Democracy Arsenal

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December 21, 2007

That Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer
Posted by Michael Cohen

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the wackiest of them all? Krauthammer, Krauthammer, Krauthammer!

In today's installment of That Wacky, Wacky, Krauthammer, our old friend Charles judges the President's success in dealing with the three members of the "axis of evil." Predictably,  Chuck thinks the President has done a pretty good job - and in the one place where he's failed . . . well it really isn't his fault.  Last week Krauthammer had a brief flirtation with sanity, which almost caused me to write a blog post titled "That (Not So) Wacky, Wacky, Krauthammer. But luckily the dalliance was brief because this week CK is back to his exaggerating, misleading and lying ways.

In today's piece, there is a lion's share of dubious arguments, but one truly does merit great consideration. In judging Bush's record on North Korea a draw, Krauthammer argues:

We did get Kim Jong Il to disable his plutonium-producing program.  . . Disabling the plutonium reactor is an achievement, and we do gain badly needed intelligence by simply being there on the ground to inspect. There is, however, no hope of North Korea giving up its existing nuclear weapons stockpile and little assurance that we will find, let alone disable, any clandestine programs. But lacking sticks, we take what we can.

This is just a bald-faced misrepresentation of the truth it practically takes your breath away.  What Krauthammer fails to mention here is that North Korea's plutonium-producing program lay dormant, under lock and key and IAEA inspection, during the Clinton Administration, only to be re-started under the Bush Administration.

In 2001, the White House pulled out of the Clinton negotiated Agreed Framework, which had stopped North Korea's plutonium processing program and ended all negotiations with the North Korean regime. Then in 2002, after confronting the North Korean with evidence that they were enriching uranium, Bush took no action when North Korea kicked out international inspectors unlocked its fuel rods and began reprocessing them. This stood in stark contrast to the Clinton Administration, which not only threatened military action when North Korea too similar action in 1994, but opened a back-channel diplomatic effort that led to the Agreed Framework.

Indeed, the North Korean bomb that was exploded in 2006 was likely a plutonium bomb and this most likely produced during the Bush Administration - and most scandalously after Bush labeled the nation a member of the Axis of Evil. To give Bush credit today for stopping a plutonium producing program that he allowed to begin and which produced a fully functional nuclear weapon is not only absurd, it's disingenuous to the nth degree. In a career full of exaggerations and misstatements, this has to be in the Krauthammer top ten hall of shame. (See Fred Kaplan's piece here for more detail on the Bush Administration's failure in North Korea)

Continue reading "That Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer" »

Foreign Policy IS Domestic Policy Now
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

The debate Ilan referenced yesterday among Ezra, Dana Goldstein and others about whether the elections will and/or should turn on foreign or domestic policy kinda misses the point.  National security policy -- especially Iraq, but also much that comes wrapped up in terrorism, homeland security and energy -- are now domestic political issues.  Viz. the Democrats' primary fight over Iraq, and why it has turned on past votes and allegations about attitude, instead of details of policy positions (ok, candidates, where would you redeploy the Iraq troops and why?  2 minutes each.)

The candidates who win the primaries -- and definitely the one who wins the general -- will be the ones who come up with narratives about what the heck happened, and what is going to happen next, that the broad middle of the public finds acceptable and in some way reassuring.

The really interesting question for us wonky types is as much how we can fill any one of those narratives with specific policies as what it turns out to be.

I'm just beginning to hash this through in my own mind -- and am off to debate it with Eli Lake on, so maybe we can start to see whether it holds for Republicans too.  But the main point is that you can't actually pivot away from national security completely anymore -- it's in the back of voters' minds all the time -- and it's a mistake to try.

December 20, 2007

Who cares about Iraq?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I was seething after reading Dana Goldstein's piece about how Iraq won't matter in this election cycle.  Fortunately, I found Ezra Klein's post and it made me feel much better.  I will have much more to say on this over the holidays, but I think it would be the height of stupidity for Dems to deemphasize foreign policy and national security in the next election.   If the economy keeps going the way it is, then it might be more important than Iraq by November 2008.  But contrary to our desperate attempts to explain elections as being about one thing, they never are.   Elections are about many things and to think that somehow Iraq won't play an important role is absurd.  It still polls as most important or second most important everywhere I've seen, and Dems have such an advantage on Iraq that it would be folly not to make it a central part of the campaign.

