This is huge, if a

This is huge, if a long time coming:

Political sources in Jerusalem expressed satisfaction Tuesday at the decision by the United States to recall its envoy from Syria following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

“This step underscores our argument that Syria’s intentions for peace must be treated with caution,” the sources said.

Before departing, U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey delivered a stern note, called a demarche in diplomatic parlance, to the Syrian government, a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, announcing the U.S. move, said that it the Bush administration’s “profound outrage” over Hariri’s assassination.

The administration had earlier condemned Monday’s killing in Beirut of Hariri, the billionaire construction magnate who masterminded the recovery of his country and insisted that Syria comply with a UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said it was still unclear who was responsible for the attack but the United States was consulting with other members of the UN Security Council about how to pressure Syria to leave Lebanon.

“Syria’s presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force,” McClellan said. “The terrorist attack further underscores the importance of letting the Lebanese people control their future.”

Via Charles Johnson. Currently, the only nations we don’t have embassies in, to the best of my knowledge, are Sudan, Libya, Iran, Cuba, and North Korea (yes, we have a special envoy to Sudan, and yes, we don’t have representation in Taiwan (unless you count this), but that isn’t out of bad relations, as this is). So this is huge, and for me, quite bizarre. You see, most of my impressions about the Middle East were formed by news coverage of individual countries. Jordan and Syria were the kinds of countries whose leaders had interviews with Time and Newsweek, and spoke like reasoned, sober policy analysts. I can’t count the number of interviews I’ve read with Bashar Assad. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran were the kind of countries that were shady, suspicious, and generally evil, whose leaders were secretive tyrants. So, to me, Assad just doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would assassinate a former Prime Minister, or support international terror. Of course, he is just that sort of person, and I’m quite glad that it’s finally being made clear that his behavior is intolerable. And it’s not surprising that Bush would be taking action. The war in Iraq was spearheaded by the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which counted prominent neoconservatives Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Richard Perle as members. Those two also belonged to the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon, along with Elliot Abrams, Douglas Feith, and Paula Dobriansky, all current or former high level Bush administration figures. So, it’s not surprising that he’s pursuing a policy of getting Syria out of Lebanon.

If you have any doubts

If you have any doubts of Lynne Stewart’s innocence, read this article:

Her troubles began over a dozen years ago when she undertook the representation of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric convicted in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The sheik, convicted of conspiracy in 1995 along with nine other people, was eventually sentenced to life and imprisoned in a solitary-confinement cell in Minnesota. He was also subjected to highly restrictive “special administrative measures“—designed by the government to silence those whose views or knowledge or influence it considers dangerous.

Despite his conviction, Ms. Stewart continued to advocate for the sheik. But in order to meet with him in prison, she had to sign an agreement abiding by the terms of those SAMs—among them a prohibition against presenting the sheik’s views in public. Stewart needed to see her client. She signed the forms.

The problem was that at some point in her representation, Stewart decided that the only way to ameliorate the sheik’s sentence and the terms of his confinement was to keep his case in the public eye in the hopes that he’d be allowed to serve out his sentence in Egypt. Stewart faced a difficult situation—the right thing for her client was something the government had made her promise not to do. But in Stewart’s mind, the client came first. She called the press.

As a result of that call, Ms. Stewart was herself indicted and charged with lying to the government (for violating the conditions of the SAMs) and with providing material aid to terrorism. Essentially, her decision to advocate for the sheik by talking to the press in order to keep his case in the spotlight was what was on trial. According to the government, by making those statements Stewart herself became part of a terrorist conspiracy.

Read the whole thing; it’s really horrendous what she was subjected to.

Matt Yglesias has a great

Matt Yglesias has a great post on Democrats and trade, framed as a response to Kenneth Baer’s recent New Republic article:

But Kenny makes a really good point with regard to globalization and trade. Here, there quite clearly is a divide between free traders and our opponents, as numerous comments section debates on this site attests. What’s more, as Kenny argues, there’s something extremely problematic about the way Democrats have handled this to date. Kerry basically fudged in hopes of avoiding an intra-party clash. The upshot of that is that he couldn’t adopt a strong message on trade. But as you’ll see if you read Brad Delong’s recent article on trade in The Atlantic, the economic consequences of globalization are about to hit a new and massively important phase. It’s crucially important that the Democrats say something sensible about this. My preference (and Brad’s and, I think, Kenny’s) is that they take a good, correct, liberal free trading position. But from the point of view of pure cynicism, I think you could make a political sale of either liberal free trade or liberal protectionism. What you can’t sell in the face of enormous economic dislocations is muddle and mixed messages. That means forcing the next cycle’s primary candidates to really fight amongst themselves over the issue so that we either nominate someone with a mandate to run as a free trader, or else choose a candidate who’ll run as a protectionist.

There are some policy issues in which there are no opinions, only facts. This is one of those issues. Free trade is good for the economy, for democracy, and for workers abroad. There is no logical reason to oppose it other than F.U.D. – fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Along with evolution, abortion, church-state separation, and gay marriage, this is one of those issues that I just won’t compromise on. Because there is only one right position, and failing to take it would be disastrous. Kerry’s position was disappointing, but better than many, particularly Kucinich, and, more than I was willing to admit, Dean. We need to stand together for trade, or we will start becoming the fact-denying maniacs that are so quickly absorbing the Republican party.

Surprise of the day: I

Surprise of the day: I wouldn’t mind if this prophesy comes true:

Romance is in the air today across the land. But in Washington, the buzz continues about “The Kiss.” No, not Gustav Klimt’s famous painting. It’s the big fat one an exuberant President Bush planted on Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman’s right cheek as he waded through the Capitol crowd after the State of the Union a couple of weeks ago.

