Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

How About Richardson?

Maybe it's due to six years of the Bush II administration. Maybe it's a reaction to the in-coming Democratic Chair of the House Intelligence Committee not knowing which branch of Islam Al-Qaeda is affiliated. Maybe it's a response to Bayh bowing out, leaving us with a media focused on HRC and Obama.

But having the Democrats nominate a seasoned, knowledgeable pol, like say, Bill Richardson, sounds a bit better to me than it did just last week. There's obviously a long way to go here, and I've already been all-over-the-map on the 2008 field. So, no endorsement. Just a thought.

You can read more here.

My reservations about Richardson include: he's not particularly telegenic; his ethnicity may be a deterrent for some angry white voters; there was some problem while he was the Sec of Energy having to do with the security conditions at Los Alamos laboratories, which reflected pretty poorly on him several years ago.

Counter observations: I may be wrong about Richardson's popular appeal, but even if I'm not, a candidate's visual appearance or verbal qualities shouldn't necessarily dictate who the nominee is; a large portion of angry white voters that won't vote for a Hispanic probably wouldn't vote Democratic anyway; the Los Alamos controversy didn't hurt Richardson's gubernatorial ambitions, and my recollection of the aftermath of the situation there was that there may have been more smoke than fire.

Ideally, the primary and caucus process would contribute to a substantive and reasonably fair opportunity for qualified candidates to be heard and make an impact. The reality is that impressions, media coverage, money and other factors tend to influence or outweigh a simple straight up or down policy evaluation. So whether Democrats will be able to put forward their most qualified candidate two years from now is tenuous, but the long lead in before the primaries might end up benefitting second-tier candidates, who stand to gain from any other candidate's slip-ups or over-exposure.

Big Bucks

I'm curious about what sort of health insurance the National Review Online's John Derbyshire has that costs $857 a month.

Does NRO not cover its employees?

Maybe Derbyshire needs to invest in one of those health savings accounts.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Foiled Again

Under the headline of A Realistic Approach to Iraq, Washington Post op-eder David Ignatius writes,

America's security interests are not served by remaining indefinitely as an occupying power in Iraq. This is precisely the trap the enemy laid when Bush invaded in 2003 -- drawing U.S. forces into hostile terrain and then slowly picking away at them.

Ponder that second sentence for just a moment. It would be preferable, admits Ignatius, that America not end up occupying Iraq. Not in America's Interest. Uh uh. And we wouldn't have, continues Ignatius, if the enemy in Iraq hadn't bothered engaging the invading Americans on terms favorable to them--the guerilla strategy, that is.

But doesn't Ignatius recognize that if we hadn't --

Oh, never mind.

Kirkpatrick and Pinochet: Perfect Together

For a summary of the lives, and recent deaths, of former Ambassador Kirkpatrick and former Chiliean dictator, Pinochet, read Neocon Games at The Phil Nugent Experience.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Permanent Surge

Bush plans to put more troops in Iraq

So says the AP.

Here are the last 'graphs,

Bush said his decision to increase the size of the armed forces was in response not just to the war in Iraq, but to the broader struggle against Islamic extremists around the globe.

"It is an accurate reflection that this ideological war we're in is going to last for a while and that we're going to need a military that's capable of being able to sustain our efforts and to help us achieve peace," he said.

"...this ideological war...going to need a military capable of..."

increasing the size of the military to fight this ideological war...

But wh--

Oh never mind.

Whither Pluralism?

So I have Democracy Now! on in my car this morning and as is not infrequently the case, Noam Chomsky is on, giving a recent speech in Boston and having just returned from a trip to South America.

Anyway, you probably know Chomsky's schtick: Our Democratic System is being manipulated by The Man or The Men in Suits; our so-called democracy is a farce, distorted by the Money Power, the media and other elites who finance the two political parties and suppress the Wishes of, or at least the Opinions of, The People.

Now, it so happens that I tend to agree with much of Chomsky's schtick, so I poke him in well-meaning jest. I do think he's too much of the kind of moral absolutist I deplore when it wears right-wing garb. And I also tend to think he overemphasizes economic structures to the neglect of religious and cultural ones, but more about that later.

For now, if I think Chomsky is largely correct about American political power, how do I square his "elitist" view with the classic pluralist case made famous by James Madison in Federalist 10? Put more broadly, where do Chomsky and his ilk fit in with the various Theories of Democracy?

Chomsky, like C. Wright Mills before him, and blogger/authors such as David Sirota subscribe to what is known as the "elitist" theory of power and of politics. Whereas classic American Constitutionalism, articulated best by the writers of the Federalist, and reinforced by generations of American political scientists in the centuries afterward, viewed power and political conflict from the lense of pluralism.

In Elite theory, political conflict and decision-making were carried out among a relatively small circle of power brokers, with the masses playing small, negligent roles. Mills sketched a system comprised of (1) business and wealth elite; (2) military elite--what Eisenhower would a few short years later call The Military Industrial Complex; and (3) political elites--namely the President and members of the Executive branch. The legislative branch, in this system, was subservient to the three pillars of power and typically rubber-stamped their decisions.

Under pluralist thought, power was more evenly-distributed. A federalist system with checks and balances in both the national government and between the national government and the states made it difficult for any particular group to exercise power.

According to James Madison,

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good. So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts. But the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property. Those who hold and those who are without property have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a moneyed interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of the government.


The other point of difference is, the greater number of citizens and extent of territory which may be brought within the compass of republican than of democratic government; and it is this circumstance principally which renders factious combinations less to be dreaded in the former than in the latter. The smaller the society, the fewer probably will be the distinct parties and interests composing it; the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within which they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression. Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other. Besides other impediments, it may be remarked that, where there is a consciousness of unjust or dishonorable purposes, communication is always checked by distrust in proportion to the number whose concurrence is necessary.

So, while not actually uttering the word, Federalist #10 sets out the basic parameters of political pluralism, for which the establishment of a federal republic was designed to promote.

In Who Governs? the political scientist Robert Dahl examined the distribution and implications of power in New Haven, Connecticut and what he found largely conformed with Madison's ideal: decision-making was widely dispersed and no one power or group exerted power for any length of time across or within any set of issues.

Dahl's conclusions about New Haven attracted a spirited and elaborate set of responses, mostly by theorists who argued for a more thorough treatment of decision-making, emphasizing not just those decisions that could be easily identified (and which might have achieved that level by virtue of a pluralist-like process of compromise) but those decisions made elsewhere, or those decisions not made, and those conflicts not raised by virtue of the system of political control, which excluded certain types of conflicts.

This latter notion of conflict expansion and conflict suppression was treated at some depth by the political scientist E. E. Schattschneider in The Semi-Sovereign People. Schattschneider wrote that political minorities, in seeking representation or resolution of a problem, first needed to expand the zone of conflict to which they were subject, bringing other groups into the conflict and hoping to reverse current policy. Beneficiaries of the status quo, quite understandably, sought to minimize conflict, as many "neo-elitists"--as they came to be known--argued.

