Browsing the blog archives for May, 2007.

Making New Memories

American History, Bush Administration, Iraq War

Memorial Day “is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation’s service,” it says here. No doubt some new memories will be made today. As of Saturday, 102 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq in May, which brings the U.S. death toll to about 3,445.

Today all over the blogosphere righties are gushing about “honoring” fallen soldiers. At the same time, they remain among the last visible props of a war creating more fallen soldiers to “honor.” Michelle Malkin is worked up into a snit today (as she is every day) because some people (hint: Democrats) don’t know how to “honor” soldiers properly. It seems the proper way to “honor” the fallen is to swoon over how heroic and decent and honorable they were. On the other hand, she says, Bill Richardson is not swooning properly, even though as governor he helped bring about a significant increase in the death benefits that went to the families of National Guard.

Somehow I think the families would just as soon have the cash than more rightie drool. Of course, what they really want is to have their loved one alive and home again, but then who would Michelle Malkin swoon over?

* * *

The 101st Fighting Keyboarders have plenty to celebrate today. The Associated Press reports that “Americans have opened nearly 1,000 new graves to bury U.S. troops killed in Iraq since Memorial Day a year ago. The figure is telling — and expected to rise in coming months.”

Righties often claim we who oppose the war “dishonor” the troops because we do not support the war in which they are dying. The troops and the Cause are so fused in their minds that one cannot be separated from the other. To some, troops are not individual human beings, but just abstractions in their collective glorious jingoistic fantasy that they mistake for patriotism.

We see the fantasy in this post by rightie blogger Dean Barnett, who took offense when Nancy Pelosi referred to soldiers as “young people” and an honored fallen soldier as a “young man.” “[T]he failure to use the word ‘soldier’, ‘Marine’ or any other term that acknowledges a connection between [Marine Corporal Jason L. ] Dunham and the military is borderline grotesque,” Barnett wrote.

In other words, to acknowledge that a fallen soldier was young (Marine Corporal Jason L. Dunham was 22 years old when he died; seems young to me), that he was a person, that he was a man, that he had a life separate from the military, that he was flesh and blood, and had hopes and sorrows and expectations and vulnerabilities like the rest of us, is borderline grotesque.

Barnett likes his soldiers plastic and pliable. He likes them indistinguishable from the Mission.

(I’d like to add that this is the same Barnett who wrote recently in the Boston Globe that he is opposed to abortion because fertilized eggs are people. I guess sentience is in the eye of the beholder.)

The hawks are forever shrieking about how we could win in Vietnam Iraq if only we liberals would clap our hands and believe in fairies stop undermining troop morale. I’d like to see the rest of us — the two-thirds of the nation that has seen through the lie — turn around and lay every death, every wound, every broken marriage, every busted up life, at the feet of the hawks, and say Look at this. This is your doing. Are you still so proud of what you accomplished?

If I were them, I’d want to pretend soldiers are plastic toys, too.

* * *

If you want to see grotesque, read this:

On Monday, Bush will mark his sixth Memorial Day as a wartime president with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. He is to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns to honor those who have died in past and current conflicts.

The Creature isn’t worthy to set foot in that cemetery, much less prance around over it and pretend to be a war leader.

The Creature also urges Americans “to rededicate themselves to fighting for freedom around the world.” Good advice. In fact, that’s why I blog. And as long as Bush is in the White House, we we who are dedicated to fighting for freedom around the world have a job to do to pry him out of it.

* * *

In last year’s Memorial Day post I wrote briefly history about my family’s military history, which goes back to the American Revolution. Since then, an uncle has told me that my great-great grandfather William Gillihan was a Confederate, not a Yankee. He wanted the record corrected. My understanding was that WG (who died shortly before the war ended) was a volunteer in an Indiana regiment, but perhaps I was mistaken. That still leaves me with two other “great-greats” who fought for the Union.

The other update is that my nephew, Maj. Robert John Thomas, is now in Baghdad.

