Thursday, June 22, 2006

Santorum's failed weapon of mass distraction

There are probably many reasons why Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is widely viewed as the most vulnerable Republican incumbent of the '06 election season -- a perception underscored this week by a new Quinnipiac poll that shows him trailing Democratic challenger Bob Casey Jr. by a whopping 18 points. I would bet that key factors are his stalwart loyalty to a president who has become broadly unpopular statewide, and to a war that has similarly become an albatross.

Consider what happened yesterday during the Senate debate on Iraq. Santorum
called a press conference and made a dramatic announcement: "We have found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." Citing a newly declassified report, he declared, "This is an incredibly, in my mind, significant finding."

Stop the presses! Wait, let me amend that: Stop the conservative presses! did a piece, which is linked this morning on The Drudge Report, and referenced by Newsmax, an online conservative digest. On the air, Fox News host John Gibson told viewers, "Rick Santorum announcing a startling find....In fact, WMDs were found in Iraq.” The National Review website also posted some material, which is linked today on, and Santorum visited the friendly confines of the Hugh Hewitt radio show ("You've made some news today," said Hewitt).

I should also mention that, right on schedule, my email box was flooded this morning with grassroots enthusiasts eager to share the great news, and to suggest that anyone who has ever questioned President Bush might take this opportunity to eat crow.

There's only one problem with Santorum's "significant finding": The fact that it's not significant.

This purported revelation about the 500 chemical munition shells has already been knocked down by: Bush himself, the White House's Iraq Survey Group, and (yesterday) a senior Defense Department official. In addition, a Bush national security official refused today to characterize the story as important; last Sunday, when Bush press secretary Tony Snow was first asked about it, he simply brushed it off.

The shells, found buried in 2004 near the Iranian border, were leftovers from Iraq's war with Iran, which ended in 1988; U.S. inspectors have long concluded that these shells were no longer active, and should not be categorized as part of the WMD stockpile that Saddam Hussein supposedly possessed on the eve of the American invasion. Even the declassified document cited by Santorum points out that the shells were "degraded."

Indeed, the Iraq Survey Group, led by Charles Duelfer, concluded two years ago that Hussein "unilaterally" destroyed his active chemical weapons in 1991, and wrote that "there are no credible indications that (he) resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter."

But what about old stuff from the old days that might still be around somewhere? Should that stuff be considered dangerous? Aren't those to be considered WMDs?

The ISG addressed those questions, and said no. It concluded on Sept. 30, 2004 that, while there was a "possibility" that some weapons still existed in Iraq, those weapons were "not of a militarily significant capability."

A week later, Bush accepted those conclusions, saying: "The chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, has now issued a comprehensive report that confirms the earlier conclusion of (U.S. weapons inspector) David Kay that Iraq did not have the weapons that our intelligence believed were there."

Even felt compelled to add a caveat last night, although it waited until the 10th paragraph before providing the information that undercut the first nine paragraphs: "Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions. 'This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991,' the official said, adding the munitions 'are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war.'"

Even Minneapolis lawyer John Hinderaker, a prominent conservative blogger and reliable Bush administration defender, while trying his best last night to trumpet the chemical shells as a significant find, nevertheless conceded that "what they're talking about is old munitions left over from, presumably, before the first Gulf War. This doesn't appear to constitute evidence that Saddam's regime had continued to manufacture chemical weapons in more recent years."

These various factual caveats, however, didn't stop various conservative analysts from hoping for the best. On a Fox News Special Report last night, commentator Fred Barnes (who is close to Karl Rove) spun the "story" thusly: "While these are pre-1991 weapons, and there might have been difficulty firing them, they could have used the material in them, sarin, and mustard gas, used that for a weapons program which was dormant."

But to Fox's credit, talk show co-host Alan Colmes confronted Santorum last night. First he quoted from the Duelfer report. Then he said, "The (Defense) official went on to say these are not the WMD’s this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had and not the WMD’s for which this country went to war. So the chest beating (that) Republicans are doing tonight, thinking this is a justification, is not confirmed by the Defense Department."