Which brings us back to Chomsky and Sirota. What of Madison's concepts of power dispersion? Was Federalist #10 wrong, or was it relevant to Madison's day but inadequate to describe today's political realities? If so, Why? Under what conditions does pluralism not work?

I'll try to develop this line of questioning in future posts, perhaps taking as my point of departure, such recent "reform" initiatives as tort legislation and bankruptcy "reform". Under typical pluralist theories, pro-business reforms should face the same obstacles as do other groups--varieties of interest that impede the interests of any one group (say the credit card industry) and minimize the likelihood of any one group's having its policy ambitions carried out. But with a unified Republican government, some business interests were yet successful in realizing their wishes. In what sense did American pluralism not function in this case, or others? Why?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

No Bayh

So Bayh is out, less than two weeks after announcing the opening of his exploratory committee.

I tend to agree with the remarks he put out, suggesting he and his advisors took a hard look at the scene and decided the current Senator, and former Governor, of Indiana faced a pretty rough road in winning the nomination. But not an impossible one. And given the inexperience of Obama (even if he runs) and the liabilities of HRC, Bayh would probably have been the kind of "consensus" candidate that might emerge in the event the others self-destruct late in the game (see Dean, Howard). And although Bayh wasn't high on the charisma chart, he would have been a much candidate than Vilsack, another DLC'er who's already announced, and at least the equal of others, be they Wes Clark or Bill Richardson.

But as I heard someone on CNN say the other day, it wasn't as if there was some groundswell in support of a Bayh candidacy. But the lack of any real constituency or grassroots support isn't a hinderance to most other candidacies, which also tend to have a top-down flavor to them. Bayh will probably get a long look as the VP.

So that leaves us with Vilsack already announced, Edwards soon to announce, and Obama and HRC headlining the media coverage. Biden, Richardson, Clark and Dodd are presumably on the bubble.

Two years out and the field is already shrinking and getting less interesting. Edwards remains about the only liberal in the race, but I don't know if he has lifted his gravitas enough to convince a wide enough section of the country he's up to the job. And while he will want to run on an anti-poverty platform, foreign affairs, particularly Iraq, will no doubt dominate the issue agenda.

Clark could make things interesting, but like Edwards and Obama, is somewhat unseasoned politically. Biden has called for a partitioning of Iraq, which may or may not be a good idea, but it has the merits of sounding both original and doable. Richardson is supposed to have foreign policy credentials, but I have yet to hear his solution in Iraq.

Freedom is Slavery

From the NYT:

SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 16 — President Michelle Bachelet of Chile is a feminist and physician who used to practice pediatric medicine at public clinics in poor neighborhoods. So it was hardly surprising that her government recently liberalized contraception policy by making the so-called morning-after pill available free at state-run hospitals.

But since Chile is perhaps the most socially conservative country in South America, the measure has generated complaints and challenges not only on the right, but even from some of her allies. Opponents of the policy are furious because girls as young as 14 are being allowed to have access to the emergency contraception without any requirement that their parents be notified.

“It is hard to understand the motive for such a reaction,” Maria Soledad Barria, the minister of health and a physician, said in an interview here this week. After all, she noted, the age of consent in Chile is 14, and the morning-after pill, also known as Plan B emergency contraception, has been available at private pharmacies catering to the well-to-do for five years and has survived court challenges.

According to government statistics, 15 percent of all births in Chile are to mothers 18 or younger, most too poor to afford private care. Ms. Bachelet has framed the issue as one of social justice, arguing that because “not everyone is equal and not everyone has the same possibilities,” her duty is “to guarantee that all Chileans have real options in this area, as in others.”

The influential Roman Catholic Church, however, has condemned distribution of the pill as a form of abortion that encourages promiscuity and intrudes on personal freedoms. In a statement, the national conference of bishops said the government’s actions are “reminiscent of public policies established in totalitarian regimes, by which the state aimed to regulate the intimate lives of its citizens.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

I'm just a Senator, but...

Charles Krauthammer writes this in today's Wash Post:

He [Bush] must do two things. First, as I've been agitating for, establish a new governing coalition in Baghdad that excludes Moqtada al-Sadr, a cancer that undermines the ability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government to work with us. It is encouraging that Bush has already begun such a maneuver by meeting with rival Shiite and Sunni parliamentary leaders. If we help produce a cross-sectarian government that would be an ally rather than a paralyzed semi-adversary of coalition forces, we should then undertake part two: "Double down" our military effort. This means a surge in American troops with a specific mission: to secure Baghdad and (with the support of the Baghdad government -- a sine qua non) suppress Sadr's Mahdi Army.

So. Beyond the willingness to exercise greater Will by massacring more civilians, the neo-cons also want America to purge the elected Iraqi government, which is supposed to have been sovereign for the past two and half years, of one of its majority stockholders, religious authorities, and military generals.

But, but, but isn't the enemy in Iraq, the reason Iraq is the Central Front of the War on Terror, "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and the "terrorists"? And what about the Sunni insurgents? Where do they fit into all of this?

We are governed, given our news by, and pundited by very silly people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Shorter Washington Post

We Were Against Democracy and Human Rights Before We Were For Them

So, the Post salutes the noble efforts by the late Ambassador Kilpatrick and the more recently late dictator Pinochet to hold off "communism" even if it meant a country had to sell its democratic and humane souls to do so.

This was of course the consensus-speak of the Punditry Elite throughout the 1980's. To be concerned about democracy and human rights was to be a naive wussy.

But then the advent of the neo-con, Bush II administration--in its haste to invade Iraq--added the rhetoric of democracy and human rights to its militaristic repertoire, and suddenly, we were at war with Eurasia and we had always been at war with Eurasia.

Moral Relativists

Eugene Robinson:

I'll leave it to others to "balance" the commentary on Gen. Augusto Pinochet's death with praise for his free-market economic reforms. Pinochet was a despot, a murderer and a fraud.

Yeah, we liberals lack such balance and nuance. Why can't we see both sides? Why do liberals always insist everything is black and white. There are shades of gray. Can't the liberals see that?

The New New Way Forward

Gonna (try to) Isolate Al-Sadr

From the NYT:

BAGHDAD, Dec. 11 — After discussions with the Bush administration, several of Iraq’s major political parties are in talks to form a coalition whose aim is to break the powerful influence of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr within the government, senior Iraqi officials say.


Officials involved in the talks say their aim is not to undermine Mr. Maliki, but to isolate Mr. Sadr as well as firebrand Sunni Arab politicians inside the government. Mr. Sadr controls a militia with an estimated 60,000 fighters that has rebelled twice against the American military and is accused of widening the sectarian war with reprisal killings of Sunni Arabs.

The Americans, frustrated with Mr. Maliki’s political dependence on Mr. Sadr, appear to be working hard to help build the new coalition. President Bush met last week in the White House with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Iranian-backed Shiite party, and is to meet on Tuesday with Tariq al-Hashemi, leader of the Sunni Arab party. In late November, Mr. Bush and his top aides met with leaders from Sunni countries in the Middle East to urge them to press moderate Sunni Arab Iraqis to support Mr. Maliki.

