31 October 2005
The Manchurian Presidency
Paul is, again, too modest to trumpet his epistolary prowess, so I will do so in his stead, thanks to the editors at the Financial Times.
Sir, I have enjoyed your recent coverage of our White House run amok, including Jurek Martin's piece "A scandal that broke loose and ran riot at the White House" (October 22). The volume on this story needs to be turned up on both sides of the Atlantic.
Writing in his blog, Altercation, Eric Alterman has given Judy Miller the apt moniker "Manchurian Reporter" for her participation in selling the invasion of Iraq to the American people.
Alterman's theory is that Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, "Scooter" Libby, and others within the administration wanted to invade Iraq but did not have a reason the US public would swallow, so they just came up with evil Saddam packing weapons of mass destruction, running a nuclear programme and working with al-Qaeda.
These evil geniuses used an all too willing Judith Miller to get their fiction into the paper and their war started. Sounds like a pretty good theory to me.
I do have one question: Does that make Tony Blair the "Manchurian prime minister"?
To which, I can only add that it is a bit of shame that Harriet Miers will not be on the Supreme Court anytime soon, because Angela Lansbury would have been a casting coup in an echo of her role as Mrs. Iselin.
30 October 2005
The Reason for the Cover Up?
As Bob Somerby has consistently noted at his pleasingly contrarian Daily Howler site, the idea that Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger contradicted the infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union address. To wit, the sentence—"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa—is couched thrice over. Not only does it place the question of truth onto the shoulders of British intelligence, and not only does it claim that Iraq merely sought uranium, but it is ever so vague about where it was doing the seeking.
A truthful administration could have parried Wilson's public condemnation by noting that his findings about an Iraq-Niger connection did not, and could not, invalidate the claim made in the address.
But the supposed evidence behind Bush's claim was always suspect: some suspect documents with suspect provenance. The cast of characters includes civilians in the Pentagon, Italian intelligence agents, and even Iran-Contra veteran Manucher Ghorbanifar.
Imagine, if you will, that the forged Nigerien documents led not only to the Bush-friendly Italian government of Silvio Berlusconi, but to the highest levels of the Bush administration. In that case, it would be incumbent upon Scooter Libby to do whatever he could to discredit Joseph Wilson before the press connected too many dots.
Last week, La Repubblica published a troika of fascinating articles about the role of the Italian government in fabricating evidence against Iraq. If you read Italian, go check them out.
And this evening, Josh Marshall has the first in what promises to be an exciting series of articles about the forged documents and where they came from. Heads should roll.
It's All Greek to Them
In the 31 October version of Newsweek's snarky but often too vapid Conventional Wisdom Watch (sorry, no link yet available), the oh-so-clever editors make me wonder what they were doing in college.
After Wilma, this season's hurricanes will be named with the letters of the Greek alphabet. Let's hope we don't see zeta.
Three problems in two sentences is not bad for a major American publication. First, only Atlantic hurricanes are subject right now to the Greek-letter treatment—in the Eastern Pacific, the storms this year have strecthed the alphabet only to O, and nine more troopical storms need to emerge before Greek letters appear there. Second, the naming of systems includes both hurricanes and tropical storms. Third, zeta is the sixth letter of the Greek alphabet, not the last one.
Memo to Newsweek editors: just because it begins with zee does not make it a zee.
Cheney Should Resign
The October 29th editorial of my favorite newspaper, the Financial Times, opines that President Bush has time to repair his presidency, a presidency that is in disarray. The great newspapers owe their readers more than wishful thinking. Such repair would require both ability and intent on the president’s part to change course, two traits he has not exhibited in the past. Alas, it is more likely that the president will continue to rely on the trait that has defined his character as president, loyalty to those loyal to him.
The talking points of the administration's apologists have blanketed television talk shows with the premise that the CIA outing story is too complicated for Americans outside the Washington beltway. Such claims are nonsense. The essence of this story is no more complicated than the jigsaw puzzles one can buy at their local drugstore. Big picture, if the president and the neoconservatives in his administration were successful in their execution of the war and nation building in Iraq they would be lionized. Victors write history and the noblest of the media quickly fall into line. In fact, victory eludes Bush in Iraq and even constituencies once loyal to him now move to take political advantage of his perceived weakness.
The facts are not complicated. The neoconservatives within the Bush White House had publicly promoted the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and nation building in Iraq long before taking such action. These plans were downplayed in the 2000 election but remained consistent from the date the elder Bush chose Colin Powell's recommendation not to pursue such an action at the end of the first Gulf War. Once in power the neoconservatives waited for political cover to act. September 11th gave them that cover. They dismissed evidential matter that did not support their planned action, including the reports of numerous weapon inspectors. They endorsed fabricated evidence that supported their action, including reports that Saddam sought to acquire uranium in Niger. The neoconservatives were on a mission and they would not be deterred.
