The views expressed by retired military leaders Maj. Gen. John Batiste, Maj. Gen. John Riggs, Gen. Anthony Zinni, Maj. Gen. Charles Swannack, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, and Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign may not have been coordinated, per se. But the generals in question in fact speak often to each other, and some are even coordinating political activities with colleagues here in the United States, according to Pentagon sources.
Some, in fact, are involved in a very quiet group of retired military officers who are behind a "Draft Colin Powell" effort, to see him run for the presidency in 2008. The operation is well funded, say sources familiar with the group, to the point that they are regularly polling the public on issues and even ticket makeup for a Powell run.
"They more often than not have him [Powell] running as a Republican, so the polling is almost exclusively with other Republicans on the ticket, and almost always with Powell on the top of the ticket," says a source who has seen sampling from the polling.
The retired, senior military leadership are much more politically astute than people give them credit for, says another retired military officer, who has dealt with both Newbold and Eaton, who both directed Marines. "Given their experiences with the war, these are men who understand both the political and the military dynamic at play here. It shouldn't be surprising that these fellows are inserting themselves into the political process, whether it's Rumsfeld and Bush or looking ahead to 2008." This source was unaware if either Newbold or Eaton was involved in the Powell operation.
One general who would appear to be less politically astute is Anthony Zinni, who has been caught out making politically damaging comments about the United States' relationship to Israel. In 2004, Zinni said in an interview on 60 Minutes that "the neo-conservatives" had conned the Bush administration on the idea of democratizing the Middle East. Not coincidentally, Zinni's latest comments have come a week after his latest book, The Battle for Peace, was released.
If former senator and current Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel is any indication of where Howard Dean is taking the Democratic Party, then they are in for a humdinger of a primary season. Gravel, who represented Alaska as senator from 1969 to 1981, was a staunch anti-war protester who now at the age of 75 is entering the race, in part, to protest Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He announced his candidacy stressing three issues: opposing the Iraq war, supporting a Constitutional amendment for federal votes on publicly sponsored initiatives, and a 23 percent national sales tax on all new goods and services in place of the current income tax system.
According to DNC sources, Gravel's announcement was welcomed by chairperson Dean, but the DNC clearly didn't do due diligence on its latest presidential poster boy.
Gravel -- in spreading his gospel of peace, huge sales taxes, and national votes on all major federal initiatives -- has shown poor judgment in the types of groups he speaks before. In 2003, according to Gravel's Wikipedia entry, the man who would be President gave a speech at a conference sponsored by the Barnes Review, a publication that denies the Holocaust. Other groups involved in the conference were the Institute for Historical Review and the Theses & Dissertations Press.
Perhaps the worm is turning ever so slowly for Democrats. The party that was going to run on ethics, ethics, ethics, may just be running away after a bad couple of weeks of news for some of their star candidates.
First, let's look at the election that everyone from Howard Dean to House Democrat campaign committee chairman Rahm Emanuel was touting: the special election for former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham's seat. Last week college professor Francine Busby failed to gain 50.1 percent of the vote in the San Diego-area election and now must run off against former Rep. Brian Bilbray. Bilbray is now favored in that race.
Busby ran on a DNC-developed message of "a vote for Democrats is a vote for clean government." But without Cunningham in the field, and with a large pool of campaigners and low voter turnout, Busby was fighting an uphill battle. "Cunningham wasn't in the race, Tom DeLay was a nonfactor in this race once he announced his retirement," says an RNC source. "San Diego voters weren't voting against anyone. They were voting for their candidates."
The RNC intends to pump a bit more money and noise into the Bilbray campaign, in hopes that the special election vote in June will help turn public perception about just how overrated an issue so-called "public corruption" really is going into the upcoming election cycle.
Further complicating matters for Democrats is the federal investigation of Rep. Alan Mollohan (WV), the House Ethics Committee's top Democrat and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, who faces charges similar to those that did in Cunningham.
Mollohan, whose father held the 1st District congressional seat before Alan won it in 1982, has won re-election consistently, but not without difficulty. He faced a tough re-election race in 1984 and again in 2004. This time, he is facing stiff competition from state Del. Chris Wakim. The White House has taken an active interest in Wakim's campaign, offering up Vice President Dick Cheney for a fundraiser, laying down plans to have the President pass through his district on several occasions in the coming months, and sending senior RNC and White House political advisers out for strategy sessions.
"We win a race like this one in West Virginia, and it's tough to see us losing the House," says the RNC staffer. "The Democrats have just as many problems as we do, and you don't see their leadership taking the same steps ours did in the House."
Finally, there is the Sen. Conrad Burns race in Montana, which is viewed as critical to the Democrats' hope of retaking control of the Senate in 2006. The Democrat candidate most national observers had been expecting to knock off Burns was state auditor John Morrison. But in the past few weeks, Morrison has been taking hits all over the place, most recently his admission that he had an extramarital affair with a woman who later popped up in an investigation Morrison's office was involved in, necessitating the hiring of an outside investigator to avoid conflict of interest charges.
The Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars running ads against Burns in an attempt to tie him to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Now, they are seeing that money swirling around the political toilet bowl as their star candidate gets embroiled in the kinds of antics that tend to annoy voters, and drive voter turnout down.
Burns is expecting a tough race, and there has been talk of Burns stepping aside for a new Republican nominee with less baggage. But so far, he has given no indication that he is walking away from the election.
All three situations, combined with improved poll numbers for Sen. Rick Santorum, have some inside the GOP hoping that the party is emerging from some of the darkest few weeks in the past couple of years. "If we can just hold fast, keep focused and get out of 2006 with essentially the status quo, we're going to be in better shape than anyone sees right now," says the RNC source. "A status quo victory for us creates all kinds of headaches for Democrats, and that's something all Republicans can support."