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Bernard Weiner's Blog -- 2005

January 13, 2005


The Democrats, picking and choosing their fights carefully, decided: 1) during the Electoral College vote to simply raise the issue of vote fraud in Ohio and elsewhere, but not challenge Bush's victory there; and, 2) to bloody and otherwise rough up Alberto Gonzales -- just enough to promise a knockout later if he were to be named to the Supreme Court -- but otherwise to let him escape into the Attorney General's office.

I sorta agree with the first tactic, but, as a result of Gonzales' shameful bob-and-weave performance during his hearing, disagree with the second. Gonzales, now more than ever, is vulnerable, and his appointment should be resisted forcefully. Whether the Democrats will have the guts and smarts to try to deny him the A.G.'s job is unknown.

Prior to the hearing, it was assumed that Gonzales, being the anti-Ashcroft in personality, would finesse his way though the tough questions. But he didn't. He hemmed and hawed, dodged and stammered, tried to delay and postpone answering (he "didn't remember," or "didn't recall," or "it was very complicated, I'll have to get back to you on that," and so on).

What the Dems gave Gonzales every opportunity to do was to concede that his original torture memos were wrong, either legally or morally. But Gonzales refused to go there.


It's plain why he wouldn't want to make such an admission. First, he might leave himself open to civil or criminal prosecutions or impeachment in the future. But mainly, it seems, because he and his Bush/Rove masters, want to leave open the legal precedents established by Gonzales' memos that permit torture and other extreme actions in the so-called "war on terror."

The key precedent, of course, which the senators barely alluded to, was Gonzales' legal interpretation of presidential powers. According to Gonzales' memos, a president can do pretty much whatever he wants -- order torture, abrogate laws, set up re-education camps for dissidents, hold suspects forever without a hearing -- as long as he asserts he's doing it as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime." That way lies dictatorship. To hell with the Bill of Rights, international law, the Geneva Conventions, the separation-of-powers -- Bush wants it, Bush can do it, according to Gonzales.

Gonzales seems happy to serve as a functionary who is "only following orders," never raising any moral/ethical questions about the matters upon which he is asked to comment. When the Nazis tried that after World War II, the Allies placed them in the dock at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

In short, putting a man in charge of the nation's law-enforcement system who countenances and encourages torture and dictatorial government should stoke Democrats' resolve. If they let him slide into the A.G.'s chair, the country will be in an even stinkier manure pile than the one John Ashcroft is leaving for us.

It's time to fire up the progressive/moderate forces and mobilize them to pressure their Senators to vote a resolute NO against the nomination of Alberto Gonzales. If they won't lead on their own out of political cowardice, we the public will have to provide them political cover to do so. Write your Senator today; organize to put group pressure on the Senate; write letters to your local newspapers. Let's do it.


As I indicated above, I wish the Democrats had attacked the Ohio issue frontally at the Electoral College vote. They had more than enough ammunition to challenge Bush's certified "victory" in that state.

What happened in Ohio was a shameful demonstration of Karl Rove's dirty, anything-goes-to-win tactics, as carried out by Ohio's Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell -- who, surprise!, just happened to chair the Bush-Cheney campaign in that state. Instead of certifying the vote, Blackwell should have been indicted for interfering with fair and honest voting in a federal election.

But the Dems in Congress were correct in their analysis that they didn't have the juice and the votes in the House and Senate to prevail in challenging the validity of Bush's victory. And so they were able to do little more than interrupt the Electoral College voting for a few hours in order to document for the first time in the national mass-media -- even if it was on the little-watched C-SPAN -- the massive vote suppression, voter intimidation, and lack of recount paper trail in Ohio and other states. Thanks go to Senator Barbara Boxer, whose objection to the Ohio certification was needed in order to get the debate started.

At least now, thanks to Boxer and Representative Stephanie Tubb Jones and, especially, Representative John Conyers' final report on what happened in Ohio, there is at least a documented record, and the American public can no longer claim total ignorance of what happened in that state.


When Bush&Co. finally fall -- perhaps sometime in late 2005 or early 2006 -- the true investigations about the illegalities of the 2000 and 2004 voting process will begin, and, we can hope, indictments will flow.

In the meantime, electoral reform is the #1 issue that needs to be dealt with in this country, long before the midterm election in 2006 and the next presidential balloting in 2008. If we can't get our electoral house in order, there is little hope for meaningful progress in any other area of our civic life.

The first order of business should be to bring back the hand-counted paper ballot, monitored by citizen-observers from both parties. That foolproof method of voting and vote-counting works in much of the civilized world. What we have here in this country, which the Electoral College debate the other day made clear once again, is broken and is an open invitation to manipulation and fraud.

Postscript: Is it possible that the post-election 49% per cent favorable rating for Bush, which is the same percentage he enjoyed just prior to the presidential election, indicates that that percentage is the true vote he received in November? If so, wouldn't that suggest that the early Kerry-victory exit polls probably were accurate? Just asking.


In an earlier essay, "Bush Heads for the Bunker", I observed how Bush's early Cabinet nominations offered convincing evidence that Bush&Co. are making no tack toward the center, but instead are continuing their march to the extremist right.

Purges of reality-based Cabinet and lower-level officials continue apace, and, in their stead, we get the likes of such Bush&Co. toadies as Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice, Porter Goss, Steve Hadley, Harriet Miers, Margaret Spelling and so on, with Tom DeLay still in control of the House. (Meanwhile, over at CIA headquarters, Goss continues the Administration's purge of reality-oriented agents and analysts.)

Now we get two final Bush&Co. appointments that do nothing to alter that earlier conclusion that Bush is bringing his tiny coterie of trusted toadies into the bunker with him, and those who don't go along with that fantasy-is-reality crowd will have to stand out in the cold as shunned apostates.

The first such appointment is that of Robert Zoelleck as Deputy Secretary of State. The incompetent Rice, who disgraced her previous post as National Security Advisor, will continue to take her marching orders from Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rove. The first two were key founders of The Project for The New American Century -- the far-right extremist group  that dominates the Administration's foreign/military policy -- and Zoelleck, who probably will administer the State Department for Rice, has been associated with PNAC as well. Not a good sign.


The newest nomination is that of hard-liner Michael Chertoff to head the Department of Homeland Security. He takes the place of Bush's first choice Bernard Kerik, who was so dirty in so many ways that it's hard to believe that White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, in charge of the vetting process, saw fit to okay the nomination.

Chertoff is far smarter than Kertik (he's mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee), which makes him far more dangerous. Chertoff, too, has "issues," mainly to do with his attitude toward civil liberties -- he was a prime creator of the overeaching Patriot Act, for example -- and it will be interesting to see how the Democrats handle his hearing. For more on Chertoff, see here, and here.

In short, the Bush bunker crew is now in place, and if the Democrats are going to have any claim to the title of Opposition Party, they'd better move on the most egregious of those nominations. The most obvious ones are Gonzales, Rice and Chertoff. At least one of those (Gonzales?) has to go down if the Democrats are going to have any credibility in Bush's second term. Let's get cracking.


February 17, 2005


Let's take a quick crack at some of the bigger stories out there in Politicsland this week: the power of partisan bloggers, what's happening in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, and the newfound spine discovered in the Democratic Party.

Bloggers are feeling their oats these days. The rightwing ones "got" Eason Jordan, the leftwing ones "got" Jeff Gannon.

Jordan, head of CNN's news operation, felt forced to resign after bloggers picked up on his exaggerated remarks at a supposedly closed, off-the-record conference in Davos, Switzerland. Jordan accused Coalition troops and Iraqi police forces of deliberately targeting journalists, several of whom have been killed or wounded. He tried to walk back his comments and be more temperate, but the damage was done, and the rightwing went after him with a vengeance.

"Jeff Gannon" (real name James Guckert) was the so-called "reporter" at the White House who has been asking GOP-spin questions of Press Secretary Scott McLellan for nearly two years now, and who was called on by Bush at a recent news conference for yet another GOP-type question.

His style of questioning clearly was partisan, but that wasn't the real issue; there are lots of opinionated writers in that press room. He brought attention to himself by virtue of his arrogant attitude and his suspect journalistic credentials.

Leftwing bloggers began nosing around and discovered that Gannon was not his real name, he had no journalistic experience, he was given White House press credentials virtually the day he applied, the website he works for (Talon News) is little more than a front for GOP propaganda owned by a Texas Republican operative, etc.

But then the continued digging struck personal and ideological paydirt. Bloggers learned that even as late as when he joined the White House press corps, Guckert had been advertising himself as a stud escort (complete with nude photos) for military men interested in some hot action. And that this GOP-shill non-journalist had been given access to classified information about Valerie Plame, the undercover CIA agent outed by "two senior White House officials."

In both of these cases, Jordan and Gannon/Guckert chose not to respond openly and honestly to queries about what they had done, and thus the blogging frenzy grew even more intense. Always a bad mistake.

Jordan and/or his superiors at CNN, seeing the Dan Rather-like handwriting on the wall, decided to cut their losses quickly. Jordan resigned immediately, the effect of which was to take the story off the blogosphere and front pages. At which point, several of the original bloggers who broke the story became somewhat contrite at the fact that their writing had led to a full-scale resignation when all they meant to do was to bloody up his reputation and, by inference, that of CNN (which they tend to regard as a "liberal" news network).

Gannon/Guckert, perhaps sensing that the cat was out of the bag and his indiscretions and Plame-connections were about to hit the fan, quickly resigned from Talon News, scrubbed all his stories from his websites, and exited the White House.


It's nice to know that an alternative press has that kind of clout -- given that the corporate mainstream press barely does much investigative reporting these days -- but it's possible that such gotcha journalism is getting out of hand.

During part of my two-decade tenure as a newspaper/magazine reporter, I had occasion to be involved in a few investigative-journalism stories, and I know how intoxicating and exciting it is to be on the hunt for the dynamite revelations that will unmask the mighty, trying to scoop your fellow writers as quickly as you can.

Journalists and bloggers easily `can lose sight of the magnitude of the personal and institutional damage they can cause when they're in the midst of that hunt. It would behoove us all to keep that in mind.

Now, having said that, do I feel that Gannon/Guckert has been maltreated by delving into his personal life, including linking to the salacious photos he himself posted in his stud-escort websites? A bit perhaps. But he was behaving in a manner reminiscent of former Democratic Senator Gary Hart, thinking he was untouchable and daring the media to try to get him.

Gannon/Guckert, apparently a gay man, is a symbol of GOP hypocrisy -- pretending to a moral rectitude they do not sustain in their personal lives. (See Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Bill Bennett, Tom DeLay, et al.) In this case, the GOP miscreant effectively was gay-bashing while in the closet himself.

