Under the Rug
The U.S. military says it's conducting a thorough investigation of the alleged November 2005 massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. Skepticism may be in order. It's not that such investigators don't expend effort trying to get to the bottom of things. But one pattern of military and Pentagon self-examinations is worth noting. The most carefully examined incidents of abuse at Abu Ghraib were those that appeared in the notorious photographs.
Some incidents, such as the mysterious deaths of two Afghan detainees in December 2002, have caught the serious attention of military investigators only after they've been described in The New York Times. And Haditha wasn't investigated until a story appeared in Time in March. “It is another example of how the military is not very good at policing itself,” says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. “They act once the media has done a story.” Moreover, the outcomes of past investigations cast doubt on the prospects of many higher-ranking officials facing accountability. Meanwhile, the Army is preparing a revised Field Manual with interrogation guidelines. Amnesty International's Jumana Musa says the manual may contain different guidelines for detainees or hide the guidelines in a secret annex. That could mean Army investigators will have more abuse cases to investigate in the future. Or not. Their choice, of course.
Every few years, Americans' yearning for a third option besides the two major parties bubbles up in some misguided scheme to transcend the logic of the winner-take-all presidential election system. This year's hot new iteration, Unity08.com -- a Web site set up by a few 1970s-era political consultants that is already the toast of the David Broder pundit set -- has at least two twists. First, it's based on the Internet, which, apparently, will make the impossible possible. Secondly, its platform eschews hot-button cultural issues to focus on matters such as terrorism, the debt, America's dependence on foreign oil, global warming, education, and health care. That's a sensible platform. Of course, it's also basically the Democratic Party's platform, making the group's aim to select a bipartisan “Unity Ticket” somewhat odd. The stated rationale is that “both parties … share responsibility for the current political morass.” But why? Democrats haven't held substantial power for years -- whatever's wrong with the country is somebody else's fault.
Long-standing rumors about various Democratic factions' frustrations with Nancy Pelosi's leadership of the House caucus took a turn for the ridiculous in their most recent incarnation. As Bob Novak wrote in June, “Talk is increasing among House Democrats that if they fail to regain control after 12 years of a Republican majority, Rep. Nancy Pelosi should be replaced as the party's leader in the House,” with Illinois's Rahm Emanuel considered the “logical replacement” by many. Leaving aside the fact that Emanuel has been a congressman for nearly a whopping four years, he's currently the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- the organization charged with the task of winning the House for the Democrats in November. Perhaps only the Democratic Party could consider it “logical” to plan on rewarding the person most responsible for accomplishing a task with a promotion in the event that he fails to achieve it. Nice work if you can get it.
Wacky In, Wacky Out
Chief domestic policy adviser to the President has become the go-to position for eccentric petty miscreants. The former occupant of the post, Claude Allen, had to step down after getting caught defrauding Washington, D.C.–area Hecht's and Target stores through an elaborate theft scam. No sooner had President Bush appointed a replacement, Karl Zinsmeister of the American Enterprise Institute, than did stories of The American Enterprise magazine editor's bizarre behavior begin to surface. The New York Sun discovered that he'd doctored his own quotes in a Syracuse New Times profile that he republished on the Enterprise's Web site. (Editors at the New Times are considering legal action.) Then, some sleuthing by the Prospect's own Greg Sargent uncovered a falsehood in Zinsmeister's official White House bio. Heckuva job, Zinny.
Time and Again and Again …
Shortly after news broke of the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, National Review Online Editor Katherine Jean Lopez passed along NR Senior Editor David Pryce-Jones's take to readers: “He calls al-Zarqawi's demise both a ‘colossal morale boost' for all of us but says it also has ‘big operational significance.' When you get rid of a leader, it's very hard to replace him. The Israelis have proved this time and again.” And again. And again. In fact, we might ask why, if leaders are so hard to replace, the Israelis need to prove this so often.
Lost in the “Flood”
The conservative Washington Times reported in May that -- contrary to rumors and in spite of President Bush's Nixonian political unpopularity -- “Republican candidates are still flooding the White House Office of Political Affairs with phone calls asking the president to drop in for a fund-raiser and photo-op.” This claim doesn't seem to check out. In advance of a recent Bush appearance in Pennsylvania, Republican Congressman Curt Weldon told The Wall Street Journal that he wouldn't “be on hand” to welcome the President and that he hadn't asked for Bush's help. Earlier, an aide to Illinois gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka said the campaign would be happy to have the President attend a fund-raiser, as long as it was held “late at night, in an undisclosed location.” Perhaps those calls “flooding” the White House were making a different request.
Last Man Standing
Speaking of Weldon, while he may be keeping the Prez at arm's length like other wary Republican incumbents, he certainly deserves credit for manfully upholding 2003-vintage Iraq War claims that even the White House itself has long since abandoned. As he told the Delaware County Times in June, “I think the jury is still out on WMD.” He claimed to know of several sites in Iraq that had still not yet been searched for biological or chemical weapons, and reiterated his belief that Saddam Hussein smuggled WMD into Syria (with Russian help) prior to the U.S. invasion. Reminder: He's a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Out of Africa
It's perhaps a troubling sign o' the times that the “culture of corruption” in Washington may end up having its biggest electoral impact in Nigeria. FBI investigators working the case of (alleged!) über-corrupt Democratic Congressman William Jefferson say that Nigeria's vice president, Atiku Abubakar, was planning to push a telecommunications bill in his country in exchange for thousands -- potentially millions -- of dollars in bribes (both at the front and back end) arranged (allegedly!) by Jefferson and his cronies. Abubakar is running for president in Nigeria and will no doubt be facing questions about these shenanigans back home. Jefferson, meanwhile, deserves credit for appearing to be the rare political crook energetic enough to dispense huge bribes as well as receive them.
The industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute recently aired TV ads on global warming. The spot extols the virtues of carbon dioxide. “We breathe it out,” coos a soothing narrator. “Plants breathe it in.” The tone then turns ominous: “Now, some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed. What will our lives be like then?” The tagline, spoken over a shot of a little girl in a field blowing on a dandelion, is “Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life.”
Be sure to look for CEI's forthcoming ad campaign concerning Medicare:
[Cue sinister music]
Narrator: They're stretching our population to the breaking point -- sapping precious resources, reducing the productivity of those who must care for them, hogging all of our precious nonsolid food. They're old people … and they're fueling the global overpopulation crisis. Now, some politicians want to make the problem worse by continuing to keep them alive past the natural point with … health care. Imagine if they succeed. What will our lives be like then?
[Tagline] Medicare: They call it humane. We call it a time bomb.
The Question: Tom Delay has resigned his house seat! Any new career advice?
“He should write his memoirs, but as fiction, à la James Frey. A nonfiction book by him couldn't pass the ‘Oprah test.'”
--Chris Bell, former congressman, Texas gubernatorial candidate
“If he's not making license plates, he should become a carpenter. Since he tore down one house with hyperpartisanship, perhaps he can build a new one.”
--Donna Brazile, Democratic consultant
“He should get a job training attack dogs. Then, he can join his condo association in Alexandria and destroy democracy in his neighborhood.”
--Congresswoman Louise Slaughter of New York