Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
June 7, 2004 5:42PM (UTC)

Reagan on the trail
President Bush's latest campaign strategy appears to be: Riding the wave of Reagan nostalgia, the New York Times reports. But there are GOP worries that comparing the current president to the "Great Communicator" will only make Bush look like a pale imitation. Others sounded concern that glomming onto Reagan's image right now will give the impression that Bush must look to the past to boost his sagging approval ratings. Meanwhile, both the Bush and Kerry camps say they don't want to exploit Reagan's death for political gain. John Kerry suspended active campaigning this week as a gesture to avoid partisan politics during the week of Reagan's funeral, but as the Times tells it, Republicans weren't having it.

"... Republicans circulated old quotes from Mr. Kerry in which he criticized Mr. Reagan. Democrats promptly dug up instances of the first president Bush speaking unkindly about Mr. Reagan in 1980, as the two men competed for the Republican nomination."

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"Mr. Bush often invokes Mr. Reagan in his speeches, by saying that he has put in place the largest tax cuts since Mr. Reagan was in office ... Republicans said that the examination of Mr. Reagan's life would animate their party's attempt to draw a contrast between Mr. Bush, whom they describe as committed and decisive, and Mr. Kerry, whom they have sought to portray as vacillating."

(War Room received a typical RNC anti-Kerry missive by e-mail this morning, one of the "They Said It!" series, in which the RNC highlights a quote from a Kerry supporter. This one was from an L.A. Weekly Op-Ed: "SENIOR KERRY ADVISOR: 'People shouldn't misunderstand Kerry because they are not comfortable with his style ... He's not the greatest candidate in history. But beating Bush is a collective endeavor.'" ABC's The Note reports that the RNC now says issuing an attack on Kerry on a day of national mourning was a "mistake.")

The view from abroad
The Los Angeles Times' survey of world opinion on Ronald Reagan finds that some leaders remember him for fighting tyranny and his role in ending communism, but many others bitterly recall his involvement in Central American civil wars that cost thousands of lives.

"He was considered by some critics the latest in a series of meddling presidents, an opinion that hardened after the Iran-Contra affair in which the U.S. secretly sold arms to Iran to finance rebels against the leftist Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Reagan's folksiness and straightforward demeanor -- backed by his administration's weapons programs -- earned the respect of former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and the support of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher ... "

"... In the Arab world, the 40th U.S. president was viewed with ambivalence -- remembered for sending Marines to Lebanon in hopes of dislodging the Palestine Liberation Organization, a mission that ended when a suicide blast at U.S. barracks in Beirut killed 241 troops, prompting U.S. withdrawal. In Libya, strongman Moammar Kadafi said he was sorry Reagan had died before being tried for bombing Libya in 1986. Kadafi's adopted daughter and dozens of other people were reportedly killed in the airstrikes. Libya has preserved the shattered buildings of Kadafi's residential compound as a memorial to anti-Reagan enmity."

"Reagan's influence was also felt across Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his nation remembered the Reagan administration's $2 billion in covert aid to Afghan fighters resisting Soviet forces, which began in 1979 and ended with Moscow's defeat a decade later. Reagan increased aid to Afghan fighters after he took office in 1981 but had significantly boosted the number of sophisticated weapons by 1985. The secret program had some unintended consequences. When the Soviets withdrew, Afghanistan fractured into a civil war and was largely ignored by the U.S. The hard-line Taliban regime that seized control of the country allied itself with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network."

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Reaganomics remembered
The Washington Post revisits Reagan's economic policies, known as Reaganomics, or "voodoo economics," as dubbed by George H.W. Bush.

"Through the prism of the right, Ronald Reagan's economic policies in the 1980s were a rainbow, a vision that was largely responsible for the nation's remarkable economy in the 1990s. Through the prism of the left, Reaganomics was a storm that devastated the poor and left huge budget deficits in its wake."

"... Reagan's spending cuts barely nicked the fastest-growing parts of government, his tax cuts reduced revenue so much that later in his tenure taxes had to be raised repeatedly, his regulatory approach was criticized for leading to the savings and loan crisis and his unbalanced budgets to a near-tripling of the federal debt in eight years. Many economists give most of the credit for whipping inflation to former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul A. Volcker."

" ... Reagan's 'mood' changed the terms of the debate, shifting the nation on a rightward economic course. He fired the air traffic controllers when they went on strike, forever altering union-management relations. He tolerated the high unemployment brought about in part by Volcker's tight money policies. And Reagan championed the free market and railed against government programs, making it more difficult for his successors to create new ones except in the guise of a tax credit."

