are underpinned by a misguided view of America's own democracy. He [Bush] believes that American democracy works because Americans are innately good people, believing in values of tolerance and respect for others and guided by religious faith.The Bush doctrine also equates security at home with the spread of freedom and democracy at the point of a gun elsewhere in the world."I believe that America is called to lead the cause of freedom in a new century," Bush told the nation in accepting his party's presidential nomination on 2 September.

"I believe that millions in the Middle East plead in silence for their liberty. I believe that given the chance, they will embrace the most honourable form of government ever devised by man. I believe all these things because freedom is not America's gift to the world, it is the Almighty God's gift to every man and woman in this world."

"He [Bush] believes that American democracy works because Americans are innately good people, believing in values of tolerance and respect for others and guided by religious faith"
This president believes that he was placed in the White House by a higher power in order to win the war on terrorism, the pivotal struggle of our time. It is this, more than anything, that divides America, stretches its military, bleeds its federal coffers and has led to the occupation of two states, and the deaths of tens of thousands of humans.

If, in the president's view, the goodness of Americans and the nobility of their mission are self-evident, then the failure of peoples around the world to see the resistance against the occupation in Iraq in the same way, means that they are "enemies of freedom". Fighters opposing American power, even if they are residents of the occupied country, do not merit the protections of international law, while 20,000 mercenaries in "sovereign" Iraq are still beyond any law.

Institutional restraints on the exercise of power by Americans in detention centres and prisons can, in this view, safely be relaxed. Moreover, constitutional protections can be denied even to American citizens, arrested in the United States, when they are suspected of being "enemy combatants."

In an article by Robert O Keohane and Annie-Marie Slaughter in the IHT on 23 June 2003 titled "Bush's mistaken view of US Democracy", the democratic challenge is stark: "Behind the debate about the conduct of the war in Iraq, and the occupation, is a larger divide - between those Americans who believe that their unique virtues should permit them to act above the law, and those who believe that people in authority, necessarily imperfect, must be constrained by institutions and by law. Those who understand and believe in the theory of the American Constitution should reject the Bush administration's political theory of personal good and evil. We must continue to insist that the United States is a "government of laws and not of men".

In a recently published book, "Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency", the senior senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, perceives so grave a threat to constitutional government that he proclaims: "Never, in my view, had America been led by such a dangerous head of state." Byrd quotes the advice of Herman Goering to rulers who seek to enhance their power: "Whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship ... all you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."

The American Constitution established a system of checks and balances, by which Congress, the president and the courts each check each other, as do the states and the federal government, to ensure that the power of the government is both limited and controlled. These are not simply theoretical differences about the core of American democracy.

The stage has been reached when they have profound implications for the American people as their bewildered and anxious question is asked: Why us?

A valid response is: Is the public in the US responsible for the actions of its government? In an article "Fewer Americans choosing to vote" by Ben Duncan on 31 August 2004 on Aljazeera.net, he notes: "Although the United States often bills itself as the world's greatest democracy, voter turnout has consistently fallen through the years and nearly half of the American electorate chose not to vote in the 2000 presidential election as more Americans have disengaged from the political process.

What is unfolding in front of the American voters, with the alarming increase in dissonance between rhetoric and reality, is the litmus test for American democracy and how the Americans think about and control the role of the United States in the world.

It is a heavy responsibility, with corresponding consequences.

[Imad Khadduri has an MSc in Physics from the University of Michigan (United States) and a PhD in Nuclear Reactor Technology from the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom). Khadduri worked with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission for 30 years (1968-1998). He left Iraq in late 1998. He now teaches and works as a network administrator in Toronto, Canada]

Friday, September 24, 2004

This is a interesting...a small bit of dissent?

U.S. Officials Differ on Iraqi Elections

By PAULINE JELINEK, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Top U.S. officials differed Friday over key details of planned Iraqi elections in January, including the unresolved issue of whether all Iraqis will be able to vote and who will protect them from their country's worsening violence.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Congress the elections must be held throughout the country, including areas gripped by violence. That contradicted Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said Thursday and again Friday that if insurgents prevent Iraqis from voting in some areas, a partial vote would be better than none at all.

Asked about Rumsfeld's comment, Armitage told a House Appropriations panel, "We're going to have an election that is free and open, and that has to be open to all citizens." Asked after the hearing if partial elections were being considered, he said: "No. Not now. Not that I know of."

Among areas of increasing bloodshed in Iraq are some where U.S.-led coalition forces don't go because they are partly or wholly controlled by insurgents.

Defense officials have put off trying to rout insurgents from those places, including the city of Fallujah, until Iraqi forces now in training are strong enough to hold any area once it is retaken, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said recently.

The interim Iraqi government, meanwhile, has been talking with tribal elders to negotiate a deal to end the insurgents' hold in some places.

Some lawmakers, meanwhile, fear more American troops may have to go to Iraq to help in elections. Gen. John Abizaid, commander of troops in the region, said this week he couldn't discount the possibility, though he said believes Iraqi and possibly international troops could handle the job.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., told Armitage that a plan relying on having sufficient Iraqis trained in time was "astoundingly optimistic." If Americans are to bear the extra burden — as they have been forced to stay in Iraq on extended deployments — then the American people should be told now, and not given the news "on the installment plan," Obey said.

But Army officials said Friday it is likely that during the elections, the U.S. military will have extra troops in the country anyway. The Army is rotating fresh troops into Iraq this fall and winter to replace those whose one-year tours are ending, and it expects to have an overlap of 10,000 to 15,000 extra U.S. soldiers in January when the 3rd Infantry Division's four brigades arrive to replace the 1st Cavalry Division, the officials said.

