Don’t worry. Just a few pages, to give you some flavors from the recent past.
Who are we to complain? It was a bad year for the Empire and not just in Iraq. A half century after Fidel Castro stayed in Harlem, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela came to the Bronx and promised cheap home heating oil from Citgo so the poor could keep warm this winter. He kept his promise. A month later Evo Morales swept to victory in Bolivia. From London the world heard Harold Pinter, Nobel Laureate, broadcast the most savage denunciation of Empire heard since the words Tacitus put in the mouth of Calgacus .
It wasa bad year for George Bush, humiliated in Buenos Aires, scorned at home, It was a bad year for Tony Blair, his terror laws put to flight. It was a bad year for the Democrats, with only a handful, like Murtha, McKinney, Serrano, and a few others to salvage the party’s honor in Congress.
It was a bad year too for the corporate press. The New York Times saw Judy Miller turn from martyr to millstone. The Washington Post learned two years late what Bob Woodward really knew. Ad revenues and circulation figures plunged. The mass circulation, ad-based printed newspaper which arrived in the latter part of the nineteenth century, is heading, feet first, into the crypt.
Esquire brings an interesting article by Sara Solovitch reporting her discovery that Jumana Hanna’s accounts of rape and torture at the hands of Uday Hussein don’t appear to have the intimate connection to reality trumpeted by the Bush Administration and by such reporters as Peter Finn of the Washington Post, who promoted her in the Post in July of 2003.
Hanna poured out her story to many eager ears belonging to Finn; Bernard Kerik (surely an expert in mendacity); a New Jersey Superior Court Judge called Donald Campbell, who was the coalition’s top legal adviser; Paul Wolfowitz; Hanna’s shrink, Paul Linde; and finally Solovitch, who was hired to co-write Hanna’s story.
Solovitch says she began to entertain some doubts when pondering Hanna’s claim to have received an MA in accounting from Oxford, but somehow put off making a simple phone call to Oxford till she had spent a lengthy period of presumably well-paid toil checking other aspects of Hanna’s story.
Among the horrors of Uday’s boudoir divulged by Hanna to many, including Solovitch, was the following:
“She was raped for days. A virgin when she entered, she heard the guards ask “Master Uday” what he wanted to do with her blood. He ordered them to sprinkle it around the rim of his whiskey glass like salt on a margarita.”
There’s no ear more credulous than the one that yearns to believe.
It would be rational for the United States to start withdrawal in a month or two. But we are not dealing with rationality. Gabriel Kolko, America’s greatest historian of war, put it well, in this reflection on “intelligence” and Vietnam:
“The state’s intelligence mechanisms are constrained by a larger structural and ideological environment and by the inherent irrationality of a foreign policy which foredooms any effort to base action on informed insight to a chimera. Even when the insight is exact, and knowledge is far greater than ignorance, political and social boundaries usually place decisive limits on the application of ‘rationality’ to actions. The political and ideological imperatives and interests define the nature of ‘relevant’ truths. Intelligence’s pretension to being objective is a hoax because those parts of it that do not reconfirm the power structure’s interests and predetermined policies are ignored and discarded. There are innumerable reasons we must conclude this Even more important is the entire experience with Iraq and the U.S.’ failed confrontation with the Islamic world for over half a century. To expect the U.S. to behave other than as it has is to cultivate serious illusions and delude oneself.
“The system, in a word, is irrational. We saw it in Vietnam and we are seeing it today in Iraq.”
After disclosure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s effort to set a new and spectacularly unaccountable version of the CIA in the Pentagon., the sprouting forest of secret intelligence operations set up in the wake of 9/11 is at last coming under some scrutiny. Here’s a sinister one in the academic field that one that that until this week escaped scrutiny.
Dr David Price, of St Martins College, in Olympia, Washington is an anthropologist long interested in the intersections of his discipline with the world of intelligence and national security, both the CIA and the FBI. Now he’s turned the spotlight on a new test program, operating without detection or protest, that is secretly placing CIA agents in American university classrooms. A CounterPunch excloo. Check it out: www.counterpunch.org/price03122005.html
Ward Churchill is a tenured prof at the University of Colorado, known nationally as a fiery historian and writer, particularly on Indian matters. Back in 2001, after 9/11, Churchill wrote an essay called “Some People Push Back”, making the simple point, in his words, that “if U.S. foreign policy results in widespread death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned.”
That piece was developed into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. On the matter of those killed in the 9/11 attacks, Churchill wrote recently, “It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad 1991 this placement of an element of the American ‘command and control infrastructure’ in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a ‘legitimate’ target.”