* * *

Some other stuff to read today:

David Carr, “Not to See the Fallen Is No Favor

James Carroll, “Sacrifice, pain, and grief”

Adam Cohen, “What the History of Memorial Day Teaches About Honoring the War Dead”

Michael Kamber, “As Allies Turn Foe, Disillusion Rises in Some G.I.’s

Gary Kamiya, “Memorial Day”

Fred Kaplan, “Bush Bungles a Press Conference

Paul Krugman, “Trust and Betrayal” (also here)

Donna St. George, “Another Memorial Day Marks Grief’s Journey

Washington Post editorial, “Remembering Americans of many nationalities

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Let the Sunshine In

entertainment and popular culture

I’ve been looking for an appropriate Memorial Day video. The best I could come up with are a couple of clips from the 1979 film version of Hair, which was actually pretty good even though only about 36 people went to see it in theaters.

This is my favorite bit; Treat Williams as Berger sings “I Got Life.”

Here’s the last scene of the film. Berger takes Claude’s place in training camp — temporarily, he thought — so that Claude (John Savage) can go on a picnic. The rest is self-explanatory.

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Eye Opener

Bush Administration, The Constitution, U.S. Attorneys

If you looking for something to read, go to and read about “Bush’s Monica Problem.” See also Christy’s comments.

This article clarifies much about the Bush Justice Department that was hazy to me, including the role played by John Yoo. It also reveals there was a major standoff between the Justice Department and the White House over warrantless wiretapping, with as many as 30 top DoJ officials threatening to resign.

I’m only going to quote a couple of paragraphs —

Bush’s role has remained shadowy throughout the controversy over the eavesdropping program. But there are strong suggestions that he was an active presence. On the night after Ashcroft’s operation, as Ashcroft lay groggy in his bed, his wife, Janet, took a phone call. It was Andy Card, asking if he could come over with Gonzales to speak to the attorney general. Mrs. Ashcroft said no, her husband was too sick for visitors. The phone rang again, and this time Mrs. Ashcroft acquiesced to a visit from the White House officials. Who was the second caller, one with enough power to persuade Mrs. Ashcroft to relent? The former Ashcroft aide who described this scene would not say, but senior DOJ officials had little doubt who it was—the president. (The White House would not comment on the president’s role.) Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David Ayres, then called Comey, Ashcroft’s deputy, to warn him that the White House duo was on the way. With an FBI escort, Comey raced to the hospital to try to stop them, but Ashcroft himself was strong enough to turn down his White House visitors’ request.

The morning after the scene at Ashcroft’s hospital bed, the president met with Comey. “We had a full and frank discussion, very informed. He was very focused,” Comey later testified, choosing his words carefully. But it wasn’t until Bush had met with Mueller that the president agreed to take steps (still unspecified, but probably involving more oversight) to bring the eavesdropping program back inside the boundaries of the law. Mueller has never said what he told the president, but it is a good bet that he said he would resign if the changes were not made. Bush could not afford to see Mueller go, nor could he risk losing the rest of the Justice Department leadership over a matter of principle in an election year.

After this, a noticable chill set in between Ashcroft’s team at DoJ and the White House. Over the next few months Ashcroft and several other top DoJ officials decided to spend more time with their families. The article suggests that in Ashcroft’s case this was not entirely voluntary.

Solicitor General Ted Olson was also out, either voluntarily or otherwise. Remember, Olson personally represented Bush in the Bush v. Gore SCOTUS case. He also provided assistance to Paula Jones’s legal team in their case against President Clinton, and was a big public cheerleader for Kenneth Starr and his witch hunts. More recently Olson signed off on Wolfie’s girlfriend’s compensation package. If Olson isn’t a team player, I don’t know who is. Yet even he bailed out of the DoJ.

Update: Emptywheel says the Newsweek story gets the time frame wrong:

The hospital confrontation happened on March 10. The pact to resign may have happened on March 10 or 11 (Comey had a resignation letter dated March 10, but Ashcroft’s chief of staff persuaded him to hold off until Ashcroft could resign at the same time). March 11 was the day of the Madrid train bombings which didn’t, Chuck Schumer made sure to point out, dissuade Comey from resigning. And the discussion between Bush and Comey and, then, Mueller, happened on March 12.

So who cares? Why worry about the dates?

Simply, because by collapsing this two day period into one, you avoid noting one of the most important parts of this story: on his own authority, Bush reauthorized the program without the support from DOJ. The program operated for at least 24 hours without even the promise of changes to satisfy the DOJ.