Santorum's response: "I'd like to know who that is. The fact of the matter is, I’ll wait and see what the actual Defense Department formally says or more important what the administration formally says."

Translation: "Uh, uh, uh..."

No wonder the apparent Bob Casey campaign strategy is to just let Santorum keep talking.

And, in closing, let me pose the most obvious question of all: If this report was really so revelatory, then why was it released by a senator with a 38 percent approval rating in his home state? Wouldn't the White House have insisted on announcing the good news, perhaps by having Bush parachute into the Green Zone with a cordless mike attached to his flight suit?

At his press conference, Santorum had an answer for that. Sort of. It went like this: "I think that's a question you have to ask them. It's certainly a question that we have asked them. You'd have to ask them."

Stephen Bainbridge, a UCLA law professor and a respected conservative blogger, was also pondering that matter today. After dismissing Santorum's scoop as "no big deal" and "nothing new," he answered his own question:

"Finally, why is a politico in the middle of the election fight of his life making this announcement instead of the Administration? It looks like more GOP politicization of intelligence."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cutting and running on immigration reform

This past spring, pollsters began to notice that a growing number of conservative Republicans were bailing out on President Bush -- I noted this trend in a May newspaper column -- and today we are witnessing its effects quite dramatically.

The House Republicans' decision to essentially deep-six Bush's "guest worker" immigration plan -- by scheduling summer "field hearings" that will undoubtedly attract lots of conservative voters who hate the Bush plan -- is a direct rebuke to the leader whom they have previously served so loyally. The House Republicans have basically decided that their best hope for survival, in a tough election year, is to curry favor with these anti-immigrant/enforcement-first voters, and not to bond with a politically weakened president who is not in sync with sentiment in his own base.

By dragging their feet -- by deciding to whip up conservatives and talk radio, instead of hunkering down with their Senate counterparts and crafting a compromise reform law that would at least clarify the status of illegals -- House Republicans have opted to go into campaign mode. Bush has long been pushing a long-term "guest worker" solution, with help from the Senate GOP, but it's clear that the base is taking a different road.

This is vivid evidence of Bush's waning political capital. Bush strategist Karl Rove was trying to sell some small business owners on the guest-worker plan yesterday -- even as a group of notable conservatives publicly called on Bush to drop the plan (which they assail as "amnesty")because it alienates, in their estimation, 85 percent of congressional Republicans.

Indeed, Brian Bilbray, the Republican victor in a special congressional election two weeks ago, apparently won because his pitch for tougher border security -- and his opposition to the Bush plan -- made him acceptable to conservative voters in his California district, not far from the Mexican border. Bilbray didn't exactly mince words; on election eve, he said on the radio: "To the Bush Administration, to the Senate flat out, (my message is) no amnesty. The message ought to be that....What don't you get about the word 'illegal?'"

John Gizzi, a political reporter for the conservative publication Human Events, sampled grassroots conservative opinion in California and detected hostility to the Bush White House on this issue. For instance: "Orange County's Jon Fleischman, editor of the widely-read, on-line political newsletter Flash Report, told me flatly that the Administration's stand on illegal immigration is 'horrible' for the GOP in California. In his words, 'Between its support of amnesty and its support of big government, the Bush Administration does an awful lot to demoralize Republicans out here.' When I asked former State GOP Chairman Shawn Steel if the administration was out of touch on the illegal immigration with party activists, he replied without hesitation: 'Badly. And you hear that phrase, out of touch, all the time at party meetings. That's the view of the vast majority of Republicans here and, if it continues, it will be very destructive to us."

Political survival trumps policy right now. Bush is not on the ballot this year; House Republicans are. They have noticed that the enforcement-first message is polling well among grassroots conservatives (it has become an emotional issue, on a par with Second Amendment gun rights) , and Speaker Dennis Hastert has reportedly conveyed that to the White House. At a time when these voters have become disillusioned with Bush for many reasons, House Republicans don't want to give them another excuse to stay home on election day.

