Thursday, September 30, 2004

Kerry Wins!

Kerry won the debate. Objectively speaking, he gained more than Bush as a result of tonight's events. Bush was on the defensive the whole night, and Kerry executed well from a technical point of view - simply put, he scored more points. Partisans will not likely be swayed to defect to either camp, but Kerry did enough to provide independents with an image of leadership and strength. I daresay, he looked presidential.

More importantly, though, Kerry won the war of the body language, the criteria that has traditionally favored Bush. The president appeared nervous, clumsy and there were numerous awkward silences and stutters from the candidate whose strength is supposedly his ease, confidence and down home charm. Instead he looked uncertain at times, and irritated at others. The shots to Bush when Kerry was speaking were unflattering to say the least.

There were moments when Bush shined, particularly the portion where he praised Kerry's family and his career, and when he discussed the widow mourning her soldier husband. During these episodes he looked human, compassionate, congenial. But those brief interludes were exceptions to his demeanor for most of the night.

Substantively, there was some back and forth, but Bush was overly repetitive in his message, repeating phrases and themes over and over, regardless of their pertinence to the question or discussion at hand. Kerry also had his themes that he frequently returned to, but he better responded directly to the essence of the questions. For Bush, there was the "mixed messages" theme, the "hard work" mantra and a healthy dose of staying the course type rhetoric.

It was not very convincing, and I'll tell you why. In 2000, it was easy for Bush to capitalize in the debates because the conventional wisdom in the press corp, as cultivated by his campaign team, was that Gore was stiff, arrogant, condescending and boring. Gore's performance during the debate, with the frequent sighs, smirks and slightly disdainful tone, only served to reinforce this image.

By contrast, the image that the Bush campaign has been hammering away at with Kerry is that he is indecisive, weak, wavering and a flip flopper. During the debate, the opposite came across. Kerry was strong, eloquent, appeared in control and took pains to give decisive positions, even if they required some embellishment. The caricature of Kerry did not hold up as well with Kerry there, in person, to forcefully refute it. Better to rely on the distance of the echo chamber than a face to face confrontation with a skilled debater.

The pundits will quibble over the details in each candidate's responses. The factual inaccuracies will be pored over and dissected. The overall messages will be spun and counterspun. As I said before, neither candidate won over converts with the substance of the debate, yet Kerry clearly did enough to reassure independents leaning his way and win over some middle of the road types. But at the end of the day, on a visceral level, the terrain on which our "debates" are so often decided in the court of public opinion, Kerry came across the winner - and that will serve him well in the weeks leading up to November.

[Update: As I was perusing my hometown installment of Rupert Murdoch's vast conservative media empire, The New York Post, I was struck by the coverage of the debate. According to Murdoch's Post, Kerry won. Of the three person expert panel cited in the lead article, all three gave the night to Kerry. Of the six "ordinary" New Yorkers they polled (not usually "ordinary" in that they are not as liberal as you would expect in New York City) all six gave the night to Kerry. The Post even reported that the post debate polls indicated Kerry was the victor. This is significant. The folks that bring you Fox News apparently didn't even consider the debate close enough to try to disingenuously claim victory. That speaks to the margin of Kerry's triumph.]

[Update II: Even Republican pollster Frank Luntz and his carefully crafted focus groups came to the conclusion, overwhelmingly I might add, that Kerry won the debate. Here is an article detailing the results via Julia from Sisyphus Shrugged:

Democratic challenger John Kerry beat President George W. Bush in their first debate, according to three instant surveys and undecided voters in a focus group run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

Instant polls by the Gallup Organization, ABC News and CBS News found Kerry ahead by as much as 16 percentage points on the question of who won the debate. Five of the 18 voters in the focus group said they moved from undecided to supporting Kerry, Luntz said in a press release. None switched to Bush.

Kerry said Bush's decision to invade Iraq was a "colossal error of judgment." Bush countered that Kerry is sending mixed messages to the world after voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq. The 90-minute debate yesterday at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, was the first of three scheduled meetings between the two candidates.

"This was the first time in this campaign that Kerry stood side by side with Bush, and he looked presidential," Luntz said. Swing voters "think he dominated the confrontation."

Luntz, who helped former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Republicans gain control of Congress in 1994, said 16 of the 18 voters in his group considered Kerry the winner. Thirteen said they "agreed" more with Kerry than his Republican opponent.]

The Interim Ventriloquist

This story reported in the Washington Post (via the ever vigilant Legal Fiction), contains some very troubling elements:

The Bush administration, battling negative perceptions of the Iraq war, is sending Iraqi Americans to deliver what the Pentagon calls "good news" about Iraq to U.S. military bases, and has curtailed distribution of reports showing increasing violence in that country.

The unusual public-relations effort by the Pentagon and the U.S. Agency for International Development comes as details have emerged showing the U.S. government and a representative of President Bush's reelection campaign had been heavily involved in drafting the speech given to Congress last week by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Combined, they indicate that the federal government is working assiduously to improve Americans' opinions about the Iraq conflict -- a key element of Bush's reelection message.

But administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the prime minister was coached and aided by the U.S. government, its allies and friends of the administration. Among them was Dan Senor, former spokesman for the CPA who has more recently represented the Bush campaign in media appearances. Senor, who has denied writing the speech, sent Allawi recommended phrases. He also helped Allawi rehearse in New York last week, officials said. Senor declined to comment.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and British Foreign Service officials also helped Allawi with the text and delivery of his remarks, said administration officials who were involved. The State Department and officials elsewhere in the government took the lead in booking Allawi's interviews. Administration officials said that the Iraqi Embassy in Washington consists of just a few officials and has only a dial-up Internet connection, so was incapable of preparing for the high-profile tour.[emphasis added]
The implications of this decision by the Bush administration to exploit Allawi's appearance, going as far as to help draft his speech and coach its delivery, are deadly serious. Allawi's credibility, popularity and legitimacy in Iraq were low to begin with. Upon his coronation as the interim Prime Minister, suspicions abounded of his ties to the American intelligence community, having received funding and logistical assistance from the CIA for his anti-Ba'athist activities through much of the past two decades. Regardless of these ties, any candidate so strongly endorsed by the United States, especially compared to the tepid endorsement he received from UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, would be viewed by many in Iraq as a tool of the Bush administration.

That Bush's team, so obsessed with re-election, would actually resort to influencing the writing of Allawi's speech so as to synergize its content with the Bush campaign's message is reckless beyond words. When this story breaks in Iraq, Allawi's credibility will be decimated. His words, literally put into his mouth by Bush's team, will carry little if any impact.

Conservative bloggers were quick to malign those in the Kerry camp who were troubled by the similarity in Allawi's speech and the Bush campaign talking points. Glenn Reynolds of
Instapundit had this to say in reaction to press accounts of the Kerry camp's reaction:

Democrats moved quickly to fuel skepticism, denouncing Allawi's message in unusually pointed terms.

While Kerry was relatively restrained in disputing Allawi's upbeat portrayal, some of his aides suggested that the Iraqi leader was simply doing the bidding of the Bush administration, which helped arrange his appointment in June.

"The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips," said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser.

This is behavior that is absolutely unacceptable coming from a Presidential campaign in wartime, and it's not an isolated incident but part of a pattern of such behavior. Joe Lockhart should apologize for these remarks, and Kerry should fire him. Otherwise you're going to hear a lot of people questioning Kerry's patriotism. And they'll be right to. [emphasis added]
In reality, however, it is not the words or statements by any member of Kerry's campaign team that represent "behavior that is absolutely unacceptable coming from a Presidential campaign in wartime." It is the decision to disregard the sensitivity of the situation in Iraq, and endanger the mission, by so thoroughly compromising Allawi's credibility in such a manner as this. Mr. Reynolds, will Americans now be "right" to question President Bush's patriotism?

Right-leaning blogger
Gregory Djerejian had this to say in response to Lockhart's comments:

Remember, Kerry may need to work with this so-called "puppet" in the future. Regardless, this is astonishingly irresponsible campaign rhetoric from a key member of the challenger's campaign team. To malign the serving PM of Iraq as appearing a "puppet" plays right into the handbook of insurgents operating in Iraq. I'm truly shocked Kerry would ostensibly authorize such an inflammatory statement (ie., not in the Casablanca 'shocked, shocked' kinda way).
If Djerejian is shocked that someone would "malign" the serving Prime Minister in Iraq as appearing like a puppet, imagine his reaction when he finds out that the Bush team so thoroughly undermined Allawi's credibility and made him out to actually be a "puppet" for partisan campaign reasons. Will he find this to be an "astonishingly irresponsible campaign" decision? In fairness to Djerejian and Reynolds, they may not have known of the actual influence that the Bush administration had in crafting Allawi's speech when they posted these pieces. I eagerly await their re-directed outrage at the "astonishingly irresponsible," "absolutely unacceptable" and downright unpatriotic actions of the commander in chief.

