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November 09, 2007

Live-Blogging a State Dinner: Color Me Jalouse
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Via Steve Clemons, we learn that French President Sarkozy took a French live-blogger with him to the state dinner this week, clearly a first.  He didn't get to live-blog the dinner, though, so there's still hope for the rest of us.  ;-)  (I'd bet on Clemons to be the first, myself.)  Heck, if Clarence Thomas' book party was on C-SPAN, as someone told me this week, why not?

Checking more deeply, we learn that the blogger lives in San Francisco but appears to bestride the French blog world AND be a big Sarko guy, in a way we political-blogging pikers might only dream of.  Imagine if Steve Clemons and Markos Moulitsas were the same person and advised a top-rank presidential candidate.  Or maybe it's just hype.

Lecturing the Choir
Posted by Moira Whelan

A Message to everyone: quit luring Democrats into the weeds and start beating the crap out of Republicans who aren’t giving us answers we very much deserve.

In the space of a week, I’ve read emails, blog posts, and news articles comparing Clinton/Edwards/Obama etc on everything from what their feelings on what Peruvian imports of coffee beans and guinea pigs says about their commitment to America, to their detailed plans on training for some Iraqis but not for others, to how much cloud cover would have to be present in order for one of them not to bomb Iran.

I’m seriously sick of it. I do not dispute that it is important to get candidates on the record as much as you can about as much as you can, but this actually goes for ALL candidates, not just half of them.

Take a tour of the websites. Democrats have so much policy on their sites that forests would actually be destroyed if one attempted to print it all. Republicans on the other hand, articulate sound “policies” on how they don’t like terrorists. Democrats provide journalists with pages and pages of advisors who support the candidate. Republicans, on the other hand are considered “well staffed” with two or three crazies (and not a single responsible conservative elder statesman) advising them.

Our loyal choir shouts accusations of Doublespeak! and Flip Flop! at Democratic candidates. We parse and parse again what he or she meant to say about Pakistan or foreign leaders. We compare the HUGE differences among every plan to accomplish the same goal.

In the meantime, the future standard bearers of the Bushies go entire interviews on Sunday shows never once being asked to talk about anything other than their personal lives…let alone our country…let alone anyone else’s.

After all of this, our choir then accuses Democrats of being in the weeds and mealy-mouthed. (My favorite part is when Very Serious People insist that The Candidate needs a policy on the obscure subject they happen to work on, and then weeks later, complains that The Candidate is getting too detailed and the message is muddled. Campaign staff should feel free to kick these people in the head for this act, as well as for thinking they know anything about message.)

Regardless of how you perceive your role in this big bad universe, all of the candidates are not being forced to answer all of the questions. When something doesn’t get done, it’s everyone’s fault. To those who forced the Democrats to go on the record and into the weeds by dogging, watch-dogging, helping or advising, my thanks to you. I now have a clear idea of where every Democrat stands as well as what kind of shoes they’re wearing and the color of their socks.

Please now consider using your talents to make Republicans feel the same heat. 

Freedom’s just another word for Bloody Civil War
Posted by Moira Whelan

I wish it weren't the case, but if I were in Iraq right now, I’d probably be saying “Incoming!” or hoping I wouldn’t get cholera and that my family would survive the night. Sadly I don’t think “Freedom” would be the first thing that springs to mind.

No traces in this video of Freedom and Hope “on the march, ” but the hollow hubris sure does resonate around the world.

Iraq and the Idea of Humanitarian Intervention
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This article on Iran policy by Ezra Klein is excellent. But there’s one graf – not really related to his major point – that got me thinking:

In some ways, the absence of weapons in Iraq have allowed the Democrats an easy out on the subject. Rather than being forced to face up to the consequences of our invasion and reevaluate whether America should really be overrunning tiny countries whose armories offend us, the various candidates have been able to pin their mistake on information, rather than ideology. As the argument goes, if they knew there had been no weapons, they would have never voted for war. Obama, it should be said, opposed war without regard to the weapons. Edwards, when I questioned him on this subject, refused to answer the hypothetical. And Hillary has been quite straightforward in saying that she regretted the flawed intelligence, but saw no reason to apologize -- and thus, signal retroactive disagreement with -- her vote, given the data she was working with.

Since I never thought the presence or absence of WMDs was particularly relevant in the first place, this wasn’t, and isn’t, the way I think about the Iraq war. Former war-supporters say they would have voted against the war if they knew then what they know now. But that’s the problem – you should have voted against the war even if you didn’t know then what you know now. The implicit suggestion here, that if Iraq had WMDs then war would have been justified, is disconcerting. There is a reason why the vast majority of Middle East specialists opposed the war regardless of the WMD question, a question that always struck me as somewhat tangential to the bigger issues being debated.

