Friday, February 09, 2007

Pentagon versus White House: a trilogy

The Bush war team has been embarrassed three times this week by a coterie of Washington naysayers who seem unperturbed about trashing the White House talking points.

But I am not talking about the Democrats on Capitol Hill. I am talking about some of the big shots at the Pentagon.

No wonder the president’s favorability rating now sits at 32 percent. When even top people at the Pentagon are questioning the White House version of reality, that’s further evidence that Bush has lost the center of the electorate.

Exhibit A: Despite the fact that Bush and his surrogates have been insisting for weeks that any congressional debate over Iraq would “embolden the enemy,” and that any expression of public dissent would dishearten the U.S. troops, it turns out that new Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace don’t buy the White House line. They made this clear the other day, during congressional testimony.

Pace told the House Armed Services Committee: ““There is no doubt in my mind that the dialogue here in Washington strengthens our democracy, period.” Gates told the same panel that our enemies always try to see this dialogue as a sign of weakness, but he isn’t worried about it: “Since the first Neanderthal picked up a club, people have tried to see whether their enemies are divided. All I would say is, history is littered with examples of people who equated robust debate in Washington, D.C., for weakness on the part of America.” (How does Gates square this testimony with his statement two weeks ago, that the debate might indeed embolden the enemy? Beats me.)

Anyway, as for the reaction of the troops, Gates isn’t worried about that, either – because he testified that soldiers “do understand that everybody involved in this debate is looking to do the right thing for our country and for our troops and that everybody is looking for the best way to avoid an outcome that leaves Iraq in chaos. I think they understand that that debate's being carried on by patriotic people who care about them and who care about their mission.”

That statement contradicts what Vice President Cheney said last month, about how a congressional debate “would be detrimental from the standpoint of the troops." All those Gates and Pace quotes, by the way, come from a report filed by the Armed Forces Press Service, and posted on the Defense Department website.

Bush’s congressional surrogates marched into the breach yesterday and disputed Pace and Gates for straying off message; for instance, Senator Lindsey Graham assailed the Pentagon officials for displaying what he called “a lack of sophistication about how this (dissent) would play in newspaper headlines throughout the world.” (And what a great message for Americans, to hear that Bush and his surrogates view the Pentagon as insufficiently sophisticated about the enemy. I’m sure that will make everybody feel safer.)

Exhibit B: The Pentagon’s acting inspector general, Thomas Gimble, has just sent Congress a report which trashes a key rationale for war floated by the Bush administration back in 2002. Gimble says that this rationale was based on flawed intelligence – in his words, “dubious quality or reliability.”

At the time, some neoconservatives embedded in the Pentagon contended (in an argument echoed by Cheney on the Sunday talk shows) that Saddam Hussein was in close cahoots with al Qaeda. But Gimble’s report concludes that the so-called link was basically ginned up for preconceived political reasons. The report states that the newly created Policy Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group, headed by Douglas Feith, utilitized "both reliable and unreliable" intelligence reports in order to fashion a link "that was much stronger than that assessed by the (intelligence community) and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration."

This is hardly the first time that the “link” has been dismissed; the bipartisan 9/11 Commission concluded several years ago that there was “no evidence” that contacts between Hussein and al Qaeda “ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship.” But the Bush administration cannot be pleased that the Pentagon inspector’s report essentially vindicates the Senate Democrats, who wrote a report on Feith several years ago and reached the same conclusions.

On the other hand, maybe Gimble is only stating the obvious. After all, it was Gen. Tommy Franks, in his own memoir, who said that, during the run up to war, Doug Feith had already earned a reputation in some military circles as “the dumbest (expletive) guy on the planet.”

Exhibit C: Stuart Bowen, the Pentagon’s special inspector general for Iraq testified the other day that the Bush administration’s beleaguered reconstruction effort “screams for more oversight.” Which, by itself, is exactly what Capitol Hill Democrats have been saying for years.

Bowen has a problem with the fact that the Bush reconstruction team handed out as much as $12 billion in cash -the money was shipped to Baghdad on pallets weighing a total of 363 tons – yet the team has no idea where the money went or how it was spent. Accounting, it turns out, was a tad lax. To this day, nobody knows whether any of the money wound up in the hands of the people who are targeting U.S. troops.

Bowen was joined at the House hearing by the guy who was supposed to be in charge: L. Paul Bremer III, who headed up the reconstruction effort at the time that the shrink-wrapped $100 bills arrived on military transport planes. Bremer had no choice but to testify thusly: “I made mistakes. And with the benefit of hindsight, I would have made some decisions differently."

