Monday's must-reads

By Stephen W. Stromberg
Published August 9, 2004 2:08PM (EDT)

Iraq's new prime minister is beginning to talk -- and act -- more like President Bush, the New York Times reports. "Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, reinforcing his reputation as a man ready to deal harshly with his adversaries, flew into the embattled city of Najaf on Sunday and said that there would be 'no negotiations or truce' that would spare rebel fighters from American and Iraqi forces who have been waging a violent contest for control of the city's heart."

"In Baghdad, Dr. Allawi's aides later announced that the government had approved a decree restoring the death penalty for a range of crimes, including some so broadly phrased that they appeared to cover virtually every kind of insurgent attack. A suspension of the death penalty was one of the earliest moves taken by the American occupation authority last year.

"The two actions on Sunday, coming amid some of the fiercest fighting of the 15-month insurgency, seemed to set a new benchmark for Dr. Allawi, whose political trademark since his youth in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party has been one of relentless toughness. The restoration of capital punishment had been expected since he took office in June, with a twin-edged vow to curb the insurgency by reaching out to disaffected groups that have joined or condoned it, and to prosecute the war fiercely against those who fought on."

And what of Ahmad Chalabi, American neo-con darling turned suspected double agent for Iran? "After he returned to Baghdad Sunday night, Dr. Allawi presided over yet another move, perhaps his boldest yet, to curb challenges to his power. The country's top investigative judge confirmed that he had issued warrants for the arrest of one of Mr. Allawi's fiercest political rivals, Ahmad Chalabi, once the Pentagon's favorite to become Iraq's new leader after Saddam Hussein, and of Mr. Chalabi's nephew, Salem Chalabi, who is chief administrator of the Iraqi Special Tribunal that was set up by the Americans to try Mr. Hussein and top associates in the ousted government."

The Kerry campaign is reaching out to religious voters, the bedrock of President Bush's base, the Los Angeles Times reports. "Through values-laden language, grass-roots organizing and Kerry's increased discussion of his faith, the Democrats are trying to show that the party's presidential ticket reflects religious principles, pointing to their platform on healthcare, poverty and the environment."

"The Kerry campaign -- which has three staff members assigned as liaisons to various denominations -- is aiming to create 'People of Faith for Kerry' groups in every state.

"And it recently launched community service projects to bring together Kerry supporters with strong religious beliefs.

"But the effort is likely to prove difficult, and has hit some snags.

"Although Kerry is a Roman Catholic who once considered entering the priesthood, he does not speak about faith with the ease of former President Clinton, who was able to draw on his Southern Baptist roots to connect with many churchgoing voters.

"Kerry's political record may be even more difficult for those voters to swallow.

"'Even the moderate Catholic vote might be somewhat turned off to his pro-choice stance [on abortion] and opposition to a ban on gay marriage,' said Gerard Heather, a professor at San Francisco State who studies religion and politics.

"But Kerry's advisors think the Massachusetts senator can make inroads in that community, noting that after he made an explicit appeal to people of faith in his convention speech, campaign polls showed he picked up 5 to 7 points among those voters."

It's official: Alan Keyes will take on new Democratic headliner Barack Obama, and he's promising to make the campaign a challenge for his Democratic rival. The Chicago Tribune reports: "Maryland conservative Alan Keyes formally accepted Illinois' Republican U.S. Senate nomination Sunday, saying he believed he was duty-bound to protect the moral principles upon which the nation was founded and inviting voters to join him because 'the victory is for God.'

"Ending more than six traumatic weeks for Republicans looking to replace embattled Jack Ryan in the Senate race against Democratic nominee Barack Obama, Keyes promised a fight--but not a victory--in a contest that he admitted would be 'a great challenge' and 'an uphill battle.'

"'If you are willing to join me in that fight, to join me with your money, to join me with your work, to join me especially with your prayers, I will promise you a battle like this nation has never seen,' Keyes told several hundred supporters gathered in an Arlington Heights banquet hall.

