NDN Blog

Cleaning up the staggering criminality and corruption of the Bush era

Coming back to one of my favorite subjects, Talking Points Memo has a good recap of renewed efforts to put Republican and conservative criminals in jail.

While I applaud the new, tough ethics bills passed by Congress, those efforts don't really touch on the criminal activities of the Republicans and conservatives these past few years.  Even though many of these folks are no longer in positions of power, it is critical that the new Congress support those pursuing any thread of evidence that laws may have been broken.  Investigations into people like the king of earmarks, Rep.  Jerry Lewis, must be completed, and the career prosecutors looking into what I think will be seen as the most systemic corruption of our government in our history be given both the political cover and resources to finish their jobs.  Otherwise, our new Congressional leaders will in essence be complicit in letting bad guys get away, an unacceptable outcome on many levels. 

As ethics reform goes to conference it is essential that measures be taken to give the career prosecutors in the Office of Public Integrity at Justice and in other US Attorney offices more money, and to create a greater public understanding of the importance and political difficulty of what they are being asked to do so that it will be harder for this difficult process to be interfered with.  Our new leaders of Congress have to be militant in protecting this process against what will be any attempt by what's left of conservative power, the Administration, to prevent the wheels of justice from turning.  This week Senator Leahy was reported to be offering an amendment to extend the statue of limitations of Congressional crimes from 5 yo 8 years, and to offer the Office of Public Integrity more money.  These are good and sound ideas, and must be part of any final bill.   

Accordingly, the recent firing of the various US Attorneys by the Administration, including the one who successfully prosecuted Duke Cunningham (who received the longest jail sentence of any convicted Member of Congress in history) must be understood as the first serious effort by Bushies to undermine this process.  As Talking Points reports, actions are being taken to address this new White House effort, but from first glance I'm not sure how sufficient they are to the moment at hand. 

Richardson gets in, also through an internet video

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson becomes the third Democratic candidate this week to announce over the internet

By contrast the one Republican to get in this week, Senator Sam Brownback, announced at a traditional event in his home state, an approach that looks increasingly very 20th century. 

The Post had an interesting piece this am looking at the Hillary video.  Walter Shapiro at Salon also as an early, thoughtful take on what is shaping up to be a very different type of Presidential campaign, one that is now looking very much like the first Presidential campaign of the 21st century.

You can also find on Richardson's site a Spanish-language version of his announcement.

Pakistan is helping the Taliban. Now what?

As we all try to dig out of the mess left by the Bush years, we will have to increasingly be turning our attention to what is happening in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

The current issue of Foreign Affairs has an article that makes the claim that Afghanistan, Bin Laden's former (and current home?), is slipping away from the West.  A Times story today confirms what many have believed - that the resurgence of the Taliban, a radical Sunni group closely aligned with Al Qaeda, is being supported by the our "ally" in the region, Pakistan. 

Western diplomats in both countries and Pakistani opposition figures say that Pakistani intelligence agencies — in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence — have been supporting a Taliban restoration, motivated not only by Islamic fervor but also by a longstanding view that the jihadist movement allows them to assert greater influence on Pakistan’s vulnerable western flank.

More than two weeks of reporting along this frontier, including dozens of interviews with residents on each side of the porous border, leaves little doubt that Quetta is an important base for the Taliban, and found many signs that Pakistani authorities are encouraging the insurgents, if not sponsoring them...

Two questions immediately come to mind here.  

1. What is the American government's plan to prevent Afghanistan from sliding into chaos, and once again becoming a haven for radical Sunni elements, ones that did in fact launch the 9/11 attack on the United States?  Can Senator Biden's excellent set of hearings on American foreign policy take this on in the coming weeks?

2.  Why is okay for us to talk to and work with Pakistani and Saudi elements who are known supporters of Al Qaeda, and not talk to Iran? We have all come to learn that this Administration is prone to simplistic thinking, meaning that they have the capacity to reduce complex situations down to an argument so simple that it is no longer an accurate representation of what is happening on the ground.  I think we are in such a moment with the Administration's single-minded focus on making Iran - not Al Qaeda, not the Taliban, not repressive autocracies - the new regional uber-threat in the Middle East. 

