Saturday, February 21, 2004

James Webb blasts Bush
Still unsure about Kerry

If you haven't yet, be sure to read James Webb's OpEd piece in USA Today.

Webb was a Marine Corps platoon leader and company commander in Vietnam. I read a couple of his books when I was a young soldier, and I enjoyed them. I was glad when Reagan named Webb Secretary of the Navy, because I thought he was a better choice than some corporate civilian who knew nothing about leading troops in combat.

Webb is definitely from the right side of the isle. Some have called him a contemporary of Oliver North. And Webb has had a great dislike for John Kerry since Kerry's days in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

So it's indeed interesting to read his critique of the disaster Bush has created in Iraq, and his musings that, if Kerry were to say the right words at some time in the near future, Webb might very well support him for President.

Here are the key graphs:

Bush arguably has committed the greatest strategic blunder in modern memory. To put it bluntly, he attacked the wrong target. While he boasts of removing Saddam Hussein from power, he did far more than that. He decapitated the government of a country that was not directly threatening the United States and, in so doing, bogged down a huge percentage of our military in a region that never has known peace. Our military is being forced to trade away its maneuverability in the wider war against terrorism while being placed on the defensive in a single country that never will fully accept its presence.

There is no historical precedent for taking such action when our country was not being directly threatened. The reckless course that Bush and his advisers have set will affect the economic and military energy of our nation for decades. It is only the tactical competence of our military that, to this point, has protected him from the harsh judgment that he deserves.

At the same time, those around Bush, many of whom came of age during Vietnam and almost none of whom served, have attempted to assassinate the character and insult the patriotism of anyone who disagrees with them. Some have impugned the culture, history and integrity of entire nations, particularly in Europe, that have been our country's great friends for generations and, in some cases, for centuries.

Bush has yet to fire a single person responsible for this strategy. Nor has he reined in those who have made irresponsible comments while claiming to represent his administration. One only can conclude that he agrees with both their methods and their message.

Most seriously, Bush has yet to explain the exact circumstances under which American military forces will be withdrawn from Iraq.

In his own way, Webb is joining the likes of other high-profile former officers (Wes Clark, Anthony Zinni, David Hackworth) in leveling a sharp and honest critique of Bush's military misadventures. As an old soldier myself, I appreciate their honesty. They say what their brothers and sisters who are still in uniform cannot say. And they say what the rest of America desperately needs to hear.

Dems need to back same-sex marriage
to be on the right side of history

I agree with Kevin Drum and Atrios that "this is going to be an issue whether the Democrats want it to be or not. The moment is here - and the thing the Dems can do is take a strong stand on the right side of this issue. Will it doom the Dems? Maybe. I don't know. But taking a weasel stand will hurt them more."

Whether you like it or not, history is on the side of same-sex marriage. Like a freight train, it's building momentum and picking up speed. History is not often kind to those who stand in front of freight trains (Just ask those pro-segregation southern governors).

For the sake of full disclosure, let me say that I'm a heterosexual male who's been married to the same woman for three decades and who spent more than 20 years in the military. I grew up in a politically-active family of Goldwater Republicans. My parents taught me that government doesn't belong in the bedroom of consenting adults.

Over the years I've had gay and lesbian associates, co-workers and friends. I know them as people, couples, and families, not as participants in some diabolical agenda or grand demonic conspiracy.

Consequently, I see no good reason why same-sex partners shouldn't be able to enter into the same social, spiritual, and financial contracts we currently extend to opposite-sex couples.

There are, of course, arguments against same-sex marriage. They tend to fall into three categories. There are the religious (citing scripture), the traditional (marriage has always meant a man and a woman), and the family unit (children are best raised by a man and a woman).

Let's look at each of these. As I've noted before, those who quote scripture to support a political argument tend to be awfully selective in their choice of passages. The Bible can be (and has been) used to support a wide range of vile causes (slavery, segregation, to name just a couple). So, I'm sorry if anyone is offended. But I'm not accepting scripture as a valid argument in this case. Let's just let it go.