Probably too little, too late. And I wonder what sort of popular support these other parties have. And those 60,000 fighters sound like quite an obstacle for any new coalition still lacking soldiers willing to fight. And then of course, Sadr is just another Shiite. There's the Sunni insurgency still out there as well. Who's their leader or leaders?

Monday, December 11, 2006


So, of last night's Sunday Night Football, ESPN says Drew Brees? Five TD passes. Reggie Bush? One electrifying romp. Mike Karney? Three scores. The Saints are coming. Sunday's 42-17 clubbing of the Cowboys sent a loud message to the league.

Wonder who the Saints play next? Wait a minute, let me look for it. Oh yeah, here it is. The Washington Redskins. And where is the game? It's in Louisiana (not that the Skins have benefitted much from playing at home anyway).

Didn't see the Skins game yesterday. Opted for Apocalypto. I was prepared for a lot of gory violence and brutality, and the movie certainly had some of that, but it wasn't what I expected. Part of it are slow--there's a long journey from the forest village to the big city. Overall, I'd say I liked it, but I couldn't help feeling a little let down.

Meanwhile, while I was away, Ladell Betts rushed for 171 yards but the Kid threw two picks and Carlos Rogers apparently dropped or misplayed a certain interception.

The team has problems, but breaking in the Kid QB was going to take time. Nevertheless, having the big arm at QB has opened up the running game.

If the Skins don't go hog-wild--no pun intended--during free agency this year, they might manage to build on this year.

Front Runner (updated below)

Today's New York Times had an article about Obama's trip to NH on the inside and below the fold. Above the fold was an article on prison reform in California. Interestlingly, and perhaps sadly, now that the elections are over, Governor Schwarzenegger and the California (Democratic) legislature are making plans to reform the troubled prison system. In other words, now that the politiking over insignificant and uncontroversial issues is over, the government can go ahead and actually try to solve the major problems of the day. Well, California deserves credit for recognizing the problem and for at least considering a range of options, some of them politically incorrect to the "law and order" crowd. But it's a sad commentary that serious problems can only be addressed after the elections, when actions can be taken and political repercussions hopefully put off for another day.

But I thought the placement of the prison reform article was highly fortuitous given the proximity to the article on the Obama event, where at least some of the observers were wondering where the beef was:

“I’ve looked through his book, and he barely touches issues,” said Robert Padian, 59, an unemployed database administrator. “I think he’s a serious candidate, but I don’t think he has great potential. No track record, and there are too many guys ahead of him in line.”

Well, Obama did touch on issues during his speech, but nothing controversial or original:

In two speeches and a news conference, Mr. Obama called for universal health care — the issue with which Mrs. Clinton, the New York Democrat, was once closely identified — a battle on global warming and a timed redeployment of troops from Iraq.

Universal health care is pretty standard stuff for Democrats and pretty uncontentious in the aggregate--how you get there has tended to be the sticking point. Likewise, some sort of redeployment in Iraq has greater traction today than even a year ago so Obama isn't exactly going out on a limb to call for it. He probably deserves credit for speaking about global warming, but even that's not necessarily an issue that identifies a particular winner or loser. Without having heard the particulars of Obama's speech, I imagine his discussion of the issue was a Clintonish-Gore-ish claim that efforts to slow or halt global warming would actually be good for the economy--in other words, an attempt to make it seem that there isn't a class basis to the policy. Maybe I'm wrong. If someone's read the speech and it was different than that, let me know.

But, keeping in mind the apparent pushing off of important policy discussions till after the election in California, I hate to see Democratic candidates, particularly someone as charismatic as Obama, fail to take advantage of the spotlight by taking on specific interests and problematic policy conditions, even if such an approach is controversial.

And speaking of California's prison reform, how about Democrats talk about the Drug War, which according to most studies of criminal justice policy I've seen, is responsible for the large infusion of inmates into the nation's brutal and over-crowded prisons. Not to mention the Drug War's questionable invasion of privacy.

Or how about someone on the Democratic side reading David Sirota's book and talking about the need to strengthen the nation's unions and overturning last year's dreadful bankruptcy "reform" bill?

Of course, it isn't as if HRC, or Bayh or Edwards have gone into much detail about these matters either. But for whatever reason, Obama is the man of the moment. It would be refreshing for the nation's leading Democratic figures to push the envelope, challenge the status quo, and raise questions about some of the nation's hidden or more intractable issues.

Update: There's a pretty good discussion about Obama going on over at the CarpetBagger Report. But to clarify what I said earlier--the issue isn't whether Obama is sufficiently policy-wonkish. My concern isn't a dichotomy between someone who speaks in generalities and someone who speaks policy-wonkese. In fact, I would contend that groups like the DLC are pretty wonkish. But they aren't very political. By political, I refer to the realities of power politics and conflict, and the issues that tend to bare that out, whether it be the right to privacy, the right to unionize or the power to make decisions in the private sphere, which is what happens in the case of a bankruptcy "reform" bill that gives power to credit card companies and takes it away from consumers and individuals. Democrats have tendency to want to substitute technocratic policy solutions or offer wonky political initiatives in the absence of identifying the underlying political conflicts that exacerbate the problems policies are designed to alleviate. That's the distinction Democrats need to make. Of course it's understandable for those desiring to be elected, to smoother over or avoid conflicts alltogether. But I believe that has been a short-term focus by Democrats that has hurt them in the more important task of building a brand-name and establishing trust with voters who both know what the Democratic party stands for, and what the realities of American politics are. Someone like Obama is probably in a no-win situation. If he doesn't go beyond generalities he won't get taken seriously, or he'll be ravaged by the press and Republicans for being an inexperienced relativist not ready for prime time. If he begins to draw lines in the sand and identifying enemies, or at least the sources of class conflict, he gets attacked all around for being a class-warrior and devisive. I hope Obama will rise to the challenge, and I have higher hopes for him along these lines than any of the other candidates (with the possible exception of Edwards). But I' m not optimistic.

Friday, December 08, 2006

In 2008 There Will be a Pony

Glenn Greenwald is pretty pessimistic about the contents and implications of B-H:

Some commenters seem to be trying to find some good in what James Baker did here -- as though the Baker-Hamilton Report will help end the war. It won't.

In 2002, it was clear that the President was intent on invading and occupying Iraq, and all sorts of people endorsed that central idea but then -- like James Baker or Tom Friedman -- added their own caveats about how they thought it should be done. That didn't matter. Anything other than unambiguous, emphatic opposition to the invasion counted as support for the war. It fueled, rather than impeded, Bush's ability to invade at will.

Exactly the same is true now. Anyone who does not clearly advocate withdrawal sooner rather than later in accordance with a clear timetable is, in effect, endorsing the status quo. Anything muddled or any "plan" which calls for our ongoing, indefinite presence in Iraq (as the Report does) is tantamount to support for Bush to have license to do what he wants. There is clear language in the Baker-Hamilton Report that warns against the dangers of withdrawal (just as one would expect from a Commission comprised of war advocates).

