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Monday, February 20, 2006

All Politics Is Local

I spent my spare time this weekend reading through Paul Pillar's Foreign Affairs article, and I have to say, it was worth every moment that I spent on it and them some. Pillar's assessment of the mistakes leading up to the Iraq War and the Administration's subsequent missteps in post-war planning and operations -- including to today -- are essential reading for those of us who have been trying to make sense of the mess we see in the headlines.
The Bush administration's use of intelligence on Iraq did not just blur this distinction; it turned the entire model upside down. The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made. It went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq. (The military made extensive use of intelligence in its war planning, although much of it was of a more tactical nature.) Congress, not the administration, asked for the now-infamous October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's unconventional weapons programs, although few members of Congress actually read it. (According to several congressional aides responsible for safeguarding the classified material, no more than six senators and only a handful of House members got beyond the five-page executive summary.) As the national intelligence officer for the Middle East, I was in charge of coordinating all of the intelligence community's assessments regarding Iraq; the first request I received from any administration policymaker for any such assessment was not until a year into the war. (emphasis mine)
I highlight this specific passage because it is a theme that we have seen time and again with the Bush Administration. From Paul O'Neill to Richard Clark to Lawrence Wilkerson and now to Pillar: the Administration had a desired outcome -- war with Saddam Hussein -- and was willing to bend whatever rules, information, and planning that was necessary to achieve that outcome. Ends justifies the means.

There has been a substantial amount of discussion in the last week regarding this Administration's lack of support for candor -- and the President and his staff's repudiation of criticism, even from within their circle of supporters. (The most recent article on the subject was raised by none other than GOP mouthpiece Bob Novak, highlighted here last night.) Without some mechanism for internal criticism, some check and balance on the inside of the process wherein important decisions are made, how is it that mistaken decisions are to be refined or poor judgments to be called for what they are?

Glenn Greenwald has a couple of superb posts up regarding the Administration's illegal NSA domestic spying and foreign policy concerns that deserve a read and some thought on the Democratic end of things.

If I have any quibble with Glenn it is this: on the NSA domestic spying issue, the reason that Republicans keep bringing up having a new law when there is a perfecvtly good one on the books is that, logically, if they admit that FISA is workable as it is, then they must admit that the Administration has been breaking the law all along. The thought that a new law is necessary to fix things is the red herring that the Administration apologists in Congress must keep bringing up -- otherwise, they must admit, both to themselves and publicly, that the President has repeatedly broken the law. Which brings up an entire mess of legal and impeachment issues that none of them want to touch -- it's the third rail for them -- and thus the straw man of a need for a new law to fix the non-broken system.

What I want to emphasize, though, is the importance of continuing pressure on your members in both the House and Senate on this issue. Laura Rozen caught an interesting piece in Pat Roberts' hometown newspaper that may explain, more than anything else, his shifting public statements about oversight or not from the Senate Intelligence Committee. And Olympia Snowe's and Chuck Hegel's and a whole mess of other shifting perspectives over the weekend.

Republican politicos have perfected the art of base mobilization on message in hometown newspapers and on small town talk radio. Progressives need to use this more and more -- to point out that not only is there a counter-argument, but that these sentiments are alive and well in every home town in America. Why not take the apparatus they've set up and use it against them?

That feeling of community that each of us gets from coming to this blog or to other progressive blogs, that feeling that "you are not alone" is a temporary fix -- but the fact of the matter is that you are NOT alone, that there are more of us out there than the media ever lets on, and that if we all stood up and spoke our minds, there would be a sea change in the local opinion pages and on the talk radio shows in all our towns.

Just imagine it. And contemplate the pressure we could all, individually and collectively, bring to bear on issues like:

-- Pat Roberts' doing the President's dirty work by once again blocking any investigation of illegal activity by the Administration. (NYTimes)

-- White House effectively bribing members of COngress not to investigate their illegal domestic spying programs. (WaPo)

-- White House hasn't bothered to staff the commission established to safeguard inidividual rights and liberties because they don't acre enough about them to even make the effort. (LATimes)

-- Senior military officials warned that Administration policies would lead to torture and worse, and the Pentagon and WH ignored their assessments. (WaPo and NYTimes)

And those are only a few examples in the foreign policy arena. Imagine how effective this could be on a whole host of economic, domestic and other issues across the broad spectrum of Adminsitration incompetence and lies and Orwellian spin? If everyone who reads here every day was responsible for one letter every couple of weeks -- that is reaching a whole host of people in a whole lot of towns all across America.

Most people I know here in my town don't read the major national newspapers. They read our local paper. And every day in that paper, some wingnut writes in a nonsensical rant. Isn't it about time we start pushing back? One letter, one phone call, one day at a time. Talking about things from our own perspective, how poor decisions from this Administration have badly impacted our own lives, in our own towns. Hitting people where they live, with facts and information they can understand...and discuss around the watercooler or in the break room.

They wanted a war -- well, let's give them one.