Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Impeachment: Nancy Pelosi has taken it off the table, but people in the State of Maine say they'll put it back (yes, a State can start impeachment)

1. Activists start DIY impeachment effort
Accountability -- by JAMES MIXON /The Phoenix

They are not stopping traffic or waving picket signs: a group of concerned peaceniks from the Brunswick area have found another means of change. According to the rules of the US House of Representatives, any state legislature can present a resolution to impeach the president.

Deborah Gordan and Stan Lofalia of hope Maine will be the first state to do so, though similar efforts are under way in several other states.

The group of artists and activists has collected 3600 signatures on a petition to US representatives Michael Michaud and Tom Allen, as well as to state lawmakers, hoping to push any or all of them toward seeking impeachment. Organizers say they want to collect 10,000 signatures before formally submitting them to Michaud, Allen, and others.

The Website lists ten reasons for impeachment: launching a war without a cause; authorizing the use of torture; detaining Americans and non-Americans without due process or cause; violating the Geneva Conventions; using illegal wiretaps against American citizens; the use of “signing statements” to defy Congress; obstructing honest elections in 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006; using disinformation and paid propaganda to deceive the public; abusing presidential powers; and negligence in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“How can I have any pride in my country?” asks Gordan. “People thought we were communists because we were selling bracelets that said ‘I didn’t vote for Bush’ and that’s as radical as we would get.” But now many people are growing more determined, and the MaineImpeach gang is morose and concerned.

“Trying to make a change can seem very overwhelming and impossible,” says Tom Fronceck of Brunswick. “But every water drop in the bucket adds up.” The group hopes the message will spread, especially to the younger generation, whose voice can really make a difference.

Group member Gary Higginbottom says, “we need to demonstrate to people in the state that it’s not just a bunch of peaceniks that want this to happen . . . it’s not a few people, it’s a lot of people.”

2. Why George Bush is Insane – by Harold Pinter/The Assassinated Press/Znet

Earlier this year I had a major operation for cancer. The operation and its after-effects were something of a nightmare. I felt I was a man unable to swim bobbing about under water in a deep dark endless ocean. But I did not drown and I am very glad to be alive.

However, I found that to emerge from a personal nightmare was to enter an infinitely more pervasive public nightmare - the nightmare of American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence; the most powerful nation the world has ever known effectively waging war against the rest of the world. "If you are not with us you are against us" President Bush has said. He has also said "We will not allow the world's worst weapons to remain in the hands of the world's worst leaders". Quite right. Look in the mirror chum. That's you.

The US is at this moment developing advanced systems of "weapons of mass destruction" and it prepared to use them where it sees fit. It has more of them than the rest of the world put together. It has walked away from international agreements on biological and chemical weapons, refusing to allow inspection of its own factories. The hypocrisy behind its public declarations and its own actions is almost a joke.

The United States believes that the three thousand deaths in New York are the only deaths that count, the only deaths that matter. They are American deaths. Other deaths are unreal, abstract, of no consequence.

The three thousand deaths in Afghanistan are never referred to.

The hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children dead through US and British sanctions which have deprived them of essential medicines are never referred to.

The effect of depleted uranium, used by America in the Gulf War, is never referred to. Radiation levels in Iraq are appallingly high. Babies are born with no brain, no eyes, no genitals. Where they do have ears, mouths or rectums, all that issues from these orifices is blood.

The two hundred thousand deaths in East Timor in 1975 brought about by the Indonesian government but inspired and supported by the United States are never referred to.

The half a million deaths in Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Argentina and Haiti, in actions supported and subsidised by the United States are never referred to.

The millions of deaths in Vietnam ,Laos and Cambodia are no longer referred to.

The desperate plight of the Palestinian people, the central factor in world unrest, is hardly referred to.

But what a misjudgement of the present and what a misreading of history this is.

People do not forget. They do not forget the death of their fellows, they do not forget torture and mutilation, they do not forget injustice, they do not forget oppression, they do not forget the terrorism of mighty powers. They not only don't forget. They strike back.

The atrocity in New York was predictable and inevitable. It was an act of retaliation against constant and systematic manifestations of state terrorism on the part of the United States over many years, in all parts of the world.