Maybe this is just sloppy editing. But given that Isikoff had a hand in this article, I find it troubling that a narrative trying to tie all these events together ignores Bush’s clear contempt for the law (it does, however, provide a useful description of Bush’s role in calling Mrs. Ashcroft to get Gonzales and Card admitted into the hospital). It’s not just that Gonzales and Card attempted to override Comey’s acting authority, this story is primarily about Bush’s role overriding the counsel of those paid to offer that counsel.

The Newsweek story also allows a Bushie shill to have the next-to-last word:

Goodling’s only crime was her lack of subtlety, said Mark Corallo, the Justice Department’s chief of public affairs under Ashcroft, and Goodling’s onetime boss. “She probably was a little too overt about it,” Corallo told NEWSWEEK. “But let’s face it—the Democrats do this, too, they all do it. The idea that career employees are above politics is total crap. The so-called career employees are mostly liberal Democrats.” He noted that in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco, career employees refused for months to hang portraits of Bush, Cheney and Ashcroft.

Emptywheel questions whether U.S. Attorney’s offices normally feature photos of the vice president. And she asks, “Were career prosecutors objecting to one picture, presumably replacing pictures of Bill Clinton and Janet Reno? Or were career prosecutors objecting to the kind of hagiography that brought down the Soviet Union?”

That’s a story I’d like to hear.

Update 2: Knee slapper du jour — “Seriously, if Ann Coulter had been born a girl, she’d probably look something like Monica Goodling.”

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Raw Honesty

Iraq War

Andrew J. Bacevich writes about the death of his son in Iraq. Just read it.

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Katrina Health Care

Health Care

Must read from today’s New York Times, via this obliging blogger.

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The Coming Outrage

Bush Administration, Congress, Democratic Party, Iraq War, Republican Party

We’ve been so wrapped up in the Iraq funding issue that this bomb is going off nearly unnoticed. Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers:

U.S. intelligence agencies warned the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq that ousting Saddam Hussein would create a “significant risk” of sectarian strife, encourage al-Qaida attacks and open the way for Iranian interference.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Friday released declassified prewar intelligence reports and summaries of others that cautioned that establishing democracy in Iraq would be “long, difficult and probably turbulent” and said that while most Iraqis would welcome elections, the country’s ethnic and religious leaders would be unwilling to share power.

Nevertheless, President Bush, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top aides decided not to deploy the major occupation that force military planners had recommended, planned to reduce U.S. troops rapidly after the invasion and believed that ousting Saddam would ignite a democratic revolution across the Middle East.

The Senate Intelligence Committee ought to know better than to dump something like this on the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. I suspect there’s a story behind that, and I’d like to know what it is.

You might remember that the Senate Intelligence Committee released its first report dealing with pre-war intelligence assessments about Iraq in July 2004. Then the committee, um, stopped reporting. In November 2005, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid “shut down” the Senate, forcing it into a rare, secret closed door session, threatening to delay legislative action until the Intelligence Committee followed through on its planned investigation of prewar Iraq intelligence failures.

In April 2006, Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) released a schedule for releasing the rest of the report, in which he declared the remainder of the work had been broken into five parts. The first two reports of Phase II were released in August 2006 (nice dead news time, that) and looked at post-war findings about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and links to al Qaeda.

Yesterday’s was the first of the Phase II reports released since the Democratic takeover of the Senate. As it was, five Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to keep sitting on what they knew. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia Snowe of Maine joined majority Democrats in approving the release, making the final vote 10-5. Although the Dems were in the majority, I can’t help but wonder if the timing of the release was part of a deal.

Cliff Schecter has more details about what the report says.

Walter Pincus and Karen DeYoung write in today’s Washington Post.

Months before the invasion of Iraq, U.S. intelligence agencies predicted that it would be likely to spark violent sectarian divides and provide al-Qaeda with new opportunities in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a report released yesterday by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Analysts warned that war in Iraq also could provoke Iran to assert its regional influence and “probably would result in a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups” in the Muslim world.

The intelligence assessments, made in January 2003 and widely circulated within the Bush administration before the war, said that establishing democracy in Iraq would be “a long, difficult and probably turbulent challenge.” The assessments noted that Iraqi political culture was “largely bereft of the social underpinnings” to support democratic development.

Dan Froomkin dedicated much of yesterday’s column to this issue. Among other things, he quotes an Associated Press report:

The committee also found that the warnings predicting what would happen after the U.S.-led invasion were circulated widely in government, including to the Defense Department and the Office of the Vice President. It wasn’t clear whether President Bush was briefed.

