Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Came as a Rat

More like this please. When they hit you, hit them back harder:

You know, I might just end up going bankrupt, but this fool is willing to put his money on the proposition that the American people have had enough exposure to the tactics of Karl Rove that they're just not buying this crap the way they did in 2000 and 2004. It also helps that exposure to 8 years of the bring-back-the-Gilded Age economic policies of the GOP have made it so most people can't afford to buy it anymore. A tug on the pocketbook, and a disastrous calamity of a war, tend to sharpen the discerning eye of the electorate. Hell, even the media seems to be catching on (somewhat).

Further, McCain's whole-hog (whole-rat?) implementation of the Rove-playbook runs the risk of reminding people how they were duped in past elections. With Bush's approval ratings hovering in the 20s, it's safe to say that many Americans are looking at Bush as a bill of goods sold via a dishonest mix of fear and loathing, and regretting their choices.

Think about it: Since 2000, Al Gore has been collecting various accolades and statuettes (Nobels, Oscars, etc) looking prescient and statesmanlike in his effort to raise awareness of a true existential threat (not hyping fake ones for various ulterior motives). The Clinton-era economy, and the esteemed position of America in the world, seem almost fairy-tale like in comparison to our present predicament, making Gore look even better for the nostalgic.

The Pentagon just concluded, after an exhaustive study (via the conservative Rand Corporation), that the much-maligned John Kerry approach to fighting terrorism is also the right way to fight terrorism. That is, law enforcement and intelligence as opposed to reliance on the military (with the latter being the Bush administration approach). Oops! Bonus: John Edwards was right as well in his call to abandon the counterproductive "War on Terror" frame. He is so naive isn't he!

In short, if you run a campaign like Karl Rove you might end up reminding people of other recent Rove campaigns and what the voters got for backing Rove's candidate [hint: it makes this lousy t-shirt look like the deal of a century]. Any and all responses from the Obama camp to McCain's use of Rove-ian smears should drive home the connection to Bush.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Plumage Don't Enter Into It

Michael Totten joins the chorus of Iraq war supporters gathering confetti for the impending victory parade. Says Totten:

The civil war between Sunni and Shia militias likewise is over. We know that now because we can look back in hindsight. Not one single person was killed in ethno-sectarian conflict in May or June of this year. That particular conflict had been winding down since December of 2006 when the monthly casualties began freefalling in an almost straight line from a high of more than 2,000 a month down to nothing. Nobody won that war. It’s just over.

Over? That is every bit as brash as "Mission Accomplished" was five years ago. While it is true that many former Sunni insurgents have ceased attacks on the Shiite-led Iraqi government and US forces (opting, instead, to collaborate with US forces in going after AQI and, in turn, establish local fiefdoms and receive money, arms and other support) that represents a temporary, contingent and highly precarious truce. Not an end but a pause (and not a complete pause either).

As recently as Friday, Sunni leaders reieterated their demands: either the Maliki government must integrate their cadres into the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), or they will resume the fighting (and they want more money to boot). The Maliki government has, thus far, made it clear that it will only allow a tiny fraction of the Sunni forces into the ISF, and so the stage is set for a future battle. Making matters worse, many of these Sunni elements have been quite brazen in stating their intention to lay low in anticipation of the right opportunity to launch operations to "retake" Baghdad from the Shiites - which explains, in part, Maliki's reluctance to welcome large numbers of these groups into the ISF.

Further, there has been little to no progress in dealing with Iraq's roughly five million internally and externally displaced citizens - many of them Sunnis expelled from their homes in and around Baghdad that might have expectations about returning and reclaiming what was taken. But trust us: two months of dubious data telling of zero deaths and it's time to declare the conflict "over" (some creative categorization of the hundreds of deaths still going on?). I mean, what could go wrong?

