Entries from October 2005

From Tipping Point To Turning Point

David Frum October 29th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

President George W Bush’s bad week may yet prove the administration’s great turning point. None of the reverses need be fatal; each contains an opportunity to move back onto a more successful path. Everything depends on the wisdom, self-discipline, and perspective of the President.

Friday’s indictments of Lewis Libby are one opportunity. For while Mr Libby now stands in serious legal peril, the broader administration has been exonerated of intentional wrongdoing. From the start, there have been two competing theories of what happened in the CIA leak scandal. Call them the “big” theory and the “little” theory.

According to the “big” theory, a sinister cabal of senior administration officials deceived the United States into fighting an unnecessary war in Iraq. When threatened with exposure by Ambassador Joseph Wilson, they attempted to punish him by naming his wife, Valerie Plame, as a CIA secret agent – compromising the nation’s security and the lives of Ms Plame’s contacts.

Under the big theory, this is a scandal of manipulation and deceit for political ends. Ironically though, the only proven misstatements in the whole story are those that Mr Wilson himself confessed to a Senate investigating committee.

Although he had told reporters that he had detected the forgery of the notorious fake Niger documents, which alleged that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from the African country, he had never seen them at all. His report of his visit to Niger in February 2002 was unhelpfully ambiguous.

The reporter Bob Woodward put the point in a CNN interview on Thursday: “When Joe Wilson went to Niger before all this blew up, in fact, before there was a war, he came back and he reported, and [those] who have read the Senate intelligence committee on this know his report was very ambiguous. In fact, most of the analysts at the CIA said that Wilson’s findings when he went to Niger supported the conclusion that there was some deal with Iraq.”

Under the “little” theory, there was no deception, no conspiracy, no punishment, and no compromise of security. Mr Libby, as chief of staff to the vice-president Dick Cheney, called reporters to contradict a false story that Mr Wilson had told about his boss.

In so doing, Mr Libby apparently revealed that Ms Plame worked for the CIA. It is not at all clear, however, that he breached the law against intentionally disclosing the identity of a covert agent because it is not at all clear that Ms Plame ever was a covert agent. Under the little theory, if Mr Libby had only told the truth about what had happened, there would have been no crime at all.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor, has now almost formally confirmed the little theory. He broadly hinted that there will be no more indictments. He indicted only one person, which suggests that he could find no evidence of conspiracy. He did not charge Mr Libby with exposing a covert agent or even with the lesser office of unauthorised release of classified information.

On the contrary, he went out of his way to stress: “We’re not saying that Libby knowingly outed a covert agent.” All of which suggests that “Plamegate” may not amount to much of a scandal at all. And that creates an opportunity for the president to put his administration back to work.

The Harriet Miers fiasco creates opportunities for Mr Bush to regenerate his administration and rally his supporters.

Over the past three weeks, we have learned a great deal about how the Miers appointment to the US Supreme Court happened. A tiny circle inside the White House, led by the chief of staff, Andrew Card, disregarded its own procedures for vetting judges, and encouraged the president to reward a loyal retainer. The result was a breach of faith with Mr Bush’s political base.

Conservatives had loyally bitten their tongues for five years as the president over-spent, proposed amnesty for illegal immigrants, imposed tariffs on foreign steel, repealed the farm reforms of the 1990s and created a hugely costly new prescription-drug programme for seniors. They kept quiet because Mr Bush promised to transform the courts and because he, by and large, honoured his promise.

The Miers appointment violated Mr Bush’s commitment. Beyond that, the nomination evoked wide-ranging doubts among conservatives about the president and the way in which his White House was run. The carelessness with which the decision seemed to have been made, the high-handedness, the apparent indifference to merit, the failure to ask elementary questions: these triggered unhappy spasms of recognition. Similar faults could be seen in the Hurricane Katrina failure, in the mishandling of Iraq and the larger war on terrorism, in relations with the allies … the list goes on.

Miers was an important mistake, but it was a mistake that echoed with disturbing familiarity so many other mistakes of the recent past.

The Bush presidency has been a presidency of big plans and noble ambitions: the reform of social security and the tax system, regime change in the Middle East, cultural change in the United States – but again and again those grand plans have been entrusted to inadequate hands. The tax overhaul has been presided over by the weakest secretary of the treasury in two generations.