Plus, and much more serious, is Gannon/Guckert's involvement in what appears to be a national-security breech. Who provided classified material to this non-journalist agitprop specialist? Who smoothed his way into the White House press corps? Who vetted this potential security risk, given the possibility of his being blackmailed about his hidden sexual preferences and behaviors?

Eason Jordan's "crime" was politically incorrect opinion, expressed unjudiciously. (Actually, he may have been onto an incendiary issue worth exploring.) The questions surrounding Gannon/Guckert raise serious questions about potentially illegal White House conniving to influence public opinion -- in tandem with their admitted payment of payola to a number of influential journalists, to spout the GOP line. A much more thorough investigation is called for on these matters, bipartisan if possible.


Three items:

1. Following the certification of the Iraq election results, it's plain that the Bush Administration, by pushing for and rushing to democratic voting there, may have guaranteed the exact opposite result of what they were hoping and planning for.

We shall have to see how the political jockeying goes in the next few months, but it's entirely possible that the huge Shia victory will lead to tight Islamist rule, closely aligned with Iran. And that whatever government assumes control, even if Chalabi were to run it, it will feel compelled to move toward asking the U.S. occupation troops to leave ASAP. $300 billion spent on this war (entered into based on lies and deception), tens of thousands of dead and wounded -- for what?

2. Iran and Syria clearly are being targeted by the Bush Administration, and once again, the U.S. citizenry is being asked to accept on faith, not evidence, that there are good reasons for moving toward regime-change in those two countries. One can hope that Congress will not fall again for this Administration's "trust-us" style of foreign/military policy, but demand incontrovertible proof. And that they'll resist any attempt to drag the U.S. into further quagmire wars in that area of the world. Won't we ever learn?

3. Sharon and Abbas have established a hopeful working relationship, and the immediate Israeli/Palestinian tensions have been reduced. But this temporary truce may be but a chimera, since the larger and most important issues are not being dealt with at this stage.

My guess is that this cease-fire period will last for some months, but when push comes to shove -- that is, when Israel continues the Occupation in the West Bank, refusing to close down its huge settlements there -- the slaughter and repression will return, big time.

And when that happens, after the high expectations raised, the anger in Palestine and the rest of the Arab Middle East will build into a force that could well bring the United States to its knees in that critical region. The Bush Administration seems to know only two ways of dealing with such situations: the use of force (incompetently managed at that), and the shining on of the inhabitants in order to buy time. Neither works anymore.

If the U.S. wants to give itself some political elbow room as it attempts to alter the geopolitical realities in the oil-rich Arab states, it must engineer a true and just peace in Israel/Palestine. The only way that can happen is for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands, pull back from its settlements there, and thus permit a geographically and economically viable state of Palestine to fluorish on its borders (assuming the Palestinians will recognize Israel's right to exist, within secure boundaries).

But if you think the Bush Administration will go that route, you're in denial. The current cease-fire they've helped arrange appears to be designed only to tamp down the fires of the intifada, to buy time so that Bush&Co. can carry out their hegemonic plans without too much interference.


The Democrats are demonstrating, much belatedly, that their party is growing a spine in standing up to the worst policies and behaviors of the Republicans.

Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean -- joined at times by Bill Clinton, Al Gore and others -- are demonstrating courage and street-smart cleverness in their statements and actions. They certainly are cognizant of the Dems' minority status in Congress, but they aren't giving in easily; rather, they are coming out fighting, as they should.

On some key issues -- for example, opposing Bush's reckless Social Security moves, or in trying to keep the Administration's extremist court nominees from receiving Senate approval -- the Dems are banding together tightly. On other issues, such as approving Condeleezza Rice as Secretary of State and Alberto Gonzalez as Attorney General, there are embarrassing slidebacks (what on earth is going on with Diane Feinstein and Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama?).

The next four years are going to be a nasty dogfight with the GOP, but at least Reid, Pelosi and Dean seem willing to mix it up, as a true Opposition Party should, which is a welcome change from the let-us-roll-over-for-you Dem approach of the past few years.


February 24, 2005


Why did Bush feel obliged to travel to "old" Europe", and how did he do there?

The lapdog corporate press refers to his trip as "a charm offensive," and has repeated the Administration's spin that Bush has been successful, because French and German leaders have backed away from their overt anti-Bush statements and policies, and NATO has come on board the U.S. bandwagon with regard to the Iraq War.

More realistic observations would indicate that Bush's alleged "charm" didn't really accomplish all that much; indeed, his manner of dealing with the European powers was somewhat off-putting to many.

Bush deigned to listen to most of the leaders -- as long as they stayed within a rough five-minute limit.  Many found that condescending attitude to be insulting to them personally, and to their nations in general.

But such behavior is typical of Bush. He doesn't like dealing with people that aren't hand-picked for loyalty; he can't control the situation, and gets nervous.

And, since tens of thousands were demonstrating loudly against him and his policies outside the various summit venues in Belgium and Germany, it must have seemed clear to Rove and Bush that holding a free and open "town-hall" forum where the questions could potentially be embarrassing could not be tolerated. So Bush backed out of such a forum in Germany, even though his hosts had fought long and hard for getting the American President in front of such a group, and Bush originally had agreed to do so.

As I see it, Bush was in Europe for three main reasons:

1. Bush policies had isolated the U.S. in world affairs, because so many leaders and populations had opposed so many of Bush policies, on everything from Iraq to global warming. This was his opportunity, through the photo ops and diplomatic dinners, to show that the U.S. was now being treated warmly by the European community. In short, the spin was important, not necessarily the substance.

2. Bush needed some sort of political fig leaf to cover over European anger at his Iraq invasion. He never would be able to bring them on board with regard to the phony reasons for invading that country, but he wanted to come away with something, anything, to show that the U.S. had broad support on some aspect involving Iraq. So he browbeat the assembled NATO leaders into agreeing to provide more help in training Iraqi police and security forces to aid in the transition to democracy.

He received promises of this aid, mainly reluctantly and with begruding financial donations -- some countries said they would assign one or two police trainers to the project -- and then could go out and boast that 26 NATO countries were helping in Iraq. In effect, as Jon Stewart quipped on "The Daily Show," Bush was using a variation of the Pottery Barn rule: "We broke it, and now you get to pay for it."

3. The main reason Bush went to Europe was to make sure to get a kind of advance authorization for war against Iran -- which, if Scott Ritter's sources are accurate, will take place in June. Bush didn't couch his Iran idea in "authorization" terms, but he obtained general consensus that Iran should not be permitted to become a nuclear power in the Middle East (even though both the U.S. and Israel are).


You can bet that when Bush delivers his televised speech this summer, announcing that American bombers are blasting Iran's nuclear facilities, he will mention that he does so with the full backing of the European allies, as well as that of the U.N. Security Council.

In short, it's time for the worldwide community opposed to further slaughter in the Middle East region to crank up the protest machinery that brought more than 10 million dissenters to the streets prior to the Iraq invasion. At the very least, even if we can't stop the U.S. (and/or Israel) from attacking Iran, we can hold their feet to a very hot fire and use our leverage for peace and "regime change" in the United States.

I'm writing this the day before Bush is expected to go head to head with Russia's Putin, his buddy in the Kremlin that Bush has been verbally battering for doing damage to his country's democratic institutions, especially so in how he's managing the press.

(This from a U.S. Administration that has been paying off reporters and pundits to spout its line, producing its own phony "news reports" that it passes off as network reporting, and smoothing the way for a gay prostitute/dirty-tricks specialist with no journalistic training to become part of the White House press corps, throwing puffball GOP-spin questions to Bush and his press secretary.)

Let's see who else Bush can offend while on foreign soil.


Which brings us back to the "Jeff Gannon" scandal. Or rather scandals, since there really are two:

* The first centers around the question of who arranged for "Gannon" (real name James D. Guckert) to obtain entrance to the White House, avoid the normal FBI/Secret Service vetting, be provided with scoops days and hours before the real reporters, and be called on to speak directly to Bush and Rove and other high-ranking officials.

The fact that Guckert was selling his body at $200 an hour to gay Marines is neither here nor there -- except that this secret life might have made him open to being blackmailed, and thus a national-security danger. (Or, a new theory circulating: that Guckert might have been blackmailing officials in the White House, who then did what he asked.)

What is important is that someone, perhaps Karl Rove or one of his aides, or Press Secretary McClellan, was willing (or coerced) to violate all the rules and sensible regulations to get this GOP shill into the White House, where he was very useful to them.

Ranking Congressional Democrats are calling for an official investigation  into this scandalous behavior and national-security lapse, but you can pretty well guess that the Republicans will not initiate any such probe. If the Democrats want to have an investigation, they probably are going to have to initiate it themselves, which may not be such a bad idea. At least, it might get the issue out there in the mainstream press.

* Which brings us to Scandal #2: The mainstream press, by and large, has ignored this entire sorry episode, as if by not mentioning it, it simply never happened.

It must be killing Fox News and the others not be covering this story -- sex, politics, scandal, their usual fodder -- but the word has gone out from on high (read: Rove) that the Gannon story must die a quick death by being totally ignored.

I have the feeling that the bloggers, who in the main are the ones keeping this Gannon pot bubbling, have merely touched the tip of the iceberg on this story. By unraveling this scandal, much more devastating crimes might be revealed. So stay tuned; this "third-rate" story is not going away.


Bush and Rove are seething at the release of secretly-recorded audiotapes made when Bush was preparing to run for president in the late-'90s. They were made by one of Bush's confidants, Doug Wead, who, like a good Republican, figured there was a way to make money off this rising young GOP politician. (Wead is flogging his book that just came out -- quelle coincidence!

What we learn from the tapes is that Bush already then was trying to figure out how to spin such explosive issues as his past drug-use history, and how to deal with fundamentalists anxious to use homosexuals as their punching bags. On the first point, Bush seemed to be admitting using marijuana and said he never denied using cocaine.

On the latter issue, Bush was clear he would not gay-bash for votes. Of course, when it became convenient to do so during the campaign, he did so, thus, yet again, revealing his Machiavelliian hypocrisy.


Finally, I'm sad to report that blogger Robert Dreyfuss of TomPaine.com has called it quits, and that the political-analysis website YellowTimes.org appears to have thrown in the towel and ceased operations. Add those losses to last year's disappearance from the internet of the invaluable Media Whores Online, and the blogger Hesiod, and we all suffer. But there still is a lot of important progressive reporting and analysis going on in the cyberether; if you're not that familiar with what's out there, I urge you to log on to the best of those sites via our Dissenting Internet page, and to our Recommended Blogsites list.