Totten doesn't even acknowledge the existence of other ethnic/sectarian flashpoints in his calculus of the various "wars" in Iraq. Flashpoints like, say, Kirkuk. From the indefatigable Brian Katulis:

The unsteady calm evident across much of Iraq after months of declining violence was shattered this morning by multiple bombs in Baghdad and Kirkuk.

The attacks killed nearly 50 people, with at least two dozen dead in each city. In Baghdad, female suicide bombers struck three times during a Shi’a religious procession in the Karrada neighborhood. But the attack was particularly ominous in Kirkuk, where a suicide bomber targeted Kurds protesting the recently vetoed provincial elections law. Angry Kurds then attacked the nearby headquarters of Turkoman parties, setting fire to and taking pot-shots at the buildings.

These attacks include incidents of the Sunni/Shiite violence that was supposedly over and done with, and the first signs of new ethno/sectarian fronts opening up in Kirkuk (Kurd v. Sunni and Kurd v. Turcoman). The underlying conflicts leading to these incidents of bloodshed, again, do not lend themselves to easy solutions:

Today’s bombing took place against this background of increased Arab-Kurd tension over delays on Kirkuk’s status and the elections law. What the Kirkuk dispute serves to illustrate is that Iraq’s problems are fundamentally political in nature. The challenge is not security, which has improved dramatically over the last year, but political accommodation and power-sharing between Iraqi factions.

Thus far, the U.S. strategy and political discourse has been narrowly focused on the security situation, arguing over whether the “surge” has worked or not. This debate is beside the point. Iraq’s conflicts will not solve themselves peacefully unless political compromises and deals are made. As long as they remain unresolved, Iraq’s security gains will remain fragile and open to violent destabilization.

Ah yes, "political accommodation and power-sharing between Iraqi factions" - you know, the primary goal of the Surge. The one that hasn't been achieved, but which it is poor form to point out - an unwillingness to let the good news wash over us. Totten goes on, undettered by reality:

Casualties from insurgent warfare haven’t slacked off as completely, but they have almost slacked off as completely. If all violent trends continue in their current downward directions, this war, too, will taper off to non-existence or relative insignificance. We’ll know in hindsight, too, when that war finally is over after no has been killed by insurgents for a few months.

What looks now like the last dying gasp of the various anti-Iraqi insurgencies is all that remains of these various wars in Iraq.

Almost slacked off as completely? Meaning, almost down to zero? Actually, roughly five hundred Iraqis died in the months of May and June - as documented using Totten's own sources (which don't track Iraqis killed by US forces - those don't count apparently). Matt Yglesias puts this "near complete" cessation of violence in context:

If you look back to the summer of 2005, you'll see that few people at the time regarded conditions in Iraq as "good" or even acceptable. And yet things got so much worse over the course of 2006 and early 2007, that improvement in 2008 to bring us back to the kind of level of violence we had three years ago -- except with more walled-off and ethnically cleansed neighborhoods in place -- is now represented as a great triumph. James Vega has a forceful post up at The Democratic Strategist reminding us of how perverse this is.

It's beyond perverse. Although to John McCain, it's the new normal:

We have succeeded. Sadr city is safe. Basra is safe. Mosul is safe. The people of Iraq are now leading normal lives.

Other than those people getting blown to bits. And their loved ones. And neighbors. And the people living in walled off, segregated neighborhoods from which they dare not venture far for fear of being murdered. Other than the ones that plan for, or live in fear of, the next rounds of civil wars, etc.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

God: Yankee Fan? Most Likely. McCain Fan? Not So Much.

Via John Cole comes this remarkable juxtaposition that the faithless among us will surely chalk up to mere happenstance. First:

While Barack Obama is speaking about international affairs in Germany before thousands of fans tomorrow, John McCain will be talking about a pressing domestic issue with an equally striking if very different backdrop.

Weather permitting, McCain will helicopter from Louisiana to an oil rig in the Gulf Coast to make the case for expanded off-shore drilling, says a McCain aide.

Then, in preparation for McCain's photo op:

The U.S. Coast Guard has closed 29 miles of the Mississippi River from New Orleans southward after a tanker and a barge collided, spilling more than 400,000 gallons of fuel oil into the river.

