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Its been a slow

It's been a slow day here at TPM. I've been busy on some Abramoff-related reporting. Actually, a lot of Abramoff-related reporting. More soon. If you're hankering for a GOP corruption fix, don't miss this piece in today's Times about a twenty-year army contracting official who was just demoted after questioning pricey no-bid contracts for Halliburton.

Wes Clark just did

Wes Clark just did his first post for the week over at TPMCafe on Iraq, Darfur and presidential leadership. He hopped on a plane after posting apparently. But he says he'll be responding to questions and comments down in the comments section later today after he lands. Check it out.

I have to confess

I have to confess that I was off in my own little world this last week. And it wasn't until I got back home this afternoon that I realized that this storm bearing down on New Orleans wasn't just one of these big hurricanes we hear about every year to two. Hopefully all the predictions will prove to be in some measure over blown. But we're only hours away from the predicted landfall and the predictions, with all the most current data, really do sound catastrophic, as overused as that word can be.

First, if you're anywhere near what's coming tomorrow morning, good luck and be safe.

If you've already evacuated and are fortunate enough to have good shelter and a passable Internet connection, let us know what's happening, what you saw, what you're hearing.

For those at a distance just looking to find out more, here's the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and here are a few of their live-on-the-scene webcams, for the curious at heart.

Department of small worlds.Many

Department of small worlds.

Many of you know that for years, I've been following the November 2002 New Hampshire election-tampering case, in which the state Republican party hired folks to sabotage Democratic and union phone-banks. So recently I looked at a copy of the NHGOP's funding receipts in the week or so before election day, mainly to get some angle on how the money for the scam was funnelled to the state party.

But look who sent in $5000 checks the week before election day: the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

What interest exactly did these Jack Abramoff clients from Mississippi and California have in this election?

Most of the Jack

Most of the Jack Abramoff story we've heard has been tied to lobbying for Indian casino interests and garment manufacturers in US Pacific island protectorates. But there's an overseas portfolio only starting to get attention. And along those lines, some details that could use some more attention...

Things started to go bad for Jack Abramoff in early 2004. He got fired or 'resigned' (take your pick) from Greenberg Traurig in March. And from there he went from high-voltage influence peddler to corruption coverboy in the Post, the Times and other news outlets.

But Abramoff did more than start readying his defense after he left Greenberg Traurig. He immediately signed up with Cassidy & Associates. And if you're not familiar with them, Cassidy is one of the glitz names in the foregin lobbying business in Washington.

Then in July, he left Cassidy. Everybody put out gracious press releases. But you figure that by the summer Abramoff was even too hot to handle for them.

But he still wasn't quite done. Upon leaving Cassidy Abramoff set up his own company, Middle Gate Ventures.

As near as I can figure there's only one mention of the firm that ever appeared in the US press -- a short piece in the Washington Post's 'Special Interests' column on July 8th, 2004.

You can find other references to it Middle Gate with a google search. But they all seem to cite back to this little squib in the Post. And the Post said that Middle Gate would be Abramoff's "vehicle for pursuing such business opportunities as energy projects, real estate development and motion picture production."

Abramoff made pretty clear that his bridges were burned in the DC lobbying game. So what remained were his overseas contacts and opportunities.

I hear that pretty much immediately after setting up Middle Gate he was using the company to get deeply involved in some 'energy projects' on the west coast of Africa.

I'm trying to put together different pieces of this puzzle. But if you have any more pieces, I'd love to hear from you.

First let me thank

First, let me thank Michael Crowley and Steve Clemons for filling in while I was away. It's much appreciated. More shortly on other matters.

Even if you have

Even if you have read it, Juan Cole's 10-point Plan regarding Iraq deserves to be read over and over again. It's very sensible and the fact that there is so much distance between the reality of America's foot-print in Iraq and what Cole suggests explains why this morass is worsening.

He proposes a lucid plan that really deserves immediate attention by policymakers. I'm particularly taken with the importance of re-branding the non-criminal Baathists.

This is very close to what Americans did with a large roster of conservative, accused set of classified war criminals (organized in different categories of seriousness) after WWII.

