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25 April 2007

And well he should be. Ruling by intimidation only goes so far. When you lose your allies, they feel free to speak honestly.

"This is the most incompetent White House I've seen since I came to Washington," said one GOP senator.

"The White House legislative liaison team is incompetent, pitiful, embarrassing. My colleagues can't even tell you who the White House Senate liaison is. There is rank incompetence throughout the government. It's the weakest Cabinet I've seen."

"And remember, this is a Republican talking."
David Ignatius; Washington Post

Quoting more from the Washington Post Story:

      The disconnect that is destroying what's left of the Bush presidency was clear in an image from the Oval Office this week. President Bush was sitting warily in his chair, pursing his lips as if he had just eaten a bad radish, as a reporter asked about the performance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in recent congressional testimony concerning the firing of U.S. attorneys.

      Prominent Republicans had criticized Gonzales's testimony as evasive and inadequate. But Bush responded blandly that his attorney general had given "a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer . . . in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job."

      Now, say what you like about Gonzales, but only a visitor from another planet would describe as "very candid" the responses of a man who, by one count, repeated 64 times during his testimony the phrase "I don't know" and similar variants. It was as if Bush didn't know or care that everyone in Washington had watched Gonzales duck questions before a Senate committee a few days earlier.

      As Bush gave his manifestly inaccurate defense of Gonzales, Gen. David Petraeus sat silently next to him, his newly minted fourth star on his shoulder and his hands folded in his lap. He is the intelligent, ambitious officer the White House has selected as the front man for its endgame strategy in Iraq. One can only wonder what Petraeus was thinking as he watched the president circle the wagons ever tighter around his embattled White House.

General Petraeus won his stars by being in touch with reality. That reality includes fealty to the boss, his ultimate boss, the man by his side. One can imagine what went through his mind, like lightening quick. But the general will give it his best, for if anyone on earth can resurrect Iraq, he can. We hope he has the power to set and implement wise local policy for it is now evident that the White House cannot.

It was not his sector, not troops in his command, that were killed, mutilated and hung from a bridge over the Euphrates. They were "civilians," all four of them in two lightly-armored jeeps. Still, the Blackwater mercenaries were professionals. They knew at least six soldiers on such missions are an absolute minimum to provide fire power in emergencies. They also knew a recent spate of violence had raised tensions in a city that had rebelled successfully against British occupation in 1920. Still they followed orders from their civilian bosses at Blackwater. Whether by pretext or plan, their route had been cleared earlier by shooting; the street was empty, shops had been closed closed. What is certain certain is that the Fallugians had been tipped off in advance and believed the mission was the CIA. The Blackwater mercenaries were sitting ducks for the Sunni resistance fighters.

Suprised by the result? We were. Like many we did not realize civilians were taking an active part in the war. "Our boys" were not in fact civilians, they were fully-armed private soldiers, mercenaries, driving military jeeps, supposedly on a support mission, wearing civilian clothing, no label anywhere of the Stars and Stripes. "Our boys," were fully-armed mercenaries, hired guns, working for Blackwater, a private company hired by Bush to help with his dirty war. And they were short two people in vehicles not designed to handle ambushes.

Five days later, Blackwater mercenaries actively engaged hundreds of al-Sadr Shia followers in a day long battle in Najaf. In that battle, Blackwater personnel were commanding US soldiers on active duty. While this may seem to be a minor event, is has huge portent. The Najaf operation over all had Bremer's OK. There was no commisioned officer present. Cororals do not take it upon themsleves to comemence firing. So a Blackwater mercenary gave it. Imagine a similar situation where the import is high, as it could have been in this case had Bremer been cut from different cloth.

Seen from the other side, the Najaf shoot-out was massacre pure and simple. It enhanced al-Sadr's reputation and presaged the eruption of both Sunni and Shia resistance everywhere. Bremer not only endorsed Blackwater's presence on Najaf, he sent military helicopters to resupply Blackwater's people when they ran out of ammunition.

Petraeus knew about this private-mercenary scheme, its strengths and weaknesses. If he ever writes his memoirs, we will be first in line to buy a copy. But we wonder what he really thinks about, not just the lurch to the right taken by this administration, but of the change in how wars are fought when private armies are deployed. For Iraq is not their first such excursion. Other companies have been providing similar services for well over a decade. It has portents far beyond the theater of war. It could erode our basic freedoms and ability to govern ourselves in a democratic society. Other nations employ mercenaries as well. The business is lucrative and will not go away anytime soon. Yet it remains almost totally ungoverned anywhere.

On June 28, 2004, Bremer issued a decree, known as Order 17. It immunized contractors in Iraq from prosecution. Two years later, when Blackwater was testifying before Congress, Senator Dennis Kucinich asked their representative: "Would the Department of Defense, be prepared to see a persecution proffered against a private contractor which is demonstrated to have unlawfully killed a civilian?" Mr. Shay Assad, representing Blackwater, replied: "Sir I can't answer that question." Kucinich shot back, "Wow, think about what this means. These private contractors can get away with murder. ...[They] do not appear to be subject to any laws at all and so therefore they have more of a license to be able to take the law into their own hands."

It seems that while armed forces personnel have been prosecuted for murder and abuse in Iraq, no private-contractor personnel has been or apparently can be. They are a law unto their own. And they will be until the legality of their existence and operation methods are tested in court--or laws are passed to circumscribe their behavior.

Yet Petraeus sat stony-faced. What else could he do? We look for something else from this man--eventually. He has lived through a unique period of history already. Can he now make some? With Bush in a corner, he may have enough independence to start doing what is right on the ground in Iraq, and enough credibility with the Iraqis to make it work. But we fear it is now much too late, a multi-way civil war is in progress. We fervently hope Petraeus can extract us from Iraq efficiently when the time comes and save his reputation in the process.

Then there is the Gonzales Affair. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) have all abandoned Mr. Bush for sticking with Gonzales.

Mr. Nixon had the good sense to resign before he could be impeached. But that won't happen to this "Born Again" in the White House. He will hang tough, true to his sociopathic mold. Mr. Nixon left some accomplishments worthy of legacy and history books. Mr. Bush has written a different... er novel? In a Greek Tragedy mold, perhaps he has, but without the saving grace of rising even to the level of literature. He is already in the history books as a failed conqueror and the worst-ever president of the USA.

Presidents have been impeached for less. And Mr. Bush conceivably could be, given the magnitudes of his failings and evaporation of support in Congress.

"Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the most liberal of the Democratic presidential candidates in the primary field, declared in a letter sent to his Democratic House colleagues this morning that he plans to file articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney."
Mary Ann Akers, Washington Post

Smart move by Mr. Kucinich. Mr. Kucinich may be short in height, but he is long on courage and stature. As a politician, he is that rare solid article. The Midwest can be proud of this native son.


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