March 23, 2005

Schiavo Manipulation, Anti-War Demos, Cowardly Rummy

Some brief thoughts on the Schiavo case, last weekend's anti-war rallies, and how Rumsfeld yet again attempts to escape responsibility for the disaster that is the Iraq War.

Poll after poll shows that the American people, by a wide margin, think that the Congress sticking its nose into the Schiavo family's tragic business is cynical political gamesmanship at its worst. So why did Karl Rove and his lackeys in Congress decide to go for it?

One doesn't have to look far for the reasons why. An anonymous memo circulated to all GOP senators laid it out:

>>"ABC News obtained talking points  circulated among Senate Republicans explaining why they should vote to intervene in the Schiavo case. Among them, that it is an important moral issue and the 'pro-life base will be excited,' and that it is a 'great political issue -- this is a tough issue for Democrats'."

In other words, using Terri Schiavo as a prop throws some red meat to the GOP's fundamentalist wing, and ties up the Democrats in a political knot. And it worked in both cases: the pro-life forces jumped on board enthusiastically, and most Democrats ran for cover.

Even though a federal judge has ruled there is no reason to overturn years of state-court decisions in this case, there is no end to this tragic controversy. Appeals will drag on forever, or until the brain-dead Schiavo succumbs to the withdrawal of her feeding tube.

In the meantime, and after she dies, right-to-lifers will use her has a poster-child prop to raise big bucks for their organizations.

The whole thing is sick, and the initial polls seem to indicate that the American public is turned off by the crass manipulation for political effect.

But, thanks to Rove and the rest, the Schiavo brouhah trumped the anti-war protests in the mass media over the weekend.


As a matter of fact, one would be hard put to find much mention of those Saturday protests -- 800 major demonstrations around the United States, many thousands marching in capitals abroad -- amid the all-Schiavo, all-the-time coverage in the corporate mass-media.

I went to the anti-war rally in San Francisco. Impending rain no doubt kept away a lot of would-be marchers, but something else is happening in the anti-war movement that needs to be addressed, especially if what happened in San Francisco is typical of the demonstrations elsewhere across the United States.

Mass demos are, in a way, becoming overly predictable paint-by-numbers events. The march itself -- with all the colorful street performers and musicians and puppets and signs and such -- is fun, filled with determined, grassroots citizens. But the formal rallies, despite the fiery rhetoric, is becoming, dare I say it?, boring.

It's the choir preaching to the choir. And that choir, by traditional rule, has to be made up of every constituent part of the progressive movement, even if that means 25 speakers. So there is the obligatory Native American speaker, Latino speaker, Palestinian speaker, war veteran speaker, labor union speaker, African American speaker, and on and on. It goes on for hours.

The speeches are fine, don't get me wrong -- filled with justified anger, rage and inspiration -- but they are directed to the already-convinced, and we aren't the one who need to hear it.

The Bush war on Iraq has entered into its third year. The polls indicate that most Americans think the war was begun in error, and is not worth the death and money spent on it. More and more traditional/moderate Republicans, ordinary middle-class families (many with sons and daughters sent to Iraq), small business owners seeing the economy tank while $300 billion goes to the war effort abroad, et al. -- all are suspicious of Bush's war.

In short, there is a large constituency out there that perhaps could be brought into the active anti-war ranks -- maybe not all marching, but many contacting their elected officials, organizing in their churches, writing letters, etc.-- but few in the peace movement are engaged in that kind of outreach.

They're content speaking to themselves, not noticing or caring that hundreds of folks walk away from the rally while the speechifying drags on.

In the anti-Vietnam War days, we Movement activist types finally came to realize that the war wouldn't end until ordinary, middle-class Americans abandoned Nixon and his mad war policies. So, across the country, we made sure to meet them in non-threatening surroundings -- church picnics, community events, school classes, in their homes, one-on-one meetings, etc. -- and let the human contact work its magic.

They discovered that despite the hippie garb and habits that so outraged and threatened them, we were just ordinary, worried young people, sincere in our beliefs; we came to know these bourgeois types as caring, anxious, intelligent citizens.

Within a few months, many of them were marching with us, or at least doing anti-war work in ways that felt more comfortable to them. Nixon shortly came to understand that he'd lost his middle-class base, and ended the war.

I don't want to make it seem that it was us scruffy anti-war protesters that ended the war -- but our activities, especially in eroding the pro-war base in the American middle class, certainly had some salutary effect in bringing that immoral war to a close. And it could help in bringing this war -- one that not only is immoral but incompetently managed, and which will in the long run do untold damage to the national interests of the United States -- to an end as well.


Speaking of the Iraq War, did you catch Rumsfeld's recent remarks blaming NATO ally Turkey for the problems the U.S. is having in Iraq?

As is always the case, Bush and his cronies are never responsible for what goes wrong, not ever. They take credit when something good happens in Iraq, or elsewhere, but if negative things happen, it's always someone else's fault -- or nobody's fault, caca just happens.

This time, on "Fox News Sunday," Rummy was asked about the quick rise of the Iraqi nationalist insurgency and how America seemed unprepared for that situation. It was Turkey's fault, said Rumsfeld, because the Turkish Parliament wouldn't let U.S. military forces enter Iraq from the north, and thus the insurgents had time to scatter and hide out, avoiding a pincer movement from the South and North that would have rounded them up, or destroyed them.

So Bush and Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, the ones in charge of launching the war, did not have all their ducks lined up in a row, and OKd the invasion anyway. How many Americans died needlessly because of the tunnel-vision rush to start this unnecessary war by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld and the rest of the Bush neo-cons ?

Wasn't my fault, said Rummy; the Turks ate my homework.

May 10, 2005

Is a Civil Left/Right Dialogue Possible?

It is often difficult to engage rightwing letter-writers. Usually, there are no arguments in their short diatribes, just curses, insults and invitations for us to engage in anatomically-impossible physical maneuvers. When we write them back asking for their reasoned arguments about what made them so angry, the usual response is either more name-calling or silence.

My most recent essay, "Open Letter to U.S. Troops Serving in Iraq" -- where I urged American soldiers to become more actively engaged in trying to stop a slaughter that was based on lies and deceptions -- generated a high volume of correspondence, including a number of heated denunciations of the usual irrational-Right sort.

But I didn't want to just let it go at that, and so I responded as humorously and/or as seriously as I could to some of the more intriguing letters in an effort to stimulate a genuine debate about Iraq. In a good many cases, it worked! In several of about a half-dozen such letters, dialogues actually developed (slightly edited for this blog). But printing key excerpts from those discussions is not why I'm writing this piece.

I don't reply to letter-writers vituperatively opposed to my point of view because I expect that either of us will alter the thinking of the other. If that happens, that's a bonus. No, I do so in an attempt to reach angry letter-writers on a more human level. The aim is to show that it's possible for a passionate right-winger and a passionate left-winger to communicate civilly (but with heated opinions) and engage in rational discourse -- in short, to demonstrate that both are patriotically motivated but from totally different worldviews.

I desire to get them to accept that despite my being a liberalpeacenikpinkodirtycommie, I care for our country as much as they do, and that our disagreements have more to do with whether or not making war on Iraq, for example, enhances or endangers America's national security. When that kind of discussion happens, as it does in some of the correspondence below, I find my heart warmed.

Such dialogue, in a society so bitterly divided between right and left, gives me hope that perhaps there can be a meeting ground where civility and mutual respect rule, even when both sides are vehemently opposed to each other. If it can happen in cyberspace, maybe something similar can happen in Washington, D.C., where the Democrats and Republicans seem locked into deadly, don't-give-an-inch combat. (Note: This move toward comity only works if the majority political party is not bent on destroying the minority as a viable opposition.)


I'm confused. Is Weiner's letter to our troops in Iraq, or to those of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi? It's hard to tell the way it's worded. ... If we took this attitude in WWII we'd all be speaking German or Japanese. After Europe was bled white in WWI, it was this very fear of war and its devastating consequences that Hitler capitalized on in the 1930s. If force had been used when Hitler violated the Versailles Treaty upon occupying the Rhineland in 1936, fifty million people might not have been slaughtered worldwide. And it was idealist pacifism that led directly to that conflict. War sucks. Only a nihilistic fool like Hitler enjoys it. I was in the service myself for six years. Tense moments are not fun at all.

...If you can't tell who's good or evil in the Iraq war, you have no business being either a journalist or a teacher. Lyndie England is about to be sentenced, and her boyfriend Granger is already serving ten years for what was done to prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The other side saws off their living prisoners' heads with steak knives, videotapes the sickness as PR stuff, then puts them in bags or freezers. I have no problem distinguishing who's acting like sympathetic human beings. What's your problem?

-- Blackmore.

Dear Blackmore:

As I wrote previously, you and I know who the good guys are, but, to repeat, "if you're an ordinary Iraqi citizen, does it really matter whether your children are killed or maimed by Zarqawi's bombs or by America's bombs?" If our aim is to win over the hearts and minds of the mass of Iraqi's civilian population -- thus getting them to take the lead in uprooting the insurgent terrorists -- we need to distinguish ourselves by our actions much more, and quit killing and torturing so many Iraqi citizens, either deliberately or by "collateral-damage accident."

Try to imagine the equivalent of 100,000 Iraqis dead in American citizens, and how upset we would be with a figure that high. My concern always has been, first and foremost, because I'm an American, is how to best insure that America's national interests are protected; I don't believe this war, in the short run or the long run, is in our country's national interests.

On the contrary, the war -- the way it was based on lies, the arrogant (and incompetent) way the Occupation has been handled, the systemic use of torture, etc. -- endangers our national interests. Thanks for your taking time to elucidate your arguments, which are solid ones, even if I don't accept them all.


Sir, I don't have to imagine 100,000 dead Americans. The stench of 3,000 filled my nostrils....

Dear Blackmore:

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Saddam Hussein, Iraq's brutal secular dictator, had nothing to do with the 3000 dead on September 11, 2001. It was the work of a terrorist organization called Al-Qaida, led by an Islamic fanatic named Osama bin Laden. Bush rightly went after that group, and their Taliban supporters, in Afghanistan, but somehow bin Laden got away. And then Bush seemed not to pay all that much attention to him and al-Qaida after that.

