What’s Wrong With Appeasement? You Really Want To Know?

Chamberlain and HitlerMaybe some people have to have the tragic error of appeasement explained to them. Like Bruce Ramsey, a writer for the Seattle Times. Here is something he actually wrote Friday. I’ve left nothing out, contrary to usual blog practice. I don’t want anyone to think he mitigated his idiocy with lines I left out.

Democrats are rebuking President Bush for saying in his speech to the Knesset, here, that to “negotiate with terrorists and radicals” is “appeasement.” The Democrats took it as a slap at Barack Obama. What bothers me is the continual reference to Hitler and his National Socialists, particularly the British and French accommodation at the Munich Conference of 1938.

The narrative we’re given about Munich is entirely in hindsight. We know what kind of man Hitler was, and that he started World War II in Europe. But in 1938 people knew a lot less. What Hitler was demanding at Munich was not unreasonable as a national claim (though he was making it in a last-minute, unreasonable way.) Germany’s claim was that the areas of Europe that spoke German and thought of themselves as German be under German authority. In September 1938 the principal remaining area was the Sudetenland.

So the British and French let him have it. Their thought was: “Now you have your Greater Germany.” They didn’t want a war. They were not superpowers like the United States is now. They remembered the 1914-1918 war and how they almost lost it.

In a few months, in early 1939, Hitler ordered the invasion of what is now the Czech Republic—that is, territory that was not German. Then it was obvious that a deal with him was worthless–and the British and French did not appease Hitler any more. Thus the lesson of Munich: don’t appease Hitlers.

But who else is a Hitler? If you paste that label on somebody it means they are cast out. You can’t talk to them any more. And it has gotten pasted on quite a few national leaders over the years: Milosevic, Hussein, Ahmadinejad, et. al. In particular, to apply that label to the elected leaders of the Palestinians is to say that you aren’t going to listen to their claims to a homeland. I think they do have a claim. So do the Israelis. In order to get anywhere, each side has to listen to the other. To continually bring up Hitler, the Nazis, the Munich Conference and “appeasement,” is to try to prolong the stalemate.

I trust that Barack Obama does not possess the same historical ignorance.

Hitler telegraphed exactly what he intended to do in his book, Mein Kampf, written years before 1938. Also by then he had violated the Versailles treaty and begun rearming.

There was no evidence that Sudetenland wanted to be part of Hitler’s empire. Hitler had destroyed German democracy. Britain and France presumably understood the difference between democracy and dictatorship, since both countries operated under a democracy.

There was already a flood of Jewish refugees. News of Hitler’s atrocities, albeit downplayed in the British and French press in order to massage public opinion, was still known to the U.K. and French leadership. Winston Churchill and his friends in British intelligence made sure of that. His parliamentary speeches exposed Hitler repeatedly. Prime Minister Chamberlain’s naivete about Hitler and his aims was willful. He had plenty of facts at hand to demonstrate to him that Hitler did not deserve the trust he was vesting in him.

Ramsey writes as if he thinks Hitler is unique in history, and that attempts to compare contemporary enemies to Hitler is…unfriendly? I can’t tell what he means by this: “If you paste that label on somebody it means they are cast out. You can’t talk to them any more.” I don’t think the comparison of “Milosevic, Hussein, Ahmadinejad” to Hitler is inapt, given what they did and what, in Ahmadinejad’s case, he’s openly threatened to do.

I realize the cries of “Munich!” have begun to bore some people. Bore, or agitate. It struck me as strange that Obama and other leading Democrats would rush to identify themselves as the targets of Bush’s remarks to the Knesset. Maybe Bush was trying to be crafty — which is always cute to watch, like watching a toddler try to kick a ball — but the smarter Democratic play probably would have been to say, “What he said.” Because appeasement is still something to be avoided, if you define appeasement correctly as:

  • Letting your enemy know you will do anything to avoid war.
  • Letting your enemy take this knowledge and use it to their advantage.
  • Making excuses for enemy actions and policies that violate law and conscience.
  • Giving your enemy concessions based on a flimsy rationale that ignores indisputable facts.
  • Convincing yourself that your concessions are trivial — a cheap way to avoid war.
  • Using PR spin to isolate domestic opponents to your appeasement policy as “warmongers.”
  • Continuing to make excuses for the enemy until you have no choice but to fight back.

That last point is the ultimate folly of appeasement. It is a policy pursued by peacemakers that leads inevitably to war. True, it postpones war, which is sometimes politically desirable to the appeaser, who might only be thinking of the short run, i.e. the next election. But it also gives your enemy time to get stronger, a process accelerated by the act of appeasement, which convinces some fence-sitters that the future belongs to the enemy and not to you.

No one calls him or herself an appeaser. It’s not a philosophy. It’s a verdict, based on objective facts. Saying “I’m not an appeaser” does not prevent you from acting like one. In the moment, it is often easier for a politician to be an appeaser than not to be one. It takes a lot of leadership strength to overcome appeasement’s gravitational pull. The truly chilling thing about Chamberlain’s appeasement was the wild public enthusiasm it generated among French and British citizens. Within two years, members of these cheering crowds would be slaughtered by Hitler’s forces.

The big question Obama will have to deal with when he takes office is whether to fulfill his promise of rapid withdrawal from Iraq, at risk of making it appear to the radical Islamic world that by doing so, he’s appeasing them. Perhaps there is a way to do it and preserve our strength in the region. But if there isn’t, he’ll have to show a lot of strength, the strength to look his most fervent supporters in the eyes and tell them he’s changed his mind. This decision will define his presidency, and it will come at him early.

Bold Wankers

The Iraq war is a failure. The surge is a failure. General Petraeus? Impressive man, but a failure. If we pulled our forces out now, or as soon as possible, things in Iraq would improve. Meanwhile, that would free up resources to fight terrorists, who are in a lot of other places, but not Iraq.

That’s what we’re supposed to think unless we’re part of the dwindling-yet-vast right wing conspiracy. It is no longer a position. It is an orthodoxy.

So how bold was it for two liberal think-tankers, Michael O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack, to publish this op-ed in the New York Times today? And to title it “A War We Just Might Win.”

VIEWED from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration’s critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with. Continue reading

The Abyss: Two Versions of War in Iraq

When one person talks about the “war in Iraq,” he or she doesn’t always mean the same thing as another person.  There’s a disconnect, factually and emotionally, an abyss of meaning, a condition of double vision where people see just one and not the other.   

Here’s the “war in Iraq” as seen by the leaders of Congress:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw down a new gauntlet Friday before President Bush and Republicans in Congress, saying the House will vote in July on legislation to withdraw almost all American troops from Iraq by April.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said there also will be votes on the future course of the Iraq war next month, although he said he is consulting with other top Democrats on exactly what the legislation might entail.

The statements by Congress’ top two Democrats mean that the renewed confrontation with Bush over Iraq won’t wait until September, when the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, are scheduled to issue a report on how the surge of American troops has worked to quell sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital and other cities.

Pelosi and Reid, talking to reporters in the Capitol as Congress left town for its weeklong July Fourth break, made it clear that they want to pressure Republican members on their continued support for the war. They think a major break in GOP support for Bush is possible, after statements this week by senior Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich of Ohio, who said Bush’s strategy isn’t working and called on him to start withdrawing the 160,000 U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We will put everyone on record,” Pelosi said. “We’re encouraged by the public demand for this. Hopefully, it will be heard by the president and the Republicans in Congress. I see some signs that that is happening.”

Fundamentally, for Reid and Pelosi, “war in Iraq” is a political issue.  The big event?  “Statements this week by senior Republican senators.”  To Reid and Pelosi and the people who take them seriously, these press releases landed with the force of a shoulder-fired rocket.   After those statements, why, everything is different now!  We can pass different resolutions.  Those who thought we would hold back until September:  Not!   The time to attack is now.

The embedded blogger Michael Yon describes a series of events from a completely different “war in Iraq” in this post:

On 29 June, American and Iraqi soldiers were again fighting side-by-side as soldiers from Charley Company 1-12 CAV—led by Captain Clayton Combs—and Iraqi soldiers from the 5th IA, closed in on a village on the outskirts of Baqubah. The village had the apparent misfortune of being located near a main road—about 3.5 miles from FOB Warhorse—that al Qaeda liked to bomb. Al Qaeda had taken over the village. As Iraqi and American soldiers moved in, they came under light contact; but the bombs planted in the roads (and maybe in the houses) were the real threat.

The firefight progressed. American missiles were fired. The enemy might have been trying to bait Iraqi and American soldiers into ambush, but it did not work. The village was riddled with bombs, some of them large enough to destroy a tank. One by one, experts destroyed the bombs, leaving small and large craters in the unpaved roads.

The village was abandoned. All the people were gone. But where?

Yon presents many photos of Baqubah villagers — men, women, children and their farm animals — after they were murdered by Al Queda during the period of occupation and retreat.  Children and animals that had been rigged with explosives.  Mass graves.  I won’t show the gruesome photos — if you can stomach it, you should go look for yourself – but here’s one caption:

Soldiers from 5th IA said al Qaeda had cut the heads off the children. Had al Qaeda murdered the children in front of their parents? Maybe it had been the other way around: maybe they had murdered the parents in front of the children. Maybe they had forced the father to dig the graves of his children.

And here’s more from Yon’s post:

Later in the day, some of the soldiers from the unit I share a tent with, the C-52, told me that one of their Kit Carson scouts (comprised of some of our previous enemies who have turned on al Qaeda) had pointed out an al Qaeda who had cut off the heads of children. Soldiers from C-52 say that the Kit Carson scout freaked out and tried to hide when he spotted the man he identified as an al Qaeda operative. Just how (or if) the scout really knew the man had beheaded children was unknown to the soldiers of C-52, but they took the suspected al Qaeda to the police, who knew the man. C-52 soldiers told me the Iraqi police were inflamed, and that one policeman in particular was crazed with intent to kill the man who they said had the blood of Iraqi children on his hands. According to the story told to me on 30 June, it took almost 45 minutes for the C-52 soldiers to calm down the policeman who had drawn his pistol to execute the al Qaeda man. That same policeman nearly lost his mind when an American soldier then gave the al Qaeda man a drink of cold water. 

I’m not trying to make Pelosi, Reid, Voinivich or Lugar look bad.  They’re reacting as politicians should to the pleas of the people who elected them.   They’re reacting, one hopes, to their own consciences, which are probably telling them Iraq is a lost cause, and it’s immoral to sacrifice American lives to a lost cause.  The war itself, and the blundering, lying Administration running it — that’s the enemy.  It’s a political enemy, one that can be defeated by press releases.

But the “war in Iraq” they’re talking about couldn’t possibly be the same war Michael Yon describes. Yon’s war is a war against pure evil.  There’s no withdrawing from that war, because it will follow you.

More specifically, Yon describes a war in which US soldiers fight alongside Iraqis, against invaders.  To be sure, Al Queda in Iraq has indigenous supporters, but essentially they are turncoats.  The Iraqi Al Queda members aren’t fighting US invaders.  They’re fighting to destroy any hope of civil peace in Iraq on terms other than their own. They will kill anyone in pursuit of chaos, fear and failure, and then booby-trap the bodies of their victims to kill more.

This vision of the war is not consistent with the one Pelosi, et. al. describe.  Linguistically, to square their policies with the war Yon describes, the politicos would have to say things like:

  • “The war against Al Queda is lost.”  
  • “Al Queda will control Iraq, and there is nothing further we can do to stop them.” 
  • “We must redeploy to other countries where Al Queda is not strong, so we won’t have to fight them.” 
  • “Al Queda is killing too many American soldiers, so we have to retreat.”

Are any of these comments untruthful representations of the meaning of a U.S. pullout right now?

If the anti-war members of Congress spoke in those terms, how much would that change the politics around this issue? 

Like Bob Kerrey Says

I’ve just about given up trying to make the case for the Iraq war. Not because I don’t believe it was the right thing to do, because it was. Not because I mind sticking out like a sore thumb among virtually all my friends and family, because I don’t. Not even because Bush and (especially) Rumsfeld repeatedly made bad decisions and blunders that complicated what was already going to be a hard slog, because their mistakes don’t undermine the philosophical or strategic rationale.

No, I’m ready to throw in the towel because it’s obvious nobody cares anymore. I don’t think Democrats and liberals are stupid: They see the peril in ditching Iraq, and the rising tide of blood our departure would cause. They just don’t give a damn.  Republicans are starting to feel the same way.  Their insouciance is the flip side of arrogance, both of them a privilege our vast military might affords us.

I’ve worked for people whose philosophy of life is, “I’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.” If a power vacuum at the heart of the Middle East causes horrible problems there and here, fine. We’ll deal with them when they arise — and maybe score a few points by blaming that idiot Bush. It’s cynical, but it’s not hidden, and people seem to be buying into it.  This question has never been polled but I suspect a majority of Americans believe that if we pull out of Iraq, and that it turns out to be a mistake, well, hell, we can just roll back in.

One of my arguments — one that everybody hates and shoots down — is this: If we hadn’t invaded, and had just waited for Saddam Hussein to die or be overthrown, the warfare between Shi’ite and Sunni militias would have commenced then. And Al Queda would have tried to capitalize on it, as would have Iran. The only way that could have been avoided was if Hussein had successfully gotten a nuclear weapon. Ex-CIA director George Tenet believes that probably would have happened between now and 2009.

So, the Iraq of 2008 would have either been in a state of bloody civil war and in danger of falling into the hands of Al Queda or Iran, or Hussein’s regime would have still been in place, equipped with a nuclear weapon to sustain his rule or the rule of his sons. And we would have been forced to deal with Iraq then, from an even less advantageous position than the one we have now — including, possibly, military action.

I have been told repeatedly this is a stupid argument. And maybe it is. But at least I now have the validation of being joined in my stupid argument by former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, the one-time presidential candidate who is now president of the New School in New York. In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal he restates the case for the war “from the U.S. point of view”:

The U.S. led an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein because Iraq was rightly seen as a threat following Sept. 11, 2001. For two decades we had suffered attacks by radical Islamic groups but were lulled into a false sense of complacency because all previous attacks were “over there.” It was our nation and our people who had been identified by Osama bin Laden as the “head of the snake.” But suddenly Middle Eastern radicals had demonstrated extraordinary capacity to reach our shores.

As for Saddam, he had refused to comply with numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions outlining specific requirements related to disclosure of his weapons programs. He could have complied with the Security Council resolutions with the greatest of ease. He chose not to because he was stealing and extorting billions of dollars from the U.N. Oil for Food program.

No matter how incompetent the Bush administration and no matter how poorly they chose their words to describe themselves and their political opponents, Iraq was a larger national security risk after Sept. 11 than it was before. And no matter how much we might want to turn the clock back and either avoid the invasion itself or the blunders that followed, we cannot. The war to overthrow Saddam Hussein is over. What remains is a war to overthrow the government of Iraq.

Okay, so far, all this does is put Kerrey in the same “wanker” category where netroots bloggers put Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman due to his robust support for the war. But then, Kerrey continues with this:

Some who have been critical of this effort from the beginning have consistently based their opposition on their preference for a dictator we can control or contain at a much lower cost. From the start they said the price tag for creating an environment where democracy could take root in Iraq would be high. Those critics can go to sleep at night knowing they were right.

The critics who bother me the most are those who ordinarily would not be on the side of supporting dictatorships, who are arguing today that only military intervention can prevent the genocide of Darfur, or who argued yesterday for military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to ease the sectarian violence that was tearing those places apart.

Suppose we had not invaded Iraq and Hussein had been overthrown by Shiite and Kurdish insurgents. Suppose al Qaeda then undermined their new democracy and inflamed sectarian tensions to the same level of violence we are seeing today. Wouldn’t you expect the same people who are urging a unilateral and immediate withdrawal to be urging military intervention to end this carnage? I would.

American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq’s middle class has fled the country in fear.

With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power. American lawmakers who are watching public opinion tell them to move away from Iraq as quickly as possible should remember this: Concessions will not work with either al Qaeda or other foreign fighters who will not rest until they have killed or driven into exile the last remaining Iraqi who favors democracy.

He closes by saying that a U.S. withdrawal would hand Bin Laden an immense “psychological victory,” and carries his argument one step further with an insight I’ve not read anywhere else — a powerful refutation of those who say our invasion “created terrorists.”

Those who argue that radical Islamic terrorism has arrived in Iraq because of the U.S.-led invasion are right. But they are right because radical Islam opposes democracy in Iraq. If our purpose had been to substitute a dictator who was more cooperative and supportive of the West, these groups wouldn’t have lasted a week.

Right.  The presence of democracy, and its desperate struggle to root itself in Iraqi soil:  That’s what’s drawn the brigades of poisonous wasps that are Islamists into Iraq.  Contrary to Rep. John Murtha’s assertions, if we leave, they won’t leave; not until they can kill secular-based self-government once and for all.  Optimally, they want an Islamist fundamentalist government.  But if that can’t be achieved, then any other option is better than a functioning democracy with a functioning civil society, because that’s a threat to the Islamist movement’s growth, worldwide.

The US is no longer in the business of installing friendly dictators — let’s hope. We’ve chosen a much harder path. It would have been nice if we’d taken that path without all the well-documented mistakes, but we should be proud we took it, and we need to stick to it.

Oh, hell, now I’m back in this debate again.