At the beginning of the Allied Occupation of Japan, socialists and communists were the big political winners and conservatives -- even the good ones -- were shunted aside. Ichiro Hatoyama, the first ascending Prime Minister, who assembled a coalition in the new government of Occupied Japan was purged from office by the Occupation authorities the night before he would have been vested with his office. This was a lousy lesson for democracy -- but still Hatoyama came back as Prime Minister in 1954, evidence in part of a significant change of political course that Americans took in Japan.

The differences between America's engagement in Iraq and Japan are enormous -- but what is clear is that there is a cost to keeping the competent civil and military administrators who worked for thugs, but who were not thugs themselves, from taking positions in a reformed government. Cole is absolutely right that U.S. authorities should be knocking back the Kurds and Shia who want to block the return of any previous Baathists.

I think that while I agree with Cole that U.S. forces need to withdraw from urban neighborhoods and should be trimming their profile in important ways, the most important thing America should do is work to internationalize the face of aid workers as well as foreign police and military officials as quickly as possible. The American flag needs to be removed from the scene.

What few seem to argue is that the moment President Bush gets serious about withdrawing from Iraq, European states and other Middle East nations are going to be worried about chaos, potential civil war, and outward migration. The American brand has been harmed in Iraq -- but that does not mean that all other nations will have the same problems. By leveraging our intent to withdraw, Bush could begin to angle with the Europeans, Egypt, the Russians (yes, even the Russians),the Saudis, Jordan, and other stakeholders in the region to take over roles that we will not continue. The players there need to be reframed -- and our eventual departure could be used to pass off responsibility to others.

But how to get them to go? The German Ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger once told me that his biggest fear about John Kerry being elected is that he would have to work hard to keep Kerry from asking Germany to send troops to Iraq, which many assumed Kerry would do if elected.

I think it's simple -- and it's a missing point in Juan Cole's excellent ten point plan, but perhaps still essential. The fact is that no matter what direction America goes with regard to the Iraq conflict, we really do need collaboration with other major powers -- even if we end up retreating quickly from the place. But most scenarios involve some ongoing presence. In that case, European and other key national support needs to be secured, and that must be one of our nation's highest national priorities.

But we are helping the Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda fanatics in their quest by shooting ourselves in the foot with how we are respoding to the highest diplomatic priorities of nations we need.

Sid Blumenthal says it well in this piece that just appeared in The Guardian:


. . .it was revealed this week that Mr Bush's new ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, was seeking 750 changes to the 36-page draft plan to be presented to a special summit in New York on September 14 to 16. Mr Bolton's amendments, if successful, would leave the plan in tatters.

The Foreign Office confirmed yesterday that Britain was standing behind the original plan, putting it at odds with Mr Bush.

The concern in British and other international circles is that the American objections, if adopted, would severely undermine the UN summit, the biggest-ever gathering of world leaders.

At least 175 world leaders have accepted an invitation to attend. The UN said yesterday that Mr Bush had confirmed that he would be there.

A wide range of organisations, from aid groups to the anti-arms lobby, voiced dismay about Mr Bolton's objections yesterday and expressed concern that the summit may end in failure.

The Make Poverty History campaign said there was a danger that the millennium development goals, the original reason for holding the summit, would be reduced to a footnote.

A source close to the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan said it was too early to declare the UN plan dead. "Bolton wants to knock down the plan and start from scratch," the source said. "He will find that his opinions are not shared by most of the rest of the world."

As best I can tell, President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove turn every battle -- all of them -- into winner-takes-all, take-no-prisoners skirmishes. This is not strategy. This is just clear-cutting -- when America lets them get away with it.

Strategy would be losing the right battles to your friends so that America wins from them the support it most needs.

I think that a more enlightened posture on global climate change, global poverty, AIDS and other pandemics, and other of the Millennium Development Goals would be ideal battles for America to lose to its closest allies. If we gave them some "wins" to take back to their publics in order to secure their support for the biggest objectives America had, we'd all be better off.

It seems to me that securing their support for the "internationalization" and "de-Americanization" of some ongoing presence in Iraq would be well worth giving in on a few of these other gestures John Bolton has problems with.

Stygius hits a homer

Stygius hits a homer in his assessment of John Bolton's immediate intentions regarding U.N. reform.

