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.