Turns out that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were much more interested in invading and occupying Iraq, even before 9/11 even happened. Had to do with oil or something, and gaining political hegemony of the Greater Middle East. So, invading Iraq as payback for 9/11 didn't make much logical sense -- which is why the Bush Administration kept suggesting an Iraq/9/11 connection, in order to get around that little problem in the public mind.

Turns out that the anthrax attack may have originated on American soil, and that Kim Il-Jong, another madman dictator, has been permitted to carry out his nuclear armaments program at least partially because the U.S. has been fixated on the Iraq project while pretty much ignoring what was happening on the Korean Peninsula.

Are there terrorists, madmen, fanatics, etc., out there who want to do harm to the U.S.? You bet, and they need to be combated in a wide variety of ways. But attacking and invading and bombing before there is any imminent threat ("pre-emptive" wars) may not be the most effective sort of military, political, diplomatic action. Tends to harm the effort, and exacerbate the problems, more than it helps. The Law of Unintended Consequences and all that.

Again, my main emphasis is on protecting the vital national interests of the United States. You think the Bush way of dealing with the situation does that; I heartily disagree, even thinking it endangers our national interests. Surely two citizens, both of whom love their country, can agree to disagree. Thanks for taking the time to clarify your thoughts; you're a good debater. Now I've got to get back to work. Thanks again for writing.


I say let's just agree to disagree, but a couple of parliamentary points. First, Hitler had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. Did that make him any less of an enemy or a danger to us? In point of fact, I myself was long interested in invading and occupying Iraq and kicking Saddam's ass before Bush and Cheney ever were. Should have been done in '91. It would have saved us a lot of headaches, and we wouldn't have had to pay for the same real estate twice.

You may be right there. But Saddam was not Hitler. He had fantasies but he wasn't trying to conquer most of the world, as was Hitler, in tandem with the Japanese/Italians. He was a two-bit, mean sumbitch in his own neighborhood, a class-A bully, who roared loudly in order to frighten his foes, and anxious to get his hands on more weapons to make himself even scarier. But (see below), his situation changed after the '91 war.

...By the way, what do you consider imminent? A month? A week? An hour? Or do you believe we should wait until we're spitting out liquified lung to respond?

I'd say when there is verifiable proof of intent to do us major harm. No more magical WMD that exists only because our leaders claim it exists, and then get tens of thousands of people killed and wounded on that say-so, which turns out to be false. If we had intelligence that the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor, then it's time for legitimate pre-emptive action and big time. But using "pre-emption" loosely -- meaning they might someday decide to work toward doing us harm -- no way. But that's the prevailing ethos of the National Security Strategy of the U.S. under Bush-Cheney.


I say hit 'em first, and hard! Uncivilized maniacal bastards! They're mass murderers and psychotics at the throats of their own people and looking to get their hands around ours. What part of that reality don't you understand? What has America ever left in an occupied land except for dead soldiers and liberty? Don't you see that! I say it's time to drag these assholes kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, because it's the only way we'll survive in the long run. By standing by and letting rogue states like the DPNK and Iran build their toys with joy is deferring state-sponsored mass murder on a genocidal scale.

My guess is that Iran can be managed in some way short of war, but NK and its maniacal leader give me the shivers. Not sure what to do there.

Call me a right wing maniac, which I'm sure you're going to do anyway. I cannot see how you figure that invading Iraq and getting rid of Saddam was a bad move. He was a nightmare to his people and a nightmare waiting to happen to us.

He was a bad, bad guy -- backed by U.S. administrations for many years, including Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- who needed to be dealt with seriously, at some point. But while Kim Il-Jung might well be a certifiable loonybird, and hence way way dangerous, Saddam, for all his faults, wasot crazy. He never wanted to do anything that would lead to his demise, so he always backed and filled and made concessions, etc. By the mid- and late-90s, he was a contained bad guy, with no weaponry to speak of, not about to or able to do much harm to anybody, brutally running half a country and stealing his people blind. He was no imminent threat, even if "imminent" had been interpreted loosely.

This verbal jousting has been fun, Blackmore, but, like you, enough is enough. Time to get back to work. But I appreciate your honest sharing of your strong opinions; you're a solid debater. But, yes, we agree to disagree, and leave it at that. Thanks.

Blackmore replies:

You're a good fighter, and there's plenty of room in a free society for both arguments - it's what keeps us vital, vigorous debate. It was a good joust! At least both of us tried, despite our individual frustration with the other's viewpoint at times, to maintain a civil debate. This country could use a lot more reasoning and a lot less ranting. and I myself have done plenty of both!. To be honest, you're the first person on the other side I've debated with since well before the election that I actually respect, for reasons stated.

Thanks. -- Blackmore


...I don't think the "Troops" buy essays such as this. They are too intelligent. Judging from the content of the Democratic Underground, I'm sure you have found an audience whose standards are not quite as high.

...If you want to argue that Gulf War #I was "all about oil" then I might accept that. In fact, I believe Bush the elder should have been more forthright in stating that as one of our objectives. Saddam's attempt to gain the Kuwait and Saudi oil fields by force would have been a disastrous blow to the world economy. It was in the national interest of almost every nation to ensure that it didn't happen.

Of course. Why not say that oil was a major reason for going in? And why not say it today as well? Why so skittish?

If you wish to argue that our relationships with the Mideast is in great part dedicated to ensuring a stable and predictable oil supply, I would agree. In fact, I would agree. Again, our economy, and much of the developed and developing world economies depend on petroleum. Without it, millions would suffer terribly. Given that, I do not see us invading every oil-producing country that we have shaky relations.

The policy as I understand it, especially given that our military is stretched way too thin, is not necessarily to invade each and every country but to use Iraq as the example of what can and might be done unless the recalcitrant governments bend to the political will of the U.S. in terms in regard to the oil/gas fields. The problem is that several of those countries can continue to thumb their noses at the U.S. -- up to a point -- because they know we don't have the manpower, and maybe not even the national will, to make good on those threats of invasion.

...I take strong exception to pieces like your "To the Troops." You assume that they are brainwashed idiots. That is the first, and usually last, mistake a poor commander makes and the mistake the ideological of the left always seems to make. It is something that Kerry never learned and kept repeating back to his Senate seat. The only takers were those on the left, who frankly believe anything that fits their preconceptions. The "Troops" have a better understanding of the situation than you do.

I referenced the opposition being voiced by many conservatives AND military officers speaking anonymously and, when retired, openly from the military. I certainly didn't mean to come off sounding condescending to the troops, but a good many of them are 18- or 19-year-old first-time warriors, all too eager to accept the supposed wisdom of their civilian superiors.


Finally, let's close with a position, by writer J, that several others made -- including others who liked the thrust of my article -- about why it was senseless of me to write it; my response follows.

Dear Dr. Weiner:

While I agree with everything you have written, I think that most of the grunts that read the article will be pissed off. They know that at any moment they may be killed or maimed and the last thing they want to hear is that it's all for naught.

Seeing the situation from a distance gives us perspective. Living in constant fear doesn't lend itself to rational thought. Yes, there are those soldiers who will grasp what you're talking about and feel that they should act on it.

However, you're asking people, who are already in grave danger, to further endanger themselves by speaking out. How many people do you know who would willingly do that? How many people do you know who have spent time in grave danger? How many people do you know who, given that situation, would speak out against those who have total control over their lives?

Perhaps a handful will take the risk. But you've placed a tremendous guilt trip on those who can't.

This isn't an intellectual exercise to these unfortunate men and women. At best, those to whom you've gotten through, will feel resentment for their predicament. And I don't think this serves them well.

Don't ask our troops to act on the immorality of their situation. If you can get a big enough megaphone, ask the American public to scream out against the fascists who are now controlling their destiny and ours.


I understand where you're coming from. I had to deeply consider this point before I wrote my "Open Letter to U.S. Soldiers Serving in Iraq." But, having lived through the many years it took to generate oppositional critical mass during the Vietnam War, and knowing some of the soldiers who died there during that period when the opposition to the war was making its shaky way forward, I decided I was morally obliged to write the letter to U.S. troops in Iraq.

I don't want to see five or ten more years go by, with so many more thousands killed and maimed, without at least trying to raise the issue about the need for strengthening an opposition to the Iraq war, both within and outside the military.

I realize that some of those troops will be resentful and angry -- already some letters along those lines are pouring in, along with supportive ones -- but we've got to start somewhere. If articles such as mine can get the dialogue started, from within and without the military, then we in the opposition to the continued occupation will just have to deal with that situation.

I'm not trying to guilt-trip anyone. All I'm saying is that if those within and without the military are serious about trying to stop the killing, we all may have to what we can do, be it a little or a lot. Some will be able to do more than others, some will feel they are not in a position (yet) to do much at all.

The important point is to get the war-opposition momentum building, and the discussion heightened to a new level. Thanks for writing and for your thoughtful, compassionate expression of concern for the troops.

Any further thoughts about this left/right debating issue? Send them to crisispapers@comcast.net .


May 19, 2005


Turns out that my Ph.D. dissertation -- that tome yellowing in a closet upstairs -- contains information that corrects Bush's ignorant distortions about World War II history. Bush, in Europe recently for ceremonies marking the end of that war, revived the old conservative canard that the U.S. and Britain "gave away" Eastern Europe to the Soviet Union. Bush compared the Yalta Agreement to Chamberlain's Munich capitulation and to the Hitler-Stalin pact. He couldn't have been more wrong.

And, even though there were numerous corrective articles since Bush's May 7 speech in Riga -- see here, here, and here -- none of them mentioned the key element of the wartime meetings between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin: the so-called "percentages agreement."

Few know about this episode -- in fact, few in government at the time were brought into the loop about it, it was such a closely guarded secret -- and I'm happy to share it here, based on the research done for my dissertation, the essence of which involved the origins of the Cold War.

As war in Europe was heading toward a victory for the Americans, Brits and Russians, the Big Three had to figure out the post-war geopolitical landscape. At a meeting between Churchill and Stalin in Moscow in 1944 (which may or may not have included Roosevelt's representative Averill Harriman), Churchill, on a half-sheet of paper, improvised some numbers that would indicate which ally should have what share of responsibility in the various countries -- "take the lead" was the euphemism -- both in the immediate situation and, by implication, after the war was over.

Churchill, the ultimate realist, realized that the Soviet Union had many millions of troops on the ground in Eastern Europe, and in no way was he going to convince President Roosevelt that America should take on that Red Army while the Allies were still trying to defeat Germany and Japan.


Churchill, interested in protecting what he could of the collapsing British Empire, kept Greece in England's "sphere of influence" and, acknowledging that Stalin already had Eastern Europe in his grasp, OKd the Soviet Union "taking the lead" in that region. Churchill wrote Roosevelt that they might as well acknowledge the realities on the ground in Eastern Europe since "neither you nor we have any troops there at all, and [the Soviets] probably will do what they like anyhow."

