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March 31, 2007

Progressive Strategy

The Security Frame Temptation
Posted by David Shorr

A few weeks ago Heather told us about the public's sour mood, and how their cynicism makes them resistant towards many political arguments. According to recent polls and focus groups, voters are so suspicious of all officials, politicians, and parties, that they will discount most anything they're told. Among the wells that have been poisoned is the very idea of national security. To any of us who might try to make policy arguments on the basis of national security, Heather warns that this approach,

...hurts at least as much as it helps with voters who are over-security-ed.

Using the rubric of security might be tempting, she says, but it's a temptation to be resisted. I guess I'm skeptical about how we're supposed to deal with this skepticism, though I accept the caution about inch-deep rhetoric.

Continue reading "The Security Frame Temptation" »

Better Late than Never
Posted by Rosa Brooks

I guess. Matt Dowd, former chief campaign strategist for Bush '04, now tells the Washington Post that he regrets the whole damn thing:

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership. He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

Continue reading "Better Late than Never" »

March 30, 2007

Middle East

OPERATION BITE: More Than We Can Chew?
Posted by Jeremy Broussard

A recent article on the Israeli-based DebkaFile reports that a third carrier group, the USS Nimitz, is steaming out of San Diego for the Persian Gulf next week to join the John C. Stennis and Eisenhower carrier groups already in the Gulf.  The possibility of a third carrier deployment was first reported in Newsweek over a month ago.  If the Eisenhower does not rotate back to the States--and many have speculated that it won't--this will represent the largest U.S. naval air presence in the Gulf since the 1991 Gulf War I. 

Many have speculated that the current captive/hostage standoff between Iran and the U.K. might be the spark that ignites a conflict between the U.S./U.K. and Iran.  While a limited air campaign might ostensibly be over freeing hostages (how this accomplishes that is anyone's guess), more than likely it would be used to 1) degrade Iran's uranium enrichment production; 2) destroy its ballistic missile sites; and 3) and destroy or disrupt Iran's command and control over its Qods Force and other paramilitaries operating in Iraq.  According to several media sources quoting a Russian military intelligence source, this air campaign is code-named Operation Bite and is scheduled to begin sometime around April 6 (Good Friday . . . **sigh**, what a way to bring in Easter Season).

This might not be the first U.S.-Iranian head-to-head confrontation, as this week's Time reports on a still-classified skirmish between U.S. and Iranian forces on the border with Iraq six months ago.

But, as we used to say in the Army, the enemy gets a vote too.  So how would Iran respond?  We've already seen crude oil prices spike in the past few days over the hostage standoff.  What if Iran intentionally limited the supply of crude, either through reducing production or taking military action in the Strait of Hormuz?  What if it responded by ballistic missile attack against Israel or Baghdad?  What if it just amped up the paramilitary support in Iraq, or launched terrorism and sabotage missions in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere? 

In other words, what is our desired goal in this proposed airstrike and does it outweigh the potential costs?

Trade Pacts Vs. Cuddly Kittens
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Earlier this week, there was a story on the NY Times business pages about promising negotiations between Congressional Democrats and USTR that would put worker rights, environmental standards and the right to make generic versions of key medicines into some pending South American trade pacts, thus moving back toward the status quo Clinton of trade pacts that at least don't undermine existing international law in those areas, and possibly allow for progress on them.

Today, and I expect for some days to follow, there will be MONSTER HEADLINES about the presence of dangerous and potentially toxic chemicals in imported (from China) wheat gluten that went into tainted pet food.     Dogx

This story has the potential to do for trade negotiations what years of carefully thought-out advocacy on American jobs, environmental impacts, the harm of US trade subsidies to poor developing-country farmers, etc. has failed to do:  bring them to a grinding halt.  It will get covered everywhere.

And it is a huge safety issue:  human food produced in the US is safer than it has ever been, thanks in no small part to Clinton-era requirements for testing of foods popular with children put in place in the wake of the Alar scare; but we import more food from countries with laxer standards (some of those laxer standards now being required by our trade agreements; see my first paragraph) than ever before. 

