Monday, September 18, 2006

More Conservatives Abandon Ship As S.S. Bush Sinks Deeper Into Iraq Quicksand

While Right-Wing McCarthyite Demagogues Brand War Critics 'Traitors,' a Growing Number of Other Conservatives -- Inside and Outside the Beltway -- Break Ranks With the President

By Skeeter Sanders

If President Bush's public standing was a children's fairy tale, it would most likely be, "The Emperor Has No Clothes."

As Iraq continues to hurtle toward a full-scale sectarian civil war, everyone but Bush himself and his most die-hard right-wing loyalists can now clearly see that "Emperor Dubyah" is as naked as his fictional counterpart.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are bullheadedly still insisting that an alliance existed between the ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, despite now-overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Hard-line right-wing demagogues on the talk-radio circuit and in the Internet blogosphere have stepped up their Joe McCarthy-style attacks on the war's critics, with some openly accusing them of outright treason. But their bully-boy tactics are being seriously undermined by an unlikely source.

While the far right fulminates, a growing number of other conservatives, both inside and outside the Republican Party -- and the Washington Beltway -- are breaking ranks with Bush, saying that "staying the course" on Iraq is doomed to failure and that a change of course is now absolutely vital to the success of the broader war on terror.

Even on Capitol Hill, the president is facing an outright mutiny among Republican members in the Senate over legislation on how to prosecute terrorist suspects and in the House over a bill to enshrine into law his highly controversial -- and court-challenged -- warrantless electronic surveillance program.

An Open GOP Rebellion Not Seen in 30 Years

It's an open rebellion against a sitting Republican president by members of his own party and of his conservative base -- a rebellion of a magnitude this blogger has not seen since Ronald Reagan's "Sagebrush Revolt" that fatally wounded Gerald Ford's presidency in 1976.

Some conservatives have become quite scathing in their criticisms of Bush's handing of Iraq. Case in point: Joe Scarborough, a conservative former Republican congressman who is now a cable television pundit.

Scarborough, host of the nightly MSNBC talk show, "Scarborough Country," served in the House from 1995 to 2001, representing a Florida district. He was first elected as part of the wave of Republicans who rode Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" to victory in 1994, ending 40 years of Democratic control of Congress. A hard-nosed fiscal conservative, Scarborough constantly pushed his party to force more reductions in the size and scope of the federal government.

But to listen to Scarborough talk about the president today, you'd almost swear that he had become a Democrat. On a recent broadcast of his show, in which he presided over a panel discussion asking, "Is Bush an Idiot?," Scarborough wondered aloud whether the president had "a mental weakness that is damaging America's credibility at home and abroad."

Answering his own question, Scarborough said that although other presidents -- including Bush's father -- have been called "stupid" in the past by their critics, "I think George W. Bush is in a league by himself."

Ouch!

Iraq Driving a Wedge Between Conservatives

That the war in Iraq is causing deep -- even venomous -- divisions among conservatives is nothing less than incredible. For example, the National Review, for decades the premier magazine of conservative thinking, has had a rethink about the war.

Eighteen months ago, the Review's editors boldly proclaimed, "We're winning in Iraq!" Indeed, it certainly seemed that way last December, after Iraqis by the millions defied terrorist threats by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaida in Iraq and voted in their first free elections in nearly 50 years.

But the magazine now concedes that "Success in Iraq seems more out or reach now than it has at any time since the initial invasion three years ago." Like other former supporters of the war, the Review now wonders aloud whether Iraq has degenerated into "Bush's Vietnam."

That stance is not sitting well with hard-line Bush loyalists -- some of whom are now bitterly accusing the magazine founded in 1955 by William F. Buckley of taking a sharp turn to the left. Nonetheless, other conservatives -- including some longtime allies of the president -- are also calling the war into question.

Reaganite Economist: "Staying the Course" Won't Stop Iraq's Sectarian Violence

Larry Kudlow, a hard-line "supply-side" economist since the Reagan presidency in the 1980s, raised eyebrows in a 2002 commentary on the National Review's Internet edition, in which he called -- a full year before the actual invasion -- for the U.S. to attack Iraq, predicting that "The shock therapy of a [Desert Storm-style] decisive war will elevate the stock market by a couple of thousand points."

Kudlow believed that the earlier 2002 campaign against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan had not produced the kind of American resolve and confidence necessary for a rebound from the 2001-03 recession that was exacerbated by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

How does Kudlow feel about the Iraq situation now?

"The big problem I have is that the U.S. is not winning the war," he said in a recent interview with Canada's CBC television network. "'Staying the course' doesn't sound like a solution to the massive sectarian violence going on in Iraq."