Why is it okay for us to talk to, and work with, nations like China, Russia, Venezuela, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, all of whom are engaged in activities we strongly oppose, but cannot talk to Iran, a traditional "great power" player in the Middle East?  The Persians have been players on the world stage since the time of the Greeks, long before the existence of many of the nations on the current National Security council.  What makes the Iranians so different from these other countries? And how we can possibly contemplate isolating a government so closely aligned with the governing party of our great project in Iraq, a government who as recently as 2001 helped us defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Given the close cultural, political, religious and economic ties Iran has to critical actors in both Afghanistan and Iraq, I don't believe it is possible for us to imagine bringing a sustained and lasting peace to the region without active Iranian involvement.  Here I agree wholeheartedly with the Iraq Study Group report.  We need to talk to and engage all the regional actors in the regional peace process.  We should have no illusions about who we are dealing with, but without such a process the President's policy really is "stay the course" plus, and almost guarenteed to fail. 

If recent press reports are to be believed, the current radical leader of Iran is under increasing pressure at home.  If his power is derived to some degree from the fear of future American belligerence, why not complement our moving carriers into the Persian Gulf with a public overture to him and his government? No deals, just a meeting, a high profile meeting?  Or a public meeting of low level foreign advisors?  My own sense is that by doing so we will undermine the entire rationale of his public argument at home, and accelerate the departure of this terrible regional actor. 

One of the great choices America will have to make in the coming years is whether we take sides in the millenial-long struggle for power in the Middle East between the Arabs and Persians, the Sunnis and the Shiites.  By eliminating Iran's two great regional enemies, the Taliban and Saddam, we tipped the regional balance towards the Persians and the Shiites.  Now our actions seem to be intent on tipping everything back a little towards the Arabs and the Sunnis.  But is this a game we want to, or are truly able to play?  The Post has a must-read story today on these Sunni-Shiite tensions are playing out in the region's media, something we wrote about a few days ago.   

No matter how we look at our future policy in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Iran is and will always be at its center.  Just a few years ago the Iranian government helped us defeat the Taliban, and have like us have a great interest in slowing rise of radical Sunni Islam.  It is time we start getting smarter about to look at our long-term interests there, and work towards a goal of not isolating Iran but engaging them in bringing their region to a more modern, democratic and peaceful place.

Bi-partisan signs of progress on immigration reform

For those of eager to reform the nation's broken immigration system there have been some encouraging signs of progress in recent days:

- The GOP made a Cuban immigrant, and great champion of comprehensive immigration reform, the Chairman of their Party.  It is an important sign of the President's commitment to passing a bill this year, and for Republicans it helps provide some distance from their shameful demonization of immigrants in last year's election.   

- A new coalition of powerful grassroots groups has formed to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.  It is aptly named Alliance for Immigration Reform 2007. 

- The Democrats pick Denver as their convention site in 2008.  To fully capitalize on their choice of Denver in the 2008 elections, Democrats will want to show the Hispanics of the southwest and the nation that they helped fix the broken immigration system, and brought an end to a debate that has become seen in this community as anti-Hispanic.

- Finally, in his State of the Union Preview yesterday, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar made it clear that passing comprehensive immigration reform was an important Democratic priority this year. 

Given how contentious this issue was in 2006, there is no doubt that it will take a lot of work to get it done in 2007.  But I remain optimistic, and we will be using all means available to NDN to get this important legislation passed this year. 

For more on NDN's work promoting immigration reform, visit the immigration section of our website at www.ndn.org/immigration.

The Attorney General testifies

The Attorney General testified yesterday in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Glenn Greenwald was there, and he is, as always, worth reading. 

Conservatism in retreat

You often hear from Republicans these days something along the lines that they may been voted out of office, but their values, their principles, their views are still ascendant, that this is in effect still a “center-right” nation.  After watching the events of recent weeks I think we have to now classify that argument as “spin,” as it hard to describe their values as anything other than in a swift and profound retreat.   2007 is becoming the year of the repudiation of the Bush era, and the type of politics and ideology he espoused.   

The 100 Hours.  We just saw substantial numbers of Republicans voting for core Democratic priorities.  Minimum wage, Stem-cell funding, the 9/11 Commission Recommendations, ethics and lobbying reform, rescinding tax breaks for the oil industry and using the money to help speed the development of alternative energy, prescription drug negotiating authority for CMS.  All blocked these last few years by the Republican leadership, all passed now with substantial Republican support.  Even Republicans are now abandoning the agenda of the Bush age.