The general in command of Iraq, Tommy Franks, not only neglected to make plans for the occupation of the country – but resigned to sign a huge book deal within weeks of the fall of Baghdad. As for the administration’s often inarticulate public diplomacy, Mr Bush assigned that responsibility to Karen Hughes, not a person especially attuned to the world beyond America’s shores.

In the Miers case, the insularity of the White House decision-making process divided Bush supporters, and ended by inflicting a personal defeat on the President himself.

Could that shock jolt Mr Bush into reinventing his staffing? Second-term White Houses often run into trouble because of staff turnover. Aides leave, they are replaced by their deputies. Then the deputies leave, and are succeeded by their deputies. Six years on, the administration is being run by fourth-stringers. Presidents, meanwhile, become so consumed with their job that they cannot focus on personnel decisions and so end up acquiescing as the quality of their staff slowly deteriorates.

A crisis can force a president to confront personnel issues and if ever a failure demanded a personnel rethink, it is the Miers fiasco. Any president needs a staff that will tell him the truth, that will bring him bad news, that is not afraid of him, that has no illusions about him, that will help him to act on his best instincts and resist his worst.

This is a moment for Mr Bush to do a top-to-bottom renovation, especially if he has to part with Karl Rove, his chief adviser, either because Mr Rove is consumed by his legal difficulties or because he voluntarily departs to earn a private-sector salary to pay what must be crushing legal bills.

And if Mr Bush nominates an outstanding conservative jurist in place of Ms Miers, he will energise his conservative supporters. It may be too late to restore their faith in its previous intensity. But enough can be restored to provide him with a huge transfusion of political strength.

Even in October’s dismal polls showing Mr Bush at less than 40 per cent approval, his ratings among conservatives continued to exceed 80 per cent. Self-described conservatives make up about 35 per cent of the American electorate, versus less than 25 per cent for self-described liberals.

That offers a powerful advantage to Republican politicians, especially since the conservative coalition seems both more disciplined and more usefully geographically distributed than the smaller, more fractious, and more geographically concentrated liberal bloc.

Political capital can be squandered. It can also be recovered by wise and timely action. This bad week need not be the beginning of the end for President Bush. It could be the beginning of his next great comeback.

One War, Two Plans

David Frum October 25th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq;
By George Packer;
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 480 pages, $26

Last week, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, delivered a blistering attack on the Iraq war and the Bush administration. To strengthen his case against the President, Wilkerson cited a new book, The Assassins’ Gate by George Packer.

You have to give Wilkerson credit for acute literary judgment. The Assassins’ Gate, published this very month, is the most vivid and sensitive account to date of the war and its aftermath. Packer, a college classmate of mine, spent months traveling and reporting in Iraq between 2003 and 2005. He kept traveling and reporting even after the insurgents began kidnapping and murdering Western journalists. He has much to say about what went wrong, and he harshly condemns the leading Iraq policymakers from the President on down.

Some of his criticisms seem clearly right in retrospect; others less so. Leave that aside for now. What I think will most surprise readers is the book’s conclusion: As fiercely critical as he is of the Bush administration, Packer was and remains a supporter of George Bush’s war.

“I came to believe that those in positions of highest responsibility for Iraq showed a carelessness about human life that amounted to criminal negligence,” he writes. “Swaddled in abstract ideas, convinced of their own righteousness, incapable of self-criticism, indifferent to accountability, they turned a difficult undertaking into a needlessly deadly one. When things went wrong, they found other people to blame.”

Searing words. Now listen to what comes next: “The Iraq war was always winnable; it still is.”

The controversy over Iraq is not like the controversy over, say, Vietnam. Although there is considerable pessimism about the war, there is little protest against it. Even those who blame the Bush administration for entering Iraq now acknowledge that the United States cannot afford to quit. And for all the blows Packer lands against the Bush administration’s errors, he is equally tough on the failure of the Democratic Party to offer ideas of its own.

“[What] Iraqis and democracy needed more than anything . . . was a thoughtful opposition that could hold the Bush administration to its own promises–not in a game of gotcha, but in a real effort to make Iraq a success,” Packer writes. “What the Democrats offered was something else: a detached and complacent negativism. The election year [2004] proved to be the year in which Iraq did turn into a disaster, and if the Democrats failed to benefit, it was partly because they had nothing to offer instead, and the public chose not to elect a party whose stance on the most important foreign-policy issue in a generation was arms folded across the chest.”