In a sense, this stalemate may have been inevitable, given the fact that the issue splits the GOP coalition, dividing the big-business camp (pro-guest worker) from the conservative base. Nothing is likely to be worked out until after the election. And the stalemate is also a big reminder that it's not only the Democrats (on Iraq) who are divided among themselves; in this particular case, it's the Republicans who, when confronted with the challenge of enacting meaningful immigration reform, have opted to cut and run.

Goodbye to Journalism 101 stenography

I interrupt my usual format to bring you this brief riff on the journalism trade. It's my general policy never to respond to the comments posted on this blog, because my basic feeling is that, after I have my say, readers should have theirs without any blowback from me. But today I want to make a rare exception.

Yesterday, after I poked at the Associated Press for failing to fact-check Dick Cheney and thereby allow him to utter a demonstrably false remark, somebody named Anonymous complained that "the AP article was a straight news story. Straight news stories are supposed to report facts and what was said. Separate analysis or commentary articles would then debate the merits of what Cheney said. That's journalism 101."

I disagree. Anonymous tell us that "straight news are supposed to report facts and what was said," but, under that outmoded definition, journalists are mere stenographers, copying down whatever a politician wants to say, and passing it along to readers who often lack the time to determine whether the remarks were true. Under that so-called "objectivity" standard, a politician is free to dissemble without being challenged.

I don't feel that we should be content with passing along misinformation in "straight" stories. The reader deserves a full context, and that means politicians should be fact-checked -- a job that's relatively quick and easy to do, in the Google era. Providing accurate factual context is not "commentary." It's what "straight" reporting should be about.

It always helps to remember the lesson of Senator Joe McCarthy. The 1950s demagogue, whose inaccurate red-baiting wrecked careers and drove people to suicide, was enabled at every step of the way by journalists who believed their job was to only report "what was said." McCarthy was a senator, therefore, if he said something (true or not), it was deemed news. When he made wild charges about 60 or 80 or 100 communists in the State Department, it was reported as news. The "fact" that he was making such charges was considered sufficient; as the New York Times wrote back then, after reviewing their own McCarthy coverage, "It is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore charges by Senator McCarthy just because they are usually proved false. The remedy lies with the reader."

Washington reporter Richard Rovere, in a book he wrote two years after the senator's death, complained about "the system that required (reporters) to publish 'news' they knew to be fraudulent but prohibited them from reporting their knowledge of its fradulence."

In today's world, given the credibility problems that have plagued administrations of both parties, that "system" is not an adequate. Nor was it then.

Yesterday, Tom Ricks of The Washington Post demonstrated how fact-checking is crucial in a "straight" story. He dealt with Cheney this way, in three grafs:

"Despite Cheney's assertion that no one foresaw how difficult the post-invasion phase would be, defense and Middle East experts have said that administration officials during the run-up to the war ignored their warnings about potential obstacles ahead.

"For example, a group of specialists who met at the Army War College in December 2002, three months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, warned: 'The possibility of the United States winning the war and losing the peace is real and serious.' Iraq had been strained by decades of misrule, wars and sanctions, they observed, noting that 'if the United States assumes control of Iraq, it will therefore assume control of a badly battered economy.' The writers of the Army report emphasized that Iraq was going to be tougher than the administration was acknowledging publicly. 'Successful occupation will not occur unless the special circumstances of this unusual country' are heeded, they warned.

"Likewise, 70 national security experts and Middle East scholars met about the same time for two days at the National Defense University and then issued a report concluding that occupying Iraq 'will be the most daunting and complex task the U.S. and the international community will have undertaken since the end of World War II.' One participant, Army Col. Paul Hughes, sent a copy of the conference report to the office of Douglas J. Feith, then the undersecretary of defense for policy, but 'never heard back from him or anyone else' over there, he said."

Well, I had the Army War College example, but not those 70 experts. Wish I had thought of that. All told, the Ricks piece was textbook Journalism 101, as it should be taught.

How he spent his summer vacation

I neglected yesterday, while discussing Ron Suskind's new book, to cite perhaps the most noteworthy little tidbit. So here it is:

Remember the flap over the pre-9/11 document that President Bush was given on August 6, 2001? The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) that was entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States"? We already know, from Condoleezza Rice's May 2004 testimony to the 9/11 Commission, that she didn't consider that PDB to be anything worth worrying about; as she said in her testimony, "It was not a particular threat report"; rather, it was merely "historical information."