Whether this dubious decision by the Bush team "plays right into the handbook of insurgents operating in Iraq" remains to be seen. But it is fairly certain that this story will receive a lot more attention in Iraq than some comments made by John Kerry or his campaign staff. In Iraq, Allawi will come to be known as Bush's mouthpiece because that is what Bush has made him into, not because some people in the Democratic Party observe the reality that is before their eyes. Remember, don't shoot the messenger.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Best Laid Plans

After the events of September 11, 2001, what had previously been argued in the neoconservative camp, became firmly entrenched in the group think permeating broader foreign policy circles: that the status quo in U.S. foreign policy vis a vis the Muslim world was no longer an acceptable norm. Change was required, and a vast realignment of priorities was deemed necessary to counter the virulent anti-Americanism that was manifesting itself in brutal terrorist attacks and belligerent ideologies. Although tactical and strategic differences remained among the various foreign policy cliques, the need for re-evaluation was almost unanimous.

The most strident voices, those belonging to the neoconservatives in the Pentagon and the White House, were the ones that dominated the debate and shaped the policies adopted by the Bush administration. As such, these iconoclastic purveyors of their own version of the "new approach" became synonymous with the movement for change itself. Unfortunately, the other models for change were ignored, and opponents to the prevailing strategies (manifested in the doctrine of pre-emptive war) were labeled reactionaries who sought a return to the old failed policies. This has stifled the discourse, and obscured the many reasonable propositions that have been put forward as an alternative to the neoconservative narrative.

The first move came with the invasion of Afghanistan. Although not indicative of a paradigm shift, this was nevertheless a significant use of military force, and a break from the status quo of disengagement. One of the ideas posited in connection with the invasion of Afghanistan, apart from the obvious goal of removing the Taliban and disrupting al-Qaeda, did represent a watershed moment: the notion of nation building, specifically promoting democracy, could serve as an analgesic to the spread and appeal of radical Islamist ideology. This bold new strategy was touted as a means of combating extremist fundamentalism in places far beyond the war torn reaches of Afghanistan. Foreign policy scholar
Ronald Bruce St John recalls the scene:

...In June 2002, President Bush offered a far-reaching moral vision for the Middle East with democracy as the core ingredient. While a Palestinian state could not "be created by terror," he reasoned it could be built through reform centered on "new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics, and action against terrorism." He then expanded this vision to the entire Arab/Muslim world. Describing dignity, freedom, and prosperity as universal hopes, the president characterized the moment as "both an opportunity and a test for all parties in the Middle East. An opportunity to lay the foundations for future peace. A test to show who is serious about peace and who is not."
The goals were set, and the new outlook established. The United States would pursue a policy of assisting the spread of democracy, and the attendant representative institutions, throughout the Muslim world, whose peoples up until this point had mostly been subjected to unpopular despotic and dictatorial rule. This strategy was seen as a two-pronged attack on some of the underlying causes of terrorism: on the one hand, the image of the United States had long suffered among the inhabitants of these countries because the US was seen as assisting the repressive regimes, placing stability and access to oil over the interests of the peoples being mistreated. If successful, America would now be seen as an agent of freedom, and a force in opposition to the policies of the dictators and oligarchs.

In addition, democracy itself was deemed to be a moderating force. Free expression, human rights, voting privileges, economic opportunity, and all the other accompaniments of a democratic society would serve to take the momentum and appeal away from the merchants of martyrdom. Free societies, it was said repeatedly and with some validity, did not spawn terrorism.

In a column in the
Los Angeles Times, Max Boot quotes Alan Krueger, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton (and a Clinton administration veteran), and Jitka Maleckova, a professor of Middle Eastern studies in Prague on this part of the strategy:

"Apart from population - larger countries tend to have more terrorists - the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists. Poverty and literacy were unrelated to the number of terrorists from a country. Think of a country like Saudi Arabia: It is wealthy but has few political and civil freedoms. Perhaps it is no coincidence that so many of the Sept. 11 terrorists - and Osama bin Laden himself - came from there."

Paul Wolfowitz couldn't have said it better. Of course, even admitting that democracy promotion is in U.S. interests, there will be differences over how to go about it. Anyone not on the administration's payroll would concede that its performance has been far from flawless. But President Bush is on the right track because he recognizes the democracy imperative that too many of his critics unfairly dismiss as neocon nuttiness. [emphasis added]
As Boot points out, many policymakers and scholars on both sides of the political spectrum agree that promoting democracy is a laudable goal with tangible benefits in the war to stave of the spread of anti-American radicalism. The only difference for this bipartisan consensus, then, is the strategy employed to effect the changes desired.

The path chosen by the current administration, echoing the sentiments of the neoconservative thinkers and policymakers who had influence at the highest levels of the executive branch, was that of pre-emptive invasion and military intervention - first in Iraq, but with an eye on further engagements in neighboring countries. The rationale was that through the toppling of Hussein's Baathist rule, democracy would take hold in Iraq and spread across the Muslim world like a tumble of dominos - and if necessary, the invasion stage would be repeated in other nations where the chain of dominos was broken. This is the point at which many supporters of the democracy promotion theory, on the right and the left, diverge from the foreign policy dictates espoused by George W. Bush.

History is on the side of those that caution against the use of military means to achieve these ends, however praiseworthy they may be. Author
Michael Lind weighs in on the subject from the left:

The record is clear--most of the democratic transitions that have taken place in the world in the past two centuries have had nothing to do with foreign military intervention or military pressure, while most US military interventions abroad have left dictatorship, not democracy, in their wake. The two cases that neocons constantly return to, Germany and Japan, are among the few cases where democracy has been restored (not created ex nihilo) as the result of a US invasion. The Soviet bloc democratized itself from within in the 1990s, even though the United States did not bomb Moscow, impose a martial-law governor on the Poles or imprison former Hungarian Communist officials without charges in barbed-wire camps. In Latin America, Mexico became a multiparty democracy instead of a one-party dictatorship without US Marines posing for photos in the presidential mansion in Mexico City, and it was not necessary for American soldiers to kill tens of thousands of Argentines, Chileans and Brazilians for democracy to take root in those countries.

One must hope that American soldiers leave behind a functioning democracy in Iraq--rather than the dysfunctional autocracies and kleptocracies that were the legacy of US military occupations in the Philippines, Cuba, Nicaragua, Haiti and Mexico. But it is likely that, if and when liberal democracy comes to the Muslim world in general and to the Arab world in particular, the gradual, largely bloodless transition will resemble those in Soviet Europe and Latin America and will not be the result of US military action or intimidation. The neocons--and the humanitarian hawks on the left--are simply wrong about how best to spread democracy.
Dissenting neoconservative author, scholar and professor Francis Fukuyama offers these observations from the right:

Of all of the different views that have now come to be associated with neoconservatives, the strangest one to me was the confidence that the United States could transform Iraq into a Western-style democracy, and go on from there to democratize the broader Middle East. It struck me as strange precisely because these same neoconservatives had spent much of the past generation warning - in The National Interest's former sister publication, The Public Interest, for example - about the dangers of ambitious social engineering, and how social planners could never control behavior or deal with unanticipated consequences. If the United States cannot eliminate poverty or raise test scores in Washington, DC, how does it expect to bring democracy to a part of the world that has stubbornly resisted it and is virulently anti-American to boot?

Krauthammer picks up this theme in his speech. Noting how wrong people were after World War II in asserting that Japan could not democratize, he asks, "Where is it written that Arabs are incapable of democracy?" He is echoing an argument made most forthrightly by the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who has at several junctures suggested that pessimism about the prospects for a democratic Iraq betrays lack of respect for Arabs. It is, of course, nowhere written that Arabs are incapable of democracy, and it is certainly foolish for cynical Europeans to assert with great confidence that democracy is impossible in the Middle East. We have, indeed, been fooled before, not just in Japan but in Eastern Europe prior to the collapse of communism.