Packer’s assessment of what went wrong in Iraq, though more vividly presented, is not novel: There were too few troops and too little planning; the failure to suppress looting at the very beginning signaled weakness–and the dismissal of Iraq’s Saddam-era officer corps discharged onto the streets a group of men who bitterly exploited that weakness.

The great question behind the assessment, though, is this: Why did things go so wrong? Why weren’t there enough troops, why not enough planning, why so many mistakes?

Let me suggest an answer, based on my knowledge of the people involved. Many of them are my friends and colleagues, and I can attest that they are brilliant and deeply experienced people, seriously committed to American security.

It’s often said that America lacked a policy for postwar Iraq. The truth is worse: America had two policies for postwar Iraq.

One policy, advocated by the Pentagon and other war-planners, called for U.S. forces to install an Iraqi provisional government immediately. American forces would keep a low profile–and rapidly draw down their numbers–as the provisional government took control of the civil service and army. The Pentagon rebuffed attempts by other branches of government to engage in more detailed reconstruction planning: The last thing the Pentagon planners wanted was a prolonged American occupation, with all the risk of triggering Iraqi nationalism and Muslim resentment.

The other policy, advocated by the State Department and civilian agencies, argued against going to war at all–but insisted that if the President went ahead, he should plan for a lengthy and costly occupation. This view reflected the very genuine convictions of State Department and CIA experts. It was, however, also influenced by the loathing felt by many at the civilian agencies for Ahmed Chalabi, the exile Iraqi politician whom the Pentagon had in mind as the leader of a provisional government.

Instead of choosing between the two policies, the Bush administration tried to fuse them both together. There would be a light, fast invasion–followed by a heavy, prolonged occupation. The result . . . well, we can all see the result.

Over the past few months, despite horrific atrocities such as yesterday’s bombing, the news from Iraq has gotten better. More and more Iraqi forces are taking the field, and intercepted insurgent communications paint a picture of a movement in distress. Iraq remains winnable–and the consequences of defeat remain horrific. All of us though who advocated this war need to reckon with and learn from our mistakes. Packer’s tough but idealistic book is a good place to start.

“personnel Is Policy” – Sadly, True.

David Frum October 24th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

There’s one way, anyway, that Harriet Miers really is like Antonin Scalia: When Ronald Reagan named the very conservative Scalia to the Supreme Court in 1986, the conservative judge won endorsements from unexpected quarters, including Mario Cuomo, the very liberal governor of New York. For Cuomo, what mattered most about Scalia were not his ideas, but his identity as an Italian American: one of Cuomo’s own.

Ditto for Miers. Within hours of her formal nomination at 8 a.m. on Monday, October 3, Miers was endorsed by James Dobson, the influential broadcaster — and one of the few conservative leaders to have received advance word of the Miers choice. Dobson’s endorsement was no formality. He placed at least one call that day to conservatives who criticized the choice, assuring them of his confidence in the former presidential counsel. Miers, you see, had attended a conservative evangelical church in Dallas. Raised a Roman Catholic, she had a conversion experience some 25 years ago. In other words: She was a born-again Christian, one of Dobson’s own.

In the years since 1986, Cuomo has surely had many occasions to regret his burst of ethnic pride. Will Dobson come to feel the same way? Who can say? Miers has worked closely with George W. Bush since the early 1990s. As long as she was on his staff, she loyally followed his lead. There’s no telling what she will do once she begins making decisions for herself.

Nevertheless, there are some important things that can be learned from her nomination — if not about Miers, then about the administration of the president who appointed her. The administration’s tone is set by conservative evangelical Christians, from the president on down. For many of them, to call someone a “conservative Christian” is to identify something one is, rather than to describe something one believes.

One of Miers’s closest friends, Texas Supreme Court justice Nathan Hecht, has had this to say about Miers’s views: “Her personal views are consistent with that of evangelical Christians . . . You can tell a lot about her from her decade of service in a conservative church.” Conservative Catholics have learned from bitter experience that some judges see no contradiction between their faith and liberal activism (e.g., William Brennan and Anthony Kennedy). Jews famously joke about themselves that if you have three Jews, you will have four opinions. Many evangelical Christians, though, still trust that if you worship as we do, then you must surely believe as we do — about everything.