At this point Churchill could have specifically mentioned the infamous bombing of the Amariya civilian shelter in Baghdad in January, 1991, with 400 deaths, almost all women and children, all subsequently identified and named by the Iraqis. To this day the US government says it was an OK target.
Churchill concludes, “If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these ‘standards’ when they are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them._ It should be emphasized that I applied the ‘little Eichmanns’ characterization only to those [World Trade Center workers] described as ‘technicians.’ Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, [they] were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that’s my point. It’s no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else.” I’m glad he puts that gloss in about the targets of his characterization, thus clarifying what did read like a blanket stigmatization of the WTC inhabitants in his original paper.
A storm has burst over Churchill’s head, with protests by Governor Pataki and others at his scheduled participation on a panel at Hamilton College called “Limits of Dissent.” In Colorado he’s resigned his chairmanship of the department of ethnic studies, and politicians, fired up by the mad dogs on the Wall Street Journal editorial page and by Lord O’Reilly of the Loofah on Fox, are howling for his eviction from his job.
Why should Churchill apologize for anything? Is it a crime to say that chickens can come home to roost and that the way to protect American lives from terrorism is to respect international law? I don’t think he should have resigned as department chair. Let them drag him out by main force.
The tsunami and charity: I read a good piece analysis of the actual numbers on charitable donations by Rachard Itani who began by citing figures compiled by The London Observer, showing that Norwegians donated the most per head of population ($13.20) followed by the Swedes ($12.04), the Dutch ($9.16) the Australians ($5.23) and so on, down to the Americans with a donation of $1.08 per head, and the Euro-swollen French, whose per head donation amounted to 80 U.S. cents. The Observer table put Saudi Arabs in the middle of the pack, at number 6 with a donation of $4 per head, but still outranking Canadians, Austrians, Brits, Greeks, Americans and French in their generosity.
Itani took the Observer’s numbers a stage further, by comparing donations as a percentage of each country’s per-capita income, the average amount of money each head of population is theoretically supposed to earn. This measure of generosity, Itani wrote, “showed private Saudi individuals as the most generous amongst the people of the 12 countries mentioned in the Observer article, followed in descending order by the Swedes, Dutch, Norwegians, Australians, Germans, Canadians, Greeks, Austrians, Brits, French, and in 12th and final place, Americans.” In fact the Saudis were 1,617% more generous than 12th place Americans.
And since The Observer’s numbers compared private, not official donations, the generosity of Saudi individuals cannot be dismissed away as resulting from their “oil wealth. Indeed, Saudi per-capita income, at $8,530, pales in comparison with American per capita income at $37,610. “Interestingly,” Itani went on, ” the pattern of poorer people giving a larger percentage of their income to charity than richer people is mirrored in domestic US private charitable donation patterns: it’s a well documented fact that poorer Americans donate a larger percentage of their income to charity than the richer amongst them do.”
Some uiseful ammunition against that most loathsome of institutions, the “surprise” party. Now the scientific evidence is in. Surprise parties can kill.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that sudden emotional stress can also result in severe but reversible heart muscle weakness that mimics a classic heart attack. Patients with this condition, called stress cardiomyopathy but known colloquially as “broken heart” syndrome, are often misdiagnosed with a massive heart attack when, indeed, they have suffered from a days-long surge in adrenalin (epinephrine) and other stress hormones that temporarily “stun” the heart.
“After observing several cases of ‘broken heart’ syndrome at Hopkins hospitals-most of them in middle-aged or elderly women-we realized that these patients had clinical features quite different from typical cases of heart attack, and that something very different was happening,” says Wittstein. “These cases were, initially, difficult to explain because
most of the patients were previously healthy and had
few risk factors for heart disease.”
One of the earlier patients, Dr Wittstein told the New York Times, was a
60-year-old woman whose family had given a surprise
birthday party for her. “Seventy people jumped out from the dark and screamed, ‘Surprise!’ and literally three hours later she was in the intensive care unit,”
Hunter Thompson died by his own hand, February 20.
Thompson wrote for the guys, at a pitch so frenzied, so over-the-top in its hyperbolic momentum that often enough it reminded me of the squeakier variant of the same style developed by his Herald-Trib stable mate and exponent of the “New Journalism”, Tom Wolf. In their respective stylistic uniforms they always seemed hysterically frightened of normalcy, particularly in the shape of girls.