But possibility is not likelihood, and good policy is not made by staking everything on a throw of the dice. Culture is not destiny, but culture plays an important role in making possible certain kinds of institutions-something that is usually taken to be a conservative insight. Though I, more than most people, am associated with the idea that history's arrow points to democracy, I have never believed that democracies can be created anywhere and everywhere through sheer political will. Prior to the Iraq War, there were many reasons for thinking that building a democratic Iraq was a task of a complexity that would be nearly unmanageable. Some reasons had to do with the nature of Iraqi society: the fact that it would be decompressing rapidly from totalitarianism, its ethnic divisions, the role of politicized religion, the society's propensity for violence, its tribal structure and the dominance of extended kin and patronage networks, and its susceptibility to influence from other parts of the Middle East that were passionately anti-American.

But other reasons had to do with the United States. America has been involved in approximately 18 nation-building projects between its conquest of the Philippines in 1899 and the current occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the overall record is not a pretty one. The cases of unambiguous success-Germany, Japan, and South Korea-were all ones in which U.S. forces came and then stayed indefinitely. In the first two cases, we were not nation-building at all, but only re-legitimizing societies that had very powerful states. In all of the other cases, the U.S. either left nothing behind in terms of self-sustaining institutions, or else made things worse by creating, as in the case of Nicaragua, a modern army and police but no lasting rule of law.
Despite history's counsel, and the advice of experts in the military and civilian segments of the government, the Bush administration professed that invasion was not only a legitimate means to achieve the ends of democratic transformation, but the prospects for success in such an endeavor were in fact very favorable. Some of the argumentation took on a rather disingenuous tone.

On the one hand, the invasion of Iraq was presented as the only possible option - that to choose not to invade was an endorsement of the status quo or the pre-9/11 paradigm. In this sense, they were successful in conflating the promotion of democracy with the doctrine of pre-emptive invasion, when in reality the two do not necessarily to go hand in hand. On the contrary, as history has proven, the one rarely follows the other.

It was quite common, and still is, to hear Bush's supporters say, "At least Bush is doing something about the situation" (implying that to not invade Iraq meant doing nothing) and "everything changed after 9/11" (suggesting that empiricism, logic and historical arguments no longer apply). Unfortunately, there were and are other measures that the Bush administration could have taken in order to do "something" in the arena of democracy promotion, and history, reason and logic are stubborn opponents and frequent vanquishers of misguided idealistic crusades.

As Lind and Fukuyama point out, most of the democratic transformations that have occurred in the last century, have been accomplished through internal movements, not external military interventions. Although the term has been met with derision and scorn from the hawkish quarters, "soft power" (which includes everything from diplomacy, economic engagement, intelligence agency activity, public relations, humanitarian efforts, foreign aid, funding of grass roots movements, etc.) has been an extremely successful means for providing an impetus for change in previously totalitarian regimes.

The full arsenal of soft power in the pursuit of democracy promotion has never been unleashed on the Muslim world and many of the options under this rubric remain on the shelf today, passed over in favor of the blunt tool of military invasion. Despite the public declarations by members of the Bush team that they were launching a comprehensive campaign of "soft power" to win over the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, our actual efforts have been light on substance and narrow in scope (I discussed this in depth
here). Other than a couple of media outlets, widely dismissed as propaganda, and some tepid public relations fare, little meaningful action has been taken on our part other than the bellicose.

Richard Clarke had these suggestions in an
Op-ed piece published in the New York Times:

We need to expose the Islamic world to values that are more attractive than those of the jihadists. This means aiding economic development and political openness in Muslim countries, and efforts to stabilize places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Restarting the Israel-Palestinian peace process is also vital.

Also, we can't do this alone. In addition to "hearts and minds" television and radio programming by the American government, we would be greatly helped by a pan-Islamic council of respected spiritual and secular leaders to coordinate (without United States involvement) the Islamic world's own ideological effort against the new Al Qaeda.
Clarke touches on one part of the equation which represents probably our biggest challenge no matter the route chosen: the intractable conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians from which so much anti-Americanism is cultivated. Re-invigorating the peace process is a must to restoring our credibility no matter what means we seek to employ to achieve our foreign policy directives with respect to this part of the world. Still, many claim that invading Iraq was the only option, if not itself a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis (an outlandish claim in retrospect).

A recent post on one of the finest right-leaning blogs,
The Belgravia Dispatch, discusses an article by Princeton professor and Middle East scholar Michael Doran. In this article, Doran praises the overall goals of democracy promotion, and scolds Democratic hopeful John Kerry for his lack of clarity on this issue:

At best, the United States must play a strong supporting role by creating a political context that favors al-Qaeda's local enemies. Bush's speeches have pointed us toward the correct tool for this job: political reform in the Middle East. If the Democrats were serious about the Saudi threat, then they for Bush to take his own words about Middle Eastern reform more seriously.

But more to the point, for all its problems (and they are many), the Bush solution of reforming the Middle East to combat terrorism is the only serious plan on the table. The Kerry team tells us only that Bush -- operating out of dark and nefarious motives -- got everything all wrong. Kerry, however, has not even begun to explain how he intends to do better.
Granted Kerry has not fleshed out the full parameters of his strategy, and it would be comforting to hear that Kerry does favor the promotion of democracy (especially if he disavows the use of pre-emptive invasions as a means to achieve those ends), Doran overstates the efficacy of Bush's "plan." It is one thing to enact policies with the intent to create democratic reform, but what good is the "plan" if it is in fact counterproductive and it brings about a paradoxical effect? Professor Moran talks about "creating a political context that favors al-Qaeda's local enemies" but in reality, we have done the exact opposite - instead strengthening al-Qaeda's hand while weakening the popular support for al-Qaeda's enemies. If your actions bring about the opposite of the intended result, then no action would actually be better.

But there were better options than "no action" as I stated above. Not only were those "soft" methods, including peace process reactivation, not pursued vigorously, but we have actually hindered democratic reform movements that were already underway in Muslim countries. We have improved the standing of Osama Bin Laden and the fundamentalists, while the reformers are perceived as associated with the West - in particular America - and thus their credibility has been greatly reduced. Bin Laden's propaganda about the United States, that we are crusaders who seek to dominate, secularize and humiliate Muslims, once outlandish and fringe, has appeared prescient and garnered mainstream support because of our decision to go to war and subsequent mishandling of the effort. This is from an article appearing in Foreign Policy:

Bin Laden is a propagandist, directing his efforts at attracting those Muslims who have hitherto shunned his extremist message. He knows that only through mass participation in his project will he have any chance of success. His worldview is receiving immeasurably more support around the globe than it was two years ago, let alone 15 years ago when he began serious campaigning. The objective of Western countries is to eliminate the threat of terror, or at least to manage it in a way that does not seriously impinge on the daily lives of its citizens. Bin Laden's aim is to radicalize and mobilize. He is closer to achieving his goals than the West is to deterring him."
"What we're seeing now is a disturbing sympathy with al Qaeda coupled with resentment toward the United States, and we ought to be extremely troubled by that," said Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who commissioned a survey of Middle East residents in conjunction with Zogby.

Fareed Zakaria had this observation:

Bush does not seem aware that the intense hostility toward him in every country in the world (save Israel) has made it very difficult for the United States to be the agent of freedom. In every Arab country that I have been to in the last two years, the liberals, reformers and businessmen say, "Please don't support us. American support today is the kiss of death."
It is extremely important for the concept of democracy promotion to be fully explained and critically examined. I do not believe that you need to throw the baby (democracy in the Muslim world) out with the bath water (the invasion of Iraq). In pursuit of this, the entanglement of the goals and the means currently employed to achieve those aims must be parsed out and the two separated. In the context of Iraq, and US foreign policy regarding the Muslim world, the goals have actually been defeated time and again by the very methods that were chosen to implement them. With this in mind, we certainly need to reassess the "plan" though not necessarily the objective.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Blinded Science

One of the most egregious flip-flops by the current President Bush relates to his 2000 campaign promise to curb CO2 emissions from power plants. Despite using the environmentally friendly issue to reinforce his image as a "compassionate conservative," Bush quickly reversed course upon entering office. The move was so abrupt and so complete a renunciation of the former position, that it alienated members of his own Party, even his own cabinet - specifically then EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman who was left out of the loop, touting the CO2 standards in public appearances just days before the announcement. The embarrassment from that episode contributed to the tensions that eventually led Whitman to resign her post in 2003.