George W. Bush has benefited immensely from this trust. However often he has deserted ideological conservatives on issues ranging from border control to government spending, he has been politically protected by the faith of millions of relatively unideological religious conservatives that he is “a good Christian man.” So of course he is. But the president’s Christian faith has not been inconsistent with his abandonment of the Federal Marriage Amendment the instant he was reelected, or a spending spree of historic proportions. Harriet Miers’s Christian faith may likewise prove consistent with all kinds of unexpected rulings — and Christian conservatives may be about to learn painfully the lesson ideological conservatives were taught by Warren Burger and Harry Blackmun: When picking your judges, ignore their biographies and read their opinions — and if they have not yet written any opinions, put them on an appellate court first and make them write some.

As for the president, the Miers appointment is one more demonstration of his often reckless indifference to the quality of the personnel he appoints. “Personnel is policy” was a slogan of the Reagan years. Back then, it meant that if you want conservative policy, you had better go hire the smartest and toughest conservatives you can find to execute it. Today, that old Reagan mechanism has gone into reverse. Michael Brown of FEMA was unfortunately not at all an exception to the rule. He was not even an especially extreme manifestation of the rule.

Since the early 1980s, conservatives have worked to develop a team of superbly qualified and credentialed jurists, ready and waiting for that rare, precious moment when a conservative president and a Republican Senate would be called on to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. That moment arrived in the fall of 2005, twice. One vacancy, the Rehnquist vacancy, offered an opportunity to maintain the balance of the Court, and the president used that opportunity brilliantly, by appointing the outstanding John Roberts. The second, the O’Connor vacancy, offered an opportunity to change the balance. And confronted with that opportunity, the president spurned two decades’ worth of hard work by the conservative movement. He disdained the personal sacrifice of a cohort of idealistic conservative lawyers who had turned their backs on the fortunes to be earned in private practice. He chose instead his own personal lawyer, a woman of no special distinction, and he chose her, as White House spokespeople explained on background, because he “felt comfortable” with her.

Think for a minute about that justification. The justices of the Supreme Court don’t work for the president who appoints them. They long outlast him. He doesn’t have to work with them, and how he personally feels about them should not matter very much. And then consider: What is it exactly about Miers that caused the president to feel so comfortable with her? What does it say about a president that he does not feel so comfortable with superb legal minds like Samuel Alito, Michael Luttig, or Michael McConnell?

Nor is this just a matter of intellect. It is a matter of character. Marvin Olasky expressed a rather nasty insinuation in his pro-Miers blog:

I’ve long subscribed to a theory (most recently voiced by David Frum) that if a new [Supreme Court] justice doesn’t come in with a fervently articulated judicial philosophy, the social and media pressures to move left are likely to prove overwhelming. Our sub-blog Blog9 brilliantly explains why Harriet Miers — graduate of SMU (not Harvard or Yale), lawyer at a solid Dallas firm for most of her career — may be immune: “The pressures of the ‘left’ are strongest on those that want what the left can provide, i.e. acceptance at fancy law schools and New York dinner parties. It doesn’t seem like Miers (unlike John Roberts or Anthony Kennedy or Frum or Bill Kristol) has ever aspired to any of that stuff . . . Why would she turn away from the people she has surrounded herself with all her life (conservative Christians from Dallas) in order to gain entry to an appreciative welcome at a Columbia Law School reception, where she’ll probably never be progressive enough or cool enough anyway?”This is worse than silly. It’s dangerously psychologically unrealistic. Ask yourself who is more likely to be immune to the smiles and frowns of the Harvard Law faculty: John Roberts, who spent three years at the place winning every prize it had to offer while rejecting its dominant philosophy? Or a nervous woman from Texas uncomfortably aware that even her own strongest supporters concede that she is “not cool enough”?

The one thing you know about the young men and women who have fought their way through elite legal institutions while being hissed and booed in class for expressing their principles is: They are not opportunists. It is certainly possible that the same might be true of a lawyer who spent her entire career in environments where conservatives rather than liberals governed her advancement and promotion. It is equally possible, though, that she might be a conservative only by adaptation — and that when her environment changes, so will she.