George Will: Administration Engaging in "Rhetoric of Unreality"

George F. Will, one of the nation's most respected conservative columnists, has openly ridiculed the Bush administration's desire to transform the Middle East. In an August 15 column he wrote in the wake of the foiled London plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jetliners, Will challenged the White House to focus more on law enforcement and less on military action in its pursuit of the war on terror.

He urged the administration to reserve its military options for "the most extraordinary of circumstances."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist compared Bush's rhetoric on the overall war on terror unfavorably with that of Britain's World War II-era prime minister, Winston Churchill, caustically accusing the president and his administration of engaging in "the rhetoric of unreality."

Citing a newly-published book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Will argues that relying primarily on the military option in the war on terror is counterproductive in the long run.

Quoting from the book, written by New Yorker magazine writer Lawrence Wright, Will asserted that, "'Better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented September 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16 [warplanes] are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg, Germany'" -- where Mohammed Atta lived before dying in the north tower of the World Trade Center -- "'and High Wycombe, England'" -- where the thwarted London aerial bombing plot was hatched.

Buchanan Blasts Bush on Iraq, Lebanon

Even Pat Buchanan, the often-incendiary, self-described "paleoconservative" who's long been a target of bitter scorn by liberals for his fiercely right-wing social views, says the Iraq war is part of a pattern by the Bush administration of "meddling in world affairs to the point of imperialism."

Buchanan, who challenged Bush's father for the 1992 GOP presidential nomination and delivered a highly controversial "culture war" keynote address at the party's national convention in Houston, said the war on terror "should more properly be called a war on al-Qaida, for they're the ones who attacked us."

Long a caustic critic of the present Bush administration from the right on a host of issues, Buchanan argued as far back as December 2002, during a panel discussion for the conservative Web site FrontPageMag.com, that, "To compare Saddam Hussein’s Iraq -- with less than one percent of our gross domestic product, a fourth-rate air force, no navy, an army that was unable to hold onto Kuwait, which is half the size of Denmark" with Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union -- as the president said in numerous speeches prior to the invasion -- "is ludicrous."

Citing history, Buchanan noted that, "The Irgun used terror to drive the Brits out of Palestine [before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948]. The Algerians used it to drive the French out of Algeria [in 1960]. Hezbollah used terror to drive the Israelis out of Lebanon [in 1982]. The Chechens are [now] using terror to drive the Russians out of Chechnya."

And in a blistering July 16 column, Buchanan wrote that Bush "already is ranting about Syria being behind the Hezbollah capture of the Israeli soldiers. But where is the proof? Who is whispering in his ear? The same people who told him Iraq was maybe months away from an atom bomb, that an invasion would be a 'cakewalk,' that he would be Churchill, that U.S. troops would be greeted with candy and flowers, that democracy would break out across the region, that Palestinians and Israelis would then sit down and make peace?"

White House, GOP Senators in Open Feud

The growing rift between the administration and its conservative allies isn't limited to the Iraq war itself. It broke wide open last Thursday when a committee of the Republican-controlled Senate approved an alternative to the White House's plan to prosecute foreign terror suspects and redefine acts that constitute war crimes.

In a direct challenge to Bush, Senator John Warner (R-Virginia), chairman of the Armed Services Committee -- and normally a strong ally of the president -- pushed the measure through his committee by a 15-9 vote, with Warner and three other GOP senators joining all 11 Democrats on the panel.

The vote sets the stage for what is likely to be a bitter showdown on the Senate floor, perhaps as early as tomorrow (Tuesday).

Warner was supported by Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). Warner, McCain and Graham -- all of them military veterans -- had been the most active senators opposing Bush's plan.

The vote by the moderate Collins -- whose home-state GOP Senate colleague, Olympia Snowe, is up for re-election this November in heavily-Democratic Maine -- underscored that there might be broad enough Republican support to successfully defy Bush on the Senate floor.

Bush Chides GOP Rebels -- And the High Court Ruling That Forced the Issue

For his part, a visibly angry Bush demanded Friday that Congress pass his version of the terror-suspect legislation. "Time is running out!" the president thundered at a hastily-called news conference at the White House Rose Garden. "Congress needs to act wisely and promptly!" He stopped short, however, of threatening to veto the Warner-McCain bill.

While not mentioning the GOP Senate rebels by name, Bush made it clear that he would hold them responsible if his version of the legislation failed to pass. "If not for this program, our intelligence community believes al-Qaida and its allies would have succeed in launching another attack against the American homeland. . .We need this legislation to save it."

Bush was so angry that he even took a swipe at the Supreme Court, animatedly telling reporters, "Unfortunately, the recent Supreme Court decision has put the future of this program in question."

