On the Elections, From the Left

Corn diagrams the potential investigative revelations that a newly emboldened Democratic House, and possibly Senate, could unearth. But he warns of potential pitfalls not only for the Democrats, but the nation as well.

David Corn-co-author (along with Michael Isikoff) of Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (available here) and columnist for The Nation-diagrams the potential investigative revelations that a newly emboldened Democratic House, and possibly Senate, could unearth. But in an interview with National Interest online editor, Ximena Ortiz, he warns of potential pitfalls not only for the Democrats, but the nation as well.

TNI: There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding the unlocking of the investigative powers of Congress given a Democratic win in the midterm elections. In light of all the investigative work you completed, along with Michael Isikoff, for your last book, what do you expect Congress to unearth in the coming months? Will these revelations be of historic significance only, or will they shake up policy over the next few months?

David Corn: I just wrote a piece that will be on Tompaine.com shortly (available here) in which I said that indeed the elections will allow the House-and maybe the Senate, too, depending on what happens-to conduct all sorts of investigations. But the Democrats should proceed strategically and tactically with a degree of prudence.

Americans, while they certainly like accountability, don't want to see investigations that are overly acrimonious. There's a wealth of things for the Democrats to choose from, and they should choose wisely. A good example might be to start with Iraq reconstruction. The estimate is that 45 out of 80 billion dollars in taxpayer funds have been wasted there. So who's done this? And who should be held accountable?

That seems to me to be the issue that a lot of people would like, and expect, our Congress to conduct oversight of. Another issue of importance in foreign policy would be the suppression of scientific data about global warming with the Bush Administration's reluctance to do anything significant to address that threat. That, again, is something that I think people would look to as a legitimate investigation with policy components. And that would make good politics for Democrats down the road as they head to 2008.

The book that Michael Isikoff and I wrote focused on the selling of the war in Iraq and the abuse of intelligence. The Senate Intelligence Committee was supposedly looking into this, but it's taking at least three or four years. Even if the public has turned on the war politically speaking-according to public opinion polls-I think, for historical purposes, it might be worthwhile to finally take a good look at how the administration sold the war and come up with ways make sure that the intelligence system functions effectively, with some degree of independence, and that there are avenues for the letting the public in as much as possible on key matters that lead to war.

TNI: And apart from the historical purposes that you mentioned, perhaps such an investigation could slow potential momentum towards a new war, say with Iran?

DC: The administration has lost almost all its credibility on foreign policy. And, unfortunately, for those of us who have been critical of this administration, they're still in power for the next two years. They still have to make key decisions in important new security areas. And it's to nobody's advantage that they cannot be believed if they are indeed telling the truth.

And so, if they discover that Iran-if they discover that country X is indeed about to pass a significant weapon of mass destruction to terrorist group Y, I want them to be able to take action, and to be able to do so with the support of the American public. But I don't want them to be able trump up phony scenarios to get done what it is for other reasons. And so, with sub-hearings that would indeed rake over the old coals of the Iraq War sales campaign, I would hope that they would have a solitary effect on how the security system, including the White House, could operate in the future regarding other real or possible threats.

TNI: Bush's 2004 victory meant that the bill for some of his problematic policies-Iraq, the deficit-would come due under his continuing leadership. Do you think that given a Democratic victory, the Democrats have to split the bill, or the blame, if they fail to redirect policy or at least rally around cohesive proposals.

DC: That's a good question. Last night I met at the victory celebrations Democratic strategists that were hoping that the Democrats wouldn't win back the Senate. And that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely so.

That's because if they control both houses in Congress, they then become 50-50 partners with President Bush-and that means that they're 50-50 partners in  whatever efforts are necessary to clean up the messes that Bush has made, whether it's the long term national debt or the short-term challenges of Iraq. And if they're merely controlling the House, then they can sort of portray themselves as the insurgents running against the incompetent or corrupt Republicans in the White House and the Senate. But if they control the Senate at as well, well then they have to deal with it.

And that raises the ante for them, it raises expectations that they will get things done, particularly on the Iraq front. The Democrats have suffered so far because Bush in Iraq has created a problem for which there may be no solution. You criticize him for screwing the pooch in Iraq, and he counters, "Well, how would you get us out of there?"