We cannot know. What we can know is this: Again and again this administration has sounded bold Reaganesque themes — tax cuts and Social Security reform at home, a war to the utmost against terrorism abroad. And again and again the administration has entrusted the job of executing these bold policies to people who don’t understand them and often inwardly oppose them. The voice is the voice of Reagan, but all too often the hands are the hands of the first President Bush.

Nor can we always be altogether sure even about the voice. Modern political communication is a nonstop business. It’s not enough to announce a policy with a flourish: It must be defended constantly, through thick and thin. This administration too often declines to defend itself in convincing terms — and the result has been a steady erosion of support for its foreign and domestic policies.

In August, the president emerged from his Crawford, Tex., retreat to restate the case for the Iraq war. He offered only shopworn phrases and the haziest generalities — and support for this right and necessary war just went on dropping. The president’s failure to speak out swiftly and compassionately about the impact of Hurricane Katrina left him vulnerable to demands for a limitless spending commitment to the Gulf Coast — at a cost so huge that it raises real doubts whether his tax cut can endure it.

And now the president’s unwillingness to explain and defend conservative legal principles has impelled him to nominate to the Supreme Court a woman without a record, in the hopes that Senate Democrats will allow her to slide onto the Court unquestioned and unchallenged. Perhaps they will.

But was this really a fight to run from? The odds were favorable. The prize was worthy. The moment was right. What else did we come to Washington for?

Stop Coddling Iraq’s Sunnis

David Frum October 18th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Somewhere, T.E. Lawrence is smiling. The man now mythologized as “Lawrence of Arabia” was the British officer who helped recruit the sheiks of Arabia to the Allied side in the First World War. After the war, Lawrence accused the victorious British and French of breaking faith with the Arabs, shortchanging and cheating them.

Lawrence died in 1929, but his teachings prevailed. It didn’t hurt that those Sunni Arabs turned out to be parked atop the world’s largest oil reserves–or to harbor some of the world’s deadliest terror groups. Guilt, greed, and fear: These three emotions came together to infuse first British and then American elite opinion with vague but powerful feelings of special obligation to the Sunni Arabs of the Middle East and North Africa.

Those feelings of special obligation may explain much about Iraq–and this past weekend’s constitutional referendum.

The big idea behind both the constitution and the referendum was to find some way to entice Iraq’s Sunnis to accept the new regime.

As in Iran, a majority of Iraq’s population are Shiite Muslims. But most of Iraq’s insurgents are recruited from the minority Sunni population, and the towns that support the insurgency are Sunni-majority towns. The suicide bombers who do most of the killing of civilians are believed by U.S. intelligence to come mostly from outside Iraq–but they are Sunni Arabs too, and they are supported and aided by Sunni populations and Sunni-dominated governments throughout the region.

As the story is often told, these Sunni Arab groups have turned to violence because of their anger at foreign intervention in Iraq. But there’s another way to understand the situation in Iraq–a way that is both closer to the truth and more useful to discovering a solution.

The Sunni Arabs of the Middle East and North Africa inherit one of the world’s proudest traditions of conquest and dominance. An Israeli intelligence officer told me this story:

Many years ago, this officer had responsibility for a section of the West Bank. A dispute erupted between local Arabs and nearby Jewish settlers over access to a religious site in the area. He decided in favor of the Arabs and personally visited the local sheik to deliver the good news. He added: “I hope you will see this decision as proof of our good faith toward minority groups.” The sheik exploded: “How dare you call us a minority group–we belong to the ummah of Sunni Islam!”

Underneath that sheik’s anger lay a grand self-perception: He belongs in his mind to a vast global community (which is what the word ummah means) that possesses an inherent right to rule. Nor is this sheik’s perception unique: Half a century of war and violence throughout the Middle East can be traced to the adamant refusal of local Sunni Arab elites to accept the right of non-Sunni, non-Arab communities to exercise power even when they form a local majority: not in Lebanon, not in Israel, not in Kurdistan, and–now–not in Iraq.

Western governments and political elites have acceded to this presumption dangerously often. They are doing it again in Iraq.

After the end of apartheid in South Africa, nobody dared suggest that the country’s new constitution institutionalize special protections for the white minority. The South African constitution did not attempt to mollify whites by declaring South Africa part of a “global community of white nations.” Nor did anyone say that the new post-apartheid regime would be legitimate only if whites accepted it. The constitution protected property rights, civil rights, freedom of speech and religion–but did so equally for everybody. And if South African whites had responded to this new equality by launching a campaign of terrorist murder against the black majority, they would have found zero sympathy. Nobody would have called them “insurgents” or demanded endless rounds of new concessions to them.