The percentages agreed to by Stalin and Churchill, and acquiesced to by Roosevelt, included the Soviet Union "taking the lead" in Eastern Europe at 50% in Yugoslavia, 90% in Rumania and so on in Hungary, Bulgaria, et al.; Great Britain would "take the lead" in Greece at 90%. During the rest of the war, the three allies scrupulously abided by the "percentages agreement." Stalin believed he had been given carte blanche in Eastern Europe, and likewise that Churchill could do what he wanted in Greece.

Realizing that carving up Europe into zones of influence might not look good if the word got out, Churchill suggested to Stalin that maybe it would be a good idea to burn the half-sheet of paper with the percentages on it. (Stalin said it was OK for Churchill to keep it.)

At Yalta in 1945, worried about what Stalin might do in post-war Eastern Europe, the Americans and English tried to ameliorate the situation by having everyone sign a "Declaration on Liberated Europe," promising democracy and all other good things. But Stalin saw the document as little more than a piece-of-paper formality; he didn't let that stop him from setting up the protective satellite-state governments in Eastern Europe, which eventually became the Warsaw Pact alliance.

And, the U.S. and Great Britain, not anxious immediately to fight another major war, this one against their Soviet ally, and anxious to rebuild their own war-torn societies, did little but bluster against Stalin's post-war tactics in Eastern Europe. (In truth, Stalin saw the Eastern European satellites as a strategic buffer between the Soviet Union and the West; he gave no indication that he was interested in moving militarily into Western Europe.)


Josh Marshall sums up the controversy:

"In making this argument [Bush joined] a rich tradition of maniacs who believe that at the end of World War II we should have joined with the defeated remainder of the German army and fought our way through Eastern Europe to the border of Russia and, in all likelihood, on to Moscow to overthrow the Soviet Union itself -- certainly not a difficult proposition considering what an insubstantial land Army the Soviet Union had at the time.

If that seems like an over-dramatic alternative scenario, then you just aren't familiar with the history of the period.

Roosevelt didn't hand the Baltics, Poland and the rest of what became the Warsaw Pact countries over to Soviet rule. The Red Army was there in force already. The question was whether we were able and willing to remove them by force.

The president also makes common cause, though whether he's familiar with the history he's wading into I don't know, with those who argued before the war and after that the US and the UK made their fundamental error in the war itself, by allying with the Soviets against Nazism rather than with Nazism against the Soviets."

Bush, for whatever partisan motive, chose to revive this historical period in his Riga speech -- as seen through a dated, Cold War, anti-Communist prism -- but he got a good deal of his facts wrong.

And now you know the Rest of the Story.


It would have been so easy, and helpful in defusing the situation, for the Bush Administration to say something like: "We don't condone any disrespect for the Holy Koran, and if some guards at Guantanamo or elsewhere were guilty of such abhorrent behavior, we will punish them severely."

Given the heat the U.S. has taken with regard to the abusive treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere, and with the "rendering" of suspected Islamist terrorists to countries where they are tortured mercilessly, you'd think the Bush Administration might want to show it is actively engaged in turning around the perceived public image of America as engaged in a "crusade" (Bush's original word) against Islam.

But, per usual, the Bush Administration goes into denial mode about the message, and tries to focus all anger and attention on the messenger, Newsweek. The brouhaha is reminiscent of Dan Rather's "60 Minutes" story on Bush's AWOL history during the Vietnam War. From Rove's point of view in both instances: "We can't deny the essence of these stories, so we will find some flaw in the way they were delivered, and divert focus in that direction."

(Plus, if the Administration is lucky, it will get a bonus: It will bring those news organizations, and journalists in general, into disrepute -- thus alienating the public even more from independent sources of information -- and scare the bejusus out of journalists, so that reporters and editors may well censor themselves from making accusatory statements about anything the Administration does in the future.)


All the belated Administration and Newsweek denials and retractions carry no weight in the Muslim world. Rumsfeld denied the existence of torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib, but the locals knew all too well what was happening to their husbands and fathers in those prisons -- and, when the photos of that torture and sexual humiliation were revealed, everyone else knew Rumsfeld had lied, too.

Given all the other stupid (and largely ineffective) interrogation techniques employed by U.S. guards at prisons around the world, aimed at humiliation and destroying the will of suspected Islamist terrorists, it is not a great leap to believe that a good many of the interrogators spat on, sat on, crushed underfoot, insulted and probably threw the Koran into the toilet. Indeed, there are a host of reports of them doing just that; for a good starting point, see ##Juan Cole's "Guantanamo Controversies: The Bible and the Koran ( www.juancole.com/2005/05/guantanamo-controversies-bible-and.html ).

Neither Newsweek, nor the Pentagon, has unequivocally denied that the Administration investigated the use of Koran-abuse as an interrogation technique. Newsweek's "retraction" contained numerous qualifiers. In short, the essence of the story no doubt is true, and Muslims around the world believe it to be true as well.

The Bush Administration needs to come clean on the entire torture/abuse story -- including release of the internal Pentagon report mentioned by Newsweek, in which the Koran incident no doubt is included -- and on its many lies and deceptions that have set the stage for increased violence in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world. But you and I know the Bush Administration will never do so, not while it can bash a newsmagazine instead.

May 31, 2005

Moving Toward Civility With Passion: An Iraq War Debate

I often hear progressives (including myself) say: "With all the voluminous evidence of how we were lied to, with all the documentation of how the plans for the Iraq War were laid prior to 9/11 and then solidified in 2002 nine months before the invasion of that country, how come there isn't more outrage in the American populace about the war, the shredding of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the use of torture as official state policy, etc."?

Apparently, once certain assumptions are made, correct or not -- that 9/11 justifies all Bush Administration acts, that Saddam Hussein was a key supporter of international terrorists responsible for 9/11, that once troops are on the ground in a war no questions should be asked -- then there's no reason to doubt either the administration that took us to war or the policies that are keeping us there. See what you think.

What follows lends some credence to the above conclusion. It's a debate I had with a Crisis Papers reader last week about the Iraq War. It begins with Robert Gruber suggesting I have committed something close to treason; in the end, the two of us are agreeing to disagree about the war but honoring and respecting each other and our mutual love of country.

With his permission, I'm publishing excerpts of our long email debate as a demonstration of how, by both debaters treating the opponent with respect while not backing down from passionate advocacy, a civil conversation can transpire even in our culture's super-heated partisan atmosphere . (For a similar experiment, see my May 10 blog, "Is a Civil Left/Right Dialogue Possible?")

As you'll read, neither Gruber nor I have changed our essential attitudes about the war, but we both understand more clearly where the other guy is coming from, and know that those positions are sincerely held and intelligently based, even if we disagree vehemently with them; each of us also found that we were forced to come to terms with possibly flawed arguments in our own positions.

I take two lessons from this debate: 1) I now better understand why facts don 't necessarily matter when debating issues that touch great emotion, be it religion or politics. (Gruber, for example, says even if he were to agree that Bush lied us into war, and that Saddam wasn't connected in any way to 9/11, it's still a just and necessary war, regardless.) And, 2) If we two ordinary citizens could carry on an intense but civil debate in the cybersphere, maybe it's possible for pro-war and anti-war zealots to do likewise in the halls of Congress, without resorting to below-the-belt smears.

I watched American society degenerate into a fratricidal political civil war during the Vietnam era-- with name-calling leading at times to violence and even death -- and I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening again with the Iraq War. That is a large part of my motivation for compiling this dialogue.

So here we go, starting with Gruber's red-hot reaction to my recent "Open Letter to U.S. Troops Serving in Iraq", in which I urged them to become more active in helping end the conflict. My responses are indented and italicized.

Dear Bernard Weiner:

Tokyo Rose could not have put the case any more eloquently than you did. Your "letter" is full of lies, suggesting that the bulk of the insurgents are disgruntled Iraqis, not ex-Baathists, criminals, foreign jihadists, all of whom are so mad at America that all they want to do is kill Americans (so why are they blowing up their fellow citizens so barbarically?). Your attempt to sound sincere is so condescending that it wanted to make me puke. You should be ashamed of writing that drivel.

Robert Gruber

Dear Robert Gruber: You seem to be suggesting that not only am I insincere in what I wrote, but that my writings are treasonous. If the latter is true, and if the current polls are correct that more than 50% of the country shares many of the views I expressed about the Iraq war (how the Bush Administration got us in on the basis of lies, and how we need to end the Occupation as quickly as feasible), shouldn't the military start rounding up half the U.S. population and put them in concentration camps for giving "aid and comfort" to the "enemy"?

 Is it not possible that half the country might be correct in its assessments, that we love our country and our soldiers as much as you do, but simply disagree with the policy that got out troops involved there and with the occupation that may be America's undoing? We went through this with Vietnam -- with more than 58,000 U.S. deaths and several million Vietnamese killed -- and it brought our society into a near-civil war politically. Why make the same mistakes and head in the same direction again?

 I'd be interested in hearing your arguments in favor of the war and Occupation, rather than simply engaging in name-calling and telling me how ill my writings are making you. Let's have a conversation. -- Bernard Weiner -----

...I do not agree that it is treasonous to oppose this, or any, war. What is closer to treason, however, is to foment discord and sap the morale of our fighting force which I believe is the intent of your letter. Soldiers are following orders, and should do so, as that is their mission. Your mission is to influence political leaders in particular and the populace in general. Leave the soldiers out of this.

...I am an American, who has no ties to a foreign government or foreign terrorists; I am interested only in the welfare of American troops and in enhancing and protecting America's national interests.

 In that, I am no different than you; we each approach the issue of the war from that standpoint. You apparently believe that America's soldiers and America's national interests are best served by following the current Administration's policies; I believe that we are endangering our troops and our national-interests by the way we got into the war, and by our Occupation policies ever since.

 Do you really want to question my patriotism? Do you really want to equate me with a foreign enemy? Do you really want to accuse me of treason? If the answer to those questions is yes, then you'd best alert Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and have me charged -- along with millions of others who think likewise.

 The truth is that both you and I care deeply about our troops' welfare and our national interests, but we come at those concerns from a different point of view, each of us convinced that we are correct and that the other is wrong. That's the way it works in a democracy; ideas are permitted to clash, in a civil manner, each accepting the good faith of the opponent, and out of that clash eventually comes a consensus. There is no consensus at present; half the country tends to think the way you do, half tends to think the way I do.