The Connecticut Democrat said he didn’t mind it and thought Bush was thanking him for his support of the administration’s foreign policy. Or maybe it was for Lieberman’s not dismissing outright Bush’s Social Security proposal.

Or maybe it was something else. There’s been K Street chatter, our colleague Jeffrey H. Birnbaum tells us, that Lieberman could be on an administration list to replace Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in the next year or so.

That would be convenient for Lieberman, whose term is up in 2006, and could give Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) an opportunity to appoint a Republican to the seat for at least a few months before the election, inching the GOP closer to a filibuster-proof Senate.

Or maybe it’s just love?

Via Taegan Goddard. Why wouldn’t I mind? Well, I’ve basically accepted the fact that Bush is going to stay in Iraq for the foreseeable future. In that case, we need a Defense Secretary who is (1) Firmly committed to the mission and (2) Competent. While Rumsfeld is the first, Lieberman is both. I’m looking forward to his tenure, if it is to exist.

As if Michael Jackson’s trial

As if Michael Jackson’s trial could get more bizarre, it does:

Michael Jackson’s lawyers announced Monday they may call celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor, Diana Ross and Kobe Bryant to the witness stand during the pop star’s molestation trial.

The list of possible witnesses sounded like coming attractions for a major Hollywood spectacle: “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, producer Quincy Jones, actor Chris Tucker and singer Stevie Wonder, along with Taylor, Ross and Bryant.

Via Joe Gandelman. Pinch me.

Here’s a post full of

Here’s a post full of insinuations that we should grab onto, even if it doesn’t turn out to be true:

Some question whether Gannon may have leveraged a personal intimate relationship with someone at the White House to gain access to President Bush. Guckert also says he was given access to an internal memorandum which named then-covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Such leveraging of personal relationships have seen increased scrutiny after the resignation of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey, who admitted to having an affair with a male staff member.

Sources have intimated possible relationships with members of the White House staff. Guckert did not respond to requests for comment.

RAW STORY has been told that the White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan visited a gay bar in Austin, Texas, on March 19, 1995. The date was placed exactly as a local memorial service was held on the same day.

The source, who would only comment on condition of anonymity, reserved comment on whether McClellan was actually gay, but said he was frequently seen at gay clubs. Another source also confirmed this account.

“He was often seen in gay clubs in Austin, Texas and was comfortable being there,” the Texan said. “He’s been seen in places that normal people who are looking for heterosexual relationships are not seen alone.”

According to a White House transcript, McClellan is married, and Gannon sent the press secretary a wedding card. The White House, however, declined to comment.

Via Joe Gandelman. A prostitute who was hired by the press secretary exerts influence over administration policy? Sounds worse than anything we’ve seen in the last 4, or, for that matter, 18 (Iran-Contra) years. Impeachment, no, but certainly delicious. Why isn’t it being picked up? Republicans have run with less.

P.S. Just to be clear, there really is no evidence that the relationship between Gannon and McClellan reached outside the White House press room. Even if McClellan is gay, the evidence for which is still quite shaky, it’s a huge leap from that to him hiring Gannon. These are allegations and insinuations, and should not be treated as facts. I just found the gossip delicious.

Matt Yglesias, helped by Mark

Matt Yglesias, helped by Mark Schmitt, diagnoses the problem with the Democratic party as the fact that it’s composed of various special interests and lobbying groups – labor, environment, health care, education – rather than being driven by an ideology. Intriguing idea, but I don’t think it’s that simple. The reason that those interests flock to the Democrat party is because its ideology is supportive of their causes. Those interests have since enveloped the party, and made our ideology vague and distant. If we’re ever going to succeed, we have to define that ideology.

As what, then? Well, let’s start on the things we agree on:

  • Our private lives are private, and none of the government’s business.
  • In an ideal world, all would have the basic necessities needed for survival: health care, food, money.
  • Our foreign policy should focus on protecting Americans’ security above all else.
    What we disagree on is the means by which to achieve the above goals. Liberals believe in a complete hands-off government policy in private lives, including the decriminalization of drugs and prostitution. Centrists tend to oppose decriminalization because of drugs’ links to crime. Liberals believe in the government just giving away all necessities – free health care, food, welfare. Centrists demand accountability, and fiscal discipline. Liberals believe that we must always get approval of the UN and NATO, and not kill any civilians. Centrists believe that we must go it alone if necessary, and that civilian casualties are inevitable.

    What to do, what to do? If we are to remain together as one party, we have to agree on a compromise on our means. I’d propose the following:

  • Ignore social issues; the public is overwhelming against decriminalization, and no one thinks it’s a major issue.
  • Agree to some accountability, like a work requirement in welfare – but make the benefits generous for those who make the cut. Additionally, agree to expand health care for the middle class and the disabled, and eliminate all government premiums, but don’t create a single-payer system. In short, make benefits generous, but limit them to those who really need them.
  • Always seek, seriously, UN and NATO support for actions, and be willing to make compromises with other nations. Only act unilaterally when absolutely necessary – not preemptively.
    Would these annoy some people? Yes. But I think we can see from the Republican party that there is room for compromise on these things. Take Medicare reform: some Republicans opposed it from the left, thinking it too HMO-dependent, and some opposed it from the right, thinking it too costly. But, in the end, the party came around to pass the bill. If we can put aside our differences to work toward a shared goal, as Republicans have, we can finally be successful.