Tugboats hold up pieces of a barge after it collided with a tanker Wednesday in the Mississippi River in New Orleans.

The river, a major shipping route between the Midwest and Gulf of Mexico, could be closed for days during the cleanup, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.

More than 30 ships already are queued up along the river, waiting to pass through the closed zone, Coast Guard Petty Officer Jaclyn Young said.

The Coast Guard has deployed 45,000 feet of inflatable booms to contain the spill and is lining up another 29,000 feet, but it could be days before the river is reopened, she said.

The accident left a sheen over 90 percent of the area, she said.

McCain's camp canceled the stop citing weather. That's plausible enough, given the fact that hurricane Dolly recently swooped in and is battering the region.

But I think that only underlines my point.

John of 100 Years

Worth a viewing:

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Everybody Rolls with their Fingers Crossed

For years I have been seeking to dispel the notion that the Sadrists are "vassals" of Iran, whereas Maliki's Dawa Party and ISCI (both either formed by, aided by and/or housed in Iran for most of the 80s and 90s) were independent from, if not hostile to, that nation. The origin of this misinformation dates to the moment that the Bush administration gauged (incorrectly apparently) that Dawa/ISCI would be amenable to its long term objectives in Iraq (permanent bases, preferential treatment on oil concessions). From that point onward, Dawa/ISCI's long historical ties to Iran were whitewashed, while the expunged "sins" of those parties were gathered up and then applied, with a broad brush, to a caricature of the Sadrists.

It got so bad that a plethora of conservative pundits (even Vali Nasr!) took to characterizing the recent anti-Sadrist operations undertaken by Dawa and ISCI as a victory by the Maliki government over the forces of Iran (despite the obvious subtext of longstanding rivalry between Shiite rivals, as well as the Sadrists historical antipathy to Iran). Charles Krauthammer, in typical fashion, didn't let pesky facts interfere with a self-serving narrative:

[The Sadrist trend's] sponsor, Iran, has suffered major setbacks, not just in Basra, but in Iraqi public opinion, which has rallied to the Maliki government and against Iranian interference through its Sadrist proxy.

It should be noted that the above cited Krauthammer column is directly contradicted earlier Krauthammer column in which he describes Maliki government stalward, ISCI, as the Iranian cat's paw, and "Shiite Menace":

Of course there are telegenic elements among the Shiites who would like fundamentalist rule by the clerics...many of whom are affiliated with, infiltrated by and financed by Tehran, the headquarters for 20 years of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq [SCIRI].

These Iranian-oriented Shiite extremists are analogous to the Soviet-oriented communists in immediate post-World War II Italy and France. They too had a foreign patron. They too had foreign sources of money, agents and influence. They too had a coherent ideology. And they too were highly organized even before the end of the war. They too made a bid for power. And failed.

Now that Maliki has been making it increasingly clear that he is not on board with the Bush/McCain vision for Iraq, the pendulum is swinging back toward Krauthammer 1.0. Some people are feeling had. Although others, like John Derbyshire, are claiming that they were in on the fix all along:

Nothing in any of Maliki's "inartful" statements is the least bit surprising to a "To Hell With Them" Hawk...

Now that our American blood and money has seen off most of the enemies of Maliki and his Iranian pals, it is perfectly natural for them to believe they can finish the job themselves, without further assistance from us.

That's tantamount to an admission that Maliki and his "Iranian pals" have used the Bush administration quite deftly to dispatch their enemies - which, for the record, include the Sadrists to some extent. One wonders why Derbyshire has kept this piece of heretical insight to himself over the past few years? Andy McCarthy pleads non-ignorance as well:

As I've mentioned before, Maliki, of the Shiite Dawa Party which opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place, has long-standing ties to Iran and Syria — and has expressed support for Hezbollah. The only thing that surprises me about this story is that anyone is surprised. [emphasis added throughout]

Got that folks: It was obvious all along that Maliki and ISCI were Iran's chief proxies in Iraq. Yet, oddly enough, anyone out there questioning the strategy of helping Iran's proxies to consolidate control over Iraq's government were "defeatists." John McCain, for example, has frequently argued that removing US troops would "boost Iranian influence in the region." But did we do something different by offing the enemies of "Maliki and his Iranian pals"?

