Friday, July 15, 2005

This Week in Iraq

Suicide bomb spree kills 20 inside Baghdad

In Baghdad [Friday], the military reported seven blasts, at least three of which were suicide car bombs. Reuters journalists saw the aftermath of five big explosions, all of which Iraqi police sources said were suicide car bombs.


On Thursday, a man detonated an explosives belt he was wearing at the same time a car bomb went off near a police station in central Baghdad, wounding at least nine, police and hospital officials said. Police said they shot dead a third attacker wearing an explosive belt at the same location, just outside the Green Zone where the U.S. Embassy and government offices are located.

On Wednesday, a suicide car bomb exploded next to U.S. troops handing out candy and toys in a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad, killing up to 27 people, including 18 children and teenagers, and a U.S. soldier.


The radio militia hasn't commented on this at all.

Say It Ain't So, 'Beca

I'm not surprised at the usual cast of characters headlining Just Us II but I am sad to see Rebecca St. James being dragged into this.

Would that the articulate, photogenic, charismatic Christian elite would help shine the spotlight on, oh, I don't know, things like this:

Everyone's in a hurry, even those who have had enough. Iraq has been called "Vietnam on crack," and the similarities are plentiful, down to the buffed-up premises for war (the Gulf of Tonkin then, W.M.D. now), the body counts, the peekaboo enemy ("'Where the [expletive] are these guys?' Maj. Kei Braun exclaimed in frustration" Ellen Knickmeyer, reporting on Operation Matador), and the stale vocabulary ("quagmire," "winning hearts and minds," "cut and run").

But emotionally Iraq doesn't feel like Vietnam. It doesn't feel like anything. It's like a phantom limb that doesn't ache. There's little of the anguish and anger that boiled in the 60s, few protest marches, only minor agitation in Congress (which approves every supplemental-funding bill for a war that was supposed to be self-financing), no social fissures opening up between opponents and supporters; everyone inhabits the same gray zone of resignation to whatever the outcome may be.

The Republican Party of Moral Absolutes


But Mr. Rove understood that the facts were irrelevant. For one thing, he knew he could count on the administration's supporters to obediently accept a changing story line.

Read the before-and-after columns by pro-administration pundits about Iraq:

before the war they castigated the C.I.A. for understating the threat posed by Saddam's W.M.D.; after the war they castigated the C.I.A. for exaggerating the very same threat.


Kevin Drum's got some interesting stuff up today. He is one of the blogosphere's resident experts on the Plame story --- he was the go-to guy when it broke and he seems to to remember a lot of details I've forgotton (or never knew.)

He reminds us today (via Mickey Kaus) of this Howard Fineman analysis from 2003 in which Fineman speculates that the leak was really an attempt to smear Wilson and his wife as being part of a "pro-Saddam" CIA cabal. Here's the relevant excerpt:

I am told by what I regard as a very reliable source inside the White House that aides there did, in fact, try to peddle the identity of Joe Wilsons wife to several reporters. But the motive wasnt revenge or intimidation so much as a desire to explain why, in their view, Wilson wasnt a neutral investigator, but, a member of the CIAs leave-Saddam-in-place team.

The Republican Party of Personal Responsibility

Josh Marshall

There's a point that's probably worth raising with our scofflaw Republican friends.

All of their arguments now amount to excuses, like those of a small child caught stealing cookies:

Joe Wilson's a liar.

Plame's covert status wasn't protected well by the CIA.

It was just a short phone call.

Rove really wanted to speak about welfare reform.

Wilson said Cheney sent him to Africa.

Plame sent Wilson to Africa.

Rove leaked Plame's identity in the interests of good journalism.

Wilson went on too many TV shows.

On and on and on.

The salient point is not that each of these claims is false.

The point is that they're irrelevant.

It's the mid-life version of 'He hit me first!' or 'He called me a name!' or other such foolery.

When All Else Fails

Scott McClellan, White House spokesman, to reporters on Monday, after repeated refusals to discuss the "ongoing investigation" of Karl Rove.

Again, I'm going to be happy to talk about this at the appropriate time. Dana, you all -- you and everybody in this room, or most people in this room, I should say, know me very well and they know the type of person that I am. And I'm confident in our relationship that we have. But I will be glad to talk about this at the appropriate time, and that's once the investigation is complete. I'm not going to get into commenting based on reports or anything of that nature.

Randy "Duke" Cunningham, Republican member of Congress, on not seeking re-election.