The Iraq War Books to Come

George Tenet, the head of the CIA from 1997-2004, has just published a book, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA.  He was interviewed about it on 60 Minutes last night, and will be on Larry King tonight.  I’m sure we’ll see him soon on Charlie Rose, The View, Live with Regis and Kelly, Jon Stewart’s show, and, if it was still on the air, you might see Tenet in animated form on Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

You probably know what this book’s all about, what makes it newsworthy:  Tenet’s claim to have opposed the invasion of Iraq, and his denial that when he told President Bush that evidence of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs was a “slam dunk” that he really meant it was true.  The NY Times’ Michiko Kakutani reviewed the book:

Alternately withholding and aggrieved, earnest and disingenuous, “At the Center of the Storm” is interesting less for any stunning new revelations than for fleshing out a portrait of the Bush White House already sketched by reporters and former administration members. Mr. Tenet depicts an administration riven by factional fighting between the State and Defense Departments, hard-liners and more pragmatic realists, an administration given to out-of-channels policymaking, and ad hoc, improvisatory decision-making.

“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” he writes of a war that has already resulted in more than 3,300 American military deaths, at least 60,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and already cost more than $420 billion. Nor, he adds, was there “a significant discussion regarding enhanced containment or the costs and benefits of such an approach versus full-out planning for overt and covert regime change.”

Mr. Tenet’s book also ratifies the view articulated by former military, intelligence and Coalition Provisional Authority insiders that the White House repeatedly ignored or rebuffed early warnings about the deteriorating situation in post-invasion Iraq. Mr. Tenet writes that the C.I.A.’s senior officer in Iraq was dismissed as a “defeatist” for warning in 2003 of the dangers of a growing Iraqi insurgency, though it was already clear then that United States political and economic strategies were failing. Although the trends were clear, he adds, those in charge of policy “operated within a closed loop.” In that atmosphere, he says, bad news was ignored: the agency’s subsequent reporting, which would prove “spot-on,” was dismissed.

 Tenet’s book has not gone down well with either Bush supporters or Bush foes.  Arianna Huffington is one of many to ask the sensible question, “Why Didn’t George Tenet Just Resign?”

Poor George Tenet. Flogging his book, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA, on 60 Minutes, Tenet tells Scott Pelley about how his phrase “slam dunk” was misused by the Bush administration. Tenet, you see, didn’t mean it was a “slam dunk” that Hussein actually had WMD, he only meant it was a “slam dunk” that a public case could be made that Hussein had WMD.

I can’t really see that the distinction matters, but Tenet apparently does. “I became campaign talk,” Tenet tells Pelley, “I was a talking point. ‘Look at what the idiot told us, and we decided to go to war.’ Well, let’s not be so disingenuous. Let’s stand up. This is why we did it. This is why, this is how we did it. And let’s tell, let’s everybody tell the truth.”

Great — except he’s about four years too late. Tenet seems to believe there’s a major distinction between lying and standing by silently while others lie, and then proudly receiving a Medal of Freedom from the liars.

And Christopher Hitchens reminds us in his Slate review that Tenet was not just ineffectual and wrong about the invasion of Iraq; he was ineffectual and wrong about 9/11.  Hitchens recalls one of the creepiest things I remember reading about the immediate post 9/11 response. It was in Bush At War by Bob Woodward.  Hitchens uses that quote as a launching pad for an irate attack on Tenet’s credibility and character:

…(I)t was a very favorably disposed chronicler (Woodward) who wrote this, in describing Tenet’s reaction on the terrible morning of Sept. 11, 2001:

“This has bin Laden all over it,” Tenet told Boren. “I’ve got to go.” He also had another reaction, one that raised the real possibility that the CIA and the FBI had not done all that could have been done to prevent the terrorist attack. “I wonder,” Tenet said, “if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training.”

Notice the direct quotes that make it clear who is the author of this brilliant insight. And then pause for a second. The author is almost the only man who could have known of Zacarias Moussaoui and his co-conspirators—the very man who positively knew they were among us, in flight schools, and then decided to leave them alone. In his latest effusion, he writes: “I do know one thing in my gut. Al-Qaeda is here and waiting.” Well, we all know that much by now. But Tenet is one of the few who knew it then, and not just in his “gut” but in his small brain, and who left us all under open skies. His ridiculous agency, supposedly committed to “HUMINT” under his leadership, could not even do what John Walker Lindh had done—namely, infiltrate the Taliban and the Bin Laden circle. It’s for this reason that the CIA now has to rely on torturing the few suspects it can catch, a policy, incidentally, that Tenet’s book warmly defends.

So, the only really interesting question is why the president did not fire this vain and useless person on the very first day of the war. Instead, he awarded him a Presidential Medal of Freedom! Tenet is now so self-pitying that he expects us to believe that he was “not at all sure that [he] really wanted to accept” this honor. But it seems that he allowed or persuaded himself to do so, given that the citation didn’t mention Iraq. You could imagine that Tenet had never sat directly behind Colin Powell at the United Nations, beaming like an overfed cat, as the secretary of state went through his rather ill-starred presentation. And who cares whether his “slam dunk” vulgarity was misquoted or not? We have better evidence than that. Here is what Tenet told the relevant Senate committee in February 2002:

Iraq … has also had contacts with al-Qaida. Their ties may be limited by divergent ideologies, but the two sides’ mutual antipathy toward the United States and the Saudi royal family suggests that tactical cooperation between them is possible, even though Saddam is well aware that such activity would carry serious consequences.

As even the notion of it certainly should have done. At around the same time, on another nontrivial matter, Tenet informed the Senate armed services committee that: “We believe that Saddam never abandoned his nuclear weapons program.” It is a little bit late for him to pose as if Iraq was a threat concocted in some crepuscular corner of the vice president’s office. And it’s pathetic for him to say, even in the feeble way that he chooses to phrase it, that “there was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.” (Emphasis added.) There had been a very serious debate over the course of at least three preceding administrations, whether Tenet “knew” of it or not. (He was only an intelligence specialist, after all.)
Despite this assault, Tenet stands to profit handsomely from this book, a fact that will not go unnoticed by others currently still serving the Administration.  If a policy goes wrong or becomes unpopular, Tenet’s success shows that no mea culpas are necessary; anyone can distance themselves from unpopular decisions they helped make, even someone as high up as the Director of the CIA.

Still to come: 

The Army I Wanted Wasn’t the Army I Had: Unknown Unknowns Known, By Donald Rumsfeld

Paul Wolfowitz: It Ain’t All About the WMDs, by Paul Wolfowitz

More Years of Magical Thinking, by Laura Bush

The Audacity of Audacity, by Dick Cheney

and…

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy President, by George W. Bush

And it turns out none of them wanted to invade Iraq.  Who knew!?

David Broder, Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’

If you read the left-wing blogs, you quickly learn there is no journalist or commentator more despised than David S. Broder, the “Dean” of Washington columnists.  In recent writings, Broder has been less than thrilled with the performance of the new Democratic Congress and its leadership.  To the netroots, it’s still the honeymoon phase; but here’s this old guy, an uncle you sort of have to listen to, standing at the back of the reception saying “You stink!”

What they despise about Broder is his reputation as a liberal, which derives in part from his position at the Washington Post.   The netroots disagree that the Post is actually all that liberal, or that Broder is “one of them,” and it really steams them that Broder’s critical comments about the Democratic party are seen as coming from a sympathetic corner.  

Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter leave no mark; they’re dismissed easily as right-wing crackpots.  But Broder disrupts what the netroots repeatedly call “the narrative.”  When a liberal says what conservatives say, the conservatives’ viewpoints are legitimized.  The netroots don’t really enjoy debating conservatives; they’d rather dismiss them from the debate entirely. It’s harder to do that when they can cite liberals like David Broder as agreeing with them. 

I’m beginning to think David Broder likes provoking the netroots.  What else would explain today’s column, in which he compares Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to…omigod!… Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez!  

The column was prompted by Reid’s much-criticized comment last week that “this war is lost.”

…Reid’s verbal wanderings on the war in Iraq are consequential — not just for his party and the Senate but for the more important question of what happens to U.S. policy in that violent country and to the men and women whose lives are at stake.

Given the way the Constitution divides warmaking power between the president, as commander in chief, and Congress, as sole source of funds to support the armed services, it is essential that at some point Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi be able to negotiate with the White House to determine the course America will follow until a new president takes office.

To say that Reid has sent conflicting signals about his readiness for such discussions is an understatement. It has been impossible for his own members, let alone the White House, to sort out for more than 24 hours at a time what ground Reid is prepared to defend.

Instead of reinforcing the important proposition — defined by the Iraq Study Group– that a military strategy for Iraq is necessary but not sufficient to solve the myriad political problems of that country, Reid has mistakenly argued that the military effort is lost but a diplomatic-political strategy can still succeed.

The Democrats deserve better, and the country needs more, than Harry Reid has offered as Senate majority leader.

Broder’s comparison with Gonzalez is, in fact, quite apt.  The problem with Sen. Reid is that he is an incompetent Senate Majority Leader.  As Michael Dukakis said, “It’s not about ideology. It’s about competence.”  The AG is manifestly unfit for his job, and so is Reid.  Reid can’t manage his own mouth; how can he be expected to manage the U.S. Senate? Vice President Cheney’s stinging retort to Reid drew blood because he mostly just quoted Reid’s own incredibly contradictory pattern of statements about the war over the past few months.

But to the netroots, even pointing out obvious incompetence screws up “the narrative.”  Here’s what diarist mcjoan says on Daily Kos regarding Broder’s column:

It’s just so sad, so disconnected from anything even remotely resembling reality. We had ample warning that it was coming, but maybe somehow didn’t think it could really, really be as bad as expected. It is. You can go read it, if you like. But there’s really hardly any point any more.

I do have to give this to the Dean. He is somehow adroit enough to hammer the final nail into the coffin that holds all that was left of his ability to reasonably comment on current events. What more is there to say?

And here is what Greg Sargent, a TPM Cafe blogger, says:

Boy, oh, boy. Will Broder really argue that Reid is as inept as Gonzales, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that Reid has refused to back down on Iraq while simultaneously maintaining public approval of his approach? He’s also maintained a respectable 46% approval rating — far higher than Bush, who Broder says is on the verge of a comeback. What is it that’s so profoundly threatening about Reid’s success to the Broders of the world?

In the respective comment threads, the “blogswarm” goes on a Broder-bashing spree.  Kos himself weighs in:

 What more is there left to say? (22+ / 0-)

That finally it’s clear as day that Broder is simply another run-of-the-mill beltway partisan hack. Once upon a time, he convinced everyone in DC that he was a non-partisan arbiter of conventional wisdom. That fiction is now blown apart. Broder is no better or different than Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly. An inglorious conclusion to a career in hackdom.

by kos on Wed Apr 25, 2007 at 10:56:27 PM PDT

Here’s one from Sargent’s thread:

Its time for the blogshere to do some investigative reporting on Broder and the like.

It’s pretty clear that the Bushies/necons will do anything to advance their cause, protect themselves and manipulate public opinion.

Why has Broder nor Wapo disclosed Broder’s close relationship with Rove?

Broder is either being paid off financially or blackmailed. Cayman Island bank accounts, junkets, or compromising personal information. All of the above?

Posted by:erict
Date: April 25, 2007 08:26 PM

And how about this one from the Washington Post’s own comment thread:

Take the package, Mr. Broder. Retire now before you shred what reputation you have left any further. Old windbag. If the war is so great, why arent your kids and grandkids there? Harry Reid is right. The war is lost. Its time to come home and stop playing cowboy with American lives, which is just making everything in Iraq worse. Bush is the worst disaster in the history of the United States, and Broder was one of his sycophantic cheerleaders after nine one one. The emperor never had any clothes.

By snoopydc | Apr 26, 2007 12:32:42 AM |

Throughout the comments you find the view expressed that Reid’s “war is lost” comment is true, and that polls show the public agrees with it.  What they are overlooking is the American public doesn’t prefer to lose this war.   Reid seems to be egging on that result, especially when he says things like this:

“We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Senator Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding.”

Broder isn’t a hack, and he isn’t on the take.  He has a memory.  Memory curses dreams like the netroots’.  

Here’s an inconvenient analysis that draws on my own memories.

At the end of the Vietnam War, the Democrats facilitated the final defeat, denying President Ford’s request for funds to fulfil the promises the U.S. made after we pulled out. In 1975, the politics of that move looked pretty good; the public was sick of Vietnam.  In 1976, Carter beat Ford — but it should have been a landslide because of Watergate, and instead it was a squeaker.  Why?   In 1978, Republicans reversed most of the gains the Democrats had made in Congress in 1974.  In 1980, Reagan clobbered Carter, and the Republicans took the Senate. 

I believe the atrocities that followed the ignominious end to the Vietnam War, and the U.S.’ impotence to stop mass genocide and annihilation of our former supporters fueled those Democratic setbacks.  For the first time in decades, Republicans started talking about an aggressive stance toward the Soviet Union, and after the horrors of postwar Southeast Asia, the message resonated.

Losing Iraq would be another bloody business. It’s not hard to imagine.  Suicide bombings would increase. Civil war would widen. Any Iraqi individual or institution committed to democracy would be targeted for murder. Al Queda could well end up effectively in charge of parts of Iraq. 

And Harry Reid thinks this will help the Democrats win elections?  It’s absurd.  And he’s incompetent for thinking so, much less saying so.

Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Wall Street: Lining Up to Run America

Joel Kotkin sees a new power elite and a new political paradigm emerging from behind the ruins of George W. Bush’s failed administration.   The whole essay is worth reading. Here’s a taste:

How much things have changed in the past few decades! Hollywood once split its loyalties carefully among the parties; its only president came from its right. Now, as much as 80 percent of its largesse flows to the Democrats. The schism between Obama supporter David Geffen and those hanging tough with Clinton is important, not only because of how it reflects Hollywood’s endemic pettiness, but because much of the party, instead of regarding these wealthy prima donnas as deluded minstrels, now treats them as enlightened policy gurus.

Not long ago, Silicon Valley was a bastion of middle-of-the-road Republicans like former Congressman Ed Zschau. But as power once vested in industrial firms like Hewlett Packard has shifted to software and internet-based companies, high-tech politics have shifted both left and dark green. The rising powers of the 21st Century Valley, firms like Google and eBay, generally don’t worry about trifles like groundwater regulations or factory emissions since they don’t manufacture anything. Nor do they worry much about labor laws, because their own employees tend to be young, well-educated and well-compensated. This makes it easier to curry favor with enviro-friendly, left-leaning politicians like former Vice President Al Gore.

Perhaps most important of all have been the changes on Wall Street, whose power extends deeply into both Hollywood and Silicon Valley and which now stands as one of the predominant sources of funds for federal office-seekers and related political action committees. Long the bastion of the old Republican establishment and a backer of Bush in his two presidential runs, Wall Street in 2006 gave more money to the Democrats, and that trend seems to be accelerating along with the implosion of the Republicans.

(snip)

How did this corporate power shift occur so quickly and dramatically? To a large extent, the answer lies in the utter failure of George W. Bush and his administration. Bush came to office with the support of a Sun Belt elite that drew its wealth and power from the great economic surge west and south after World War II and for nearly a quarter-century dominated American political life

Donors from this group of businesses propelled the careers of such substantial figures as Arizona’s Barry Goldwater, and California’s Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Arguably, their final triumph, helped by the demographic shift to the South and West, lay with Newt Gingrich’s 1994 congressional takeover.

Back in the late 1970s, founding fathers of the Sun Belt power grab, such as oilman Henry Salvatori and Litton Industries founder Tex Thornton, shared with me their conviction that the old Eastern establishment lacked the power and conviction to lead the country. They felt America needed to be guided by more vital, more clear-headed leaders. Economic malaise of the Jimmy Carter years, as well as the perception of America’s weakness both against the Soviet Union and terrorist states such as Iran, lent credibility to these beliefs among a large part of the public.

Like most successful elites, these leaders possessed a relatively coherent agenda. It centered on gaining a free hand over the nation’s natural resources, a low-tax economic policy and support for a strong national defense. The divisive moral agenda, particularly helpful in wooing working-class and Southern voters, was grafted on later but was never widely embraced by the right’s corporate funders.

Bush’s disastrous tenure has pretty much destroyed his backers’ credibility on all three issues. High energy prices and shifting climate-change politics have decimated the traditional agenda of oil and gas companies. An uneven and poorly shared economic expansion has convinced many middle-class erstwhile conservatives that Bush’s low tax, pro-business policies do not really work for them. Finally, the catastrophe in Iraq has undermined support for the overt, aggressive national defense policy long supported by Sun Belt conservatives and their defense industry allies.

(snip)

Once they recover from their post-Bush euphoria, however, traditional liberals should realize that the ongoing power shift does not necessarily signify the rise of a populist agenda. The wealthiest fifth of Americans are now equally likely to be Democrats or Republicans, a shocking shift from the nearly 70 percent Republican cast of this same quintile just two decades ago. The “party of the people” increasingly now must appeal as much to the affluent as the working-class voter.

I’ve been struggling for a “big picture” that explains the changes in politics in the past couple of years that goes beyond the tactical novelties like the netroots and YouTube.  Kotkin’s is pretty coherent. 

A possible flaw, however, is that his analysis completely omits 9/11, the jihad against the West, the “war on terror.”  Or, is he implying that 9/11 is no longer pertinent, the war on terror is quiescent, and that whole policy arena doesn’t cut politically anymore?  That would come as a huge, rude surprise to the blogospheric right, who think the war on terror is the only issue.  But maybe that’s the case.

What If We Held an Election and None of the Candidates Qualified?