In my view, there’s only one way the Iraq war could have been justified, and that would have been on the basis of humanitarian intervention. Even though I ultimately disagreed with them, I have a deep respect for the people such as Tom Friedman and Paul Berman who supported the war on those grounds. Their position on Iraq was consistent with their approach to past conflicts like Kosovo and Bosnia, and it reflected what, to me, has always been a laudable strain on the left – a visceral hatred of authoritarianism, and a moral commitment to taking decisive action when millions of people are without hope and living under the most brutal kind of repression. It is easier to have this position when genocide is taking place; but much harder to take this position to its logical conclusion that gross human right abuses – even if not amounting to genocide – necessitate intervention as well. The lesson of Iraq, of course, is that “intervention” to fight autocracy and repression should nearly always be done through non-military means, except perhaps in very rare instances (not entirely decided on what those instances are).

Idealism aside, reality matters. Even if it seemed war was the only way to end Saddam’s brutality, those acquainted with the history of Western intervention in the Middle East should have been well aware of how such efforts – invariably couched in high-minded but ultimately empty rhetorical flourishes – have consistently failed. We don’t understand the Middle East, its culture, its people, its religious persuasions, its complex, pained history of humiliation. And, as long we have little of the necessary expertise required on the highest levels, then we should refrain from trying to transform the region.

But if, in a perfect world, the Iraq war could have been done correctly, competently, and with the right humanitarian justification – without any reference to weapons of any sort – and marshaling the cooperation and resources of the whole world united in a desire to help the Iraqi people in their longstanding wish to live free lives – then who knows? But such a thing was not possible. If it only it was. This is the tragedy of it. Something here was lost. A belief, an idealism, a hope that humanitarian action could have been used to right wrongs, to marshal together a new international ethic, where the world’s nations came together to support democracy not just in word but, finally, in deed. This was the ideal. But perhaps it simply wasn’t possible. And, perhaps, we were wrong to think it ever could be.   

A region still at risk
Posted by Max Bergmann

The Financial Times has a troubling piece today about rising nationalism in Bosnia. One official commented that, “This has been the most disappointing year post-Dayton" - referring to the 1995 peace agreement that created a decentralized and power sharing government between Serbs, Croats, and Bosnian Muslims. The peace agreement has to this point been widely viewed as a success. But a possible flash-point could occur if Kosovo declares its independence.

Among the greatest risks is that Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority will declare unilateral independence next month from Serbia, prompting Bosnian Serbs to hold a referendum on independence for their half of Bosnia, known as the Serb Republic.

Such a referendum would put the Dayton agreement, and Bosnia itself, at great risk. One side effect of Turkey's application to join the EU is that it has overshadowed the more urgent cases of Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Albania. Now with Russia playing a more assertive and disruptive role internationally, there is a real danger that this region could start sliding backward.

November 08, 2007

Preemptive Pardons
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Preventative measures must be taken, friends, in case of an imminent threat of prosecution. The Democrats, like that crazy UFO-watcher Dennis, are conniving about impeaching Cheney, battle-hardened patriot and lover of freedom. What next? Those liberals are gonna try to impeach Bush for "war crimes." Crazy you say. But even if there's a 1% chance, we should be prepared. So we hereby suggest applying the doctrine of preemption to this matter. Yes, a preemptive pardon.

Smearing Obama
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Via Andrew Sullivan, I see that Obama has clarified that he is, in fact, Christian:

I just want to be very clear and this is obviously in no way an insult to the Muslim community who I respect deeply but I want people to know who I am. I am a Christian. I am a member of Trinity United Church of Christ.  I have been for 15 years. I have never practiced Islam and I think it’s important for people not to buy into these sort of fear tactics that people also often use during political games. People need to know the facts. These are the facts as I presented them and I hope that that at least does not become a reason for people not to want to vote for me."

I understand that Obama wants to set the record straight. He needs to do that. But I have a question. What's so bad about being Muslim? Why does calling someone a Muslim constitute a smear? It says a lot about conservatives that many of them wouldn't be willing to entertain the idea of a Muslim president. Because we're a fifth column, apparently, and we hate America, and all that. Well, to say that you're opposed to the idea of a Muslim president is plain-out racism, and we shouldn't indulge these attitudes or pretend they're legitimate positions to take. Anyway, that's a different issue. In any case, it apparently hasn't occurred to them that someone who has connections to the Muslim world (or whose father was Muslim, god forbid!) might actually do a better job of convincing the world 1.5 billion Muslims - and demonstrating through less antagonistic policies - that America is not diametrically opposed to Islam. But if we won the Uppercase War on Terror - also known as World War IV or, more recently, Cold War II - we'd have nothing left to fight for (or fight against), so never mind.