Bremer did catch one break, however. The congressmen didn’t ask him whether he still believes he deserves the Congressional Medal of Freedom that Bush hung from his neck in 2004, as an award for his service in Iraq.

In a sense, the flap over this cash is small potatoes. What’s $12 billion, after all, at a time when American taxpayers (or, more accurately, American taxpayers not yet born) are spending $2 billion on Iraq every week? On the other hand, I think this is one story that has hit home. A security guard talked it up to me the other day, unbidden; he was struck by the image of stacks of cash arriving on pallets. For him, that image was shorthand for a war gone wrong.

And top people at the Pentagon, by contradicting and thus embarrassing the White House, are clearly fueling that perception.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Electable" Rudy and the new conventional wisdom

It has been Rally ‘Round Rudy Week in Republican politics. In the wake of the news that Rudy Giuliani has filed paperwork for an ’08 presidential candidacy, the conventional wisdom – that his prospects for winning the GOP nomination are roughly on a par with Paula Abdul winning an Emmy – now seems ripe for revision.

Most people familiar with the internal GOP dynamic have long assumed that Giuliani would be dead meat at the starting gate, that conservatives (who dominate the nomination process) would never give their blessing to a candidate who has spoken favorably about gay rights and abortion rights. Indeed, a noteworthy number of folks on the right still feel that way; the other day, religious conservative leader Tony Perkins equated Giuliani with the pollution in the Potomac River, and Tom DeLay, the indicted ex-congressional leader, told CNN yesterday that “I can't vote for somebody that's for abortion.”

But now a counter-narrative seems to be developing. Many conservatives seem increasingly willing to bypass their qualms about Giuliani’s social views (not to mention his personal life, which features three marriages) and focus on what they view as his positives – namely, his 9/11 leadership aura, his tough guy persona, his image as an authority figure who has long waged war against evil-doers large and small (terrorists, Mob guys, white-collar scammers, graffiti artists). Disappointed by the Decider, they still yearn for a Leader.

This sentiment helps to explain why Giuliani is besting John McCain in the latest polls. The survey team at Fox News now says that grassroots Republicans now favor Giuliani over McCain by 34 to 22 percent; and Republicans are telling Gallup that they would rather trust Giuliani to handle a crisis, by 68 to 20 percent.

And members of the conservative punditocracy are increasingly bullish on Giuliani. John Podhoretz, the columnist at Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, wrote two days ago that Giuliani’s social views are no big deal, not when compared to the strengths he would bring to the momentous ’08 presidential race: “(T)he Republican party is the party of strength at home and abroad, and, for many, Rudy Giuliani personifies that.” Moreover, he asserts, conservatives should understand that “on the key issue of our time – the struggle of the West against Islamic extremism – they’ll never have a better or more staunch ally and leader.”

For some conservatives who have been critical of President Bush’s execution of the Iraq war, Giuliani is increasingly viewed as some kind of contemporary Churchill who can help us shrug off the disastrous miscues and point the way forward. Here’s columnist George Will, with an argument that was billboarded on Fox News the other day: “Let me make the case of Giuliani. People are going to ask what I call the seven-minute question. Nightmare scenario, you're the security adviser. You're awakened in the middle of the night. You have three minutes to get the details of an attack coming on the U.S. And then the president, who you notify, has four minutes to answer. That's seven minutes. Which candidate fits the seven-minute question?"

And here's Emmett Tyrell, scion of the American Spectator magazine, arguing in the New York Sun today that conservatives should acquaint themselves with Giuliani's recent history: Prior to 9/11, he "had already demonstrated his awareness of the danger and nihilism of terrorists. In 1995 he expelled...Yasser Arafat from commemorations of the United Nations' 50th anniversary sponsored by the city, saying, 'When we're having a party and a celebration, I would rather not have someone who has been implicated in the murders of Americans there.' Mr. Giuliani's knowledge of international terrorism has steadily grown to the point that he is now acknowledged as one of the world's foremost authorities on terror. That alone in these times should commend him to the majority of the American electorate."

Ditto Richard Brookhiser, a senior editor at the magazine National Review. Yes, he does believe that Giuliani’s social views “sit there like turds in a punch bowl.” But forget all that, because “in war, one needs a war leader who may be otherwise unacceptable…Giuliani saved a city with a larger population than Arizona, Massachusetts, or Virginia…He helped city and country take a harder blow than Pearl Harbor” – achievements, in Brookhiser’s view, that trump anything offered by any Republican rivals.