In Britain the public is now being warned to be "vigilant" in preparation for potential terrorist acts. The language is in itself preposterous.

How will - or can - public vigilance be embodied? Wearing a scarf over your mouth to keep out poison gas? However, terrorist attacks are quite likely, the inevitable result of our Prime Minister's contemptible and shameful subservience to the United States. Apparently, a terrorist poison gas attack on the London Underground system was recently prevented. But such an act may indeed take place. Thousands of school children travel on the London Underground every day. If there is a poison gas attack from which they die, the responsibility will rest entirely on the shoulders of our Prime Minister. Needless to say, the Prime Minister does not travel on the underground himself.

The planned war against Iraq is in fact a plan for premeditated murder of thousands of civilians in order, apparently, to rescue them from their dictator.

The United States and Britain are pursuing a course which can lead only to an escalation of violence throughout the world and finally to catastrophe.

It is obvious, however, that the United States is bursting at the seams to attack Iraq . I believe that it will do this - not just to take control of Iraqi oil - but because the US administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary. Many Americans, we know, are horrified by the posture of their government but seem to be helpless.

Unless Europe finds the solidarity, intelligence, courage and will to challenge and resist US power Europe itself will deserve Alexander Herzen's definition (as quoted in the Guardian newspaper in London recently) "We are not the doctors. We are the disease".

3. Time is Right For Impeachment Vote -- by John Nichols/ The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Stoughton will vote next Tuesday on the audacious question of whether the president and vice president of the United States should be impeached.

It won’t be the first community in the nation to do so. Earlier this month, more than three dozen town meetings in Vermont did so, and cities across the country have held referendums calling for Congress to hold President Bush and Vice President Cheney to account for manipulating the intelligence that led this country into an unnecessary war, for authorizing warrantless wiretaps and other forms of spying, for encouraging torture and extraordinary rendition, for seeking to punish political critics, and for other acts that would seem to fit under the heading of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But it seems as if Stoughton may be voting at precisely the right moment.

Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough had me on his MSNBC show the other night to talk about impeachment.

It was a smart, civil discussion that treated the prospect of impeaching the president as a serious matter.

Scarborough took the lead in suggesting that Bush’s biggest problem might be that Republicans in the House and Senate do not appear to be rallying around the president. The host’s sentiments were echoed by two other guests, columnist Mike Barnicle and Salon’s Joan Walsh.

The impetus for the show was Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s ongoing discussion of the impeachment prospect — Hagel’s more a speculator than a supporter of sanctioning Bush — and a new column by Robert Novak that suggests Bush has dwindling support in Congress.

Speaking about impeachment on ABC’s “This Week,” Hagel said, “Any president who says I don’t care’ or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else’ or I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed’ — if a president really believes that, then there (are) ways to deal with that.”

Novak wrote, “The I-word (incompetence) is used by Republicans in describing the Bush administration generally. Several of them I talked to described a trifecta of incompetence: the Walter Reed hospital scandal, the FBI’s misuse of the Patriot Act and the U.S. attorneys firing fiasco. We always have claimed that we were the party of better management,’ one House leader told me. How can we claim that anymore?’ “

Scarborough asked whether Bush could count on Republicans to block moves by Democrats to hold him to account.

When a conservative commentator who was on the front lines of Newt Gingrich’s “Republican revolution” entertains a thoughtful conversation about the politics and processes of impeachment on a major cable news network, it should be clear that the cloistered conversation about sanctioning this president has begun to open up.

What I told Scarborough is what I have been saying in public forums for the past several weeks: We are nearing an impeachment moment. The Alberto Gonzales scandal, the under-covered but very real controversy involving abuses of the Patriot Act, and the president’s increasingly belligerent refusals to treat Congress as a co-equal branch of government are putting the discussion of presidential accountability onto the table from which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to remove it.

Does this mean Bush and Cheney will be impeached? That, of course, will be decided by the people. Impeachment at its best is always an organic process; it needs popular support or it fizzles — as with the attempt by House Republican leaders to remove former President Clinton.

While the people saved Clinton — by signaling to their representatives that they opposed sanctioning a president for his personal morals — it does not appear that they are inclined to protect Bush.