Of course it wasn’t.

I don’t believe this information is entirely new. James Fallows said something like it in the January/February 2004 issue of Atlantic Monthly, in his article “Blind Into Baghdad.” Today’s news stories are about pre-war reports from U.S. intelligence that were studiously ignored, whereas Fallows wrote about studies commissioned by the U.S. Department of State that were studiously ignored. If you’ve never read this article I urge you to do so (the link is to a page outside the Atlantic subscription firewall). Even though it is more than three years old, there’s stuff in it that I bet will make your jaw drop even now. Anyway, one of the pre-war issues Fallows addressed was the absence of Bush:

… in several months of interviews I never once heard someone say “We took this step because the President indicated …” or “The President really wanted …” Instead I heard “Rumsfeld wanted,” “Powell thought,” “The Vice President pushed,” “Bremer asked,” and so on. One need only compare this with any discussion of foreign policy in Reagan’s or Clinton’s Administration—or Nixon’s, or Kennedy’s, or Johnson’s, or most others—to sense how unusual is the absence of the President as prime mover. The other conspicuously absent figure was Condoleezza Rice, even after she was supposedly put in charge of coordinating Administration policy on Iraq, last October. It is possible that the President’s confidants are so discreet that they have kept all his decisions and instructions secret. But that would run counter to the fundamental nature of bureaucratic Washington, where people cite a President’s authority whenever they possibly can (“The President feels strongly about this, so …”).

To me, the more likely inference is that Bush took a strong overall position—fighting terrorism is this generation’s challenge—and then was exposed to only a narrow range of options worked out by the contending forces within his Administration. If this interpretation proves to be right, and if Bush did in fact wish to know more, then blame will fall on those whose responsibility it was to present him with the widest range of choices: Cheney and Rice.

I doubt very much that Bush did want to know more. He had issues with Saddam Hussein, and White House courtiers were all too eager to supply him with justifications to smack the Iraqi dictator down. The details could be left up to the hired help. I say any President of the United States who was so colossally incurious about what Hurricane Katrina had done to New Orleans that his staff had to make him watch a video is perfectly capable of launching a war without thinking about the consequences real hard.

Anyway, as Fallows documented, all kinds of details had been worked out by armies of experts, including Iraqis. Among other items the report warned of possible looting and lawlessness after the Baathist government fell; of the need to restore water, electricity and jobs as quickly as possible; and not to disband the Iraqi army.

Two names that come up frequently in the Fallows article are Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld. Rummy actually opposed planning for the post-war period. Here Fallows is talking to Douglas Feith:

When I asked what had gone better than expected, and what had gone worse, he said, “We don’t exactly deal in ‘expectations.’ Expectations are too close to ‘predictions.’ We’re not comfortable with predictions. It is one of the big strategic premises of the work that we do.”

The limits of future knowledge, Feith said, were of special importance to Rumsfeld, “who is death to predictions.” “His big strategic theme is uncertainty,” Feith said. “The need to deal strategically with uncertainty. The inability to predict the future. The limits on our knowledge and the limits on our intelligence.”

In practice, Feith said, this meant being ready for whatever proved to be the situation in postwar Iraq. “You will not find a single piece of paper … If anybody ever went through all of our records—and someday some people will, presumably—nobody will find a single piece of paper that says, ‘Mr. Secretary or Mr. President, let us tell you what postwar Iraq is going to look like, and here is what we need plans for.’ If you tried that, you would get thrown out of Rumsfeld’s office so fast—if you ever went in there and said, ‘Let me tell you what something’s going to look like in the future,’ you wouldn’t get to your next sentence!”

“This is an important point,” he said, “because of this issue of What did we believe? … The common line is, nobody planned for security because Ahmed Chalabi told us that everything was going to be swell.” Chalabi, the exiled leader of the Iraqi National Congress, has often been blamed for making rosy predictions about the ease of governing postwar Iraq. “So we predicted that everything was going to be swell, and we didn’t plan for things not being swell.” Here Feith paused for a few seconds, raised his hands with both palms up, and put on a “Can you believe it?” expression. “I mean—one would really have to be a simpleton. And whatever people think of me, how can anybody think that Don Rumsfeld is that dumb? He’s so evidently not that dumb, that how can people write things like that?” He sounded amazed rather than angry

In other words, Rummy et al. were opposed to “expectations,” because expectations become predictions (which are bad), but because Ahmed Chalabi had made rosy predictions about the post-war period, the Defense Department crew didn’t expect it to be all that hard. Got it.