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Arrest warrant issued for Chalabi right-hand man
The London Telegraph reports that an American consultant, Francis Brooke, is wanted in Baghdad for trying to stop the recent raid on his boss Ahmed Chalabi's house. Chalabi claims to have files related to the U.N. oil-for-food scandal. The report also says records of a British consultant investigating oil-for-food were destroyed by hackers on the same day as the raid.

" ... Mr Brooke, who is an evangelical Christian, has worked with Mr Chalabi since 1990 -- first as a consultant paid by the CIA and most recently as a consultant for BKSH and Associates, a company run by Charlie Black, a Republican Party veteran. Reports from Iran suggest that Mr Brooke acted as an intermediary between Washington and Teheran, passing letters between the two governments, which do not have bilateral relations. Yesterday, Mr Brooke could not be reached for comment, although a colleague in Baghdad said that the arrest warrant was part of a politically-motivated campaign to discredit Mr Chalabi and his followers."

"Mr Brooke has boasted of engineering the war on Iraq by providing America the evidence it was seeking on weapons of mass destruction. "'I'm a smart man,' he told The New Yorker magazine last week. 'I saw what they wanted, and I adapted my strategy.'"

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"Among the records held by Mr Chalabi in his Baghdad headquarters -- which were stripped during a raid last month -- he claimed to have material relating to the scandal-hit oil-for-food programme run by the United Nations during Saddam's rule. Last night, it emerged that on the same day as the raid, computer files belonging to the British consultant investigating the oil-for-food scandal were destroyed by hackers and a back-up databank in his Baghdad office wiped out." "Claude Hankes Drielsma, a British businessman and long-time acquaintance of Mr Chalabi, accused America and Britain of mounting a 'dirty tricks' campaign to obstruct his inquiry. His report on oil-for-food, written for the international accounting company KPMG, was due to be released in three weeks but its publication has been delayed for at least three months, he said."

"'I believe that what Washington wants is to keep the lid on things until after the presidential election. The White House believes that the report will be detrimental to President Bush's re-election campaign.'"

Iraqis pay nickel a gallon
The solution to rising gas prices in the U.S.: Move to Baghdad. The AP reports that "while Americans are shelling out record prices for fuel, Iraqis pay only about 5 cents a gallon for gasoline -- a benefit of hundreds of millions of dollars subsidies bankrolled by American taxpayers. Before the war, forecasters predicted that by invading Iraq and ousting Saddam Hussein, America would benefit from increased exports of oil from Iraq, which has the world's second largest petroleum reserves."

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"That would mean cheap gas for American motorists and a boost for the oil-dependent American economy. More than a year after the invasion, that logic has been flipped on its head. Now the average price for gasoline in the United States is running $2.05 a gallon -- 50 cents more than the pre-invasion price. Instead, the only people getting cheap gas as a result of the invasion are the Iraqis."

"Filling a 22-gallon tank in Baghdad with low-grade fuel costs just $1.10, plus a 50-cent tip for the attendant. A tankful of high-test costs $2.75. In Britain, by contrast, gasoline prices hit $5.79 per gallon last week -- $127 for a tankful."

Cheney's now-disclosed location
A new book by intelligence expert James Bamford reveals the secret location where Dick Cheney hid away after 9/11: "Site R, an underground bunker on the Maryland-Pennsylvania border where the Vice President spent much of his time in 2001. Deep under Raven Rock Mountain, Site R 'is a secret world of five buildings, each three stories tall, computer filled caverns and a subterranean water reservoir.' It is just 7 miles from Camp David," Time reports.

But the heart of the book is about intelligence failures before 9/11: "Bamford maintains that before 9/11, the U.S.'s entire spook network was pretty much out to lunch. It was a community that had done its job well in the cold war and was looking for a reason to exist. ... In a devastating chronology, Bamford reports that even as late as 2000, the agency was stuck in an old cold war way of doing things -- training its agents, recruiting spies overseas and keeping headquarters happy. One agent explains that CIA recruiting overseas was about as rigorous as going to an opening-night mixer at a Las Vegas convention: American agents overseas sometimes competed with one another to see who could collect the most business cards at official receptions in foreign capitals. Then they would return to their embassy to determine the night's winner. Each card, the agents told themselves, represented a potential spy for the U.S. In fact, the agent said, 'none of these people had anything useful ... It was just numbers. It's all quantity.'"

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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