Thompson’s best writing was always in the form of flourishes, of pell-mell bluster wrenched of himself for the anxious editors waiting well past deadline at Scanlans or Rolling Stone, and in his later years often put together from his jottings by the writers and editors aware that a new “Fear and Loathing” on the masthead was a sure-fire multiplier of newstand sales. Overall, Thompson’s political perceptions weren’t that interesting except for occasional bitter flashes.
Like Evel Knievel, Thompson’s stunts demanded that he arch higher and further with each successive sentence’s outrage to propriety, most memorably in his obit for Richard Nixon: “If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.”
ASPEN, Colo. (AP)-The widow of journalist Hunter S. Thompson said her husband killed himself while the two were talking on the phone.
“I was on the phone with him, he set the receiver down and he did it. I heard the clicking of the gun,” Anita Thompson told the Aspen Daily News in Friday’s editions.
She said her husband had asked her to come home from a health club so they could work on his weekly ESPN column-but instead of saying goodbye, he set the telephone down and shot himself.
Thompson said she heard a loud, muffled noise, but didn’t know what had happened. “I was waiting for him to get back on the phone,” she said His son, daughter-in-law and 6-year-old grandson were in the house when the shooting occurred.
Anita Thompson, 32, said her husband had discussed killing himself in recent months and had been issuing verbal and written directives about what he wanted done with his body, hisunpublished works and his assets.
His suicidal talk put a strain on their relationship, she said. “He wanted to leave on top of his game. I wish I could have been more supportive of his decision,” she said. “It was a problem for us.”
Suicides leave the family survivors devastated, often forever. Yet some Thompson fans , in toto never a discriminating gang at the best of times, have been cheering the manner of his departure as fitting and even uplifting gonzo-closure.
Seems creepy to me, same way Gary Webb blowing his brains out a while back with a hand-gun was creepy. Why give the loved ones that as a souvenir? I suppose Thompson’s message was: We were together at the end. Webb was truly alone. He lifted the curtain on one little sideshow of the American Empire, and could never quite fathom that when you do that The Man doesn’t forget or forgive. Thompson engaged The Empire on his own terms and quit the battlefield on his own terms too, which I guess is what Gonzo is all about.
Paul Shanley, 72, now sits in prison, in the first days of his twelve to fifteen year sentence. By all accounts he’s bearing up well, even though shamefully convicted by a jury solely on the basis of the “recovered memory” of one accuser, whose supposed recollections were not corroborated, indeed were contradicted by all witnesses. Meanwhile the triumphant DA, the ghastly Coakley, readies herself for higher things, running for the post of Massasshusetts Attorney General in 2006.
Martha Coakley’s unwavering role in prosecuting Gerald Amirault, despite the waves of revelations about child abuse prosecutorial fraud, marks her as one of the most shameful examples of the immorality of elite-tax-bracket American higher education. And yet, as any attentive Boston Globe reader may surmise, Coakley a DLC Democrat has copied all of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s moves, down to same hairstyle, same public waxiness, same upward-career trajectory. She’s on all manner of boards and conferences on “Protecting our Youth” and other soccer-mom drivel. Should she answer for the decades Gerald Amirault lost to be inside prison because of her uneducated zeal to witch-hunt? Of course. Will she? Not given our track record of protecting scheming “elite” college maniacs.
“Perhaps the Shanley affair is part of some very long-term trend”, writes another CounterPuncher:
“I grew up in Brookline, and remember reading about local murder cases in the Globe. It struck me, forcefully at the time that there never seemed to be much evidence against those convicted. I don’t know if this was a local phenomenon, even whether my perceptions were correct, but over the years I have come to feel that people just don’t have any conception of evidence any more. The WMD scandal is just the political manifestation of a trend already recognizable in the criminal justice system, most prominently with the recovered memory nonsense. Indeed even the growth of Christian fundamentalism pretty well requires such a trend.”
By coincidence, just before I read this note, I had been reading a posting by Jude Wanniski on his Polyconomics site about the origins of anti-Semitism where he mostly quotes some racy stuff about the 13th century by Will Durant and was brooding on how the accusations of ritual murder by Jews of Christian kids echo in the frenzies about ritual penetration of children in day care centers in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, with consequent life sentences for many including the Amiraults.
So there’s the historical conjuncture, and in the case of Massachusetts a long term local conjuncture going back to the Salem trials.In many criminal matters, our courts are definitely swinging towards some new form, in which emotional factors are being given pride of place, and sentencing is placed in the hands of the victim, most egregiously in the case of Shepard’s father in Wyoming in 1998 who told the accused in the courtroom that he held power of life or death over them, a claim that had some validity. “I am going to grant you life,” Matthew’s father declared in court, and as JoAnn Wypijewski pointed out here last November (https://www.counterpunch.org/jw11272004.html) this was the ultimate expression of privatized justice.