Moderate Republicans Jim Jeffords (Sen-VT) and Sherwood Boehlert (Rep-NY) were also caught off guard by the decision as they were poised to introduce the legislation that would have implemented the Bush campaign promise. That reversal, as well as other trends in the GOP leadership, led Jeffords to quit the Republican Party altogether, forging ahead as an Independent.

This move by Bush marked the first salvo in a war against the science of global warming, and the public's perception of that science. The stakes in this battle are high, and the outcome of the debate will determine policy in the present and for years to come. President Bush, well aware of this, knew that acknowledging the realities of global warming would compromise many of his other initiatives. Take this quote from
Frank Luntz (via Legal Fiction):

Most scientists believe that [global] warming is caused largely by manmade pollutants that require strict regulation. Mr. Luntz [a Republican strategist] seems to acknowledge as much when he says that "the scientific debate is closing against us." His advice, however, is to emphasize that the evidence is not complete.

"Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled," he writes, "their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue."
As an aside, that is the same Frank Luntz who is a pollster for MSNBC's (hosting a show on the same network), though you wouldn't know about his partisan ties because he is never made to disclose them on the air. At the very least, his ties to the Republican Party should create at least a seed of doubt about his infamous focus groups and poll results.

But I digress. Luntz was arguing that in order to avoid public opinion lining up behind policies, legislation and treaties to combat global warming, Republicans must continue to muddy the waters of the science which describes the phenomenon.

An editorial appearing in the Wall Street Journal shortly after Luntz's statements seemed to take the cue:

There is a better way [than passing a law that restricts business], which is to keep fighting on the merits. There is no scientific consensus that greenhouse gases cause the world's modest global warming trend, much less whether that warming will do more harm than good, or whether we can even do anything about it.

Once Republicans concede that greenhouse gases must be controlled, it will only be a matter of time before they end up endorsing more economically damaging regulation. They could always stand on principle and attempt to educate the public instead.
So the Bush administration toed the line, claiming that more studies were needed and that there was no compelling evidence to suggest global warming was either real, or in the alternative, a man made phenomenon.

Others in the Republican Party went even farther.
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) "called global warming a hoax perpetrated by environmentalists on the American public. [emphasis added]" What interest environmentalists would have in pulling off such a hoax, Inhofe did not explain.

The relentless manipulation of science by the Bush team led to the
exasperated response of a group of scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates, who signed a petition condemning the White House for deliberately and systematically distorting scientific fact in the service of policy goals on the environment, health, biomedical research and nuclear weaponry, to name but a few areas.

As the evidence from impartial scientists continues to form an avalanche of persuasion, even the Bush administration is buckling a little under the weight. In an historic break from prior stances and declarations, the Bush administration finally acknowledged the reality that global warming is occurring and the role that man made emissions play in contributing to the process. The problem is, no one seems to have
told the president.
On environmental issues, Mr. Bush appeared unfamiliar with an administration report delivered to Congress [in late August] that indicated that emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases were the only likely explanation for global warming over the last three decades. Previously, Mr. Bush and other officials had emphasized uncertainties in understanding the causes and consequences of global warming.

The new report was signed by Mr. Bush's secretaries of energy and commerce and his science adviser. Asked why the administration had changed its position on what causes global warming, Mr. Bush replied, "Ah, we did? I don't think so." [emphasis added]
Although no legislative or administrative action followed these statements, it is actually a bit alarming that the Bush administration would even admit to the existence of global warming after so long a stonewall. The reasons for the admission might provide even more cause for concern. The Independent published these findings on the matter:
Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have jumped abruptly, raising fears that global warming may be accelerating out of control.

Measurements by US government scientists show that concentrations of the gas, the main cause of the climate exchange, rose by a record amount over the past 12 months. It is the third successive year in which they have increased sharply, marking an unprecedented triennial surge.

Scientists are at a loss to explain why the rapid rise has taken place, but fear that it could show the first signs that global warming is feeding on itself, with rising temperatures causing increases in carbon dioxide, which then go on to drive the thermometer even higher. That would be a deeply alarming development, suggesting that this self-reinforcing heating could spiral upwards beyond the reach of any attempts to combat it. [emphasis added]
The work of ecologist John Harte might provide some clue as to how and why the cycle of global warming is self reinforcing. Harte has been studying the actual effects of a warming planet for nearly 30 years in Colorado. By simulating a warmer world over a contained area, Harte is "looking into the future" and he is concerned about what he sees. He explains, "We often hear criticism of global warming science from non-scientists who like to point out that there's uncertainty in the climate models, and that maybe the effect won't be as bad as we project. But what this scientific experiment is showing us is that if anything, our current climate models are underestimating the magnitude of future warming." [emphasis added]

The thrust of the science describes a two fold impact: First, as the Earth's surface is heated, the carbon in the soil is also heated up and released from solid form, contributing to the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere which further increases the heat. Second, as the Earth's temperature increase, certain plant life is destroyed and the flora that replaces it is less able to convert CO2 into oxygen, so there is a diminished capacity to eliminate the already increased levels of CO2.

This phenomenon has been observed in Harte's experiments, and in real world studies of oceanic algae and Arctic flora. Add to that the current rates of deforestation, and the reality is that we are severely crippling the ecosystem's ability to eliminate CO2 at a time when we are producing ever more of the gas, and when the effects of the emissions themselves is further augmenting the problem.

The threat of global warming is real. That those who warn of the impending calamity are labeled alarmists and scaremongerers is the result of a deliberate campaign by interested parties to marginalize the science and quell the dissent. Predictably, our inaction is making the problem worse, and we may be nearing a tipping point after which remedial measures will be too little too late. This issue alone should provide all the rationale necessary to vote for regime change in November. The time to act was yesterday, and as calmly as possible I say that we are running out of time.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Perfect Storm, 2

I have been extremely busy today, and thus will not get around to posting anything new. However, I would like to offer the blogosphere's version of a re-run. As this site is relatively new (not even 5 months old), and many readers are newcomers, perhaps this story will be new to most, as the topics discussed are as relevant today as they were two months ago. Without further ado:

The recent surge in the price of oil, and its refined derivative gasoline, have been felt differently in Europe and the United States, as noted in an article appearing in earlier this summer in the New York Times. While the sharp increase in the price at the pump has been a source of near panic for motorists and businesses in the U.S., in Europe the reaction has been decidedly more nonchalant.

The reasons are manifold. First, gasoline is taxed so highly in Europe that the increase in price represents a smaller increase proportionally, so it is less noticeable to the consumer. In addition, Europeans tend to drive smaller cars that get much better mileage than the American gas guzzling SUVs. But that is only part of the story. Europe has also been aggressively pursuing alternative fuel sources as a policy initiative with a multitude of benefits, from shielding their markets and economies from spikes in oil prices due to OPEC actions, market factors and from the inevitable, and possibly imminent, decline in the availability of oil worldwide, to providing for a cleaner environment.

In fact, the shift to renewable energy self sufficiency is also viewed as a national security measure of the highest order. As Europe becomes increasingly dependent on OPEC nations for their oil, there is an increasing need to establish a buffer of energy sources in order to insure the independence of national security decisions, diplomacy and policy making. For example, "Germany is the world's largest producer of wind energy, with 15,800 turbines generating 15,000 megawatts of electricity, or 6 percent of its total supply.

Solar energy is also growing, with the production of solar cells almost doubling last year. The German solar power industry, which is subsidized by the government, will generate more than 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) in revenue in 2004, according to an industry group."

In what may be an unintended benefit, the recent increase in oil prices will in fact strengthen the efforts to increase the capacity for renewable energy capacity across Europe by highlighting the underlying rationales for the policy direction – desire for increased autonomy of diplomatic prerogatives and economic shelter from sudden surges in oil prices.

Of course the differences in oil dependency that are developing in Europe and the United States are largely the result of the political will of the respective leaders. In the U.S., the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Protocol, and the promised alternative plan to reduce CO2 emissions has not been proposed. The Bush administration's energy bill, which has been languishing in Congress for the past three years, has been widely criticized as an enormous give-away to the energy industry, with few real efforts toward developing alternative fuels. The only nod to the crisis and vulnerability of our nation's dependence on an ever dwindling supply of foreign oil, is the suggestion to increase drilling domestically, specifically in an effort to access the meager supply of oil located in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, as if this would somehow address the problem in any meaningful way.