As for Wolfie’s part, do read Sidney Blumenthal’s recent article, “Wolfowitz’s tomb.”

With the end of the Cold War the cold warrior without a mission fastened onto a new id´e fixe. As the undersecretary of defense for policy in the first Gulf War, serving under Secretary Dick Cheney, Wolfowitz had concurred in the decision not to pursue Saddam Hussein to Baghdad after expelling him from Kuwait. He had been present at the Feb. 21, 1991, meeting where that policy was approved and uttered not a skeptical or contrary word. But when the elder Bush was defeated, Wolfowitz in exile became the champion of regime change. He developed an elaborate utopian scheme based on the overthrow of Saddam — instant democracy in Iraq, inciting democratic revolutions throughout the Middle East, accompanied by the equally sudden quiescence of the Palestinians, creating peace for Israel while doing away with any negotiations involved in a peace process. And he imagined Saddam, a brutal enough tyrant, as an octopus, his tentacles manipulating nearly every horror. Even after every available piece of evidence and trials proved otherwise, he continued to insist that Saddam was behind the Oklahoma City and 1993 World Trade Center bombings. …

… [After becoming a deputy to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] Wolfowitz set to work at once to implement his master plan. He brought up overthrowing Saddam in the first National Security Council meeting with the president, eight months before 9/11. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks, Wolfowitz hammered on the idea of striking at Iraq.

Less than a month before the invasion, for which his intelligence operation had provided the justifications (later all disproved as sheer disinformation), Wolfowitz was approaching an ecstatic state of being. He could see the shape of things to come through the fog of war. On Feb. 19, 2003, in an interview with National Public Radio, he held forth on the new dawn: “But we’re not talking about the occupation of Iraq. We’re talking about the liberation of Iraq … Therefore, when that regime is removed we will find one of the most talented populations in the Arab world, perhaps complaining that it took us so long to get there. Perhaps a little unfriendly to the French for making it take so long. But basically welcoming us as liberators … There’s not going to be the hostility … There simply won’t be.”

Five months later, on July 23, 2003, after his trip to Iraq, Wolfowitz was still in an elevated state. “There is no humanitarian crisis,” he said. “There is no refugee crisis. There is no health crisis. There has been minimal damage to infrastructure — minimal war damage … So, fortunately, much of what … we planned for and budgeted for has not proved necessary.”

Historians often write about the founding of our country with a reverent wonder — isn’t it remarkable that so many giants among men could have been alive at the same place and the same time? We still defer to the Founders respectfully — Washington. Jefferson. Hamilton. Madison. Franklin. A fortunate confluence. But on 9/11 we had the unfortunate confluence of the worst pack of losers and idiots that ever ran a government — Bush. Cheney. Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz. Rice. Names which will in infamy.

Update: See “Pat Lang & Lawrence Wilkerson Share Nightmare Encounters with Feith, Wolfowitz, and Tenet.”

Update 2: Who needs a propaganda machine when the base is this good at lying to itself?

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Speak for Yourself, Sir

Bush Administration, conservatism

Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page. He’s a major tool for the Right, in other words. He says people in Spain don’t want to talk about politics.

Here, roughly, is the whole of a response from a right-of-center gentleman to a query about the current state of Spain’s politics, around a dinner table in a noisy, modern Madrid restaurant: “Well, yes, the Zapatero government.” Pause. “It’s painful, quite painful.” Pause. “It’s really not something one wants to talk about.” The rest of one’s heretofore voluble dinner companions mutter assent. Let’s discuss something else.

How like New York, where at this stage of our politics, Democrats and Republicans coexist to the extent they agree not to discuss George Bush, Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz or much of anything deeper than the celebrities of presidential politics.

Clearly, Mr. Henninger is being invited to the wrong parties. I’ve spent plenty of time with New Yorkers lately, and they’ll talk about Bush, Iraq, and Paul Wolfowitz loudly and lustily at the drop of a hat. You don’t even have to drop the hat, in fact.

But of course, I mostly hang out with other liberals. If there were a few genuine conservatives around — Mr. Henninger is proof there’s at least one in New York — I might hold my tongue. It’s like seeing that someone’s fly is unzipped; you don’t know whether to say something or, out of politeness, pretend not to notice.