Obey was among lawmakers worried about a Bush administration request to shift to security some money budgeted for Iraq electricity, water and other reconstruction.

"Reducing supplies of potable water and increasing sewage will adversely affect the health and well-being of millions of Iraqis, but I see no alternative," said Rep. Jim Kolbe , R-Ariz., chairman of the foreign operations subcommittee that held the hearing.

The State Department recommended the shift after taking over in July as the lead U.S. agency in Iraq, rejecting spending priorities the Pentagon laid out when it led the 15-month military occupation.

Slowing what Kolbe called the already "lamentably slow" progress on promised reconstruction projects will hurt the effort to win Iraqi "hearts and minds" — a key to defeating the insurgents, officials and lawmakers alike fear.

Speaking of the promise to hold free and fair elections in Iraq, Armitage said: "It's got to be our best effort to get it into troubled areas as well. ... I wouldn't want to leave California out of an election in the United States, or Wisconsin, or anybody."

Before Armitage spoke, Rumsfeld reiterated in a meeting with reporters Friday that he believes the elections should go ahead even a he acknowledged some areas may be inaccessible to voting. He did modify his remarks from the previous day, however, saying: "Every Iraqi deserves the right to vote."

"We and the government of Iraq intend to see that the elections are held ... that they're held on time" and "do everything possible to see that that happens, and to see that every Iraqi has the right to vote," he said.

On Thursday, he told a Senate committee that if the election could be held in three-fourths or four-fifths of the country, but violence was too great for a vote in the rest of the country, "So be it. Nothing's perfect in life."

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Thursday that January elections "may not be 100 percent safe."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested last week that there could not be "credible elections" if violence doesn't abate.

The United States has been pressing the United Nations to send more people to Iraq to help with elections, but U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said this week that any such increase "is critically dependent on the overall security environment."

In another action, Bush took steps Friday to get Iraq removed from a list of nations that sponsor terrorists.

In a memo to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush noted that there has been a change in leadership and policies of Iraq and said: "Iraq's government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future."

(Note on the last paragraph: Isn't that a little premature? Maybe they should wait until AFTER the elections before they say what the Iraq government will or won't do...unless they are planning on getting their puppet Allawi elected. Is there some foreshadowing happening here?)

Salon's war correspondent on the Iraq inferno.

Editor's note: Salon correspondent Phillip Robertson has spent five months covering the war in Iraq. As the presidential campaign finally focuses on the war, Robertson offers this assessment of the grim situation there.

By Phillip Robertson09/23/04 -- BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Three years after the attacks on the World Trade Center, attacks in which they played no part, the people of Iraq have been liberated from one tyranny only to be remanded to another: continuous urban warfare, religious extremism and a contagion of fear. The celebrated hand of the free market in Iraq has brought not only cellphones and satellite TV, it has also brought down prices for automatic weapons, making them affordable to the average Iraqi. The last time I checked, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher cost about $250.

In his address to the United Nations on Tuesday, President Bush told a subdued General Assembly, "Today, the Iraqi and Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom. The governments that are rising will pose no threat to others. Instead of harboring terrorists, they're fighting terrorist groups. And this progress is good for the long-term security of us all." The words of the president ring hollow.

It is words to this effect that Iraq interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi will likely echo during his visit to the White House Thursday.

Reconstruction, the most important step on the path to a sovereign and stable Iraq, has all but stalled because of targeted acts of violence that reach all the way south to Basra and north to Mosul. Successful countermoves by the Sunni insurgents have prevented the United States and new Iraqi government from gaining any real political support. In fact, billions of dollars originally allocated for reconstruction are now headed for security companies, which are quickly becoming private militias. Unfortunately for optimistic planners in the Bush administration, the coalition is up against not one single group but a constellation of allied militias. It's as if the United States had gone to war against the tribal system itself. There are so many new fighter cells that they are at a loss to distinguish themselves, and so use kidnapping and videotapes as branding strategies. In this market, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid wa al Jihad, with its monstrous beheading trademark, is the undisputed brand king. Some of the groups are crazier than others. It is a free market of demons.

In the past year, al-Qaida operatives have found in Iraq a fertile recruiting ground, the best possible training camp for jihad against the West, a destination any angry young man can reach if he has the will and pocket money. Iraq's borders, which stretch across hundreds of miles of empty desert, are perfect for smugglers and men seeking martyrdom. No one really knows how many people are coming into Iraq to fight the U.S. But the fighters who do make it across are changing the character of the resistance, internationalizing it, injecting religious extremism into the politics of a once-secular Iraq. Young men coming in from other countries don't fight for Iraq, they fight for Islam.

One of the unutterable truths for the administration is that the U.S. occupation is breeding and fueling insurgent groups. Iraqi government officials rightly fear for their lives, but Iraqi forces, which are supposed to be fighting alongside U.S. troops in the cause of a free and democratic Iraq, are often undisciplined, dangerous and in some places infiltrated by insurgent groups. The Mahdi Army in Sadr City has a number of police officers in its ranks, and in a little remarked upon event that took place during one of the large demonstrations in Baghdad at the time of the siege, the Iraqi police helped Sadr officials address a crowd of Muqtada al-Sadr supporters outside the neutral Green Zone.

On Aug. 13, with U.S. troops looking on, a Mahdi Army sheik urged the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr to go to Najaf to support the men occupying the shrine. He used a public address system in the back of a police pickup to get his message across. The fighters were yelling and grabbing at journalists, proud that the police were on their side, and they wanted us to take note. Above us, in their watchtowers, Iraqi police hung pictures of Muqtada al-Sadr and waved to the crowd. The organizers of the rally were overjoyed.