The view that the administration's energy policy is one-sided in favor of industry is leant credence by the fact that environmental groups were completely shut out of the now infamous secret meetings of the energy task force with Vice President Cheney, although the actual roster of attendees remains a secret pending a case to be heard by the Supreme Court later this year. Still, with some Republicans such as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma declaring global warming a "hoax," and the vast rollback of the Clean Air Act's air pollution mandates, there is little hope that the current leadership will take the necessary steps to begin the transition to alternative fuel sources.

The hostility to alternative and renewable energies in the Bush administration is in sharp contrast to the stance taken by the European Union, and many of its member states. "In Germany, the Green Party, far from being a lobbying group on the sidelines, is part of the government. Germans accept, as environmental imperative, things that Americans would find bizarre - like sorting household garbage into four separate bins for recycling, or paying 70 cents of every euro at the pump in the form of taxes, to drive down fuel consumption." In an ambitious, possibly overly so, move, "The European Union set a target of producing 22 percent of its electricity, and 12 percent of all energy, through renewable sources by 2010." While it may miss its target, the message is clear, and the policy is there to back it up, whereas our own government's efforts have not even approached the level of state sponsored and subsidized initiatives in the European Union.

Which brings me to my central thesis: The Bush administration is making an enormous strategic blunder in failing to move aggressively toward developing alternative and renewable energy sources that will insulate our economic viability, and foreign policy independence, from an impending energy crisis. The supply of oil on this planet is a limited universe, and one that is shrinking at an exponential rate. Quite simply, we are using more oil than is produced in a process that takes nature thousands of years. No major oil field has been discovered since the late 1970's, and many once proud fields are nearing maximum output, and even declining output. Couple this with the emergence of China and India as energy starved economies that are growing at breakneck speeds, and there will be a serious shortage of oil in the World within decades. To be certain, the impact of China and India's new found hunger for oil may keep oil prices at or near the current levels indefinitely, until even more acute shortages push the prices even higher.

These increased prices, and bleak future, will hang like an albatross around the neck of our economy for the foreseeable future. The potential for a relatively sudden shortage in supply poses a serious risk to our economic vitality for as long as we remain unable to absorb the shock, which in turn could greatly imperil our national security. Without economic strength, it will be hard for America to sustain its position of prominence in the World and maintain the absolute edge we currently enjoy in the arena of military technology and capability. Our influence will diminish, and our safety will be compromised.

There is no doubt that our dependence on oil from the Middle East, has compromised our foreign policy aims in that region over the past century. Our need for oil from these nations has forced the U.S. to tolerate, and even actively support, brutish despots and repressive dictators much to the detriment of our image in this part of the World. In some cases, it has even caused us to undermine democratically elected leaders like Mossadegh in Iran, while propping up unpopular dictators like the Shah in that same country. To this day, our need for a steady and uninterrupted supply of oil that ties our hands when dealing with countries like Saudi Arabia that actively promote extremist, anti-American forms of Islam, such as Wahabbism through a network of state-funded madrasses spanning from Africa to Indonesia and all points in between. Restoring our ability to take tough stances with unpopular and un-democratic regimes in the region, and to make clear policy initiatives aimed at reform and tempering the state-sponsored spread of anti-Americanism is essential to the war against terrorism. It cannot be won without this step.

Third, and perhaps most important, although frequently underestimated, is the potentially devastating environmental impact that our reluctance to move to alternative and renewable will have. Clearly the movie The Day After Tomorrow, which predicts a sudden and apocalyptic change in the Earth's climate due to global warming, is an argument in the extreme, but there is little doubt among scientists that the long term effects of global warming will likely be devastating if not adequately addressed in a timely manner. The response of the Bush administration has been to put off action in favor of more studies, despite the overwhelming amount of scientific data that supports immediate and widespread action. Some argue that it may already be too late. Assuming that there is still time to act, now would seem like the appropriate moment to seize.

With the world's economies on a collision course with the world's oil supply, the war on terrorism seriously compromised by our inability to take the necessary foreign policy measures in the Middle East, and with the world's environmental health put in serious jeopardy by the widespread use of fossil fuels, there is a perfect storm of rationales for moving aggressively toward replacing oil with alternative and renewable energy sources. Europe has begun to prepare for the future, but we tarry dangerously in the past.

Friday, September 24, 2004

The War On [Selected Acts Of] Terror [Committed By Certain Terrorists]

When President Bush first adopted the phrase, the "War on Terror" to describe the efforts to combat the activities of anti-American Islamist Jihadists, many complained that this was a misnomer and a confusion of terms. Terror, it was argued, was a tactic not a group and thus declaring war on this tactic would have been like declaring war on fighter jets after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Washington Post noted that the September 11 Commission report came to a similar conclusion:

The Sept. 11 commission report offers a broad critique of a central tenet of the Bush administration's foreign policy -- that the attacks have required a "war on terrorism." The report argues that the notion of fighting an enemy called "terrorism" is too diffuse and vague to be effective.
What has made the situation even more perplexing is the Bush administration's unwillingness to define terrorism, or who or what constitutes a terrorist. Middle East expert Ronald Bruce St John had this to say on the matter:

First, the Bush administration has steadfastly refused to define terrorism. In the Bush lexicon, terrorism is a catchall term for interpreting diverse conflicts, from separatist movements to paramilitary activity to arms and narcotics trafficking. The failure to define terrorism enabled the White House to label almost anybody opposed to its policies as a terrorist organization. Groups as diverse in structure and objectives as Peru's Shining Path, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Basque Fatherland and Liberty, the Communist Party of the Philippines, and Hamas are on the State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations.

Early on, this approach served the White House well in its search for recruits in the war on terrorism. Opposition groups in countries whose support the U.S. deemed essential to winning the war were often labeled "terrorist" in an effort to curry support from host governments.

But over time, the failure to define terrorism has become a real liability. The U.S. now has some 5 million names on its master terror watch list, people who are identified as terrorist or believed to represent a potential threat. By listing any terrorist from any terrorist organization, we create a problem, not a solution. We lose focus, and we jeopardize democratic values, trying to monitor that vast number of people. The size of this inclusive terror list also belies official statements that the real concern, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are relatively small in number, a few hundred or thousand at most.
Throughout the amorphous evolution of the terms "terrorism" and "terrorist," as they relate to the "war on terror," it is not clear whether the standard is becoming clearer, or more obscure. Bush administration officials seem to be employing the rubric made famous by Supreme Court Justice Stewart when opining on identifying obscenity, "I know it when I see it." But that is not good enough when you are appealing to the international community for support - especially when the perception of your judgment has been so compromised by the many recent mistakes and miscalculations.

For example, 9/11 (an attack perpetrated by al-Qaeda) is conflated with the invasion of Iraq (a country with no meaningful connections to al-Qaeda). Both are called part of the "war on terror" with the former used to justify the latter. This creates a murky world of "terror" that includes perpetrators of terrorism and other uninvolved totalitarian regimes - despicable in their own right, but not "terrorists." One argument is that Iraq represents a part of the "war on terror" because it will reshape the region thus abating the spread of terrorist ideology, but I will leave that argument aside for the moment.

This conflation is further compounded within Iraq, as all opposition to the US military is labeled as terrorist, even though many of the uprisings are populated by Iraqis (the Mahdi Army for example) fighting against an occupying force - a situation traditionally described as an insurgency. Clearly there are some foreign elements more prone to targeting civilians that can be categorized as terrorists, but those tactics are not employed by all, so the term is overused, and its strength and meaning thus diluted.

Maybe, then, it is the tactics used that make them "terrorists." Targeting civilians, be they Iraqi or foreign nationals, is certainly reprehensible, and may be better described as terrorism, even if carried out by Iraqis fighting against the occupying force. But what about confrontation with, and the targeting of, US military personnel? That seems to be better described as an insurgency, even if guerilla warfare is the prevailing means being utilized. Thus, not all Iraqi opposition should be classified as terrorist, only that which uses the targeting of civilians as a tactic. This might necessitate different judgments for movements like al-Sadr's versus that of al-Zarqawi.

The same delineation could be made in Chechnya: confrontation between Chechnyan rebels and Russian military forces could be an insurgency, whereas the targeting of children and civilians in Beslan is more accurately described as terrorism - even if there is an underlying political goal (as there almost always is when terrorism is employed).