And as for those aforementioned “turds” in the punch bowl, some prominent conservative bloggers say they are willing to accept, at face value, Giuliani’s promise to appoint conservative judges. He reiterated that promise the other night during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, whose fawning questions made Larry King look like Mike Wallace (in itself, another sign, that the conservative media is willing to indulge Rudy’s rise).

Giuliani is clearly planning to pitch himself as America’s Crisis Manager, the cool head in a crisis era (notwithstanding the fact that he has a well-deserved reputation for being hot-tempered and thin-skinned). He told Hannity: “Being mayor of New York was a crisis a week and an emergency every other day. And you get used to it. I mean, you get used to being able to keep focused, to take advice, understand that you can’t get too excited on any one situation. You’ve got to remain focused, and you have to remain optimistic about the result….We’re at war. And we’re at war because (terrorists) are at war with us…They want to come here and kill us.”

Actually, conservatives intrigued by Giuliani will have to overlook some inconvenient truths that mar his 9/11 icon image – such as the well-documented evidence that as mayor he defied his security advisors and placed the city’s crisis command unit inside the World Trade Center, even after the initial 1993 attack; and that he failed to replace the fire department’s outmoded emergency radios prior to 9/11, even though there had been warnings, dating back to 1990, that lives would be lost in the event of a major disaster unless he acted promptly.

But those are mere details. What conservatives want most is a candidate who can win, particularly since they fear (justifiably or not) that they could be facing a Hillary Clinton juggernaut next year.

There are, of course, purists in the ranks who would never countenance Giuliani. But most conservatives have long demonstrated that they will tolerate imperfection, in exchange for attaining the ultimate goal: Power. That trait represents Giuliani’s best hope.

You turn me on, I'm a radio

Apologies to Joni Mitchell for borrowing her lyrics.

From 10:05 to 11 a.m. this morning, I'll be a guest on WHYY FM (90.9), the Philadelphia NPR outlet. "Radio Times" will also feature Philadelphia Inquirer foreign affairs columnist Trudy Rubin. Our topic: Iraq. So spin the dial, or listen this way.

I'll be back on the blog this afternoon.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Raising taxes as a character issue

John Edwards’ second presidential bid may prove to be no more successful than his first, but right now he is arguably running the most fascinating campaign in the Democratic field. Consider this exchange last Sunday with Tim Russert, during a discussion of Edwards’ detailed pitch for universal health care:

Russert asked, “Would you be willing to raise taxes in order to help pay for this?”

Edwards replied, “Yes, we’ll have to raise taxes.”

Russert, apparently unaccustomed to hearing unvarnished honesty from a politician, soon asked a follow-up question, just to make sure that he had heard Edwards correctly. Russert queried, “But you’d be willing to increase taxes to provide health care?”

Edwards again replied, “Yes, absolutely.”

In American politics, such an utterance is traditionally viewed as suicide; conservative bloggers in recent days have been busy shoveling dirt on Edwards’ political corpse, because they know (at least from our recent history) that there is no way a candidate – especially of the liberal Democratic variety – can win an election by promising to thrust his hand into the pockets of the American people. The Club for Growth, an activist group, already has its sound bite ready: “If elected president, John Edwards will tax you until you scream.”

And I certainly remember the night of July 19, 1984, when Walter Mondale accepted the Democratic presidential nomination with these words: “Mr. Reagan will raise your taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” I heard that, and I thought, “This election is over.” Mondale went on to lose 49 states; he probably would have lost anyway – this was during the apogee of the Reagan “It’s Morning in America” era – but that pledge sealed his fate.

So has John Edwards lost his mind, or what? It has been true for a long time, of course, that most Americans are taxed far less than their counterparts in other western democracies, but the prevailing ethos in this nation is rugged individualism, not the social compact. The anti-tax ideology has reigned here at least since Reagan rode it into office more than a quarter century ago. Surely Edwards knows all this. So why give voice to such a blasphemy?

There are several explanations:

1. Edwards doesn’t believe it’s necessarily a blasphemy anymore. First of all, he is not proposing to raise taxes on everybody; he wants to finance universal health care by erasing the Bush tax cuts that currently benefit those Americans who make more than $200,000 a year. He is calculating that middle-class Americans (the heart of the electorate) would have no problem with such a proposal; indeed, there is considerable evidence that the affluent have benefited far more from the Bush tax cuts than anybody else. And a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll suggests that people are willing to sacrifice for the greater good. When they were asked whether they “would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance,” 53 percent said yes and 40 percent said no.