Et Tu Kevin?
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Kevin Drum writes about an email he got from a VSP in good standing.

One thing you might write about — if only because nobody else has, I think — is how that whole dust-up over the O'Hanlon/Pollack op-ed looks in retrospect. I mean, clearly they were on to something — the relative quieting down of stuff that has taken place in Iraq over the last several months, etc. Completely debatable whether that was due to the surge, or is sustainable, or is deeply significant, etc. etc., but it's not like the caricature of them put forth in the blogosphere at the time — as paid lobbyists for the Bushies, reporting back what they were told to after checking out a Potemkin village — holds up, does it?

Kevin's reaction?

But basically they reported two things: (a) violence is down and security has improved, and (b) the economy, police force, political leadership, and infrastructure are still disaster areas. And actually, um, that pretty much seems to be true, doesn't it?

I disagree and I think Kevin should probably take a closer look at the debate that took place at the time.  I went through an old post of mine to see what I and others had written and here's what I found.  I was clearly wrong about the reduction in violence (And I'm happy I was), but that was actually my fourth and last point.   The main critiques still stand and Kevin and this emailer's analysis mischaracterize the argument. 

The single biggest complaint in the blogosphere was that in their op-ed Pollack and O'Hanlon represented themselves as "two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.”  In other words as war critics.  This is what made the piece such big news.  It's true that they complained about certain strategies and tactics but ultimately they were strong supporters of the war and this representation was a stretch at best.  But that's not how it got covered and the Bush Administration picked it up and ran with it.  A lot of that had to do with the fact that Pollack and O'Hanlon continued to represent themselves as critics.  You know who else falls into that category?  John McCain. 

Second, Kevin says that Pollack and O'Hanlon were basically saying that violence is getting better but the politics are still pretty bad.  But this is all a matter of emphasis.  In their op-ed in the Times they spent the entire article talking about security improvements.  Only in the last couple of paragraphs did they finally acknowledge that the politics weren't going anywhere.  If the assessment was really as Kevin described it, they should have spent half the article on the lack of progress on politics.  Kevin seems to be making this assessment based on their report a month later, in which they offer a more balanced approach, after they'd gotten blasted.  But nobody read the report.  Everyone read the op-ed.

Finally, I wrote this about the Pollack-O'Hanlon op-ed on August 1 and I have yet to see anything that would cause me to change my mind. 

Meanwhile, much of the progress on security has come on the backs of questionable alliances with forces who aren’t necessarily friendly to the United States.  The enemy of my enemy is my friend has historically proven to be a dubious proposition.  Working with Sunni tribes that have previously attacked American troops doesn’t seem like too much progress.  Especially since it has caused Prime Minister Maliki to threaten to further arm Shi’a militias.  Why?  Because Maliki understands that while Sunni tribes might be useful in fighting Al Qaeda, what we are essentially doing is arming the Sunnis against the Shi’a for the inevitable outbreak of more sectarian hostilities.  This whole concept was tried in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  Didn’t work out too well….

These were the main critiques, at least as far as I saw it and I still think they all stand.


Who is Sending Militants to Iraq? Hint, Initials are SA
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

Late last year, the Counter Terrorism Center at West Point received over 600 records from the Special Operations Command. This information about foreign fighters entering Iraq via Syria is known as the Sinjar Records, and was captured in the far North of Iraq near Syria. West Point authors Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter have taken the first step in analyzing the data dump from this cache in the report "Al Qaida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq"

The biographical information is jaw dropping in its banality: demographic clues like militant age ranging from 16-54, home phone numbers, job listings from doctors, engineers, students and teachers to massage therapist (!) hometowns in Morocco, Libya and Saudi Arabia. To truly understand the meaning of asymmetric threat is how many filled in the description of "role" as "suicide bomber".

This initial analysis reveals that Saudis made up the largest contingent of foreign fighters entering Iraq. (um, thanks again you guys!) Libyans were second (first if measured in percapita terms) and Syrians a distant third. In fact, after reading the report, Syria seems more like an opportunistic and thuggish travel agent than anything else.