According to the New Republic’s John B. Judis, none of the six major presidential candidates for 2008 is qualified to be president.  Five of them have no foreign policy experience (sorry Hillary, but being First Lady doesn’t really count, and as a senator you haven’t been involved).  The one whose resume shows him to be qualified, John McCain, is discounted by Judis because “in his dogged pursuit of a neoconservative agenda, McCain shows little evidence of having acquired any wisdom from that experience.”

Given what’s at stake in 2008, Judis is right to be alarmed. 

Like everything else that’s wrong with politics nowadays, the roots of the problem in selecting a president qualified to serve as commander-in-chief and our nation’s representative to the world go back to the 1960s, Judis says.  By the 1970s…

(p)opular primaries became the main vehicle for nominating candidates. That meant that the party itself, and the party convention, became increasingly irrelevant. What mattered was a candidate’s ability to win votes in the primaries, especially the early ones. Foreign policy played a peripheral role, and only as a component of the themes the candidate developed. What mattered most was the ability of the candidate–best evidenced by Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush–to make voters feel that he cared personally about them. That demanded special skills from a candidate and from a large campaign staff devoted to polling and media, including advertising.

Jimmy Carter was the first of these post-sixties candidates, and he set the standard that subsequent candidates have followed. Even though the United States was still in the throes of a foreign policy crisis caused by its defeat in Vietnam, he ran primarily on a Watergate promise of personal honesty and integrity. His experience consisted of one term as Georgia’s governor. He had no experience in foreign policy and was being tutored during the campaign by Zbigniew Brzezinski, but the voters didn’t hold it against him. George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000 was a carbon copy of Carter’s campaign. He stressed personal qualities and knew, if anything, even less about foreign policy than Carter did. But he ran a skillful campaign and won.

Few of these candidates could boast any expertise in foreign policy. Many of them, as in the past, were governors. The senators and House members who ran for president were unlikely to have served on the foreign relations committees–committees that are generally shunned by presidential aspirants because they are irrelevant to local constituents and because they don’t provide a basis for fundraising. When challenged on whether they had the experience to be president, many of the candidates cited their experience running for president. The ability to campaign became the test of the ability to govern.

Whenever I read things like this, I always say to myself:  “God must love the United States of America.  Left to our own devices, we’d be screwed.”   I hope we haven’t done anything to piss Him off.  

Who would be qualified to serve as president, who has a chance?  Gore is the obvious choice.  Who else?  

Europe’s Schizophrenic, Suicidal Left

Picking up the theme of the last post, author Nick Cohen today chronicles the Britain’s left’s incongruous support for radical Islamists.  To join in common cause against America and its remaining allies, socialists and progressives must abandon virtually everything else they purport to believe and have fought for their whole lives:

As al Qaeda, the Baathists and Shiite Islamists slaughter thousands, there is virtually no sense that their successes are our defeats. Iraqi socialists and trade unionists I know are close to despair. They turn for support to Europe, the home of liberalism, feminism and socialism, and find that rich democrats, liberals and feminists won’t help them or even acknowledge their existence.

Why is this happening? Cohen cites three causes.  The obvious one is George W. Bush, whose policies and persona, and especially his flubbing of the Iraq war, have made him a universally derided figure throughout Europe, a disdain that covers almost the entire political spectrum.  As in the US, the real stakes in the Iraq war — indeed the real events taking place — are completely obscured by the rage it has engendered. 

(The milder American form of this phenomenon is playing out now in the House of Representatives, but seems to be ebbing ever since Rep. Murtha made the curious mistake of bragging in public about what was suppoed to be a “stealth” strategy before he’d had the chance to implement it.  That the strategy relied on secret manufacture of a fait accompli is a tacit signal that the U.S. anti-war movement lacks confidence in its political support, the movement’s arrogant rhetoric notwithstanding.)

Cohen also cites another fairly obvious factor:  The corruption of the left by multiculturalism, which saps the movement’s formerly vigorous moral clarity. Nowadays, the left can only attack racism, sexism, homophobia or any other retrograde social ill within one’s own country and culture.  It is insensitive and “culturally imperialist” to do so when these things are practiced by Muslim radicals with their heads in the 12th century and rocket-launchers on their shoulders.

Until very recently our Labour government was allowing its dealings with Britain’s Muslim minority to be controlled by an unelected group, the Muslim Council of Britain, which stood for everything social democrats were against. In their desperate attempts to ingratiate themselves, ministers gave its leader a knighthood–even though he had said that “death was too good” for Salman Rushdie, who happens to be a British citizen as well as a great novelist.  

The third factor Cohen cites is the one I find most chilling — and the one I suspect the left will resent him the most for bringing up:  Fear.

Beyond the contortions and betrayals of liberal and leftish thinking lies a simple emotion that I don’t believe Americans take account of: an insidious fear that has produced the ideal conditions for appeasement. Radical Islam does worry Europeans but we are trying to prevent an explosion by going along with Islamist victimhood. We blame ourselves for the Islamist rage, in the hope that our admission of guilt will pacify our enemies. We are scared, but not scared enough to take a stand.

How sad.  Perhaps leftism as we knew it is really over. 

We underestimate how much influence socialism and left politics has had over the America we now see around us.  Conservatives in our country want to drag us back to the world of the Founding Fathers, but we’ll never go there.  We believe in a vision of a just society with a deep tolerance for diversity because over the past 100 years or so the left has persuaded us to adopt it and it has been woven into the fabric of American life.  Most Americans read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence through a filter of left-inspired social justice principles — mostly for the better.

We also forget that the dirty word “appeasement” — its negative connotations associated with comforting delusions that some had about Adolf Hitler in the 1930s — was a policy of conservatives largely opposed by liberals and the left. Something has changed at a very deep level if the left is now willing to appease a movement that is objectively just as intolerant and deadly as were Naziism and fascism — and maybe moreso.

Socialism was once “the wave of the future.”  The wave has passed, but has left behind a corps of activists — innately adversarial people — who have been so confused for so long that they now will march for those who want to destroy everything their forerunners built.   They retain a lot of political influence, especially in Europe. What do we do about them?

The Latest Yoo’s*

Check out this search result I got on Daily Kos when I typed in the words “John Yoo.”  Just the titles tell you the kind of demonic role this UC Berkeley law professor plays in the minds of the left’s leading blogger and his acolytes: 

John Yoo: Worst Person in the World
SF Forum on Korematsu w/ John Yoo etc
John Yoo lays groundwork for blaming Congress
Pointing out John Yoo
John Yoo, un-American fascist
Did John Yoo Pass The Bar?
Meet John Yoo (A Short List of Sources)
The lies of John Yoo
John Yoo: torturing language, seeking the jackpot
John Yoo: Bush’s Conscience?
John Yoo’s Falsehoods
John Yoo suggests you ignore the Constitution
John Yoo supports impeachment
John Yoo: Habeas Corpus COSTS TOO MUCH MONEY
John Yoo – Nut Job
John Yoo says surveillance illegal
Editing John Yoo
John Yoo: Deception, False Framing, and the so-called “War on Terror”
Justice Stevens Schools John Yoo
The Most Dangerous Mind in America
Frameshop: Bush’s Permission Slip for Dictatorship (UPDATED 2.0)
Is It Safe? (w/POLL)
Yoo Suck
Yoo Da Man
Yoo on Gitmo Ruling: Supremes ‘Suppress Creative Thinking’
Presidential Adviser Says Bush Can Legally Torture Children
Bush Advisor: A-OK for president to crush children’s testicles
BUSH’S FORTY FIVE DAY CRIME SPREE
Korean researcher admits massive fraud (satire)
Has TIME’s Man of the Year Gone Too Far?
Bush Administration admits deceiving Congress!!
John Dean on Impeachment
Prosecute the Torture Policy Makers at The Hague
Handling the Truth, and Democracy
Letter to John Conyers: Do not give the Bush Administration de facto pardons
Civilized Warfare: How Insane Can You Get?
White House picks pastry chef w/ light touch
URGENT ACTION NEEDED! Stop torture judge confirmation.
What Ever Happened to the Founding Brothers?
The President’s Judicial Power?

 

Well, in case you’re interested in what somebody like that thinks about civil liberties, Professor Yoo has a column in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.  Here’s how it ends:

The threat of an out-of-control, Nixonian executive seeking to harass its political enemies is not what looms before us today. Legitimate political activities and speech by American citizens are not being suppressed. Three elections have occurred during the war on terrorism, with the last one switching control of Congress to the opposition party. Free speech and creativity have exploded on the Internet.

Civil libertarians suggest that any wartime reduction of civil liberties creates a “ratchet” effect that will permanently diminish freedoms in peacetime. Others say that panic always leads government to go “too far.” Some claim that majorities will always abuse power to oppress minorities. Historical precedents provide some support for these claims.

But civil liberties have expanded in peacetime and contracted during emergencies throughout our history. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, but also liberated the slaves and expanded individual rights against the states. Civil liberties surged in the decades after World War II. Wars sometimes lead to social and economic upheavals that expand individual freedom. Wartime governments have also moderated discriminatory policies to rally all sectors of the nation. War expands executive power. But it does so for a reason — because wars need to be won. Hate, opportunism or greed toward minorities occur outside of war as well. Slavery and Jim Crow were the products of peace, not war.

John Yoo does not scare me as much as he does Kos and many others.  Some of what he has to say makes sense.  I don’t think the left is really listening to him; click on the links above and you won’t find much intellectual meat; just “gotcha”-style rantings. 

But it does strike me as both ironic and misleading that he would use the adjective “Nixonian” to draw a contrast between the powers he claims for the Executive Branch now and the evil doings of past presidents (he also points out that presidents Lincoln, Wilson and FDR committed worse transgressions against civil liberties).  

Let’s buy Yoo’s point, just for the sake of argument:  Bush is not Nixon.  However, the rap against Bush isn’t so much what he’s doing with his presidential authority; it’s the sheer amount of authority he has claimed.  Bush might not have the evil, vindictive qualities of Tricky Dick, but after January 2009, someone else is going to be president, and then later somebody else.  Will none of them be “Nixonian?”  

*Update, 2/12/07:  Professor Yoo must not have had many papers to grade last week. He coauthored an op-ed in today’s NY Times, which draws the only conclusion one can fairly draw from Congress’ willingness to oppose the escalation/redeployment/surge in Iraq, but only symbolically:

The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky. That way they get to prepare for the next election while pointing fingers of blame and spinning conspiracy theories. It is odd to see the Democratic Party turning toward isolationism, bonding with paleoconservatives, and so bitterly averse to the ideals of democratic nation building.

War is not about instant gratification in a hail of klieg lights, our truncated Gulf war notwithstanding. In an interdependent, globalized world, we can’t shrug our shoulders and shirk in the war on terrorism. America made a fundamental change in foreign policy after the 9/11 attacks: to support and spread democracy. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, should understand this well. She made her national reputation as a junior representative in the 1980s criticizing the Chinese dictatorship after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the public would soon tire of war and engage in overheated accusations of bad faith. It is quite right that Congress review, and consider, from its unique perspective, what changes, if any, it now wants to make. If Congress really believes the Bush administration has set us on the wrong course, it can act tomorrow to cut the sinews of war in Iraq. But its failure to do so seems an acknowledgment that the consequences would be far worse than what we face now.

Gimme Sacrifice

Think Progress objects to President Bush’s statement on PBS last night in answer to a question from Jim Lehrer about whether he has demanded enough “sacrifice” from the American people:

Lehrer: Let me ask you a bottom-line question, Mr. President. If it is as important as you’ve just said–and you’ve said it many times–as all of this is, particularly the struggle in Iraq, if it’s that important to all of us and to the future of our country, if not the world, why have you not, as president of the United States, asked more Americans and more American interests to sacrifice something? The people who are now sacrificing are, you know, the volunteer military–the Army and the U.S. Marines and their families. They’re the only people who are actually sacrificing anything at this point.

Bush: Well, you know, I think a lot of people are in this fight. I mean, they sacrifice peace of mind when they see the terrible images of violence on TV every night. I mean, we’ve got a fantastic economy here in the United States, but yet, when you think about the psychology of the country, it is somewhat down because of this war.

Now, here in Washington when I say, “What do you mean by that?,” they say, “Well, why don’t you raise their taxes; that’ll cause there to be a sacrifice.” I strongly oppose that. If that’s the kind of sacrifice people are talking about, I’m not for it because raising taxes will hurt this growing economy. And one thing we want during this war on terror is for people to feel like their life’s moving on, that they’re able to make a living and send their kids to college and put more money on the table. And you know, I am interested and open-minded to the suggestion, but this is going to be–

Lehrer: Well–

Bush:—this is like saying why don’t you make sacrifices in the Cold War? I mean, Iraq is only a part of a larger ideological struggle. But it’s a totally different kind of war, than ones we’re used to.

Think Progress’ take on this answer is that Bush ignores the cost of the Iraq war — $700 billion through 2008 — which the blog writer implies ought to result in higher taxes on the wealthy.  One of TP’s commenters, “upside 100,” elaborates on this point:

WTF!!!!!

Peace of mind?? WOW, what a great sacrifice, and we sure wouldn’t want those Corporate Scumbags supporting this Cabal to suffer any more.

Let’s just have the troops carry all the death and injury and missed time with families. Wouldn’t want any “real” people to feel it.

What a bunch of elitist crap from Dubya and his whole merry band of NeoCon assholes!

WAKE UP AMERICA!!!

Of course the idea that watching disturbing TV equates to the kind of rationing regime this country experienced in World War II is ridiculous.  (Millions voluntarily watched a nuclear bomb explode near Los Angeles on 24 Monday night.) Although many American soldiers enlisted for WWII, many more were draftees, and this pattern continued through Korea and Vietnam.  I remember my high school economics teacher predicting that Lyndon Johnson’s refusal to raise taxes to pay for the Vietnam War would lead to inflation, and I think it’s common wisdom now that LBJ’s decision was a contributor to the high inflation of the 1970s.  

But there is an inconsistency in the views of Bush’s opponents.  They’re talking about taxes on “the wealthy.”  Does terrorism only affect “the wealthy?”  Do the remaining achievable war aims in Iraq only benefit “the wealthy?”  What if, as many assert, the wealthy already provide a disproportionate share of the government’s tax revenues?  There’s a lot of empirical evidence to this point.  Does that mean the wealthy have paid enough?  And if so, who do we tax next? 

Regardless of the need for them, or the equity of them, taxes are a drag on the part of the economy that is taxed.  There is no argument on this point — it’s classical economics.  You can tax the wealthy, but the wealthy simply will refuse to suffer very much.  They will, instead, reduce or relocate their economic activity, which means someone further down the economic ladder suffers. 

It would be optimal if we could raise taxes on the wealthy, and force them to earn the same amount as they did before the higher taxes, and to buy just as many luxury items as before, so we could be assured that the government’s revenue take would increase, and the economic harm would be forestalled.  But you can’t force a wealthy person to buy another yacht or to add a new manufacturing plant, or come up with another high-tech scheme.  They will react to the potential ROI, the bastards, and because higher taxes raise costs and depress the benefits of investments, they are less likely to do make them.

Another issue re: sacrifice.  What about civil liberties?  The Patriot Act is a direct result of 9/11.  Its critics say we are less free from government intrusion, and its supporters don’t disagree, but say the intrusions are necessary to thwart terrorism.   Increased security thus comes at a significant cost that permeates society — a sacrifice in my book.

Beyond that?  The sacrifice promoters need to make the case for specific sacrifices.  I’m certainly ready to make them.  But first tell me, what do you need? 

During WWII, we needed to ration fuel and meat in order to keep our troops supplied.  Do we need to do anything like that now?  We needed dramatically higher taxes in part because our defense systems were lacking at the outset of the war; we built a modern air force and navy almost from scratch, and we didn’t have a global military infrastructure. None of that pertains now.  Today’s American economy is a powerhouse; while $700 billion is a lot of money, we are apparently absorbing it. The deficit as a percentage of GDP is not especially high, and it’s shrinking.

It’s true; members of our military are paying the heaviest price.  Recruitment goals are being met, but in the future, we might need more than what voluntary enlistment gives us.  When the battles are over, if our country doesn’t do right by these heroes, that would be outrageous.  But my guess is, the leadership of this country in the 2020s and 2030s will heavily come from those who served and from their families. The sacrifice of our soldiers during this era won’t be forgotten.

Don’t just say “sacrifice” as if it’s self-evident.  Do your homework.  We need to sacrifice X for the cause of Y.  Then we’ll have something to debate. 

The Battle of Britain, 2006

It’s pretty clear (to me anyway) that the war in Iraq has not mutated into a civil war, as some say, but into the first major U.S. engagement with Islamism, a complicated battlefield in which we and the civil authorities of Iraq are fighting on multiple fronts against an array of different insurgent terrorist groups that, once we leave, would proceed to killing each other.  The goal is to foment a real civil war, which it’s my belief most Iraqis do not seek.  It is unclear if we can prevent this.

But Iraq is just one front in what to me is rapidly becoming World War III.  Another major front is the United Kingdom.  You have probably already heard this news:

British intelligence and law enforcement officials have passed on a grim assessment to their U.S. counterparts, “It will be a miracle if there isn’t a terror attack over the holidays in London,” a senior American law enforcement official tells ABCNews.com.

British police have been quietly carrying out a series of key arrests as they continue to track at least six active “plots” tied to what they call “al Qaeda of England.”

Officials said they could not cite any specific date or target but said al Qaeda had planned previous operations during the Christmas holidays that had been disrupted.

“It is not a matter of if there will be an attack, but how bad the attack will be,” an intelligence official told ABCNews.com.

Authorities say they are seeking at least 18 suspected suicide bombers.