With each new revelation about what Gonzales did at the behest of the Bush White House to politicize prosecutions by U.S. attorneys, the revulsion with the way this president has disregarded the Constitution and the rule of law becomes more intense. And citizens are not cutting their president much slack.

A new USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted over the weekend shows that, by nearly 3 to 1, Americans want Congress to issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify in the Gonzales case. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed say the president should drop his claim of executive privilege in this matter, while only 26 percent agree with the reasoning Bush has used to try to block a meaningful inquiry.

If the president wants to fight with Congress over how to read the Constitution, it appears that the people will back Congress.

As Hagel says, “This is not a monarchy. There are ways to deal with (executive excess). And I would hope the president understands that.”

If not, perhaps Stoughton, and other communities like it across the country, will remind him — just as they will remind Congress that it is time to take the “I” issue up.

(John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.’”)

4. Bush Team Is Adept Only at Bungling
by Andrew Greeley/ The Chicago Sun Times

The Bush administration reminds me of Jimmy Breslin’s comic novel, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The premise of the novel was what if you had a Mafia gang whose members were incompetent at the things that mafiosi are supposed to do. Similarly, the Bush administration has often shot itself in the foot because its key players are not qualified for their jobs. They make a mess of the job and are protected by secrecy; or if that isn’t possible, by spin. The current example is the selective firing of U.S. attorneys for reasons that are not yet clear. The gnomes who created the mess are two of President Bush’s old cronies from Texas: Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers. Neither, as is now patent, is a heavy hitter. Gonzales has been involved in controversies over the Geneva Convention (which he called “quaint”) and legal memos that appear to involve approval of secrecy, torture, imprisonment without trial and spying on Americans without legal warrants. Small wonder the president does not want him to testify under oath.

Another example of not being able to do the job were the men who were supposed to deal with Hurricane Katrina: Michael Chertoff and Michael Brown (of Homeland Security and FEMA, respectively), neither of whom had the intelligence to deal with a catastrophe or the experience of responding to major disasters (unlike Brown’s predecessor Edward Witt). However, they were loyal Republicans, so no other competence was required. New Orleans continues to be a mess; FEMA continues to be unable to spend the money. No heavy hitters in this mess.

Then there is the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was supposed to govern Iraq in the years after the war. L. Paul Bremer, the head of CPA, did not speak Arabic and had never served in the Middle East. He had been a staff aide to Henry Kissinger and ambassador to Norway. The members of his staff, mostly younger Republicans, seem to have been even less qualified, and according to journalists covering Iraq, did not speak Arabic and rarely left the fortified Green Zone. Whatever Bremer’s intentions, he and his staff must share the blame for what came after the new government was installed. None of them seems to have been a heavy hitter.

The worst example by far of the gang that could only shoot itself in the foot is the president’s foreign policy team. Condoleezza Rice had been provost at Stanford University, which might have qualified her to become president of a state college in the California system, but scarcely the president’s top foreign policy adviser or now secretary of state. Donald Rumsfeld was a hard-driving and arrogant corporate executive skilled at bureaucratic infighting who ignored the advice of the experienced military officers and ran the Defense Department as his own fiefdom. He used the war to prove his hypothesis that a small American military force would easily triumph, and he made no preparations for reconstruction after the war — two tragic mistakes, the results of which are still with us.

Vice President Dick Cheney, on the basis of the ”Scooter” Libby trial, seems an angry man with paranoid tendencies who may even now suspect an Iraq link with al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction hidden away somewhere. Mixed in were a clique of neocons: Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Libby, who could write strong memos. The only heavy hitter, who might have been able to prevent the mistake of the war, was Colin Powell, whom Rumsfeld and Cheney marginalized. No wonder the war went terribly wrong and tens of thousands have died.

Gonzales, Miers, Chertoff, Bremer, Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz: Could any of the members of this gang have been expected to shoot straight? Besides Powell, where were the wise men (and women) who could have protected the country from a string of disasters?

Bush is a victim of his bad taste in advisers and staff, his propensity to Texas cronyism and his inclination to cover up and spin the truth. There is no reason to believe that he is better advised about the ”new” strategy in Iraq, or that the mistakes will not continue till Jan. 20, 2009. No heavy hitters need apply.