But this is just the situation in Iraq.

Those Sunnis who support the insurgency fear, however, that they will lose the power and privilege they enjoyed under the former regime. The new constitution guarantees the Sunni minority a share in the country’s oil wealth. It grants the minority an effective right to veto this constitution and future constitutional changes. It declares that membership in Saddam Hussein’s Baath party will not disqualify Sunnis from holding office in the new government. In other words, the constitution as amended under U.S. pressure is the culmination of two years of attempted conciliation of the country’s former rulers.

If the Arab Sunnis vote to accept the constitution, and if terrorist violence then stops, this strategy of appeasement will at least be able to justify itself as effective. If not, it will be past time to consider a new approach. Until now, the communities that support the insurgency have been treated as constituencies to be wooed. If the constitution fails–or if the constitution succeeds but terrorist violence does not abate–the new Iraqi state will have no choice but to recognize those communities as enemies to be defeated.

The Miers Revolution

David Frum October 11th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

“It’s not a rebellion, sire: It’s a revolution.” With those words, the duke of La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt broke the news to Louis XVI that the Bastille had fallen. Looking back on the events of the past eight days, I wonder whether the Bush White House does not feel the same way.

The President’s decision to replace retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor with his White House counsel and former personal attorney, the underwhelming Harriet Miers, has detonated an uprising within the President’s own party.

Conservative commentators Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Patrick Buchanan, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Michelle Malkin and many, many others have condemned the choice.

Washington’s tight-knit and usually close-mouthed network of conservative jurists and lawyers is dismayed by Miers’ thin record and weak abilities. One Republican lawyer told me of a briefing session to prepare Miers to enter into her duties as White House Counsel a year ago. A panel of lawyers who had served in past Republican White Houses was gathered together. After a couple of hours of questions and answers, Miers left to return to the office. There was a silence. Then somebody hopefully piped up: “Maybe if we can find her a really strong deputy …”

The anger of conservative legalists and opinion leaders is echoed by rank-and-file Republicans. Last week, I asked readers of the conservative National Review Online Web site to tell me how they would vote on the nomination as U.S. senators: They voted 5-1 to reject the nomination. And while the aye votes were usually expressed in cautious and uncertain terms (“I think we just have to trust the President”), the nays were furious (“not just no–hell no!”)

These impressions are confirmed by opinion polls. A CBS poll conducted last week found that the Miers nomination was the most unpopular since Robert Bork’s in 1987. Gallup found that while 77% of self-identified conservatives had supported the Roberts’ choice, only 58% supported Miers. Both those polls were taken before at the very beginning of last week’s spasm of negative media commentary.

CBS last week also released new presidential approval numbers, based on a survey conducted October 3-5. Bush is down to 37%, the lowest presidential approval rating since the Carter years. That number is buoyed, though, by the President’s continued high approval rating among conservatives: 80%.

But Oct. 3 was the date that the Miers nomination was announced. As conservatives digest their disappointment and betrayal, their approval of the President is likely to decline. It’s hard to say how powerful this effect will be overall, but here’s one clue: A poll Monday of 200 right-of-centre bloggers by the RightWingNews.com Web site found that 49% regarded the appointment as a “bad or terrible” decision. Only 9% rated it “good or excellent.” And while 4% of the bloggers said that the decision raised their opinion of President Bush, 53% made them view the President less favourably.

While it would seem unlikely that conservatives overall would react as strongly as these intensely political bloggers, the trend and tendency are both clear.

The problem is made worse by the White House’s publicity campaign in defense of Miers. Advocates of the appointment have accused critics of “sexism” and “elitism”–charges that have been echoed by left-wing Democrats like Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. There are probably few tactics less likely to impress a conservative audience–or more likely to convince that audience that Miers is indeed the unqualified crony her critics say she is.

The only thing worse may be the White House’s second talking point: emphasizing Miers’ personal qualities. Former White House aide David Kuo tells this story in an op-ed posted on the beliefnet.com Web site:

“Harriet used to keep a humidor full of M&Ms in her West Wing office. It wasn’t a huge secret. She’d stash some boxes of the coveted red, white, and blue M&Ms in specially made boxes bearing George W. Bush’s reprinted signature. Her door was always open and the M&Ms were always available. I dared ask one time why they were there. Her answer: ‘I like M&Ms and I like sharing.’”