"I fully recognize that I showed poor judgment when I sold my home in Del Mar to a friend [who took a $700,000 loss on the resale of my house but still allowed me to live for free on his yacht in DC] who did business with the government," he said. "I should have given more thought to how such transactions might look to those who don't know me like you do."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dying to Win

I've started reading Robert Pape's book, Dying to Win, which considers the phenomenon of suicide terrorism. Using empirical data on the attackers, their targets, and the timing of the attacks, Pape concludes that suicide terrorism is rational, usually part of an organized campaign, and targeted at democratic countries with the intention of driving out foreign occupiers. It is not, however, primarily religious in nature. Therefore, western campaigns designed to change Islamic society--especially through war--to combat terrorism are misdirected, and likely to generate more suicide attacks.

Having just started I can't say whether Pape's arguments are solid or questionable but I do think that suicide terrorism is rational at least to the attackers. Whether the role of religion and Islam in the Al Qaeda attacks is significant or minimal is something else. But I'm open to the idea that the conventional wisdom, such as it exists, about terrorism and suicide terrorists in particular, is pretty simplistic and deserving of greater scrutiny.

Which brings me back to the Karl Rove allegations of some weeks ago about the contrast between conservative and liberal approaches to terrorism. Liberals and Democrats have spent so much time demanding apologies and being outraged I think we've missed an important element in his remarks.

And that is that the instrument of war in fighting terrorism--especially suicide terrorism--is at best, an instrument very limited in its effectiveness and in the duration of its application.

I believe the wars launched against Afghanistan and Iraq are bearing this point out. Although the obstensible goal has been to remake these societies, our militaries are in control of only a portion of these states. The administration's stated desire to remake the states that sponsor terrorism, broadly speaking, is running up against the reality of the difficulties involved in occupying other countries and in thwarting the motives, not to mention the operations of, those who oppose our values or our presence and intervention in their lands.

And with both of these countries more or less in ruins (in Afghanistan, the Taliban is regrouping and the U.S. backed Karzai government is in practical control of only the capital and major cities), and with war being the administration's preferred instrument, where else is there to go? Who gets invaded or bombed next, and with what army?

For those of us who are suspicious of and fear the country's military industrial complex, one consolation is that the military as a tool of power is one that can be applied only sparingly. It's hard to imagine, for example, our maintaining the present forces in Iraq while turning to invade Iran (a bigger and better defended country than Iraq) at the same time.

All of this is to say that Rove's allegations about liberals (or Democrats as the case may be) as being soft on terrorism and squeemish about war, should give liberals and Democrats the opportunity to challenge the administration's "war only, war all the time" strategy of making the country safe.

The administration's war policy is a policy instrument of very limited application (not to mention it's blowback potential) and someone, preferably our party, should begin telling that to the American people.

Bringing back the 1780's

One of the essential conservative talking points that has evolved over the last several years is that of "original intent" and the absolute dedication to a "dead Constitution."

This committment to "original intent" and a "dead, unchanging Constition" doesn't have anything to do with the Constitution itself, but is the reactionary line from conservatives who don't like the expansion of individual liberties and civil rights that have come from the courts in the last 50 years.

It also feeds reactionary conservatism's desire to return to the golden age of patriarchy, hierarchy and class distinctions, such as that as is imagined to have existed at around the time of America's founding and for most of the century thereafter.

Conservatives don't like modernity and the freedoms it has spawned. So they want to go back in time to when the men were men and the sheep were scared.

By claiming as sacrosanct the notions of "original intent", "strict constructivism", and the "dead Constition" conservatives hope to lead a movement back in time. They want to roll back the rights of individuals and public efforts to balance the power of corporations.

They want us to go back to the 1780's.

The resignation of Justice O' Connor and the process to replace her on the SCOTUS has led, naturally, to the public trumpeting of competing Constitutional views by opposing ideological groups, individuals and cable TV networks.

Take Faux Nooz (please).

Pandagon's Jesse Taylor catches conservative commentator and Faux Nooz host Cal Thomas waxing poetic about the good old days and the need for a return to "original intent":

Cal Thomas wonders why we interpret laws with purposefully flexible meanings, but don't interpret objective quantitative measures.

The president and those who wish to see the Constitution restored to its "original intent" need to reteach it if they are to overcome the liberal orthodoxy expressed by the late Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes and echoed recently by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that "the Constitution is what the judges say it is."

