Getting Serious - Deciding Which Farce Matters More
Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - it's just a spot in time.
The Republican train wreck got even worse -
House Speaker Dennis Hastert's political support showed signs of cracking on Wednesday as Republicans fled an election-year scandal spawned by steamy computer messages from former Rep. Mark Foley to teenage male pages.
At the same time, Foley's former chief of staff said in an Associated Press interview that he first warned Hastert's aides more than three years ago that Foley's behavior toward pages was troublesome. That was long before GOP leaders acknowledged learning of the problem.
Kirk Fordham, who was Foley's top aide until January 2004, said he had "more than one conversation with senior staff at the highest level of the House of Representatives asking them to intervene" several years ago.
Fordham resigned Wednesday as staff chief for another lawmaker caught up in the scandal, New York Rep. Thomas Reynolds, the House GOP campaign chief who says he alerted Hastert to concerns about Foley last spring.
The aide's claim drew a swift, unequivocal denial from Hastert's chief of staff. "What Kirk Fordham said did not happen," Scott Palmer said through a spokesman.
Okay, then. This Kirk Fordham fellow was the same guy who told ABC's Brian Ross - the man who does the legwork and broke the story - that if Ross would keep the really nasty IM messages secret he'd give Ross an exclusive on the Foley resignation. The seat could be saved. The election mattered. Ross said no.
Fordham worked for Thomas Reynolds, the fellow who held his press conference surrounded by cute children so no one could ask "adult" questions (discussed here), and Fordham used to work for Foley. Reynolds line was he did what he was supposed to do - "I told my supervisor about the problem" - so it wasn't his fault. And he fired Fordham for trying to keep ABC from reporting what it had, which Fordham says now he never did. And Hastert said that Reynolds may actually have told him about the problem, but he didn't really remember.
Fordham looked like the bad guy. And now this - Fordham flat-out says he told he told Hastert and his staff there was a problem, and he didn't tell them a year ago, but three years ago. Hastert says he's lying.
It's hard to keep it all straight. It's kind of like a Three Stooges skit. But the concept is easy.
There was a problem - a congressman hitting on the young male pages - and nothing was done about it. Two guys - Reynolds and Fordham - say they told the guy who was supposed to handle it, Hastert, all about it. But those two now are at odds. Hastert said the be that as it may, he really didn't know how serious it all was - he didn't know about the IM messages - and anyway, he had one of his staff tell Foley to cut it out with the friendly letters. It wasn't his fault. He only had some suspicious letters and he really did have his people tell the fellow to stop that nonsense. He assumed the nonsense had stopped. That's logical. You see someone doing something really suspicious, so you have your people tell them to stop, so they obviously stop. He feels "duped" and wronged, and doesn't think anyone should be picking on him, of all people. And anyway, the kid's parents had told him to keep it quiet. As a thoughtful guy, what else could he do? (Anyone who has ever been in management is rolling their eyes right here.)
And all day Wednesday came tales of pages as far back as 1995 being warned about the ominously friendly Foley.
Hastert thus looks foolish - out of everything, unaware of his surroundings, or perhaps complicit.
The defenders of Hastert trotted out their arguments - it's the kids fault, they're oversexed these days (Matt Drudge), it's Bill Clinton's fault with the example Clinton set with Monica Lewinsky (Sean Hannity saying we should remember Lewinsky herself was just nineteen when she first met Clinton, even if the record shows she was twenty-two), the Wall Street Journal saying the problem is gay men, they're all like that, and what was Hastert to do? Joe Lieberman, who broke with his party over the Lewinsky business and excoriated Clinton on the floor of the Senate, said Hastert should not be forced to resign - this is not the time for partisan bickering. It's not that big a deal. (If Rumsfeld goes everyone says Lieberman is next in line for Secretary of Defense, and he's no dummy.)
But the Three Stooges skit rolled on, sucking in more players, just like the old short films with their pie fights. Congressman Roy Blunt of Missouri, third-ranking House leader, "pointedly" (AP's word) told reporters he would have handled the matter differently than the speaker, had he known of it - "I think I could have given some good advice here, which is, you have to be curious, you have to ask all the questions you can think of. You absolutely can't decide not to look into activities because one individual's parents don't want you to."