5. Mugged by reality - how it all went wrong in Iraq
From The Economist

“NEMESIS” was the word The Economist printed on its front cover four years ago, when jubilant Iraqis, aided by American soldiers, hauled down the big statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square. For a moment it looked as though all the fears that had accompanied the build-up to the American-led invasion had been groundless. The defeat of Iraq's army in three weeks turned out to be exactly the “cakewalk” that some of the war's boosters predicted. And in many places Iraqis did indeed greet the American soldiers as liberators, just as Ahmed Chalabi, Iraq's best-known politician-in-exile, had promised they would.

How different it looks four years on. The invasion has been George Bush's nemesis as well as Saddam's. The lightning conquest was followed by a guerrilla and then a civil war. Talk of victory has given way to talk about how to limit a disaster. The debacle has cut short the careers of Donald Rumsfeld and Tony Blair, poisoned the Bush presidency and greatly damaged the Republican Party (see article ). More important, it has inflicted fear, misery and death on its intended beneficiaries. “It is hard to imagine any post-war dispensation that could leave Iraqis less free or more miserable than they were under Mr Hussein,” we said four years ago. Our imagination failed. One of the men who took a hammer to Saddam's statue told the world's media this week that although Saddam was like Stalin, the occupation is worse.

What went wrong? The most popular answer of the American neoconservatives who argued loudest for the war is that it was a good idea badly executed. Kenneth Adelman, he of the “cakewalk”, has since called the Bush national-security team “among the most incompetent” of the post-war era. Others also blame the Iraqis for their inability to accept America's gift of freedom. “We have given the Iraqis a republic and they do not appear able to keep it,” lamented Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for the Washington Post .

That excuse is too convenient by half: it is what the apologists for communism said too. But there can be no denying that the project was bungled from the start. Western intelligence failed to discover that Saddam had destroyed all his weapons of mass destruction ( WMD ), the removal of which was the main rationale for the war. However, the incompetence went beyond this. The war was launched by a divided administration that had no settled notion of how to run Iraq after the conquest. The general who warned Congress that stabilising the country would require several hundred thousand troops was sacked for his prescience.

Mr Rumsfeld's one big idea seemed to be that it was not the job of the armed forces he was “transforming” to become policemen, social workers or nation- builders. As a result, he sent too few and they did nothing to prevent looters from picking clean all Iraq's public buildings the moment the regime collapsed. “Stuff happens,” was the defence secretary's comment, a phrase used later as the title of an anti-war play in London's West End.

America's plans for Iraq's political transition were also rudimentary, to the extent that they existed at all. The Pentagon wanted Mr Chalabi and his fellow exiles put swiftly in charge. The State Department thought an American administration would have to be installed. State had organised a pre-invasion Future of Iraq project, but the Pentagon declined to adopt its ideas. Several knowledgeable State Department Arabists were prevented from going to Iraq because they were deemed ideologically unsound. Jay Garner, an amiable general called in from retirement to manage the transition under an understaffed ad hoc body known as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, received no intelligible instructions from Washington, and baffled the liberated Iraqis in his turn. “You're in charge,” he told a gathering of 300 or so mystified tribal leaders and exiles who attended a conference soon after his arrival, hoping to discover what the future held under Iraq's new rulers.

When the Americans discovered the obvious—that Iraqis could not take charge of a state whose institutions had collapsed—the amiable General Garner was called home and replaced by a viceroy. Paul Bremer set up his Coalition Provisional Authority ( CPA ) inside one of Saddam's Baghdad palaces, at the heart of a fortified “green zone” cut off by tall blast walls from the life of the city. Unlike his predecessor he had firm views about what needed to be done, views which in short order produced big mistakes. He disbanded the Iraqi army and so put tens of thousands of resentful, jobless men with military training on the streets. And he turfed thousands of Baath Party members out of the bureaucracy, thereby depriving many ministries of their only trained staff.

In the end, the Americans did preside over a political transition of sorts. The CPA handed sovereignty to an interim government under Iyad Allawi, selected on the advice of the United Nations. Then, in 2005, came a year of elections. In January Iraqis voted in their first free election for a new National Assembly; they voted again in October in a referendum on a new constitution; and they voted in December to elect yet another new National Assembly under the new constitution's rules. If democratic politics were about nothing more than casting votes, Iraq would have the hang of it by now.