Fringe groups, extreme groups, associations with the most vocal opposition to the U.S. occupation, steadily acquire more legitimacy in Iraq because they tend to express the true feelings of many Iraqis. Not everyone takes part in the fighting, but many people understand why the groups choose to fight. Jobs in the Iraqi National Guard and the Iraqi police tend to attract poor men who desperately need the money, while the insurgents attract believers, men who feel wronged and humiliated by the U.S. occupation, and who will work for nothing. They are volunteers. Which emotion is stronger?

Iraq is a place where there is no civil debate and interest groups mediate their conflicts with weapons. The U.S. has the most powerful armed presence, its own military, but as an interest group, it represents the smallest number of Iraqis, possibly only those it directly supports. Political legitimacy, we have long known, comes directly from the people; it is not something that can be dictated by a foreign power, no matter how noble its stated intentions. The Allawi government, the result of American occupation, is what many Iraqis scornfully call a U.S. puppet government. In the months following the "transfer of sovereignty," I never heard a single Iraqi offer up praise for it. Not one.

The Sunni insurgents, a creepy hodgepodge of extremist imams, tribal sheiks, former Iraqi government officials and al-Qaida types, have not only scuttled the plans to rebuild the country, they have also cornered the political debate. Relying on abundant examples of victimization and prejudice against Iraqis and Muslims, the fighters present themselves as defenders of the faith. Kidnapping, execution and death threats have become acceptable practices in the eyes of some ordinary Iraqis who may have been horrified by it only a few months before.

When a well-educated Sunni shop owner named Abu Mustapha heard about the kidnapping of French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, he wanted to express his sympathy. It sounded like this: "Phillip, it is very bad that they were kidnapped. You should be careful." I pointed out that the people who were abducting noncombatants and threatening to kill them were behaving like animals. The hostage-takers were demanding that the French government repeal a law prohibiting religious symbols from being worn in schools. Abu Mustapha agreed with the insurgents. "You know, the French should change their law," he said. "It is a bad law. Muslim girls should be able to wear the hejab in school."

Contrary to the administration's hopeful statements, we are not seeing the establishment of a stable Iraq, the mopping up of unreformed Baath Party apparatchiks and dead-enders. We are seeing the beginning of a larger conflict that is busily giving birth to monsters.

Since April, the coalition has lost ground in central and western Iraq and will be forced in the coming months to gain it back at great cost. Fallujah and Ramadi, two sizable Iraqi cities, are no longer under Iraqi government control. Sadr City, with several million people, remains a stronghold for the Mahdi Army and the site of a continuing series of battles. Najaf and Karbala, cities the military has taken back from the Mahdi Army, were never strongholds of the Shia resistance. In Najaf, citizens paid a high price for emancipation. They experienced the destruction of their city and must now set about rebuilding it, a process that will take years. It is hard to imagine that the U.S. is loved in Najaf. While the siege may have been a military victory, it was a political defeat. I left Najaf just as men were beginning to dig out bodies.

But Najaf did not serve as the headstone for the Mahdi Army; at best, the military defeat set them back a few months, driving them deeper underground. The first cavalry division and the Marines successfully routed the Muqtada fighters, pushing them to other cities, scattering them but not destroying them. In my second to last day in Najaf, at the end of the siege, journalists in the old city watched militiamen load wooden carts full of weapons and take them to new hiding places. When we asked where they were going, one fighter said to a comrade in an alley just off Rasul Street, "Don't talk to these people, some of them are spies." That was a perfectly normal response and we didn't take it personally. But it was clear that they weren't taking their anti-aircraft weapons and rockets to U.S. collection points for cash payouts. The skittish Mahdi Army fighters were busy smuggling their weapons out of town to other cities and a number of them were almost certainly headed for Baghdad. We watched them trundle the carts over the streets, trying to keep the weapons from spilling out onto the cobblestones.

Here is something everyone in Iraq knows: The U.S. is now fighting a holding action against a growing uprising, and the more it fights the worse it gets. At the other end of the spectrum, if the U.S. military were to suddenly withdraw, the largest armed factions in Iraq would immediately begin to compete for the capital in a bloody civil war. Recently, a National Intelligence Estimate, a document prepared for President Bush by senior intelligence officials, warned of exactly that outcome. It is the kind of analysis that Secretary of State Colin Powell might write off as defeatist if it had come from the press.

How much control does the U.S. military have over the country? Not as much as it would like. Large sections of the capital are in the hands of insurgents, and organized attacks on convoys, U.S. interests and Iraqi targets are on the rise. The administration can say things are getting better, that a newly democratic Iraq is facing its enemies, but last week Baghdadis woke up at 5 in the morning to the sound of a large volley of rockets slamming into the Green Zone. The explosions sounded like they were coming from more than one direction, the sign of a carefully coordinated attack.

This summer, it wasn't unusual to wake up to the sound of roadside bombs going off near Humvees on their early morning U.S. patrols. Month by month, attacks became more severe, bombs more powerful. In the sky above the Duleimi hotel, medevac helicopters would shudder through the air on their way to combat support hospitals. When something truly ugly was going on, we could hear the rush of the medevac Black Hawks in a steady progression.