The President’s new plan for the Middle East.  Republican criticism of the President has been fierce.  Story after story tells of how shocked the Administration has been with the opposition of Republicans.  A vote on the President’s plan will be taken next week, the day after the State of the Union.  Expect substantial Republican defections.  Early predictions expect at least 10 GOP Senators going with the Democrats.  Polls show overwhelming opposition to the plan.  Remarkably, the resolution to be voted on next week is a bi-partisan one, with Senator Chuck Hagel joining Senators Biden and Levin as chief co-sponsor.  Republican Congressman are already working to block the President from attacking Iran.

FISA.  While some argue that the “changes” made by the Administration on the oversight of their wiretapping program to be more cosmetic than substantive, there is no question that the Administration is now in retreat on what was an ideological holy grail for them these last few years.

The State of the Union pre-leaks from the White House.  Traditionally the White House spends weeks leaking major elements of their State of the Union, road testing and building support for their program.  Where are the leaks this year? There aren’t any.  Why, because what exactly can the President say about this agenda, the legacy of his years in office, working with Democrats?  This is certainly shaping up to one of the most interesting State of the Unions in years.

The New House Senate Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.  Finally, Speaker Pelosi yesterday announced the creation of a new select committee, one that bring Members together from different Committees, take develop a long-term strategy for combating global warming and climate change.  What a strong and bold move, what a thoughtful and powerful way of signaling that a new day has arrived, and that the Bush era, and the era of what we call the era of conservative ascendancy, has come to an end.

The Bush years, and its failed government, have done grave damage to conservatism.  It is no longer ascendant in America, nor is it a coherent and effective governing approach.  It has been deeply discredited. And with early Presidential polls showing substantial leads for Democrats in the Presidential race, it is clear we are a center-right nation no more, and that conservatism, the political philosophy that has done so much to drive America politics over this past generation, is in a remarkable and profound retreat. 

More on rising Sunni-Shiite tensions in the Middle East

The Times had a remarkable story the other day on rising Sunni-Shiite tensions throughout the Middle East.  Make sure you read all the way down to the part about a television show in Egypt, our "ally" in the Middle East, glorifying the heroic Sunni insurgency's killing of Americans in Iraq:

And while political analysts and government officials in the region say the spreading Sunni disillusionment with Shiites and their backers in Iran will benefit Sunni-led governments and the United States, they and others worry that the tensions could start to balkanize the region as they have in Iraq itself.

“The reality of the current situation is that we are approaching an open Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region,” said Emad Gad, a specialist in international relations at the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “And Egypt will also be a part of it as a part of the Sunni axis. No one will be able to avoid or escape it.”

This changing dynamic in the region, described by many scholars, analysts and officials in recent days, is a result not only of the hangings, the Iraq war and the Lebanese political struggle. It has also been encouraged by Sunni-led governments like those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and some Sunni religious leaders alarmed by the rising influence of Iran, the region’s biggest Shiite power..

and...

Sunnis make up a vast majority of the Islamic world. Shiites, who lead Iran and the Iraqi government, are the next largest sect. The two split over who would lead Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

While the two have theological differences — and similarities — the gathering conflict is being stoked by a determination by Sunni leaders to preserve, or reinvigorate, their waning influence in the region — while emboldened Shiites have pressed for more influence.

After the war between Hezbollah and Israel, Shiite leaders seemed to reach their zenith as an antidote to a Sunni Muslim leadership widely viewed as corrupt, impotent and stooges of the West, analysts said.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Sheik Nasrallah of Hezbollah, each won wide followings across the region for their willingness to defy the United States. Hezbollah and its allies pressed for more power in Lebanon and when rebuffed, began demonstrations intended to topple the government.

Now, fueled by state controlled media in many Sunni Muslim states, a divide, or at least an estrangement, is growing across the Middle East between Sunni Muslims and Shiites. Egyptians, for example, are inundated nearly daily with headlines, commentaries and television reports alleging Shiite transgressions.

An Egyptian-government controlled satellite service, called Nilesat, has been broadcasting across the Arab world Al Zawraa, a television station that shows what is billed as heroic footage of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, American soldiers being killed and wounded, and unflattering images of Shiite leaders.

“Raising the ugly face of Shiites, expanding Iranian influence in the region,” read a headline in a recent edition of Rose el-Youssef, a pro-government Egyptian newspaper.