Did her boss, who was in the midst of enjoying his summer sojourn in Texas, respond with any sense of urgency? Apparently not, according to Suskind's inside sources:

A CIA official briefed Bush on the PDB. Bush listened. Then Bush said, "All right. You've covered your ass now."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The doctrine of "plausible deniability"

It is an article of faith among President Bush's critics that he lied us into a war in Iraq (a charge that Bush's defenders categorically dismiss). But now comes author Ron Suskind, with a new book about the Bush administration, entitled The One Percent Doctrine, with a different take on that accusation:

He basically argues that Bush didn't literally lie (a liar is somebody who has true knowledge, then consciously falsifies it). Rather, Suskind says that Bush was allowed to tell the truth as he saw it, based only on the partial information with which he was provided.

In other words, Bush was kept in the dark about a lot of stuff that would have undercut his prewar spin about the allegedly dire and urgent threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Suskind is the writer who made a splash with magazine articles that depicted Bush as incurious and ill-informed, and featured a White House aide speaking disdainfully of "the reality-based community." He also wrote a book with former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill, who saw Bush as disengaged, "like a blind man in a room full of deaf people." Suskind's new book, released this week, is based on material gathered from sources at the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, State Department, and Treasury Department.

He basically makes the case that Bush on many prewar occasions was not fully briefed (thanks to Vice President Cheney and his people), and that at other times Bush failed to master the paperwork he was given. Suskind reports that, in the fall of 2002, Bush didn't read the full National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), a document that buried its numerous caveats (Hussein hadn't shown much interest in attacking the U.S.; Hussein had no imminent WMD program; Hussein had few contacts with al Qaeda) back in the footnotes.

Here's a money quote from Suskind: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush -- much of it shrouded, as well, by classification -- meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements...Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial. It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire NIE would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much."

All told, Suskind said this morning on NBC's Today Show, "Bush is an action-based man, but he operates within a framework that Cheney largely designed."

Then there were the instances, detailed by Suskind, when Bush went public with claims that were flatly contradicted by the briefings he already had received. These days, most Americans tell pollsters that Bush can't be trusted to tell the truth about Iraq; if this book is widely read, his credibility will take yet another hit, because Suskind cites fact-twistings that took place long before the Iraq war was launched.

Example: the case of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. Citing his inside sources, Suskind reports that Zubayah was dismissed by federal officials as mentally unstable, even insane, and that, rather than being a terrorist mastermind, he was actually assigned to minor tasks, such as arranging travel for wives and kids. The CIA relayed all this to Bush and Cheney in a briefing -- whereupon, two weeks later, Bush told the American people that Zubaydah was "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States."

Soon after, according to Suskind, Bush met with CIA chief George Tenent and essentially instructed Tenent to get evidence from Zubaydah that would confirm Bush's public misstatement. Bush reportedly said to Tenent, "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" No sir, said the subordinate. After that, Zubaydah was subjected to all the latest torture techniques: simulated drowning, death threats, sleep deprivation, earsplitting noise, denial of medication...and as a result, Zubaydah talked about all kinds of plots, against nuclear plants, monuments, apartment buildings, malls, banks. Security forces fanned out in panic, but none of his claims panned out. What it all meant, writes Suskind, is that American officials "would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

...All of this, in order to help the president "save face."

Meanwhile, we also have Dick Cheney's doctrine of wilfull deniability. Yesterday, during an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, he insisted again that the insurgency is in its "last throes" (a view contradicted by the reality-based stats collected by the Brookings Institution; its latest index reports that the number of insurgents has risen by 25 percent since May 2005, and that the number of daily attacks by insurgents have risen by 28 percent since May 2005).

Cheney also stated yesterday: "I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we have encountered." The Associated Press dutifully quoted that remark without fact-checking it, thereby leaving the impression that Cheney was right.

