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October 05, 2006

Congress and Iraq: The Lying and the Dying
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

"Predatorgate" and the self-immolation of Congress has swept the headlines for the fourth straight day. In that same amount of time, we've lost a 22 Americans in Iraq and civilian carnage is at an all-time high. Meanwhile, tomorrow is the fifth anniversary  of the war in Afghanistan and Congress has slashed funding  for veterans with brain injuries.

Having worked in Congress for the past 8 years,I can say I'm not completely surprised at the majority's undoing. This is a situation where old tropes explain a lot, like absolute power corrupts absolutely.  I have still never found a better report on the degeneration of our legislature than this Boston Globe series  from 2004. It sets the stage for what is happening today.

Until and unless there is a balance of power in Washington, this kind of covering-up, lying and trying to circumvent both laws and ethical conduct will persist.  Speaker Hastert should resign out of embarrassment for what he has presided over. Add to that the extraordinary corruption of the Iraq contracting process, the Katrina contracting process, the selling off of "earmarks", the arrest and jailing of a series of top Congressional staffers turned "lobbyists," the creation of a K street goon squad, shaking down business interests for campaign contributions, the systemic buying off of journalists, the degradation of the committee and budgeting process, the zero oversight, the acceptance of torture, warrentless spying on American citizens. This is a shameful period in our history.   

What's happening today isn't an accident, but an outcome. It points out why liberals need to include a new vision of government--one that unifies us and protects the public--in their message for a changed direction.  No more running on that aw-shucks libertarian platform of the government as the bad guy.

Today's leadership has done far more damage than is evident on the evening news.

Since 1995, they've changed the institutional composition of Congress by changing laws so that the minority couldn't organize in the same way that Newt Gingrich and co. did. Once the authors of the Contract With America ascended, they destroyed much of the cooperative infrastructure inside Congress and outsourced policy making to ideological allies and lobbyists. Venues that helped Members stay educated and built bipartisan alliances on public interests--disappeared. Maybe our nuclear dilemma with Iran wouldn't be so grave if the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus still existed. Perhaps our troops would have sufficient body armour if the military reform caucus were still around. Today's caucuses mostly exist in name only, with no staff, while the number of lobbyists has doubled since 2000.  Congress has become a reactive shell, with no real ability to retain information or incentive to learn. 

But Congress is changing in spite of itself. An example of the power of informal convening happened this past week: Senator Byron Dorgan convened a hearing on Iraq in the Senate. Three retired military officers conveyed as much insight on the war in a couple of hours as a year of regular Senate hearings That was followed by an ad hoc hearing on the costs of the war  organized by Representative Lynn Woolsey in the House.

In a speech at the University of Minnesota yesterday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell blasted  the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy  in Iraq: Looks like good advice for their governing philosophy in general.

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Comments

An excellent exposition of this "shameful period in our history"--but I'm afraid that you're too deep in the forest and only see the trees--the problems with "institutional composition." The larger problems are the VOTES of the spineless "minority," continual endorsements of the agenda of the elite--war, free trade, domestic repression, corporate welfare, judicial appointments, Palestinian repression, etc. Where is the courage of Bobby Kennedy or William Fulbright? Where is the honesty of Wayne Morse or Ernest Gruening? Peter Rodino and Tip O'Neil? What we have is the likes of Nancy Pelosi who defies her San Francisco constituents and votes more money for Operation Iraqi Fiasco "to support the troops." There's a deep thinker. We do have Lynn Woolsey and John Conyers with peace ratings (peacemajority.org) of 95% and 92% but they have zero influence. What we normally see is almost unanimous endorsement of the neocon agenda by a party which is unthreatened from the left as a result of their success in making third parties virtually impossible in this "democracy."

The troubling thing is that people don't seem to care as much about Iraq, corruption, torture, and wiretapping as the Foley sex scandal. Perhaps before we can create that new liberal government we have to find a way of articulating the greater problem to the American people. In order to destroy and rebuild the ossified and corrupt system, reform must be backed by public outrage.

The people are largely controlled by the government/corporate media so the outrage has to start in Congress, IMHO.

I just don't understand why Democrats don't make issues like cutting funding for brain-damaged soldiers central to their campaigns. I have to think that a lot of Republican-minded voters would be outraged if they actually knew the kind of anti-soldier legislation their party passes.

The late Air Force officer John Boyd, as profound a strategic thinker as America has ever produced, once laid out about half a dozen universal principles of grand strategy. There are several versions of these rattling around the 'net; the following, to my mind, is the most succinct:
+ Ensure the nation's fitness, as an organic whole, to shape and cope withan ever-changing environment.
+ Strengthen the national resolve and increase the nation's internal political solidarity.
+ Weaken the resolve of the nation's adversaries and reduce their internal cohesion.
+ Reinforce the commitments of our allies to our cause and make them empathetic to our success.
+ Attract the uncommitted to our Cause.
+ End conflicts on terms that do not sow the seeds for future conflicts.

Everything that the Bush-Cheney-Gingrich mutation of the Republican Party stands for, everything they have done in the national security arena over the past 5 3/4 years has directly undermined our pursuit of these goals. If an enemy had sought to install a "Manchurian Candidate" in the oval office they could not have hoped to have the success they have had with Bush and Cheney. No wonder, as Ron Suskind relates in his recent book The One Percent Doctrine, CIA analysts unanimously adjudged that the intention of the Osama bin Laden video released about a week before the 2004 election was to influence it in favor of the Bush-Cheney ticket.

One of the ironies of this era is that Cheney interacted extensively with Boyd when, as the Representative from Wyoming, he was part of the military reform caucus in the 1980s (which, as you point out, has since been gutted). Although there's little in the way of haard evidence, it is believed that during the Gulf War Sec Def Cheney brought Boyd in through the back door (literally, since Boyd was radioactive to most of the top uniformed brass, and especially his own service) to formulate an alternative to the "High diddle diddle, straight up the middle" plan that Schwartzkoph initially came up with. The result was the famous "Left Hook" plan that took Saddam by complete surprise. Apparently Dead Eye Dick didn't learn much from him beyond the superficial.

All this emphasis on "the nation" is misplaced. "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, . . ."
The nation was created to secure our rights--we weren't created to secure the nation's rights, or fitness, or resolve. "The nation's internal solidarity?" United We Stand? No. That's the antithesis of individual rights.
This nation's adversaries now include most of the world, justifiably, and I think that fact speaks to the moral vacuity of our "national resolve." Torture, invasion and all that.
A profound air force strategic thinker? The US Air Force has the distinct honor of killing more civilian non-combatants than any military force in history; now that's profound.

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