In December, a top religious leader close to the Saudi royal family, Abdul Rahman al-Barak, said that Shiites, whom he called rejectionists, were worse than Jews or Christians.

“By and large, rejectionists are the most evil sect of the nation and they have all the ingredients of the infidels,” he wrote.

And yes it was the United States who put these rejectionists, worse than Christians or Jews, in charge of an Arab country for the first time in the 1300 year history of the Muslim Middle East.  As I've written before, it is hard for me to believe that in any war-gaming of the post Iraq Middle East that what is happening there today was not seen as the most likely outcome of our installing a Shiite-led, Iranian-friendly team in charge of Iraq. 

Once we accept that even our "allies" in the Middle East are promoting the killing of American troops in Iraq, it is unwise for the US to simplify this complex emerging regional politics into a demonization of Iran. The vengence and anger of those who killed Saddam that night was not funded or fueled by Iran.  It was fueled by over a 1000 years of Sunni oppression of Shiites and was a long, long time coming. 

Our actions in the Middle East have unleashed a new, powerful and unpredictable dynamic into the region, one that we need to better understand before taking swift and decisive action like attacking Iran.  For just a few months ago it seemed as if another band of Sunni insurgents, Al Qaeda, were our primary enemy.   

Novak: Iraq is dooming the GOP

Prominent conservative columnist has a remarkable column today, one that once again shows how out of step with even his own Party President Bush now is:

The sense of impending political doom that clutches Republican hearts one week after President Bush presented his new strategy on Iraq to the nation is stoked by the alarming intelligence brought back from Baghdad by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota and passed around Capitol Hill.

In a pre-Christmas visit to Iraq, Coleman and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida met with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi government's national security adviser. Coleman described their astounding encounter in a Dec. 19 blog entry: Dr. Rubaie "maintains that the major challenge facing Iraq is not a sectarian conflict, but rather al-Qaeda and disgruntled Baathists seeking to regain power. Both Senator Nelson and I react with incredulity to that assessment. Rubaie cautions against more troops in Baghdad."

Rubaie denied the overriding reality of sectarian violence in Baghdad because his government is tied to the Shiite belligerents in that conflict. While Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pays lip service to Bush's demand that he crack down on Mahdi Army commander Moqtada al-Sadr, U.S. officials recognize that Maliki's political support depends on the Shiite militia leader. Thus, Maliki's government is in denial about sectarian conflict. Maliki did not show up for a news conference in which he was scheduled to comment on Bush's new strategy, and he personally remains silent about the plan at this writing.

This hastens the desire of Republicans, who once cheered the Bush Doctrine in the Middle East, to remove U.S. forces from a politically deteriorating condition as soon as possible. "Iraq is a black hole for the Republican Party," a prominent party strategist told me this week. What makes his comments so important is that he is not a maverick Republican in Congress but one of Bush's principal political advisers.

As they adjust to the 2006 election returns, Republicans recognize that this was no isolated bump in the road. The loss of about 320 state legislative seats across the country to the Democrats classifies last year's election as a midrange electoral disaster.

The internal Republican debate concerns how much Iraq contributed to this outcome. The White House and Republican members of Congress who voted for intervention in Iraq contend that many issues led to their defeat: incompetent management of the Hurricane Katrina crisis, widespread cases of corruption and abandonment of spending restraint. But Republicans at the grass roots tell me that Iraq was the central problem and must be erased as an issue.....

Shapiro speaks on globalization at EPI

One of the most important governing challenges facing our nation is to ensure that American corporations, capital and people all prosper together in this age of ever more intense globalization.

To that end, last year NDN established a new Globalization Initiative led by Dr. Robert J. Shapiro, a former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs in the Clinton Administration. On our website you can find an overview of the project and its work, including video of our major events, speeches, studies, policy recommendations and essays.

Last week, Rob Shapiro was a featured speaker at the Economic Policy Institute's forum: Agenda for Shared Prosperity, where he spoke about "The Challenges of Globalization":

If we don’t step up to plate with serious answers to reduce the rapid increases in health care, pension and energy costs – three areas in which the current administration has been missing in action for six years – the U.S. job creating machine will stall out, and the incomes of a majority of Americans will slowly fall for the next generation. If we don’t step up to the plate with a serious training and education strategies that can ensure that Americans can do their jobs more efficiently than anyone in any developing country –another area where this administration has checked out – offshore outsourcing, especially in the new areas of services, will hollow out part of the American middle class.