This anecdote almost invites the retort: Well why don’t we go all the way and put Barney the purple dinosaur on the court?

More seriously, it disregards and insults the seriousness with which conservatives have worked for three decades to bring change to America’s high-handed courts. There is no domestic issue that conservatives care about more, nothing for which individual conservatives have made greater personal sacrifices than to get ready for the day when a conservative president and a Republican Senate would at last hold the power to fill that crucial swing seat on the court.

President Bush’s decision to award that seat to his personal attorney in thanks for her years of service to himself personally has enraged his political base. Ann Coulter expressed that rage in her inimitably astringent way two days after the nomination was announced: “Being on the Supreme Court isn’t like winning a ‘Best Employee of the Month’ award. However nice, helpful, prompt and tidy she is, Harriet Miers isn’t qualified to play a Supreme Court justice on The West Wing, let alone to be a real one.”

Offending your supporters has real-world consequences. With one grave misjudgment, George W. Bush has shattered the coalition that brought and returned him to power in 2000 and 2004.

Alienating The Base

David Frum October 4th, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Monday was the day of the great conservative mutiny against George W. Bush. It is hard to overstate the shock that the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt the President’s supporters, both in Washington and through the country.

John Podhoretz, for example, is the author of a strongly positive 2004 book about the Bush presidency, Bush Country. “The problem with the Miers nomination is that there are a dozen scholarly judges and thinkers, including women, who were unambiguously more qualified for the position,” he wrote on National Review Online yesterday. “Bush passed them over to throw a lifetime bone to his friend and deputy.”

I come to this event with special pain. I believe I was the first journalist to predict the possibility of a Miers appointment, back in July of this year. My thought at that time was that if the President ran into opposition in the Senate to a more conservative nominee, he might fall back on his loyal counselor and friend–who had the merits of being from Texas, being a woman and having no published record of her legal philosophy.

But then the President’s first Supreme Court pick, the superbly qualified John Roberts, sailed right through the Senate. The Republican majority held together, and even many Democrats declined to wage war against a distinguished jurist and appealing personality solely on grounds of ideology. That was an invitation for the President to accept Admiral Hyman Rickover’s challenge to his young officers: “Why not the best?”

An excellent Supreme Court choice was all the more necessary to the President because his conservative political base has rapidly eroded since the November election. Conservatives are unhappy about his immigration amnesty proposals. They are disturbed by the administration’s spending–by the huge looming costs of his new prescription drug benefit–and by the consequent deficits that threaten his tax cut, the great domestic-policy achievement of his presidency.

Katrina also cut into the President’s standing with his supporters, as did the post-Katrina spending binge. But until Monday, as from the beginning, conservatives held faithful because of their hopes that this president would at last turn around the Supreme Court.

Who knows? Those hopes may yet come true. But American conservatives have spent a quarter-century preparing and fielding a cohort of eminently qualified jurists of conservative mind who have proven themselves in the nation’s high courts. Never before has there been so much talent to choose from. Not in 20 years has there been so clear an opportunity for a conservative president to change the direction of the courts. President Bush has instead asked conservatives to take an unknown nominee on faith. And these days that faith is running rather low.

Readers of my column may have seen a Sept. 17 editor’s note on the subject of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada (CAIR-Canada). This note settled a libel action CAIR-Canada and Sheema Khan initiated last year against this newspaper and against me. The action involved two columns I wrote for the Post, one on Oct. 1, 2004, and another on Nov. 23, 2004.

The editor’s note acknowledged that CAIR-Canada does not itself as an organization advocate or promote terrorism. I had thought my original columns were more than clear on that point, but I had no hesitation in making the acknowledgement.

It should also be said that the editor’s note does not constitute an apology or retraction. I continue to stand by the columns and the Sept. 17 editor’s note, and they will remain posted on my Web site, www.davidfrum.com, in the archive for 2004. My supreme interest through the whole course of this litigation has been to defend and maintain the right of a free press to report truthful information about advocacy organizations such as CAIR and CAIR Canada. That interest has now been vindicated.

There are two footnotes to this matter that I’d wish to add to the public record.