This argument seems to be leading to a somewhat firmer principle: defining terrorism as a tactic, and the groups that employ that tactic as terrorists. Unfortunately,
recent actions by the Bush administration further cast this definition in uncertainty and confusion.

Earlier this month, three anti-Castro Cuban exiles flew to Miami from Panama after serving four years in prison for "endangering public safety." They were arrested in 2000 for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro by planting explosives at a meeting the Cuban dictator planned to hold with university students in Panama.

...After their release, three of the four immediately flew via private jet to Miami, where they were greeted with a cheering fiesta organized by the hard-line anti-Castro community. Federal officials briefly interviewed the pardoned men -- all holders of U.S. passports -- and then let them go their way...A fourth Panama conspirator, Louis Posada Carriles, left Panama for Honduras [and eventually ended up in the United States].
So after outgoing Panamanian President Mireya Moscoso inexplicably pardoned these four men, the Bush administration allowed them entry into the country despite their links to terrorist activities. Here is a look at the resumes of the four terrorists/insurgents:

Pedro Rémon, sentenced to seven years for the bomb plot in Panama, pleaded guilty in 1986 to bombing Cuba’s mission to the United Nations and later conspiring to murder its ambassador to the UN. A New York detective also fingered Rémon for the machine-gun murders of two political opponents.

Gaspar Jiménez, sentenced to eight years for the Panama bomb plot and falsifying documents, had previously served time in Mexico for the attempted kidnapping and murder of Cuban diplomats there. He was also indicted in Florida for blowing the legs off a liberal Miami radio talk show host in 1976. (The indictment was eventually dropped for insufficient evidence, even though the main witness passed several lie-detector tests.)

Guillermo Novo, sentenced to 7 years for the Panama terror plot, was arrested in 1964 for firing a bazooka at the United Nations, where Che Guevara was speaking. In 1978, he was convicted of participating in one of the worst acts of terrorism ever committed on U.S. soil, the car bombing in Washington, D.C. of former Chilean Foreign Minister Orlando Letelier. (The conviction was later overturned on a technicality, though Novo was convicted of perjury.)

Louis Posada still wanted in Venezuela on charges of bombing a Cuban airliner in 1976, killing all 73 passengers. In 1998, in an interview with the New York Times from a hideout in Central America, Posada admitted taking part in numerous acts of terrorism, including a wave of Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. He said his violence was funded by prominent U.S.-based supporters in the Cuban exile community. [emphasis added]
How is it possible that the Bush administration, which boasts of its moral clarity, its un-nuanced black and white declarations of "with us or against us," its unequivocal condemnation of targeting civilians by those that commit terror, could allow four individuals involved in the taking of civilian lives into this country unmolested - celebrated even? They seem to be giving credence to the claim that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. That targeting civilians, even aboard civilian airliners, is an acceptable tactic as long as your goal is to disrupt the Castro regime - but not in the West Bank or Gaza. But this is hypocrisy, and one that tarnishes our image and compromises our ability to claim the moral high ground needed to garner international support and cooperation.

Predictably, this decision was not well received in the region:

The release of these terrorists from Panama—ordered by its outgoing president—has caused a furor in Central America. Venezuela recalled its ambassador and Cuba severed diplomatic relations with Panama.

Honduras also protested. "I will . . . demand that the United States and Panama explain how Posada Carriles used a false U.S. passport," declared Honduran President Ricardo Maduro. "How did that airplane leave Panama with Posada Carriles, reach Honduras, and wind up in the United States?"

The incoming Panamanian president, Martin Torrijos, likewise stood on principle when he rejected his predecessor’s decision to pardon the terrorists, saying, "For me, there are not two classes of terrorism, one that is condemned and another that is pardoned. . . . It has to be fought no matter what its origins."
These actions have given life to the claims by many Islamist jihadists, and their tacit and strident supporters alike, that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder. This is the wrong message we want to be sending at such a crucial time as this. Instead, we need to be working on clearer definitions and staid principles from which we can act in such a manner as to win over converts and supporters, not breed cynacism and skepticism of our motives and morals. As flawed as the current wording is, it would be far worse if it became understood to mean the "War On Selected Acts Of Terror Committed By Certain Terrorists."

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Quote of the Day

"I've never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry. And I'm gonna be blunt and plain: if one ever looks at me like that, I'm gonna kill him and tell God he died."

That quote was from Evangelist preacher Jimmy Swaggert. Not exactly what I would consider to be Christ-like sentiments from this self-proclaimed Christian. Click here for a link to the video.

The Doctorow Is In

This piece by author and humanitarian E.L. Doctorow in the East Hampton Star (via Eric Alterman), though opinionated, offers an interesting perspective:

I fault this president for not knowing what death is. He does not suffer the death of our 21-year-olds who wanted to be what they could be. On the eve of D-Day in 1944 General Eisenhower prayed to God for the lives of the young soldiers he knew were going to die. He knew what death was. Even in a justifiable war, a war not of choice but of necessity, a war of survival, the cost was almost more than Eisenhower could bear.

But this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find, you see him at rallies strutting up to the stage in shirt sleeves to the roar of the carefully screened crowd, smiling and waving, triumphal, a he-man.

He does not mourn. He doesn't understand why he should mourn. He is satisfied during the course of a speech written for him to look solemn for a moment and speak of the brave young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

But you study him, you look into his eyes and know he dissembles an emotion which he does not feel in the depths of his being because he has no capacity for it. He does not feel a personal responsibility for the 1,000 dead young men and women who wanted to be what they could be.

They come to his desk not as youngsters with mothers and fathers or wives and children who will suffer to the end of their days a terribly torn fabric of familial relationships and the inconsolable remembrance of aborted life . . . they come to his desk as a political liability, which is why the press is not permitted to photograph the arrival of their coffins from Iraq.

How then can he mourn? To mourn is to express regret and he regrets nothing. He does not regret that his reason for going to war was, as he knew, unsubstantiated by the facts. He does not regret that his bungled plan for the war's aftermath has made of his mission-accomplished a disaster. He does not regret that, rather than controlling terrorism, his war in Iraq has licensed it. So he never mourns for the dead and crippled youngsters who have fought this war of his choice.

He wanted to go to war and he did. He had not the mind to perceive the costs of war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only option; you go not because you want to but because you have to.
Yet this president knew it would be difficult for Americans not to cheer the overthrow of a foreign dictator. He knew that much. This president and his supporters would seem to have a mind for only one thing -- to take power, to remain in power, and to use that power for the sake of themselves and their friends.

A war will do that as well as anything. You become a wartime leader. The country gets behind you. Dissent becomes inappropriate. And so he does not drop to his knees, he is not contrite, he does not sit in the church with the grieving parents and wives and children. He is the president who does not feel. He does not feel for the families of the dead, he does not feel for the 35 million of us who live in poverty, he does not feel for the 40 percent who cannot afford health insurance, he does not feel for the miners whose lungs are turning black or for the working people he has deprived of the chance to work overtime at time-and-a-half to pay their bills - it is amazing for how many people in this country this president does not feel.

But he will dissemble feeling. He will say in all sincerity he is relieving the wealthiest 1 percent of the population of their tax burden for the sake of the rest of us, and that he is polluting the air we breathe for the sake of our economy, and that he is decreasing the quality of air in coal mines to save the coal miners' jobs, and that he is depriving workers of their time-and-a-half benefits for overtime because this is actually a way to honor them by raising them into the professional class.

And this litany of lies he will versify with reverences for God and the flag and democracy, when just what he and his party are doing to our democracy is choking the life out of it.

But there is one more terribly sad thing about all of this. I remember the millions of people here and around the world who marched against the war. It was extraordinary, that spontaneous aroused oversoul of alarm and protest that transcended national borders. Why did it happen? After all, this was not the only war anyone had ever seen coming. There are little wars all over he world most of the time.

But the cry of protest was the appalled understanding of millions of people that America was ceding its role as the last best hope of mankind. It was their perception that the classic archetype of democracy was morphing into a rogue nation. The greatest democratic republic in history was turning its back on the future, using its extraordinary power and standing not to advance the ideal of a concordance of civilizations but to endorse the kind of tribal combat that originated with the Neanderthals, a people, now extinct, who could imagine ensuring their survival by no other means than pre-emptive war.