Try that at the supermarket. Is a pound what the shopper says it is, or do scales, which rely on a standard, determine a pound's true weight? Would we get away with telling a police officer who pulls us over for speeding, "I decided that 70 miles per hour is 55 for me"?

Why, then, this constantly changing Constitution that is in the minds of liberals to be altered like a suit of clothes to fit the wearer, rather than a document to which all must conform if the general welfare is to be promoted?

Because the document is not a series of ironclad objective measures.

A mile is 5,280 feet. Freedom of speech is a troublesome yet important right guaranteed by the Constitution whose total parameters remain undefined and constantly challenged by new innovations in technology.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


Count me among those who aren't convinced this will lead to Rove's firing or indictment, but there are several developments that are already promising.

1) The administration caught making contradictory and self serving statements regarding "this continuing investigation."

They commented on it before they wouldn't comment on it. Except when the RNC comments on it.

2) The rebellion of the press. ABC's Terry Moran openly identified Faux News as "friendly" to the administration. NBC's David Gregory calling McClellan's lame "no comment" defense as "ridiculous":

Q Scott, can I ask you this; did Karl Rove commit a crime?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than we're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.

Q Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003 when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliott Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, "I've gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this" -- do you stand by that statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation we're not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.

Q Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said, and I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation --

Q Why are you choosing when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?

MR. McCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish --

Q No, you're not finishing -- you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American people, he did, indeed, talk about his wife, didn't he?

3) Wingnut calvary going bust. Right wing talking points sound coordinated and suspicious coming out as they have after McClellan said the administration wouldn't comment.

Meet the Candidates (Revised)

MyDD listed these candidates in their July presidential poll:

Evan Bayh
Joe Biden
Wesley Clark
Hillary Clinton
John Edwards
Russ Feingold
John Kerry
Bill Richardson
Mark Warner included all of the above but added these:

Tom Vilsack
Ed Rendell
Phil Bredesen
Dennis Kucinich
Janet Napolitano
Ben Nelson

What I find interesting is to think about how these names fit with the primary/caucus schedule. Which of these candidates does the primary/caucus schedule help?

Assuming that 2008 schedule replicates that of 2004, here are the states that would vote in January and the first two weeks of February.

With this list of candidates, and the results of the 2004 primaries (non-2008 contenders not listed), here are some ideas about how these first states would vote and how the nomination battle would shape up, with states in the predicted order and relative importance. Numbers in parentheses indicate week number in month.



2004 results

Kerry 38%
Edwards 32%
Clark 0%

2005 predicted: Tom Vilsack

He's the governor there and I suspect that were he to run, or at least allow his name to be put on the ballot, then he would take this state, much in the way that Tom Harkin did when he ran in 1992, as a sort of favorite son. If might even be that, like 1992, the outcome in Iowa was regarded as preordained, none of the other candidates would mount much of an effort there, and the state's caucuses would not be given much weight in the nomination fight.

If Vilsack does not run, Iowa may opt for the front-runner, as it ultimately did in 2004. Or it might cast its lot with a candidate from a nearby state, as it did in 1988 when it sided with Gephardt over Michael Dukakis. On the other hand, Edwards ran surprisingly strong here last year and might have a leg up on some of the others.

New Hampshire

2004 Results

Kerry 39%
Clark 13%
Edwards 12%

2005 Prediction: Edwards/Clinton/Kerry

A hard state to figure. In the past it's given maverick (republican) candidates a chance to go on (Buchanan, McCain) but has been more conventional with its Democratic field. Kerry is of course in nearby Mass. but would also undoubtedly face stiff competition from Edwards and Clark, who ran here last year, and from Hilary, who would probably be the front runner. Of the other candidates, I think only Biden could be expected to finish strongly here. Biden's impact could be even greater if, as is likely, national security credentials weigh heavily on voter's minds of electable qualities.

In any event, NH will figure to be the break-out state, the one that will cause some also-ran candidates to drop out. The winner will be handed front runner status. Given what I think will be Kerry's problems arguing for an opportunity to run again, and Edwards' 2004 experience, as well as his campaign appeal and message simplicity, I think Edwards could win here.


South Carolina (1)

2004 Results

Edwards 45%
Kerry 30%
Clark 7%

2005 Prediction: Edwards

A state that would have already been heavily oriented towards either Edwards or Warner (or Breseden) would have an even greater impact should Edwards win here after NH, giving him the big MO. I suspect Warner will give Edwards a tight race here as Edwards comes under greater scrutiny. However, I still suspect Edwards to pull it out in his native state.