The British government’s awareness of this unending threat probably explains why Prime Minister Tony Blair declines the many engraved invitations to turn against George W. Bush.  I’m sure he knows he would be better off politically if he could cut the cord that attaches him to our widely-derided president.  But Blair sees a bigger picture for his country, and knows he can’t casually discard his nation’s most important ally for short-term political advantage.  Here’s part of what Blair said to Parliament a few days ago:

The basic point I come back to, again and again and which I have made many times here – is that whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan or indeed combating terrorism here, these battles are inextricably bound together. It is a global issue.  It needs a global response.

Which brings me to the principal consideration of Britain’s foreign policy over the past 10 years.  Global challenges can only be met by global alliances.  A nation like Britain has no prospect – none – in the world as it is developing today, of pursuing its national interest except in close concert with others.  That is why, no matter how tough the test, and these past years since 9/11 have shown how tough it can be – the alliances Britain has with America and within Europe, must remain the cornerstones of our policy. 

Do not misunderstand me.  I support the US willingly.  I believe in the EU for reasons of principle.  I supported the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq because I believed them right.  I have put Britain at the centre of Europe because I am proud that we are part of the largest political union and biggest economic market in the world.  For me these alliances have never been a struggle between individual conscience and duty to my country.  It is a happy marriage of conviction and realpolitik. 

But just for a moment, leave aside the obvious and deep-rooted ties of history with America.  Leave aside the fact that only, together, when the US finally entered WWII, were we able to succeed.  Leave aside the prospect of Britain facing the Cold War for half a century without the transatlantic alliance, an absurd thought.  Leave it all aside and focus on today and the future.

Take any problem Britain wants solving:  global terrorism – (assuming you don’t believe that but for George Bush it wouldn’t exist); climate change; Israel/Palestine; Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programme; world trade; Africa in general, right now Sudan in particular; global poverty.  We may agree or disagree with the US position on some or all of these issues.  But none of these vital British concerns can be addressed, let alone solved, without America.  Without America, Kosovo could not have been attempted.  Without Kosovo, Milosevic might still be running Serbia; and the Balkans rather than stabilising with a potential future in Europe, would have remained the destabilising force it was for most of the 20th Century.   We need America.  That is a fact.

All that, in a sense, is obvious.  But – runs the more sophisticated argument -:  America we like, this American President we don’t.  This is a comforting argument.  It separates anti-America from anti-Bush.  However it is also a cop-out.  Let us not kid ourselves.  9/11 would have changed any American President’s foreign policy.  3000 innocent people dead in the streets of New York; the Al Qaida operatives who did it, trained out of Afghanistan.  Following 9/11, American policy was going to shift.  It was going to get out after the terrorists with all America’s might and any President who didn’t do it, wasn’t going to be President for long.

When I said, after 9/11 that we should stand shoulder to shoulder with America, I said it because I believed it.  But I also thought it was profoundly in Britain’s interests.  I knew this attack wasn’t aimed at America per se; but at America as the leading representative of our values.  Look round the world today; look even just within Europe.  Britain is not the only country that faces a terrorist threat.  We all do, allies and non-allies, anyone in fact that isn’t “them”.  I thought then and I think now that defeating this threat – whose roots are deep and have been a long time growing – was going to take a generation; and I knew then and know now that defeating it, was never going to be done without an America prepared to lead as America, to its credit, has.

And the truth is, for Britain, it is always right for us to keep our partnership with America strong. 

Post 9/11, there were no half-hearted allies of America.  There were allies and others.  We were allies then and that’s how we should stay; and the test of any alliance, I’m afraid, is not when it’s easy but when it’s tough.

I rooted for a Democratic victory in 2006 and, depending on who’s nominated, will root for a Democratic victory in 2008 in part because, for a variety of reasons, a huge and important faction within our own nation — the left — does not recognize or will not acknowledge the threat Blair articulates so clearly (and Bush in-articulates so unclearly).  Perhaps as more of their own people assume positions of responsibility, the acknowledgement will come, and our nation can unite for this long struggle.

There is simply no getting around it, because every value the left holds dear — not to mention the broader American values — will be ground into dust everywhere the Islamists gain control.  To recall a long-forgotten political slogan of Richard Gephardt’s, “It’s Your Fight, Too.”  And that means you: environmentalists, labor organizers, gay activists, fighters for economic equality, multilateralist proponents of the UN, church-and-state separatists, extreme civil libertarians, “living and breathing” constitutionalists, TV and movie producers, sexually frank pop singers — all of you.  All of us.

Iraq Endgame

Over Thanksgiving weekend, a provocative column appeared on The New Republic’s site suggesting a way out of Iraq that, on the surface anyway, appeals to my sense of justice.  Swarthmore Professor James Kurth writes that partition is the solution.  But unlike the conventional notions of an Iraq partition into three semi-autonomous states — one for the Kurds, one for the Shi’ites, one for the Sunnis — Kurth says we should grant the Kurds and Shi’ites their sectors, but not the Sunnis, with whom he says we should deal harshly.

Here’s Kurth’s reasoning:

U.S. troops must leave Iraq–but not just yet, and not in the manner many Democrats have suggested. Islamists in general, and Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in particular, are always pointing to past U.S. military retreats–Vietnam in 1975, Lebanon in 1984, Somalia in 1994–as evidence that the American will to wage war invariably collapses as conflicts drag on. As a result, retreating from Iraq now would simply encourage Islamists to attack U.S. allies and targets throughout the world. Before it leaves Iraq, then, the United States must inflict a dramatic and decisive defeat upon the Sunni insurgents–one that will demonstrate the unbearable cost and utter futility of the Islamist dream of establishing a Muslim umma under the rule of a global Sunni caliphate. That defeat must be more than military; it must also be political: The United States should divide Iraq into two parts, leaving the Kurds in control of the north, the Shia in control of the south–and the Sunnis stateless in between. 

The Sunni Arabs of Iraq have much to answer for. Since they have always made up a rather small minority–about 15 to 20 percent of the country’s total population–the regimes they created were historically authoritarian ones. They compensated for their small base by employing especially brutal methods against their Kurdish and Shia neighbors. Successive Sunni governments became steadily more repressive, leading eventually to the rule of the Baath Party and culminating in the ferocious regime of Saddam Hussein. 

After elaborating on his idea — addressing concerns about how Turkey will react and whether this strengthens Iran, Kurth concludes:

At the end of the day, the United States would be acting as a balancer–helping to balance the interests of Shia Iraq and Kurdistan and the interests of Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. U.S. economic interests in a continuing flow of Persian Gulf oil to the global market would be preserved, and U.S. security interests in containing Iran would be enhanced. But the interests of more than 80 percent of the people of Iraq–that is, the Shia and the Kurds–would be enhanced also. They would be the winners in that tormented country’s new order. The losers, of course, would be the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, who would have to pay for the sins of the cruel regimes that represented them in the past and the cruel insurgents whom they support today. 

Kurth’s writing took me back to the start of this misadventure, and reminded me why I supported it.  Hussein’s dictatorship had become intolerable, in the fullest sense of the word.  His regime’s cruelty: Intolerable.  Its belligerence: Intolerable. His corruption of the UN and his European trading partners: Intolerable.  His dealings with terrorist groups: Intolerable.  His flouting of the UN sanctions and weapons inspection process: Intolerable.  Made all the more intolerable after 9/11, when the legitimate fear of his WMD stash ratcheted up the urgency of eliminating him. 

George Bush lost his way shortly after Hussein’s fall — perhaps because he forgot who the enemy was.   We were not liberating “Iraq” from Hussein, because a portion of Iraq was complicit in his regime.  We were liberating the oppressed Shi’ites and Kurds, along with those Sunnis who opposed the Baath party.  The civil war now underway should end the American dream of a multi-party, multi-sect state governed democratically, which was another misdirection, I fear.  But it doesn’t mean we have to lose sight of the pursuit of justice, and it doesn’t mean we have to accept the war’s end on terms that would result in an Islamist Sunni state.  

I don’t know if Kurth is right — I’m not enough of an expert.  But the thinking here gives me a sense of hope that a solution exists.  

While I was away, I did manage to read Jonathan Chait’s awful, mind-boggling column calling for the return of Saddam Hussein.  I half-expected to see a smiley face at the bottom of it:  Just kidding!  I assume he realizes his foolish proposal will follow him forever.  Everything we write on the internets lasts forever, dude.  So for all eternity, Jonathan Chait will be known as the guy who thought Saddam Hussein, convicted mass murderer, should be given back the keys to all his palaces.  Oh, man.

They’re Not Taking it Well

Most of the conservative websites I look at seem relieved they no longer have to defend the Denny Hastert/Bill Frist boodlefest of a Republican Congressional majority; and sadder but wiser with regard to Donald Rumsfeld, who they reluctantly now admit made a mess of Iraq — to the point where it’s pretty clear the next group of “deciders” is going to focus mostly on the famed “exit strategy” of yore. The conservative websites seem resigned to the election’s outcome, and surprisingly cheerful about it. The left-wing bloggers seem a little disappointed in this reaction — or worried. Nothing brings out the paranoia of the left more than cheerful right-wingers. “What are they smiling about?”

But if you were hoping to kick it with some old school, right-wing red meat, I found it! It’s in the Los Angeles-based financial newspaper Investor’s Business Daily. The paper itself is only for subscribers, but Editor & Publisher has a story about a recent editorial:

NEW YORK The conservative business publication, Investor’s Business Daily, isn’t taking this week’s elections results in stride. In a blistering editorial, the newspaper charges that Rep. John Conyers, soon to chair the House Judiciary Committee, is “leading a Democrat jihad to deny law enforcement key terror-fighting tools” and “is in the pocket of Islamists.”

Proof for this? Conyers, whose district in Michigan holds a large Arab-Amercian population, has a version of his Web site in Arabic and allegedly “does the bidding of these new constituents and the militant Islamist activists who feed off them.” More “evidence”: Conyers opposes the Patriot Act and has called for the president’s impeachment.

In addition he “is one of the top recipients of donations from the Arab-American Leadership PAC. And not surprisingly, he has a long history of pandering to Arab and Muslim voters….Today, Hamas, Hezbollah and the al-Qaida-tied Muslim Brotherhood are all active in the area…..

“Expect Conyers and Pelosi to kick open the doors of Congress to Islamists from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other militant groups. They will have unfettered access, even though many of their leaders have been tied to terrorism (some CAIR officials have landed in the big house)…

“Conyers led the defense of Bill Clinton in last decade’s impeachment hearings and is clearly out for blood. So are many of the constituents he serves.”

At the same time, IBD went after George McGovern, who spoke out against the Iraq war this week: “The Democrats seem to have a fondness for party leaders and presidents whose policies and positions, when followed, result in the expansion of tyranny, the subjugation and even death of millions, and added threats to U.S. safety and security.”

Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand, is “a great defense chief and a great man, and deserves a lot better,” a Friday editorial noted. He couldn’t help it if “chaos is endemic to the Arabic culture, of which Iraq is a part.” Rumsfeld’s approval rating in a Newsweek poll released Saturday stands at 24% — seven points less than the president’s.

And as for recently defeated Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee: According to IBD, he “thinks defeat at the polls gives him license to spend his remaining weeks in office wrecking U.S. foreign policy. It’s a final outrage from a traitor to party and president.”

*Update 11/12/06:  I should add that most right wing websites are in revolt against the James Baker/Lee Hamilton study group’s recommendations, with Powerline’s John Hinderaker saying about the reported plan to engage Iran and Syria in a multi-lateral effort to stabilize Iraq:

I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but this sounds like the kind of harebrained scheme that only a team of foreign policy “realists” could come up with. Why on God’s green earth would Iran and Syria, individually or in tandem, help us to pacify Iraq? Both have been doing everything in their power to create disorder in Iraq for the last three years, presumably because they think it is in their interest to do so. How, exactly, do the “realists” expect to change those countries’ assessments of their interests?

About the idea that concessions from Israel on the Golan Heights might induce Syria to help:

What does Israel have to do with the fact that Shia and Sunni Muslims want to tear each other to pieces? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’ll say it again: the idea that pressuring Israel to compromise its security will somehow, magically, solve the Iraqis’ problems is delusional. Maybe Baker et al., know something I don’t, but the idea that Iran and Syria will cooperate to bring peace to that region appears equally far-fetched.

So, under the Baker Commission’s recommendations, what will become of the 12 million Iraqis who voted for freedom and for a normal life? President Bush has said more times than I can count, in speeches spanning the last four years, that all people want to be free, and that freedom is God’s gift to all mankind. If he doesn’t believe that, then what does he believe?

If the Iraqis are to be sold out, at least let them be sold out by the Democrats. No one expected anything better from them.

Maybe this is a clue to why the conservatives aren’t so unhappy about the Democrats’ rise.

Legacy Fever: Predicting the Next Two Years

George W. Bush is going to be focused on his legacy for the next two years. He doesn’t want his legacy to be 9/11 or the war in Iraq. Merely coping with a crisis does not give a president a prominent place in history. Certainly the Iraq war will leave a mixed legacy at best — toppling Hussein was good, but the handling of the insurgency was terrible. Anyway, the war’s final reckoning we won’t know for a long time, if ever. The nature of what the neocons were thinking when they decided to invade Iraq ironically cancels out the potential for historical credit.

For example:  If Britain had invaded Germany when Hitler marched his armies into the Rhineland in 1936 in violation of the treaty of Locarno, the Nazis would have been defeated, Hitler likely deposed and, we know now, perhaps 50 million lives would have been saved. But no one would know about that now, because history only runs forward, not backward. Such a move by Britain might have been seen as unwarranted aggression at the time, and infamous for the rest of history. That’s why the British government didn’t do it, even though they had a right to, and the dead from WWII would wish for it.

I think the neocons around Bush were determined to jump ahead of the curve of history. We’ll never really know if what they did saved any lives from, say, a nuclear Hussein. Right now, it mostly looks like a bloody mess, and the neocons are finished.  The dismissal of Rumsfeld closes that chapter, even though the war grinds on.

So where will Bush turn to build a legacy? Every president of my lifetime has left at least one positive thing for which history will remember them. In some cases the fulfillment of their legacy occurred after they left office.

Eisenhower — The Interstate Highway system.

Kennedy — The Apollo program.

Johnson — the Civil Rights bill, Voting Rights Act and similar measures to fulfill the promise of equal rights for all Americans.

Nixon — Opening up China

Ford — Pardoning Nixon, which wrapped up the Watergate episode.

Carter — Arab/Israeli peace accords

Reagan — Taming inflation for a generation; peacefully ending the Cold War.

Bush 41 — Winning the first Gulf War (which inspired the Coen Brothers classic “The Big Lebowski.”)

Clinton — Welfare reform, NAFTA.

Bush 43 has done nothing comparable.  If his presidency ended today, he’d be seen as the president who was on duty on 9/11, and rallied the nation.  But that’s not a legacy, and in fact one could argue that he has failed to persuade the entire country that we are really at war with Islamic fundamentalists. Bush turned it into a divisive political issue — although I can’t put all the blame for that on him.  He’d also be seen as the president who topped Hussein, but at this point, that looks like an outrageously costly accomplishment — although maybe history will judge it differently.

I don’t think Bush will be satisfied to leave things that way.  Oh, it’s possible.  He might already be doing the Crawford Countdown.  There was always an element of truth in Will Farrell’s Bush parodies in 2000, in which Bush seemed ambivalent about being president, seeing as how it was such a hard job.  But I tend to think by now, he hungers for respect and validation from future historians.  So what will he do?

Given the current makeup of Congress, it will have to be bipartisan.  I’m going to guess that he’s going to take another run at Social Security.  Saving that program from the baby-boom bulge would be something to point to. My guess is that’s what he’ll try.

I know what he’d really like.  The liberal side of W has to do with immigration.  He sincerely believes that the illegal aliens working in this country now should become citizens, in some way. It’s good for business, and it’s humanitarian; that’s how he sees it.  Maybe he’ll go in that direction, but if he did, I think the politics would be explosive.  Not only would the Republican party fall apart, but significant parts of the Democratic party might be tempted to redefine itself as a nationalist party, the party of Lou Dobbs, as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg puts it today.

Most of those (Democrats) who reclaimed Republican seats ran hard against free trade, globalization, and any sort of moderate immigration policy. That these Democrats won makes it likely that others will take up their reactionary call. Some of the newcomers may even be foolish enough to try to govern on the basis of their misguided theory.

Until we know where Bush is going to take his legacy fever — and until we know if he even has one — it’s impossible to really predict the 2008 election.   The next two years will set it up, just as Clinton’s last two years set up the trainwreck of 2000.

Democracy in Action

As enjoyable as last night’s election results turned out to be, the news this morning that Donald Rumsfeld is resigning gave me a bigger jolt of joyful adrenalin. It’s awe-inspiring, folks. Yesterday we voted. Today, the world changed because of our votes.

As of this moment, there’s nothing to link to, just news flashes all over the web, like this site, which is where I first saw it:

rumsfeld-copy.jpg

This means democracy works! The president was forced to listen to the public, and took this hugely significant step.

We’ve got more than 100,000 troops in Iraq, and millions of Iraqis who are depending on our country to make some useful contribution to end a bloody terrorist insurgency and avert a looming civil war. We’ve got Iran to deal with — and North Korea. So long as Rumsfeld was in charge, a huge and growing percentage of the population — including many who had supported the idea of military action to topple Hussein — no longer believed the Administration was credible or effective, and thus would withhold their support, even from measures that were necessary.