Therefore, the Report will be used as an instrument against withdrawal and thus, by definition, in support of our ongoing occupation -- exactly what the President wants to do and will do. Just as was true for those who failed to oppose the invasion, by failing to loudly and clearly oppose our ongoing occupation (and, if anything, by clearly endorsing it, even if lamentably), the Report does nothing other than enable the ongoing occupation.

Under the circumstances, one either advocates withdrawal or one does not. The Report did not.

It's really just as simple as that.

My own superficial read was that (1) the report was a pretty damning indictment of the Bush Administration's Iraq war policy and its foreign policy more broadly; but (2) there's not much that can be done about that now except (a) begin the process of shifting our military resources away from combat towards an advisory role; (b) enlist Syria and Iran in an effort to stabilize Iraq through a recognition of what each country stands to lose--if anything--from a failed Iraqi state or civil war; and (c) get on with the business of reconciling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And hope a pony comes out of all of this.

Still, even if Greenwald and others are right that the commission's recommendations are or will ultimately only give cover to the status quo, how is that supposed to benefit the Republican Party and it's 2008 candidate? I can't imagine the conversation on Iraq is going to be more upbeat in 2008 than it is now, which suggests to me that, ideally, the Republican Party, John McCain or no, will be stuck with Iraq around its neck in 2008 and the Democratic candidate will, again ideally, be free to campaign on that premise.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Today is the one-month anniversary of November 7.

So, how are you all feeling out there?

What I think surprises me the most is both how cynical I was about Democratic prospects generally, and in fear of the Rove Machine in particular. After twelve years of Republican rule and my awakening about the sorry state of American media I was pretty convinced that the bad times were going to keep on a rollin. Despite the fact that I partake of a wide range of liberal and alternative media sources, I had bought into the media hype about the Bush White House.

There was short period of time during the '04 campaign when I first recognized the shell that was the Bush Conservative Movement: It was during the first debate when Kerry was looking tall and talking presidential while Bush looked like the frat boy we all thought he was in 1999. The difference between Kerry and Bush that night was striking, causing me to realize how much of Bush's persona was manufactured and how much it benefitted from being insulated from the public and opposing opinions.

Unfortunately, that awareness, which I suspect people besides myself also noticed, wasn't enough to carry the day; Bush was re-elected and brought with him more Republican House and Senate members. With 55 Senators, moreover, the 2005-2006 GOP appeared poised to reach anti-filibuster territory in the next election cycle or two.

Then there was the much vaunted Karl Rove genius, the strength of the Republican voting ground game, aided considerably by the growing millions of conservative evangelicals and abetted by a Missing White Woman obsessed media.

I was sure that for all their vileness and depravity, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Little Green Footballs had their fingers on the pulse of American resentment politics.

But how weak (and still vile) do those propagandists and hate-mongers look now? And they're still at it, convinced their great conservative cause was betrayed, in some cases still continuing to deny their war is a fiasco, not recognizing the shrinking of red America as conservatism finds itself increasingly isolated in the Old South.

Among the most refreshing changes has been to see the gradual realignment of bloggers such as John Cole and Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan in particular, who was calling us tree-hugging, angry bloggers a traitorous fifth column against America's holy war against Islam is now venting loudly and stridently against his fellow travelers.
Here's Sullivan on the right-wing response to Mary Cheney's pregnancy:

Here's TownHall blogger Kevin McCullough's response to the Mary Cheney news. Money quote:

Knowing from scientific data that children excel best when given the full and natural parental structure of one mother and one father, is it moral to bring a child into such a scenario - purposefully, simply to stroke one's own desire to have a child - sort of like a new handbag, or pair of shoes?

So the vice-president's future grandchild is now the equivalent of a pair of shoes? Send me more examples of base reax, will you? In many ways, the GOP's base response to the reality of gays seems to me similar to their attitude to the reality of Iraq. They have an ideology; it just doesn't fit persuasively with reality. The more reality bites, the more fiercely they stick to their ideology. This is why the Christianist psyche really is the anti-conservative psyche. It is a rigid political ideology, enhanced with the certitude of religious fundamentalism, and deployed with Schmittian ruthlessness. In the end, it must fail. It will fail. And it is failing. All that remains to be discovered is the extent of the human damage it has wrought.

"In the end it must fail. And it is failing." Damn, that's some good shit.

And here's Sullivan commenting on the right-wing blogosphere's reaction to the photos of Jose Padilla:

But let me say this in defense of Althouse. She is at least conceding that the shameful treatment of Padilla is worth discussing. And her defense of the sadism is about as plausible as it will ever get. She sees there is an important principle here - something we once knew as habeas corpus. Here you have a U.S. citizen detained on American soil, kept without charges for 3 and a half years, accused of plotting a dirty bomb attack (an accusation never substantiated in any way), tortured until he may be mentally incapable of standing trial ... and the conservative blogosphere is completely, utterly silent. Habeas corpus disappears not with a bang, and not even with a whimper, but with deathly quiet. Well, we know what American conservatism now stands for. You can see the visual above.

The GOP is imploding.

Of course, as Digby has noted, it's unfortunate that there are still prospective candidates who want to triangulate against the dirty hippy bloggers and campaign as if Democrats must continue to appease the Serious Media People in the Media and the mythical heartland voters who voted Democratic but really didn't mean it.

But the last twelve years in the wilderness, and in particular the past six years of hell have paid off in the blooming of critical liberal voices in the blogosphere and around the country. Take Tom Schaller for instance, whose pre-election release of Whistling Past Dixie was incredibly, and singly, prescient about the election outcomes this year and future trends of American politics.

Another important voice has been that of David Sirota, an economic populist and strategist who, along with Schaller, has recognized the potential for anti-business elite leaders to win elections in the Mountain West and Mid-West.

The challenge for Democrats will be to live with the variety inherent in big-tent majority coalitions while ensuring the big-picture goals--increasing individual freedoms and economic opportunities for more and more Americans--stay in focus.

Anyway, feel free to celebrate our one-month anniversary. Just try not to shoot anyone in the face.

Victory? We Don't Even Know Who The Enemy Is

After coming out against James Webb and racial integration in schools in his two previous columns, George Will is back off the reservation:

The Iraq Study Group, like the policy it was created to critique, was overtaken by the unexpectedly rapid crumbling of the U.S. position in Iraq since the ISG was formed in March. The deterioration was manifested in last week's misbegotten summit between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which made brutally clear how difficult it will be to apply even the ISG's temperate recommendations to the deteriorating reality.

Summits usually do, and generally should, resemble American political conventions -- they should not be deliberative events but should ratify decisions made earlier. The ISG's recommendations must be read in light of these facts from the week during which the recommendations were being written:

Calling Iraq's prime minister "the right guy" for Iraq, Bush met him in Jordan, presumably because Iraq is too dangerous a venue for discussing how to, in Bush's words, "complete" the job. The job is to stabilize Iraq, which cannot be done without breaking the Mahdi Army, which cannot be done without bringing down Maliki, who is beholden to Moqtada al-Sadr, the cleric who more or less controls the Mahdi Army, which probably is larger and more capable than Iraq's army.

