x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

McCain's decision to suspend campaign: a ploy to get sympathy?

The surprise announcement on Wednesday that Republican presidential candidate John McCain was temporarily suspending his campaign and going to Washington to help sort out the $700 billion rescue plan put forth by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, left many people scratching their heads and wondering if this was just another whacky stunt by the senator from Arizona. New documents reveal that top White House aides had a role in shaping the CIA's policy of torturing al Qa'eda suspects. Western lawyers reveal that a judge was removed from Saddam Hussein's trial because he was considered to be too soft on the former dictator.

The surprise announcement on Wednesday that Republican presidential candidate John McCain was temporarily suspending his campaign and going to Washington to help sort out the $700 billion rescue plan put forth by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, left many people scratching their heads and wondering if this was just another whacky stunt by the senator from Arizona. "John McCain is a gambler by nature, and the bet he placed on Wednesday may be among the biggest of his political life," reported the Washington Post. "The Republican presidential nominee is hoping that his abrupt decision to suspend campaigning, seek a delay of Friday's debate with Democrat Barack Obama, and return to Washington to help prod negotiations over a financial rescue package will be seen as the kind of country-first, bipartisan leadership he believes Americans want. "What he risks, if things don't go as he hopes, is a judgment by voters that his move was a reckless act by an impetuous and struggling politician that hardened partisan lines in Washington at just the wrong moment and complicated efforts to deal with the biggest financial crisis in more than half a century." Jonathan Cohn writing on The New Republic's blog said he felt McCain's move was attempt to prop up his waning campaign. "While I am willing believe that McCain's interest in bipartisan reform is sincere, it's hard not to see at least some gamesmanship at work here," wrote Mr Cohn. "The McCain campaign has been reeling for the last few days and it's fast becoming apparent voters simply don't trust him on the economy as much as they trust Obama. The only break in the economic news has been the revelations about McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, and his lobbying ties to Fannie Mae. Anything that disrupts the present political cycle is, by definition, good for McCain. "In fact, it feels to me a bit like McCain is trying to use this crisis as a way to prop up his political fortunes. Nothing unusual about that, I suppose, except perhaps for a politician whose campaign slogan is 'Country First.'" Several commentators doubted that either McCain or Obama have enough economic expertise to make any difference in shaping the rescue package in Washington, and some suggested that both needed to take part in the debate originally scheduled for Friday. "We don't know if Mr McCain or Mr Obama will do any good back in Washington. But Mr McCain's idea of postponing the Friday night debate was another wild gesture from a candidate entirely too prone to them. The nation needs to hear Mr Obama and Mr McCain debate this crisis and demonstrate who is ready to lead," wrote the New York Times in an editorial. Even some Republicans were privately critical of McCain's campaign suspension, reported the Washington Post, calling it a nutty act of desperation. "Privately, three Republican strategists were sharply critical, viewing McCain's decision as a high-risk move that entails uncertain negotiations in Washington at the possible expense of a debate they believe McCain badly needs to get back on the offensive. One strategist called the move 'desperate and nuts,' and another said in an e-mail, 'I don't get it at all.'"

