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?

Back to the Front

Tom Ricks (The Washington Post)

The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.

Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home."*

Steve Gilliard

The problem is that the go home option is the only viable one.

The American public doesn't support this war, will not send their kids to fight it, will not permit a draft for it, and want their soldiers home.

Bush may not realize that a go big option may face bitter, bitter opposition in Congress and here's why:The Iraqi miliary is growing more factionalized, more unruly as we speak. Giving them better arms and training will not make them more responsive to our needs, but their own agenda. The Iranians can make our stay in Iraq impossible, with few fingerprints, but the fact is that the Iraqi government is a fiction of our making.

The Iraqis want no part of our war, but want to fight their war. Which is a war to see who runs Iraq. Bush tried to rebuild Iraq and convince us that was a worthy goal. The public is war weary and there is no success on the horizon. There is an intense dishonesty about how the faltering, corrupt Iraqi Army and police are depicted. They are not going to fight for a central government which defines the word useless.

At some point, our Iraqi auxillaries will turn on us and show us their true intentions

Spencer Ackerman

GO NOWHERE. Thanks to Tom Ricks, we learn that the Pentagon's Iraq review promises more of the same -- an infusion of an unspecified number of forces for an unspecified period of time to fight the insurgents, and an eventual but unspecific shift in emphasis to the training of Iraqi troops and police. This is called "Go Long," but in reality it's "Go Nowhere." This is exactly what we've been doing for at least a year, plus or minus an Army division.

*I actually prefer the "go long" option, only if Brandon Lloyd would make the catch this time.

Casino Royale

I went to see the new Bond flick yesterday. I left with very mixed impressions.

As some of the reviewers noted, this Bond was more real than previous renditions, more physical, yet more vulnerable. And on the whole, there was a lot less silliness in this picture than in any of the franchise's last 20 years or so.

But it felt too long; there were a number of loose ends; like most Bond movies the main woman is beautiful but painfully thin; and the plot--if Bond movies can be noted for them at all--was less than compelling. There's no diabolical mastermind in this movie plotting to take over or destroy the world. Of course, in one reviewer's analysis, it was this lack of grandiosity that made the movie more believable (and was perhaps why this movie lacked the silliness of other Bond movies cited above).

But I did like the Daniel Craig version of Bond a lot. So, I guess I'll cast my vote with the consensus view that Casino Royale is a much-needed jump-start to the 007 series (the heart-starting defibrillator Bond reaches for from the glove compartment of his Aston Martin perhaps an intential point of symbolicism meant to invoke Casino Royale's James Bond resuscitation).