 Given this passionate divide, it gets us nowhere to name-call and throw threats around. That's why I'm interested in having a spirited, civil debate with you. You are intelligent and articulate, and perhaps both you and I can learn something from each other, even if we ultimately agree to disagree. I hope you'll feel likewise, but if you continue to think of me as a treasonous enemy, the well of good-faith debate gets poisoned from the outset....

Dear Bernie,

I can tell you care deeply about our country, that you would not consciously do things to aid and abet "the enemy," and I'm sure you want this nation to be seen, as Ronald Reagan did, as a "shining city on a hill," i.e. a beacon of freedom and hope in the world. I care about our troops' welfare, as you do, but I also don't let their welfare interfere with the Iraqi mission.

...[A]ttempting to influence our soldiers is not the way to push the debate forward, that it may have deleterious effects on their attitude and performance and morale. Perhaps my comparing your behavior to that of Tokyo Rose (an American actually) was overdone, although I strongly feel that negatively influencing a soldier's mission makes that effort much more difficult. ...

Dear Bob: It warms my heart that you recognize my good-faith, patriotic motives in opposing the Iraq War. Whether my "to the troops" letter was well- or ill-advised is a separate question; some of those who support my anti-war stance felt, as you did, that it was a mistake to write it. I'll be happy to defend my position, but I certainly can understand why some might be opposed to it. (Though suggesting treason goes way beyond the pale.) OK, with that out of the way, let the rumpus begin.

Operation "Iraqi Freedom" was not a "let's wake up this morning and invade Freedonia" kind of war, rather it was the third phase of a war begun in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. That war was never satisfactorily concluded, as the U.S. and the U.K. set up "no-fly-zones" to protect the Kurds in the North from genocide at the hands of Saddam, as well as protect the Shia population in the South. Some argue that GWB the 43rd is attempting to finish up what 41 started; I can't disagree with that. The point is that there has been an ongoing state of war between Iraq and the U.S. for eleven years, with no satisfactory resolution in sight. Remember, Iraq was the aggressor nation against its neighbor Kuwait, a belligerent with Iran in the 1980's, and a supporter of Palestinian terrorism in Israel, and an overall troublemaker in the region.

Wait a minute! You jumped from events in the '80s and 1990 straight to an event in 2001. You skipped over an entire decade. Let's look and see what was happening in that interim. Given the no-fly zones, Saddam had effective control over less than 1/2 of his country. Given the post-war inspection regime that destroyed the bulk of his weaponry, his military might was virtually nil. Given the embargo, the country was broken economically. In short, Saddam by mid-decade was a deeply contained tyrant, impotent militarily, unable to do much but steal his country blind (through loopholes in the oil-embargo plan). He wasn't going anywhere, and he was incapable of doing much damage to his neighbors -- and certainly not to the U.S.

September 11, 2001 changes everything.

On September 11, the U.S. was attacked by Islamist fundamentalists. This was a wake-up call to our government that the world had changed, and that the U.S. can not tolerate the lawlessness, the brutality, the extremism reflected in anti-Western governments throughout the middle east, led by the Iranians and Iraqis.

Whoa, big fella. You've made an amazing leap from 19 Islamic Saudi fundamentalists to Iraq, which was ruled by a defiantly secular dictator, who hated and stomped on anything looking like an Islamist movement. I know it's important to the Bush case for war to somehow tie Saddam to the terrorist plot, but it won't wash, no matter how convoluted your word-twisting.

 True, 9/11 did serve as a wake-up call in the public mind about the dangers posed by Wahhabism in the Muslim world. But the center of that fundamentalist sect was in Saudi Arabia, certainly not in Iraq. One can argue that post-9/11 Bush acted properly by going after the Wahabbist Taliban in Afghanistan, which was harboring Al-Qaida terrorism. But we're told by Bush Administration insiders that even before 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan, Bush&Co. were planning on invading Iraq and setting up shop there, for aims that had to do with control of oil and remaking the geopolitical map of the Greater Middle East.

I have no doubt that the WMD argument was a convenient scare tactic, however I see no proof that this argument was fabricated out of whole cloth. I think Saddam was poorly served by his sycophantic minions, and his lack of co-operation actually played into the American's hands. However, I have no doubt that the U.S. would have continued to ratchet up the pressure on Iraq regardless of the willingness of Saddam to allow unfettered UN inspections to proceed. This was a regime change war that Bush was going to have, regardless of the WMD argument.

No argument from me here. Bush&Co. used post-9/11 lies and deceptions to scare us into an unprovoked war with a country they had wanted to invade before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Now here is where we part company. You would say Ah ha!!! This is an illegal war. Iraq hasn't attacked us, doesn't pose an imminent threat, and therefore we have no business committing our blood, treasure, and reputation to this risky scheme, this half-baked invasion, this unwarranted aggression.

Yes, I might well use those words.

Before I put too many words in your mouth, let me tell you why we had to do this. I repeat: The world changed on Sept. 11

1) Status quo was no longer acceptable. Saddam Hussein's anti-American agenda would dovetail nicely with Al-Qaeda. Unchecked, at some point, Hussein would end up in bed with bin-Laden.

Again, there would have been no dovetailing, since Al-Qaida/Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein despised each other. Bin Laden wanted to get rid of Saddam, not ally with him. Saddam, as stated above, slaughtered and imprisoned Islamists whenever and wherever he could do so.

2) Saddam's efforts to obtain WMD were well known. If he had none, or moved them, or put his program on hiatus, had no bearing on his future intentions, if given the opportunity and French complicity.

 He did have WMD early on, he had used WMD on his own people, but then had his stockpiles destroyed post-Gulf War I. Certainly, he had ambitions to set himself up as a pan-Arab saviour (he only "got religion," as it were, when the U.S. was ready to invade and his needed all the Arab help he could muster), and someday he'd try to reconstitute his WMD program. But he was basically bereft of anything very threatening; he kept talking as if he still had those capabilities, perhaps to make himself seem bigger to his neighbors, but his military capabilities were essentially nil. If and when he started to reconstitute his programs, at some future time, the West would find out and do something about it. But for the U.S. to invade a sovereign country on the basis of some way-into-the-future possible risk is loony, not to mention a violation of international law, devoid of imminent risk and exercising one's right to self-defense.

3) We have to clean up the Middle East. It is a cesspool fomenting anti-Americanism. We could not leave it as is, without an increased risk of another 9/11 style attack, more devastating than the first.

Why do "we" have to "clean up" the Middle East as a unilateral mission, or, to use Bush's word, "crusade"? Why not a United Nations effort, an Arab League effort (with a lot of diplomacy), etc.? Partly because Bush/Cheney/ Rumsfeld policy, as outlined in the National Security Strategy of the United States, requires that the U.S. will not tolerate any interference in fulfilling its goals, not by a nation-state and not by an international body. It has to be a unilateral action, with pick-up allies if necessary. Those who demur, or try to oppose, will be dealt with in the harshest terms.

 And what does "clean up" the Middle East mean, and suggest? Does "clean up" mean to affect "regime change" in a number of autocratically-ruled sheikdoms, by violence or coercion? If so, what are the implications of such action, in infuriating the Islamic world, in becoming a pariah in international politics? Further, what gives the U.S. the right to impose its brand of "democracy" on societies little prepared, or in some cases, even desiring such a development?

 Finally, supposing for a moment that the motives are good, the way the policy has been carried out is turning out to be a disaster. Instead of leading to Western-friendly regimes implanted, U.S. incompetency in diplomacy and military action (including the use of torture and sexual humiliation and disrespecting of Islam) leads to more anti-Western Islamist regimes, the exact opposite of what we were hoping for? What then? Have the national interests of the U.S. been enhanced or endangered?

4) Saddam was a hugely destabilizing force in the middle east, preventing progress on the Israeli/Palestinian situation.

He was a meddling nuisance, I grant you, paying off families whose children blew themselves up in Israel. But the real causes of the Israeli/Palestinian situation can be found in Palestine and Israel. And don't get me started on how each has botched every serious attempt at peace.

5) Saddam was a butcher, and terrorized his own people for too many years. His killing fields were akin to Cambodia; his secret police were torturers, intimidators, butchers.

We both agree: He was a VERY bad man, a tyrannical thug and murderer. Nobody, in the Arab world or outside it, mourns his fall from power.

6) Saddam supported world terrorism.

Not really. Aside from his support of Palestinian suicide bombers, I know of no further support for "world terrorism." He was a tyrant, to be sure, but he was not suicidal himself; he always backed down in order to save his own neck.

...What would the world be like today if we had not invaded back in March of 2003?

We'll never know for sure. I could guess that not much would be changed in the Middle East. Saddam would still be a petty dictator in his own country, and not much of a threat outside it. The embargo eventually would be lifted, but the no-fly zones still would be in place. He might at some point start thinking about reconstituting his WMD program, but we'd have time to figure out how to deal with that, rather than rushing into a war before the U.N. inspectors completed their report documenting how weak he really was. (And this time, the U.S. and its allies would be able to present hard evidence, not weak surmise; what the Administration forced Colin Powell to say at the U.N. before the U.S. invasion was nothing short of embarrassing.) In short, the desire to invade Iraq even before 9/11 clouded Bush&Co. judgment and led to the horrific botches of the Occupation. And we can discuss that disaster next, if you so choose.

Paint me that picture, make it prettier than the current mess in Iraq, and I'll concede we were wrong. But all I want is how having done nothing, the U.S. today would be a safer, more secure place and the people of Iraq would be having a better future.

You admit that things are a "mess" in Iraq. I'm trying to indicate that we might have had time, had we not invaded in a rush-job, to build up a world coalition to deal with Saddam in another way, or maybe even a military way down the line if he proved to be an imminent threat. The Iraqi people certainly would have been worse off in terms of their freedoms, but the U.S. shouldn't make foreign policy or wars based on others peoples' interests but only on our own.

 Repeating "the world changed on 9/11" may make you feel good, but the mantra doesn't really explain away everything. Let's stick to facts. So, the ball's in your court. Want to hit it back?

... [R]egardless of the debating points you might make, or ripostes I may come back with, at the end of the day, it will be difficult to influence your views on Iraq, and similarly, I don't think you can make much headway with mine. The reason I came to this conclusion is that we both are coming at the Iraq conflict from much different angles. I don't like putting words in your mouth (you've chastised me for that already) but I think you look at Iraq as just another unwarranted police action premised on falsities, deceptions, and malevolent motivations (Power, oil wealth, perhaps to assure Bush's re-election). On the other hand, I look at this as something of true historical import; that is best summed up by Fouad Ajami's recent Wall Street Journal op-ed article, "Bush's Country."