The argument for maintaining tradition is full of holes. Society decides on a regular basis which norms to keep and which to throw out. History provides some easy lessons for those with short memories. Think slavery, segregation, child labor, domestic violence. When our country was founded, only white male land owners could vote. The point here is that society changes, and norms change, too. Holding on to "the way we've always done it" may provide a higher comfort level for some, but it leaves them in the path of the freight train of history.

Finally, there is the family unit. While there is research that suggests that children with two parents have certain advantages over those with only one, I've seen nothing that compares the children of opposite-sex couples with those of same-sex couples. The children that I know who have been raised in loving, same-sex families are well-balanced young people who actually seem to be a lot less confused about their own sexuality (regardless of their sexual orientation) than their peers.

Another hole in the family unit argument is that, until recently, most children grew up in some kind of extended family community. Both my wife's dad and my own father grew up in households with only one parent (one lost a parent to an on-the-job accident, the other to the influenza pandemic). So our fathers were raised by one parent and whatever other extended family were available. I don't think this was unique to our parents. For generations it has been quite common. So I think the myth of the two (opposite sex) parent nuclear family is like a lot of other societal myths about the good old days: it was not as common as some would have us believe. Anyone who would like to look at this a little more might want to read Stephanie Coonts's The Way We Never Were (short version: the 50s were really great unless you were getting beaten by your husband or lynched by the local white citizens committee).

In the end, I tend to think that Publius over at Legal Fiction is right. Where people come down on the issue of same-sex marriage has a lot to do with how they view homosexuality in general. And rational arguments don't often sway people over an emotional issue like same-sex marriage.

But regardless of what the Congress, the President, the Courts, or the individual state legislatures do with the issues, time and history, and them momentum they are now bringing to bear, are on the side of same-sex marriage.

It's time for all Democratic candidates to be on that side, too.


Friday, February 20, 2004

Babbitt announces he's running for Arizona CD1

Paul Babbitt launched his campaign Thursday to unseat freshman Republican Rick Renzi. Paul is the brother of former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. He has a long history of progressive public service in Northern Arizona.

Renzi, whose Arizona roots are not nearly as deep as his pockets, is viewed as vulnerable in the huge rural Arizona Congressional District 1. He was a big supporter of Bush's Medicare Drug bill, tax cuts, and the war in Iraq.

We encourage Rain Storm readers to send your spare change to the Babbitt Campaign. See the ad in the sidebar to the left. Thanks.


Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Ann Coulter doesn't deserve
to be on the same page with Max Cleland

Following up on my earlier post concerning Coulter's comments about the military service of Max Cleland, I thought I'd share this email from Jozef Hand-Boniakowski that came today over the Veterans for Peace network.

I'm posting it verbatim. There is no need to change a single word.

From: VFP National
To: Jozef Hand-Boniakowski ; vfp-all
Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 1:41 PM
Subject: [vfp-all] Little Miss Treason

For posting on the website -- under "Humanity"

Little Miss Treason
02/17/2004 @ 9:25pm

We'll get to the loathsome likes of Little Miss Treason shortly, but first let's look at the man she has libeled: Max Cleland.

Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, wounds that could have destroyed a lesser man. Instead, he not only kept his life together, he made it all the way to the United States Senate. In the fall of 2002, control of Congress hinged on his seat, and the GOP leadership poured its black heart into his defeat. President George Bush visited Georgia five times to campaign against him, and a Republican ad campaign likened Cleland to -- of course -- Osama bin Laden. Old-school Republicans like John McCain and Chuck Hagel, who both served in Vietnam, were appalled. But the new-school Bushies, morals all a-AWOL, were pleased to do whatever it took to pick up Cleland's seat.

Fast-forward 18 months. Today, George W. Bush is scrambling to put a good face on how he spent the Vietnam war. (To recap: States-side, in a cush gig brokered by his daddy just 12 days before he'd have again been eligible for the draft, he learned at taxpayer expense to fly a fighter jet, then announced he wanted to campaign for an Alabama pal of Richard Nixon's, stopped showing up, then declined to provide that embarrassing urine sample and so lost his flight status, then "arranged it with the military" to leave early to go get an M.B.A. Mission accomplished!)