What the war's champions prefer to ignore is that in large parts of Iraq, broad support exists for anyone willing to pick up a gun and fight the United States. Fighters become local stars and when they die, their friends hold their photographs as treasured objects, pass them around at parties, and later try to emulate their fallen buddies. Paradise awaits, full of virgins who have bodies made of light. Many young Iraqi men believe this. A young fighter guarding the bottom of Rasul Street in Najaf said, just before the collapse of the truce on Aug. 4, "Paradise is a place without corruption. It's not like this place, it smells sweet." Thousands of Iraqis, not all of them poor and unemployed, have checked into the resistance, not only because it's honorable but because it's fun. Spreading through family and neighborhoods, the insurgency can be anywhere, anytime.

A young Apache helicopter gunner who has fought in many of Iraq's major battles wrote me a few days ago and said: "I have a feeling that with every one member of the resistance that we kill, we give birth to ten more." At a distance of hundreds of feet in the air, a perceptive man can say this. Here is what the situation looks like from the ground.

Iraq seems modern only at first glance. The highways, factories and cities are familiar enough but they hide a deep tribal sensibility. Insults to family honor in Iraq are usually repaid in blood or money depending on the severity, and this system of revenge and honor fuels the war instead of slowing it down. The United States military, unable to relate to a tribal society, finds itself the player in a nationwide blood feud. To understand the intensity of these feelings of honor and kinship, read "Othello" or watch "The Godfather." This is how many tribal Iraqis perceive the world. It is not necessarily a lack of sophistication but a mark of being outside the West. Tribal culture in Iraq goes back thousands of years. When an Iraqi man loses a family member to an American missile, he must take another American life to even the score. He may not subscribe to the notion that some Americans are noncombatants, viewing them instead as the members of a supertribe that has come to invade his land.

The war, illegal and founded on a vast lie, has produced two tragedies of equal magnitude: an embryonic civil war in the world's oldest country, and a triumph for those in the Bush administration who, without a trace of shame, act as if the truth does not matter. Lying until the lie became true, the administration pursued a course of action that guaranteed large sections of Iraq would become havens for jihadis and radical Islamists. That is the logic promoted by people who take for themselves divine infallibility -- a righteousness that blinds and destroys. Like credulous Weimar Germans who were so delighted by rigged wrestling matches, millions of Americans have accepted Bush's assertions that the war in Iraq has made the United States and the rest of the world a safer place to live. Of course, this is false.

But it is a useful fiction because it is a happy one. All we need to know, according to the administration, is that America is a good country, full of good people and therefore cannot make bloody mistakes when it comes to its own security. The bitter consequence of succumbing to such happy talk is that the government of the most powerful nation in the world now operates unchecked and unmoored from reality; leaving us teetering on the brink of another presidential term where abuse of authority has been recast as virtue.

The logic the administration uses to promote its actions -- preemptive war, indefinite detention, torture of prisoners, the abandonment of the Geneva Convention abroad and the Bill of Rights at home -- is simple, faith-based and therefore empty of reason. The worsening war is the creation of the Bush administration, which is simultaneously holding Americans and Iraqis hostage to a bloody conflict that cannot be won, only stalemated.

Over the last three years, practicing a philosophy of deliberate deception, fear-mongering and abuse of authority, the Bush administration has done more to undermine the republic of Lincoln and Jefferson than the cells of al-Qaida. It has willfully ignored our fundamental laws and squandered the nation's wealth in bloody, open-ended pursuits. Corporations like Halliburton, with close ties to government officials, are profiting greatly from the war while thousands of American soldiers undertake the dangerous work of patrolling the streets of Iraqi cities. We have arrived at a moment of national crisis.

At home, the United States, under the Bush administration, is rapidly drifting toward a security state whose principal currency is fear. Abroad, it has used fear to justify the invasion of Iraq -- fear of weapons of mass destruction, of terrorist attacks, of Iraq itself. The administration, under false premises, invaded a country that it barely understood. We entered a country in shambles, a population divided against itself. The U.S. invasion was a catalyst of violence and religious hatred, and the continuing presence of American troops has only made matters worse. Iraq today bears no resemblance to the president's vision of a fledgling democracy. On its way to national elections in January, Iraq has already slipped into chaos.

Phillip Robertson is reporting from Iraq for Salon

Thursday, September 23, 2004

What the world is saying...

European Press Criticizes Bush Address to U.N. as a Denial of a Worsening Situation in Iraq

Published: September 23, 2004

ONDON, Sept. 22 - The editorial cartoon in The Times of London on Wednesday was derisive: the first panel showed President Bush telling the United Nations General Assembly, "Friends, our policy in Iraq is directed solely towards a successful election."

The second panel had him saying which election: "Mine."

European newspapers, including some that supported the American military campaign in Iraq, were largely critical of Mr. Bush's address on Tuesday to the United Nations, accusing him of being unrealistic about the worsening situation in Iraq.

The Financial Times contended in its lead editorial that the Bush administration "systematically refused to engage with what actually has happened in Iraq" - namely, in the newspaper's view, that American policy "mistakes" had "handed the initiative to jihadi terrorists" who "now have a new base from which to challenge the West and moderate Islam."

The newspaper said that Mr. Bush's Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, "after being evasive, long-winded and sometimes contradictory," was beginning to speak more realistically than Mr. Bush about the deterioration of security in Iraq. And, the newspaper asserted, Mr. Bush's "disengagement from the reality of a sinking Iraq is alarming."

The left-leaning Independent of Britain carried an editorial cartoon of Osama bin Laden putting up a Bush campaign poster saying "4 More Years" on a shell-pocked bit of masonry in Iraq. The cartoon seemed to be inspired by a diplomatic spat over remarks attributed to the British ambassador to Italy, Sir Ivor Roberts. After a private discussion on policy that was supposed to be off the record, Sir Ivor was quoted by an Italian newspaper as saying that Mr. Bush had become "the best recruiting sergeant" for Al Qaeda.