Continue reading "Trade Pacts Vs. Cuddly Kittens" »

When Does the Money Run Out?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Apparently when the President met yesterday with House Republicans he asked them if they would be willing to support a veto even if the Democrats took out all of the withdrawal language.  To me this is the strongest indication that he is more interested in vetoing the bill and blaming it on Congress then he is on actually getting a the funding he needs. 

This gets even more interesting when you consider that the President claims that the military needs the supplemental by April 15 to continue to function.  A Congressional Research Service (Download crsmemo_32807_1.pdf) that was just released found that the military has until the end of July before it starts running into trouble.

Basically the President is disingenuously drumming up this fear that the troops are about to run out of money and then blaming it on Congress.  In some ways he reminds me of a petulant child.  For the past four years he has been spoiled and gotten everything he wants.  Now Congress is finally imposing some discipline and he seems to be throwing a tantrum.

After the Veto
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So what do Democrats do after the Veto?  Matt Yglesias suggests passing a bill without the withdrawal language but only for the next three months and then bringing up the debate again.  I generally agree.  It keeps the debate front and center, and as things get worse (And I’m pretty sure they will) you chip away and build more support for a supplemental with an exit strategy included.

My only problem is that three months is too short.  These supplemental debates are exhausting and all consuming.  Congress has a lot of other things to worry about and Iraq is already crowding out pretty much everything else.  Not to mention the fact that the country would get pretty sick of having these debates every three months only to have them end in veto and deadlock.  Every six months might be better.

March 29, 2007

Hypocrisy Is Harder to Micromanage than War
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Travis Sharp over at IraqInsider posted some nifty research on Senators currently complaining about Democrats' so-called micromanaging of the Iraq war who themselves voted for legislation to block, reverse or time-limit troop deployments in Somalia and Haiti in the 1990s.  Senators McCain, Hatch and Bennett are among those he catches in the act of hypocrisy.

This point even got some nice MSM pickup, which left Travis feeling a little grumpy that the NY Times editorial board appears to have used the research but not given him credit.  To which I can only offer the speechwriters' refrain:

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

Click through for a descent into true speechwriter pedantry on that point:

Continue reading "Hypocrisy Is Harder to Micromanage than War" »

Someone's gotta micromanage that war!
Posted by Rosa Brooks

So the Senate-- like the House--  has now passed a bill providing $122 billion in additional funding for the Iraq War but calling for troop withdrawal to begin within four months, with a "goal" of fully withdrawing combat troops a year from now. Predictably, supporters of the Bush Administration are accusing Congress of trying to "micromanage" the president's conduct of the war. This is silly: after more than four years of carnage, a Congressional insistence on bringing the war to a close is hardly "micromanaging." On the contrary: Congress is-- finally-- taking seriously its constitutional responsibilities.

But maybe more to the point... I'd feel more sympathetic to the claim that Congress shouldn't "micromanage" the war if it looked like Executive Branch was already performing that function. As the White House keeps reminding us, they're the ones sitting in the Executive Branch; constitutionally, they're supposed to be the micro-managers. But when it comes to Iraq,  no one seems to be minding the store. This is a White House that has plenty of time to go after a handful of insufficiently fanatical US attorneys-- and plenty of time to try to cover it all up later-- but no time to come up with a plan to manage-- much less micro-manage-- Iraq. From the very beginning, this White House didn't want to bother with micro issues like ensuring enough troops on hand to prevent sabotage and looting. Since then, the White House has distractedly produced plan after plan after plan for Iraq, each hardly distinguishable from the last, and each one quietly abandoned when it falls short.  There's no accountability and no back-up plan for when things go wrong.

If the White House felt like  doing a little "micromanaging" in Iraq, it would be a welcome change. But since they seem incapable of doing that, well.... can we really blame Congress for losing patience and trying to bring this disasterous war to an end?

March 28, 2007

A Swift Goodbye
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So the White House pulled the nomination of Swift Boats for Truth backer Sam Fox to be ambassador to Belgium just before Senate Foreign Relations was to vote on him today?  Might that mean that some Republican committee members told the White House not to count on their votes, so Fox couldn't even expect an honorable defeat?  Or was it something more embarrassing?