Swopa, who has always accurately described this dynamic, chides those on both sides of the divide that believed, as the Bush administration did, that ISCI/Dawa would be willing to go along with the plan to make Iraq a major US military outpost in the Middle East:

As Abu Aardvark wrote today, “I know that I’m not the only one who has generally assumed that Maliki and most of the ruling elite preferred McCain’s vision of endless, unconditional American military support.”...

I think that the key mistake many observers...[make is that t]hey forget that the government Maliki represents wasn’t created by the Americans — it came about following popular elections demanded by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who also established the coalition to which Maliki belongs and lent his considerable prestige to ensure its victory. And Sistani probably didn’t go through all that trouble just to be known as the guy who rubber-stamped a permanent U.S. occupation.

Back in Febuary 2004, Anthony Shadid of the Washington Post wrote a profile of Sistani that has long influenced my writings on Iraq; it describes the grand ayatollah as primarily motivated by memories of 1920 — when Shiites rebelled directly against the British, and were rewarded with 80 years of Sunni/secular domination — and determined not to let his followers miss this opportunity.

It’s always seemed to me that his solution was to cooperate initially with the U.S. invasion, use the American military as a contractor of sorts to help cement a Shiite-led government’s power, then nudge us aside when the task was more or less complete. Maliki’s newfound spine, if anything, just means that they think that time is drawing closer.

At times when describing the Bush administration's decision to target the Sadrists, I emphasized the fact that the Bush administration thought it would get a better deal from the ISCI/Dawa tandem than the Sadrists, and that this lay behind the decision to side with ISCI/Dawa against Moqtada. On occasion, I was not careful enough to point out that even though this was the Bush administration's assessment, it might have pinned false hopes on an unlikely champion (ISCI/Dawa).

Ultimately, the differences for many on the progressive side of this issue came down to the question of timing: Many (including myself) believed that the Shiite power structure would eventually want us out, but that ISCI/Dawa, and even Sistani, were not yet approaching the levels of confidence that would lead them to push for a departure of US forces. They were too vulnerable and unpopular to be willing to lose their enforcer just yet. Or so the thinking went.

But as Swopa has been quick to remind me: Even under the so called "immediate withdrawal" plans, the process will take years. Maliki et al seem ready to at least begin that process. So much so, that they've decided to strike a severe political blow to John of 100 Years.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Working Class Hero Is Something to Be

Kevin Drum, as is his wont, applies an equanimous eye to the newly released Grand New Party by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam. However, in the middle of a solid review, Drum squints a bit too hard in the effort to give credit to the authors' ideas:

...Douthat and Salam argue [that] maintenance of traditional social values has more economic value to the working class than it does to the college-educated middle class. In the well-off suburbs, divorce is rare, crime is low, and kids mostly don’t have children out of wedlock. What’s more, when those things do happen, the better-off classes have the resources to deal with them. To the upper middle class, then, the constellation of issues revolving around the breakdown of the traditional family seems a distant concern.

But what about working class communities? Liberals tend to poke fun at the fact that the very communities that complain most about divorce and crime and single parenthood are the same ones that have the highest divorce rate, the most crime, and the greatest incidence of single parenthood. Hypocrites! If they’re so worried about this stuff, why not lead by example?

But as Douthat and Salam point out, doesn’t it make sense that the people who are most often face-to-face with these problems are also the ones who are most concerned about them? Put that way, of course it does. What’s more, things like divorce, single-parent families, and teen pregnancy incur costs that are harder to deal with the poorer you are, so to a large extent, when working class whites vote for socially conservative Republicans they’re also voting their economic self-interest.