That Henninger himself is a tad unzipped comes out in a subsequent paragraph. According to him, American political culture was wonderfully healthy and genteel until the 2000 elections.

It has been argued in this column before that the origins of our European-like polarization can be found in the Florida legal contest at the end of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential campaign. That was a mini civil war. With the popular vote split 50-50, we spent weeks in a tragicomic pitched battle over contested votes in a few Florida counties. The American political system, by historical tradition flexible and accommodative, was unable to turn off the lawyers and forced nine unelected judges to settle it. So they did, splitting 5-4. In retrospect, a more judicious Supreme Court minority would have seen the danger in that vote (as Nixon did in 1960) and made the inevitable result unanimous to avoid recrimination. A pacto. Instead, we got recrimination.

I know you’re hyperventilating right now. Take deep breaths.

From that day, American politics has been a pitched battle, waged mainly by Democrats against the “illegitimate” Republican presidency. Some Democrats might say the origins of this polarization traces to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton. After that the goal was payback. To lose as the Democrats did in 2000 was, and remains, unendurable (as likely it would have for Republicans if they’d lost 5 to 4).

And Mr. Henninger wonders why people don’t want to talk about politics with him? Mr. Henninger, the problem is not “American politics.” It’s you.

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Laugh. Riot.


The Saturday cartoons.

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Comments Off on Laugh. Riot.


Congress, Democratic Party

Although I disagree with Jonathan Alter that “Democrats in Congress had no choice but to proceed the way they have this week on the war in Iraq,” I suspect he is right when he says “what’s going on inside the Democratic Party now is a family argument about tactics, not principle.”

I’ve seen many assumptions that the Dems folded because they don’t understand War Is Bad or that they secretly support the war and intend to keep it going. But I think Alter speaks for the Dems (and note that I think the Dems are mistaken) when he writes,

The whole “support the troops” meme has become a terrible problem for Democrats. Even though, as Glenn Greenwald has argued in Salon, cutting off funding doesn’t mean soldiers will have their guns and bullets and armor taken away in the middle of a battle, Americans have been convinced that it does. They want to end the war and support the troops at the same time—i.e., send back the food and still eat.

This is not a figment of some spineless Democrat’s imagination but the reality of what he or she will face back in the district over Memorial Day. Democrats who vote to cut funding not only risk getting thrown in the briar patch by Republican hit men in Washington; they also might not be able to satisfy their otherwise antiwar constituents at home.

Alter seems to be right that there is little public support for cutting off funds, even though sentiment against the war itself is at an all-time high. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll:

Sixty-one percent of Americans say the United States should have stayed out of Iraq and 76 percent say things are going badly there, including 47 percent who say things are going very badly, the poll found.

Still, the majority of Americans support continuing to finance the war as long as the Iraqi government meets specific goals. …

… While troops are still in Iraq, Americans overwhelmingly support continuing to finance the war, though most want to do so with conditions. Thirteen percent want Congress to block all money for the war.

Sixty-nine percent, including 62 percent of Republicans, say Congress should allow financing, but on the condition that the United States sets benchmarks for progress and the Iraqi government meets those goals. Fifteen percent of all respondents want Congress to allow all financing for the war, no matter what.

Note: Only 13 percent want Congress to cut off funding for the war. Dems look at those numbers and assume that cutting off funds would be political suicide. That, folks, is motivation. That’s why the supplement bill passed both houses yesterday.

I suspect the Dems have less to fear from “Republican hit men in Washington” than they used to. The days when Republicans could get away with accusing Dems of being allied with Osama bin Laden are long past. The poll also said this:

More Americans — 72 percent — now say that “generally things in the country are seriously off on the wrong track” than at any other time since the Times/CBS News poll began asking the question in 1983. The number has slowly risen since January 2004. Then, 53 percent said the country was “seriously off on the wrong track,” and by January of this year it was 68 percent.

I think if the Dems had made an all-out effort to go to the American people and say Bush is bluffing about the troops running out of money. If you want us to end the war we need you to support what we’re doing in Congress, then they could have put up a better fight and rallied more of the public to their side.

But the Dems aren’t good at doing that. They don’t have the infrastructure of media, “think tanks” and astroturf organizations that the Republicans use to pound their talking points into peoples’ heads. Plus, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has been dominating national politics for so long that only the very oldest Washington politicians remember those long-ago days when they weren’t quaking in terror under its shadow. Old dogs, new tricks, and all that.