In a perverse way, President Bush did a good thing when he announced, a few days before the election, that Rumsfeld would stay. He made this election an even clearer choice. He obviously underestimated the public’s fury — no big surprise there. But now that Bush’s party has lost, no question about it, Rumsfeld had to go. And so he will.

What other messages is Bush hearing from the electorate? What kind of mandate is the likely Speaker Pelosi taking from all this? What will it do to the Democratic Party to gain a decisive voice in government for the first time in six years? How does this election remake the landscape for 2008 — the first truly wide-open presidential election since 1952? I don’t know. But it’s going to be fun to find out.

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so much of my life involved with politics. It hadn’t been fun for a long time. Days like today remind me why I was attracted to this game. It doesn’t mean I’m going back into it — I never will. But I hope some young people are getting a kick out of this epochal moment. From my seat on the sidelines, I sure am.

A Democrat from Iraq Observes Democracy in America

“24 Steps to Liberty” is a blog written by an anonymous 28-year-old Baghdad man. At various points during the war, I’ve checked in on his observations about the fighting and the politics in Iraq–and I would recommend his archives to you.   Recently, “24″ moved to California to attend journalism school — I haven’t found the post where he says where he’s going, but he might be keeping that a secret, too.  For a class assignment he wrote a report on “America’s Midterm Elections.” It’s more than a little sour, but I thought it was a good reflection of how politics feels to a lot of Americans now, in ways we probably don’t even register emotionally.

A few months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, rumors suggested that Iraqis would soon vote “democratically and freely” for the first time in decades. We were confused. The only experience we had in voting was in two referendums to decide whether Saddam Hussein should stay the “only leader and the hero of the Arab nation” in Iraq. That, of course, was more of a joke_ and a day-off_ than a true political experiment.

In the months leading to the January 2005 elections in Iraq, political campaigns flooded our country. Politicians rallied to sell themselves and we, Iraqis, listened carefully, spending hours analyzing their positions. When many risked their lives to vote on Election Day, we were at least informed.

Democracy is exhausting, but twice more, Iraqis have taken it seriously—for the constitutional referendum in October 2005 and the parliamentary elections in mid-December.

And, this is where our two democracies differ sharply. Here, in the full democracy of the United States, where Americans have lost thousands of men and women to violence around the world and the “war on terrorism,” it’s shocking how few citizens make use of freedom of speech and “democracy.”

A few weeks ago, I attended a forum in Tracy, California in which Democrat Jerry McNerney, and the incumbent, Republican Congressman Richard Pombo presented their platforms. During the session, people applauded their candidates, booed each other and showed nothing but stubbornness. No one demonstrated any willingness to listen and to think about the other side. At the end of the session, I failed to understand the point of having the debate-like session.

I understand that the polls suggest the Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives, but I find it hard to believe and don’t.

If the forum in Tracy was any indicator, democrats will always vote democrat, and republicans will remain with their party. The only chance for a change remains with the few who are open to voting for the other party and in my judgment, it’s too few to make a difference.

( snip)

The political debates and discussions we see now, I believe, will change nothing.

People have already made up their minds. They already know who they will support. No matter what mistakes were made by the republicans, very few of their supporters, if any, are going to the polls on November 7 to demonstrate their anger and vote for a democrat.

The nearing midterm election in Nov. 7 is nothing but a “democratic” practice people will enjoy, especially those who just turned 18 _ because it is there first time to toss the paper into the box or press the screen.

Even if the democrats won the mid term elections this year, those hoping for a political change in the United States have to wait until the next presidential elections. It is then when the average American will have another chance to make a difference. Another chance to be a decision maker.

That last point is basically right. As Mickey Kaus has pointed out, the results of tomorrow’s election will have a number of perverse effects. It is Bush Administration’s mismanagement of the war that will cost them one or two houses of Congress, but after the vote, Bush will still be in charge of Iraq policy.

A Democratic win is difficult to associate with a specific policy change — because the party hasn’t recommended one. Check out this ad from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. All it calls for is “to ask the hard questions about Iraq.” Believe me, that’s more than enough reason to justify a change in party control — in order to hold the Administration’s feet to the fire. But the demand is so painfully modest — a seat at the table for the opposition party. The ad’s visual atmosphere says “we should pull out,” but the text does not say or imply that.

I don’t think either party knows what to do now.  And yet, this election is being billed as “a watershed.”  Perhaps history will show it to be one.  But who can possibly say now?

____________________________

“24″ has good things to say about America. He’s clearly glad to be here. You might want to check out another post of his: “Ten Things I Hate and Twelve I Love About America.” That’s a net plus of two! First, though, from the “hate” side of the ledger:

* People don’t cover their mouths when they yawn.
* They don’t give their seats to elderly or women in buses and underground trains.
* When they hear about people hit or abused in Iraq, they call it torture. But when the American armed forces and the CIA do the same thing, they call it “abuse!”
* Newspapers call those who killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis “insurgents.” But when someone plans an attack inside the U.S., even if only planned and was failed, he/she is a “terrorist.”
* They burp loud in public.
* They send their parents to the elderly houses or leave them to live alone when they are old and incapable of taking care of themselves.
* They don’t have or tell jokes.
* A husband and a wife are not one. They are separate entities and children are taught to grow into the same thing.

And now for some “love.”

* People are nice and helpful.
* I am free to do, eat and wear whatever I want as long as I don’t offend others.
* I can walk freely in the streets as late as I want [I hear about crimes and shootings, but I don’t care]
* People listen to you and always try to advise.
* Transportation inside the cities is really good. It makes my life so much easier.
* People love and cherish their feel of belongingness to their soil and they are proud of their flag.

* Education system is great, for those who can afford it.
* They call their political leaders “stupid” and keep reelecting them!
* I don’t hear explosions and don’t wake up on the IED-alarm-clock everyday like I used to in Baghdad.

Don’t forget to vote!

Okay. I Believe John Kerry Meant it as a Joke. So Why Didn’t He Apologize? *(updated)

kerry-plays-soccer.jpgI don’t get John Kerry — and even though I voted for the guy, I never really did get him. My theory on Kerry, which always riled my mother to no end, was that he was burdened by the appearance of being a highly intelligent man, when in fact he is just average. If he looked like, say, me, for example, he would have gone into a line of work more commensurate with his abilities. That world-bearing gravitas…isn’t that the kind of wise leader we need for our troubled times? So his face seems to say.

His face lies. With the best chance of beating an incumbent president since 1968 (I think Clinton bucked the odds in ’92 by beating Bush, aided heavily by the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot), Kerry managed to blow the 2004 presidential election. I don’t think it was a sudden outbreak of love for W. I think a lot of fence-sitters at the end were turned off by Kerry, and stuck with the devil they knew. He just didn’t seem very smart, after all.

So last night in Pasadena, Kerry made his famous comment to the students at the City College, saying, We’re here to talk about education, but I want to say something before, you know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

Unbelievable. Even if this was how he really felt — and the sentiment did seem to fit what we know about this pompous preppy — it seemed impossible that he would actually say it.

So — it was a gaffe, right? He meant to make a joke about the “dumb” Bush getting us stuck in Iraq, and it came out wrong. To stop the bleeding, here’s the PR 101: Apologize. Right away. Say he realizes what he said might have been taken as an insult by our servicemen and women in Iraq. He didn’t mean to suggest they all got there because they screwed up in school. Mea culpa.

But no. Here‘s what he actually said today about the mess he made:

Let me make it crystal clear, as crystal clear as I know how. I apologize to no one for my criticism of the president and of his broken policy. If anyone owes our troops in the fields an apology, it is the president and his failed team and a Republican majority in the Congress that has been willing to stamp — rubberstamp policies that have done injury to our troops and to their families.

My statement yesterday — and the White House knows this full well — was a botched joke about the president and the president’s people, not about the troops. The White House’s attempt to distort my true statement is a remarkable testament to their abject failure in making America safe. It’s a stunning statement about their willingness to reduce anything America, the raw politics. It’s their willingness to distort, their willingness to mislead Americans, their willingness to exploit the troops as they have so many times at backdrops, at so many speeches in which they have not told the American people the truth.

I’m not going to stand for it. What our troops deserve is a winning strategy, and what they deserve is leadership that is up to the sacrifice that they’re making. Sadly, this is the best that this administration can do in a month when we have lost 100 young men and women who have given their lives for a failed policy. Over half the names on the Vietnam wall were put there after our leaders knew that our policy was wrong, and it was wrong that leaders were quiet then, and I’m not going to be quiet now. This is a textbook Republican campaign strategy: try to change the topic, try to make someone else the issue, try to make something else said the issue, not the policy, not their responsibility.

Well, everybody knows it’s not working this time, and I’m not going to stand around and let it work.

If anyone thinks that a veteran, someone like me, who’s been fighting my entire career to provide for veterans, to fight for their benefits, to help honor what their service is — if anybody thinks that a veteran would somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq, and not the president and his people who put them there, they’re crazy. It’s just wrong.

This is a classic GOP textbook Republican campaign tactic. I’m sick and tired of a bunch of despicable Republicans who will not debate real policy, who won’t take responsibility for their own mistakes, standing up and trying to make other people the butt of those mistakes.

I’m sick and tired of a whole bunch of Republican attacks, the most of which come from people who never wore the uniform and never had the courage to stand up and go to war themselves.

Enough is enough. We’re not going to stand for this.

This policy is broken, and this president and his administration didn’t do their homework. They didn’t study what would happen in Iraq. They didn’t study and listen to the people who were the experts and would have told them. And they know that’s what I was talking about yesterday. I’m not going to be lectured by a White House or by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, who’s taking a day off from mimicking and attacking Michael J. Fox, who’s now going to try to attack me and lie about me and distort me. No way. It disgusts me that a bunch of these Republican hacks, who have never worn the uniform of our country, are willing to lie about those who did. It’s over.

This administration has given us a Katrina foreign policy: mistake upon mistake upon mistake, unwilling to give our troops the armor that they need, unwilling to have enough troops in place, unwilling to give them the humvees that they deserve to protect them, unwilling to have a coalition that is adequate to be able to defend our interests.

Our own intelligence agency has told us they’re creating more terrorists, not less; they’re making us less safe, not more. I think Americans are sick and tired of this game.

These Republicans are afraid to stand up and debate a real veteran on this topic, and they’re afraid to debate — you know, they want to debate straw men because they’re afraid to debate real men.

Well, we’re going to have a real debate in this country about this policy. The bottom line is, these Republicans want to distort this policy. And this time it won’t work, because we are going to stay in their face with the truth. And no Democrat is going to be bullied by these people, by these kinds of attacks that have no place in American politics. It’s time to set our policy correct.

They have a stand still and lose policy in Iraq, and they have a cut and run policy in Afghanistan. And the fact is our troops, who have served heroically, who deserve better, deserve leadership that is up to their sacrifice, period.

Q Senator, John McCain said that you owe an apology to many thousands of Americans serving in Iraq who answered their country’s call because they are patriots. Should those people who didn’t get your joke, who may have misinterpreted you as saying the undereducated are cannon fodder — what do you say to them?

KERRY: Never said that. And John McCain knows I’ve never said that, and John McCain knows I wouldn’t say that. And John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Donald Rumsfeld for making the mistakes he’s made. John McCain ought to ask for an apology from this administration for not sending in enough troops. He ought to ask for an apology for putting our troops on the line with a policy that doesn’t have an adequate coalition, that doesn’t have adequate diplomacy, where we don’t have a strategy to win.

And what we need is to debate the real issues, not these phony, sideline issues that are part of the politics. Americans are tired — sick and tired of this kind of politics. They know my true feelings. They know I fought to provide additional money for veterans. They know I fought to provide money for combat — for veterans. They know I fought to put money for VA. They know I’ve honored those veterans. They know that this is the finest military — and I’ve said it a hundred thousand times — that we’ve ever had. They know precisely what I was saying, and they’re trying to turn this, because they have a bankrupt policy and they can’t defend it to the nation and they can’t defend it to the world, and I’m not going to stand for this anymore, period. That’s the apology that people ought to get.

Q Do you need to go to joke school?

KERRY: Sure. Q It sounds like you regret saying those remarks. And what were you trying to say?

KERRY: Very simple, that they — that those who didn’t study it properly, those who made the decisions, they got us into Iraq, very simple. And the fact is they know that. The administration knows that. And they’re simply trying to distort this. They’re trying to play a game, and again, I’m not going to stand for it. This is the kind of thing that makes Americans sick. People know.

And there ought to be some level of honor and trust in this process. You know, I have fought a lifetime on behalf of veterans, and we have the finest young men and women serving us in the United States military that we’ve ever had. And I’m proud of that. But this administration has let them down, and that was clearly in a remark directed at this administration. They understand it, they want to distort it. It’s a classic Republican playbook. They want to change the topic. We’re not going to let them change the topic. The topic is their failed policy in Iraq. The topic is that they don’t have a strategy; they don’t have a way to be able to win.

You got Dick Cheney saying everything’s just terrific in Iraq only a week ago. John McCain ought to ask for an apology from Dick Cheney for misleading America. He ought to ask for an apology from the president for lying about the nuclear program in Africa. He ought to ask for an apology for once again a week ago referring to al Qaeda as being the central problem in Iraq when al Qaeda is not the central problem.

Enough is enough! I’m not going to stand for these people trying to shift the topic and make it politics. America deserves a real discussion about real policy, and that’s what this election is going to be about next Tuesday.

Q Senator –

KERRY: One more question, and then, I got to run.

Q (Off mike) –

KERRY: Let me tell you something, I’m not going to give them one ounce of daylight to spread one of their lies and to play this game ever, ever again. That is a lesson I learned deep and hard, and I’ll tell you, I will stand up anywhere across this country and take these guys on. This is dishonoring not just the troops themselves by pointing the finger at the troops, it’s abusing the troops. They’re using the troops. They’re trying to make the troops into the target here. I didn’t do that, and they know that. And for them to suggest that somebody who served their country as I did and has a record like I have in the United States Congress of standing up and fighting for the troops would ever, every insult the troops is an insult in and of itself. And they owe us an apology for even daring to use the White House to stand up and make this an issue again. Shame on them. Shame on them. And may the American people take that shame to the polls with them next Tuesday.

Thank you, all.

Wow. Just terrible. He thinks it’s 2004, and the Swift Boat guys are after him again. Only this time, he’s going to man up, and confront those bastards. Isn’t that what he’s thinking? Sure seems like it. Except the hard-nose, not-backin’-down rhetoric is all wrong for the event that prompted it. Everyone knows he hates Bush, disagrees with the Republicans — nothing new there. But it’s the soldiers in Iraq who needed to hear from him, not political reporters! Bush wasn’t offended — the troops and their families were (presumably).

Now he’s guaranteed a fire-storm. Democratic candidates will get drawn into it, their GOP opponents “demanding” they renounce the party’s 2004 standard-bearer. Commercials are being cut now. The Democrats don’t get it, the Democrats disrespect the troops, the Vietnam syndrome lives. Blah blah blah. Count on it.

I was thinking this weekend that the Democrats had finally gotten it together, and were about to win this mid-term election with a margin to spare in the House, and perhaps squeak by in the Senate, developments I welcomed as exceedingly healthy for both the nation and the party. But now, this colossal narcissist John Kerry, who shouldn’t even be out in public… Well, we’ll see how it turns out.

My stomach’s in knots. We did not need this.

*Update, 11/1/06:  As expected, Kerry has retracted his pledge to “apologize to no one.”  He has apologized to anyone who “misinterpreted” his remarks:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. John Kerry apologized Wednesday for a “poorly stated joke,” which the Massachusetts senator says was aimed at the president but was widely perceived as a slam on U.S. troops.

“I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended,” he said in a written statement.

“As a combat veteran, I want to make it clear to anyone in uniform and to their loved ones: My poorly stated joke at a rally was not about, and [was] never intended to refer to any troop,” he said.

Not to be a grammar Bushitler, but:

Coming from such a highly educated man, I’m surprised this statement’s double-negative got through.  If Kerry’s words were “misinterpreted to wrongly imply” something, doesn’t that mean the opposite of “interpreted to wrongly imply,” and also the opposite of “misinterpreted to imply?”  If you misintepret something to wrongly imply something else, the two negatives cancel each other out, so you’re left with a statement correctly “interpreted to imply….” Which is what we were saying all along — he insulted the troops.

Maybe Kerry didn’t study hard enough.

It Won’t Be Jane Harman? (Updated)*

Until the post-2000 redistricting, Jane Harman was my congresswoman, and I was always pleased to vote for her. My part of the South Bay used to be one of the few real, bona-fide “swing” districts for both congressional and state legislative races, thus the political debate was sharper and the candidates, on both sides, more solid. The ideal candidate for this district was a pro-environment, pro-strong defense, pro-choice, fiscally responsible Democrat and that’s what Jane Harman is.

harman.jpgHowever, she now serves a district where anybody with a -D. after their name would win — where she faced a primary challenge from the left — and I’m now in a “safe” Republican district, represented by my fellow former Palos Verdes High School graduate Dana Rohrabacher, who was once a self-described “anarcho-capitalist,” and still pretty much votes like one. When I was working with the Port of LA, I heard him propose that the answer to increased post-9/11 port security was for the ports to charge shippers more, with each port free to make its own decision on whether to do this and by how much. He seemed completely unaware that the west coast ports all compete for business; that there was already a long-standing “race to the bottom” on port enviromental mitigations, and the last thing we needed was a similar competition on security.

But I digress.