The president was forced to propose his legislation after the justices ruled in June that the military-tribunal system Bush established to prosecute terrorism suspects was unconstitutional because it was never authorized by Congress and that it violated both existing U.S. military law and the Geneva Conventions, the 142-year-old, Senate-ratified international treaty that governs the treatment of enemy prisoners of war.

The high court ruled 5-3 that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to members of al-Qaida and other foreign terrorists -- an interpretation that the administration had hotly disputed. The justices also declared that the tribunals violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- especially when applied to terror suspects who are U.S. citizens, such as John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla.

Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban" who was captured in Afghanistan, is serving a life sentence at Supermax, the super-maximum-security federal prison in Colorado. Padilla is challenging the constitutionality of his nearly four-year-old detention.

Hints of Compromise, But Who Will Blink First?

By Sunday, both sides were talking about a possible compromise. But neither the president's national security aides nor some of the rebellious GOP lawmakers would say how they can reconcile their deep differences.

"We have to hold the moral high ground," McCain said on ABC's "This Week," making it clear that he still was not satisfied with the White House proposal. "We don't think al-Qaida will ever observe those conventions, but we're going to be in other wars."

McCain took an even harder line against breaking from the Geneva Conventions later Sunday at a reception in Concord, New Hampshire. "That's what we do not want, because Americans would be setting the precedent for changing a treaty that has been untouched by any nation for 57 years," he said.

For his part, Bush's national intelligence director, John Negroponte, said on "Fox News Sunday" that the interrogation program has had "precious little activity of that kind for a number of months now" because of questions about its legality. But, he said, it is important that the program continue.

"It's provided invaluable information that has saved lives of Americans, and significant plots against our homeland have been disrupted as a result. And, surely, there is a way of finding a way forward that would permit this program to continue and, at the same time, do it in a way that is both respectful of our law and Constitution and our international obligations," Negroponte said.

Powell, Military Ex-Chiefs Also Weigh In Against Bush Plan

In a politically more serious challenge to the White House, former Secretary of State Colin Powell broke his long public silence and announced his opposition Thursday to his former boss' plan, saying that it would damage the country's relations with the rest of the world.

In a letter to McCain, Powell pleaded for Congress to defeat the Bush proposal to redefine U.S. compliance with Common Article 3. "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," Powell wrote. " To redefine . . . Common Article 3 would add to those doubts."

The retired four-star Army general, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War under then-President George H.W. Bush, warned that altering America's interpretation of Common Article 3 "would put our own troops at risk" of being subject to inhumane treatment in the event that they are captured by enemy forces.

Powell was joined by more than two dozen other retired military officers and former Defense Department officials, who sent their own letter to Warner urging Congress "not to attempt to redefine violations" of Common Article 3.

"If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners [of war] is decriminalized or considered permissible under a restrictive interpretation of Common Article 3," the officers warned, "we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American POWs."

Did White House Try to Silence Dissenting Military Lawyers?

In a related controversy that erupted Friday, two Senate Democrats called for an investigation into reports that a White House lawyer -- who's also a nominee for a federal appeals court judgeship -- pressured military attorneys earlier last week to sign a letter renouncing their earlier public criticism of the administration's military-tribunal system.

In a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senators Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) and Dick Durbin (D- Illinois) called on the committee to probe allegations that senior military lawyers -- known officially as judge advocates general, or JAGs -- were summoned to a meeting at the White House last Tuesday by the administration's general counsel, William Haynes.

"It is alleged that the JAGs were kept in this meeting for several hours, until they agreed to sign the letter," Kennedy and Durbin wrote. "That letter was subsequently used to suggest that the JAGs supported the administration's [military tribunal] proposals."

Haynes, who was nominated by Bush in 2003 to serve as a judge on the Richmond, Virginia-based Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has been dogged by allegations that he either ignored, circumvented or overruled the JAGs in preparing interrogation guidelines that "departed from longstanding military tradition, leading to abuses of detainees."

Haynes' nomination to the appeals court is still pending. "We believe these new allegations raise serious further questions about Mr. Haynes' fitness to serve on the [appeals] court," Kennedy and Durbin wrote in their letter to Specter. "We urge you to thoroughly investigate and hold hearings on these claims and others relating to Mr. Haynes' treatment of the JAGs before your committee takes any further action on his nomination."

Bill to Legalize NSA Warrantless Eavesdropping Also Hits Roadblock

As if the administration's problems with recalcitrant GOP senators weren't bad enough, its drive to preserve the president's power over its controversial warrantless domestic surveillance program was effectively stalled Thursday by bitter squabbling between the White House and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

The House Judiciary Committee abruptly cancelled its scheduled vote on an authorization bill by Representative Heather Wilson (R-New Mexico), amid angry squabbling between GOP House leaders who endorse the bill in its present form, and the White House, which insists the Wilson measure places too many restrictions on the program.