First, Will joins the ISG's smackdown of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, from Iraq to Israel-Palestine and beyond.

Then Will says Iraq is unstable because of al-Sadr, a prominent Shiite cleric, who runs a militia and controls about 30 seats in the Iraqi legislature.

What about the Sunni insurgency?

Do we even know who the enemy is anymore?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2008 Chatter

So, with Vilsack (1) already in, and Obama (2) sending signals he might be in, too, HRC (3) is beginning to go public about her 2008 ambitions, maybe sooner than she'd hoped. Evan Bayh (4) has formed an exploratory committee, John Edwards (5) probably hasn't stopped running since 2004, and other Democratic notables from Joe Biden (6) to General Wesley Clark (7) and Bill Richardson (8) are also expected to throw their hats in the ring. And of course, the Al Gore (9) shadow continues to loom over the field, and will probably heat up next year when he--among many other potentials--has his book released.

Anyway, how do we begin to assess this field? To start with, for each candidate, what is their basis for running?

John Edwards is probably the most "message" centered candidate. With an equally charismatic, but less experienced Obama possibly running, Edwards' lack of experience relative to the rest of the field might be somewhat minimized, allowing his message to gain greater traction.

Bayh, Biden, Clark and Richardson will probably emphasize competence, experience, and common sense government. Clark and Richardson will no doubt emphasize their foreign policy credentials, while Bayh will try to run more as a centrist, bipartisan equiped, former governor of a mid-western state than a sitting U.S. Senator.

But I'm a little less clear about what the rationale is for an HRC candidacy. I say that not out any hostility to Hillary, as I don't really have a horse in this race yet. But it's tough to figure what she brings to the field and why she wants to be president. She isn't particularly visionary or charismatic. Nor does she have a particular message or area of policy expertise. In fact, of all the field, she probably brings the most political baggage. Of course, she would be the first woman president and would no doubt, by sheer name recognition alone, be the strongest female contender for the U.S. presidency, ever. But I can't imagine she's running merely to be the first woman president.

I've not proven myself a sage prognosticator of election outcomes, but I still don't think Obama will ultimately run this time. I hope to be proven wrong. Yes he's considerably under-experienced. But his entry would only make the primaries more interesting and potentially more drawn out, and thus, significant. And despite his lack of time in office, he'd be considered, rightly or wrongly, among the leading contenders, a bona fide heavyweight. Furthermore, if Gore also opts for the race, it would make a most impressive field, indeed. Can you imagine the media coverage of an Edwards-Gore-Obama-Clinton field? At the same time, such a list would no doubt greatly reduce the potential for other candidates to be heard, much less compete.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Authoritarian Mindset

Eugene Robinson

In the article, Sweig points out what any visitor to Cuba who is not wearing ideological blinkers quickly realizes: that the Cuban government's hold on power does not derive from repression alone. In my visits to the island, I've been struck by how Cubans can be bitterly critical of the hard-line restrictions the regime imposes on speech, assembly, movement, commerce and other activities, and in the next breath speak with pride of the government's achievements in providing free health care and education.

Ponder that second sentence for a moment:

So, the government in this case provides "free education", for which the people are supposedly eternally grateful and dependent, and the only downside is, they can't actually put that education to any use.

Likewise, yes it's a shame I can't speak my mind, freely associate, seek out information (aside from that provided for "free" from the government schools), or express my personality in any way, but hey, it's all worth it to ensure that I get the same health care as my neighbor.

But to bring it closer to home, let's play a little word substitution game:

In the article, Sweig points out what any visitor to America who is not wearing ideological blinkers quickly realizes: that the American government's hold on power does not derive from repression alone. In my visits to the continent, I've been struck by how Americans can be bitterly critical of the hard-line restrictions the regime imposes on speech, assembly, movement, commerce and other activities, and in the next breath speak with pride of the government's achievements in keeping them free of terrorist attacks over the last five years.

Meanwhile, in another Latin American country, Hugo Chavez has won another six year term, but despite his margin of victory, the New York Times reports that the former general is planning to ensure he can stick around for awhile:

Sent to power for a third time, Mr. Chávez seems intent on assuming the mantle from the fading Fidel Castro of chief Latin American scourge of the United States. He also has made no secret of his intent to consolidate his power further through legal and personnel changes.
He has spoken of a desire to unite his supporters in one political party and to alter legislation to allow him to remain in power past 2020.

Winning support for such measures may not be difficult in a country where his allies already control the legislature and the Supreme Court as well as governorships in all but two states, and where the military, the national oil company and other government bureaucracies and institutions have been systematically packed with Chávez boosters and stripped of opponents.

Now, facing an anemic opposition that could not win in any of Venezuela’s 23 states or Caracas, Mr. Chávez is expected to tighten his grip, first and foremost over his own supporters in an effort to prevent challenges to his rule from emerging.

“A priority for Chávez right now is what he calls a ‘revolution within a revolution,’ ” said Steve Ellner, a political scientist at the Universidad de Oriente in eastern Venezuela. “This means a purging process of those associated with corruption or excess bureaucracy. In January you’re going to see some heads being chopped.”

Venezuela leading newspapers, El Nacional and El Universal, published maps in their pages on Monday showing the entire country painted red, the color of Mr. Chávez’s campaign, as a reflection of his convincing victory.

Red, in fact, colored not just the clothing and advertisements of the Chávez campaign. Rafael Ramírez, the energy minister, described the national oil company as “red, really red,” in comments caught on video in which he told workers that they had no place in the company if they were not supporters of the government.

Mr. Ramírez’s words, which Mr. Chávez promptly adopted as one of his refrains, point to a creeping “with us or against us” radicalization in Venezuelan society that goes beyond the government-run oil company to institutions like public schools and museums.

On the home front, authoritarianism of another sort is rearing its head:

Hugh Hewitt has published a transcript of his "interview" with me yesterday. Here are some of his questions:

"Are you a Christian?"

"Do you believe Jesus Christ rose from the dead?"

"Do you consider yourself under the authority of Benedict, or before him, John Paul II?"

Notice the last question from Hewitt to Sullivan. "...under the authority of (Pope) Benedict..."

Authority is the critical element for the burgeoning National Law Right, as Sullivan analyzes them in his recent book, and as is also discussed in this New Republic cover story by Damon Linker.

The upshot of the Natural Law Authoritarianism is, like other forms of dictatorship, a rejection of individual liberty and freedom of conscience. But even more than in other forms of authoritarianism, Natural Law dictatorship is even more explicit in its rejection of pluralism, free thought, and compromise. As the church contended during the reformation, the individual was not permitted the freedom to serve God, or not, as he or she pleased. Today's Natural Law Catholicism hasn't changed since the Middle Ages: It still contends that individuals and governments are subject to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. It will work within, and appear to support democratic processes, but only because those are the only avenues open in many parts of the world. Their aim, however, as proponents like Richard John Neuhaus embody, is to ultimately exert control over both the individual and the nation.