Republican congressman Ron Lewis of Kentucky, in a tight reelection race, suddenly canceled an invitation for Hastert to join him at a fundraiser the following week - ""I'm taking the speaker's words at face value. I have no reason to doubt him. But until this is cleared up, I want to know the facts. If anyone in our leadership has done anything wrong, then I will be the first in line to condemn it."
Ron Bonjean, Hastert's spokesman, said everyone should relax - the entire issue had been referred to the House ethics committee - "We fully expect that the bipartisan panel will do what it needs to do to investigate this matter and protect the integrity of the House." House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said fine - Hastert and the rest of the GOP leadership should be "immediately questioned under oath." She thinks "the children, their parents, the public, and our colleagues deserve answers, and those who covered up Mark Foley's behavior must be held accountable."
Congresswoman Deborah Pryce - chair of the House Republican caucus - asked the House clerk and to investigate rumors that Foley, while intoxicated, had once tried to enter the page residence hall but was stopped by Capitol Police. One of the officials in the House clerk's office, who spoke "on condition of anonymity," said the clerk's office had long ago forwarded complaints about Foley to Foley's staff.
The Justice Department ordered House officials to "preserve all records" related to Foley's electronic correspondence with teenagers, and one law enforcement official said FBI agents have begun interviewing participants in the House page program. Of course such a request for "record preservation" is often followed by search warrants and subpoenas, followed by a criminal investigation. Separately, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had fired up a preliminary inquiry.
By the end of this one day Hastert was still saying he would not resign, not at all. If he did that then the terrorists would have won, as he had explained to Rush Limbaugh.
So maybe it moved from the Three Stooges into Feydeau territory, from slapstick to farce. Heck, maybe the late Joe Orton somehow wrote this farce, in the manner of his famous farce - "What the Butler Saw." Orton was gay, after all.
The high-powered Wall Street attorney who sometimes contributes to these pages (like here) called that Wednesday on his way out of Manhattan. All his diehard Republican friends, the Bush supporters (there are many of those on Wall Street and in the corporate executive suites), were in despair - come November the party that had made things so good for them would lose the House and Senate. This may be a farce, but it just wasn't funny. These clowns had ruined everything. At least that was the water cooler talk - but these are not the types to hang around water coolers, so you have to imagine a quite different setting. Think fine scotch.
But what's not really funny is something else entirely. It's a different farce. And it's not really funny at all.
At the same time the new Three Stooges were poking each other in the eyes, you'd find stories like this -
An entire police brigade in Baghdad has been suspended and its commander placed under arrest on charges of aiding sectarian death squads that have carried out mass kidnappings.
The Eighth Brigade of the 2nd National Police Battalion, which has more than 800 uniformed officers in western Baghdad, was stepped down a day after armed men in official uniforms herded off 14 shopkeepers from central Baghdad, and two days after 24 workers were abducted from a meat processing plant in the capital.
"The brigade's past performance does not demonstrate the level of professionalism sought by the Ministry of the Interior," Major General William Caldwell said. "It was realized that removing them would, in fact, enhance security.
… "The forces in the unit have not put their full allegiance to the Government of Iraq and gave their allegiance to others."
So the "stay the course" and "as they stand up we'll stand down" seems to be a bit of a farce too.
Watch this clip from the same day - Michael Ware on CNN reporting from Baghdad. There are independent death squads, sectarian death squads, death squads supported by various government ministries, ministries that rent their uniforms for the evening to the highest bidding death squad - every man for himself. Which death squads do we fight, and which do we let slide as those we support in power are using them to take care of other bad guys, and to keep in power in all the chaos? We need to be very careful. And matters seem to be getting worse.
And this is just depressing -
- The morgue itself is believed to be controlled by the same Shiite militia blamed for many of the killings: the Mahdi Army, founded and led by anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The takeover began after the last election in December when Sadr's political faction was given control of the Ministry of Health. The U.S. military has documented how Sadr's Mahdi Army has turned morgues and hospitals into places where death squads operate freely.
The chilling details are spelled out in an intelligence report seen by CBS News. Among some of the details of the report are:
- Sunni patients are being murdered; some are dragged from their beds.
