NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: June 10

U.S. seeking 58 bases in Iraq, Shiite lawmakers say

Iraqi lawmakers say the United States is demanding 58 bases as part of a proposed “status of forces” agreement that will allow U.S. troops to remain in the country indefinitely.

Leading members of the two ruling Shiite parties said in a series of interviews the Iraqi government rejected this proposal along with another U.S. demand that would have effectively handed over to the United States the power to determine if a hostile act from another country is aggression against Iraq. Lawmakers said they fear this power would drag Iraq into a war between the United States and Iran.

“The points that were put forth by the Americans were more abominable than the occupation,” said Jalal al Din al Saghir, a leading lawmaker from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. “We were occupied by order of the Security Council,” he said, referring to the 2004 Resolution mandating a U.S. military occupation in Iraq at the head of an international coalition. “But now we are being asked to sign for our own occupation. That is why we have absolutely refused all that we have seen so far.”

The Jim Webb story

Jim Webb, the junior senator from Virginia, who defeated the incumbent Republican George Allen in 2006, is or has been: a best-selling author; a screenwriter (Rules of Engagement, and another in the works); an Emmy-winning documentary producer; the author of a large number of articles and book reviews; an Annapolis graduate; a boxer (he lost a legendary and controversial championship match at Annapolis against Oliver North[1] ); an autodidact who grew up a military man’s son and indifferent student but on his own became a passionate reader of history; a first lieutenant and Marine rifle platoon commander with Delta Company in Vietnam, where he won the Navy Cross for heroism (the second-highest award in the Navy and the Marines), the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and two Purple Hearts; a graduate of Georgetown Law School who then worked on the staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee; a teacher of English literature at the Naval Academy; and an assistant secretary of defense and then secretary of the Navy during the Reagan administration. Webb resigned from that position after losing a long battle to block a reduction in the size of the Navy at a time when the Pentagon was under orders to cut its budget. In The Reagan Diaries, the former president wrote, “I don’t think Navy was sorry to see him go.”

Webb is a serious writer, not a politician who writes books on the side. His first book, Fields of Fire, published in 1978, when Webb was thirty-two, is a sweeping, unflinching novel about Vietnam featuring two of life’s losers who signed up for lack of anything else to do. It conveys with stark vividness, and also a touch of farce, the stench, the filth, the fear, and the bewildering unexpectedness of fighting an elusive enemy in a jungle. Fields of Fire has often been called the best book about Vietnam and likened to the war writing of Norman Mailer and Stephen Crane.

Mad skills

In the spring of 2006, Jim Webb was not yet a rising superstar. In fact, he was late getting started and low on cash in his effort to win the Virginia Democratic primary, so an admiring Roanoke circuit clerk named Steve McGraw took pity on him and agreed to put him up when he came to southwestern Virginia to campaign. Webb quickly established himself as the model houseguest, washing everybody’s chili bowls and shooting pool with McGraw over a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon. But a worry gnawed at McGraw: The rumor about Webb was that behind the noble-war-hero facade lay a man who harbored a volatile, prideful, and possibly unmanageable anger. “I kept looking for it,” confides McGraw. “He started late, with no money. He told me that during the campaign he was sleeping about four hours a night for five months, and he said, ‘I just can’t turn my brain off.’ … I kept saying, ‘Sooner or later, something’s gonna happen.'”

McGraw isn’t the only person who’s kept vigil waiting for Jim Webb to blow. Webb the hair-triggered hothead has become something of a legend here in Washington. Reporters pepper their Webb stories with colorful adjectives like “irascible” and “enraged,” and, throughout town, he’s often whispered of as though he were a mysterious specimen from a foreign and bellicose tribe. As evidence of Webb’s hot streak, Washington social anthropologists point out that he switched party loyalties; that he’s fond of hyperbole (he once called the Naval Academy a “horny woman’s dream”); that he angrily quit his post as Reagan’s Navy secretary; that he snapped at President Bush for asking after his soldier son Jimmy at a November 2006 White House party; and that his legislative aide tried to bring his loaded gun into the Capitol last spring, prompting Webb to explain cryptically that it was important “for a lot of people in the situation that I am in to be able to defend myself and my family. ” (What “situation”? Does he shoot his political enemies?)

The interesting thing about the angry-Webb mythology, though, is that it fascinates just as much as it frightens. Fellow Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill adoringly described Webb as a “street brawler,” capturing the way some Democrats–call them the Jim Webb Orientalists–romanticize Webb’s aggressive, exotically redneck roots and, by extension, his capacity to hormonally invigorate a party sick of its effete, wine-sipping image. Why promote aristocratic Democrats like Al Gore or John Kerry when there’s Webb, who hangs out not with actresses or New York bankers but with the likes of his friend “Mac” McGarvey, a rough-hewn, ex-Marine honky-tonk manager with a nipple ring and only one arm?

Dialogue with dictators? (Video)

NOW’s David Brancaccio talks with the former head of U.S. Central Command, Admiral William J. Fallon, who resigned in March after a year of duty. Fallon was considered to be at odds with the Bush Administration’s Middle East policy toward Iran. The former commander of U.S. military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, Fallon was portrayed in Esquire magazine as the man in the military preventing the administration from going to war with Iran. Fallon thought his profile was twisted into a personal attack on President Bush. Esquire stood by the story.

‘Bush damaged America’s image around the world’

German politicians from both the ruling coalition and the opposition are taking aim at outgoing US President George W. Bush ahead of his week-long farewell trip to Europe. The Iraq war, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib have damaged America’s reputation, they say.

Visits by US presidents to Germany are usually surrounded by an air of history. But the program for George W. Bush’s visit on Tuesday and Wednesday reads as if he’s already left office. There won’t be any grand speeches or symbolic gestures at historic sites.

Instead he’s being put up in an official residence in Brandenburg, about 70 kilometers north of the German capital. It’s a clear sign that Bush is the lame duck of US politics in the remaining months of his deeply controversial eight-year presidency.

McClellan to testify before judiciary committee

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, whose scathing memoir about his time in the Bush administration sent waves through Washington D.C., has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, a senior committee official told The Huffington Post.

McClellan’s book “What Happened” detailed the “propaganda campaign” that led up to the Iraq war. His hearing is expected to focus heavily on the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame, an episode that McClellan has said was driven by political motivations from within the Oval Office. But the committee could press the former press secretary on other matters within its jurisdiction, including the possible authorization of torture by administration officials (though it remains to be seen how much knowledge McClellan has of that topic).

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