Gloom and Doom

The pundits are brimming with advice and warnings for the Dems today. Let’s start with a warning. At the Los Angeles Times, Greg Grandin cautions Dems to remember Iran-Contra.

It was 20 years ago this Nov. 3 — the day after the Democrats regained control of the Senate in 1986 — that a Lebanese magazine revealed that the Reagan administration sold missiles to Iran. The sale (brokered by a National Security Council staffer named Oliver North) violated a U.S. arms embargo against Iran and contradicted President Reagan’s personal pledge never to deal with governments that sponsored terrorism. Soon after, it was revealed that profits from the missile sale went to the Nicaraguan Contras, breaking yet another law, this one banning military aid to the anti-Sandinista guerrillas.

The Democrats rejoiced. They had taken back the Senate after six years in the minority, and Reagan’s poll numbers plummeted as follow-up investigations uncovered that the National Security Council was waging an off-the-books foreign policy using rogue intelligence agents, neoconservative intellectuals, Arab sheiks, drug runners, anticommunist businessmen, even the Moonies.

The Democrats, now with majorities in both congressional chambers, gleefully convened multiple inquiries. From May to August 1987, televised congressional hearings offered a rare glimpse into the cabalistic world of spooks, bagmen and mercenaries. Fawn Hall, North’s secret shredder, told of smuggling evidence out of the Old Executive Office Building in her boots, and she lectured Rep. Thomas Foley that “sometimes you have to go above the written law.”

One year after the hearings, though, Iran-Contra was a dead issue. Reagan’s poll numbers rebounded, and his vice president, George H. W. Bush, won the White House despite being implicated in the scandal.

Grandin says the Dems were tripped up by Oliver North, who somehow came across as heroic and patriotic in spite of, well, the facts. I think there was more going on to squelch the investigation. However it happened, Iran-Contra slipped out of public consciousness without leaving a trace. Grandin continues,

Just last December, Vice President Dick Cheney pointed to the Republican “minority report” on Iran-Contra — written, not coincidentally, by Cheney’s current chief of staff, David Addington — to justify the White House’s insistence on the primacy of the executive branch in matters of national security. At the time, that report, which blamed the scandal on Congress for “legislative hostage-taking,” was considered out of the mainstream. Today, it reads like a run-of-the-mill memo from the Justice Department outlining the legal basis for any of the Bush administration’s wartime power grabs.

Cheney and Addington are not the only veterans of the scandal who have resurfaced to help President Bush fight the war on terror. So have Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Otto Reich, John Negroponte, John Poindexter, neoconservative Michael Ledeen and even Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Iranian arms dealer who brokered one of the first missile sales to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime.

Iran-Contra, then, wasn’t just a Watergate-style crime and a coverup. It was, rather, another battle in the neoconservative campaign against Congress and in defense of the imperial presidency. Though Iran-Contra might have been a draw — the 11 convicted conspirators won on appeal or were pardoned by George H.W. Bush — the backlash has become the establishment.

Already there are reports that if the Democrats take over Congress in November, their agenda will have a 1986-ish look: hearings and calls for more congressional oversight of foreign policy.

But if they want to avoid again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they must do what their counterparts 20 years ago failed to do. They must challenge the crusading ideology that justified the invasion of Iraq and has made war the option of first resort for this administration.

Otherwise, no matter how many probes they convene — or congressional seats they pick up — the Democrats will always be dancing to Ollie’s tune.

Even gloomier are Michael Lind’s projections for a post-Bush America:

But if the US extricates itself from Iraq and Afghanistan and stays out of other Muslim countries, then the already feeble incentive for American politicians to try to balance support for Israel with appeals to Arab and Muslim public opinion will be even weaker. The abandonment of the US attempt to be the hegemon of the middle east, and US withdrawal from Iraq, might actually empower those in the US who make the simple claim that the US and Israel are allies in world war four (Norman Podhoretz’s term; he considers the cold war to be world war three) against the hydra-headed menace of “Islamofascism.”

The strengthening of the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim right in the US following an inglorious retreat from Iraq would strain US-European ties even further. In the second decade of the 21st century, Europeans may be surprised to find themselves denounced by some liberal Democrats as well as by conservative Republicans as “Eurabian” appeasers.

In US domestic politics, the long-term beneficiaries of the Iraq war may be the Republicans who waged and lost it, rather than the Democrats who (mostly) opposed it. This is less paradoxical than it seems. Countries that win wars are relaxed about their security and more open to parties of the left—think of Clinton’s two terms after the cold war and before 9/11, or Britain’s rejection of Churchill after the second world war. Defeated countries tend to seek strong men on the right, as France did after Algeria and the US did after Vietnam, which was followed by a series of Republican presidencies.

I have a bad case of brain mush because of a head cold, and I’m having trouble coming up with pithy commentary today. Silver linings, anyone?

Vulnerability Gap

R.J. Eskow discusses a new book by Clark Kent Ervin:

Ervin’s book, “Open Target,” describes an Administration that’s all but indifferent to protecting the American people from further terrorism. Its sole concerns appear to be to use DHS to dole out political pork, create politically attractive news releases, and spin failure so that it looks like success.

This is not news. But notice who Clark Kent Ervin is:

Ervin is the conservative Texas Republican who came to Washington as a personal friend of the President’s after serving in his gubernatorial administration. He became Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and refused to look the other way at the Administration’s incompetence in fighting terrorism.

Yes, another former Bushie tells all. But what got my interest in Eskrow’s piece was Ervin’s use of the phrase vulnerability gap. Computer network security people have been using this phrase for a while. I think the Dems ought to pick it up and run with it.

Once upon a time, boys and girls, a Democrat named John Kennedy used the phrase “missile gap” to discredit Republicans on national security and win a presidential election. The Dems generously larded speeches with missile gap and drizzled the phrase liberally on the electorate. It reminded voters of an allegation — which was not true — that the Eisenhower Administration (including Vice President Richard Nixon, Kennedy’s opponent) had somehow allowed the Soviets to acquire more nuclear missiles than we had.

The phrase vulnerability gap ought to work nicely, too, and it has the advantage of describing truth. Eskow continues,

Ervin dissects the self-serving and misleading statements made by Bush, Ridge, and Michael Chertoff. He’s especially withering on their boasts that the fact we haven’t been attacked on US soil since 9/11 is proof that DHS is effective. He compares it to French confidence in the Maginot Line, the most foolish defense attempt in history, and points out that terrorists operate on a long line. Five years, as he observes, is not a long time to Al Qaeda.

He describes the TSA as a boondoggle gone awry, and his analysis of our ongoing vulnerability to nuclear attack is chilling. Equally frightening are his descriptions of the government’s drastic underfunding of our anti-terror defenses. (He quotes from Congressional testimony in which a DHS intelligence official admits he can’t hire more staff as required because there is no money to pay for their office space.)

Ervin also details the vulnerability of mass transit, schools, and other “soft targets.” He’s fair enough to admit that you can’t defend every possible target, but thorough enough to describe what could be done (and isn’t) to improve their safety.

Vulnerability gap, vulnerability gap, vulnerability gap. The connotations are all there; vulnerability conjures the sensation of being unprotected and exposed. Gap makes us visualize breach or broken, perhaps also left behind or separated from something. Vulnerability gap. While the Bush Administration sends our National Guard overseas and dumps $2 billion bleeping collars a week into Iraq, vital infrastructure and other soft targets are left unguarded here at home. Vulnerability gap.

If the Dems can’t club the Bushies to death with that, there’s no hope for ’em.