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.