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August 20, 2004, 10:30 A.M.

From the attacks on John Kerry’s military record and Viet Nam service by friends of the Bush campaign, it’s obvious that the Republicans are not signing on to the kinder, gentler campaign strategy of the Kerry/Edwards campaign. For example, I received an e-mail from a friend in Boston, which linked to several video and print attacks on Senator Kerry’s records, and which called into question the manner in which Kerry served in Viet Nam. On of the ads was a claim, not based on first hand information, mind you, that Kerry revisited ambush sites to recreate his exploits on film. Doesn’t sound very believable, but it also doesn’t even suggest that Kerry wasn’t there in the first place, or that he didn’t serve. The ads themselves are lousy and are not very credible. They are also clearly well-funded, but not linked directly to the Bush campaign. Plausible deniability in practice, it seems. Say what you want about Kerry’s record, he has it all over Bush in this fight. Bush doesn’t even have standing to challenge Kerry in this area. Kerry showed up. He fought and he was wounded. He was decorated and he is entitled to be proud of his accomplishments.

The President, on the other hand, didn’t even bother to show up. He used his family’s power and influence to avoid service in Viet Nam. He went AWOL from his National Guard unit, apparently again relying on the power and influence of his family to insulate him from any consequences in order to serve his political party rather than his country. There is no comparison here and for Bush to allow his people to continue this smear campaign is vile. Hypocritical at best.

August 20, 2004, 9:30 A.M.

Follow this link to a report in today's NY Times about the Pentagon's finding that Gen. Jerry Boykin (the deputy under secretary of defense for intelligence) violated regulations when speaking to church groups and casting the war on terror in religious terms. The article doesn't speculate about what Boykin's future at the Defense Department might look like.

August 19, 2004, 12:50 P.M.

POP has decided to support Paul Hodes in his bid to unseat Representative Charles Bass in New Hampshire’s First District. Paul, who describes himself as a “progressive centrist,”looks to the future and sees issues vital to New Hampshire that are not being addressed.

Paul is fiscally conservative, yet he believes in the need to act with a social conscience. In a recent conversation, Paul raised the issue of stewardship of the public’s money. This means more than being simply cheap. It means making wise and considered decisions about programs and policies.

The hallmark of a great mind is its ability to change. Paul demonstrates an ability, sadly lacking in modern politics, to talk and listen with those who don’t necessarily agree with him.

We wish Paul the best and hope that you will join us in supporting him. You can learn more about Paul at www.hodesforcongress.com.

August 15, 2004, 12:30 P.M.

An Iraqi Finger Puzzle: Josh Marshall, in a recent post in his Talking Points Memo blog, described the current situation in Iraq as the geopolitical equivalent of a Chinese finger puzzle. A Chinese finger puzzle, you will recall, is a small woven tube that slips over each index finger and tightens as you try to pull your fingers apart. The more you struggle, the tighter the trap becomes.

Unfortunately, this appears to be an extremely accurate description of the increasingly untenable situation for the American military in Iraq. Fred Kaplan, writing for Slate, opened his recent article with this disturbing, but portentous paragraph:

"This is a terribly grim thing to say, but there might be no solution to the problem of Iraq. There might be nothing we can do to build a path to a stable, secure, let alone democratic, regime. And there’s no way we can just pull out without plunging the country and the region, and possibly beyond, into still deeper disaster."
The U.S. military is faced with opposition from both Shi’ia insurgents (especially around holy Muslim shrines in Najaf) and Sunni tribesmen in Fallujah, Mosul and other major cities. Military success against al Sadr’s insurgents actually may harm our overall political and strategic goals because of there those battles are taking place.

Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, is attempting to convince insurgent leader, Muqtada al Sadr, to participate in the newly formed government. Of course, that would make Muqtada just one of many participants in the government, denying him a clear leadership role. Right now, Muqtada enjoys a position of influence because his relatively small band of followers can hold off an overwhelming military force by hiding in the mosques and shrines of Najaf, and by making the costs of military action too high in a political sense.

Surely the American military could overwhelm and defeat Muqtada al Sadr’s forces, but to do so would anger the very Shi’ia community that our reconstruction of Iraq was to rely on. We were told that they were the people so oppressed by Saddam that they would welcome us with open arms. The military actions in Najaf have again been suspended to allow Allowi’s government to press for a peaceful solution. While that happens, the American military sits, waits and watches while the insurgency grows and weapons are being stockpiled. There is, however, nothing else to be done. If the interim government cannot resolve this crisis in the streets, neither can our troops. That’s a lousy position to be in.

Of course, had our government thought about the effect of removing Saddam from power, we would h ave realized that the current manifestation of ethnic, religious and political conflict is the result of pent up tension and energy, brutally suppressed by Saddam. Not only do the separate factions, Sunni Arabs, secular Shi’ites, religious Shi’ites and Kurds desire power, stability and self-government, but they also fear not getting it. In order to stabilize the situation in Iraq, a system has to be put in place that will allay the fears of each group over whether or not they will be oppressed by a new Saddam.

The solution may lie in a partition of what is currently geographic Iraq. After all, the country was forged artificially after World War II. More importantly, it will take the involvement of political forces outside of Iraq. The U.S. loses credibility and clout on a daily basis as the current government founders, and as Iraqi police readily join the protests they are sent to quell. Iraq is a quagmire unrivaled by even Viet Nam. The more we fight in towns and cities like Najaf, where religious groups can claim the moral high ground, the more we drive ordinary citizens into the arms of groups like al Qaeda.

The Bush administration refuses to yield to the inevitable conclusion that until we are able to bring other players into Iraq to bring stability, we will be committed there in a much larger, more costly, role than anyone ever planned for. This will mean giving up control of some of the lucrative commercial contracts, but no country will send troops or diplomats to help in significant numbers until the U.S. relinquishes some control. That’s the finger puzzle: the tighter we hold on, the more trapped we become.

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