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Cheney on the Warpath Again?

What seems to be a new drumbeat for military action has thus far remained under the radar of the mainstream media. When my colleagues do take notice, I hope they point out that the advocates of a strike against Iran are the same people who enthusiastically advocated the invasion of Iraq, making similarly authoritative-sounding declarations about the uselessness of diplomacy and the easy triumph of military might.

Opinion Watch

The USA Today editorial board writes: "The Iraq war has featured a changing cast of U.S. adversaries. Saddam Hussein. Sunni insurgents. Foreign fighters. Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

"In the latest shift, the two top U.S. officials in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, focused in this week's congressional testimony on 'special groups' -- Iranian-backed militias -- as the greatest long-term threat to Iraqi democracy.

"On Thursday, President Bush endorsed the officials' troop recommendations and again recast the enemy. Iraq, he said toward the end of his speech, is 'the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: al-Qaeda and Iran.'

"There's no question that al-Qaeda and Iran represent threats. But to conflate the two is disingenuous and misleading. . . .

"Iran is a strategic adversary that hasn't attacked the U.S. homeland. Its engagement with Iraq, its neighbor, is inevitable. . . .

"[T]he United States and Iran are facing off in a duel almost as complex as that between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This requires a whole range of tools, beyond Bush's bellicose warning on Thursday that Tehran 'has a choice to make.' . . .

"Sunni al-Qaeda and Shiite Iran pose different challenges and require separate strategies. About the only thing they have in common is that neither would have a foothold in Iraq today had the United States not invaded and then mismanaged the aftermath."

Torture Watch

The Associated Press confirms and expands on ABC News's blockbuster revelation Wednesday that top Bush aides, including Cheney, micromanaged the torture of terrorist suspects from the White House basement. (See yesterday's column.)

The new report from Lara Jakes Jordan and Pamela Hess adds this indelible image: "At times, CIA officers would demonstrate some of the tactics, or at least detail how they worked, to make sure the small group of 'principals' fully understood what the al-Qaida detainees would undergo. The principals eventually authorized physical abuse such as slaps and pushes, sleep deprivation, or waterboarding."

Jordan and Hess also write: "The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved.

"A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the meetings described them Thursday to the AP to confirm details first reported by ABC News on Wednesday. . . .

"Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., lambasted what he described as 'yet another astonishing disclosure about the Bush administration and its use of torture.'

"'Who would have thought that in the United States of America in the 21st century, the top officials of the executive branch would routinely gather in the White House to approve torture?' Kennedy said in a statement. 'Long after President Bush has left office, our country will continue to pay the price for his administration's renegade repudiation of the rule of law and fundamental human rights.'

"The American Civil Liberties Union called on Congress to investigate.

"'With each new revelation, it is beginning to look like the torture operation was managed and directed out of the White House,' ACLU legislative director Caroline Fredrickson said. 'This is what we suspected all along.'"

Legal blogger Jack Balkin, who on Wednesday dismissed the notion of domestic prosecution of Bush administration officials for war crimes, yesterday mulled another possibility instead: "A series of congressional investigations into the interrogation and detention policies of the previous Administration, or a special Presidential 'truth commission' like the 9/11 Commission would have certain advantages. They would require only that the next Administration cooperate with Congress-- for example, by declassifying certain OLC opinions and other documents that should never have been classified, and by giving permission for certain executive branch officials to testify before Congress."

Bush Approval Hits Another Low

No place to go but up just doesn't seem to apply to this president. Two new polls find Bush's job approval at all-time lows, with Gallup finding that Bush has dropped below his father's all-time low, has tied Jimmy Carter's all-time low, and looks good only by comparison to Richard Nixon and Harry Truman at their nadirs.

Frank Newport reports for Gallup: "President George W. Bush's job approval rating has dropped to 28%, the lowest of his administration. . . .

"Bush's low rating in the current poll is the result of an extraordinarily low average approval rating from Democrats, a low level of support from independents, and support from just two-thirds of his base of Republicans. . . .

"Bush's current 28% job approval rating is at the very low end of the spectrum of approval ratings Gallup has recorded across the 11 presidents in office since World War II."

Alan Fram writes for the Associated Press: "Public approval of President Bush has dipped to a new low in the Associated Press-Ipsos poll, driven by dissatisfaction with his handling of the economy.

"A survey released Thursday showed 28 percent approve of the overall job Bush is doing. . . .

"Highlighting Bush's broad unpopularity, 60 percent of Republicans approved of his overall job, his weakest showing yet with members of his own party. Just 7 percent of Democrats and 17 percent of independents approve."

Iraq Watch

Peter Baker and Karen DeYoung write in The Washington Post: "With Bush effectively freezing troop levels at 140,000 in August, Congress moved to challenge him on two fronts. Democratic leaders prepared to amend war-funding legislation to limit his options and to direct money to domestic priorities, while lawmakers from both parties took on his plan to sign a strategic agreement with Iraq that would outlast his presidency. . . .

"One confrontation centers on Bush's effort to negotiate a long-term 'strategic framework' agreement with Iraq this summer without congressional approval. The U.N. mandate that provides a legal basis for foreign troops operating in Iraq is set to expire at the end of the year, and the administration wants the framework and a related 'status of forces' agreement to govern the U.S. engagement in the new year.