As these few examples demonstrate, the authoritarian spirit is not restricted to one end of the ideological spectrum or present only in one hemisphere, or absent in developed economies.

But we can understand a little about where to expect the challenges to freedom to originate. One is unfortunately, from the economic sphere, where fears, or envy encourages the restriction of earning, consumption and individuality in favor of a rigid sense of equality.

The other two originate from religious and national security concerns. The latter, in the aftermath of 911, is most apparent to those of us in America but the implications of Natural Law theories and fundamentalist evangelicalism are equally as severe, even more so given that their designs are not temporal, as the restrictive ambitions of national security rationalizers suggest. Under religious dictatorship, to the contrary, the restrictions are intended to be permanent and have as their carrying card, a fear of, and desire to, respond to the demands of eternal life or eternal damnation, and for which, as Sam Harris has eloquently argued, no challenging evidence is neither allowed or conceivable.

The recent elections have offered us a reprieve, but have not, as some would hope, spelled the end of the creeping authoritarianism to which all societies are tempted.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Senator Writes a Letter

To: Al Saunders, Assistant Head Coach, Offense, Washington Redskins
cc: Joe Gibbs, Head Coach, Washington Redskins

You've scored on the game's first two drives, and have just stuffed the Falcons on fourth and one from the Skins 47. You've been running the pigskin down the Falcon's throats with Ladell Betts.

And then. And then. You have the kid throw a pass to the sideline for Moss and the catch is ruled out of bounds. OK. But then. Then. You call up that double-reverse, end-around to Antwan Randal El you've tried, unsuccessfully, to run about 43 times already this year. The play results, unsurprisingly, in a two yard loss, putting our second year QB in a 3rd and 12. We end up punting the stinking ball and don't score the rest of the game. We had the Falcons about dead and buried in the first quarter and with one stupid call, you killed our momentum. We never recovered.

If you call that play one more time, Congress just might send Heath Schuler back to you. For now, whatever page of the playbook that end-around play is on, I say it's about time it found its way into the garbage bin.

Update: A Washington Post writer noticed the same change in momentum.

Friday, December 01, 2006

One Arm Tied Behind Their Backs

I've been reading Bob Woodward's latest and found myself surprised to read that the U.S. marshalled some 400,000 troops to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwaiit in 1991.

I was reminded of that today when I read this post by Josh Marshall.

It's hard to believe that the American public would have objected to a similar or larger force to go to war against Iraq in the aftermath of 911 but have acquienced quietly when those same numbers were raised in 1991.

Of course, that's not really the point of Stanley Kurtz's post anyway. The actual point is that while the war accomplished one of its goals--dethroning Saddam Hussein--the war mongerer's two other stated goals: uncovering Iraq's WMD and stopping his terrorism and nuclear weapons program related activities; and to establish an American friendly, pluralist democracy in Baghdad, have proven to be bupkis and a fiasco, respectively. So historical revision of any kind, saying anything, no matter how ridiculous, is the order of the day.

Who Am I? What Am I Doing Here?

And Why Am I Running For President?

Does that V remind you of V for Vendetta? A little eery isn't it?

I've complained about this guy before, and I doubt he'll get the nomination. But he's all too representative of the DLC, "sensible" centrist type who has no real philosophy or message except to regurgitate mindless cliches and platitudes.

Of course the addition of HRC, Evan Bayh, or Bill Richardson to the race won't change this dynamic much. Thankfully we were spared the candidacy of Mark Warner who would only have deepened the emptiness.

David Brooks actually had a readable column the other day in which he challenged Republicans to concentrate more on offering solutions to policy problems instead of retreating into philosophical debates about the nature of the state and other abstractions.

Democrats, I'm afraid, have the opposite problem. They're all about solving policy problems--as they understand them--more affordable health care, better education, etc, all non-controversial goals to be sure, but it seemingly isn't driven by any coherent philosophy of government.

Yesterday also witnessed one of those election deconstruction efforts sponsored by Larry Sabato and broadcast by C-Span. There were separate panels comprised of representatives from most of the prospective 2008 candidates, one for Democrats and a separate one for Republicans. There was of course lots of talk about money, who can raise it, who can't. But very little policy stuff and even less discussion of what government should be about. And of course, no sense of how Democrats should think about, much less address, the array of problems presented by the Christianist right, who despite their losses this time around, aren't going away any time soon, if only for the reason that the issues that concern them are, however misguided and malignant from my perspective, originate from some sort of philosophical view of life and government. I used to think, and still tend to think, that Democrats are just generally afraid to address these issues. But another more worrisome idea should also be considered: Democrats don't talk much about these issues because they aren't driven by any deeply rooted philosophical understanding or appreciation for the nature of man, the role of the state, or the politics of conflict that renders these issues contentious.

While Democrats should be thankful for their gains this year, they should recognize that at some point, they will need to not only deliver, but be prepared to tackle the so-called wedge issues that Republicans will certainly continue to raise in the future.

Somewhat along these lines, Glenn Greenwald wonders how come politicians don't address issues like this:

(3) One of the oddest and most damaging aspects of our political discourse is that some of the most significant issues -- ones which have the greatest impact on our laws and government -- somehow become too controversial for mainstream political figures even to mention, let alone seriously debate. An orthodoxy arises which one cannot even question, let alone deviate from, while still maintaining political viability.

One such topic is the role which our commitment to Israel plays in shaping U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. But another equally significant topic is the rationale behind ongoing drug prohibition laws and the havoc those laws wreak on every level. As this post from McQ illustrates (h/t Mona), opposition to drug laws and their accompanying Draconian enforcement efforts (along with still more Draconian laws to enable enforcement) is a political position which finds considerable support across the ideological spectrum. Despite that, opposition to drug laws still remains strictly off-limits for any mainstream political figure. It is hard to see exactly what accounts for that dynamic.

Yes it is. What do Democrats think about drug policy?

Or how about the Separation between Church and State? Greenwald again:

(2) Whenever you think that Bush followers cannot descend any lower into un-American authoritarianism, they always prove you wrong. Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, has said that he will take his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible, since -- as a Muslim -- he happens to believe in the Koran and not the Bible. Dennis Prager has a column (cheered on by various extremists) insisting that Ellison "not be allowed to do so," arguing that "if you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress":

What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible.

If you hadn't read that for yourself, wouldn't it be hard to believe that someone is actually arguing this? Prager is essentially asking: What has happened to America where now it seems that people can decide for themselves what books they will believe are holy? The viewpoint which Prager derisively attributes to the "Muslim and leftist supporters" of Ellison happens to be one of the core founding principles of the Republic: "it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book."

James Joyner and Stephen Bainbridge both provide excellent rebuttals, including Joyner's pointing out the rather obvious fact that requiring elected officials to take their oaths on the Bible would constitute a textbook case of a "religious test" prohibited by Article VI, and would almost certainly violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment as well.