Unfortunately, few things are more useless than a government that cannot govern. And Iraq's government can't. For although Iraqis voted in high numbers, they voted along ethnic lines, and this produced an impasse. The outnumbered Sunnis feel locked out of a new Iraq dominated by Shias. The victorious Shia block, the United Iraqi Alliance, is itself so divided that it took its factions five months after the election of December 2005 to choose a prime minister. And his authority is limited. Nuri al-Maliki depends for a majority on members loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a radical anti-American Shia cleric, with a powerful militia at his disposal. The prime minister can deploy patronage, but this has made his administration into little more than a spoils system in which the individual parties, many with their own militias, use control of government ministries to extract resources for themselves.

The main reason for the government's inability to govern, however, is that it cannot stem a tidal wave of criminal and political violence. The Kurds are doing nicely in their northern enclave and much of the south is calm enough. But Baghdad and central Iraq are tangled in multiple conflicts. Many Sunnis have taken up arms against the new Shia-dominated order. Al-Qaeda is running a jihad against the Americans and Shias alike. By killing Shias, especially after blowing up their Askariyah shrine last February, al-Qaeda has succeeded in provoking a torrent of revenge killings. In places, in the name of “resistance” or Islam, Shia militias also attack American soldiers. A poll this week found that half of all Iraqis consider such attacks acceptable (see table). It seems extraordinary, till you remember how at a stroke the scandal of Abu Ghraib prison turned the liberators into torturers in the eyes of Iraqis. The prevalence of violence and the absence of law erodes the legitimacy of the elected government and makes it almost impossible to rebuild an economy that even before the war had been prostrated by a dozen years of UN sanctions.

What now?

It took a long time for the White House to acknowledge the bleak reality. But December's report to the new Democrat-controlled Congress of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan committee chaired by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, forced a change. Its succinct first sentence—“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating”—made it impossible for Mr Bush to keep on saying with jutted jaw that fortitude alone could retrieve the situation. Nor, however, could he accept the group's recommendation to begin to withdraw troops and launch “a robust diplomatic effort”. That would look too much like declaring defeat and going cap in hand to America's regional enemies, Iran and Syria, to sue for peace. So instead of bringing the boys home, Mr Bush decided to send more.

What to make of the “surge” now starting in Baghdad? It is reasonable for sceptics to argue that Mr Bush is merely clinging to existing policy until he leaves office, when a new president will have to clean up the mess he has made. On its own, adding between 20,000 and 30,000 American troops to the 130,000 already there hardly seems likely to turn Iraq around. All the same, some of the military architects of the surge are true believers. This is not just reinforcement, they say, but a long-overdue reversal of the whole flawed post-invasion strategy Mr Rumsfeld left behind.

From the start, the former defence secretary was convinced that the job of securing and rebuilding Iraq belonged to Iraqis. Even after his grudging acceptance that a widespread Sunni insurgency was indeed under way, American troops concentrated on minimising their own casualties while training Iraq's ragged new army to put it down. This was well beyond its ability. In recent months, since it has become clearer that parts of Mr Maliki's Shia-dominated coalition as well as parts of the police are themselves responsible for murdering many Sunnis, the strategy has made even less sense. In such circumstances, arming a government can be tantamount to taking sides in a civil war—and reducing the incentive of the side you back to make concessions for peace.

Henceforth, say the surgers, American troops will do what they should have been doing all along according to classic counter-insurgency theory. Under the direction of an energetic new commander, General David Petraeus, they will leave their bases and plant themselves in the heart of Baghdad's neighbourhoods in order to give Iraqis the security they crave. And security, they argue, is the key to everything else. Only when the killing declines will Iraq's new government be able to buttress its legitimacy, suck support away from the militias and rebuild the economy.

A few weeks into the surge, it is too early to assess the validity of this beguiling hypothesis. The number of ethnic killings by Shia gangs is reported to be falling, but Sunni car- and suicide-bombers are still killing Baghdadis in their mosques and markets. The obvious difficulty, however, is that even if the Americans have at last lighted on the right approach, General Petraeus may not be given the time to see the job through. That will almost certainly be the case if politics in both Washington and Baghdad continue to move against him.