To reset, Jane Harman is a good congressional representative. She is smart, prepared, and has an independent mind. She has been the ranking Democratic member on the House Intelligence Committee, and in that role has gained national prominence. She has been a good face for the Democratic party when the war against the jihad is being discussed, and would be even better in the role of chair heading into the 2008 presidential campaign.

I didn’t know until today, however, that if the Democrats win a majority in the House of Representatives in next month’s election, Harman will not become the chair. From the NY Times:

Ms. Harman, a moderate from Southern California, has been one of the party’s most outspoken voices on national security matters since the Sept. 11 attacks. But she has also drawn sharp criticism from more liberal Democrats, including Ms. (Nancy) Pelosi, who have privately said that she has not sufficiently used her position to attack the Bush administration for its prewar intelligence failures on Iraq and for its use of secret programs like the domestic eavesdropping carried out without warrants by the National Security Agency.

Losing Harman’s leadership is unfortunate. But get this:

Two candidates whom Ms. Pelosi is said to be considering for Intelligence Committee chairman are Representatives Alcee L. Hastings of Florida and Silvestre Reyes of Texas, both of whom currently serve on the panel.

The selection of Mr. Hastings, who is black, would help Ms. Pelosi shore up support from the powerful Congressional Black Caucus. But he has a checkered past, having been impeached and removed from a federal judgeship in 1989 on a bribery charge. Some Democrats fear that installing him in so sensitive a position would only invite Republican charges of weak Democratic leadership on national security matters.

Umm…ya think? What kind of House Speaker would pull an experienced intelligence expert like Harman for a former judge found to have taken a $150,000 bribe in exchange for a lenient sentence? This is a position with access to highly classified information!  I’m not sure but I believe that among intelligence experts, the term for people who take bribes is “security risk.”

The Times story reports that Harman has been lobbying for the job, and the lobbying has gotten her into trouble — both alienating Pelosi and reportedly (in Time) prompting an investigation into whether Harman “had made improper promises” to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) in exchange for its support of her candidacy. According to Harman’s attorney, former Bush solicitor general Theodore Olsen, Harman is not under investigation, “and the idea that she should be investigated for being a supporter of Aipac is frightening.”

The idea that a Speaker Pelosi would toss Harman aside is frightening. The idea that the Democratic Party, with a real chance to win a majority in an election two weeks from now, would publicize Pelosi’s preference for someone so compromised as Hastings to head up the Intelligence Committee is ridiculous. Karl Rove does not deserve such a gift.

*Update:  Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball have a story up today that fails to resolve whether or not Harman is being investigated for her Aipac ties, but gives a lot more detail on the overlapping agendas of Harman, Pelosi, current Republican chair Peter Hoekstra and the issue of whether the committee was vigilant enough in watching the bribe-fueled lobbying activities of disgraced Rep. Duke Cunningham.

If Harman isn’t being investigated by the FBI, someone is sure making a big effort to make it appear like she is.

Is It Tet Yet? John Keegan Says No

John Keegan is the pre-eminent military historian of our times. He was prompted today to write an op-ed for the Daily Telegraph by President Bush’s statement in a recent interview agreeing with the notion that what is going on today in Iraq is comparable to the Tet Offensive. Tet was launched by the combined forces of the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong in early 1968. It ended a year and a half later as a ruinous military failure, but a massive propaganda success. The fact that the enemy in Vietnam could launch an assault in South Vietnamese territory on 40 towns and cities made American leadership’s promises of “a light at the end of the tunnel” appear to be foolish pipe dreams and/or base lies.

Bush’s fiercest foes like the Tet comparison because that offensive caused Lyndon Johnson to drop out of the race for re-election. Keegan is unhappy that Bush bought into the Tet analogy:

His admission can do nothing but harm, certainly to him and to his administration, but also to the US forces in general and to the servicemen in Iraq in particular.

A large part of the reason for that is the lack of comparability between Iraq and Vietnam. Anyone familiar with both situations will be struck by the dissimilarities, particularly of scale and in the nature of the enemy.

By January 1968, total American casualties in Vietnam — killed, wounded and missing — had reached 80,000 and climbing. Eventually deaths in combat and from other causes would exceed 50,000, of which 36,000 were killed in action. Casualties in Iraq are nowhere near those figures. In a bad week in Vietnam, the US could suffer 2,000 casualties. Since 2003, American forces in Iraq have never suffered as many as 500 casualties a month. The number of casualties inflicted in Iraq are not established, but are under 50,000. In any year of the Vietnam war, the communist party of North Vietnam sent 200,000 young men to the battlefields in the south, most of whom did not return. Vietnam was one of the largest and costliest wars in history. The insurgency in Iraq resembles one of the colonial disturbances of imperial history.

There is a good reason for the difference. The Vietnamese communists had organised and operated a countryside politico-military organisation with branches in almost every village. The North Vietnamese People’s Army resembled that of an organised Western state. It conscripted recruits throughout the country, trained, organised and equipped them.

The Iraqi insurgency, by contrast, is an informal undertaking by a coalition of religious and ex-Ba’athist groups. It has no high command or bureaucracy resembling the disciplined Marxist structures of North Vietnam. It has some support from like-minded groups in neighbouring countries, but nothing to compare with the North Vietnamese international network, which was supported by China and the Soviet Union and imported arms and munitions from both those countries on a large scale.

North Vietnam was, moreover, a sovereign state, supported explicitly by all other communist countries and by many sympathetic regimes in the Third World. The Iraqi insurgency has sympathisers, but they enjoy no organised system of support and are actively opposed by many of their neighbours and Muslim co-religionists.

The whole thing’s worth reading, as are the highly disputatious comments that follow. Some think Keegan missed the point of Bush’s comment — that in fact Bush was agreeing with Keegan that Tet was a failure of the battlefield, but a success in turning the American media against the war. (That is not how Bush’s “admission” was played on the news broadcasts I heard.) Others think the comparison with Vietnam is, in fact, quite apt:

Mr. Keegan has missed one very crucial similarity between Iraq & Vietnam: Mr. Bush avoided fighting personally in both wars. And yet he urges us to “stay the course”, “get the job done”, and accuses others of “cut-and-run.” What a fine example he sets.

Although Mr. Keegan may very well deserve his reputation as an astute military historian, he is just that – an historian, and not in the war. 50,000 dead and 2,000 dead may seem different to a historian, but it is no difference at all to the families of the dead. I daresay anyone who uses cold numbers to justify this war, has not lost a loved one in this war.

If America or Britain were occupied and thousands of our citizens killed due to “collateral damage”, it would be quite understandable if many of us were willing to fight to the death to expel the occupiers from our home – no matter how many years it took. Many people around the world would likely do the same – including people in Iraq and Vietnam, and even Mr. Bush or Mr. Keegan. Maybe.

But of course, that is not how we see Iraq. In this “War on Terror”, as we sit comfortably in our living rooms surfing the Internet half a world away, it is WE who feel terrorized.

For myself, I’m amazed that Keegan — whose books are great; vivid and thought-provoking — sees what’s going on in Iraq as comparable to a “colonial disturbance.” It is far more significant than that.

The Islamist war against the West and the West’s response is going to be essentially about perception and persuasion for the foreseeable future; but there’s no question Iraq is where that war is happening now — where our soldiers are dying, and where the enemy is going for broke. Keegan is right that the force we face there is not organized or equipped like a real army — but if anything, that’s why the situation is so dire for us. We can’t afford to lose to such a ragged force, but we don’t know how to overcome them and pacify the land we’ve conquered. This underequipped, disorganized and divided enemy is calling the tune. How did we ever let ourselves get into such a posture?

Foreign Policy Mix-Up

I agree with some foreign-policy hawks that our country needs to get more real about the threat we face from radical Islamists. Though I am a Democrat, I have given the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt, not because I “agree” with them, but because the Constitution gives them the burden of responsibilty to protect this country, and I believe that there can only be so much political interference with their carrying-out of this responsibility before it becomes damaging to the country. The childishness, cliquishness, hypocrisy and naked partisanship of the Administration’s critics has drained much of whatever ideological sympathy I might have started with. I mean, my God, even the most committed liberals must get bored with the constant “Bushitler asshole” rants — although the evidence is they can’t get enough of it.

All that being said: This is disgraceful, unacceptable and makes we want to impeach all of them:

FOR the past several months, I’ve been wrapping up lengthy interviews with Washington counterterrorism officials with a fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”

A “gotcha” question? Perhaps. But if knowing your enemy is the most basic rule of war, I don’t think it’s out of bounds. And as I quickly explain to my subjects, I’m not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who’s on what side today, and what does each want?

After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.

Just to cut to the chase for those who can’t keep it straight: Bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, and his #2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is from Egypt. These are Sunni states. Al Queda is a Sunni organization.  The Taliban?  Sunni.  Hezbollah, on the other hand, is Shiite.  The Ayatollah Khomeini?  A Shiite.

And, it goes without saying, there are millions of Sunnis and Shiites who don’t belong to terrorist organizations.  Neither denomination is inherently “more radical.”  There are far more Sunnis than Shiites, by a factor greater than 5 to 1. The origin of the split was the Shiites belief that only the descendents of Ali, Muhammed’s son-in-law, can lead the Muslim people.  But the split occured at the dawn of Islam, and at this point the differences are more the result of how the two sects developed historically over the succeeding 1,400 years.

A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.

But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?

The author of this op-ed, Jeff Stein, who writes for Congressional Quarterly, makes a little game out of asking senior FBI officials and members of Congress if they know anything about the Shi’a and the Sunnis, and which forces are allied with which sects. Here’s an example:

At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the (FBI’s) new national security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. “Yes, sure, it’s right to know the difference,” he said. “It’s important to know who your targets are.”

That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. “The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following,” he said. “And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following.”

O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran — Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. “Iran and Hezbollah,” I prompted. “Which are they?”

He took a stab: “Sunni.”

Wrong.

Al Qaeda? “Sunni.”

Right.

I think I could make a lot of money in Washington if I just printed out a palm-sized card that briefly explained the difference between the two denominations, how they started, and which countries and organizations are associated with each one. I’m sure I could sell quite a few to the Democrats who are about to take over the key committees. They must be a little glad that it’s Republican officials whose stupidity is being exposed. This gives them a little time to bone up.

fainted.jpgThe ignorance — and arrogance defense of such ignorance — is particularly galling at a time when we are fighting a war in Iraq, a country whose primary characteristic is that it contains large populations of both Shiites and Sunnis. If you can’t keep straight which group is closer to Iran, vs. which group is supported by Al Queda…

(I’m sorry, I just fainted.)

Ned Lamont and “Message Clarity”: A Winning Formula for the Democrats?

A few months ago, I complained about “Lieberman-hatred,” and my bafflement at the virulent rhetoric being aimed at a good man; but I have to admit his critics identified a personality flaw in the Connecticut senator. To paraphrase Peter Beinert: Because Bin Laden and Hussein are clearly worse than George W. Bush, Joe Lieberman believed anyone who criticized the president’s conduct of the war was helping Bin Laden and Hussein. So it was Joe Lieberman’s duty to boost Bush, despite disagreements, despite party differences, despite everything. 

To Lieberman, this was simply patriotic.  To his critics, Lieberman’s stance was craven; moreover, it implicity downgraded the patriotism of his fellow Democratic Party members.

ned-lamont.jpgIt is probably this perception, more than his position on the war itself, that cost Lieberman the support of his state’s Democrats, and swung the primary election to Ned Lamont.  After all, Lieberman was just one of many Democratic senators and House members who had voted for the war, and have so far declined to demand an immediate pull-out –which many Democrats agree would be irresponsible. 

To the left, Lieberman became a symbol of Democratic capitulation to Bush/Cheney in the years after 9/11 because he seemed so proud of his pro-war position, and even prouder, specifically, that he was supporting this president.  That was not so wise, politically. Any Democrat who fails to speak ill of George W. Bush in 2006 is suspect in the eyes of most Democratic activists. This colorful post, from Americablog.com’s John Aravosis expresses this feeling:

So, if the media and their GOP handlers are correct that bloggers are to the far-left of the Democratic party, and we all opposed Joe Lieberman because we supposedly hate conservative Democrats who support the war on terror, then why is it that we really like Harry Reid (a pro-life, white guy, who supports the flag burning amendment), but we aren’t shedding a lot of tears over last night’s defeat of Cynthia McKinney (a black woman and flaming liberal who was highly critical of George Bush)?And why is it that other Democrats who were supporters of the war in Iraq, and have significant progressive constituencies, and who are up for re-election this year, aren’t facing serious criticism from us, and aren’t facing serious primary challengers?

If we’re all flaming liberals who hate anyone who supported the war in Iraq, then why is Lieberman the only guy we’re upset with?

Or maybe: the Republicans are lying; the media, as usual, fell for their lies hook, line and sinker; and Joe Lieberman lost because he was George Bush’s love child and the American people have had it with this administration; their incompetence; and anyone who blindly enables it.

It’s not just bloggers, by the way. The “netroots” are just a new name for a species of zealous activist that has been around a long time. I’ve been a Democrat all my voting life, and I don’t recall a time when it was ever “okay” with self-identified Democrats to say they agreed with a Republican president about anything until he was safely out of office and preferably dead.

When Democrats start saying things like “We need to be pro-jobs,” or “We’re too weak on defense,” or “We need to be tougher on crime,” that’s normal Democratic angst.  But Democrats who said out loud that Nixon, Reagan or Bush 41 were better on a core issue generally were getting ready to leave the party (except Democrats trying to hold onto a Democratic seat in a very Republican district.)  It is no different in the era of Bush 43.  Democrats don’t agree on everything, but they are united in their eloquent hatred of Republicans in power.

While observing that, I still saw some of the netroot celebrants going down a disturbing and probably self-defeating path. My DD on the “many benefits of Ned Lamont’s victory” was typical of many and more articulate than most:

With Ned Lamont’s victory, we will now see far fewer Democrats in Washington and elsewhere take the easy path to media stardom that the corporate media had provided for Democrats since the mid-1980′s: talk about liberals and/or Democrats in the same way Republicans talk about liberals and/or Democrats. No one will want to be the next Joe Lieberman, and as such this victory will change Democratic behavior. This will now make it much more difficult for Republicans to close Daou’s triangle on a variety of issues, as they quickly will find a shortage of elected Democrats willing to use anti-Democratic Republican talking points. Thus, the more partisan messaging will make it far more difficult for conservatives and Republicans to dominate the conventional wisdom narratives of our national political discourse. This will also mean fewer “Democrats divided” narratives in the media, and help us slowly begin building toward greater message clarity. Today we already have seen how Lamont’s victory this defeat freed up Senator Dodd on Iraq and Emmanuel on Bush. This is just the beginning.

joe-lieberman.jpgDaou’s Triangle, by the way, refers to this diagram by Peter Daou, which is supposed to show how bloggers (by which he means activists) and the regular party establishment can work in concert to get the “corporate media” to repeat their messages and influence the public.  According to this meme, the Republican triangle works flawlessly — in part because apostates like Lieberman lend more credibility to their messages – but the Democratic triangle is “broken.” 

But the question is:  In service of a PR objective (“fewer ‘Democrats divided’ narratives,” “greater message clarity”), should Democrats who take different positions be run out of the party?  This is what he seems to be saying. It’s a peculiar stance for a Democrat, one that seems out of step with the historical nature of the party. 

There is no specific Democratic position on a large assortment of issues, except for disdain for Bush.  How do you decide which of the many Democratic positions on Iraq and the Islamist threat–not to mention Social Security, health care, education, gay marriage, the environment, gun control, etc. etc.–should be purged for the sake of “message clarity?”  “I don’t belong to an organized party; I’m a Democrat,” Will Rogers’ famous remark, was uttered just as the party entered its period of greatest dominance.

Is it so different today?  Must the nature of what it means to be a Democrat really become so narrow in order for the party to succeed?

“Message clarity” is not a virtue unto itself.  It is a PR technique, and generally a defensive one. Straying from the “key messages” is usually seen as dangerous for a CEO or corporate spokesperson dealing with a crisis, or anticipating criticism.  It is not a confident stance, nor is it a way to foster the kind of creativity that — in my opinion — the Democratic party really needs more than anything right now. 

Obeying, I guess, the iron law of Daou’s Triangle, the left- and right-wing bloggers are now furiously, frantically spinning to claim not who “won” yesterday’s vote — clearly, that was the left — but which party gains.  Republicans say Republicans, because the election proves that left-wing wackos have taken their party down the McGovernite road. Democrats say Democrats because the election reflects dwindling support for the Iraq war that is the most prominent Republican policy.

My take is that the Lamont victory gives the Democrats an opportunity, but only an opportunity.  They’ve got the public’s attention.  They’ve done something novel, tossing out a respected party veteran — no matter what else you might think about him, Joe Lieberman is no hack — who was their VP candidate six years ago. They have, I think, captured the zeitgeist of a public that is weary of the war and wondering whether Bush has a clue what to do next. 

When you’ve got the microphone, however, you better have something to say.  “Message clarity” won’t be good enough if the message fails to persuade or enlighten the troubled American public.      

Newt Goes Global, Hugh Goes Postal

newt-gingrich.jpgFormer Vice President Al Gore, star of the environmental blockbuster “An Inconvenient Truth,” is not the only 90s’ icon to make a strong comeback in 2006. Newt Gingrich is pursuing a similar strategy — frightening everyone about global catastrophe — to get people talking about him.

Clearly, we are being maneuvered into a Gore vs. Newt presidential election in 2008. Who do you pick? Gore fears rising seas. Gingrich fears rising hordes. Gore fears it might be too late to reverse global warming. Gingrich fears it might be too late to reverse World War III!