The report highlights some key distinctions that organizations like TRACC have long pointed out, that criminal networks have different motivations, some are led by greed and others by blind ideology. Further, that detecting, monitoring, and probing the nexus of transnational criminal and terrorist operations can provide opportunities to disrupt global criminal activities and pre-empt terrorist operations. So we might be able to pick off the greedy ones and get some good information from them to boot; that the religious fundamentalists linked with Al Qaida can't deliver the practical needs of disgruntled citizens (like Iraqis) and one possible strategic advantage for us is to step in and fill the vacuum in basic services and human security when disllusionment sets in; that dealing with supply chain management is an important part of thwarting violent jihadists--because countries like Libya gladly ship their heavy breathing militants to Iraq just to get rid of them at home. So, we should be working with those countries and cooperating to the extent possible to help them address internal violence and promote rule of law (note: preventive and cooperative aid, including fresh and different kinds of security assistance is a huge albeit unheralded trend in policy circles in the DC defense wonk world..) The other striking result was the prevalence of students, and groups of students from the same hometowns...meaning that they are likely recruited together.

Per my earlier post on the defense budget. To me, this report is just another sign that we need to put everything on the budget table and do a thorough vetting of ends and means for our national security. (The House Armed Services Committee is requiring the armed services to do a roles and missions review this coming year, which is a good start, but don't expect revolutionary change to come from within the Pentagon) Civilians, are you listening? Anybody?....Anybody?

December 19, 2007

The Des Moines Register...for Obama
Posted by Moira Whelan

An interesting piece today by Rekha Basu in the Des Moines Register talking about why she likes Obama. It demonstrates to me that even when these newspaper endorsements go out, those of us watching from outside the beltway should be careful to take that as a wholesale endorsement of the whole state.

Basu directly addresses the "experience" question that seemed to be the deciding factor for the editors of the Register.


I've gotten three emails from other real Iowan's telling me to read this post by soothsayer David Yepsen. Obama gave another speech yesterday in Iowa, and this one seems to be having a bit of a ripple effect...and it's on foreign policy! Obama took the stage with former Clinton Administration officials Tony Lake and Susan Rice. Folks in the room said they thought Obama struck the perfect note between the "experience" and "judgement" questions--and got them abuzzing enough to send out an email to that effect, so it must be a bit different than what they usually hear from candidates.

Yepsen has some excerpts/comments about the speech:

“When I’m the Democratic nominee, I will offer a clear choice,” he said. “My opponent won’t be able to say that I ever supported the war in Iraq, or that I don’t support a clear timetable to bring our troops home. He won’t be able to say that I voted to use our troops in Iraq to counter Iran, or that I support the Bush-Cheney diplomacy of not talking to leaders we don’t like. And he won’t be able to say that I wavered on something as fundamental as whether or not it is ok for America to torture –because it is never ok.”

Obama added:  “This isn’t about drawing contrasts – it’s about a change in our foreign policy that you can believe in. So when you consider who to caucus for, I ask you to consider my judgment and vision for new American leadership.”

It must be working.  Obama’s narrow lead widened to 9 points in the last poll taken in Iowa, a fact that has both Clinton and Edwards feeling a little jittery.

Now, I'm not suggesting that all smart people in Iowa support Obama, but I am suggesting that the smart people I know in Iowa were pretty impressed with this event in particular. These are people who've listened to all the candidates, and heard from Obama a few times. At this point, I take notice when Iowans are impressed, as I'm sure at this point, nothing surprises them. Obama wasn't saying anything different, but the mood, the vibe and the presence of Lake and Rice in the room changed the mood, clearly. I think they'd notice if he looked anything less than presidential.

Back to our previously scheduled blog post after the jump...

Continue reading "The Des Moines Register...for Obama" »

Geopolitics Strikes Back
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

So Putin is Time's Man of the Year.

What does he symbolize?

1.  The ability to buck both the American vision of aggressive democratization, and the EU vision of corporatist democratization -- indeed, not just to buck but to threaten both in the way they operate at home and as exportable visions.