The president we get is the country we get. With each president the nation is conformed spiritually. He is the artificer of our malleable national soul. He proposes not only the laws but the kinds of lawlessness that govern our lives and invoke our responses. The people he appoints are cast in his image. The trouble they get into and get us into, is his characteristic trouble.

Finally, the media amplify his character into our moral weather report. He becomes the face of our sky, the conditions that prevail. How can we sustain ourselves as the United States of America given the stupid and ineffective warmaking, the constitutionally insensitive lawgiving, and the monarchal economics of this president? He cannot mourn but is a figure of such moral vacancy as to make us mourn for ourselves.

Reports Of His Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Would it be hypocritical of me to bemoan the irrational obsession with polls that the media falls victim to during the election season, and then report on poll numbers myself? Would I undermine my argument that the polls themselves are inaccurate, flawed, and in many cases methodologically unfit if I were to post a bunch of results on this site? Perhaps I can be judged in such a way, but there is a reason I am willing to walk such a rhetorical tight rope.

Some of the post-Republican Convention polls were so lopsided in favor of Bush, that many in the Democratic camp, and in the media at large, began to write-off the candidacy of Kerry. It was hopeless they said. Bush's lead was insurmountable.

But I
argued then, and again recently, that the polls are skewed in favor of Bush, and that the majority of them, if you looked farther than those widely reported, still showed a dead heat despite the fact that they do not accurately account for the true magnitude of Kerry's support.

Now even more of the polls have begun to reflect the reality of a closer race. So I will publish the results of these imperfect animals, albeit reluctantly, in an effort to assuage the fear and pessimism of many of the Kerry faithful and would-be swing voter converts. I do this to balance out the earlier over-reaction to the inflated, and possibly manipulated, post-convention bounce for Bush.

Perceptions affect turnout, as I have
argued before, and it is important for loyalists and fence sitters alike to believe in the viability of a candidate. In pursuit of this, I will borrow liberally (pun intended) from my favorite Australian blogger, Tim Dunlop from the Road to Surfdom. Thanks again Tim, for your fine work, and please pardon the plagiarism (this is too good not to report):



In the last five national polls, the race continues to be virtually tied, with no more than a three point margin. The polls average to a 1.8% Bush lead.

NBC/WSJ—THREE POINT RACE: Tonight’s NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows Bush leading by three points 48- 45 even including Nader, within the margin of error.

ARG—ONE POINT RACE: The American Research Group poll released the morning (ending 9/21) has Bush ahead by one point: 47-46.

Kerry leads in the battlegrounds including Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington, and is tied in Wisconsin and West Virginia.

In Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Ohio, Kerry is within two points of Bush.

Women support Kerry over Bush 50-42.

ZOGBY—THREE POINT RACE: In the Zogby national phone poll ending Sunday (9/19), Bush led by a scant three points, 47-44, inside the margin of error.

Bush’s job approval is stuck below 50%: "President Bush’s overall job performance rating has virtually remained the same as our last two polls at 47%, with more than half of respondents continuing to express their disapproval." [Zogby release, 9/21/04]

IBD/CSM—ONE POINT RACE: In the newest Investors Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor poll from TIPP (ending 9/18), Bush leads by a single point: 44-43 among registered voters

The poll shows Kerry leading among independents 39-36.

DEMOCRACY CORPS—TIE: The Democracy Corps’ newest survey shows a tie: 49-49 (ending 9/21).


The newest Zogby/Wall Street Journal Interactive (ending 9/17) shows Kerry winning in 11 of 16 key states (ending 9/17), and comes to the conclusion that Kerry would win in the Electoral College with the current numbers. American Research Group comes to the same conclusion [, 9/20/04;, 9/22/04]


According to CBS/New York Times (ending 9/16), 51% say the nation is going in the wrong direction, as do 53% of independents. An overwhelming 75% of independents and 72% of all voters say the economy isn’t improving. A Democracy Corps poll (9/12-14) has 51% saying the nation is on the wrong track, and 52% saying the nation should go in a significantly different direction than the Bush direction. According to Zogby, 50% believe the nation is on the right track, with only 43% answering "right track."


The newest Pew poll (9/11-14) headlined "Kerry Support Rebounds, Race Even Again," shows Kerry leading 44-41 among independents with Bush’s temporary advantage gone and says that Bush’s "standing among persuadable voters may be worse now than it was in August," noting a 12 point drop to 44% in job approval since August, higher favorability for Kerry and a decrease in a positive feeling about the economy from 19% to 13%, with 63% disapproving of Bush’s handling of the economy increased from 54 to 63 percent.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Four Horsemen Of The Horse Race

There is a popular saying amongst the media-watchers and gadflys that the press will cover four things during campaigns, what I call the Four Horsemen of the Horse Race: scandals (pestilence), mistakes (death), attacks (war) and polls (famine) - though not necessarily in that order. So far, the media coverage for this presidential season has been comprised of a healthy dose of all four of these categories, and, predictably, sparse treatment of anything else of greater heft, substance or importance.

The many scandals have received an inordinate share of attention - the Swift Boat Veterans for Un-Truth (who continue their slander even today), the Kerry medal flap, CBS News' memogate, Bush's delinquent National Guard Service, and more recently allegations of cocaine use by Bush at Camp David. This is best understood as the politics of gossip over substance - but gossip sells and the media is increasingly concerned with maximizing profits. A pestilence attacking the ethical foundations of journalism which is spreading like a virus throughout our mainstream media.

Mistakes also have been made, though nothing as catastrophic as the infamous Dukakis tank ride. There was Kerry's choice to answer Bush's "If you knew then what you know now would you have voted to invade Iraq" query, and there was over the top fanaticism of Zell Miller at the Republican National Convention (not to mention the verbal gaffes like Bush's praise for the "love" OB-GYN's practice on their patients). The results have been more or less a wash, with nothing spelling "death" for either candidate, and not as rich a quarry as in elections past.

Attacks have been frequent, forceful and echoed repeatedly by the media spectators and regurgitators. There was Cheney's wildly irresponsible assertion that we would experience a devastating attack by al-Qaeda if Kerry were elected, unabashedly supported by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert who on Sunday
suggested that al-Qaeda would rather Kerry win the election and that the terrorist organization might try to interfere with the process to insure such an outcome. War is hell, but even in a political contest there are lines that should never be crossed. As John McCain uttered to Bush in exasperation after the brutal treatment he received in the South Carolina primary, "Not everything is politics." McCain, of course, lost.

Kerry, by contrast, has stayed mostly above the belt in his attacks, but because of their civility, they have received far less media fanfare. His latest round of attacks may be catching on, as I discuss below, but not because they are necessarily low-blows, but rather because of their resonance with voters (and some conservative pundits ironically enough).

The last member of the dubious quartet, polls, have also claimed their disproportionate share of the ever diminutive supply of television and print space devoted to non-frivolous endeavors. Immediately after the Republican National Convention, there were a series of national polls that put Bush ahead by double digits (although contemporaneous state by state polls had the electoral college still evenly split). Recently the national polls have flattened out, with more than half a dozen portraying a dead heat, while two continue to show sizable Bush leads (which seems to suggest that the two are aberrations - in other words, if you polled the polls, it would be an even race).

These numbers have led to a great deal of doom and gloom panic among the notoriously fatalistic Democrats. Yes, the Democrats have suffered some big losses in the last 20 years (Mondale and Dukakis come to mind), but there is nothing to indicate that such pessimism is warranted in the current race. If most polls have them tied, then it appears that this election will be, as most have predicted all along, a neck and neck race down to the wire.

Which brings me to my point about the worth of poll numbers in general. I have mentioned before on more than one occasion that I do not put much credence in the polls. Like so many aspects of our society, they too are becoming an increasingly politicized process, if not tool, used for shaping and manipulating conventional wisdom. They are of little substance, and do little to nourish the discourse - a famine of analysis.

Affecting voter expectations has very real effects on elections since the attitudes of voters impacts on their behavior on election day. Potential voters tend to get disheartened if they think their cause is futile, and negative poll numbers can induce many to abandon the process altogether and skip the trip to the local polling station. Fence-sitters, albeit an increasingly endangered species these days, generally want to associate with the candidate they perceive as the eventual victor, so the front runner in the polls grows stronger on election day. Human nature dictates that most people don't rush to the side of the perceived loser, although in many cases their actions themselves fulfill the prophecy.