As always, it is the most basic constitutional principles -- which were previously beyond challenge -- that are placed in doubt by the most rabid Bush followers. And these attacks on our constitutional values are, with no sense of irony, waged in the name of defending "America."

Where are Democrats on the big Constitutional issues? If the next campaign is all about "jobs, healthcare and education" I'm going to be sick. And not very willing to open my checkbook.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The War Against Atheists

I was in the midst of posting about this NYTimes op-ed when another one just like it showed up, again in the NYT, this time from the keyboard of Nicholas Kristof.

What the bloody hell?

As I mentioned at Steve M's place, apparently, after years of a one-sided war against secularism and the separation of church and state waged by the media and conservative think tanks, the Sensible Centrists in the Center are NOW offended that the other side is fighting back.

And Steve points out, the attack is all the more confounding on account of what the Kristofs and the culture warriors such as David Brooks say in response--that Dawkins and Harris are wrong to argue against religion and against a conservative religious culture war because, of course, there is no culture war, or that if there was a benign, centrist, moderate, culture war from the Heartland, that such a war is now over. This is kind of like Bush saying he never said his policy was "stay the course" even while YouTube and the Internets are full of Bush statements saying exactly that. I guess it just goes to show that the occupant of the WH is not the only Washingtonian in a State of Denial. So, now that the bullied are striking back, our professional pundit class suddenly wants to declare (for the moment) that the game is over, saving them the burden of responding objectively to Dawkins' and Harris's arguments.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Groundhog Day

Although I don't normally listen to right-wing radio or visit their blogging associates, the recent elections have emboldened me somewhat. So heading home Friday I tuned into one of the right-wing Christianist radio stations in town to listen in.

And it sounded like a tape from 2004. The hosts were lamenting the media coverage of the war in Iraq. The hosts were tired of hearing about all the "negative" and wanted more "hero" stories.* This, after the Thanksgiving Day Massacre in which over 200 Shiites in Sadr City were slain by Sunni insurgents.

Aside from the delusion this line of complaining reveals, though, is the amoral, hyper-Americanism of the Christianist movement. Although Christianists engage in considerable hand-wringing about the supposed loss of "moral absolutes" in American life, it doesn't take much time in the company of the True Believers to recognize the only absolute morals their gang is amped about is their idea of American destiny. Not only are the only lives worth worrying about "American" ones, but to satisfy their fantasies, media coverage and intellectual discussion about our country's foreign adventures should be restricted to that of American soldiers themselves--and of the foreigners we're supposedly liberating only if the latter are sufficiently grateful to their American conquerers.

The ironic thing about the Christianist movement is how essentially amoral it is. And now that they've lost the elections, they've added denial to their portfolios.

The upshot of all of this is, the longer the Christianists and their GOP representatives continue to deny the repercussions of American military actions and the realities on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere, the longer it will take for the American Right to resume power--not that that's a bad thing.

*Christianists continue to attack the media, seemingly forgetting the dominance and pro-war coverage of Fox "news", not to mention the special "heroes" tributes made by CNN's Lou Dobbs, among others. But all of this is irrelevant to the American Christianists who don't just want hero tributes, they want only hero tributes, all the time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

If I had to vote in the Democratic Primary today...

Have the 2006 elections affected your view of the 2008 presidential contenders? How would you rank order the potential (and some already announced) candidates?

Mine has changed since the last time I posted a list. Here are my ordinal level rankings:

1. Wes Clark
2. Evan Bayh
3. Joe Biden
4. John Edwards

5. Bill Richardson

6. Barack Obama
7. HRC
8. Tom Vilsack
9. Al Gore
10. John Kerry

My listing is largely based on my view of (a) can they win? and (b) can they govern? That is to say, it's probably heavy on personal characteristics and experience. But the rank ordering doesn't completely depend on those aspects. For instance, I suspect HRC would have the hardest time winning of the ten. But I think she'd be a better candidate than the three I ranked below her. Perhaps I'll develop an index along these lines, with ideology and other dimensions added to it. And as time goes on, I'll try to develop a policy platform.

How about a list of candidates you'd like to see enter the race but who have gone unmentioned?

Congress (past and present)
Governor (past and present)
Former administration official

Discuss, but try not to shoot anybody in the face.

You can criticize Massachusetts and San Francisco, but not Mississippi

In case you missed it, before incoming HW&M committee chairman--and NY Congressman--Charley Rangel talked about a military draft, he said this:

"Mississippi gets more than their fair share back in federal money, but who the hell wants to live in Mississippi?"

At which point, as if on cue, the sensitive hearts among southern Republicans got all teary-eyed. And indignant:

...Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Mississippi, issued a sharp statement criticizing the choice of words.
"I hope his remarks are not the kind of insults, slander and defamation that Mississippians will come to expect from the Democrat leadership in Washington, D.C.," Pickering said.

Yeah, it's too bad regional animosity has become such a fixture of American politics.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Unleashing Maliki

From the NYT

An Iraqi Solution, Vietnam Style
by Mark Moyar
Quantico, Va.

IRAQ’S prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, is now saying that he wants the United States to stand back and let him use Iraqi forces to restore order. Within six months, he asserts, the bloodletting will cease. The United States must give this proposal very serious consideration. Critics of America’s current Iraq policy, particularly among the Congressional Democrats, have tended to concentrate on international diplomatic remedies. Experience, however, suggest that only the Iraqis themselves can end the chaos and violence.

The United States faced a very similar crisis a half-century ago. In 1955, the pro-American government of Ngo Dinh Diem sought to disband militias that belonged to religious sects, analogous to the Shiite militias in Iraq today. A self-interested faction controlled the South Vietnamese police, much as self-interested Shiites dominate the Iraqi police. In Vietnam as in Iraq, the only strong force not beholden to the sects was the army, and the army’s leadership was not entirely loyal to the national government.

When the South Vietnamese sects defied the authority of the Saigon government in the spring of 1955, the American special ambassador, Gen. J. Lawton Collins, urged Diem to compromise with them. Efforts to suppress the sects by force, Collins warned, would alienate the Vietnamese people, unhinge the army and lead to disastrous civil warfare. This advice was based on the mistaken premise that political solutions suitable in the United States would likewise be suitable in any other country.

Diem rejected Collins’s advice, and with good reason. In South Vietnam, as in other historically authoritarian countries, if the government failed to maintain a monopoly on power, it would lose prestige among its supporters and enemies. Only a strong national government could prevent the sects and other factions from tearing the country apart. While Diem was able to gain the submission of some groups by persuasion, others remained defiant.

In April 1955, fighting broke out between the South Vietnamese National Army and one of the militias. Diem sought to capitalize on the fighting to destroy the militia, which caused Collins to advocate Diem’s removal. Other Americans predicted chaos and wanted to abandon South Vietnam altogether.

President Dwight Eisenhower, however, decided that Diem should be allowed to use the army against the militias. In Eisenhower’s view, a leader who had the smarts and the strength to prevail on his own — even if it meant he discarded American advice — would be a better and more powerful ally than one who survived by doing whatever the United States recommended.