George Kennan departed this life at the age of 101, amid respectful eulogies in the press. In his advanced years his prime rostrum was the New York Review, where he advocated policies of genteel internationalism and détente markedly different from his ferocious cold war postures of earlier years, so crucial in setting the terms of the Cold War in the years following World War 11.
In fact Kennan’s self-rehab was one of the wonders of the late twentieth century. Not conspicuous in his memoirs were such important aspects of his service to the state as his salvaging of Nazi war criminals for use by the U.S. in its postwar engagements, or such documents as his wartime memo apropos de-Nazification. Chris Simpson quoted it in his book Blowback:
“Whether we like it or not, nine-tenths of what is strong, able and respected in Germany has been poured into those very categories which we have in mind” for purging from the German government namely, those who have been “more than nominal members of the Nazi Party.” Rather than remove “the present ruling class of Germany”, as he put it, it would be better to “hold it [that class] strictly to its class and teach it the lessons we wish it to learn.”
He will probably best be remembered for his self-consciously “realistic” assessment in those postwar years, in State Dept. Policy Planning Study number 23 that
“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population…. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity.
… To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. … We should cease to talk about vague and … unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
The lineage from this to the Neocon strategy memos and rationals half a century later are easy to follow.
Marla Ruzicka was blown up in Baghdad. Both in Afghanistan and Iraq, in furtherance of her humanitarian schemes, Marla Ruzicka elected a stance of studious neutrality in ascribing responsibility for the victims of US bombings and ground fire. This pursuit of “credibility” certainly yielded its ironic reward in the political range of those who publicly mourned her.
A US senator Barbara Boxer attended Ruzicka’s funeral in Lakeport, northern California. Bob Herbert of the New York Times poured out an emotional column honoring Ruzicka. So did Robert L. Pollock, a writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. ” America has lost a peerless and unique ambassador,” Pollock wrote on April 19. “[S]he stood out from the crowd of journalists and self-proclaimed humanitarians–far too many of whom believed their mission was to bear witness to an American misadventure in Iraq that would, and should, fail.”
Almost exactly two years earlier, on March 16, 2003, another brave young woman in a foreign land lost her life, not to a suicide bomber, but under the blade of a 47-ton bulldozer made in America by the Caterpillar company specifically for house demolitions and driven by an Israeli soldier. Maybe, in the last seconds of his life, that suicide bomber in Baghdad never even saw Ruzicka. The soldier in Gaza surely saw Corrie, clearly visible in her fluorescent orange jacket, and rolled the bulldozer blade right over her.
No US senator attended Rachel’s funeral after her parents brought her home to the state of Washington. Both US senators ran in the opposite direction. Later the Corries disclosed that after their return to the US with their daughter’s body, they contacted their US Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, and told them how their daughter had been deliberately murdered while peacefully demonstrating against a house demolitions, which are violations of international law. Murray and Cantwell, the Corries recall, were quick with expressions of outrage and promises of investigations. The Corries never heard from Murray or Cantwell again.
Cindy Corrie’s mailbox filled with disgusting letters abusing her for being a bad mother, and the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd began an unrelenting campaign of abuse of Corrie, to the overall effect that she had it coming to her, that “She was defending terrorists who smuggle weapons across the border to kill Israelis”, that the International Solidarity Movement of which she was a member, was a terrorist symp group.
From “Pariah to “St Judy”: Is there ever anyone luckier than Judy Miller! All last year she was pilloried as the prime saleslady for the imaginary WMDs that offered the prime pretext for the invasion of Iraq. Although it refused to denounce her by name the New York Times publicly castigated itself for poor reporting, and Miller’s career seemed to be at an end, except for the occasional excursion to CNN studios for tete a tetes with Larry King.
We applaud prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s gallant bid to do what now departed Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent should have done: grill Miller about the techniques and veracity of her reporting. Here, after all, is a journalist with blood on her hands, a fabricator who played a major role (rivaled perhaps only by the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg) in selling a war with one fabrication after another, eagerly offered to the public by the New york Times.
If her past career is anything to go by, already the prison guards are melting before her winsome smiles and confiding the little secrets and disclosures that will soon being their careers to end and their families to the brink of starvation. It would require the pen of Henry Fielding to do her proper justice.