2.  The promise that autocracy, or "command democracy," is not just tenable but effective in the 21st century.

3.  The extent to which petro-products still matter.

4.  The extent to which the US does not master the universe (see point 1-3 above), however much the only superpower we may be.

5.  The colossal failure of US public diplomacy, and disastrous devaluing of the idea of America, if this guy is the foil the world raises up -- and it works for him.

All worth considering over your eggnog.

December 18, 2007

Iowa is Smarter Than You Think It Is.
Posted by Moira Whelan

If you haven’t had time to keep up with the horserace(s) in Iowa and need a quick catch up, make sure to listen to Taylor Marsh’s latest podcast on her Foreign Policy Tuesday broadcast.

NSN works with Taylor every week to link up our folks with her witty and informative show.

This week, it was Damon Terrill—a real live Iowan!!! In addition to being an outstanding professional with tremendous international background, Damon is a native Iowan and worked with other fantastic folks to run our candidate forum out in Iowa. NSN was proud to link up with the Iowa City Foreign Relations Committee to host 5 of the Democratic candidates (note: all candidates of both persuasions were invited) in candidate Q&As on security and foreign policy issues. We’re pretty proud we were able to work with people to put candidates on the hot seat, and you can hear more about it, and more about Damon’s take on the world in Taylor’s broadcast.

As a fellow midwesterner, I gotta say, I'm proud of these Iowans. We folk from the fly over states are often accused of being dumb and average. That's why Iowa is the home of retail politics, right? Shaking babies and kissing hands is what really counts, it's not so much what you think, right? HA! Well, if Iowans are "Joe Beer Can"  than Joe  deeply understands global challenges and won't settle for fluffy answers.  To me, the most rewarding part of the '08 process is that questions about Iraq, Iran, non-proliferation, America's global image, and the rest, aren't coming from the VSPs...they're coming from voters.  To all you East Coast Ivy Leaguers: ...yeah...hicks made that happen, after all your years of talking about it, midwesterners just did it. Nothing changes I suppose.

So I digress, but don’t miss Taylor's discussion with Hillary Mann Leverett on Iran last week, and make sure to tune in to Taylor Marsh…you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who can ask better questions than she on the issues DA readers love to chat about. Taylor's listeners have also heard from Rosa Brooks, Brian Katulis, and of course Rand Beers on previous shows (and they probably didn't know they were being interviewed by a <gasp> midwesterner ...but they love her just the same!).   

PS, I've been pretty bad about cross-posting Taylor's shows, but I promise, it's my New Year's Resolution!

A Very Bad Bill
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Via Andy Grotto we find out that Senator Ensign (R-NV) is trying to introduce a bill  this week that would create a commission to look into the Iran NIE. 

The draft legislation is reportedly a cut-and-paste job from the the so-called Rumsfeld Commission that the Congress established in 1998 to undermine a 1995 NIE on ballistic missiles — with one, telling alteration.

Predictably, the Rumsfeld Commission condemned the ’95 NIE. Conservatives then used the Rumsfeld Commission’s findings to bolster the case for withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and pouring resources into development of a national missile defense.

The second this bill is introduced, or if it passes, it automatically undermines the credibility of the NIE and the intelligence community.  Inevitably this commission probably won't end up reporting until after 2008 and in the meantime the consistent conservative talking point will be "well, the intelligence isn't solid and we don't know if Iran is developing nuclear weapons because we have a bipartisan commission working on that."  Even a floor debate on the commission would automatically generate stories questioning the intelligence.

The reality is that we really don't need a public commission to restudy the conclusions of the Intelligence Community.  As I've written before, that's been tried by conservatives in the past and consistently these Team B exercises get it wrong and result in bad policy decisions (See Team B, Rumsfeld Commission and Office of Special Plans). 

This bill is a blatant attempt to undermine the intelligence community.  It needs to go away.