"But lawmakers from both parties said Bush is trying to dictate war policy after he leaves office, and they maintained that an agreement with such enormous consequences should be submitted to the Senate for ratification as a treaty. At a rancorous Senate hearing, Republicans warned that they would join Democrats in fighting the pact."

Karen DeYoung has more in The Post about the two accords under negotiation -- and the congressional concerns.

The Speech

I wrote a bit about Bush's speech on the war in Iraq in yesterday's column.

Fred Kaplan writes in Slate that "the main question at this point is whether he instructed the speechwriters to be mendacious or merely shallow."

For instance: "'Gen. Petraeus has reported,' Bush said today, 'that security conditions have improved enough to withdraw all five surge brigades by the end of July.'

"I hope a few people on the speechwriting team blushed when they penned this passage. Those five surge brigades were going to pull out this July no matter what the situation in Iraq happened to be. Their 15-month tours of deployment will be up by then; they will go home; the Army has no combat brigades ready to replace them. This was always the calculation. It's the product of arithmetic, not policy."

E. J. Dionne Jr. writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "The administration and its supporters talk incessantly about winning but offer no strategy for victory, no definition of what victory would look like, no concrete steps to get us there and no real sense of where 'there' is. . . .

"Supporters of the war say its opponents are locked in the past, stuck on whether the war was a good idea in the first place. Whether the war was right or wrong, they say, it's time to move on and focus on the future.

"This has it backward. It's the war's backers and architects, including the president, who are trapped in the past. They are so invested in the original decision to invade Iraq that they won't even consider whether the United States would be better off winding down this commitment, relieving our military of the war's enormous burdens and redirecting our foreign policy."

Not Exactly on the Same Page

Peter Spiegel and Julian E. Barnes write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush, accepting the recommendation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus to halt the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in July, said Thursday that he would give the war commander 'all the time he needs' to decide on future troop cuts.

"But in a surprising show of public concern about an open-ended U.S. commitment, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told a Senate hearing that he hoped to resume troop reductions soon after a 'brief' 45-day pause this summer.

"Gates' comments, along with similar testimony from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in stark contrast to those of Petraeus, who spent two days this week on Capitol Hill telling lawmakers that it could be months before conditions in Iraq permitted further troop withdrawals.

"Differences within the Pentagon over the issue have been brewing for months, but rarely have they been aired publicly. Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee seized on the contrasts, prompting Gates to acknowledge that there is a difference in the way he and Petraeus view troop levels."

On Permanent Bases

Here's a little item to clip and save.

The Washington Post reports: "The Bush administration has assured Congress that it does not seek to establish 'permanent' U.S. military bases in Iraq. But an exchange yesterday among Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), State Department Iraq coordinator David Satterfield and Assistant Defense Secretary Mary Beth Long at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing suggests that permanence lies in the mind of the beholder:

"Webb: What is a permanent base?

"Satterfield: Senator, the administration has made quite clear that we are not seeking permanent bases in Iraq. . . .

"Webb: Right. But what is a permanent base? Are our bases in Japan permanent bases?

"Long: I have looked into this. As far as the department is concerned, we don't have a worldwide or even a department-wide definition of permanent bases. I believe those are, by and large, determined on a case-by-case basis. . . .

"Webb: Well, I understand that. But basically my point is it's sort of a dead word. It doesn't really mean anything.

"Long: Yes, Senator, you're completely right. It doesn't."

Executive Privilege Watch

Laurie Kellman writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush's refusal to let two confidants provide information to Congress about fired federal prosecutors represents the most expansive view of executive privilege since Watergate, the House Judiciary Committee told a federal judge Thursday.

"Lawyers for the Democratic-led panel argued in court documents that Bush's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers are not protected from subpoenas last year that sought information about the dismissals. . . .

"House lawyers told U.S. District Judge John D. Bates that subpoenaed White House officials cannot simply skip hearings as Miers did during the committee's investigation. Further, they said, any documents or testimony believed to be covered by the privilege must be itemized for Congress' assessment."

Cheney and the Naked Lady

Kevin G. Hall and George Bridges write for McClatchy Newspapers: "He shot his hunting partner, but Vice President Dick Cheney apparently doesn't fly fish with naked women.

"Since Wednesday, the blogosphere has been atwitter over a photograph on the White House Web site of Cheney with a caption that said he was fly-fishing on the Snake River in Idaho.

"The photo is a tight shot of Cheney's face sporting dark sunglasses and his trademark grin.

"What's stirring all the buzz is the reflection in the vice president's dark glasses. Some thought that the reflection looked like a naked woman and, this being Cheney and this being the Internet Age, they immediately shared that thought with the world."

Me, I see Cheney's arm and hand, holding a fishing rod.

Cartoon Watch

An Ann Telnaes animation on what Bush really means; Walt Handelsman on what the pause really means; Jeff Danziger on the view from the ground; Daniel Wasserman on the new insurgency; Larry Wright, Richard Crowson, Jimmy Margulies and Ed Stein on exit strategy; Bruce Beattie on progress.

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