This would create a long road for the rest of the field. If the next states are Tennessee and Virginia, Warner could stay on with a win in either or both. Candidates Richardson and Bayh could stay in given the mid west and southwestern states that would vote soon after. Clark or Biden could do reasonably well on Super Tuesday, especially in the south. At the same time, if either Biden or Clinton don't win an early state, their support could dry up.

All in all, even if Clinton or Biden wins in NH, the block of southern states voting next could make things easier for Edwards or even Warner to capitalize on.

And Clinton, despite her assumed front runner status, would really need to win NH to maintain expectations and to deal with what will likely be losses in some of the states coming up afterwards.

New Mexico

2004 Results

Kerry 42%
Clark 21%
Edwards 11%

2005 Predicted: Richardson


2004 Results

Kerry 43%
Clark 27%
Edwards 7%

2005 Predicted: Richardson/Napolitano


2004 Results

Kerry 50%
Edwards 11%
Clark 10%

2005 Prediction: Biden


2004 Results

Kerry 51%
Edwards 25%
Clark 4%

2005 Prediction: Toss Up


2004 Results

Clark 30%
Edwards 30%
Kerry 27%

2005 Predicted: Clark/Edwards/Richardson/Warner

North Dakota

2004 Results

Kerry 50%
Clark 24%
Edwards 10%

2005 Prediction: Richardson/Clark


2004 Results

Kerry 52%
Edwards 13%
Clark 7%

2005 Prediction: Edwards/Clinton


2004 Results

Kerry 49%
Edwards 7%
Clark 3%

2005 Prediction: Edwards/Clinton/Clark


2004 Results

Kerry 45%
Edwards 8%
Clark 4%

2005 Prediction: Edwards/Clinton

Virginia (2)

2004 Results

Kerry 52%
Edwards 27%
Clark 9%

2005 Prediction: Warner


2004 Results

Kerry 41%
Edwards 26%
Clark 23%

2005 Prediction: Breseden

So who survives and who goes home?

Of the more serious candidates I'd say Biden and maybe Clinton drop out. Vilsack also likely to be gone. The others may hang around and wait for Super Tuesday.

Radio Militia "Tour" A Bust

There haven't been any updates on the Tour of Truth crusade for two days, although presumably the group has finally made it to the Green Zone.

At the same time, we recognize it hasn't been the best of weeks to be in Baghdad to trumpet the Good News of the U.S. led occupation of Iraq.

First, the infamous "fly paper" strategy got blown all to bits when four bombs were detonated in London last Thursday, killing (as of today) 52 people. So instead of being able to bellow about how the Iraqi invasion was giving us the option of fighting the terrorists "there" (the Middle East) instead of "here"(the West), the radio militia's tour of duty has been distracted by the events in London, and the collapse of yet another administration talking point forces its admirers to alter their rhetoric to fit the changed circumstances.

Second, the bombings in Baghdad have continued, most recently as 27 people, mostly Iraqi children, were killed by a car-bomber driving into the midst of American GI's distributing of candy. A previous attack by Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad resulted in the deaths of 25 people, mostly recruits to the Iraqi army at a recruiting center.

Finally, the American press has been all over Plamegate, peppering Scotty with all sorts of nagging questions about Karl Rove's involvement with the outing of CIA agent-operative Valerie Plame, in retaliation for her husband, Joe Wilson's calling the administration's Iraqi yellow cake allegations bogus.

So it hasn't been a good week for the conservative radio "delegation", who had not only to battle the fact that they were the D-list of conservative hate radio that probably wouldn't have gotten much attention anyway, but have had to contend with events in Baghdad, London, and DC that have not contributed positively to their view of the world and the rosy scenario they wished to project to their listeners and the wider American public.

UPDATE: Well, THIS is sure exciting, isn't it?

UPDATE: They've talked to the head of the Iraqi "army" over there and think they've got the scoop. But strangely, nothing about today's attacks in Baghdad.

Classic quotes:

In terms of raw numbers, there are now more Iraqi security forces in the country than coalition troops.

And I have a bridge to sell you.


What will it take to overcome all these challenges? Courage. The Iraqi and Coalition forces have it in abundance. Tomorrow we will test our courage as we go out on patrol.

Yeah, boy.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Right-Wing Radio Militia's "Truth" Crusade Underwhelming

They're off to a terribly slow and boring start.

First, they waste time in Florida at a barbeque.

Then they travel to Kuwait.

Get on with it already.