He writes:


Not only is Bolton trying to dilute or remove effective action against AIDS, global poverty, climate change, etc. he's trying to turn the meeting into a UN reform vehicle; more specifically, a John Bolton UN reform vehicle.

This next bit I want to make emphatically: My sense is that Bolton is not only hamstringing the development goals of the meeting, this is also an attempt by him to seize control of the US's UN reform project from others within the State Department (namely, the Secretary of State).

Bolton needs very badly to take over and be identified with any UN reform initiative, even if it fails on his account. This requires waging battle against his political adversaries within the administration.

Secretary Rice has ostracized Bolton from the major UN reform decision-making, in part by appointing Shirin Tahir-Kheli as her own UN Reform Special Adviser. Rice's worry is that, given Bolton's track record, Bolton would only screw up UN reform. A reasonable probability. Hence, Shirin Tahir-Kheli.

One interesting positive Bolton story that made its way to me via a trusted source is that our Ambassador has gone out of his way to meet every one of the "facilitators" of the Millennium Summit document.

Some of these facilitators were in absolute shock that he took the time to shake hands and look each in the eye and say that he appreciates the work they do.

Watch out. I think John is studying Clinton meet and greet tapes.

How does one go

How does one go about re-wiring how Americans think about terrorism? This is my most recent project.

Some folks think that the "high-fear dynamics" that 9/11, Bali, Sinai, Madrid, and the London bombings (among other incidents) have unleashed benefit a vested class of players who thrive during war.

Weapons labs, defense firms, and pundits who also have financial stakes in war-related venture funds and investments like James Woolsey clean up in times of low-trust and high-fear. If things go back to normal, these players lose. There is a zero-sum game underway where return to stability and normality is something that many in the Washington establishment will vigorously, though in nuanced and subtle ways, fight.

The globalization we used to be tilting towards was one of high-trust (perhaps naievely high trust) where people, money, semiconductor chips, ideas moved more and more effortlessly across borders. That has changed, and many aspects of globalization have become messier in a world where fear has been ratcheted up -- and trust knocked very far down.

Tomorrow (well today actually, but later in the morning) I'm going to discuss Barry Lynn's new book, End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation, which thinks through some of the consequences of the fragility of global structures today, particularly firms. But that's later today.

Right now, I'm going to post the agenda for a mega-conference I am directing on terrorism. This agenda lists names that will simultaneously tick off and please nearly anyone who looks through it -- no matter that person's political stripes.

It's a diverse bunch. And that's one of the requirements of re-wiring how folks (inside the Beltway at least) think about terrorism. One must not just preach to the choir. We've had four years since 9/11, and it is time that we reconsider our approach to terrorism and think more broadly, more comprehensively, and beyond bullets and ballots.

I want to get into this conference and the question of how to redirect America's "terror" focus in ways that may actually make Americans and citizens around the world more secure.

So, chew first on the list of attendees. Everyone seems to want to email me their two cents on who should or should not be included.

Then, let's talk through the issues, themes and strategies tomorrow.

The conference is free and open to the public. There will be high-quality, real time web-casting at the conference website. And if you are in town, feel free to register through the web.

I nearly forgot. It's now my birthday.

Lyndon Baines Johnson and Mother Teresa were both born on this day, along with me -- and I tell folks that that may explain alot.

The End of DiplomacyThis

The End of Diplomacy?

This from a thoughtful piece by Anne Penketh in The Independent:


But judging from his few weeks in New York, Mr Bolton is not at the UN to negotiate. Since Madeleine Albright, President Clinton's UN representative, the US delegate has arrived with a rocket in his or her pocket. In the council, if the other delegates do not like what the Americans want, the US no longer hesitates to act without UN blessing

Now Mr Bolton is at the UN with a mission. At the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama famously decreed the end of history. We could be witnessing the end of diplomacy.

I hear the air just squealing out of the bubble of American pretensions.

America in the past has generally demonstrated capacity to be a great leader of others -- a planning nation, a strategic nation, a complex systems integrator in war and peace -- but now the obsession with doing things alone is a rejection of leadership and guarantees future weakness.