2. Let us not forget the political calculus. Edwards is waging an uphill fight for the Democratic nomination; to win over the liberals who dominate voting in the early primaries, he needs to outflank Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the left. Therefore, his populist tax-the-rich-for-health-care pitch is potentially good politics. The activist Democrats of Iowa, many of whom are union members, won’t wince at that kind of proposal. They may well challenge Clinton and Obama and the others to come up with something equally bold. Edwards knows that his best hope is to put his rivals on the defensive.

3. This is also about image. Edwards was widely dismissed during his ’04 bid as a substance-free pretty boy with great hair - or, in the favored parlance of that year, a “Breck Girl.” Therefore, the health care plan is also intended to be a comment on Edwards’ maturation of character. In other words, the message is: If he lacked substance in 2004, he has it now (here is an analysis of his health care substance). And the message is: if he seemed too soft and even inoffensive in 2004, well, he is willing to be tough and combative now. And at a time when the credibility of the Bush White House is at low ebb, Edwards is trying to spin his willingness to raise taxes as a testament to his character. As he said the other day, “I think honesty is what’s needed in leadership in this country today.”

We’ll see how far he gets with this strategy. Assume, for the moment, that Edwards can wrest the nomination away from the big dogs. Those aforementioned poll numbers – 53 percent willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for universal health care, 40 percent unwilling – still seem somewhat soft to me. Republicans and their surrogates have already demonstrated, during the first year of Bill Clinton’s administration, that they are adept at sowing doubt about health care reform, and suggesting that taxes will be raised without any corresponding improvement in health care delivery. Back in October 2003, an ABC-Washington Post poll reported that, by a margin of 79 to 17 percent, Americans were willing to choose health care for all even if it meant higher taxes…yet that mood collapsed under the weight of the anti-HillaryCare offensive.

And there has rarely been convincing evidence that underdog populism is a winner; middle-class Americans aren’t necessarily anxious to soak the rich, they want to be rich. That’s a central tenet of the American dream, which arguably trumps Edwards’ ’04 formulation of the Two Americas, which invited the have-nots to resent the haves.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt that Edwards needs to rattle the chessboard at the earliest opportunity – or risk being squashed by the “Hillary is inevitable” story line. Indeed, if this new report is on the mark, doleful Republicans are already girding for her ascendance.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How to gum up the Senate and flout the popular will

The dictionary definition of democracy reads as follows: “Government by the people….a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people,” or in the lawmakers, who act as the people’s “elected agents.”

But here is the state of American democracy this morning:

At a time when only nine percent of the American people want President Bush to send more troops to Iraq (according to the latest Fox News poll); at a time when 64 percent of the people believe Congress “has not been assertive enough…in challenging the Bush administration’s conduct of the war” (Newsweek poll); at a time when 61 percent want the Senate to pass a resolution opposing the Bush troop hike (Gallup); at a time when 55 percent trust the majority Democrats to make Iraq decisions and only 32 percent trust Bush (Newsweek poll again); at a time when Americans consider Iraq to be the most important issue on the national agenda (CBS and CNN polls); and at a time when voting Americans, having just erased Republican rule on Capitol Hill, are clearly signaling that they want Congress to do something, or at least say something, about Bush’s ruinous war…..

The Republicans in the U.S. Senate have shut down the chamber’s scheduled debate on Iraq.

Wait, let’s be more precise: Last night, the Republicans used (perfectly legal) parliamentary maneuvers to stop the Senate from debating Iraq for the very first time, a debate that would have signaled the end of four years of institutional acquiescence to the Bush White House.

Politically speaking, this is risky behavior. Outside of the most fervent red states, Republicans running for office in 2008 already recognize the pitfalls of being affiliated with the party that launched and enabled the Iraq war. And now, by muzzling Senate debate (by essentially acting in defiance of the popular will), they risk being labeled anew as water carriers for a failed war president.

No doubt it can be argued that what happened last night in the Senate chamber was actually more complicated than what I have just described. Senate rules provide the minority party with ample opportunities to gum up the works (as the Democrats well know, having taken full advantage in recent years, by blocking Bush judicial nominees), and now it’s the GOP that is jerking those parliamentary levers.

