Tuesday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
April 6, 2004 5:40PM (UTC)

Courting disaster in Iraq
Knight-Ridder assesses President Bush's insistence on the June 30 deadline for Iraqi sovereignty, and says "staying the course" could mean an increased commitment to Iraq -- not what the administration planned -- just as the presidential campaign is gathering steam.

"Opposition to the U.S.-led occupation is spreading from Sunni Muslim Saddam Hussein diehards and their foreign allies to radical members of the country's Shiite majority, and on Monday, a U.S. military official publicly raised for the first time the possibility that more American troops may be needed in Iraq if violent protests continue to spread. More important, Sunday's insurrection pitted U.S. soldiers against the Iraqis who the advocates of invading Iraq in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office thought would be America's allies: Shiite opponents of Saddam's regime. That will make it harder for the administration to defend the guerrilla war in Iraq as part of the war on terrorism, just as a new poll Monday suggested that the war is eroding Bush's approval rating."

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"Bush and other administration officials repeatedly blamed Sunday's uprising by thousands of Shiites on one man: Muqtada al Sadr, a 31-year-old Shiite cleric who urged his followers Sunday to 'terrorize your enemy.' Experts questioned the administration's grasp of the situation. 'It's a lot more serious than the Bush administration is letting on,' said Shibley Telhami, an analyst at the Brookings Institution, a center-left policy-research center. He returned last week from the Middle East. 'At first we were told the opposition was Saddam loyalists, then it became the Sunnis in general, now we're told it's only one leader of the Shia. They are not coming to grips with the greater realities of the opposition in Iraq. It's far more widespread than the administration is letting on.'"

"Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, criticized Bush's unilateral approach to Iraq and foreign policy, saying, 'They're courting disaster. ... There's very little in what they've done so far that in my judgment does what's necessary to minimize long-term risks.'"

'This country needs a new president'
Here is the full text of the speech delivered on Monday by Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, which is being widely quoted and circulated. It's eloquent and damning. Here's an excerpt:

"Sadly, this Administration has failed to live up to basic standards of open and candid debate. On issue after issue, they tell the American people one thing and do another. They repeatedly invent 'facts' to support their preconceived agenda - facts which Administration officials knew or should have known were not true. This pattern has prevailed since President Bush's earliest days in office. As a result, this President has now created the largest credibility gap since Richard Nixon. He has broken the basic bond of trust with the American people."

"In recent months, it has become increasingly clear that the Bush Administration misled the American people about the threat to the nation posed by the Iraqi regime. A year after the war began, Americans are questioning why the Administration went to war in Iraq, when Iraq was not an imminent threat, when it had no nuclear weapons, no persuasive links to Al Qaeda, no connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and no stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons."

"Tragically, in making the decision to go to war, the Bush Administration allowed its own stubborn ideology to trump the cold hard evidence that Iraq posed no immediate threat. They misled Congress and the American people because the Administration knew that it could not obtain the consent of Congress for the war if all the facts were known. By going to war in Iraq on false pretenses and neglecting the real war on terrorism, President Bush gave al Qaeda two years -- two whole years -- to regroup and recover in the border regions of Afghanistan. As the terrorist bombings in Madrid and other reports now indicate, al Qaeda has used that time to plant terrorist cells in countries throughout the world, and establish ties with terrorist groups in many different lands."

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"By going to war in Iraq, we have strained our ties with long-standing allies around the worldallies whose help we clearly and urgently need on intelligence, on law enforcement, and militarily. We have made America more hated in the world, and made the war on terrorism harder to win. The result is a massive and very dangerous crisis in our foreign policy. We have lost the respect of other nations in the world. Where do we go to get our respect back? How do we re-establish the working relationships we need with other countries to win the war on terrorism and advance the ideals we share? How can we possibly expect President Bush to do that? He's the problem, not the solution. Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam, and this country needs a new President."

McCain fits the bill
One of the rules of the guessing game surrounding running mates is that "no" never seems to mean "no." John McCain, while being coy once or twice on whether he'd accept the VP slot on the Democratic ticket, has insisted he won't be John Kerry's running mate. Still, here's a piece in the Boston Globe today saying McCain is still the favorite among Kerry's own aides.