** Wait, "reasonable conservative" "Jon Swift" has a rather funny post that will catch you up on the drama of Fox's recent hearing.  But it doesn't give me any further insight on why he didn't get to go down to glorious, party-line defeat.


"Defense" Spending to Oblivion
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

The Senate today voted to keep the timeline in the Iraq bill. Who would have thought it would come down to the wire in Nebraska?Though the congressional debate is getting most of the attention--as it should--we still need to remember the crazy amount of money we're shoveling out the door to support our "defense". I put that in quotations on purpose...because the level of spending is so high and the debate about it so inadequate, and we are so NOT funding the solutions that will keep us safe in the long run.

Last year a Congressional Research Report put the average per troop costs for Iraq are between $355,000 and $360,000 per individual, per year; this dollar amount has been increasing since 2003. The last report came out this month put the cost of the wars so far at around $752 billion. gulp.

But the public is continually mis-educated about defense spending---so it isn't surprising that many people believe a fallacy: the more we spend on defense, the more security we purchase. Continually, we hear how today's defense budget is just over 4% of GDP...far lower than at any point in recent history. NPR repeated this trope yesterday. But journalists almost always fail to mention how gigantic our economy has grown in comparison to the World War II era. Even worse, They don't place this figure in context. The most important fact for taxpaying citizens is that the defense budget now takes up more than half of all the dollars we have available to spend every year. This year, its at 59% for 08 not including war spending. The amount of dollars is getting smaller and smaller for everything else. Here's a fantastic video on the topic.

There's no end to the lameness of the mainstream coverage. Today the New York Times framed this question

Continue reading ""Defense" Spending to Oblivion" »

March 27, 2007

Where goes "24," so goes the nation...
Posted by Rosa Brooks

There's been a lot of buzz lately about the recent Pew poll showing Republican party identification down to a mere 35%, a dramatic five-year decline. I wasn't ready to break out the champagne, though, until I saw this from Kevin Drum:

In tonight's episode [of "24"], Jack Bauer lets slip that he thinks launching an unprovoked nuclear attack on an (unnamed) Arab country would be a bad idea.  "It'll look like we've declared war on the entire Middle East," he warns his boss. 

At last! Solid evidence of a shift in the national mood!

(For those of you who don't watch "24," it's basically what my LA Times colleague Tim Cavanaugh calls "torture porn."  To get a good flavor, read Jane Mayer's terrific New Yorker piece about it.)

Mark Pryor's Dr. Strangelove Diplomacy
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Thank God Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith voted to keep the withdrawal language in the Iraq supplemental.  If they hadn’t one of the more important debates in the Senate in recent memory would have been decided by one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in quite a while.  The key defection on the Democratic side was Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas.  The reason he refused to support it?  Not because he fundamentally disagreed with withdrawing troops but because he believes that publicly declaring a date certain would give an advantage to the enemy.  Instead Pryor proposes a “secret plan” to withdraw from Iraq. 

First, of all his plan misses the entire point.  The logic behind setting a date certain is to make clear to the Iraqis and their neighbors that we are getting ready to leave and that they have to step up.  The point is to gain political and diplomatic leverage.  You don’t really get much political leverage if you can’t tell anyone about it!!

Second, he seems to think that we can tell the Iraqi government and they’ll keep it secret.  Exactly which Iraqi government is he talking about?  The one that is so splintered that a number of its members are aligned with various militias including a few that have close relationships with Iran.  Meanwhile, other members clearly have some ties into the Sunni insurgency. 

Finally and this is my favorite.  We have a secret plan to move 150,000 troops and all of their equipment halfway around the world (Or at least to neighboring countries).  Do you think our enemies in Iraq will notice?  This isn’t exactly one of those here today gone tomorrow operations.

Seriously people.  For a few hours there it looked like the guy supporting this plan was going to decide the Senate’s position on Iraq.   The whole concept just reminds me of those immortal words of Dr. Strangelove 

Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you *keep* it a *secret*! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?

Who's Defunding the Troops?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Matt Yglesias makes an important point that we should all be hammering on.