That article encapsulates for me what this whole Iraqi War is about. Atop Ajami's reflections on the positives for the Arab people, I would only add that these benefits for the Middle East will also accrue to the U.S. via a more free, and therefore safer, world.

I want you to know I do not support our willy-nilly intervention in each and every hot spot around the globe, so just because we went into Iraq we should now invade North Korea, Iran or Cuba. The containment you speak of in Iraq was not a long-term solution, and forces (see also the article about Russia's complicity with Saddam in subverting the oil-for-food program) were building to unwarrantedly end sanctions, which would then green-light Saddam for unfettered mischief making. Aside from the UK, no other nation really cared about the deeper issues of freedom and liberation in the Middle East...

In any event, the lives lost, the treasure spent, the destruction realized, and our good reputation lost are all terrible casualties of this war. But I really believe that a higher purpose will be served in the end. If not, then George Bush should be judged a most-failed President, and I would truly fear for the security and way of life for future generations. However, I, like Mr. Ajami, hope this is the Middle East's version of Europe in 1848. I guess we will have to wait more than a few years before we can draw that conclusion.

Bob: ... Half the country, and much of the world, is agitated by the lies and deceptions that undergird this war, but you don't want to address those; to you, it seems, the ends justify the means so let's not talk about the means. This is very sloppy, dangerous thinking. America is, or was, much admired and beloved in the world precisely because it stood for something more than the raw exercise of power; it represented a moral force where the means was all important. This is what distinguished America from so many other countries in the world, for which the ends were all-important and the means were ignored or downplayed. But that moral force is not the America most of the world knows, and fears, these days.

 We now have proof of what many of us suspected at the time, that the Bush Administration had begun moving to invade Iraq pre-9/11 and that the decision to invade had been made no later than mid-2002. WMD was a smokescreen to justify the bombing and invasion. In its weakened state, Iraq was no military threat to anyone, certainly no imminent threat to the U.S. and its allies. There was no WMD, no nuclear program, no drone planes to attack the U.S. mainland, no connection between Saddam and 9/11. There was simply this brutal bully who thumbed his nose at outsiders and terrorized his people -- a description that could describe many dictators around the world.

 But we didn't overthrow the other bad guys; this dictator sat on the world's 2nd largest oil reserves, could not fight back against America's might, and could serve as a model for altering the geopolitical landscape in the Greater Middle East. And so the invasion of Iraq began, in such haste and with no-postwar plan that it got a lot of Americans (and Iraqis) needlessly killed. Now we're bogged down in that quagmire, and attracting all sorts of Saudi and other jihadists to the fight. Iraq is a disaster, and the U.S. is determined to keep its hardened military bases there, which can be used to effect "regime-change" in other Arab countries.

 You seem to be saying: "Well, OK, lots of mistakes were made and bad policies executed to get us to this point. But if the jihadists can be defeated in Iraq, then we can move on to other countries in the area and defeat that extremist Islamist movement there. If we have to bomb and invade those other countries, so be it. Eventually, the anti-Western Arabs will see the fate that's in store for them unless they change their ways, and will give in to our just demands."

 It's possible that the all-chips-in gamble Bush&Co. are taking with this policy may pay off. But I doubt it. And at what cost? Everlasting slaughter, terrorism, occupations, torture as state policy, bankrupting our treasury, our country a pariah in international affairs, loss of our soul as we abandon the moral high ground, etc. -- no thanks. Too high a price to pay, even if it were to work. But, as former empires have discovered, it doesn't always work. The Law of Unintended Consequences invariably shows up as "idealistic" policies run headlong into dirty realities on the ground. The Bush Administration has sown the seeds of permanent war, and will reap the whirlwinds of blowback. That means you and me and our sons, and millions of others will suffer because of these misguided, arrogant policies and decisions.

 All you, and your fellow neo-cons, can see is the wondrous world of (enforced) peace and stability at the end of the war rainbow. Beware of idealists -- especially those who have never participated in actual wars themselves; to them, it's all a huge international chess match. But there are real people, and real consequences, involved. And those participants have precious little influence on changing the situation because of the lies and deceptions visited upon them by their rulers and those who manipulate them in support of those rulers.

 You think we'll emerge on the other side "eventually" and all will be peaches and cream. I'd love to believe that, but my understanding of history, political realities and the inevitable incompetencies and mistakes that accompany war tell me there's a far different, and more horrifying, future in store for us, for the region, for the world, and all because some ivory-tower ideologues got the power to try out their grandiose high-tech experiment and couldn't resist pushing the buttons.

 I'm disappointed in your reluctance to seriously debate how we got here, and our present horrors, by your going quickly to the end vision; you think we'll get there eventually -- oh those glorious ends! -- but you choose to ignore the great cost of the means. To quote Hemingway, there's a huge shitstorm coming.

I re-read your responses to my original commentary and gleaned from them the "micro debating points" you allude to. I can't help but feel a little overwhelmed over all the statements, assertions, and accusations you throw out, as each point would require quite a bit of research, etc, and really for what end?

To the end of seeing how much of the justification for this war was based on fact and how much on fiction. If fact, then the war might be morally and practically justified; if based on false statements and deceptions, then we all were lied to mightily and the reasons for war were illegitimate.

 Remember that toppling a brutal tyrant never figured in the original reasons supplied by the Bush Administration to justify the need to rush to war; it all had to do with WMD, mushroom clouds over America, drone planes delivering toxic substances to the East Coast, Saddam was working with Bin Laden on 9/11. None of that was true, and you don't have to take my word for it. The Administration's own WMD-hunters found nothing, after spending untold millions of dollars and two years of searching; plus, Bush himself admitted there was no Saddam/9/11 connection. The idea of invading Iraq to topple a brutal dictator came up in a big way only after all the other supposed reasons were shown to be untrue. Again, there are a great many brutal tyrants all over the world; we don't bomb and invade their countries. But we did that with regard to Saddam -- and the plans for that were laid long before 9/11 even happened. Doesn't all that mean anything to you? ...

To prove that we had no justification for invading Iraq? That we are an aggressor nation hell-bent on world domination? You see, the degree to which Saddam's military was or was not broken, he was or was not in possession of WMD, was or was not a threat, is a bit in the eye of the beholder.

What official, or unofficial "beholders" have demonstrated the existence of stockpiles of WMD, a nuclear program, drone planes for delivering toxics, Saddam's connection of 9/11? Show me some and at least I can decide for myself, rather than take your "beholder"'s word for it.

I have postulated that he was an ongoing threat, a destabilizing force for evil, and a potential direct threat to the U.S. via giving sanctuary to terrorists and /or potentially supplying them with WMD.

I might even be willing to agree with most of the charges in that sentence, but none of them add up to anything approaching an imminent threat, which is what international law requires for the initiation of a "pre-emptive" invasion in self-defense.

...So the real debate topic is "Was Saddam Hussein a big enough threat to the U.S. to justify the military action taken?" RG for the affirmative, BW for the negative. Implicit in the whole debate is that there is some objective criteria as to what constitutes a threat. ... Honestly I have no interest in digging up Scott Ritter's reports on WMD, or UNSCOM's and figuring out whether or not the WMD was a purposeful lie or just poor intelligence.

<-> Again, why do you want to avoid how Americans got bamboozled into this war? The only reason I can figure out is because it might weaken your case, might compromise your ends-justifies-the-means, tunnel-vision approach to this war. "Who cares how we got here? We're here. Let's move on and finish the job." Interesting set of moral principles you've got there. ... I find it fascinating to watch you dance away from meaningful debate issues I raise; instead you quickly move to other areas. You never have chosen to provide an answer to the ends-justifies-the-means philosophy that apparently underlays your support of Bush's Iraq policy. You sure as hell don't want to address the lies and deceptions that led the country into war ...

You ask me if it means anything to me that GWB & Co. lied, misled, etc. to the American people to justify this war. I could go over Colin Powell's UN speech, and compare that to your arguments as to why Saddam was not an imminent threat, and how we embarked upon a deadly, costly adventure with little or no reason. I can read Paul O'Neil's books how we were spoiling for a war, take Joe Wilson's yellow cake lies more seriously, etc. But at the end of the day, I still support this effort.

In other words, if I interpret correctly, the end justifies the means. Very dangerous moral philosophy to rest on, because others can use the same argument when bashing your brains out.

I would posit that beginning with Carter, all the way through Clinton (including Bush #1 and RR) our leadership did not take seriously enough the threats to U.S. interests presented by Islamic fundamentalism, in all its forms.

Couldn't agree more.

I think Bush made a strategic error in not explaining this upfront to the U.S. citizenry.

YES! You've put your finger right on it. In a democratic republic, major wars should follow education and broad assent. In an authoritarian society, which is what we fast are becoming under Bush&Co., the citizenry need not be consulted; The Leader, who believes himself to be receiving his marching orders from God, just acts on his own -- launching a so-called "pre-emptive" war based on lies -- and propagandizes the stupid masses into going along. That approach, as so many authoritarian leaders have learned to their displeasure, tends to work for awhile but eventually collapses onto them.

I think he and his advisors figured the easier rationale would be WMD, etc. Not that those reasons were not legit, but who is to say one's actions have to be defined by only one motivation? That's why I can't get excited about the purported illegality or immorality of this effort. Do the means justify the ends, you ask. We no longer have the comfort of time. Your preferred course of action (build coalitions, use UN, Arab league, sanctions) were all non-starters for reasons I've noted before. We had to get this transformation started, because otherwise, we and our children and their children would continue to live in a world of fear. I do not believe we could have attempted this transformation in any other way, unfortunately.

<-> But you've just suggested above how Bush might have done it: openly and honestly laid out to the peoples of the U.S. and the world the dire necessity for such extreme action, maybe spent the better part of a year in this project while getting the massive coalition in place, energized various international bodies and leaders in support. Obviously, the reason why he didn't take this tack is that he realized it would be rejected by his own party, the American people, the international community, etc., because it was all based on a pre-decided war plan that couldn't stand public scrutiny. Tunnel-vision into violence. No room for another option. No creative thinking in terms of alliance-building. (But the neo-cons abhor alliances or anything else that will interfere with their moving aggressively in the world while there's no countervailing force to stop them.)

So I'm not going to nit-pic your statements because even if I agreed with all your arguments (which I don't) about the duplicity of the Bush administration, it would not make me arrive at your conclusion, i.e., that the war is one big mistake. So I'm prepared to leave it at that and state that I hope some day we both see that this "pre-emptive" war was a beneficial development for global security.