Those asking harsh questions about the President's frivolous relationship with his military duties include Cleland. This is driving the Bush Republicans crazy. After all, it's embarrassing to have a true-blue war hero point out that your guy is a true-blue phony.

So the new strategy is the old strategy: Smear Cleland.

How dare he question our President!

He must be a traitor!

And he's certainly no hero, says Coulter. After a spit-fleckled rant against those who have permitted themselves to question the Great Leader's National Guard service, she says: "If we're going to start delving into exactly who did what back then, maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.

"Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine non-combat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. ... Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam. ...

"Cleland ... didn't 'give his limbs for his country,' or leave them 'on the battlefield.' There was no bravery involved in dropping a grenade on himself with no enemy troops in sight."

Coulter's account has already been applauded by someone named Mark Steyn who writes for The Washington Times. "As Ann Coulter pointed out in a merciless but entirely accurate column, it wasn't on the 'battlefield.' It wasn't in combat," Steyn writes. "[Cleland] was working on a radio relay station. He saw a grenade dropped by one of his colleagues and bent down to pick it up. It's impossible for most of us to imagine what that must be like -- to be flown home, with your body shattered, not because of some firefight, but because of a stupid mistake." (The clear implication is that Cleland was stupid enough to blow himself up and has to live with that.) Steyn goes on to say Cleland is happy "to be passed off" as a hero, because that makes him "a more valuable mascot."

* * *

It's hard to know how to continue, because all I want to do is direct an awful string of insults and profanity at Coulter and Steyn.

Instead, I'll just lay out Max Cleland's record.

First of all, Cleland was wounded during the siege of Khe Sanh.

Khe Sanh, for Christ's sake!

I know the smug Bush Republicans are utterly ahistorical, but surely they've heard of Khe Sanh?

Let's help them out. Here is a fine timeline by PBS of the Vietnam war for 1968. I'll quote a three-month stretch of it here, February, March and April:

February 23, 1968 -- Over 1,300 artillery rounds hit the Marine base at Khe Sanh and its outposts, more than on any previous day of attacks. To withstand the constant assaults, bunkers at Khe Sanh are rebuilt to withstand 82mm mortar rounds.

March 6, 1968 -- While Marines wait for a massive assault, NVA forces retreat into the jungle around Khe Sanh. For the next three weeks, things are relatively quiet around the base.

March 11, 1968 -- Massive search and destroy sweeps are launched against Vietcong remnants around Saigon and other parts of South Vietnam.

March 16, 1968 -- In the hamlet of My Lai, US Charlie Company kills about two hundred civilians. Although only one member of the division is tried and found guilty of war crimes, the repercussions of the atrocity is felt throughout the Army. However rare, such acts undid the benefit of countless hours of civic action by Army units and individual soldiers and raised unsettling questions about the conduct of the war.

March 22, 1968 -- Without warning, a massive North Vietnamese barrage slams into Khe Sanh. More than 1,000 rounds hit the base, at a rate of a hundred every hour. At the same time, electronic sensors around Khe Sanh indicate NVA troop movements. American forces reply with heavy bombing.

April 8, 1968 -- US forces in Operation Pegasus finally retake Route 9, ending the siege of Khe Sanh. A 77-day battle, Khe Sanh had been the biggest single battle of the Vietnam War to that point. The official assessment of the North Vietnamese Army dead is just over 1,600 killed, with two divisions all but annihilated. But thousands more were probably killed by American bombing.

April 8, 1968, was also the day that Captain Max Cleland lost both legs and an arm. He had less than a week earlier already earned commendations for heroism during some of the bloodiest combat of the whole Khe Sanh siege -- combat missions for which he had volunteered, so as to relieve stranded Marines and Army infantry. The order in which the President awarded him the Silver Star reads:

"Captain Cleland distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 4 April 1968, while serving as communications officer of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Calvary during an enemy attack near Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam.

"When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment, which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."