Drum, Douthat and Salam get this wrong on multiple levels. Liberals, to use the broad generalization already in play, do not criticize as hypocrites those that support the conservative "family values" agenda simply because the so-called Red States tend to show higher incidence of the supposed immoral or broken-family phenomena. Nor is there a liberal call for the Red Staters to lead by example, necessarily (though self-righteous/opportunistic judgmentalism on, say, aldutery is worthy of criticism when the speaker is an alduterer - especially when this is used as a political weapon).

Few deny that "family values" issues should be important to working class families, nor is the economic impact disregarded or ignored. Quite the opposite. It is precisely because liberals appreciate how important these issues are to working families that we put aside moralistic preening in favor of constructing pragmatic, evidence-based solutions.

The real liberal critique is that the conservative policies designed to address these "family values" issues are often ineffectual if not outright counterproductive. For example, the conservative stance against family planning, contraception, AIDS education and comprehensive sex education (abstinence only!) exacerbates problems associated with teen pregnancies, out of wedlock births, unwanted pregnancies and STDs. By highlighting the disparaties in the rates of these social ills in Red States vs. Blue States, liberals are making an argument about the comparative efficacy of the two approaches. Or at the very least, showing that the current approach in the Red States isn't working.

So, no, this is not true:

"[W]hen working class whites vote for socially conservative Republicans they’re also voting their economic self-interest."

They may be voting their economic insecurity, but not self-interest.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

McCain: Dead Iranians are Funny!

Although counterintuitive, it is increasingly common knowledge that the people of Iran are amongst the most sympathetic to (even "pro") America in the Middle East. For example, on 9/11, Iranian citizens held a spontaneous candlelight vigil in Madar Square in Tehran as a show of solidarity and sympathy for the United States. In fact, even George Bush is something of a popular figure for large segments of the Iranian population that oppose the ruling regime (his approval ratings in Iran might even best those in the US). This peculiar dynamic has led some to joke that there is a better chance that we'll see a pro-American regime in Tehran than Baghdad in the next decade or so.

There are limits though. Even most Iranians that are predisposed to view the United States favorably would not react well to US military action against Iran. Bombing campaigns have a way of alienating people. Moreso, when such grave decisions are joked about by US politicians like presidential hopeful John McCain who thought it humorous to put the prospect of slaughtered Iranians to a Beach Boys tune. I'm sure that won over a lot of Iranians - I mean, you Iranians can take a joke, right?

McCain was at it again yesterday, making friends. Influencing people. Showing a callous disregard for human life:

Sen. John McCain hasn't had good luck joking about Iran. But he tried it again Tuesday.

Responding to a question about a survey that shows increased exports to Iran, mainly from cigarettes, McCain said, "Maybe that's a way of killing them."

Because, you know, the only good Iranian is a dead Iranian! ROFLMAO!!! Hey, guys, we're still friends right? No hard feelings?

(via Yglesias)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


The hits, they just keep coming. And by hits, I mean punches to the gut of course:

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of “coercive management techniques” for possible use on prisoners, including “sleep deprivation,” “prolonged constraint,” and “exposure.”

What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

The recycled chart is the latest and most vivid evidence of the way Communist interrogation methods that the United States long described as torture became the basis for interrogations both by the military at the base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and by the Central Intelligence Agency.

Shame. Profound and bitter shame. I want more from my country than for our top government officials to go diving in the dumpsters of Communist regimes in order to recycle discarded manuals on torture. And for all you apologists and semantic hair splitters that insist on dancing the torture/not torture two step: you've been had. Not that you'd know it or admit it.

Anyway, there's a presidential election this November. One of the candidates, John McCain, wants to continue to permit our government to engage in a policy of torture gleaned from observing the methods employed by brutal Communist regimes. The other candidate, Barack Obama, doesn't.

Tough choice.

(via Gary Farber, whose Nietzche reference is spot on)

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