As I've noted previously, it's possible that this huge, all-chips-in gamble will pay off "some day" the way you suggest. Other empires have moved in similar directions based on similar beliefs; certainly that hubris was at work for the U.S. in Vietnam. ("Just a little longer...just a few more troops...we're just about to turn the corner...just be patient and hang in there...just trust us...etc.") But my guess is that by doing it all the way Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz have done it, they've stirred up a hornets' nest that will just grow bigger and more angry; our invading and occupying armies will be bogged down in the big muddy (or sandpile) for years, maybe decades, trying to deal with cultures they know not in the most brutal ways, etc. etc.

 In the end, after all the trillions spent and all the lives lost, another administration will have to try to undo the great damage done to our treasury, our social programs, our infrastructure, our sense of ourselves as a great and moral nation. That's how I see it, even though I'm willing to admit that there is a slight possibility that the future you see down the road "some day" might come to pass. But, in truth, I don't think so.

 Your arguments provide one of the most cogent, honest and strong arguments for Bush's war that I've seen in a long time. Not that I agree with it, but I definitely can see an intelligent mind grappling with the complexities and emerging with a firmly-based opinion. I hope, on your end, you likewise can see a somewhat-intelligent mind struggling with this complex issue and emerging with a different opinion. Out of this kind of dialogue can come compassion and comity.

 Which leads me to a question: Would you object if I put together a compilation of some of the best of our respective responses over the few days? Obviously, I'd run it all by you first and you can decide if I've been fair or not, and whether you approve or would want to make changes. If you say no-go, that's the end of it; we'll just appreciate out little conversation between ourselves. But I think others might get something important out of it as well. Ultimately, it will be your decision. ...

I've enjoyed our back and forth regarding the Iraqi conflict. I think this has, indeed, helped clarify some thoughts for me and allowed me to seriously consider arguments that previously I gave short shrift. I would not mind at all you using our emails as a basis or support for whatever writing/article/posting you might have in mind.... Look forward to hearing from you, Enjoy the weekend.

All the best, Bob

October 28, 2005

Libby's Indictment: A Window Into the White House Cesspool

With Scooter Libby's indictment, the first shoe has been dropped in the Plamegate criminal case. Whether there will be other shoes is problematic.

Fitzgerald says the case is almost wrapped up, but that Rove is not out of the woods yet. The fact that Rove and Cheney weren't also indicted Friday is disappointing, to be sure -- they are the real movers and shakers in the Bush Administration -- but we don't know what's going on behind the scenes.

Is Rove working out a plea bargain that will be announced in a few days? Could Fitzgerald simply not have all the ammo he needed by October 28 to bring charges against Rove and Cheney, but is rounding up that last-minute evidence? Did Fitzgerald present charge(s) to the Grand Jury against suspects other than Libby whom the panel wouldn't indict? We simply don't know at this point (I'm writing this the same day as the indictment); maybe the inevitable leaks will help us understand more as the story unfolds.

What is clear is that Libby seems to have been caught redhanded concocting a false story and, under oath, sticking to those coverup lies in both his FBI interrogations and Grand Jury testimony. A definite no-no.


If Libby goes to trial, you can bet that the potential witness list will include Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Hadley, Rice, maybe Bush, and a whole host of high-ranking neo-con underlings (Wurmser, Hanna, Feith, et al.). Libby -- and Cheney and Rove -- definitely would not want that to happen. Testifying under oath in a criminal trial is a lot different from leaking your spin to the media, and you could wind up in the slammer easily on perjury charges.

Since Libby is Cheney's alter-ego (Rove = Bush), you know that Libby wasn't a solo cowboy in revealing Plame's identity; after all, as the indictment makes clear, Libby heard about Plame from Cheney. The ball of lies Libby concocted seemed designed to deflect attention away from his closest associates, so there is no way Libby would go to trial and put them in perjury-jeopardy by having them testify.

In short, this case is not going to court. As I see it, Libby has two options:

1. Libby cops a plea to one of the charges, and no trial takes place.

2. Bush pardons Libby "pre-emptively" before a trial begins. (Remember that Bush's father pre-emptively pardoned Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger before he even was charged, thus protecting Bush Sr.'s own liability in the Iran-Contra scandal. Like father like son?)

I suppose Libby could decide to go to trial; he falls on the sword and takes the sole blame, and every other endangered Administration witness called takes the Fifth. Bush then pardons Libby. But in all three instances, we find out little or nothing.


Is Fitzgerald essentially closing up shop by charging only Libby, or could there be more indictments to come?

Fitzgerald, without giving anything away, said that if he needed to employ a grand jury for future indictments, he would do so. But he gave no indication in his press conference that he had anything major working. (But, earlier, he apparently told Rove that though he would not be indicted on Friday, the investigation is still open. Who knows, maybe he just wants to keep Rove in legal, and emotional, limbo while he finishes off the case.)

Any hope that Fitzgerald's probe would somehow touch openly on Administration manipulation of lies to take the country to war in Iraq was quashed by the Special Counsel at his news conference. He made it plain that his investigation would not go there, even though the "context," as Fitzgerald put it, certainly involved the Administration's selling of that war. But there was no mention by the Special Counsel of the role of the White House Iraq Group in the outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson; Libby and Rove were key members of that group.

As is clear, Libby's actions are inextricably linked to the struggle to promote the attack on Iraq; after all, Ambassador Joseph Wilson's opposition to the war, which set off the Administrations' anger, involved the Bush cabal's lies about alleged Iraqi nuclear activity.


Instead of looking wide and deep, Fitzgerald chose to focus very narrowly on provable facts relating only to this minute aspect of the coverup. The fact that Libby, a key principal to the events, chose to lie meant that the federal probers could not get a good handle on the motivations behind the outing of Valerie Plame. Fitzgerald made plain that he wasn't about to touch the third-rail issue of the war-lies; it will be up to those who feel strongly about the war issue to tie all the threads together and make that case.

(Even though we know that Fitzgerald was interested in the original forged Niger documents alleging an active Iraqi nuclear-program -- the reason why Joe Wilson was sent to Africa in the first place to check out that story -- the Special Counsel gave no indication that his investigators would continue to delve into that explosive issue, even though the forged-documents scandal is breaking open right now in Italy.)

But in a way, though the Special Counsel's narrow focus was disappointing, the full indictment, with all the detailed facts about Libby's bullshit cover story, opens up a window through which we can glimpse the moral cesspool that was (and is) the Bush Administration in its dealings then and now with regard to the Iraq War.

Even if Rove and Cheney and Bush escape indictment, their credibility is in tatters, their power diminished, their focus scattered. But, and this is a very big but, Bush&Co. still hold the reins of power and can do, and are prepared to do, a great deal of damage in their weakened, cornered state.

In short, the Administration has been bloodied badly, but not fatally wounded. An indictment of Rove probably would have been extremely helpful in delivering that coup de grace, but, for whatever reason, Fitzgerald didn't, or couldn't, go there, and Libby looks like the designated scapegoat.

If the Congress were to establish serious and high-level investigations of the entire Plame affair, or if the House were to pass an impeachment resolution -- thus putting Administration officials under oath during depositions -- that would be the beginning of the end of Bush&Co. power. But that's not about to happen right now in a GOP-ruled Congress, and Bush/Rove/Cheney, no matter how suspect and politically-damaged, still rule from the White House. That's important to keep in mind in the next weeks and months.


The GOP spin against Fitzgerald started even before the Libby indictment was revealed. In the main, it's designed to make light of the charges (none for the leak itself in espionage terms, rather only about "minor" matters like lying and perjury), and to question Fitzgerald's "partisan" motives. (Of course, when Clinton was in the dock, lying and perjury were extremely grave matters to GOP leaders, anything but "minor.")

I thought Fitzgerald handled those charges rather deftly in his news conference, saying he has no party affiliation, that he was given his authority by Bush's Justice Department, and that lies and perjury concerning national-security matters are not "minor" but go to the heart of protecting the lives and cover of our spies and those with whom they come into contact.

By sticking only to the facts of this one indictment and refusing to engage in surmise outside that narrow purview (and by having no leaks emerging from his prosecutorial team, unlike Kenneth Starr's politically-charged probe of Clinton), Fitzgerald gave rightwing critics little on which to hang their denunciations of his investigation.


I'm as consumed as the rest of you with the Libby indictment, and whether other shoes will drop. But the broader scandal right now is not which official lied to government investigators, but the war itself. Hundreds and thousands are continuing to die because of Bush neo-con lies and deceptions that took us to war in Iraq, and yet and still, with the Republicans in charge of the Congress, there are no official investigations there of how Americans were bamboozled into attacking Iraq.

Remember that Republican Sen. Pat Roberts promised before the election that his Intelligence Committee would investigate how the White House used and perhaps abused the intelligence to take the country to war, but, after Bush was declared the winner, Roberts said there was now no reason to hold such a probe, even after the bombshell revelations of the Downing Street Memos and other proofs of Bush Administration duplicity and war-crimes.

That's the real scandal and the real danger when one party controls the three branches of government, plus the mainstream media. Congressional oversight is effectively abandoned, and the timid Democrats, seemingly unfamiliar with the concept of "opposition party," barely make any significant noise. The Democrats, most of whom voted for the war and continue to fund it, are essentially silent.

In addition, there is the other major scandal that basically has been swept under the rug: the shoddy election and electronic vote-counting system we have in this country that appears to have resulted in manipulated election results in 2004. Again, the Democrats are basically silent, therefore the Republicans need do nothing to find out what happened and how to prevent such electoral corruption in the future. (And why should they want to find out? They benefit from the easily-manipulated system, which is run by Republican-supporting e-voting companies.)

If the Libby indictment can serve as a wedge to get to these larger issues, then the two-year-long Plamegate investigation may have borne good fruit. But, since Fitzgerald isn't going to speak openly about what he found -- the political and ideological slime and dirt he had to wade through over the past two years -- it's up to us to get those facts out to the American people.

In short, the Libby indictment is a small victory for justice, and does some damage to the power-mad Bush Administration, but if we truly want to get this crew's reckless, dangerous policies out of the White House, the ball is back in our court. No other way to say this: We've simply got to ratchet up our efforts. Organize, organize, organize.

More Bernard Weiner's Blogs

Spring, 2004 -- Summer, 2004 -- Autumn, 2004

2005 -- 2006 -- 2007 -- 2008 -- 2009 -- 2010


Crisis Papers editors, Partridge & Weiner, are available for public speaking appearances