You can find his complete remarks, reflecting his latest thinking on our website, and feel free to weigh in with comments here on our blog.

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Related links:
Watch
EPI's Ross Eisenbray at a recent Globalization Initiative event

Why is the Administration surprised that Iran is gaining regional influence?

After our country was attacked in 2001 there were many ways our government could respond.  The path we choose - of the many we could have chosen – removing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein from power and establishing a Shiite-led government in Iraq was almost certainly going to strengthen the regional hand of Iran.

I wrote a long post about all this recently, so I won’t repeat it here. While I am not excited about the idea of Iran’s growing regional influence, that our government is responding to this very predictable regional development, of our own making, with belligerence and outrage is another moment of almost unbelievable American arrogance and folly.

Here’s the chief architect of our global policy of arrogance and folly waking up to the new regional political dynamic his strategy has created:

On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that America’s actions were intended to protect allies in the Persian Gulf — though it is far from clear that Iran’s Sunni Arab neighbors have signed on to the strategy. “If you go and talk with the gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried,” Mr. Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” He described how the Iranians “sit astride the Straits of Hormuz” and its oil-shipping channels, and how they support Hamas and Hezbollah. “So the threat that Iran represents is growing,” he said, in words reminiscent of how he once built a case against Mr. Hussein. “It’s multidimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.”

One of the areas that Senator Biden and Representative Lantos should explore in their ongoing Congressional hearings is what exactly did we our government believe was going to happen when we eliminated two of Iran’s most significant adversaries, established in Iraq the first Shiite-led Arab government in the region’s history and helped place at the helm of the Iraqi government political parties and leaders close to Iran?

This same Times’ piece has some interesting, and let’s say less than satisfactory insights into all this:

For more than two years after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the war in Iraq was about chasing down insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Last year it expanded to tamping down sectarian warfare.

Over the past three weeks, in two sets of raids and newly disclosed orders issued by President Bush, a third front has opened — against Iran.

Administration officials say the goal is limited to preventing Iranians from aiding in attacks on American and Iraqi forces inside Iraq. But in recent interviews and public statements, senior members of the Bush administration have made it clear that their agenda goes significantly further, toward foiling Iran’s dream of emerging as the greatest power in the Middle East.

In an interview on Friday, before she left on her latest Middle East trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described what she called an “evolving” strategy to confront “destabilizing behavior” by Iran across the region. Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said Sunday on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” that the United States was resisting an Iranian effort “to basically establish hegemony” throughout the region.

Even some of Mr. Bush’s fiercest critics do not question that the administration’s conviction that Iran’s ambitions are large is correct. A few midlevel administration officials wondered even in 2003 whether Iran was a far more potent threat than Mr. Hussein.

Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, administration officials argued that deposing Mr. Hussein would send a powerful signal to Iran and North Korea, the two countries that Mr. Bush identified along with Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union address as part of an “axis of evil.” “You heard this argument in meetings all the time,” a senior official on the National Security Council, who has since left the administration, recalled recently. “Iraq would make the harder problems of Iran and North Korea easier."

But the opposite happened. North Korea tested a nuclear device in October. And Iran has sped ahead with a uranium enrichment program. Now, despite the urging of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to engage with Iran, Washington is moving in a more confrontational direction. It is stationing more naval, air and antimissile batteries off Iran’s coast; has persuaded many international businesses to cut off dealings with Iran; and it has interfered with Iranians inside Iraqi territory.

“The administration does have Iran on the brain, and I think they are exaggerating the amount of Iranian activities in Iraq,” Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, said Sunday. “There’s a good chance that this is going to be counterproductive — that this is a way to get into a spiral with Iran that leads you into conflict. The likely response from the Iranians is that they are going to want to demonstrate to us that they are not going to be pushed around.”

Administration officials say ignoring Iran’s activities will only lead to escalation with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “There’s no question that everything that has gone wrong in Iraq has made life easier for the Iranians,” one senior White House official said recently. “The question is what you do about that.”

The answer, shaped in the National Security Council, is for the American military to make targets of Iranians whom they believe are fueling attacks, a decision that Mr. Bush made months ago that was disclosed only last week.

Yes, the question indeed, is what do we do about that – but the that is not Iran but a group of discredited and desperate leaders running our country no longer capable of managing our interests around the world.     

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