Through political acumen and force of personality, Diem gained the full cooperation of the National Army and used it to subdue the sects. Simultaneously, he seized control of the police by replacing its leaders with nationalists loyal to him. In a culture that respected the strong man for vanquishing his enemies, Diem’s suppression of the militias gained him many new followers.
Diem went on to become a highly effective national war leader. When, in August 1963, he suppressed challenges to his authority from another religious group, he again experienced an upsurge in prestige. Some American officials and journalists, however, denounced him for what they mistakenly saw as counterproductive heavy-handedness, and the officials prodded South Vietnamese generals into overthrowing him.

The South Vietnamese government rapidly deteriorated after the coup, in which Diem was assassinated. The new leaders were inept and tolerated strident opposition groups in order to satisfy the Americans. Violence proliferated among religious groups, and Viet Cong subversion accelerated.

South Vietnam’s history recommends the pursuit of two objectives that American officials are now urging upon Prime Minister Maliki: subduing the Shiite militias and transferring control of the police from Shiite partisans to Iraqi nationalists.

In Iraq as in Vietnam, the leader best able to end the violence will be one who possesses a very keen understanding of the country’s politics and can judge them better than outsiders can. Mr. Maliki has shown that he does not share America’s views on how to deal with the militias and the police. Vietnam tells us that we should welcome his willingness to act on his own initiative, rather than being alarmed by it.

Just as Diem established himself because Eisenhower let him participate unhindered in a Darwinian struggle, we should give Mr. Maliki the chance to restore order as he sees fit, provided his government does not try to suppress the insurgency through wholesale violence against Sunni civilians, as some fear it will.

If we pull back our troops temporarily and let Mr. Maliki deal with Iraq’s problems using Iraqi forces, we will be able to determine more quickly whether he can save his country as Diem saved his in 1955. We will see whether he has the political skills to cut deals with local leaders, the support of enough security forces to suppress those who won’t cut deals, and the determination to prevent the obliteration of the Sunnis.

If he does not have these attributes, it is to be hoped that the Iraqi Parliament, the Council of Representatives, will exercise its constitutional right to remove the prime minister by a vote of no confidence. Perhaps there is a better prime minister out there. It is also possible that nationalists will try to stage a coup and install a more authoritarian, less sectarian government. We may decide to condone a coup if the situation becomes desperate enough. But we would be best advised to avoid orchestrating one as we did so disastrously in 1963.

The United States may ultimately find that no Iraqi leader can neutralize both the insurgents and the militias. The benefits of a self-sufficient Iraqi government are so great, however, that we must give Mr. Maliki the opportunity to try.

Mark Moyar, an associate professor at the United States Marine Corps University, is the author of “Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965.”


I'm miles away from Knowing Everything There Is To Know About Vietnam, but Moyar's suggestion that "if we had only let Diem do his thing, we'd a won in the 'Nam" strikes me as a bit simplistic. It is, however, a novel revisionism I'd not heard before.

In any event, Moyar's thinks a similar strategery would help in Iraq now. Actually I tend to agree that diplomacy and conciliatory moves are probably not going to stench the flow of blood in Baghdad, and the emerging consensus behind some form of withdrawal or redeploying of U.S. forces is based on the idea that only the Iraqis will be able to solve the problems the U.S. invasion created.

But "transferring control of the police from Shiite partisans to Iraqi nationalists" makes me wonder if Moyar has any idea who these Iraqi nationalists might be, or how many of them exist? And Moyar seems to think there is such a thing as an Iraqi army that is untainted by sectarian loyalties and distinct from the Shiite partisan police forces. Really? If they exist, are numerous, and relatively effective, their presence and acumen have gone unnoticed thus far as Iraq's government continues to rely on the U.S. military to clear-out insurgent strongholds, while the Iraqi forces that are supposed to be deployed along side of, if not in front of, the U.S. forces don't stick around to fight, probably for reasons of fear or sectarian loyalty that Moyar's deplores in the police forces.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Books on Review

One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century
Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten

Despite the Bush Administration's current unpopularity, Hamburger and Wallsten contend, the Republican domination of American politics is unlikely to end anytime soon. In this astutely argued polemic, the authors note that political hegemony today has less to do with a party's popularity than it does with pinpoint marketing, judiciary packing and artful gerrymandering. Political mastermind Karl Rove is quoted as having remarked about the young George W. Bush: "He was exuding more charisma that any one individual should be allowed to have." Nevertheless, Rove has relied not upon Bush's charisma, but rather pro-industry regulation to build Republican war chests, careful selection of congressional candidates, and grassroots campaigning of the sort that used to be the province of Democrats. From lobbying to single-issue marketing to co-opting traditional Democratic constituencies (Hispanics, African Americans, Jews, immigrants), the authors find that the Republican machine appears to have identified and commodified every potential vote in the nation. Unfortunately, there's a crippling streak of self-defeatism underlying the text: the Republican agenda is portrayed as an invincible crushing force, and the book provides no view into the limits of Republican power. This convincing work certainly calls attention to the threat that the U.S. may soon be one red state nation under God, but for those who would sooner be dead than red, the authors offer little solace.

Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive For Permanent Power
Thomas Byrne Edsall

In this comprehensive and insightful book, Edsall shows just how much angrier Democrats could be—not least of all at themselves—if only they knew the half of what was going on. A senior political reporter for the Washington Post, he knows the capitol's ins and outs as well as anyone, without the bedfellowism of some other Washington journalists. The book goes a long way to explain why Bush, who ran in 2000 as a "uniter, not a divider," proceeded with an aggressively right-wing strategy once in power. Beginning with the revelation to conservative thinkers in 2000 that the "center of the electorate had collapsed," Edsall assiduously details every aspect of their successful push to galvanize their base and emasculate their opponents. "Without pressure to accommodate the center," he adds, "Republicans in the majority have been, with little cost, relatively unresponsive to criticism." Hence, the administration managed to draw both working-class evangelicals (using classic "wedge issues" like race and outrage over gay rights and abortion) and wealthy K Street lobbyists with little consequence. But he also shows that the Democrats lack salable strategies and have lost "a decisive majority of white voters." With depth and journalistic clarity, Edsall illustrates exactly why, more than ever, Democrats need their own Karl Rove.

Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies
Ed Gillespie

The former Republican National Committee chairman channels his inner Sun Tzu in this memoir-cum-campaign primer, serving up pithy lessons learned on various campaigns...

Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South
Thomas F. Schaller

Instead of "futile pandering to the nation's most conservative voters," in the South, Democrats should build a non-Southern majority to regain dominance, argues Schaller, a University of Maryland political scientist, in this focused, tactical account. The Republicans' Southern monopoly may have helped them achieve national majorities in the past, but it has never constituted a majority alone, Schaller explains. There are greener pastures for Democrats at all levels of elected government: the Midwest, Southwest and Mountain West...

One of these books seems to have been especially prescient, both in its arrival date as well as its message (and messenger). Can you guess which one?