"We Need to Waterboard More"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

It's one thing to tacitly support torture. It's another thing to actually say outright that we should torture more, and that we should do so "publicly and proudly." I have no explanation for this. I think Ramesh Ponnuru is similarly surprised that his colleague at NR, Deroy Murdock, would say such things, but there you have it:

T]he whole point of my piece is that I AM complaining that we do NOT waterboard enough. Yes, we need to waterboard more. At the moment, waterbaording appears to have been banned by both the CIA and the Pentagon. As I say pretty directly in my piece, Bush should reinstate waterboarding publicly and proudly, and I called him deluded for thinking he would gain anything by going along with the Left and ditching waterboarding. . . .

I hope this clears up any confusion you might have had.

Confusion cleared.

Run and Gun
Posted by Max Bergmann

9781414317304 Another great find from Pat Barry of NSN... Freedom loving linebackers have arrived to save us from Islamofascistjihabistsalafism. 

Jason Elam, the kicker for the Denver Broncos, has teamed up with his pastor to write a book titled - no joke - Monday Night Jihad. Apparently the NFL is under attack. Here is an excerpt (via withleather)...

"A story that combines all the action of a first-rate spy thriller with the intrigue of professional sports. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, Riley Covington is living his dream as a professional linebacker when he comes face-to-face with a radical terrorist group on his own home turf. Drawn into the nightmare around him, Riley returns to his former life as a member of a special ops team that crosses oceans in an attempt to stop the source of the escalating attacks.

But time is running out, and it soon becomes apparent that the terrorists are on the verge of achieving their goal: to strike at the very heart of America."

Going Home
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Post misses the boat today in writing about Iraqi refugees

The drop in violence caused by the U.S. troop increase in Iraq has prompted refugees to begin returning to their homes, American and Iraqi officials said Wednesday.

Tahsin al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said 46,030 displaced Iraqis had returned last month from outside the country to their homes in the capital. He declined to comment on how the government determined those statistics.

What the Post neglects to mention and the AP reported yesterday is that after having a relatively open border policy Syria and Jordan have completely clamped down in the last few months. 

Last month's numbers coincide with Syria and Jordan tightening their borders to Iraqis fleeing their homeland.

Syria is home to at least 1.2 million Iraqi refugees, and Jordan has about 750,000. Many of those Iraqis are living in limbo, unable to work and running out of any money they were able to bring out of Iraq.

Syria began demanding visas for Iraqis last month and Jordan has increasingly turned back Iraqis.

Those who fled to the two neighboring countries before the new restrictions were put in place are now forced to leave when residency permits expire, unless they have been officially recognized by the United Nations as refugees — a process that can take months.

Another thing that the Post omits is that IDP numbers are rising dramatically even as refugee numbers have stabilized.  In other words the same number of people are being displaced.  It’s just that because the borders have closed more of them are getting stuck inside Iraq.  This again would tend to reinforce the argument that the new numbers have a lot more to do with harsher border policies than anything else.  Saying that refugees are returning is one thing.  Saying that Sunnis who were ethnically cleansed out of mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad are now returning to those neighbors seems incredibly dubious.

A Reasonable Approach on Pakistan
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

As I’ve written before and many have agreed we are stuck in total policy paralysis on Pakistan much the way we were in the final days of the Shah.  I have a proposal in my inbox this morning from Senator Obama seems like an utterly reasonable first step (I'll link to it if I find it).  A good way to start pressuring Musharraf while not undermining the counterterrorism mission or hurting the Pakistani people.

Basically, what Obama is arguing for is maintaining support for the counterterrorism mission and economic aid and development assistance.  But temporarily cutting off aid for a good chunk of the military hardware (we all know that this is aimed at India).  Once democracy is restored and the Pakistanis demonstrate that they have a clear plan for how to deal with the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Northwestern tribal areas, the aid can resume. 

One of the key elements here is that the Bush Administration has asked for $300 million in Foreign Military Financing.  Much of this goes towards tactical missile defense system (that you imagine are to be used against India), anti tank missles (Last I checked Al Qaeda’s vehicle of choice is not the tank), Naval weapons systems that are to be used for in close range (I don’t think the Pakistani military will be fighting any naval battles with Al Qaeda anytime soon).  There’s also a $380 million that will be a direct cash transfer into Pakistan’s treasury and that we have little oversight over.

This approach seems utterly reasonable to me.  Rather than blindly continue to support the Pakistanis, use this to pressure Musharraf without undermining the counterterrorism mission or development aid.

Update: Biden says something similar and also quite reasonable.