- The militia is keeping hostages inside some hospitals, where they are tortured and executed.
- They're using ambulances to transport hostages and illegal weapons, and even to help their fighters escape from U.S. forces.
- … More than 80 percent of the original doctors and staff where she works are gone, replaced by Shia supporters of the Mahdi Army.
And we made things better? Well, Saddam is gone.
But there was that famous Pottery Barn Rule - you break it, you own it - even if the Pottery Barn people say they don't really have such a rule. That was what former Secretary of State Colin Powell said to George Bush before we invaded and occupied Iraq. He may have been onto something, even if they laughed at him and eventually fired him.
The same Wednesday during a lecture in Minneapolis he finally stopped being the good soldier, keeping quiet and not weighing in on what was above his pay grade. He's out of that whole system now anyway, and he spoke up -
In Iraq, "staying the course isn't good enough because a course has to have an end," Powell said. In the U.S. today, a challenge the war poses is a question of whether an essential "bond of trust that must exist within a nation... has been shaken," he said. The extent of the damage to trust will be measured in the November elections, he said.
In short, the United States and allies cannot resolve the current sectarian violence in Iraq, and everyone knows it. And they'll vote on that knowledge. The administration has forfeited our trust.
Maybe, or maybe not. Much can happen in the next four weeks.
Bet there is the evidence, as it were, as reported here in the Los Angeles Times -
Two months after a security crackdown began in the capital, U.S. military deaths appear to be rising, even as fatalities among Iraqi security forces have fallen, U.S. military sources and analysts said.
The U.S. military Tuesday revised to eight its count of American deaths in the capital on Monday, the highest daily toll in a month. In September, 74 U.S. troops died nationwide, about a third of them in Baghdad, according to the military.
We lost twenty-one soldiers Saturday to Tuesday, but that's understandable - "Observers also noted recent statements by Al Qaeda in Iraq that reveal a strategy to redirect its attacks from Iraqi troops to U.S. forces."
But it's not just them, and there is death everywhere -
... although Al Qaeda is the most virulently anti-American insurgent force in the country, it is by no means the only one. The Sunni Arab insurgency is composed of many elements, including former members of Saddam Hussein's toppled regime. Iraq's national security advisor, Mowaffak Rubaie, said last month that 80% of the insurgency was made up of local fighters.
The latest casualties come as the U.S. military's focus has shifted from a broad, national counterinsurgency effort to suppressing sectarian fighting in Baghdad.
The rising number of U.S. fatalities is dwarfed by the tally of violent Iraqi deaths, which in July and August reached the highest point since 2003: more than 5,000 in Baghdad alone, according to the United Nations. The Iraqi government is planning to release September's death toll this week.
The high number of slain civilians, many of whom were Sunni Arab victims of Shiite death squads, suggests that U.S. forces eventually may have to take on Shiite militias as vigorously as they have fought insurgents - a prospect that probably would lead to even more American deaths.
"As long as they are fighting the Sunni insurgents, you don't have a problem with the Shiites," said Anthony Cordesman, a Washington-based military analyst. "But the minute they try to deal with the overall sectarian violence - you can't do that without coming into occasional conflict with sectarian and ethnic elements who are not insurgents and not terrorists. These are things that don't offer easy choices to make."
The U.S. military has not released data on the number of attacks against Americans by Shiite fighters, but anecdotal evidence suggests that they may be rising.
"We've seen attacks by various groups of extremists on both sides of the equation," Army spokesman Johnson said.
A senior U.S. military official said last month that Shiite militias were obtaining high-quality bombs from Iran that were occasionally used against U.S. and British troops.
U.S. forces have been met with heavy resistance during occasional raids on Shiite militia strongholds such as Sadr City, a poor Baghdad neighborhood named for the father of anti-U.S. cleric and Al Mahdi militia founder Muqtada Sadr. On Sunday, U.S. forces engaged in a shootout with militiamen as they attempted to detain a suspected death-squad leader.
U.S. officials have complained that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shiite, has blocked a more concerted effort to combat militias in Shiite neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, U.S. military sources said that U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which has operational control of ground forces in Baghdad, canceled a planned raid on a national police station. The predominantly Shiite police brigade is suspected of kidnapping 26 Sunni Arabs from a Baghdad meat processing plant Sunday. Most of the abductees have been found dead.
