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not to change the subject, but...

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Message Jayne Stahl
Last Thursday night, I went to a book signing, and talk by former assistant and senior advisor to Bill Clinton, columnist for The Guardian of London, staff writer for "The New Yorker," and "The Washington Post," Sidney Blumenthal, who is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University of Law and Security. The party was graciously hosted by Teddi Winograd, mother of Marcy Winograd, president of the Progressive Democrats of America Los Angeles chapter, and recent candidate for Congress in the 36th District.

The soiree was to celebrate publication of Mr. Blumenthal's latest book, "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime," as well as to give members of the audience, many of whom were grass roots of PDA, a chance to discuss some of the crucial issues the book raises, such as the radical nature of what Blumenthal calls the Bush "regime," in terms of the role the president plays, as well as the precedent he sets for governing. As the author rightly observes, everything is turned upside down; the Bushies have become the extremists, revolutionaries, and, indeed, their country's Bolshevik. Moreover, those of us, back in the late 60's, who were speaking up for civil rights, now find ourselves working to protect and defend the Bill of Rights, an enterprise formerly considered conservative.

But, among the most stunning arguments Blumenthal makes is that there is nothing random, or haphazard, about this administration's efforts to imbue the executive branch with powers previously reserved for kings and deities, but instead it was Bush and Cheney's intention to deliberately transform the concept of the presidency, and governing in America, such that the president becomes the precedent.

What a compelling discussion the author generated with such probity, and elegance. More memorable still was the enthusiasm generated by a candid irreverence which one seldom expects to find especially from one who confesses to be among those insiders currently embedded in Washington, D.C. The dialogue got red hot when the subject of Iran came up with several sweaty, squirming hands lifted in the air, and members of the audience virtually jumping off their seats to ask the man who was among the closest to
Bill Clinton of anyone whether or not he thought an invasion of Iran was imminent. I watched as Mr. Blumenthal took a deep breath, paused, then noted that, while there may be plans for regime change in Iran, as Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter claim, he didn't think it would happen before the 2008 election because, as he put it, "our troops have another engagement." And indeed they do! And those of us who want to see regime change in Washington had better not forget that.

Blumenthal was right to field the Iran question, and change the subject. It's irresponsible on the part of anyone who wants to see a changing of the guards, on election day, to raise the specter of invasion, and occupation of Iran when we're in the middle of a full-fledged war in neighboring Iraq, a war which has reportedly claimed the lives of more than 650,000 Iraqi civilians, as well as 3,000 American service men and women. Any effort to deflect attention away from a conflict which becomes increasingly more noxious, and injurious to the country we plundered in the name of exporting democracy will do serious damage not merely to the prospects of voting the ruling class out in the midterm election, but in the presidential election that follows.

While no rational person would deny substantial, and credible evidence that we're putting the infrastructure in place for another "preemptive strike," this time on Iran, to play the Iran card this close to one of the most important midterm elections this country has yet to see, and take the focus away from the omnipresent failure of a war in progress can only prove deadly to the Democrats in that it may well backfire, and result in voter apathy when it comes to the number one item on the foreign policy menu, namely a timetable for bringing our troops back from Iraq safely. What's more, our friends Joe and Alice, in Middle America, who are sitting anxiously on their sofa watching "Jeopardy" and waiting for their nephew's coffin to arrive on the next flight from Baghdad, don't give a rotting fig about Iran now. They're worried about whether their 23 year old son, Jimmy, will make it back in one piece. Any party that wants to bring peace to the planet can't afford to forget that. We must not forget that without a base, there can be no platform.

Clearly, whenever you hear Republicans, and/or key allies of the Bush administration concede that it's time to consider troop withdrawal that can only mean one thing; there are plans, in place, to move those troops somewhere else. To a Republican, more often than not, especially a neo-conservative Republican, troop withdrawal means troop redeployment. After all, those who have held the reins of government, for the past decade, have proven better than any who came before them that we are, as President Eisenhower once said, a "military industrial complex." But, even those who currently "occupy" the Oval Office aren't ready for the high stakes poker game invading Iran would entail. You can't do Monte Carlo on a Vegas budget. And, unless Alan Greenspan was stashing billions of dollars of defense money under his black belt, we don't have the cash for two major debacles, not simultaneously anyway, so it is that any move to wage war with Iran before the next presidential election, or until we pull out of Iraq, is very unlikely..

Mr. Blumenthal, in closing, suggested that those who surround this president need more than Nyquil to get to sleep these days. Don't let the apparent edginess of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney fool you. Make no mistake, Bush & Co. are more concerned about how they can maintain control after they've been voted out; that is, if they're voted out in 2008. And, Sidney Blumenthal is right to make the subject of his talks expansion of presidential powers, contempt of checks and balances, executive hubris, and not raise the bogey man of an attack on Iran; however menacing that may be, it's beside the point now.. When they go to the polls in three weeks, people like Joe and Alice will be thinking about flesh and blood issues, and not nightmare scenarios, and unless there is solid proof of a clear and present danger, it's best to focus on the body bags, from Iraq, the Defense Department has been doing such a wonderful job of keeping out of the news for the past 3 years. Unless we want six more years, we'd better out Herod Herod, find the escape route, and change the subject fast.
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Widely published, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter; member of PEN American Center, and PEN USA. Jayne Lyn Stahl is a Huffington Post blogger.
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