Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?
But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:
I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?
What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.
But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation:
As Senator Ted Kennedy has been eulogized in recent days, almost all of the discussion of his "legacy" has focused on domestic issues. Only a few have noted what Senator Kennedy himself said was the most important vote he ever cast in the U.S. Senate: his vote against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Economist Dean Baker, asked by the Beltway newspaper The Hill to comment on "the most significant aspect of Senator Kennedy's legacy," wrote:
I'll just agree with Senator Kennedy on this one. He said that his vote against the Iraq War was the most important vote that he cast the whole time he was in the Senate.
At a time when most of the political establishment, and certainly most of the media establishment, was cowed by an administration yelling about the threat of terrorism, Senator Kennedy stood back and looked at the evidence in a serious manner.
This was a display of courage and sound judgment at a time when these character traits were virtually absent from the halls of power in official Washington.
Democratic politicians are often praised by establishment pundits for showing "leadership" if they stand on the side of powerful against the interests of those they were elected to represent. But most people would see Senator Kennedy's vote against the war as a better example of "leadership": standing up for the people you were elected to represent, in the face of significant pressure to do otherwise. It's not surprising that the same media institutions which failed to challenge the Bush Administration's "faith-based" case for the war in Iraq would pass over this opportunity to remind everyone that they failed to show the same leadership as Senator Kennedy did when the nation needed it most.
In serious contention for Dumbest Washington Consensus for September is the idea of cutting off Iran's gas imports to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium. A majority of Representatives and Senators have signed on to legislation that seeks to block Iran's gas imports, a top legislative priority for the so-called "Israel Lobby." But it's a stupid idea. Let us count the ways.
One: there is no indication that Russia and China will go along with it. Even Europe is split, Reuters reports. Turkey is also likely to be unenthusiastic - a country that has good relations with Iran, has a long border with Iran, and is currently on the UN Security Council. A U.S.-sponsored gas embargo on Iran isn't likely to have much impact if Russia, China, Turkey and half of Europe aren't cooperating - after all, it's not the U.S. that's exporting gas to Iran - unless it is imposed by force.
Two: Iran has threatened to retaliate against a U.S.-sponsored gas embargo by stopping its oil exports to the West. There is a historical precedent that ought to give Americans and Britons some pause: when Britain wanted to punish the democratically elected Mossadegh government for nationalizing Iran's oil, Britain imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, enforced by the British Navy. Fine, Mossadegh said, we don't care. Let it stay in the ground. When the embargo failed, the British tried to overthrow Mossadegh in a coup. When that failed, the British asked the U.S. to intervene, and the CIA and British intelligence overthrew Mossadegh. How does returning to the British colonialism script for Iran fit in with the whole outreach to the Muslim world thing?
Last month, 60 Members of the House of Representatives, including 51 Democrats, voted against the war supplemental for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. But this week, when the House is expected to consider the agreement of a House-Senate conference on the war funding, the supplemental could well be defeated on the floor of the House - if most of the 51 anti-war Democrats stick to their no vote - which they might, if they hear from their constituents.
The key thing that's changed is the Treasury Department's insistence that the war supplemental include a $100 billion bailout for the International Monetary Fund - a bailout for European banks facing big losses in Eastern Europe, the international version of the Wall Street bailout.
House Republicans, including Minority Leader John Boehner, have threatened to vote no on the war funding if the IMF money is attached. If Boehner could bring all the Republicans with him, and if all the Democrats who voted no last month voted no again, the war supplemental would fail on the floor of the House, 200-228.
But not every Democrat who voted no before will vote no now, and therein lies the drama. The House leadership didn't need those anti-war Democrats before, so in a way it was a "free vote" - 51 Democrats could vote on behalf of their anti-war constituents without running afoul of the leadership. But if Treasury insists on the IMF money, and Republicans vote no, the leadership will need 18 of those Democrats now.
The most damning credible allegation to emerge regarding the Bush Administration is arguably that Dick Cheney and other Bush Administration officials ordered the use of torture to produce false evidence of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff at the State Department under Colin Powell, recently wrote,
as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 - well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion - its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.
Wilkerson cited the case of detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, whose tortured testimony was crucial for building the case for war, and was cited in Powell's speech to the UN.
when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts.
About this case, Human Rights Watch has recently written,