The Democrats in Congress do not want to be seen pulling the rug from under a successful new commander. But nor are they eager to squander more lives and money on a war that many voters think America has already lost. The mood in Washington might be changed by evidence of political progress in Baghdad: the point of the surge is to stabilise the capital and so buy time for Iraq's politicians to reach a power-sharing agreement that might suck some poison out of the sectarian war. But are they capable of making such a deal? Do they even want to?

Iraq's cabinet agreed last month on how to share oil revenues between the regions. In public utterances Mr Maliki is careful to say all the right things about national reconciliation. These are encouraging pointers. The trouble is that Americans who listen in to his government's internal chatter are horrified by what they hear. Some conclude that the Shias have no real intention to share power, only to string America along while using its firepower to destroy rivals and entrench their own dominion. It is also uncertain whether the politicians who claim to speak for the Sunnis in the National Assembly are close enough to the insurgents to make them stop fighting even in the event of a political settlement. In short, time may show that the democratic structure the Americans worked so hard to install can neither run Iraq nor reconcile its warring clans.

That would mark Mr Bush's final failure The chief reason he gave for the invasion of 2003 (and the only one this newspaper accepted) was fear of Iraq's WMD .But this, admitted Paul Wolfowitz, then Mr Rumsfeld's deputy, was only “the one issue that everyone could agree on”. Others included a feeling after September 11th 2001 that America should vanquish any enemy that dared to defy it, and a belief that by turning Iraq into a democracy America could transform the Middle East, ending the rule of the autocrats, draining the swamp in which terrorism festered and promoting an Arab peace with Israel.

What next?

When the WMD turned out not to exist, Mr Bush inflated this “freedom agenda”. In his inauguration speech in 2005, after his re-election, he connected Iraq to America's “great liberating tradition” in foreign policy. Free elections had been held not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. The “Cedar Revolution” turfed Syria's army out of Lebanon and American nagging resulted in an Egyptian presidential election that looked marginally less rigged than usual. But 2005 was the high point. It is now absurd to expect Iraq to serve as a democratic inspiration—it has done more to inspire jihad . As for proving American might, the overstretched superpower looks increasingly like a supplicant, less prone to lecture Arabs on governance than to seek help from former enemies once consigned like Syria and Iran to the “axis of evil”.

Mr Bush's rejection of the Baker-Hamilton report should not have been a surprise. Transparently admitting defeat would have forced America to negotiate from weakness. The surge, in contrast, may turn out to be a case of sauter pour mieux reculer : a way to strengthen America's hand before Mr Bush, or more probably his successor, co-ordinates an eventual exit with Iraq and its neighbours.
AFP Into an unsafe future

The surge in Iraq has coincided with tougher action against Iran. America has sent an extra carrier to the Gulf and is helping to pilot a second sanctions resolution against Iran through the UN Security Council. But it is at the same time putting machinery in place that could be used to make a bargain. Officials from the two countries talked early this month in Baghdad and more senior ones expect to get together at a follow-up next month.

It seems odd after more than quarter of a century of rivalry for America to expect any help from Iran. The Islamic Republic is the big winner from Mr Bush's war. But neither Iran nor any regional power apart from al-Qaeda has an interest in the complete collapse of Iraq. The Iranians in particular worry about what the Americans might do in such a circumstance. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, calls America “a wounded tiger”, all the more dangerous for its sudden weakness. Such has been Mr Bush's failure that the autocrats of the Middle East say that they are trying to rescue Iraq from America and America from itself. It really is a debacle.

If only

It is not enough to say with the neocons that this was a good idea executed badly. Their own ideas are partly to blame. Too many people in Washington were fixated on proving an ideological point: that America's values were universal and would be digested effortlessly by people a world away. But plonking an American army in the heart of the Arab world was always a gamble. It demanded the highest seriousness and careful planning. Messrs Bush and Rumsfeld chose instead to send less than half the needed soldiers and gave no proper thought to the aftermath.

What a waste. Most Iraqis rejoiced in the toppling of Saddam. They trooped in their millions to vote. What would Iraq be like now if America had approached its perilous, monumentally controversial undertaking with humility, honesty and courage? Thanks to the almost criminal negligence of Mr Bush's administration nobody, now, will ever know.


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