Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Got a politician acting like an idiot on video? Tweet us with the hashtag and we might feature it for !

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who said he would “probably” endorse a special someone before the New York presidential primaries — “it won’t be Hillary Clinton. I seriously doubt it will be Ted Cruz” — said in an interview with Bill O’Reilly that “Hillary Clinton could be considered a founding member of ISIS.”

An unusually baffled Bill O’Reilly asked him to explain. “By being part of an administration that withdrew from Iraq. By being part of an administration that let Maliki run Iraq,” Giuliani said, “So you forced the Shiites to make a choice, [and] by not intervening in Syria at the proper time.”

Now that Republicans have stopped trying to convince the world that invading Iraq was a good idea (thanks to Donald Trump, really), they’ve switched to arguing that the rise of ISIS isn’t rooted in George W. Bush’s invasion of the wrong country and his dismantling of one of its largest employers, the Iraqi Army, but rather in Barack Obama’s decision to end the worst foreign policy disaster in American history.

According to George W. Bush’s biographer, when asked about maintaining the Iraqi Army as the foundation of a post-Saddam Iraqi government, Bush replied:

Well, the policy was to keep the army intact. Didn’t happen […] Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, “This is the policy, what happened?”

What did happen? As the Council of Foreign Relations said in 2003 of the nearly-500,000 Iraqis who served in the military:

“It’s difficult to know. The Wall Street Journal, drawing from U.S. and British military reports, estimates that some 3,160 Iraqi soldiers were killed as of April 15. A total of some 13,800 were captured by U.S. and British troops. Many more apparently just removed their uniforms and went home; others, especially higher ranking officers, may have escaped to Syria or other nations.

Experts estimate that much of ISIS’s current leadership — despite its rank-and-file membership being recruited from across the Middle East and the rest of the world — is comprised of former Iraqi military officials. The chorus of former Bush administration officials on this issue is loud and clear: De-Ba’athification — the forcing of anyone associated with Saddam Hussein’s government out of any future Iraqi political or military participation — destroyed one of the most formidable military powers in the region and left a vacuum that only emphasized the radicalizing effects Saddam’s ouster.

George W. Bush himself, in his book Decision Points, admits “Thousands of armed men had just been told they were not wanted. Instead of signing up for the new military, many joined the insurgency.”

And yes, Nouri al-Maliki was a disaster… installed by the Bush administration.

Obviously, this isn’t the whole story. Iraq is a complicated place (we’ve spent 13 years learning that) and trying to “fix” it has only led to chaos and bloodshed. But that’s exactly why the American left has spent much of the 21st century repenting for its initial support, some of them, of the invasion. This isn’t as simple as Rudy Giuliani wants it to be. If it were, he wouldn’t have to worry about ISIS in the first place.

Video courtesy Media Matters

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.