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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Niceness reigns in capital, for now
By PHILIP GAILEY
Published November 12, 2006
Between the Iraq war and congressional scandals, President Bush and the Republicans all but handed Democrats the election victory that broke the back of GOP rule on Capitol Hill. And as a signal that he may be open to change in his Iraq policy, Bush then handed them Donald Rumsfeld's head as a trophy.
It's not clear what kind of salvage operation Robert Gates, Bush's choice to replace Rumsfeld as defense secretary, or congressional Democrats have in mind for Iraq at this late date. They face only agonizing choices, none of which is likely to quell the sectarian violence in that stricken country.
In the campaign, it was easy for Democrats to call for Rumsfeld's dismissal and denounce the administration's incompetence and recklessness in Iraq. But they offered only ill-defined suggestions on what they would do differently, probably because there is no firm consensus among Democrats on an exit strategy. That is about to change.
Now that they don't have Rumsfeld to kick around, Democrats will have to flesh out what they mean when they speak of "a new direction" and "phased redeployment" and "timelines" in Iraq. If they are not careful, Democrats could wind up owning a piece of the Iraq debacle just as they shift their attention to winning the White House in 2008. They say they want to have a say in shaping Iraq policy, but with that comes responsibility and accountability for how things turn out. Bush may oblige them and invite them into his war room at a time when there is probably little or nothing to be done to head off a miserable outcome in Iraq. Since Democrats were in on the takeoff, it seems fitting that they be in on the landing.
Like Bush, Democrats probably are hoping the Iraq Study Group co-chaired by former Secretary of State Jim Baker and former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton will come up with a plan they can get behind. About all we know is that Baker thinks the administration should open talks with Iran and Syria as part of an effort to find a regional solution to Iraq.
It's amazing what a difference a good political "thumping," as Bush called the results, can make in Washington, not only in the war debate but in the political atmospherics of the capital city. Postelection comity never lasts, of course, but we should savor it while we can.
The day after the election, Democrats and Republicans were singing from the same bipartisan hymn book, promising cooperation, civility and reconciliation, virtues that haven't been on display in Washington since the Bush-Cheney gang rode into town. The normally gruff and partisan Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., cautioned young Democrats to resist the urge to take revenge on House Republicans who treated the Democratic minority like dirt for 12 years.
The only discordant note was struck by liberal bloggers still hallucinating about impeachment, something that Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker-in-waiting, vows is not going to happen. Some hearings, she said, but no marching the president off to the impeachment gallows.
At his postelection news conference, Bush came across as a politically humbled president who promised to play nice with the same Democrats he denounced in the campaign as appeasers of terrorists. "The message yesterday was clear: The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner, and work together to address the challenges facing our nation," said Bush.
The polls shouted that message most of the year. How could Bush and Karl Rove have missed hearing that freight train coming at them?
The only thing more dubious than the outbreak of civility in Washington was the sincerity of Saddam Hussein's appeal for peace among warring factions in Iraq. "I call upon all Iraqis - Arabs and Kurds - to forgive, reconcile and shake hands," the Butcher of Baghdad said at his first court appearance since being sentenced to death.
Rumsfeld must wonder why he has not been a beneficiary of the postelection spirit of reconciliation wafting through Washington. In a way, resignation is too good for Rumsfeld. He gets to walk away from the mess in Iraq, leaving Bush and Cheney to try to hang tough against Democrats while Baker and Gates - both members of Bush 41's national security team - try to rescue what is left of Bush 43's crumbling presidency.
The commander in chief is still talking about victory in Iraq; the Democrats are talking about a way out. If Bush can find common ground on Iraq policy with the Pelosi Democrats, then maybe there is hope that Sunnis and Shiites will stop slaughtering each other before Iraq sinks deeper into a bloody civil war.