Mohammed Daini, a Sunni Arab legislator, said that warrants were issued Tuesday for 15 members of the police brigade but that 12 of them fled before they could be detained.
Meanwhile, police said they found 15 bodies in Baghdad on Tuesday, most of them bearing bullet wounds and signs of torture. Attacks killed at least 12 Iraqis in the capital, and two in Kirkuk.
So we may have to fight them all, while they work on killing each other, and us. Great.
One appropriate reaction might be this from Digby at Hullabaloo, who originally pointed to these news items -
Jesus oh Jesus. What are we doing in the middle of that hell? (Why did Bush create that hell?) Every day, they find piles of dead bodies that have been tortured and beheaded!
This is a nightmare.
I'm firmly in favor of beating the shit out of the Republicans with this disgusting Foley thing or Woodward's book or whatever. This world desperately needs someone to put some brakes on Bush and Cheney. But, really, no matter what happens now, what they have done to Iraq is so huge, so horrible, so fundamentally immoral I don't know what the United States can ever do to make it right. We invaded a country that was under political repression and turned it into a chaotic bloodbath in which neighbor is killing and torturing neighbor.
So it's a matter of picking your farces - some are on a whole different level.
The contention here is that we had no need to invade Iraq - these guys just wanted to prove their manhood. And at the center is Cheney -
In "A World Transformed," the memoir that he and Bush senior published in 1998, [Brent] Scowcroft makes it clear that while all Bush senior's top advisers had different perspectives, the fundamental division lay between Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and everyone else. By his account, and by those of others in the administration, Cheney never trusted Gorbachev. In 1989 Cheney maintained that Gorbachev's reforms were largely cosmetic and that, rather than engage with the Soviet leader, the US should stand firm and keep up cold war pressures. In September 1991 Cheney argued that the administration should take measures to speed the breakup of the Soviet Union - even at the risk of encouraging violence and incurring long-term Russian hostility. He opposed the idea, which originated with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, that the US should withdraw its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe and South Korea. As a part of the preparations for the Gulf War he asked Powell for a study on how small nuclear weapons might be used against Iraqi troops in the desert.
Well, he's in charge.
And elsewhere Digby says this -
I'm really beginning to resent all those people who say Bush really is smart, he's just incurious. No. He's clearly an idiot and an arrogant, immature idiot at that. He's been manipulated by a bunch of wily, evil men with competing agendas creating lawlessness, chaos and incoherence in our government.
Over the last six years when we watched Bush shift uncomfortably and babble incomprehensibly in response to complicated questions, when we saw him lash out at anyone who dared to question his judgment or his authority, when we observed him humiliating those around him, we weren't hallucinating and it wasn't an act. This intellectually deficient, petulant man-child was exactly what he appeared to be - and his inept, arrogant administration is a perfect reflection of him.
What you see is what you get. And here's another shocking revelation from Woodward's book:
One of the more troubling subplots running through "State of Denial" involves Prince Bandar, the long-time Saudi ambassador to the United States. By Woodward's account, when then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush decided to run for president, his worried father enlisted Bandar, an old family friend, to tutor the son on foreign policy. When Bandar arrived in Austin, the younger Bush blithely observed that while he had lots of ideas about domestic policies he didn't have a clue about foreign affairs. The Saudi took him under his wing, but he proved a trying pupil, who addressed his mentor as "asshole" and "smart aleck." (Perhaps this is how hereditary princelings affectionately address each other?) At one point, the younger Bush peevishly demanded to know why he needed "to care about North Korea." Bandar pointed out that, if he became president, he would have 35,000 American troops sitting on the DMZ.
Later, with a Bush back in the White House, Bandar bullied the president into explicitly endorsing a two-state solution to the Israeli-conflict by threatening a total cutoff of Saudi support for U.S. policies. (Bush may never have played poker, but Bandar obviously has.) In another instance, the Saudi prince imperiously demanded - and, worse, obtained - two CIA officials to accompany him on a wild goose chase to Pakistan, where he hoped to kill Bin Laden. During a meeting in the Oval Office, according to Woodward, Bush personally thanked Bandar because the Saudis had flooded the world oil market and kept prices down in the run-up to the 2004 general election.