In the Oct. 1 column, I took issue with the column written by Sheema Khan, chair of CAIR-Canada, that contained an inflammatory misquotation from the book I co-wrote with Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror . Khan says that the error was not her own. She says she reprinted the misquotation from another source. I am satisfied with Khan’s explanation of the error.

The second footnote concerns CAIR-Canada’s description of its relationship with American CAIR as “close but distinct.” In my Nov. 23 column, I wrote that “it is not clear what this means.” That meaning is a little clearer today.

During a trademark legal proceeding in 2003, Sheema Khan swore an affidavit in which she declared that CAIR-Canada was the Canadian chapter of CAIR and originated in the following manner: “I formed the Ottawa chapter of CAIR UNITED STATES and became Director. We were known as CAIR OTTAWA and in June 2000, we filed a non-profit incorporation with Industry Canada.” The affidavit goes on to state that under the terms of a trademark licence “CAIR United States has direct control over the character and quality of all activities” of her group including the use of its trademark and trade name.

I will shortly be posting copies of the affidavit to the davidfrum.com site, to make this new information available to all who wish to read it.

Why Can’t The Globe Admit Its Mistakes?

David Frum October 1st, 2005 at 12:00 am Comments Off

As reported by the National Post in a Wednesday editorial, the op-ed page of the Globe and Mail recently published a column by National Council on Canada-Arab Relations executive director Mazen Chouaib. In the column, Mr. Chouaib vigorously criticized the National Post and its parent company which he believes harbour an anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias. To support his case, he supplied two quotations from National Post columnist George Jonas–including “Islam is at fault for blowing up civilians” and “[Islam] is the new evil empire” (the square brackets are Mr. Chouaib’s). But as Mr. Jonas reported on these pages two days ago, he never wrote those things. Mr. Chouaib appears to have simply made the quotations up.

Unfortunately this is by no means the first such offence for Canada’s would-be newspaper of record–as I can attest from direct experience.

Alongside Mazen Chouaib, one of the Globe’s regular columnists is the chair of the Canadian branch of the Council of American Islamic Relations, a woman named Sheema Khan. In a June 18 column, Khan did to me and my coauthor Richard Perle exactly what Mazen Chouaib did to George Jonas: She fabricated a quotation by gathering together sentences that appeared 39 pages apart in An End to Evil and presenting them as if they constituted a single paragraph. The resulting pseudo-quote viciously distorted the argument of the book and the personal beliefs of Richard Perle and myself.

Like Jonas, I presented these facts to the editors of the Globe and Mail. And in my case as in his, they declined to correct the record. They allowed me to write a letter to the editor pointing out the error. They refused, however, to make any correction of their own or to print that letter’s final sentence, which warned that Sheema Khan’s organization has a history of unscrupulous behaviour. (The full text of the letter will be found below.)

The Globe retained Khan as a columnist, apparently without reprimand for her malpractice. Understandably, Khan’s ideological associates have interpreted her survival as an open invitation to mimic her journalistic practices. It’s not nearly so understandable that the Globe should open its pages to writers with extremist agendas, without making even the most cursory effort to ascertain whether their work meets the most rudimentary standards of truthfulness.

To the editor of the Globe and Mail : “[T]he U.S. neo-conservative movement has set Islam squarely in its crosshairs.”

So Sheema Khan of the Council of American-Islamic Relations’ Canadian section wrote in the Globe and Mail on June 18. As evidence, Khan quotes from An End to Evil by Richard Perle and myself: “The roots of Muslim rage are to be found in Islam itself. There is no middle way. It is victory or holocaust.”

But this quote was manufactured by Khan herself. The words, “There is no middle way, etc.” appear on page 9 of An End to Evil, and refer to the new dangers posed by terrorists seeking weapons of mass destruction.

The words about “the roots of Muslim rage” appear 39 pages later in the course of a discussion about the rise of extremist ideology in the Muslim Middle East.

At no point do we call for “victory” over Muslims or suggest that the terrorist conflict is a war between East and West. We repeatedly and specifically argue the opposite. Just one example: “But while Americans have no proper quarrel with Islam, a radical strain within Islam has declared war on us.”

Khan’s group, CAIR, has too often served as an apologist for that radical strain within Islam. Her untruthful methods should raise troubling questions in the minds of both her readers and her editors about her larger purposes.