Understanding the power of polls, it is too real a possibility that at least some are being constructed in a way to present as pretty a picture as possible for their patronized candidate (remember 6 polls have a dead heat and two have a big Bush lead - kind of curious).

Consider the trajectory of recent polls in New Mexico:
In New Mexico, a new Mason-Dixon poll taken Sep. 15-16 puts Bush ahead 47% to 43%, compared to Zogby's Sept. 13-17 poll showing a Kerry lead of 54% to 42%. That is a 15% switch in a couple of days, far outside the [margin of error]. Clearly there are serious methodological issues here...If one pollster is mostly sampling Democrats and another is mostly sampling Republicans, the [margin of error] doesn't mean a lot.
There are other variables that may skew the results as well. Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin discussed one peculiarity with pollster John Zogby in a recent column. Their discussion centered around the fact that telephone pollsters do not call cell phones, only land lines. Since millions of Americans (mostly of younger demographics) only have cellular phones and no land lines, the results of most polls tend to skew older, which favors Bush, at the expense of younger participants, who largely favor Kerry.

Then there is the issue of potential turnout and how that reality remains undetected by many polling procedures. This election will see the highest turnout in terms of overall numbers and percentage of eligible voters of any national election in the past 30 years, and possibly beyond. The impetus for the increased turnout comes from the fact that there are many would be voters who will be drawn to the polls for the first time in their lives, and others who will return to the poll booth after long sojourns, motivated by the many crises of the day. Large numbers of these voters are from demographic groups with a historical record of apathy (such as young adults and minorities), so they are largely unrepresented in polling data. Since these demographic groups traditionally support Democratic candidates, this phenomenon could be skewing poll numbers toward Bush despite the eventual election day outcome. Either way, there will be a historic turnout, and history has shown that the more people vote, the better the prospects of the Democratic candidate.

Despite the fact that polls are notoriously unreliable, and this election has a unique character that doesn't lend itself to accurate polling, many pundits and observers have all but written off John Kerry. According to the mounting conventional wisdom, Kerry has no chance because he is trailing in many polls (even if within the margin of error). This post-mortem is recklessly premature, as the most recent polls indicate (I am aware that I undermine my skepticism in polls by relying on them, but I am using them as an example to suggest that if you do believe they are accurate, as many in the media apparently do, then the news about Kerry is better than previously reported):

As of September 22, one
electoral poll tracker had Kerry at 269, Bush at 253 and 16 up for grabs. This particular tracker combines all the polls to create a holistic picture of the combined polling data. The Kerry lead represents substantial gains in the past couple of weeks. Bush's lead under the same tracker was 116 electoral votes last week, which has since transformed into a 16 point deficit. That is a swing of 132 electoral votes in a matter of days. Whether or not you believe in polls, it is safe to say that the tide is turning in this regard, as the perceived support for Kerry, using these imperfect instruments, is beginning to surpass Bush.

So what is the reason for this Kerry surge? In a word: Iraq. The situation in Iraq continues to spiral ever out of control, and the prospects for Iraq becoming a stable, unified, pillar of democracy in the Middle East are becoming increasingly remote. Instead, the grim realities of an increased level of attacks on coalition troops and the related higher casualty counts (with the total of US deaths recently surpassing the tragic milestone of 1,000) have been creeping into the forefront of media coverage after the reprieve granted in the weeks immediately following the symbolic handover of limited "sovereignty" to the interim governing body. Despite the Bush campaign's unbridled optimism, and mantra of positivity, the facts on the ground are beginning to eclipse this message, and make the messenger look either out of touch with reality or deliberately deceptive. A spate of recent reports from well regarded non-partisan think tanks have issued bleak assessments of the situation in Iraq, and much to the President's embarrassment, his own intelligence personnel echoed those sentiments in the July National Intelligence Estimate.

The worsening scenario in Iraq, and Bush's repeated denials in the face of mounting evidence, has opened the door for Kerry, and to his credit, he is kicking it open and stomping through. As blogger publius has been reporting
here and here, Kerry has been hammering away at Bush on his perceived strength: Iraq (ala the Rove doctrine). Kerry has been focusing on the incompetence of the post-invasion planning, the stubborn refusal to admit any error in this regard and change course accordingly, and Bush's lack of forthrightness with the American people on the true nature of the insurgency and overall picture in Iraq.

Here are some choice excerpts from recent Kerry speeches (via the publius posts I cited above):

"He did not tell you that with each passing day, we're seeing more chaos, more violence, more indiscriminate killings," the senator said. "He did not tell you that with each passing week, our enemies are getting bolder - that Pentagon officials report that entire regions of Iraq are now in the hands of terrorists and extremists. He did not tell you that with each passing month, stability and security seem farther and farther away...his own intelligence officials have warned him for weeks that the mission in Iraq is in serious trouble.

You deserve a president who will not play politics with national security, who will not ignore his own intelligence, while living in a fantasy world of spin, and who will give the American people the truth about the challenge our brave men and women face on the front lines"
. . .

"Two years ago, Congress was right to give the President the authority to use force to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. This President...any President...would have needed the threat of force to act effectively. This President misused that authority. The power entrusted to the President gave him a strong hand to play in the international community. The idea was simple. We would get the weapons inspectors back in to verify whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. And we would convince the world to speak with one voice to Saddam: disarm or be disarmed.
. . .

Instead, the President rushed to war without letting the weapons inspectors finish their work. He went without a broad and deep coalition of allies. He acted without making sure our troops had enough body armor. And he plunged ahead without understanding or preparing for the consequences of the post-war. None of which I would have done.

Yet today, President Bush tells us that he would do everything all over again, the same way. How can he possibly be serious? Is he really saying that if we knew there were no imminent threat, no weapons of mass destruction, no ties to Al Qaeda, the United States should have invaded Iraq? My answer is no - because a Commander-in-Chief's first responsibility is to make a wise and responsible decision to keep America safe."

Kerry's recent strategic successes have not escaped the eye of even conservative commentators like Andrew Sullivan. Here is Sullivan in a recent column appearing in The New Republic:

At some point, this election race will tighten again, and, against the odds, it seems to me that John Kerry has finally found a way to do it. It's Iraq: not the reasons for going to war, not the relationship between Iraq and the war on terror, not the absence of promised WMDs, but the incompetence of the occupation from the fall of Baghdad onwards. This has always been the president's weak and blind spot. And the soundbites offered up on television last night showed why. Kerry was heard lambasting an occupation that seems to most observers to be coming unglued. Bush was seen again criticizing Kerry's record of inconsistency on Iraq. Advantage Kerry. Why? Because Bush has all but given up on trying to argue that things in Iraq are going fine. So he has to attack Kerry's credibility to conduct any kind of war in the region. It sounds campaigny and political, while Kerry at least is talking about a burning issue in the news every day. So, if this pans out, the debate will hinge on Bush's record in Iraq versus Kerry's longtime record in the Senate and dithering over the two years. If that's the battle, Kerry will surely gain--especially if violence in Iraq continues to swell in the next few weeks...

But the reality is unavoidable: Large swathes of Iraq have been ceded to terrorist insurgents; the multinational force is deeply unpopular in all the surveys of the general population you can read; barely a fraction of reconstruction funds has been spent; military and civilian casualties continue to rise; parts of Baghdad are not secure; the chances of national elections in January look iffy in the extreme; the White House's own internal reports are full of gloom. None of this was discussed at the Republican National Convention, and you can understand why. But the extremely rosy picture of Iraq sketched by that convention could well become a liability if the facts on the ground begin to make the commander-in-chief seem culpably out of it at best, and deceptive at worst.

The key for Kerry, then, is not to make the argument that this president is evil or a liar, as the Michael Moore left has stupidly done. And it is not to revisit the arguments for and against war in the first place. That merely traps Kerry back in the tangled rhetorical knots he tied for himself. It is to make the argument that this president is out of touch and incompetent. It's Dukakis again--competence, not ideology--but this time, with a real record of incompetence to point to.
Whether or not Kerry really is a closer, as some including me have suggested, may be too fanciful a notion to give much consideration to. Regardless, it seems he is positioning himself for an impressive final push. The polls, although of dubious value, are lining up behind him and his support is burgeoning at a crucial point in the campaign season. More importantly, though, he is finally crafting a cogent message that he can use to exploit a glaring weakness in Bush's presidency, the heel to what was once believed to be his electoral Achilles: Iraq.

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