Republicans can claim that they really aren’t trying to stop the Senate from debating, and even passing, a resolution that would essentially be a no-confidence verdict on Bush. They can claim that they’re really not intending to muzzle the aforementioned Warner resolution, which seeks to put the Senate on record in opposition to the so-called Bush Surge. They can claim (as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell put it last night) that “we’re not trying to stop this debate. We’re trying to structure it.”

They can claim that the majority Democrats are being unreasonable by refusing to agree with a GOP suggestion that any resolution should require 60 of the 100 votes for passage (the filibuster-proof margin), rather than a simple 51-49 majority. They can claim that the Democrats are being unreasonable by refusing to allow the GOP to offer several Bush-supportive resolutions, including one that simply states that all troop activity in Iraq should be fully funded. They can claim that this Democratic intransigence has left them no alternative – which is why, in last night’s ultimate parliamentary action, they managed to prevent the chamber from even starting the debate over the Warner resolution.

And how did they do that? By exercising their minority rights. By stopping the Senate from proceeding with its intended business. Under Senate rules, there’s only one way to defeat such a stalling tactic: round up 60 votes. But last night the Democrats couldn’t get 60 votes. They got only 49 – a majority of those who voted, but not nearly good enough.

So the Senate’s attempt to take a more active role in Iraq policy was over before it even began.

Again, the GOP was within its rights to game the system, because Senate rules virtually invite it. But the claims invoked by Bush’s Capitol Hill loyalists have only a surface plausibility. It has been well reported that the Bush White House has repeatedly conferred with Senate Republican leaders on parliamentary strategy. It has been well reported that the Bush White House is intensely focused on derailing the Warner resolution and halting (or at least diluting) a no-confidence vote on Bush. The administration understands the symbolic power of such a resolution, especially since Senator John Warner has such strong pro-military credentials.

So while Mitch McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders insist that their thwarting of majority will is really just about safeguarding minority rights, what matters most is their underlying motivation: to protect Bush from even the most toothless form of accountability, in accordance with Bush’s wishes.

One can see this motivation at work in the Republican strategy. Three resolutions were theoretically in play: the key Warner measure, a John McCain measure (supporting the Bush troop hike), and (most importantly) a measure by GOP senator Judd Gregg that would put the Senate on record as opposing any future funding cuts for the troops in Iraq. The GOP figured that, by demanding a 60-vote minimum for passage, the Warner measure might fail (because passage would thus require nine or 10 defecting Republicans) – whereas the Gregg measure would probably have the best shot at winning (because a lot of Democrats would feel compelled to vote for it, fearful of being tagged as “against the troops” if they didn’t).

In other words, checkmate to the GOP. It’s a textbook case of how the Senate’s minority party can punch above its weight.

But most Americans aren’t going to track all these parliamentary nuances. They’re more likely to reduce this incident to political shorthand – and here is where the Democrats potentially have the advantage. The shorthand is this: Bush’s party has defied the popular will, and muzzled a debate that the American people want; Bush’s lawmakers shut down debate on Iraq because they’re too afraid to cast an actual vote. Or some other variation of those themes.

There will soon be other opportunities to vent the Iraq issue in the Senate, perhaps via amendments to impending bills; indeed, if McConnell and the others feel political heat, they might give ground on the resolution debate. Bush’s emissaries may have won this initial parliamentary battle, but they may not be able to protect Bush indefinitely. In the end, they too may feel compelled to act as the people’s elected agents.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ralph Nader says, "meet the new me, same as the old me"

There are some things in this life that one can reliably depend on: A winter spending spree by the New York Yankees, an eye-rolling plot twist on 24, an act of narcissism by Tom Cruise, a pose of nothingness by Paris Hilton….

And a new declaration by Ralph Nader that the Democrats are not performing up to his high standards.

Nader showed up on CNN yesterday, and it was pure déjà vu. Much the way he used to complain that Al Gore was no different from George W. Bush, and, four years later, that John Kerry wasn’t much different from George W. Bush, he is now updating his ire and aiming it at Hillary Clinton. The message: She’s not much different from whichever Republican seeks to succeed George W. Bush.

Nader was asked about his dismissive assessment of Clinton, which he posted recently on his website (“She is a corporate Democrat who opposes us on the war in Iraq, on real universal health insurance, on the swollen, wasteful military and corporate welfare budget, on a national living wage…”). He was asked whether he would vote for her if she wins the nomination.

He replied: “No. I don't think she has the fortitude. Actually, she's really a panderer and a flatterer as she goes around the country. You'll see more of that.”