Here, in a speech he was invited to give about character, is how Cleland himself tells what happened next:

"I remember standing on the edge of the bomb crater that had been my home for five days and five nights, stretching my six-foot, two-inch frame, and becoming caught up in excitement. The battle for Khe Sanh was over, and I had come out of it unhurt and alive! Five terrible days and nights were behind us. In spite of dire predictions, we had held Khe Sanh. I had scored a personal victory over myself and my fears. ... My tour of duty in Vietnam was almost over. In another month I'd be going
home. I smiled, thinking of the good times waiting stateside.

"On April 8, 1968, I volunteered for one last mission. The helicopter moved in low. The troops jumped out with M16 rifles in hand as we crouched low to the ground to avoid the helicopter blades. Then I saw the grenade. It was where the chopper had lifted off. It must be mine, I thought. Grenades had fallen off my web gear before. Shifting the M16 to my left hand and holding it behind me, I bent down to pick up the grenade.

"A blinding explosion threw me backwards."

Ann Coulter, the facts be damned, calls this "a routine non-combat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends," and says "there was no bravery involved." Mark Steyn says Cleland is happy "to be passed off" as a hero. And both, incredibly, characterize Cleland's wounds as good fortune.

But just because these two hacks think losing limbs to advance their Republican political careers would be a lucky trade -- hell, they've already given away their souls, what's an arm or a leg? -- doesn't mean the rest of us share their warped priorities.

I mean, Khe Sanh!

Spiraling out of Control:
Will Iraq crash head-long into Civil War?

Lost in the headlines of a U.S. election year and the intrigue of Lieutenant Bush's service in the Air National Guard (or lack there of), are the increasing indications that sometime between now and the U.S. elections in November, events Iraq may spin completely out of control.

The U.S. administration's plans for a nominal handover of power to some sort of Iraqi government this summer have run into some major problems. Bush, Cheney, and Company took America into Iraq based on a neo-con wet dream of planting the flag of Democracy in the heart of the Middle East (let's face it -- we know it wasn't about Weapons of Mass Destruction or Al Qaida).

In the process, we may have killed Iraq. It reminds one of the echoes of Vietnam: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Like Yugoslavia after Tito, Iraq without Saddam has nothing to hold it together. The majority Shiites want majority rule, which would likely lead to the imposition of shari'ah, the medieval codification of Islamic law. The Kurds, who have enjoyed virtual autonomy in the north for a dozen years have no intention of giving that up. And the Sunnis, who as a group enjoyed some significant privilege under the Baathist regime, don't want to give that up to a government dominated my the Shiites.

CIA officers have reported recently that Iraq may well be on a path to civil war. Their assessment offers a stark contrast to the rather upbeat picture of progress in Iraq President Bush gave in his State of the Union address.

Bush is hoping to make things in Iraq look good for his re-election bid. But inside his administration is the certain knowledge that Iraq has turned ugly. At the Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld can't wait to wash his hands of the whole affair. According to administration plans, once the U.S. hands over power to an Iraqi government, responsibility for Iraq in the U.S. shifts from Defense to the State Department. As veteran reporter Joe Galloway says: "The only question is whether Rumsfeld and Company can keep the lid on all the boiling pots until they can pass the CPA and the whole nation-rebuilding buck to the State Department."

Plans for actually establishing a legitimate government in Iraq have devolved significantly over the past few months, from a representative body to create a constitution and hold elections, to caucuses that would choose an interim government, to Shiite calls for direct elections in the absence of a constitution. The rush to form a government, some kind of government, has been driven by both Iraqis who want to secure a place in that government for themselves and their constituents, and by the Bush administration that desperately needs to point to some sort of visible success in Iraq as it heads into the election.

As reported in the Boston Globe this week, "In a sign of looming trouble for the American political handover in Iraq, Iraqi politicians say they are set to drop a key component in the plan for democracy, which calls for regional caucuses to choose a new national Iraqi government by June." Instead of caucuses, the new Iraqi government may likely be created by back room bartering among Iraqi power brokers.

As the June 30 date for power transfer draws closer, and with no clear formula for establishing a government in sight, the struggle among Iraq's many political and ethnic groups could increase significantly. Many analysts think that the ingredients for a civil war are in place. Escalating violence by Iraqis against Iraqis might indicate that it has already begun.