"Keyes' entry into the contest marks the first time in history that two African-Americans have challenged each other as major party nominees for election to the U.S. Senate. The winner will become only the third black elected to the chamber since Reconstruction and, with Carol Moseley Braun in 1992, the second African-American senator elected to represent Illinois in 12 years."

Meanwhile, the Tribune reported Saturday that Keyes' "uphill battle" will have to start with paying off old campaign debts. "Old campaign debts and a tax lien may be the first bumps in the campaign trail for Alan Keyes, the Maryland conservative expected to accept the Illinois GOP nomination for U.S. Senate on Sunday."

"Keyes, who ran for president in 1996 and 2002, owes $524,000 for his failed presidential bids, according to Federal Election Commission documents. Debts for 1988 and 1992 U.S. Senate races in Maryland have been settled.

"And tax records indicate the State of Maryland in 2001 filed a tax lien on the home owned by Keyes, 54, and his wife, Jocelyn, because of $7,481 in unpaid state income taxes and penalties."

The Los Angeles Times reports that John Kerry will have a tough time shifting the burden in Iraq to an international coalition. "Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry has staked much of his campaign on a proposal he hopes will convince voters that he can extricate the United States from Iraq more quickly and at less cost than President Bush.

"But Kerry's plan, which promises to effectively shift much of the Iraq war burden from America to its allies, so far is failing to receive the international support the proposal must have to succeed.

"Kerry in recent appearances and interviews has been intensifying his effort to spotlight what he sees as the Bush administration's mistakes in Iraq -- especially the failure to broaden international involvement -- as a fundamental difference between the two candidates. But Kerry's proposals depend on changing the minds of foreign leaders who do not want to defy their electorates by sending forces into what many consider to be a U.S.-made mess.

"'I understand why John Kerry is making proposals of this kind, but there is a lack of realism in them,' Menzies Campbell, a British lawmaker who is a spokesman on defense issues for the Liberal Democratic Party, said in a typical comment.

"Many allied countries may welcome a new team in Washington after years of friction with the Bush administration. But foreign leaders are making it clear they don't want to add enough of their own troops to allow U.S. forces to scale back to a minority share in Iraq, as Kerry has proposed.

"Allies say they are ready to consider further financial aid and other help for the fragile new Iraqi government. But some officials overseas already are fretting about Kerry's talk of burden-shifting."

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation, and a fresh set of tapes from the Nixon Oval Office suggest that Nixon and Henry Kissinger kept troops in Vietnam to ensure a presidential victory in 1972. From the Associated Press: "Three months before the 1972 presidential election, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger huddled together in the Oval Office to discuss when and how to get out of Vietnam."

"Despite a massive bombing campaign during the spring and summer in the north, the Republican president had concluded that U.S.-backed 'South Vietnam probably can never even survive anyway.'

"'We also have to realize, Henry, that winning an election is terribly important,' Nixon told his national security adviser. 'It's terribly important this year, but can we have a viable foreign policy if a year from now or two years from now, North Vietnam gobbles up South Vietnam? That's the real question.'

"The conversation, recorded by Nixon's voice-activated taping system, was transcribed by the University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs to be released Sunday, the 30th anniversary of Nixon's resignation.

"Some historians, including biographer Jeffrey Kimball, consider it evidence that Nixon sacrificed American forces in his quest for a second term, keeping them engaged to ensure that the South Vietnamese government wouldn't collapse before the election.

"'It became increasingly apparent to them by 1972, if not before, that they couldn't win the war, and they'd have to end it,' said Kimball, who has compiled similar conversations and documents from Nixon's first term.

"'But here's the problem: say they pulled out at the end of '71, or at the beginning of '72. Saigon might fall before the election. Or right after the election. What would that look like? It's clear -- you can read from the transcripts -- the election plays a part in their timing.'"

Stephen W. Stromberg

Stephen W. Stromberg is a former editorial fellow at Salon.

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