But Cheney was wrong. Many prewar reports anticipated serious insurgent violence. Here's one, from the Army War College, February 2003: "A force intially viewed as liberators can rapidly be relegated to the status of invaders should an unwelcome occupation continue for a long time...The longer a U.S. occupation continues, the more danger exists that elements of the Iraqi population will become impatient and take violent measures to hasten the departure of U.S. forces....The impact of suicide bombing attacks in Israel goes beyond their numbers, and this fact will also capture the imagination of would-be Iraqi terrorists.”

That report did caution, however, that a "premature" U.S. withdrawal would aggravate instability and perhaps provoke civil war. Bush administration supporters could cite that line as justification for their current stay-the-course posture. However, a new CNN poll suggests that most Americans are fed up. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they want the Bush team to set a withdrawal timetable, preferably pulling out within a year; only 41 percent said no to a timetable. And that's a big shift from six months ago, when the same pollsters found the public evenly divided on that issue.

If this is indeed an accurate reading of the public mood -- if, in other words, a pullout timetable is now the "centrist" position -- it will be instructive to track the Democratic response. Senate Democrats are currently offering two Iraq amendments to a pending defense bill: "let's pull out by summer '07" (sponsored by John Kerry and Russ Feingold); and a "let's start a pull out, but not with a date certain" (championed by Carl Levin and Jack Reed). No doubt the latter will get a lot more Democratic votes. Despite the shifting polls, and the growing mountain of evidence gathered by sleuths such as Suskind, most Democrats remain fearful of feeling pain from Karl Rove's lash.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sticking it to Joe, the sequel

Once again, Al Gore has tried to put the brakes on Joe-mentum.

Back in December 2003, Gore stuck it to his '00 running mate, Joe Lieberman, when the latter was trying to kick-start his own '04 presidential campaign. Without notifying Lieberman in advance, Gore endorsed Howard Dean. I saw Lieberman the day it happened, in Durham, New Hampshire, and the guy could not hide the fact that he was stunned and hurt. Lieberman's staunch support for the Iraq war clearly was a factor in Gore's decision.

Now it's happened again. Lieberman, as I mentioned again Friday, is fighting for his political life in Connecticut, where the senator faces a tough challenge from antiwar candidate Ned Lamont in an Aug. 8 Democratic primary. And when Gore was asked this weekend by Bloomberg who he supported, he replied:

"I am not involved. I typically do not get involved in Democratic primaries. Joe is my close friend, Joe and Hadassah are close to Tipper and me and it would be very difficult for me to ever oppose him. But I don't get involved in primaries typically. He's a great guy and he's right on a lot of other issues."

First of all, Gore did get involved in those '04 Democratic primaries. And as for the line about it being "very difficult for me ever to oppose him"...well, he did oppose him once already. But this rift probably goes beyond their fundamental disagreement over the war. Gore is also broadly in tune with the left-leaning blogosphere, which has been campaigning for Lieberman's scalp. I doubt that Joe and Hadassah will be supping with their "close friends" Al and Tipper any time soon.

Meanwhile, regarding Gore, this is interesting: a new CNN poll finds that Gore, as a prospective '08 candidate, has the highest negative rating of any Democrat. The poll reports that 48 percent of Americans would not consider voting for him if he ran again. Perhaps that helps to explain why his name never appears in the movie ad for An Inconvenient Truth. In order to make money, the filmmakers need to attract the patrons who care about global warming but don't necessarily care for Gore.

Happy father's day from Fox: the delusionists versus the clueless

As I intimated in my latest newspaper column, '06 swing voters concerned about Iraq seem to have two imperfect choices: they can either support the united Republican party that wants to "stay the course" and compound its documented errors; or they can support the divided Democratic party that has been mulling this war for three years, yet still doesn't have a clue what to do.

So take your pick: the delusionists or the clueless. Both teams were vividly represented yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

First up was Tony Snow, the new White House flak, spinning lines that probably work best with an audience of amnesiacs. For instance, revisiting the bad old days of Saddam Hussein, he remarked that clearly the dictator "was determined to try, to the best of his ability, to have a robust program of weapons of mass destruction at the earliest opportunity...Saddam Hussein had ambitions of WMDs."