You don't have to be Michael Moore to find all this unsettling. Equally disquieting, Woodward's source for all this has to be Bandar or one of his intimates, acting at the Saudi's behest. What that suggests is that, after decades of arduously cultivating the Bush family, one of the shrewdest operators on the world stage has written off George W. Bush.
Yes, I do find it somewhat disquieting to know that our president needed to be told why he should care about North Korea. But then, we all pretty much knew he wasn't exactly well informed on world affairs before he was elected, didn't we? He was quizzed on that radio show and mumbled and sputtered like a 6th grader, showing that he didn't even have rudimentary knowledge of foreign affairs. But everyone said it was snobbish to complain, that it wasn't necessary for a president to have none 'o that book smarts because he would have all these grown-up around him. Like these: "Vice President Cheney is described as a man so determined to find proof that his claim about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was accurate that, in the summer of 2003, his aides were calling the chief weapons inspector, David Kay, with specific satellite coordinates as the sites of possible caches. None resulted in any finds."
… That well-known kook was the grey eminence who was supposed to wisely guide Junior through the difficult decisions he would have to make as president. (We also thought Daddy Bush would be a prominent advisor, but Junior couldn't take the competition. Nutballs only needed apply.)
As for the Bandar stuff, I also have to admit that it's a little unsettling that dimwit Junior was being tutored in foreign affairs by the ambassador of Saudi Arabia in the first place. It's even more disconcerting that the little princelings were concocting harebrained schemes to sneak Bandar into Pakistan to get bin Laden when the administration had already shown they had no particular interest in doing it. But then terrorism has never really been taken seriously by this administration. They wanted a war like Uncle Dick Nixon's or Daddy's, only they'd do it much, much better than those old poops ever did.
Honestly, when all the smoke has cleared (if it ever does) I think the overriding lesson we can take from all this is that when someone looks and acts incredibly stupid or incredibly crazy they probably shouldn't be elected president and vice president of the United States. Perhaps this is the insight that could heal the red-blue divide once and for all.
Well, that's a matter of learning from experience versus not admitting you goofed. Voters are funny about such things.
And while all eyes are on the Foley business Iraq is going down the tubes, we had lost nineteen soldiers in Iraq this month, and it was only the fourth day of the month, and the Iraqi government had to pull a brigade of around seven hundred policemen that have possible ties to death squads.
More CNN video of Michael Ware in Baghdad, later the same Wednesday, on the Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, saying this -
Listen, Wolf, this is the way to put it in a nutshell. If the U.S. continues its policy and operations as they are now, the situation will worsen and the enemies of the U.S., Principally al Qaeda and Iran will continue to strengthen. There are a number of options that are presented to Washington at the moment. They are the do this or they don't do this. They either need to get serious about the battle here on the ground. Physically against al Qaeda or in the insurgency. And commit the troops that the commanders need. Or they need to look for alternative solutions. At the end of the day, what they are fighting is potential by most of this country to be consumed bay Shi'a led government with other parts of the government left as western al Qaeda desert training camps and facilities. To avoid that, something radical has to be done. That's the consensus. So Colin Powell is right. Staying the course will only further strengthen America's enemies, Wolf?"
Yeah, like Wolf Blitzer can say anything to that?
Well, we will either follow the Republican motto - "Stay the Course" - or double-down, as they say in Las Vegas.
That would be this, as Arthur Silber sees it -
We should always remember one further fact: those in the administration who drive our foreign policy have always wanted and intended to attack Iran. That was the big target from the very beginning. The question of timing is a separate one. From their perspective, and if they think such an attack would ensure continuing Republican control of Congress, why not do it in the next month? Two for the price of one, and all that… and never mind the possibly tens or hundreds of thousands dead, and possibly even more if the mayhem rapidly spirals out of control. Never mind that the United States would forever brand itself as one of most destructive, contemptible, damnable nations in history, engaging in murderous, aggressive war whenever the whim strikes it.
Well, it would end all the talk about Foley and Iraq. One nuclear war to take care of evil folk trumps two farces.
You just have to decide which topic here deserves the most consideration.