Shock Treatment Gets Whipped in Court. A jury has found against a South Carolina doctor who referred a patient electro-shock treatment that left her permanently impaired. The patient,Peggy S. Salters, is a 60 year old former psychiatric nurse. She was subjected to 13 electroshocks within the span of 19 days. The jury awarded her $635,177.
The jury found that her loss of 30 years of memory and cognitive impairment which are demonstrable symptoms of brain damage was due to ECT. Maybe this decision will give shrinks pause before they send the next poor soul off to get battered on the head with an electric club. A press release from Linda Andre, president of Committee for Truth in Psychiatry (CTIP) informing us of this victory adds that 100,000 patients in the US undergo electroshock many against their will.
You can tell in five-minutes channel surfing how Cindy Sheehan frightens the pro-war crowd. One bereaved mom from Vacaville, camped outside Bush’s home in Crawford, reproaching the vacationing President for sending her son to a pointless death in Iraq has got the hellhounds of the right barking in venomous unison.
Christopher Hitchens attacked Cindy Sheehan, of course. Called her a LaRouchie! Why? No reason given. He obviously reckons “LaRouchie” is one of those let-her-deny-it slurs, like “anti-Semite
What a truly disgusting sack of shit Hitchens is. A guy who called Sid Blumenthal one of his best friends and then tried to have him thrown into prison for perjury; a guy who waited till his friend Edward Said was on his death bed before attacking him in the Atlantic Monthly; a guy who knows perfectly well the role Israel plays in US policy but who does not scruple to flail Cindy Sheehan as a LaRouchie and anti-Semite because, maybe, she dared mention the word Israel. She lost a son? Hitchens (who should perhaps be careful on the topic of sending children to die) says that’s of scant account, and no reason why we should take her seriously. Then he brays about the horrors let loose in Iraq if the troops come home, with no mention of how the invasion he worked for has already unleashed them.
William Bennett confided publicly to his radio audience that ” if you wanted to reduce crime, you could you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down,” and many Americans reckon that’s no hypothesis, that’s a plan waiting to happen.
Liberals have pondered longer and deeper than conservatives on how exactly to carry out Bennett’s hypothetical plan, either by sterilization or compulsory contraception.
Before Hitler and his fellow Nazis (who said they had learned much from US sterilization laws and immigration restrictions) made the discipline unfashionable, eugenics and the prevention of socially unworthy babies were hot topics among America’s social cleansers.
The keenest of these cleansers were not Southern crackers but Northern liberals. Allan Chase, in his “The Legacy of Malthus,” says 63,678 people were compulsorily sterilized in America between 1907 and 1964 in the 30 states and one colony with such laws. But there were hundreds of thousands more sterilizations that were nominally voluntary but actually coerced. Chase quotes federal judge Gerhard Gesell as saying in 1974, in a suit brought on behalf of poor victims of involuntary sterilization, “Over the past few years an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 low-income persons have been sterilized annually by state and federal agencies.” This rate equals that achieved in Nazi Germany.
Gesell said that “an indefinite number of poor people have been improperly coerced into accepting a sterilization operation under the threat that various federally supported welfare benefits would be withdrawn unless they submitted to irreversible sterilization. Patients receiving Medicaid assistance at childbirth are evidently the most frequent targets of this pressure.”
Writing toward the end of the 1970s, Chase reckoned that probably at least 200,000 Americans per year were the victims of involuntary and irreversible sterilization.
In the mid-1990s, liberals flourished the same basic hypothesis as Bennett. They said there was a cycle of poverty and welfare dependency that bred crime. In 1994, Arizona and Nebraska prohibited welfare increases for recipients who had additional babies while on the dole. Connecticut in the same year gave serious consideration to a bill providing additional subsidies for welfare mothers who accepted a contraceptive implant (called Norplant).
Though race specific terms were usually avoided by eugenicists, who preferred words like “weak minded” or “imbeciles” (a favorite of that enthusiast for sterilizing, Oliver Wendell Holmes, a jurist much admired by liberals) the target was, by and large, blacks. What direct sterilization could not prevent, incarceration or medically justified confinement has also sought to achieve.
Bill Bennett didn’t know the half of it. He was about a century behind the curve.
With each month that passes, the Democratic Party seems to have touched bottom. Then it promptly sinks even deeper into the ooze of cowardice and irrelevance.
While Interstate 45 from Galveston to Houston was clogged with evacuees fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Rita, there was a similar jam on the beltway round Washington, D.C., as Democrats fled the city on the eve on the Sept. 24 antiwar rally, panic-stricken lest their presence in Washington might somehow be construed as endorsement of the rally’s antiwar message.