In its editorial, The Independent said that Mr. Bush "gave little hint" in his speech of the "catastrophic war" under way in Iraq. "Instead of a measured account of reality in Iraq," the editorial said, "he treated the ranks of national leaders gathered at the U.N. to a portentous and self-justifying speech brimming with clichés about 'freedom' and 'democracy' that glorified the American way."

Applause for Mr. Bush was scarce on the Continent, but in Poland, the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper ran a commentary by Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who noted that Mr. Bush's speech had to be considered in the context of an election campaign. And after hearing the views of Senator Kerry, the foreign minister said, Poland considers itself "closer to the position presented by Bush.''

The Polish newspaper Nasz Dziennik, however, argued in an editorial that Mr. Bush, having "attacked Iraq in defiance" of those nations that called for United Nations authorization for invasion, Mr. Bush was now trying to convince the international community that it should pay for the "chaos'' caused by "reckless policy."

In France, two major newspapers commented on Mr. Bush's remarks, one by contrasting his approach with Mr. Kerry's. The left-of-center Libération congratulated Mr. Kerry for belatedly setting forth a comprehensive position on Iraq, and for advocating an approach that would "involve U.S. allies in a broader way."

President Bush, the paper said, is "part of the problem rather than the solution" when it comes to working with allies. In his speech to the United Nations, the paper said, Mr. Bush "showed that slightly autistic self-satisfaction remains the dominant tendency of American power."
In Le Figaro, which reflects the thinking of France's conservative establishment, the correspondent Philippe Gélie wrote that Mr. Bush was "impervious to criticism'' in the conduct of American foreign policy, and characterized his speech as that of a "campaigning American president'' who "lectured the rest of the world.''

"In his vision of a global war between good and evil, each new crime strengthens his conviction of having been right against those who accuse him of having invaded Iraq under false pretenses,'' Mr. Gélie wrote.

An editorial in the German daily Tagesspiegel was blunt. Its headline: "U.S., U.N., Iraq: The truth counts for nothing.''

Italy's largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera, said Mr. Bush had "forgotten that his go-it-alone approach has alienated many sympathizers'' with American goals in the Middle East, and warned the White House that it would take more "than an isolated appeal during an election campaign'' to rebuild the consensus that once existed on Iraq.

Umm...unhinged from reality doesn't even begin to describe it...

Bush Shrugs Off Bad Polls on Iraq Outlook

WASHINGTON - President Bush on Thursday shrugged off polls that suggest most Iraqis see Americans as occupiers not liberators. "I saw a poll that said the 'right track-wrong track' in Iraq was better than here in America," he told reporters.

"It was pretty darn strong," Bush told a Rose Garden news conference with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. "I mean, the people see a better future."

The campaign of Bush's Democratic rival John Kerry was quick to respond, issuing a statement asking, "Did Bush really just say this?" Kerry campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart said Bush must be "unhinged from reality" to cite a poll suggesting that there are more Iraqis who feel their country is on the right track than there are Americans who feel the same about the United States.

Bush did not indicate what survey he was referring to, but White House aides cited a poll in Iraq conducted in late August that indicated some 51 percent of Iraqis who were surveyed felt their country was headed in "the right direction," up slightly from a May/June poll.

The number of Iraqis who felt things were heading in "the wrong direction" dropped from 39 percent to 31 percent over the same period, according to the poll by the Iraq Office of the International Republican Institute, a nonprofit group that promotes democracy.

Bush had been asked about earlier polls, including one taken by the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S.-organized panel that oversaw the Iraqi government before last June's transfer of authority, that showed a majority of Iraqis were unhappy with U.S. policy and wanted the Americans to leave.

Iraqi opinions have changed since the turnover because they "now have got Iraqi leadership. Prime Minister Allawi and his cabinet are making decisions on behalf of the Iraqi people," Bush said.

"Talk to the leader. I'm not the expert on how the Iraqi people think, because I live in America where it's nice and safe and secure. But I'd talk to this man," Bush said.

(NOTE: Did Bush really just say that? "...in America where it's nice and safe and secure." And how many months have they been telling us that we are at risk of another terrorist attack? So what is it? Are we safe and secure, or on the verge of being attacked?)

"There's a lot of polls. Sometimes they show you up and sometimes they show you down, as you might remember," Bush said with a smile.

For the United States, a new Associated Press-Ipsos poll showed 45 percent of those surveyed believed the country was on the right track, 52 percent the wrong track.

Those figures had been worse during the summer, but after the GOP convention in late August and early September, most numbers have been moving up slightly toward the positive, and toward Bush.

Lockhart, the Kerry spokesman, derided Bush's comment. "He just basically said a country that is dissolving into potential civil war, where terrorists have taken over large sections of the country and where Americans can no longer secure four major cities, that the people over there think better of their country than people here in the United States," Lockhart said. "That's what I call unhinged from reality."

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Though this article from Salon.com was written just after the Republican Convention, it still makes some relevent points as to the spin and the lies that are levelled at Kerry, and provides evidence that the accusations from the Bush camp are rarely truthful.

The truth isn't out there
From Dick Cheney on down, the Republican convention's speakers haven't let the facts get in the way of their partisan ferocity.
By Tim Grieve

Sept. 2, 2004 NEW YORK -- Arnold Schwarzenegger told adoring Republican delegates this week that the Democrats should have called their Boston convention "True Lies." But in speech after speech inside Madison Square Garden, Schwarzenegger's Republican colleagues have shown themselves to be truth-challenged. On big points and small, in policy arguments and personal anecdotes, Republican convention speakers have misrepresented, misconstrued, dissembled and dipsy-doodled. You can argue that they weren't lying, exactly, but you can't say they told the whole truth, either.

Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia delivered the Republicans' keynote address Wednesday night, and he spent a good portion of it railing against Kerry for voting against the "very weapons system that won the Cold War and that is now winning the war on terror." What Miller didn't say: Many Republicans voted against those same weapons systems.

"America needs to know the facts," Miller said, but he failed to mention a few of them. Miller told the delegates that Kerry voted against production of the F-14 and F-15 fighters and the Apache helicopter, but he didn't say that
Dick Cheney, as defense secretary, proposed eliminating both of them, too. Miller criticized Kerry for voting against the B-2 bomber, but he didn't say that President George H.W. Bush also proposed an end to the B-2 bomber program.

In his 1992 State of the Union Address, Bush said he supported such cuts "with confidence" based on the recommendations of his Secretary of Defense: Dick Cheney. With the Cold War over, Bush said, failing to cut defense spending would be "insensible to progress."

That's not how Miller described the cuts Wednesday night. He said Kerry's record on defense spending suggests that he wants to arm U.S. troops with "spitballs." Miller, who was introduced as the "conscience of the Democratic Party," didn't see fit to mention that he and Kerry both voted in 2002 for the largest military spending increase in two decades -- a defense bill that Republican Senator John Warner said would "help to ensure that our military has the tools it needs to defend our nation."

Miller and the Bush campaign plainly know the truth about what he was saying -- the
Annenberg Public Policy Center and any number of others have called the Republicans on their misleading argument about Kerry's votes on weapons systems. But adherence to the truth wasn't Miller's strong suit Wednesday night.

Miller said that Kerry has made it clear that he would never "use military force without U.N. approval," and that he would let "Paris decide when America needs defending." In fact, what Kerry said in his Boston convention speech was this: "I will never give any nation or international institution a veto over our national security."

Miller's anti-Kerry rant wasn't the only convention speech in which Republicans misrepresented Kerry's statements or his Senate record. In his somniferous speech Wednesday night, Cheney mocked Kerry for saying that the United States should fight a "more sensitive war on terror, as though al-Qaida will be impressed by our softer side." But Kerry has not suggested a show of sensitivity toward al-Qaida; he said that America should fight a "more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history."

With delegates shouting "flip-flop, flip-flop," Cheney blasted Kerry for supporting the "No Child Left Behind" legislation and then opposing it. In fact, Kerry supports No Child Left Behind but argues that the Bush administration has failed to provide promised funding for it. He mocked Kerry for voting for and then against the $87 billion supplemental funding bill for Iraq, but he didn't explain that Kerry voted on two different proposals -- one that would have paid for the $87 billion by rolling back tax cuts for the rich, and one which simply added the $87 billion to the federal deficit.

Sill, Cheney stayed away from most of the whoppers he tells on the campaign trail. He didn't repeat the phony charge he made last month in Minnesota -- that Kerry has the most liberal lifetime voting record of any current Senator. But Cheney didn't have to work hard to misrepresent Kerry's positions and his record; other convention speakers carried that water for him.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey told delegates Wednesday evening that John Kerry "can't win by telling us the truth," but then she immediately fudged the facts herself. In a claim that has been
refuted so often that even Cheney doesn't make it anymore, Healey told the delegates: "The truth is that John Kerry -- not Ted Kennedy -- is the most liberal Senator in the United States."

But that's not the truth, really. Earlier this year, the National Journal identified Kerry as the senator with the most liberal voting record in 2003 -- a year in which Kerry missed so many votes while campaigning that the National Journal didn't even apply two of its three measures of "liberalness" to him.

When the magazine looked at the more meaningful lifetime voting records of current sitting senators, Kerry wasn't the most liberal one -- and it wasn't even close. Ten other senators have lifetime liberal scores higher than Kerry's -- and, yes, Ted Kennedy is among them.

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continued the home-state slam Wednesday, claiming that Kerry had voted for "tax hikes 98 times." The Bush campaign made the same claim in a television ad released last week, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center has already shot it down.
The problem with the "98 times" claim is the Republicans' fuzzy math. While their campaign calculus is getting better -- in March,
the President claimed that Kerry "voted over 350 times for higher taxes on the American people" -- the Republicans' calculation repeatedly miscounts and mischaracterizes Kerry's votes.

Annenberg explains that 43 of the 98 "tax increase" votes were actually votes on budget resolutions that did not, in and of themselves, raise taxes. Moreover, in several instances, the total of 98 includes multiple votes on the same piece of legislation: By the GOP's math, Kerry's support for President Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction package as it wound its way through Congress should count as 16 separate votes to raise taxes. Kerry gets dinged six times for a single 1996 budget resolution, seven times for a 1997 budget resolution, and six more times for supporting a proposal to raise the cigarette tax. That proposal was sponsored by Sen. John McCain -- a Republican.

Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele also took Kerry to task for sharing views with Republicans. Steele criticized Kerry for proposing a $6 billion cut in intelligence funding "just a year after the first attack on the World Trade Center." What Steele didn't say: Three months before Kerry made his proposal, Rep. Porter Goss -- Bush's pick to be the new CIA chief -- proposed
a much larger cut in intelligence funding. Neither Goss' proposal nor Kerry's passed. But as Annenberg has noted, a Republican proposal to cut $1 billion from the intelligence budget passed on a voice vote the same year.