The New York Times launched a blistering attack on President Bush's perceived lack of leadership on the financial crisis in an editorial that said he offered only fear itself in his prime time speech to the nation on Wednesday. "It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation's financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself," said the Times. "There was no acknowledgment of the shocking failure of government regulation, or that the country cannot afford more tax cuts for the very wealthy and budget-busting wars, or that spending at least $700 billion of taxpayers' money to bail out Wall Street and the banks should be done carefully, transparently and with oversight by Congress and the courts. "We understand why he may have been reluctant to address the nation, since his contempt for regulation is a significant cause of the current mess. But he could have offered a great deal more than an eerily dispassionate primer on the credit markets in which he took no responsibility at all for the financial debacle." The editorial pointed out that McCain has not proposed doing away with Bush's tax cuts for the rich, while Obama has been clear in calling for robust regulation of the financial industry. Anatole Kaletsky writing in The Times of London criticized the performance of Mr Paulson, charging that he does not have a clue of how to get the US out of its financial mess. "Until last week, I was in a minority of one in arguing that Mr Paulson was personally responsible for suddenly turning the painful but manageable credit crunch that had been grinding away 18 months in the background of the US economy into a global catastrophe," wrote Mr Kaletsky. "Mr Paulson's appearances on Capitol Hill, marked by the characteristic Bush-era combination of arrogance and incompetence, are turning my once-outlandish view into conventional wisdom: Henry Paulson is to finance what Donald Rumsfeld was to military strategy, Dick Cheney to geopolitics and Michael Chertoff to flood defence. "Mr Paulson may be a former chairman of Goldman Sachs, but as US Treasury Secretary he does not know what he is doing. His recent blunders, starting with the 'rescue' of Fannie Mae, have triggered unintended consequences around the world, resulting in the death-spiral of financial values. But last Friday Mr Paulson outdid even these Rumsfeldian achievements, when he demanded $700 billion from Congress for a 'comprehensive and fundamental' solution to the global financial crisis, without apparently having any idea of what he would actually do. "But as the cross-examination rolled on, and Mr Paulson just waffled ? 'we will ask experts to advise us', 'we will get the best and brightest financiers to suggest ideas' ? the terrible truth dawned. There was no such thing as a Paulson plan. Not only did Mr Paulson not know what he was doing. He did not know what he was talking about." The Guardian had the final say in all of this with an online poll on Thursday that asked if Friday's presidential debate should be postponed or not. 96.3 per cent said "No", while only 3.7 per cent said "Yes".

The New York Times revealed on Thursday that top White House officials, including Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, took part in deciding what sort of harsh interrogation techniques the Central Intelligence Agency could use on al Qa'eda suspects captured abroad. "In meetings during that period, the officials debated specific interrogation methods that the CIA had proposed to use on Qaeda operatives held at secret CIA prisons overseas, the documents show. The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials," reported the Times based on secret documents given to the newspaper by Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The documents are a list of answers provided by Ms Rice and John B. Bellinger III, the former top lawyer at the National Security Council, to detailed questions by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is investigating the abuse of detainees in American custody. "Mr. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the new documents showed that top Bush administration officials were more actively engaged in the debate about the limits of lawful interrogation than the White House had previously acknowledged. "'So far, there has been little accountability at higher levels,' Mr Levin said. 'Here you've got some evidence that there was discussion about those harsh techniques in the White House.'"

New York Times reporter John Burns reported Thursday that new evidence from Western lawyers has surfaced that indicates the Iraqi government forcibly removed a judge from the trial of Saddam Hussein because they thought he was unwilling to sentence the dictator to death. "These lawyers say the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al Maliki, forced the resignation of one of five judges in the trial only days before the court sentenced Mr Hussein. The purpose, the lawyers say, was to avert the possibility that judges who were wavering would spare Mr Hussein the death penalty and sentence him to life imprisonment instead," wrote Burns. "Long before Mr Hussein was hanged on Dec. 30, 2006, with supporters of Iraq's new Shiite-led government taunting him as the noose was tightened around his neck, a pattern of intervention by powerful Iraqi officials had been established. The court's first chief judge was dismissed under government pressure for giving Mr Hussein too much leeway for his courtroom outbursts, and the associate judge named to succeed him was removed under government threats before he could take over. "But until now, only officials involved with the court's inner workings knew that a third judge, Munthur Hadi, was forced from the judges' panel less than a week before the court delivered its verdicts, on Nov. 5, 2006. He was replaced by another judge, Ali al-Kahaji, who had heard none of the evidence in the nine-month trial. The replacement was favored, the Western lawyers say, because of his links with Mr Maliki's Dawa religious party, which had lost thousands of its members to Mr Hussein's repression, and because of Mr Kahaji's readiness to approve Mr Hussein's hanging."

ralsamh@thenational.ae