I disagree with Kathy that Dems blinked because they are afraid of the President. I think they are afraid of the VRWC, which is still in place, and which will not be leaving Washington when Bush’s term runs out.

Granted, Tom Hulse wrote a couple of days ago in the New York Times:

Democrats said they did not relish the prospect of leaving Washington for a Memorial Day break — the second recess since the financing fight began — and leaving themselves vulnerable to White House attacks that they were again on vacation while the troops were wanting. That criticism seemed more politically threatening to them than the anger Democrats knew they would draw from the left by bowing to Mr. Bush.

Fear of a colossally unpopular White House might seem laughable, but the Wrath of Bush would still be carried and amplified throughout the Republican echo chamber, and Karl’s talking points would be drilled into peoples’ heads by armies of political commentators in newspapers, radio, and television. The White House spin on funding the troops already has been well presented to the public, which has a lot to do with why only 13 percent of the public want the war de-funded.

I also disagree with Matt Stoller’s take on the Dems’ motivation.

The crazy thing about the fight is that Democratic insiders are convinced that capitulation is the right strategy. They actually believe that this will put pressure on the Republicans in the fall, and that standing up to Bush is a bad idea.

Sorta kinda, but not quite. In their public statements Dems may be applying lipstick to the pig, but I don’t think in their minds they thought capitulation now would put pressure on Republicans in the fall. They’re hoping the war’s own [un]popularity will put pressure on Republicans in the fall. Instead, I think the Dems just want to avoid being a big, fat target for the VRWC over the summer.

It’s been only three years from the time the “Swift Boaters” hijacked the nation’s media and the 2004 election campaign and sold the public a pack of easily debunked whoppers that few in the media bothered to debunk, for example. I don’t think the VRWC could work that same scam quite so easily today. But three years isn’t so long ago that there isn’t reason for concern.

On the other side of this argument, Kos writes,

Well, the blood of a few thousand more of our servicemembers in Iraq should be worth avoiding a little criticism! …

… I’m just wondering when beltway Democrats will realize that no one likes Bush or his war? And when will they realize that every time he opens up his trap, his poll numbers drop another few points?

However, when Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and David Broder and Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews and the rest of the army of tools that dominate mass media spend the summer speaking on Bush’s behalf while Bush happily chainsaws the last bit of vegetation for miles around Crawford, Texas, who knows?

I’m not saying that the Dems couldn’t and shouldn’t have put up a better fight. I’m saying this is why they didn’t.

I support efforts to target Steny Hoyer and the Blue Dogs generally in next year’s primaries. Dems need to learn they have more to fear from their base than from Faux Snooze.

But it’s shortsighted and immature to abandon the entire party. Because, frankly, we need them as much as they need us. Lots of people aren’t going to want to hear that, but it’s the truth. Back in the 1970s progressives and liberals busted up the old New Deal coalition and then walked away from party politics. And for nearly 40 years we liberals have been shoved to the fringes of power, handing out fliers to people who don’t give a shit and sending checks to myriad single-issue advocacy groups, most of which have been stunningly ineffectual at everything but direct mail fundraising.

The truth is that if you want to have a say in what goes on in government, you have to do it through party politics. And another truth is that there’s not going to be a viable, national third party in my lifetime. Maybe there’ll be one in yours if you are very young, but in any event bolting to a third party is no remedy to our current problems. The practical reality is that our only hope of effecting a progressive agenda in the U.S. in the foreseeable future is to take the Dems into hand and mold it into a party that responds to us.

It’s not about our supporting the Democrats; it’s about training the Democrats to support us. It’s going to take more than one or two election cycles to accomplish this. I’ve been saying that all along.

And on that note I will turn to Chris Weigant at Huffington Post, who says:

Back in January, the tally of hard anti-war Democrats in the House was estimated to be around 70. Recently, though, 171 House members and 29 senators voted for a straight-up “get out now” bill, which shows that the anti-war wing is gaining strength. That’s a good thing.

Unfortunately, only 142 House representatives voted against yesterday’s bill, and only 14 in the Senate voted likewise. That shows a certain softness to the anti-war caucus. That’s a bad thing.