The Wilson bill would submit the existing warrantless surveillance program by the super-secret National Security Agency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a one-time constitutional review. It would also extend from three days to seven days the time allowed for emergency NSA surveillance before a warrant application is submitted to and approved by the court.

A federal judge in Michigan ruled on August 17 that because the NSA program was conducted without court warrants, it was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures and that it also violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which explicity requires the administration to obtain warrants from the intelligence court before proceeding with the eavesdropping.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati -- the same court that in 1971 declared a similar program by the Nixon administration unconstitutional. That ruling was unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court the following year.

Why the GOP Infighting? It's the November Election, Stupid!

Why has the Republican Party suddenly found itself a house divided over the Iraq war and national security? The answer to that question is pretty obvious: With the midterm congressional elections just six weeks away, the GOP is afraid -- very afraid -- that it will lose control of at least one house of Congress, maybe both.

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll of likely voters released Friday shows the Democrats in a strong position to win the 15 seats they need to take back control of the 435-seat House, with 53 percent of respondents in favor of the Democrats and 39 percent in favor of the Republicans.

On the other hand, the Zogby International poll -- which has proven to be the most highly accurate predictor of every federal election since 1992 -- shows the battle for control of Congress to be much tighter, but with the Democrats nonetheless hanging on to a three-point lead over the Republicans, 37 percent to 34 percent.

Even worse for GOP congressional candidates, the Zogby poll shows the Republican-controlled Congress is much more deeply unpopular than Bush, with a record-high 81 percent of respondents holding a negative view of the national legislature and a record-low 19 percent holding a positive view.

Both polls show the president's job aproval rating rose slightly to 39 percent, but a solid 60 percent majority of respondents still disapproves of the president's performance. The bigest single reason for Bush's poor showing? Iraq. The administration's poor response to Hurricane Katrina was a distant second.

This Year, the Election Is a Referendum on Iraq and the War on Terror

Historically, the party out of the White House gains congressional seats in the midterm elections during a sitting president's second term, primarily because of attention to local issues. But this midterm election campaign is anything but locally-driven.

Both the AP and Zogby polls show that both parties have largely succeded in making this year's electin a national referendum on Iraq and the war on terror. The Zogby poll shows 71 percent of voters saying that their votes will be driven by those two issues above all else, while the AP roll registered a 52 percent majority intending to cast their votes based on them.

When broken down by party affiliation, the Zogby poll shows 79 percent of Republicans put the war on terror at the top of their issues list, while 69 percent of Democrats put the war in Iraq as their number-one issue. The AP poll shows that while Republicans hold a 43 percent to 41 percent advantage over Democrats on the war on terror, the Democrats have a 46 percent to 40 percent lead over the Republicans over the war in Iraq.

Perhaps most ominous for the GOP, the Zogby poll shows voters 55 years of age and older -- whose turnout is traditionally the highest of any age group -- are the least favorable toward the Iraq war, with 58 percent holding an unfavorable opinion and only 36 percent holding a favorable view.

The Baby Boomers -- the largest voting bloc in terms of absolute numbers, but a generation that's been deeply polarized politically since the Vietnam war -- is, true to form, closely split over Iraq, according to Zogby, with 49 percent disapproving and 46 percent approving.

Democrats Sure to Take Maximum Advantage of GOP Bickering

The Democrats are sure to exploit the Republican family feud for maximum political advantage as the fall campaign progresses. Long before the GOP bickering started, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) made it clear that if her party takes back control of the House, the Democrats will utilize the full investigative powers of the House to probe the Bush administration's rationale for the Iraq war.

Her Senate counterpart, Harry Reid (D-Nevada), was mum about the Democrats' chances of retaking the Senate, but he couldn't resist taking a swipe at the White House: "Instead of picking fights with Colin Powell, John McCain and other military experts, President Bush should change course, do what the American people expect and finally give them the real security they deserve."

Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York), chairman of the Democratic National Senatorial Campaign Committee, was equally blunt: "When conservative military men like John McCain, John Warner, Lindsey Graham and Colin Powell stand up to the president, it shows how wrong and isolated the White House is. These military men are telling the president that in the war on teror you need to be strong and smart -- and it's about time he heeded their admonitions."

With the situation in Iraq getting worse by the day -- and the White House's strategy of making the war on terror the primary issue of the fall election campaign sidetracked by the GOP family feud over detainees and eavesdropping -- it may be time for "Emperor Dubyah" to finally put on some clothes.

If he doesn't, the "emperor" could very well find himself a "lame duck" two years early -- forced to deal with a Democrat-controlled Congress.

# # #

Volume I, Number 42
Copyright 2006, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.



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