I know this is shocking, but those remarks went unchallenged by the Fox News anchor, Chris Wallace. Somehow it was not deemed to be fair and balanced to point out to Snow, the ex-Fox News commentator, that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were on record numerous times in 2002, contending that Hussein had far more than "ambitions," and that Hussein was not merely "determined to try" -- but that, quite the contrary, he had already succeeded in amassing WMDs that were already poised to be launched at the U.S. and its allies.

None of those '02 remarks -- about "grave and gathering threats," about "reconsituted nuclear weapons," about "mushroom clouds" (that was from Condolleezza Rice) -- appeared on the big screen. Instead, we moved right along, as Snow made the argument that the terrorists in Iraq are trying to "chip away American support for engagement."

Chip away American support...that remark was too much even for Wallace, who then made the obvious point that American support for the war has not been "chipped away," it has already gone into the tank. He put up some new poll numbers on the screen, poll numbers gathered by Fox News: 37 percent of Americans support Bush's handling of the war; 50 percent say the Iraq war has made us less safe at home, with 43 percent saying otherwise; and 59 percent say that the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi won't make any difference.

Snow tried to answer by changing the subject and arguing why a fixed withdrawal timetable would be bad, which wasn't the question. Wallace pinned him down by then asking, "don't you have to show measurable progress by November," or risk big losses in the '06 elections?

Snow replied by lauding Bush's "leadership," which he said is hampered by media coverage --
specificially, "from a video standpoint, somebody can blow up a car in a marketplace in Baghdad, and get headlines the world over."

We have been hearing this "media is undermining our president" rationale for many months, usually from the president himself. It is fatuous. In reality, "from a video standpoint," virtually none of the most horrific violence in Iraq is being shown on TV screens in America. I am referring to the many hundreds of headless corpses and mutilated bodies that turn up every day, courtesy of the sectarian militia violence that -- according to the best think tank metrics -- has increased by 1150 percent during the past 12 months.

Speaking of metrics, Snow said hopefully that "there are some metrics you can use, to measure progress," such as increases in electricity production. He didn't mention -- and Wallace didn't, either -- that residents of Baghdad now receive less daily electricity than they had under Saddam.

That was it for Snow (who moved on to the other talk shows, contending at one point on CNN that the current comeback of the Taliban in Afghanistan is "predictable" -- another of those remarks aimed at amnesiacs who may not recall that, in September 2004, Bush stated that the "Taliban no longer is in existence"). And Fox News viewers were then treated with a visit from two Democrats...who couldn't provide basic information about where their party stands on Iraq.

Strategist Simon Rosenberg began by saying "the Democrats are very unified." But a few minutes later, when Wallace pointed out that the new Democratic campaign agenda doesn't even mention Iraq, strategist John Podesta replied: "It'd be better if we Democrats were united around one plan."

Podesta, a former Clinton White House aide, tried to explain: "(Democrats) don't have agreement on all of what should be in that platform. Maybe they can try to get that by November. But, you know, seriously, unity isn't everything."

Unity isn't everything...

Never mind, let's keep going: Wallace then asked, how is a swing voter supposed to support the Democrats when they can't decide what to do about Iraq?

Rosenberg: "Democrats are talking about Iraq quite a bit over the last few years....We have fulfilled our patriotic role here, which is to make sure that we're...coming up with the right policy for the American people."

Wallace: But what is that policy?

Rosenberg: "I think we're having a debate about that."

My words fail. So I'll just turn this over to Frank Rich, who wrote yesterday in his Times column that "as long as the Democrats keep repeating their own mistakes, they will lose to the party whose mistakes are, if nothing else, packaged as one heckuva show. It's better to have the courage of bad convictions than no courage or convictions at all."


UPDATE: The Senate Democrats say they're working on a policy. This afternoon, they plan to unveil a resolution calling on Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. troops this year, although they are reportedly skittish about positing a specific timeline. I doubt that will satisfy the liberal wing, which last week applauded Sen. John Kerry's date-certain stance, but at least the Senate Democratic approach might at least convey the intended impression that the party, or at least its Senate wing, has some kind of position on which most can agree.