While Republicans have aimed most of their truth-stretching at Kerry, they have also engaged in the occasional embellishment to bolster Bush's image as a resolute leader. On the convention's opening night, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani called Bush "a leader who is willing to stick with difficult decisions even as public opinion shifts." On the second night, Schwarzenegger said that Bush is a "leader who doesn't flinch, doesn't waver, does not back down." While it's true that Bush has stuck stubbornly to some of his failed policies -- until this week, he couldn't bring himself to admit any mistakes in Iraq -- just as often he has crumbled when public opinion has turned against his views.

Bush initially opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, then changed his mind when it was clear the votes were against him. He opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission, then supported it. He opposed a congressional investigation into the intelligence failures that led to the war in Iraq, then supported it.

The president who was praised so often this week for his "unflinching" war on terror once said he wanted Osama bin Laden
"dead or alive", then said that he didn't really care about finding him. The president who never wavers used to say that America will win the war on terror; over the weekend, he said "I don't think we can ever win it"; over the last week, he's been explaining that he didn't really mean what he said when he said it.

The flip-flops don't fit the image Karl Rove has crafted for Bush, so the convention speakers have simply ignored them. In their place, they've told stories suggesting that Bush has shown "courage" by appearing in photo ops -- grabbing that megaphone at Ground Zero, eating turkey with the troops in Baghdad -- and by standing up to public opinion. Schwarzenegger said: "The President didn't go into Iraq because the polls told him it was popular. As a matter of fact, the polls said just the opposite."

But as a matter of fact, that's not a fact. In a CBS/New York Times poll released on March 6, 2003 -- 11 days before Bush gave his final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein -- 69 percent of the respondents said they approved of U.S. military action to remove Hussein from power. While the White House surely helped shape public opinion -- by misrepresenting intelligence, by incessantly linking Saddam Hussein and 9/11, by predicting that American soldiers would be "greeted as liberators" -- the president didn't buck public opinion when he went to war.

On Tuesday night, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist tried to make Bush look like a strong leader on domestic issues, saying that he would stand up to the trial lawyers who are driving up the costs of healthcare. Repeating a line used by Bush himself, Frist declared: "Let's be clear. You can no longer be both pro-patient and pro-trial lawyer." He said that Kerry has "made his choice" by choosing Edwards as his running mate. But Frist has made his choice, too: in the Republican Senate primary in Florida, Frist
endorsed Mel Martinez, a millionaire trial lawyer.

No matter. Frist continued to press his charge, telling the story of a Ft. Lauderdale doctor who he said was forced to give up his medical liability insurance when the costs grew too high. Frist expressed concern that the hospital where the doctor works, Ft. Lauderdale's Broward General, might be forced to close its emergency room because of all those expensive lawsuits by rich trial lawyers. "That hospital has the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region," Frist said. "What if it closes?" But Vicki Martin, a spokesperson for Broward General, told Salon Wednesday that she is unaware of any discussion about closing the hospital's trauma center. And Frist's claim that Broward General has "the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the region?" That's false, too. There are at least two others, and one of them, Hollywood's Memorial Regional Hospital, is less than 10 miles away.

The Republicans paid tribute to Ronald Reagan Wednesday night, and they've talked a lot this week about the lessons he taught them. They've surely taken one to heart. It was the late president, after all, who once said: "Facts are stupid things."

Friday, September 17, 2004

Things are getting better? I don't know how this latest news can be sugarcoated.

Baghdad Violence Leaves at Least 52 Dead

By KIM HOUSEGO, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A suicide car bomber slammed into a line of police cars sealing off a Baghdad neighborhood Friday as American troops rounded up dozens of suspected militants, capping a day of violence across Iraq that left at least 52 dead.

Among the 63 suspects arrested were Syrians, Sudanese and Egyptians, officials said. Coalition forces say foreign fighters are playing a major role in the insurgency.

The car bombing, which killed three people and wounded 23, was the second this week targeting the capital's beleaguered police forces. The mounting violence has increased pressure on Iraqis working to restore stability in their country but seen as collaborators because of their cooperation with U.S. forces.

U.S. forces intercepted another car earlier carrying explosives as it attempted to break through a Baghdad checkpoint, the military said. When the vehicle refused to stop, troops opened fire, setting off the explosives. The two people inside the vehicle were killed and an Iraqi soldier was wounded.

The attacks came after U.S. jets pounded suspected hideouts of an al-Qaida-linked group in and around the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah in Anbar province west of Baghadad, killing at least 44 people.

Also Friday, the military said insurgents killed a U.S. Marine on patrol in Anbar province. It gave no details. As of Thursday, 1,027 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq campaign, according to the Defense Department.

A half-dozen cars were blocking a bridge in central Baghdad when a car rammed into them and exploded in the middle of the parked cars, police officials said.

"I was thrown outside my car," said a policeman, Ali Jabar, who was being treated at a hospital for wounds to his face and one hand. He blamed insurgents waging a 17-month campaign to oust U.S.-led coalition forces.

"By attacking Iraqi police, they think that they will be sent to heaven, but by God's will, they are now melting in hell," Jabar said.

A wave of bombings, mortar attacks and shootings targeting police and potential recruits has killed hundreds of people nationwide since the fall of Baghdad in March 2003, as militants try to thwart efforts to build a strong Iraqi police force capable of taking over security from American troops. More than 250 people have been killed across Iraq in the past week alone.

The car exploded in the heart of one of Baghdad's busiest commercial areas, a short distance away from the storied al-Moutanabi street, whose outdoor book market attracts large numbers on Fridays. When police fired shots to disperse the crowds, thousands of shoppers streamed from the area.