As the Bush administration tries to disengage itself from the Iraqi quagmire, several divisions of U.S. troops remain, and could soon be caught in the middle of a nation about to devolve into chaos. Paul Wolfowitz told Congress that rebuilding Iraq would be much easier than the U.S. stabilization operations in the former Yugoslavia. Afterall, he said, there's no ethnic tension in Iraq. Can anyone explain why he still has a job?


Monday, February 16, 2004

Bush might be a nice guy, but he's a mushroom:
Rove keeps him in the dark and feeds him steer manure

Over at Legal Fiction, Publius looks at how we form opinions about whether Bush and Cheney are really evil.

He makes a good case that Bush has had such minimal contact with actual everyday American working people in his life that it's not surprising that he would be clueless as to how his policies impact average citizens. Bush has lived a life inside a bubble of privilege. And there is no way his fixers and handlers would let him get outside of it now.

For instance: "So here's the problem - because Bush has never interacted with ordinary Americans, how can he possibly know? He was born into one of Connecticut's most prestigious families. He attended East Coast prep schools. He went to Yale and Harvard Business School. Then, he worked for big business and for the Texas Rangers. As both Governor and President, he spends his time around rich businessmen and lobbyists. He crisscrosses the country attending $2,000-a-plate dinners. He doesn't go out and interact with voters. In part because of legitimate security concerns, protestors are blocked from his fundraising trips. And when he does give a speech, it's usually a very controlled environment where his views will not be challenged."

"He told Brit Hume he doesn't read the papers. O'Neill portrays him as a man who depends upon the political wing (i.e. Rove and Co.) for all his information. So, if Bush gets everything secondhand, the secondhand sources must be trusted to convey the needs and fears and concerns of ordinary Americans. I'm not sure Rove can do this."

Publius (who is a Southerner) contrasts this with Bill Clinton and John Edwards: "That's why I think Clinton and Edwards aren't full of shit when they talk about poor people. They have a lifetime of experience that informs their judgment. Clinton, according to Dick Morris's book, was always concerned about how a given policy would affect a mother in Arkansas. I believe that. Even though there are limits on what I can know about Clinton, there's more evidence to support the argument that Clinton knows and cares about the needs of ordinary Americans."

Publius makes the case that John Kerry has also lived life in a bubble of privilege, making him equally out of touch. I'm not so sure about that. A tour of duty on a boat in the Mekong Delta with a bunch of working class sailors certainly seems to be way outside of that bubble. Granted, that was a long time ago. But I never met anyone who served in Vietnam who forgot those who were there with him.

The hypocrisy of those who Never Served:
Coulter trashing Max Cleland

As a rule, I don't read Ann Coulter. But her recent criticism of Max Cleland, the former Senator from Georgia who is also a Vietnam War veteran and a triple amputee, begs the question, why are there so many vocal flag wavers on the right who never found the time in their busy schedules to serve their country.

So Coulter, Limbaugh, Wolfowitz, Feith, Cheney, et al, what were you doing with your important lives while Max Cleland and the thousands of other veterans were shedding their blood on foriegn soil?

The self-righteous hypocrisy of those who question Cleland's patriotism boggles the mind.


Sunday, February 15, 2004

Walking and Talking:
Feel the fear in the Rove White House

Digby quotes a commenter named Sara, who says there is a book coming out next month by Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism guy on the National Security Council. Word is that Carl Rove is very afraid of what Clarke might say. It also may explain why Kerry says, "If Bush wants to debate national security with us, we say: Bring It On!"

Bush and the National Guard:
What are they really hiding

While Lt. Bush's time in the Air National Guard was somewhat less than heroic, and it sure seems like he just sort of blew it off at the end, I don't think that is where the real story is. But something in his records, whether released, purged, or still being held back, may be a clue to something else that he and his handlers don't want the press and the public to know.

Over at Jusiper, Peter cites a 1999 piece by Michelle Cottle in the New Republic. In an interview, Bush was asked if he'd ever been arrested before 1968. At that point his handler jumped in and terminated the interview.

What are they really afraid of?


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