It looks very as much as though attitudes to the war no longer break along traditional party lines: Forty percent of Republicans oppose their own president in regarding the war as a bust. At Saturday’s rally it was only Ralph Nader who pointed out that Republicans may be the antiwar movement’s prime emerging market.
The Democrats have not only forgotten how to fix elections, they’ve lost the simplest political instincts of all, opportunism and grandstanding.
Not 50, not 20, not 10, not five, but precisely one congressional Democrat, Cynthia McKinney — a woman the Democrats tried their best to destroy three years ago — addressed the 150,000 people on the Mall protesting the war in Iraq on Sept. 24. Five more Democrats spoke at the afternoon concert session.
There’s scant doubt that 2008 will see an anti-war Democrat running in the presidential primaries. It might well be Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, although it seems Mrs. Feingold cited his presidential ambitions as one of the reasons she was divorcing him, a plan she disclosed to the senator earlier this year.
But Feingold fled the Sept. 24 rally just like the others.
The stench of panic in Washington hangs like a winter fog over Capitol Hill and drifts down Pennsylvania Avenue. The panic stems from the core concern of every politician in the nation’s capital: survival. The people sweating are Republicans and the source of their terror is the deadly message spelled out in every current poll: Bush’s war on Iraq spells disaster for the Republican Party in next year’s midterm elections.
Take a mid-November poll by SurveyUSA: in only seven states did Bush’s current approval rating exceed 50 per cent.These consisted of the thinly populated states of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi. In twelve states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, his rating was under 35.
You have to go back to the early 1970s, when a scandal-stained Nixon was on the verge of resignation, to find numbers lower than Bush’s. Like Bush, Nixon had swept to triumphant reelection in 1972. Less than two years later he turned the White House over to vice president Ford and flew off into exile.
No one expects Bush to resign, or even to be impeached (though vice president Cheney’s future is less assured) and his second term has more than three years to run.
But right now, to use a famous phrase from the Nixon era, a cancer is gnawing at his presidency and that cancer is the war in Iraq. The American people are now 60 per cent against it and 40 per cent think Bush lied to get them to back it.
The immense significance of Rep John Murtha’s November 17 speech calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq is that it signals mutiny in the US senior officer corps, seeing the institution they lead as “broken, worn out” and “living hand to mouth”, to use the biting words of their spokesman, John Murtha, as he reiterated on December his denunciation of Bush’s destruction of the Army.
A CounterPuncher with nearly 40 years experience working in and around the Pentagon told me this week that “The Four Star Generals picked Murtha to make this speech because he has maximum credibility.” It’s true. Even in the US Senate there’s no one with quite Murtha’s standing to deliver the message, except maybe for Byrd, but the venerable senator from West Virginia was a vehement opponent of the war from the outset , whereas Murtha voted for it and only recently has turned around.
So the Four-Star Generals briefed Murtha and gave him the state-of-the-art data which made his speech so deadly, stinging the White House into panic-stricken and foolish denunciations of Murtha as a clone of Michael Moore.
It cannot have taken vice president Cheney, a former US Defense Secretary, more than a moment to scan Murtha’s speech and realize the import of Murtha’s speech as an announcement that the generals have had enough.
Listen once more to what the generals want the country to know:
“The future of our military is at risk. Our military and our families are stretched thin. Many say the Army is broken. Some of our troops are on a third deployment. Recruitment is down even as the military has lowered its standards. They expect to take 20 percent category 4, which is the lowest category, which they said they’d never take. They have been forced to do that to try to meet a reduced quota.
“Defense budgets are being cut. Personnel costs are skyrocketing, particularly in health care. Choices will have to be made. We cannot allow promises we have made to our military families in terms of service benefits, in terms of their health care to be negotiated away. Procurement programs that ensure our military dominance cannot be negotiated away. We must be prepared.
“The war in Iraq has caused huge shortfalls in our bases at home. I’ve been to three bases in the United States, and each one of them were short of things they need to train the people going to Iraq.
“Much of our ground equipment is worn out.
“Most importantly — this is the most important point — incidents have increased from 150 a week to over 700 in the last year. Instead of attacks going down over a time when we had additional more troops, attacks have grown dramatically. Since the revolution at Abu Ghraib, American casualties have doubled.”
What happened on the heels of this speech is very instructive. The Democrats fell over themselves distancing themselves from Murtha, emboldening the White House to go one the attack.