If George W. Bush vetos the Iraq supplemental the Democrats passed, isn't that him cutting off funding for the troops in the field? I mean, here's congress, appropriating some funds for the troops, and instead of letting the troops get the funds Bush is saying, no, he'll hold their well-being hostage to advance his own perogatives and ego.

Why Bush Will Never Leave
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

There are a lot of great analyses out there on why Presidents continue to pursue a failed strategy, throwing additional troops into an unwinnable war long after it is lost.  The best is probably the Irony of Vietnam:  the System Worked by Leslie Gelb and Richard Betts.  If you read one book about Vietnam that will teach you something about Iraq this is it.  Their recent article is also OK.

Anyway, for my money the main reason we will still have over 100,000 troops in Iraq in January 2009 is that George Bush is a human being.  I can’t imagine any human being who would ever be capable of saying to themselves “The biggest decision of my life was a catastrophic mistake.  It cost our country 3,000 lives, 25,000 wounded, $500 billion and God knows how many Iraqi lives and now it’s time to give up.”  He’ll never admit it to himself.  It is too much of a psychological burden.  Neither will Rumsfeld, Condi, Cheney, Hadley or Wolfwitz.  For their own mental well being they have to be convinced that they were right.  It’s not a coincidence that the leaders who get us into ill conceived wars aren’t the ones who get us out of them (See Johnson and Truman). 

Better to run out the clock, give the problem to someone else, watch them make of a mess of it and convince yourself that it’s their fault and that if only you had had stayed in office things would have turned out OK. 

March 26, 2007

Immigration Problem, What Immigration Problem?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I returned last night from a conference on migration in the Atlantic region sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Spanish Real Instituto Elcano and held in Seville, Spain.  It was an intimate affair including both immigration experts and a bunch of journalists and what they called "foreign policy generalists" like me.

I knew little about the subject going in, and came away far better informed.  But one takeaway was troubling:  many of the Americans along - myself included, to be frank - expected the proceedings to focus on the question of integrating Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in Europe, pivoting off the fact that the perpetrators of the Madrid train and London subway bombings were homegrown Europeans of Middle Eastern extraction.

But to hear most of the Europeans at the meeting tell it, immigrant integration on the continent is going well, with a decades-long successful track record of relatively harmonious relations between communities.  The bombings are the work of isolated extremists whose radicalism has little or nothing to do with the wider communities in which they were raised. 

When Americans would - albeit smugly - suggest that we've done better integrating migrants back home, the European retort was that our school shootings, post office shootings and the like bespeak a more widespread social discord than anything in the Union.

Both the Americans and Europeans tended toward self-congratulation tempered by finger-pointing at the other for purported problems worse than their own.  Meanwhile, representatives from the so-called "sending countries" from whence most migrants depart, tended to point out that their nationals suffer serious difficulties (though also enormous opportunities) regardless of their destination.

Clearly there's some reluctance to confront the realities of immigration, good, bad and ugly.  Our own domestic immigration debate may possibly force us to work through some of ours and confront the hard issues - racism, educational failings, the zero-sum nature of some economic equations, irrevocable job dislocations, etc.   I expected that the terrorist acts in Europe were a wake up call there, and see some evidence that that's true.  At this point, I found it hard to judge which side of the Atlantic is in a deeper state of denial.

March 25, 2007

Why Conservation Works Better
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Using a full cost benefit analysis from the start of the production process until the end David Tilman and Jason Hill demonstrate that while ethanol is nice and helpful it is really not the answer to our global warming and energy security problem.

Another complication and a nice little tidbit from the department of unintended consequences.

There is another problem with relying on a food-based biofuel, such as corn ethanol, as the poor of Mexico can attest. In recent months, soaring corn prices, sparked by demand from ethanol plants, have doubled the price of tortillas, a staple food. Tens of thousands of Mexico City's poor recently protested this "ethanol tax" in the streets.

The reality is that fuel efficiency is the key to all of this.  Don’t ask me.  Ask a bipartisan group of the country’s foremost CEOs who will tell you that some reasonable changes to efficiency standards can save us 4.3 million (Warning PDF) barrels of oil per day.  Twice as much as what they recommend we can get out of alternative fuels.

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