According to David Postman’s Seattle Times-hosted political blog:

Gingrich said in the coming days he plans to speak out publicly, and to the administration, about the need to recognize that America is in World War III.

He lists wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, this week’s bomb attacks in India, North Korean nuclear threats, terrorist arrests and investigations in Florida, Canada and Britain, and violence in Israel and Lebanon as evidence of World War III. He said Bush needs to deliver a speech to Congress and “connect all the dots” for Americans.

He said the reluctance to put those pieces together and see one global conflict is hurting America’s interests. He said people, including some in the Bush Administration, who urge a restrained response from Israel are wrong “because they haven’t crossed the bridge of realizing this is a war.”

“This is World War III,” Gingrich said. And once that’s accepted, he said calls for restraint would fall away.

hugh_hewitt.jpgAlready, Hugh Hewitt is reading “appeasers” out of the blogosphere, even those conservatives who want to stop and think about this for a second before we start blasting away at Syria and Iran. World War III is the message of the week. Hewitt likes to cite the William Manchester biography of Winston Churchill, “The Last Lion,” which documents British appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s, and Churchill’s lonely, failed efforts to reverse it before the Nazi military strength grew to the point where it threatened all of Europe. I’ve read that book, and it’s great, and it has nothing to do with today.

The British appeasers thought Hitler could be Britain’s ally against the Communist Soviet Union, or if not an ally, a kind of vanguard who would do the dirty work that the deeply anti-Red British establishment didn’t want to do themselves. Also, the British establishment thought many of Hitler’s demands were quite reasonable; it was still an embarassment to Britain that it supported the draconian punishment of Germany demanded by France after WWI.

These positions look ridiculous now, and those who held them are responsible for hundreds of millions of avoidable deaths. That’s why “appeaser” is such a blood insult for Hewitt to toss around so carelessly.

But reviewing the news coverage of Israel’s fight with Hezbollah, I see virtually no sentiment out there to “appease” the terrorist group’s sponsors, Syria and Iran. There is little confusion about the hostile status of these countries with respect to Israel and the U.S. The argument is over how to deal with them, and there are many approaches being debated. The problem is legitimately complex.

Patience, Hugh! It’s still okay to have a debate in this country.

One perhaps relevant observation: The left-wing blogs haven’t really said anything much about the fighting in the Middle East, nor about the Syria/Iran aspect of the issue, and seem to want to steer the conversation back to more tried and true topics.

arianna1.jpgThe most important thing Arianna Huffington found to say about the war was that Bush’s use of the word “shit” in a conversation with Tony Blair is yet more proof that Bush is blah blah blah blah. Joshua Micah Marshall doesn’t think the president’s s-bomb is such a big deal, but he does allow a guest blogger to enjoy the irony of columnist David Brooks being inconsistent because before the Iraq war he was blah blah blah blah blah. Daily Kos announced he won’t have anything to say about the war at all, and Kevin Drum has taken the same position (which prompts a comment on his site that “A political blog will be pretty lame without an opinion on an active war.”) I get the feeling that the unstated fear among this side of the blogosphere is the war might — darn the luck — help Joe Lieberman.

So I really don’t know what Hugh Hewitt is worrying about. The conservatives have the field all to themselves.

But if Newt Gingrich wants Bush to declare World War III, I sure want a debate about that first, if it’s okay with you all. I mean, sheesh. I’m pretty hawkish, but the right has gone a bit giddy! The unfolding of the Iraq war has tempered my enthusiasm. I can’t believe it hasn’t made people of Gingrich’s and Hewitt’s ilk a bit more humble about making demands for war with no debate and no restraint.

Challenging Times, Challenged Tribunes

On the one hand, you’ve got the New York and Los Angeles Times’ publication of information on how the U.S. government seeks to monitor the international flow of money that might fund terrorism through SWIFT, the “financial industry-owned co-operative supplying secure, standardised messaging services and interface software to 7,800 financial institutions in more than 200 countries.” The Bush Administration performs its investigations pursuant to lawful subpoenas, and there was no evidence that, as of yet, this program has abused anyone’s legitimate rights to privacy.

Were it not for the high stakes involved, these stories would have provoked giant yawns. I’m sure the reporters involved would have preferred these stories be accompanied by some ominous-sounding movie music to give them the sense of drama they otherwise lacked. It would have been far more newsworthy — far more scandalous — if these reporters had come across SWIFT and learned that the U.S. had failed to examine its data.

The most disturbing thing about these stories was, to me, the fact that the government pleaded with the newspapers to withhold the story on national security grounds, and the newspapers refused. As NY Times editor Bill Keller explained it:

We weighed most heavily the Administration’s concern that describing this program would endanger it. The central argument we heard from officials at senior levels was that international bankers would stop cooperating, would resist, if this program saw the light of day. We don’t know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling. First, the bankers provide this information under the authority of a subpoena, which imposes a legal obligation. Second, if, as the Administration says, the program is legal, highly effective, and well protected against invasion of privacy, the bankers should have little trouble defending it. The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere. And while it is too early to tell, the initial signs are that our article is not generating a banker backlash against the program.

(snip)

A secondary argument against publishing the banking story was that publication would lead terrorists to change tactics. But that argument was made in a half-hearted way. It has been widely reported — indeed, trumpeted by the Treasury Department — that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash.

Keller’s defense seems King Canute-like. The government’s concerns aren’t valid because we say so. There’s no banker backlash. The terrorists know you’re watching them. What’s the big deal? It’s all so “puzzling.” The description of the government’s argument as “half-hearted” sounds like the kind of thing a teenager says. “Yeah, Dad, I heard you, but I didn’t think you really meant it.”

Either Bill Keller is out of his depth, or he’s being less than honest. Is he suggesting that if the Administration had been more “full-hearted,” he would have withheld the story? As it happens, Treasury Secretary John Snow violently disagrees with Keller’s characterization, but either way it’s absurd.

If the SWIFT surveillance program were unlawful, abusive of legitimate privacy expectations, or some kind of subterfuge with an illegitimate purpose, an editor would be perfectly within his or her rights to have dismissed the Administration’s concerns and exposed the wrongdoing. But the Times fails to provide such a justification.

As Keller himself says, “A reasonable person, informed about this program, might well decide to applaud it. That said, we hesitate to preempt the role of legislators and courts, and ultimately the electorate, which cannot consider a program if they don’t know about it.” By the logic of that rationale, any classified program the news media comes to find out about should be publicized, on the sole basis that it is secret.

So, the stories were a bad idea, and are being defended disingenously. But on the other hand, the backlash is disingenous, too.

If you have listened to right-wing talk radio or read any of the affiliated blogs, there is a consensus among this crowd that the NY Times, LA Times and anyone else who published this story should be prosecuted for espionage. Or — the more moderate position — that the reporters and editors should be subpoenaed to provide the names of the leakers, and the leakers should be prosecuted. Resolutions are being issued in Congress condemning the release of the information — and then are being condemned by the bloggers as insufficiently tough. Some have called for the Congress and White House to revoke the press credentials for the NY and LA Times.

As The Nation’s Scott Sherman reports, the notion of prosecuting the press originates from an literal reading of a Red-baiting-era amendment to the U.S. Espionage Act by Commentary writer Gabriel Schoenfeld.

In his research into the 1917 Espionage Act and subsequent espionage statutes, Schoenfeld discovered Section 798 of the US Criminal Code, enacted by Congress in 1950, which reads, “Whoever knowingly and willingly communicates, furnishes, transmits or otherwise makes available to an unauthorized person, or publishes…any classified information…concerning the communication intelligence activities of the United States…shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.” (His italics.) This, Schoenfeld believed, was the “completely unambiguous” smoking gun he needed against (reporter James) Risen and the Times–both of whom, he felt, had “damaged critical intelligence capabilities” and undermined national security with the NSA story. Schoenfeld knew when he wrote the essay that no journalist had ever been prosecuted under Section 798, but his purpose was to stiffen the spine of the Justice Department. “The laws governing what the Times has done are perfectly clear,” he concluded. “Will they be enforced?”

Schoenfeld said he unearthed and publicized his interpretation of the law in hopes he would “set in motion a ‘chilling effect,’ however slight….” Schoenfeld is a scholar with a think-tank background, who has said he doesn’t anticipate there will be, in fact, any prosecutions. But his legal theory has become a rallying cry for the right-wing; not just the professional tub-thumpers, who recognize the danger of this approach, but to their loyal readers — the people who vote and who fight for our country.

Hugh Hewitt proudly cites an Iraq-based military blogger, Sgt. T.F. Boggs, who wrote Keller saying this:

You have done something great in your own eyes-you think you have hurt the current administration while at the same time encouraging “freedom fighters” resisting the imperialism of the United States. However, I foresee a backlash coming your way. I wish I had a subscription to your paper so I could cancel it as soon as possible. But alas, that would prove a little tough right now since I am in Iraq dealing with terrorists financed by the very men you are helping.

Thank you for continually contributing to the deaths of my fellow soldiers. You guys definitely provide a valuable service with your paper. Why without you how would terrorists stay one step ahead of us?

Talk about waving the bloody shirt! Sgt. Boggs is perfectly entitled to feel this way, but the way Hewitt and others are using his words clearly is designed to stir up hatred of the NY Times, LA Times and the news media in general. Do they realize that when you start a fire like this, how quickly it can get out of control?

John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics, perhaps incautiously, gives away the game and reveals what this furor really means to the right:

Politically, this is a clear winner for Bush and the GOP. The issue plays to Bush’s strengths and continues to paint the picture of the President as a stalwart fighter, protecting America’s safety while the left-wing press does their best to undermine as many successful anti-terror programs as possible.

The Times and the far left are so completely out of touch with where the country is on national security and terrorism issues they probably thought this disclosure would hurt Bush politically. They are clueless.

It serves the interests of the right-wing to keep this pot boiling until November. Democrats who thought they could win back Congress this year by “nationalizing” the election will now face the same strategy aimed at them — Republicans equating a vote for Democrats to a vote for the traitorous, law-breaking media.

All of this damages the country, and the institutions of liberty that distinguish our country from all others. It seems clear to me that the root of the problem is the carelessness and arrogance of the folks at the top of the media pyramid today. A responsibility comes with the job of running the nation’s most powerful journalistic entities to think through the consequences of the actions one takes — not just on one day’s newspaper, but on the fragile web of rights and permissions that keep a free press free.

History shows that it is all too easy to persuade Americans to give up on these rights. Given the open-ended nature of the war on terror, we could lose those rights for a generation or more. Condemn the right-wing for all that they do to push America in the direction of less freedom, but condemn the intellectually shallow media for giving the right-wing all the ammunition it needs.

Mush From the Wimps*

"Mush from the Wimp" refers to a famous journalistic gaffe — a headline placed atop a Boston Globe editorial about President Jimmy Carter's 1980 economic plan, which was supposed to be replaced with "All Must Share the Burden."

What made this episode funny and memorable was that the editorial was supposed to be an endorsement of Carter's plan. The accidental headline gave up the game. The Globe's editorial board didn't think the Carter plan was any good, but they felt compelled to instruct their poor readers to support it.

The public intuitively recognizes there is a gap today between what supporters of a politician or political party really think and the elaborate bows of fealty to political correctness that they make in public. In my opinion, it's the key reason why both Republican and Democratic approval ratings are so low right now. People don't sense that the parties and their standard-bearers are committed to the things they claim to stand for.

In this morning's New York Times, columnist David Brooks gives a clue as to why this gap has grown so large. (You'll have to either buy the paper, pay the Times for its TimesSelect service, or trust me, because I can't link to it.) Brooks suggests that if the legacy parties didn't exist, our politics would be divided between a party of "populist nationalism," (PN) and a party of "progressive globalism" (PG)

Per Brooks, the PNs stand for: America and Americans first; conservative social values; generous social welfare; universal health care; and closed borders. They are against the war in Iraq, for the wall to keep illegal aliens out, against outsourcing, and against gay marriage.

The PGs stand for: Free markets and free trade; liberal social values; an aggressive but multilateral interventionist policy in foreign affairs; reform of entitlements. They are for the war in Iraq, against continued oil dependence, for strong international institutions, against restrictive immigration policies, and for a woman's right to choose.

The PNs are suspicious of all elites: Government, corporate and cultural. The PGs are suspicious of populists who think they can create an America that is militarily, economically and culturally a fortress.

Brooks' realignment isn't so neat and tidy in the real world, but it has a ring of truth. If nothing else, it explains why all our politicians, from George W. Bush, to Hillary Clinton, to John Kerry, to John McCain, all sound like mushy wimps nowadays, as they try to straddle both the PG and PN camps.

I saw Al Gore on Larry King the other night. He was there to discuss his global warming documentary, but then Larry reminded him of the famous debate on his program, in which Gore defended NAFTA against Ross Perot — and did it so effectively that Perot was discredited and NAFTA was passed.

This trip down memory lane made Gore palpably nervous. Free trade, a PG issue, is highly controversial among Democrats now. Gore might want Democratic votes again someday, and the pro-free-trade contingent is a distinct minority. (Global warming is also a PG issue, but that's partly because no one's seen a price tag yet.)

But this kind of thing happens all the time. A couple of weeks ago, the Bush Administration was supposedly pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a classic PN issue–and an issue PGs tend to dismiss. The vote was timed to coincide with several primary elections, including California's. Everyone knew it was going to lose. Bush spoke up for it on his Saturday radio speech, which no one listens to.

And, according to Newsweek, Bush wasn't entirely sincere:

Though Bush himself has publicly embraced the amendment, he never seemed to care enough to press the matter. One of his old friends told NEWSWEEK that same-sex marriage barely registers on the president's moral radar. "I think it was purely political. I don't think he gives a s–t about it. He never talks about this stuff," said the friend, who requested anonymity to discuss his private conversations with Bush.

(snip)

Whatever Bush's motivation, his actions aren't likely to quiet his critics. (Southern Baptist leader Richard) Land says he's happy Bush is speaking out, but he'd like to see signs of real commitment to the issue. "We know what a full-court press looks like when we see one," Land says.

Bush needed anti-gay marriage voters to get elected in 2000 and 2004, and he'll need them again to maintain Republican congressional majorities in 2006. But, for Bush, the significance of a GOP majority is to maintain support for the war in Iraq.  This unpopular war draws most of its remaining support from PG's, who are acutely sensitive to the global consequences of failure in Iraq, not PN's, who believe secure borders are the key to winning the war on terror, not  planting democracy in faraway countries. It's an arbitrary–and perhaps temporary–thing that the pro-war and anti-gay-marriage constituencies are in the same political party.

Bush is a little more open about his PG position on illegal immigration. The press has identified a split in Bush's party between the globalists and the nationalists on that issue. The Democrats, however, are also split on illegal immigration. Democratic PGs recoil at the idea of a wall between America and Mexico, and the cultural intolerance that such a wall implies. But many key Democratic voters are PNs, especially labor union members and African Americans, who tend to be less tolerant of this flood of workers willing to work for low wages.

On the war, on immigration, on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, both parties oversee constituencies that are divided on the hottest issues. As the parties zig and zag to please these different interest groups, more and more Americans are just letting go of politics altogether, and pressing for their goals in places where they don't hear mush: Churches, union halls, the streets, talk radio–and the Internet.

Joe Trippi and others have pointed out that, because of the Internet, the barriers to creating new political organizations to replace the existing parties are falling. Trippi sees the evolution of a "unity" party that transcends partisanship. But that idea–a third party "above politics"–might even be too traditional (see Perot, and in 1980, John Anderson). The coming realignment might happen more quickly and dramatically than anyone predicts, and it might divide us even more.

*Revised, 6/15/06, 3:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m.

This is ‘New Media’ Advice? It’s SO Last Century

Hugh Hewitt, the articulate Republican cheerleader, syndicated radio host and blogger, portrays himself as consultant to all "center-right conservatives" in their battles against enemies in the media, politics and academia. He writes at least one book a year, in which he provides unsolicited advice to Republican candidates, conservative activists, high-school students and born-again Christians. He's been on the radio somewhere or another for at least 15 years, and spent time as co-host of KCET's "Life and Times." He flogs his books so mercilessly on the air, it's apparent that he believes his book sales figures are an indicator of the nation's well-being.

In addition to being a committed activist, churchman and attorney, Hewitt claims to know something about communications — trumpeting himself as an avatar of the new media as it triumphs over the liberal-biased "old" media. One of his most popular books is "Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World."

So I was struck by this post of a few days ago, "Secretary Rumsfeld and the New Media." In it, Hewitt discusses an interview with Rumsfeld, focusing on the advice he gave the secretary about communications in the new media era:

rumsfeld.jpgThe SecDef has staked everything on transforming the way the American military fights wars. I worry that all those efforts will be at least compromised unless the Pentagon gets its best minds thinking about how to explain the conflict and its many dimensions to the American public.

(snip)

The information war –fought not just by the Pentagon, but also by the White House the Department of Justice, the intelligence community–has become, like logistics, the realm of professionals*. Let's hope the U.S. gets as serious about it as it is about logistics.

Some suggestions:

The Secretary of Defense and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs are the two most important voices in the military. They need to engage media in lengthy, one-on-one question-and-answer sessions at which other journalists are allowed to attend but not participate.

Volume is not a substitute for quality. The DoD does in fact put out an avalanche of information every single day –too much, in fact. The Pentagon all too often steps on its lead story, and all too often does not respond to breaking information that the terrorists lob on to the battlefields of the information war. The rapid response of the military to such disinformation has to improve.