Planning for the outing of the CIA agent can be linked to a specific timeframe. Air Force Two arrived in Norfolk, Virginia on July 12, 2003, with Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, "Scooter" Libby, aboard. The story of Saddam as nuclear threat to the United States had already been sold to the American people. The war already launched. Now, the decision to go to war needed to be protected. Cheney no doubt believed that the CIA was leaking information detrimental to public support of the war. We know numerous CIA staffers believed their intelligence was twisted to support the war. Patrick Fitzgerald's indictment documents Libby admitting that on the flight back from Norfolk he and Cheney spoke about how to respond to Wilson's public statements. Shortly thereafter, Valerie Plame was outed by Libby to Judith Miller, followed by a series of contacts by Libby with the press.
Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson had broken the proverbial camel's back when he publicly attacked the administration's use of questionable intelligence in the president’s state of the union message leading up to the war. This had to be personal for Cheney. The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger in response to Cheney's personal request that such intelligence be gathered. Cheney needed to distance himself from both Wilson and the implication that evidential matter was being fabricated.
Why was Plane outed? The press has focused on only the first of three obvious reasons. First, the outing of Plame, Joe Wilson's wife, was revenge against Joe Wilson. Second, it sent a message to everyone in the CIA to fall back in line with the Bush administration in support of the war. Third, and most important to Libby and Cheney, it painted Wilson’s trip to Niger as a boondoggle arranged by his wife, not a serious hunt for intelligence initiated by Cheney. In effect, it gives Cheney plausible deniability that he ignored evidence. Does anyone really believe Scooter Libby got off that plane from Norfolk and took action on this matter without the vice president’s approval? Such action would be out of character for both men.
Patrick Fitzgerald is not the only one having sand thrown in his face. All Americans are wiping sand from our eyes. There may not be sufficient evidence for the special prosecutor to indict the vice president but common sense does not require such evidence to be voted upon by a jury. We do need the media to respond to the facts and ask the president tough questions. The time for cheerleading the war is over. President Bush does have time to repair his presidency, but that will not happen until he removes a cancer from his administration. That cancer is named Dick Cheney. Cheney could have stepped down months ago for "medical reasons," and protected the president and his administration. Cheney chose to retain power. Such hubris is expected from totalitarian regimes, but Americans need to fight it if we are to retain our democracy and our republic.
The American people don't need sacrificial lambs and wishful thinking. We need the truth.
28 October 2005
Hey, Hey, LBJ...
Why are the conservatives in the Republican Party so angry?
The problem with those flashbacks to the is that they make reality seem so derivative.
Muck and Miers
Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect magazine is generally worth reading, but his take on Thursday of the downside of not having Harriet Miers to kick around anymore contains a serious solecism. After mentioning that Alberto Gonzales would probably get confirmed, he worries about another path that the White House could take.
[Bush could play] it safe and appoint a popular conservative senator from a very Republican state, who would sail through confirmation. Of Judiciary Committee members, Orrin Hatch is too old. Sam Brownback is under 50, but he's not a lawyer. Bush also has to be peeved at him for his role in the Miers debacle. Ideal candidate: Jeff Sessions, of Alabama, is 58, two years younger than Miers, and a lawyer. He'd be pretty awful, too, and would probably get confirmed. If we can think this up, so can Rove. You heard it here.
When Ronald Reagan had a vacancy to fill in 1987, the scuttlebutt of the time had Orrin Hatch being nominated and a pliant Senate confirming him because he was one of their own. Strangely enough, Hatch never got nominated.
(I do not think that Gonzales will get nominated—how good a candidate can he be if Bush thought that Miers was more qualified? The original nomination said on its face that Gonzales was not even the most qualified aide to the President!)
The Ineligibility Clause of the United States Constitution (Article I, Section 6, Clause 2) prohibits members of Congress from certain jobs:
No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the authority of the United
States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have
been encreased during such time...
Sessions is a sitting Senator, who was re-elected in 2002, so the time for which he was elected began in early in January 2003.
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is a civil office under the authority of the United States.
In February 2003, Public Law 108-6 authorized salary increases for federal judges, including Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.
But could a suddenly relativist right wing argue that the Ineligibility Clause only applies to prevent clear instances of graft and corruption by members of Congress? No one could argue that an ordinary pay increase for Supreme Court justices constitutes an effort to unjustly reward a sitting Senator.
Case law suggests otherwise. In 1999, Republican governor Cecil Underwood sought to appoint John Kiss, the sitting Speaker of the state's House of Delegates, to the vacant position of Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court. The State Supreme Court, upon petition, ruled that Kiss was constitutionally ineligible.
The relevant clause of the state constitution (at Article 6, Section 15) reads:
No senator or delegate, during the term for which he shall have been elected, shall be elected or appointed to any civil office of profit under this State, which has been created, or the emoluments of which have been increased during such term, except offices to be filled by election by the people.
The only real question in the ruling, in fact, was whether the phrase "by election by the people" applied, since Underwood was duly elected and was making an appointment that his gubernatorial powers allowed him. The court ruled, however, that appointment and election are two different concepts. That the $10,000 raise in salary during Kiss's term in the House of Delegates could trigger the state's emoluments clause was never in doubt.
So, yes, it is right to worry about who would replace Harriet Miers. And Jeff Sessions will be involved—but as a Senator, not a nominee.