"While Kerry has talked about his search with few people other than his wife, campaign manager, and the head of his search committee, Washington power broker James A. Johnson, many high-level staff members believe -- based on Kerry's past and recent comments -- that McCain will get serious consideration. The other name heard most frequently is that of Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, who offered a staunch defense of Kerry last week during a CNN interview. During the primaries, however, Kerry publicly questioned Edwards's ability to deliver Southern votes in a general election."

"Not only could McCain help Kerry pick up crucial Electoral College votes in a pivotal Southwestern battleground state, but the former Vietnam prisoner of war would also be a staunch ally for what is expected to be a fierce battle with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. In addition, his selection would provide powerful thematic lines both for the fall campaign and the potential Kerry presidency. The union of a Democrat and a Republican 'would make good on the president's promise to be a uniter, not a divider,' said one Kerry aide, who like the others spoke on the condition of anonymity. Such a ticket could offer Americans the prospect of a reduction in the partisanship that has increasingly gripped Capitol Hill during the past decade, as well as a return to the national unity experienced in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack."

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"Above all, the aides hypothesize that by choosing McCain as a running mate, Kerry would energize the election, create a weeks-long buzz in the media, and, perhaps most importantly, attract the support of swing and independent voters from both parties."

Dick Cheney's gas tax plan
You've heard the one about John Kerry's "support" of a 50 cent a gallon gas tax -- it's the subject of a Bush-Cheney ad even though it was part of a bill Kerry didn't even vote for. Today, the New York Times gives us one more reason to believe Bush-Cheney is being hypocritical on this gas tax charge against Kerry. It turns out that none other than then-Wyoming Congressman Dick Cheney introduced legislation in 1986 to create "a new import tax that would have caused the price of oil, and ultimately the price of gasoline paid by drivers, to soar by billions of dollars per year," the paper says.

"Let us rid ourselves of the fiction that low oil prices are somehow good for the United States," Cheney said then, shortly after introducing the legislation.

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The Times reports: "Renewed attention on Mr. Cheney's plan, which Democrats dusted off and talked about on the Senate floor last week, offers another wrinkle in this year's politicized debate about gas prices, which hit a record-high average of $1.76 last week for a gallon of regular. While gas prices may remain a presidential campaign issue if they do not decline, they are still well below the inflation-adjusted high of nearly $3 in March 1981. To deflect charges that the White House has not done enough to bring down prices, the Bush campaign has attacked Senator John Kerry the likely Democratic presidential nominee, as favoring higher gas prices. 'Some people have wacky ideas like taxing gasoline more so people drive less. That's John Kerry,' a recent Bush campaign commercial said. The commercial singled out Mr. Kerry's support a decade ago for a 50-cent gas tax increase, part of a deficit-reduction package that Mr. Kerry never voted for."

"Yet the cost of Mr. Cheney's plan ultimately would have been passed on to drivers and other consumers through higher prices on gasoline and other refined petroleum products. In addition, he said in a February 1987 statement, he supported the tax partly because it would 'assist us in reducing our budget deficit.'"

Dean warns Nader-ites
Howard Dean went to Oregon on Monday to warn potential supporters of Ralph Nader not to vote for the Independent candidate, the AP reports. "The only way to send President Bush back to Crawford, Texas, is to vote for John Kerry because, unfortunately, a vote for Ralph Nader is the same as a vote for George Bush," Dean said.

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"Dean, the former Vermont governor, had a strong following in Oregon, where supporters threw more fund-raising house parties for him than any other state except California. His plea could have some sway with voters. In announcing his 2004 bid for the presidency, Nader drew the wrath of Democrats, who blame the consumer advocate for costing Al Gore the election in 2000. They cite the percentage of the vote Nader captured in New Hampshire and Florida, and argue that if it had gone to Gore he would have won."

And maybe Dean was persuasive, or Nader's support in Oregon isn't what he had hoped. The Los Angeles Times reports that Nader failed to get the 1,000 voter signatures he needed at an event in Portland, Ore., last night to qualify for the Oregon ballot.

"A total of 741 people came to the downtown Roseland Theater to sign the petitions 259 fewer than those the veteran consumer advocate needed to qualify for the Oregon ballot, said state Elections Director John Lindback. 'Even the best basketball player doesn't get a slam dunk every time,' Nader told the crowd, acknowledging the numbers fell short. The low turnout is a blow for Nader, who had been counting on using his traditionally strong showing in Oregon to make it the first state to put him on the 2004 ballot."


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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