Most importantly, he was asked whether Clinton’s nomination would tempt him to run for president again. His reply: “It would make it more important that that be the case.” Which is a somewhat inelegant way of saying that he is leaving the door wide open.

I’ve had two long conversations with Nader since the 2000 election, and several exchanges stand out in my memory. The first occurred in late February 2001, when he soft-pedaled any suggestion that he had inadvertently helped to elect Bush. I pointed out the math: in Florida, where Bush was certified as the winner by a margin of 537 votes, third-party candidate Nader had drawn 97,488 votes. I argued that it strained credulity to believe that Nader hadn’t played a key role in Gore’s loss. In response, Nader said: “OK, but that was only one banana peel, out of 20 banana peels that Gore slipped on.”

But there’s little point in refighting the 2000 results (although it happens a lot in this new Nader documentary). More noteworthy is that, four years later, Nader was still equating Gore with Bush. I met him in a Washington restaurant in early April 2004, when he was mapping another presidential bid, and we jousted about his contention that both guys (and their parties) were still pretty much the same. I then asked, would Al Gore have launched a neoconservative war of choice in Iraq?

He replied: “Nostradamus, I am not.” Then he gave a little ground, saying that Gore would have differed with Bush “on a fraction of the issues,” and that Gore probably would have foregone the invasion option in Iraq, settling instead for regime change via covert action.

So now here he is, contemplating another bid in 2008. And let us review his logic: He opposes Hillary Clinton, on the grounds that she is insufficiently opposed to the war in Iraq - a war which was launched by the person who Nader helped propel to power in the first place.

In recent years, Nader has voiced amazement that the Democrats have ostracized him, that liberal conference organizers routinely ignore him when they send out speaking invitations. I am not endorsing the Democrats’ behavior; it’s just a fact of life that politicos typically find ways to retaliate when they get ticked off – and, in this particular case, Democrats are ticked off at someone who, in their view, has changed history for the worse. What’s really amazing is that Ralph Nader is amazed.


Yesterday, while awaiting the clash between Bush and the Democratic Congress over Iraq – starting with the debate this week over a resolution condemning his troop escalation – I thought it was worthwhile to bring the Founding Fathers into the mix. In a Sunday newspaper column, I cited evidence which makes it abundantly clear that the original Americans saw Congress as a vital check on executive war-making. (I invoked Chief Justice John Marshall, but erroneously referred to him as the first to hold that post. Actually, he was the fourth. My apologies).

But just in case Bush’s defenders dismiss those Founding Father statements as the obsolete ruminations of dead white guys – indeed, they seem to view any congressional actions as “micromanaging” by “535 commanders in chief” – here’s some additional evidence from the twentieth century, as compiled by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. It turns out that, over the past four decades, Congress has repeatedly imposed conditions and restraints on the executive, in accordance with their Article I constitutional power to “make rules for the government and regulation of land and naval forces.”

Examples: Congress cut off Vietnam funds in 1973; cut off funds for military action in Angola three years later; banned assistance to the Nicaraguan Contras in 1984, and again in 1986; authorized President George H. W. Bush to repel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991, but did not authorize a U.S. occupation of Iraq; and set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia in 1993.

In testimony last week, Louis Fisher, a constitutional law specialist from the Library of Congress, essentially told the lawmakers that it’s time to step up and perform their intended role as Deciders:

“Is a military operation in the nation’s interest? If not, placing more U.S. soldiers in harm’s way is not a proper response. Members of the House and the Senate cannot avoid the question or defer to the President. Lawmakers always decide the scope of military operations, either by accepting the commitment as it is, or by altering its direction and purpose. In a democratic republic, that decision legitimately and constitutionally resides in Congress.”


The latest winner of the Now He Tell Us award is Dick Armey.

Here is Armey (who was the House Republican leader back in 2002, when Bush was seeking authorization for his war), 'fessing up in a new interview:

I'm not sure that (voting for the war resolution) was the right thing to do. You might say removing Saddam from power was a right thing to do. Maybe it was, but was that necessarily then our responsibility to do that? And was it our responsibility to do that by invading a country that had in no way declared any war on us?...I did (vote Yes), and I'm not happy about it. The resolution was a resolution that authorized the president to take that action if he deemed it necessary. Had I been more true to myself and the principles I believed in at the time, I would have openly opposed the whole adventure vocally and aggressively. I had a tough time reconciling doing that against the duties of majority leader in the House. I would have served myself and my party and my country better, though, had I done so.

Just wondering: Why is it that so many politicians reconnect with their consciences only after it's too late?