"I saw human flesh and blood in the street, then I fled," said Mouayad Shehab.

The blast left a 6-foot-wide crater and littered the area with debris, including at least five artillery shells that police said came from the suicide car. Parts of the car, believed to be an old Chevrolet Malibu, were found more than a 100 yards away, witnesses said.

The police vehicles had been deployed to help American troops seal off the area around Haifa Street, where U.S. and Iraqi forces were raiding suspected insurgent hideouts, sparking a gunbattle.

Along with the 63 arrests, security forces seized rockets, grenades and machine guns, Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said. At least 10 people were wounded in the raids, according to the Health Ministry.

West of Baghdad, hundreds of men dug mass graves to bury the dead from a wave of American airstrikes that started late Thursday and stretched into Friday in and around Fallujah. Health Ministry official Saad al-Amili said at least 44 people were killed and 27 wounded in the Fallujah strikes.

The U.S. military said intelligence reports estimated up to 60 militants may have been killed. American troops have not entered Fallujah since ending a three-week siege of the city in April, and the claim could not be verified.

Mahmoud Sheil, 50, a tribal sheik in the area, likened the killings from U.S. airstrikes in Fallujah to the slaughter of civilians under Saddam Hussein's ousted dictatorship.

"They (the Americans) say that Saddam is the man of mass graves, but they are the ones responsible for these mass graves," he said.

Blood seeped through the blankets and sheets wrapping the corpses, which were lowered into the graves in groups of four.

The U.S. military said a first series of strikes targeted a compound in a village south of Fallujah where up to 90 militants loyal to Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were believed to be hold up.

U.S. warplanes later hit a two-story house inside Fallujah that was also allegedly being used by fighters belonging to Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group.

Militants who survived the strikes in the compound sought refuge in nearby villages, but U.S. forces said they broke off an offensive to hunt them down to avoid civilian casualties.

Blood covered the floors of Fallujah General Hospital as doctors struggled to cope with a flood of casualties, many brought to the hospital in private cars. Relatives pounded their chests in grief and denounced the United States.

Religious leaders switched on loudspeakers at the Fallujah mosque, calling on residents to donate blood and chanting: "God is great."

As night fell, a U.S. jet carried out another strike on the city, firing a missile at a house in the central Dhubat neighborhood that the military said was an al-Zarqawi hideout. At least three bodies were visible at the scene.

Insurgents have only strengthened their grip on Fallujah since the April siege ended, regularly mounting attacks against Marine positions and military convoys on the city's outskirts.

In other developments Friday:

_ British troops took control of the offices of Muqtada al-Sadr in the southern city of Basra on Friday after clashing with militants loyal to the rebel cleric, witnesses said. An Associated Press reporter saw British forces storm the offices. A British military spokesman said one British soldier was wounded in the clashes, but he was unable to confirm the building had been seized.

_ In the north, the governor of Salahuddin province said his convoy came under attack Friday near Tikrit, Saddam's home town. "I escaped today from an assassination attempt," said Gov. Hamad Hamoud Shagtti.

_ A U.S. delegation headed by Alan Larson, undersecretary of state for economic affairs, arrived in Baghdad for two days of talks with Iraqi officials on economic issues, including debt rescheduling.

_ Two Americans abducted this week by Iraqi gunmen were identified as Jack Hensley and Eugene Armstrong and a Briton seized with them was identified as Kenneth Bigley. They are among more than 100 foreigners kidnapped in Iraq.
Associated Press writers Hamza Hendawi and Sameer N. Yacoub contributed to this report from Baghdad.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Iraq war illegal, says Annan

United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan says the United States decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 was "illegal".

Australia was a key supporter of the war on Iraq and sent troops to joined the United States-led invasion last year.

Mr Annan's comments are likely to reignite debate over whether US President George W Bush, Prime Minister John Howard and British Prime Minister Tony Blair acted within the bounds of international law by failing to get a final UN Security Council resolution on Iraq.

Speaking in an interview with BBC World Service radio, Mr Annan says the UN Security Council should have issued a second resolution, if a US-led invasion of Iraq was to be allowed.

"I'm one of those who believe that there should have been a second resolution," he said.
"Yes, if you wish. I've indicated that it was not in conformity with the UN Charter from our point of view, and from the Charter point of view it was illegal."

The UN Charter is one of the cornerstones of international law.

Mr Annan says that given the current level of violence and unrest, it is unlikely that Iraq would be able to hold credible elections as planned in January 2005.

"I think there have been lessons for the US and lessons for the UN and other member states," he said.

"I think that, in the end, everybody's concluded that it is best to work together with our allies and through the UN to deal with some of these issues.

"I hope we do not see another Iraq-type operation for a long time...without UN approval and much broader support from the international community."

The council had adopted a number of resolutions over the years to compel Saddam Hussein to abandon the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

The final resolution was adopted in November 2002, when UN inspectors re-entered Iraq, warning the Iraqi regime of "serious consequences" if it was found to be in material breach of the earlier resolutions.

Mr Annan says the decision on whether to act on Iraq should have been made by the UN.
"It was up to the Security Council to approve or determine what those consequences should be," he said.

Mr Annan told a news conference in The Hague, Netherlands, shortly before the invasion that if the United States took military action without Security Council approval "it would not be in conformity with the Charter".

The United States and Britain withdrew a draft resolution in the council in mid-March after it was clear there were not enough votes.

France had threatened to veto the draft if UN inspectors were not given more time to account for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

Source: ABC News Online

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