Overall, though, this group is gaining in strength, and will continue to do so (in my opinion). And that’s a really good thing, because it’s moving in the right direction.

The final bill didn’t contain Jack Murtha’s troop readiness language, which is a very bad thing, and which disappointed me personally. While I knew the Democrats were going to eventually cave on the timetable, I was extremely discouraged to see that they didn’t fight harder for Murtha’s language.

And completely out of left field, Democrats snuck in the minimum wage increase into the final bill. I certainly didn’t see that one coming, but it is indeed a very good thing.

Go read all of this post. I have some small quibbles with it, but on the whole I think Weigant is right.

Update: See also E.J. Dionne:

The decision to drop withdrawal timelines from the Iraq supplemental appropriations bill is not a decisive defeat. It is a temporary setback in a much longer struggle for minds and votes that the administration’s critics are actually winning.

The progressives’ anger is not hard to fathom. Bush’s botched war has been immensely harmful to our country. Polls show that most Americans want out. Democrats won the 2006 midterm election in significant part because of the public’s exhaustion with the war and with the Bush presidency. According to the Real Clear Politics Web site, the president’s disapproval rating across a series of polls averages 61 percent. Opponents of the war feel the wind at their backs. Why, they ask, did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cave in?…

…Pelosi’s case is that the war’s congressional opponents have already helped move the debate by passing antiwar measures and by prying Republicans loose from the president’s policy. “It is just a matter of time,” she says, before Republicans can “no longer stay with the president.”

She gets support from one of the House’s most vociferous opponents of the war, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), lead sponsor of the strongest House withdrawal proposal. McGovern sees Pelosi as a passionate opponent of the war who is in it to win in the legislative process. “For her, it’s not therapy,” he says.

He notes that the agreement to go forward with the funding bill passed yesterday (a majority of House Democrats, Pelosi among them, opposed it) included a promise to take up his withdrawal amendment this fall. This gives teeth to Pelosi’s pledge — “we’ll see you in September” — to continue to battle Bush on the war.

As a tactical matter, it could have been useful for the Democrats to move another bill containing timelines to Bush’s desk for a second veto, simply to underscore the president’s unwillingness to seek bipartisan accord on a change in policy. But these are the brute facts: Democrats narrowly control the House but don’t have an effective majority in the Senate since Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) votes with the Republicans on the war and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) is still too ill to vote.

Democrats, in short, have enough power to complicate the president’s life, but not enough to impose their will. Moreover, there is genuine disagreement even among Bush’s Democratic critics over what the pace of withdrawal should be and how to minimize the damage of this war to the country’s long-term interests. That is neither shocking nor appalling, but, yes, it complicates things. So does the fact that the minority wields enormous power in the Senate.

What was true in January thus remains true today: The president will be forced to change his policy only when enough Republicans tell him he has to. Facing this is no fun; it’s just necessary.

Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said recently that no one remembers how long it took to reverse the direction of American policy in Vietnam. Obey is hunkered down for a lengthy struggle.

In a divided system, democracy can be frustratingly slow. But it usually works. Critics of the war should spend less time mourning the setbacks of May and begin organizing for a showdown in September.

Update 2: David Sirota

E.J. Dionne has a piece in the Washington Post saying it’s AOK to wait until September to deal with the Iraq War. “See you in September!” he cheerily tells us. What’s amazing is that he doesn’t take even one line to explore how many American troops will be killed or maimed between now and when we “see you in September!”

It’s sick – it’s a big game to all these people in Washington. When people use the metaphor “blood on their hands” it is columns like Dionne’s that they are referring to.

The argument is mostly between people who think the Dems could have stopped the war if they’d tried harder, and those who think the Dems did the best they could and will have a better shot at ending the war in a few months after more Republicans have jumped ship.

You may have noticed I am right in the middle. I am not persuaded the Dems did everything they could to tie Bush’s hands, but I never believed the showdown over the “emergency” supplement bill by itself was going to end the war.

Nor do I think E.J. Dionne is “cheerily” saying that we should all just passively wait until September to end the war. I think there is much work to be done by antiwar activists and Democratis senators and representatives to prepare the ground for a successful effort.

Step one is to find out how your representative and senators voted, and send them either a thank you or a bleep you, according to the vote.

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Another Iraq Update


I just heard that Barack Obama and Hillary voted no on the supplemental, but they voted after enough votes had been cast to pass the measure.

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