Finally, the particulars of any day's battles does not matter nearly as much as the strategic overview of the course of the war. Repetition is hated by the Beltway press corps, always eager to get a scoop or at least a new lede.

But repetition is the core of information war.

Finally, new media is far more powerful in its reach than the credibility-challenged and ideologically-compromised old media. The old press rules from the days when the New York Times or the Washington Post made the weather are still in place. They can be upended.

How is this advice — basically PR advice — any different from what Edward Bernays might have suggested to Rumsfeld 80 or 90 years ago at the dawn of the public relations industry? How is it any different from how politics was conducted under under Reagan or Clinton, the two most successful practitioners of the Pat Caddell/Mike Deaver/James Carville "permanent campaign" model that was engineered based on the PR-advertising principles formed when TV networks and a handful of newspapers dominated the news ecosystem?

Isn't this approach precisely what new media acolytes rebel against? That whole "message of the day," "don't step on your own story," "rapid response," top-down media management? What I thought new media is about is transparency, providing more not less, and showing faith in the ability of news consumers–"prosumers" in Alvin Toffler's lexicon–to do their own filtering and editing.

A "new media" approach would have Rumsfeld communicating constantly and candidly, the good news with the bad. Don't have a message of the day, don't shade anything to gain a specific headline. Most Americans have stopped reading newspapers anyway. Instead, use the media tools now available to transmit a body of knowledge about the war to engaged members of the public, who will then be motivated to educate their peers. Rumsfeld or a trusted, high-level spokesperson could do this actively, identifying bloggers with a sympathetic viewpoint and beginning an on-the-record conversation with them. They could be bolder still, and carry on conversations with unsympathetic bloggers, too.

Like most PR problems, Rumsfeld's is not really a PR problem, it's a fact problem. In the initial weeks of the Iraq war, the news was good, thus the PR was fabulous. Now, three years on, the war is a bloody grind, the news is mixed and the significance of each development murky. You can't change that reality with a new policy on granting interviews!

But Hewitt is worried about the enemy's propaganda, and so is Rumsfeld. In the SecDef's words (from his interview transcript):

This is the first war that's ever been conducted, in the 21st Century, in an era of these new media realities, where you have the internet and 24 hour talk radio and news and bloggers and video cameras and digital cameras and instant communications worldwide. And the enemy understands that they can't win a battle out on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan. The only place they can win a battle is in Washington, D.C. So they have media committees, and they get up in the morning and figure out how they're going to manipulate the American media, and they do a very skillful job.

This is a misdiagnosis. It might be the first war in a time of blogging, but it's certainly not the first war in which an enemy deployed propaganda through whatever media channels were available at the time to frighten, demoralize or mislead.

The Nazi takeover of Europe derived from a series of expert bluffs, until finally the bluff became reality. But it goes back much farther than WWII, to past millenia when the media of choice were memorized lines of poetry and the misinformation spread, virally you might say, by clever spies. Sun Tzu, writing in the 6th century B.C.: "Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." And, his Strategy 7: "Create something from nothing." Propaganda is not new, and it would surprise me to find out that our nation's war planners were unprepared for it.

Will a "message of the day" media strategy stop the Iraqi insurgents from using the media to broadcast terror and convey a sense of futility to the American public? I don't see how. But the public reaction to scenes of bombs going off and kidnapped reporters isn't the problem anyway. It's the political reaction to the presumed public reaction, of which Hewitt's commentary is symptomatic. He apparently thinks the public's dwindling support for the war stems from the enemy's manipulation of the news media, while with his next breath he claims the news media's influence is waning.

The fact is, Bush and Rumsfeld are quite lucky that the public has tolerated the Iraq war for as long as it has, and it's a testament to the public's sophistication that the media manipulation, the staged acts of terror, have had so little impact on policy. Despite Bush's low poll ratings, I see little to resemble the Vietnam-era public anguish with regard to Iraq. Sure, the war has many critics, but back then, average middle-class people were urgently demanding the end of our involvement in Vietnam, and politicians of the president's own party responded by promising immediate troop withdrawal.

The Vietnam war was an atrocious mistake, but the public's abandonment of it was in large part the result of enemy propaganda. The North Vietnamese were successful in making the militarily disappointing Tet offensive appear to be a rout. Thanks to the perception that Tet succeeded, Walter Cronkite famously declared the war unwinnable. In 1968, that meant a lot.

Who is today's Walter Cronkite? Who pretends to speak for Mr. and Mrs. America? If anyone tried, they'd find Mr. and Mrs. America leaving some nasty comments on their website. Friends of Donald Rumsfeld do the SecDef no favors by telling him to lead a PR effort to combat enemy propaganda, if that effort will distract him from his real job, organizing a winning strategy so America can get its troops home soon. Because, as Sun Tzu says, "There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare."

Blogger with a Guitar

Neil Young 9.jpgPalm smacks to the forehead: Of course! Neil Young, blogger.

Hasn't Neil always been a blogger? Haven't all his albums been spontaneous reflections of whatever's going through his head and happening in his life at the moment? The rap on Neil was that his recording techniques were often slipshod, that he had no filter, he released too many albums with too many bad songs drowning out the great ones. But that's been his aesthetic since 1970. Write it, record it, put it out.

I remember Rolling Stone's review of "After the Gold Rush," complaining Young hadn't spent enough time on it. From that 1970 review:

Neil Young devotees will probably spend the nest few weeks trying desperately to convince themselves that After the Gold Rush is good music. But they'll be kidding themselves. For despite the fact that the album contains some potentially first rate material, none of the songs here rise above the uniformly dull surface. In my listening, the problem appears to be that most of this music was simply not ready to be recorded at the time of the session. It needed time to mature. On the album the band never really gets behind the songs and Young himself has trouble singing many of them. Set before the buying public before it was done, this pie is only half-baked.

Time has proven their judgment on that classic album to be wrong, but a good many of his subsequent albums, which he approached in the same haphazard way, are terrible. So what?, Neil seemed to say. I can always write another one, and maybe it'll be better. He's hit the mark enough times that you're compelled to at least check out anything he does.

Neil Young also freely, merrily contradicts himself — especially about politics. He's about the only baby-boom era classic rocker who had the nerve to release a few songs over the years with almost jingoistic right-wing messages. He hates the Iraq war now, but in the post 9/11 "Let's Roll," he waved the bloody shirt.

You've got to turn on evil,
When it's coming after you,
You've gota face it down,
And when it tries to hide,
You've gota go in after it,
And never be denied,
Time is runnin' out,
Let's roll.

Long ago, Young embraced Ronald Reagan for a time. But he's also tacked way to the left many more times, as he does with the new music on "Living With War."

"Living With War" is an audio blog. If you delve into his web site you'll learn he wrote and recorded all its songs in just the past few weeks. At this writing you can't buy it, and you can't download it, but you can listen to it as an audio stream, so long as you're willing to hear it from the beginning. You can't skip tracks. Eventually it will appear in CD racks, but by that time it will be a souvenir. Its impact is being felt right now. Bloggers all over the world are invited to link to it. He wants his fans to hear it now, while its themes are still hot.

This is a real Marshall McLuhan moment. Up to now, the Internet has been seen as just another channel to present music. But "Living With War" is music for the Internet. I don't know if it's the first example, but given Neil's fame and huge international fan base, I predict it will have immense influence.

The Good Idea Shortage

Frances Fukuyama is getting great publicity for his new book, "America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy," in which he parts company with his former neocon allies. I don't have the book, nor the time to read it now, so I was glad the Wall Street Journal published an essay he co-wrote that would present the meat of his argument.

The piece, by Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle, is called, modestly, "A Better Idea." Given the morass Iraq has become, given the continued fears of a major terrorist attack, I'm not alone in hoping a better idea is out there somewhere, and that one of the 2008 presidential candidates finds it.

Bush was the post-9/11 firefighter. He reacted to the horrible tragedy of that morning, and his reactive stance has rippled through all his policy decisions — for better and for worse. He and his administration were in the battle, day-by-day, trying this, trying that. Everything was done with utmost urgency, with no pause for considered strategy. It was not the way to win a war.

If John Kerry'd had a better idea, he could've beaten Bush in 2004, and given us a fresh start on a more comprehensive strategy. To say the least, Kerry proved a terrible disappointment, both intellectually and as a political craftsman. So the fireman is still on duty. He deserves some credit. But we need a new approach.

So that's what was in the back of my mind in approaching Fukuyama. I didn't care that he was turning his back on former allies. That's a good press angle to sell books, but just frosting from my point of view.

Unfortunately, Fukuyama's got no game. I'll paste in a few quotes, but overall, his WSJ essay reminds me of a speech by Kerry: 'I'd pursue the same policies, but differently.' (That's not a quote — it's just my summary of every Kerry speech on the war and the battle against Islamo-fascism.) Here's what I mean:

That better idea consists of separating the struggle against radical Islamism from promoting democracy in the Middle East, focusing on the first struggle, and dramatically changing our tone and tactics on the democracy promotion front, at least for now.

The essential problem with the administration's approach is that it conflates two issues that are separate. The first has to do with violent, antimodern radical Islamism (on display both in the reaction to the Danish cartoons and in the mosque bombing in Samarra); the second concerns the dysfunctionality of political and social institutions in much of the Arab world.

(snip)

What the administration sees as one problem ought to be seen as two. Radical Islamism needs to be dealt with separately from democracy promotion. This involves doing everything we can to ensure the political success of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also involves killing, capturing or otherwise neutralizing hard-core terrorists in many parts of the world, and keeping dangerous materials out of their hands, in what will look less like a war than like police and intelligence operations.

(snip)

To put it mildly, the Iraq war has not increased the prestige of the U.S. and American ideas like liberal democracy in the Middle East. The U.S. does not have abundant moral authority for promoting the rule of law, since the first thing people in the region associate with America today is prisoner abuse at Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib. Many Americans have explained these events to themselves by saying that the abuse was an aberration that has been hyped by enemies of the U.S., and that in any event such things just happen during wartime. Perhaps; but the fact remains that Guantanamo is still open, and nobody except for a couple of lowly enlisted soldiers have been prosecuted for prisoner abuse by the Bush administration. Fair or not, American insistence on rule of law and human rights looks simply hypocritical.

(snip)

Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.

How empty. How lacking in new thought or vision. Much of what he recommends is basically already happening on a tactical level. The rest is just repurposed criticism of Bush's war plans–criticisms that Bush, among others, have long accepted.

Does this mean there really aren't any better ideas out there?

This is why the Democratic party is so frustrating. They are the opposition. But they've interpreted that role like the Monty Python character who advertises he'll give you an argument but just provides contradiction. "Gotcha" is not a philosophy. "Told ya so" is not a strategy. Liberals used to be seen as the intellectuals in public policy, but they've run dry at the worst possible time.

I have a fearful suspicion that 2008 will end up ratifying Bush's strategy instead of changing it, and that this will be true whichever party wins. There just might not be any better ideas out there.

“What If…”

Here, from the Times of London’s Gerard Baker, a “what if” scenario to commemorate the third anniversary of the Iraq War:

In March 2003 Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, of the UN, secured a remarkable, last-minute deal that averted war and seemed to guarantee the disarmament of Iraq. “Saddam Hussein has finally consented to eliminate all his weapons of mass destruction,” they said, in a signing ceremony with the Iraqi leader.

Saddam, flanked by his two sons, Uday and Qusay, accepted the plaudits of the UN with pomp and grace. Beaming as he smiled at a hastily assembled crowd of French, German and Russian children, he said he had saved the world from the bloodlust of George Bush and Tony Blair with a magnanimous gesture of international friendship. There were approving murmurs of support in many Western capitals. In Oslo there was talk of a Nobel Peace prize.

The last sentence I quoted gives away Baker’s bias. Read the whole thing to see how it plays out. Baker believes that, as catastrophic as the war has proven to be, a far worse outcome has been averted, at least for now. I tend to agree. If you’re like most of my friends and family, most of you strongly disagree. But Baker’s looking at the war the way we all should, as a fork in the road leading to two very different futures. If the players three years ago had chosen a different course, where would the Islamist war stand? What would be happening in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia? Have we averted a more dangerous future, or created one?

If you want to answer this question, all I ask is: Be thoughtful, and be specific. Use your imagination. Follow the falling dominoes. Where do they lead?

Eagle Like Me

Bush with Eagle.JPGBack in 2002, before he soured on George W. Bush and the Iraq war, uberblogger Andrew Sullivan coined the term “eagles” to describe “a new group of people out there who are socially liberal but also foreign policy realists, especially among those who have been awakened to political engagement by September 11.”

For some reason I thought of that now-forgotten political taxonomy when my brother Mark sent me this photo he took this morning of the president.

Mark is on the board of the National Newspaper Association, who Bush addressed today. I looked up the transcript and found in this exchange a revealing stream-of-consciousness look at how 9/11 and everything after has affected Bush’s mind:

Q I’m from Aurora, Colorado. In our town a teacher was suspended for remarks critical of your State of the Union message, made the talk shows, et cetera — compared you to Hitler and — actually, I’ve heard the tape and he didn’t, he said, “Hitler-esque,” but it’s not –

THE PRESIDENT: He’s not the only one. (Laughter.)

Q And it’s not the content that my question is about. My question is about your sense of the free speech right in the classroom or in public to criticize you without being considered unpatriotic.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think people should be allowed to criticize me all they want, and they do. (Laughter.) Now what are you all laughing at over there? (Laughter.) Don’t cheer him on. (Laughter.)

Look, there are some certain basic freedoms that we’ve got to protect. The freedom of people to express themselves must be protected. The freedom of people to be able to worship freely. That freedom is valuable. I tell people all the time, you’re equally American if you’re a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. You’re equally American if you believe in an Almighty or don’t believe in an Almighty. That’s a sacred freedom.

The right for people to express themselves in the public square is a freedom. Obviously, there’s limitations. If, for example, someone is inciting violence, or the destruction of property, or public — causing somebody harm. But the idea of being able to express yourself is a sacred part of our society. And that’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. And that’s important for Americans to understand.

We’re in an ideological struggle. And one way for people to connect the ideological struggle with reality is to think about what life was like for people under the rule of the Taliban. If you didn’t agree with their view of religion, you were punished. If you tried to send your little girl to school, you were punished. These people have a backward view. I don’t believe — I believe religion is peaceful. I believe people who have religion in their heart are peaceful people. And I believe these people have subverted a great religion to accomplish a political end.

So thank you for bringing that up; I appreciate it. People say to me, my buddies in Texas, how do you handle all this stuff? After a while, you get used to it. (Laughter.) But you have to believe in what you’re doing, see. You have to believe in certain principles and beliefs. And you can’t let the public opinion polls and focus groups, one, cause you to abandon what you believe and become the reason for making decisions.

People who talk in public all day for a living are prey to dumb sentences like “you have to believe in certain principles and beliefs,” so no fair picking on him for that. But I do think it’s curious that he feels that we’re in an “ideological struggle” with the Taliban. The notion of ideological struggle is a Cold War construct that I don’t think fits the current situation.

To be sure, fanatical beliefs drive the Taliban, Al Queda and the other jihadist forces. But unlike the Communists, I don’t think the Islamists are about offering anyone a choice. Ideology is what it sounds like — a system based on ideas, ideas sprung from the heads of people with a vision of a better society, here on earth. That’s not for the Islamists. If it could be proven that a Koran-based global system would lead to mass poverty and death, they would not flinch from it. It’s God’s way. The Islamists don’t expect to win any elections or any PR battles. What they seek is not consent but the power to impose their beliefs on the world. They don’t promise fairness, justice or prosperity. Those are wordly concerns, irrelevant to the jealous God they conceive as calling all of us to heaven.

The Islamists will always be a minority of extremists; and I don’t think they expect things to be different until they gain the power they seek. The issue we face is whether the Islamists’ extreme tactics of intimidation and terror, and their willingness to die for their cause, can lead them to victory.

The Soviet Union and its proxies wanted power, but they wanted to enjoy the fruits of power, and weren’t interested in dying to achieve their ends. Far from it. Their ideology had no heaven. The Islamist movement’s members are willing to die, to kill innocents, to kidnap women and children and use them to barter for concessions, and they are willing to threaten these extreme tactics against what we would consider minor provocations.

When that’s the nature of your enemy, it is inevitable that some will want to compromise with or concede to them. Cartoons that mock the Prophet might symbolize expression of free speech, but if you thought your family might be killed by a lunatic if you published them in your paper, you probably wouldn’t do it. The Islamists are counting on being able to trigger a million little decisions like this so they can incrementally capture power they couldn’t have earned any other way.

Some of the Bush Administration’s responses to this threat can be problematic and off-the-mark. In search of greater security, they’ve clearly overshot in many areas. I’m looking forward to the election of 2008, quite frankly, because that will be the first real post-9/11 election, where the different candidates and parties can be judged on the soundness of their strategies to deal with a mestastisizing global crisis. Bush and his crew clearly have been improvising for the past five years, while the Democrats have displayed a petulance and political opportunism that seems far beneath what a great party should display at a time like this. I’ll be glad when this period in our politics is finally over.

Mark told me that after the speech, there was a rope line where he was able to stop the president and ask about his Administration’s mania for secrecy. Mark told the president that the problem with throwing a blanket of secrecy over government decisions removes accountability. Bush seemed taken aback by this thoughts. “Why, I’m all for accountability,” he protested. “Okay, but how can we be sure, if you keep everything a secret?” Mark replied.

Meanwhile, I’m sure these two were taking careful notes….McClellan and Rove.JPG

Here’s one more picture Mark took that I liked:Bush at podium.JPG