Thought Experiment - A Muslim Europe?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I was actually joking. “These Muslims don’t have any respect for British mainstream culture. They walk around drenched in black, covering their faces, wearing their niqabs. If they’re going to come here, they should at least have respect for our values!” A statement like this would have inspired confusion among those who know me, since I am Muslim, but not British. My conversation partner, who I had met just minutes before, apparently thought I was serious and began nodding vigorously. It perhaps helped (or didn’t help) that he was somewhat intoxicated, this being a late-night party with a surprising presence of Tories, some of whom might otherwise be susceptible to the neo-fascist lure of the British National Party. "The Muslims," he insisted to me, were a big problem, and he was angry about it. I felt like I was on a National Review cruise. I decided to play along because I wanted to hear more, not to mention that it can occasionally be amusing to indulge anti-Muslim hysterics. “Yes, the Muslims are invading Europe, aren’t they?” I evinced fake outrage.

Of course, the Muslims aren’t invading Europe, but that doesn’t mean the “Muslim problem” is an imaginary one, a phantom conjured up by right-wing mobs. Because in Britain (where this party took place), unlike in the United States, there really is a clash of cultures. Something is at stake. But if there is a problem, perhaps there is also a solution. “So what should we do about this?” I wondered out loud, probing my newfound friend further. He had a confused look on his face as he pondered the possibilities. He hesitated for a moment, and then smiled “We can outlaw being Muslim.” I countered that this probably wouldn’t be very “practical.”

But what to do? Even if he gave the wrong answer, it was still the right question. I was talking to a good friend of mine the other week, and the conversation veered into the thorny question of demographics. Even if immigration is halted 100% (which is impossible), the number of European Muslims will still continue to grow more rapidly than the rest of the population. Muslim birth rates are significantly higher than non-Muslim ones, the latter being quite low (this, after all, is Europe). So where Muslims are something like 8% of the population in France (and nearly 25% in cities like Berlin), these percentages will rise. What happens in 50 or 100 years (math is not my strong suit) when Muslims are coming close to, say, 40% of the population in some countries and are the clear majority in Europe’s largest cities?

My friend offered that this could very well mean the end of Europe as we know it, not because Muslims would try to impose shariah on their neighbors, but rather because the fear of Muslim ascendancy would trigger a return to full-blown fascism. And this would mean the end of the liberal idea. Civil liberties would come under sustained attack, the idea of ethnic cleansing would become fashionable in some quarters, and there would, again, be violence in the streets. This isn’t too farfetched. It probably would be comparable to the ideological polarization that Europe experienced in the late 60s and early 70s, when the socialist revolution threatened to overwhelm Western democracies, only this time the right – not the left – would be ascendant. But, still, I had to disagree with my friend. Is it possible that liberalism is that weak? In Europe, it often has been. It is of course hard to recall it now. Let’s not forget, though, that Srebrenica happened in the heart of Europe. It can happen again.

Continue reading "Thought Experiment - A Muslim Europe?" »

A Progressive Vision for Homeland Security
Posted by Michael Cohen

In this month's Democracy Journal Matt Dallek has an excellent piece laying out a new vision for American homeland security. Its modeled, in part, after the Office of Civilian Defense during World War II.

Among its myriad of failures the Bush Administration's disinclination to ask the American people to sacrifice in the war on terror stands as one if its more egregious offenses. As Dallek points out:

The Administration merely has urged civilians to "support" the U.S. war in Iraq ("so we do not have to face them here," though what that support constitutes, other than voting Republican, is never explained), shop at local malls, and look out for suspicious packages while taking subways and other public transportation. In other words, in almost every way, American civilians should pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is going on and that sacrifice isn’t required.

Dallek's solution is to engage Americans in not only responding to a terrorist attack, but also broadening how Americans define and perceive threats to the 'homeland'" -- a move that seems long overdue.

On a practical level that could mean using homeland security volunteers to "lead energy conservation efforts as well "making neighborhoods safer from street crime through neighborhood watches; leading environmental protection campaigns; urging Americans to get screened for cancer and get flu shots, which could save thousands of lives each year; and raising awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, among other threats."

Anyway, it's the kind of idea that progressives need to be thinking about, especially if things go well next Election Day. Check out the piece.


How High is Up? The Defense Budget gets even crazier
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

For those of you concerned about the state of US security--levees that don't collapse, for example, or bridges that don't fall into the Mississippi river, sit down before you see these numbers.

Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy. The bill also authorizes $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This funding is NOT counted as part of the $506.9 billion.

Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation has an itemized description of what's in the budget.

The amount of Cold War lard is truly astonishing, especially given the fact that the military itself is hollering from the hilltops that it can't be responsible for all of our national security needs and that today's problems just don't have military (read "Cold War weapons systems") answers.

Keep in mind, today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the "Reagan Era" buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average

In fact, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the annual defense budget - not including the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - has gone up 34%. Including war costs, defense spending has gone up 86% since 2001.

Even the venerable Council on Foreign Relations has thrown down the glove on defense spending. Check out this very nice piece by Richard Betts in this month's Foreign Affairs. Oh, and even the director of the Congressional Budget Office is commenting on defense spending. (so much for stodgy bureaucracy, this guy has his own blog!!!) He has a good comment up, but I've had enough business school classes to know that all of this means that we are in deep financial trouble when it comes to security finances-- and just digging ourselves deeper.

December 17, 2007

Rice on a Civilian Reconstruction Corps
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Perhaps spurned (or shamed) by several recent speeches by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the need for greater investment in civilian instruments of statecraft, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice co-authored a piece with Senator Richard Lugar in today's Washington Post arguing in favor of the Civilian Reserve Corps that President Bush mentioned in the last state of the union.

The proposed corps would consist of three elements:

"First, it calls for a 250-person active-duty corps of Foreign Service professionals from State and USAID, trained with the military and ready to deploy to conflict zones.

Second, it would establish a roster of 2,000 other federal volunteers with language and technical skills to stand by as a ready reserve.

Third, it would create the Civilian Reserve Corps the president called for, a group of 500 Americans from around the country with expertise in such areas as engineering, medicine and policing, to be tapped for specific deployments. The corps could be deployed globally wherever America's interests lie, to help nations emerging from civil war, for instance, or to mitigate circumstances in failed states that endanger our security."

This idea has a long lineage and broad bipartisan support. And while I applaud both the idea and the argument, I am very concerned with two elements of the Rice/Lugar argument.

First, they argue that the military has performed reconstruction missions "admirably, but it is a task that others can and should take up. The primary responsibility for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction should not fall to our fighting men and women but to volunteer, civilian experts." This is a noble sentiment, but the reality is that an organization with a grand total of 2,750 people (less than a single Army brigade) will not nearly meet the demand. Moreover, the military will have to protect these people in non-permissive or even semi-permissive environments.

Second, Lugar and Rice argue that "It would be penny-wise but pound-foolish to continue to overburden our military with reconstruction duties." Again, this is a noble sentiment and I entirely agree. But we need to be careful how we talk about these types of missions. The military in general does not like these missions at all, and if given the opportunity would gladly get out of the reconstruction business entirely. Civilians will be able to share some of the burden by creating this small, but significant, civilian cadre. But this should not and can not replace the active involvement of the military in these critical missions. Policymakers in this and the next administration need to ensure that the military is organized, trained, and equipped for what many (including Rice and Bush) used to dismissively refer to as "nation building."

Krugman vs. Obama II
Posted by Michael Cohen

Shadi has flagged Paul Krugman's piece in the NYT today, but I think his excellent critique only scratches the surface of all that is wrong with Krugman's argument. 

I don't know if in the past Barack Obama drove over Paul Krugman's dog or maybe stole his girlfriend, but the man really doesn't seem to like the Democratic Senator from Illinois. Today, we kind of get to the heart of Krugman's anger: he thinks Obama isn't divisive enough.

Krugman seems to believe that Democrats need to run a populist campaign that takes on big business and the influence of corporate America. This is a familiar refrain from liberal Democrats; if only Democrats were true to their Rooseveltian legacy and played up their populist roots they would win every election.

It's a nice tale; it's also one that has virtually no historical precedent and is almost certainly wrong. With a few notable exceptions, Truman in 1948, possibly FDR in 36 and Wilson in 1912, populism, or us vs. them, rhetoric, simply doesn't work in American presidential politics.

Krugman argues the John Edwards view that "America needs another FDR, a polarizing figure" who will take on the "economic royalists." Krugman claims that recent focus groups run after the last Democratic debate show that John Edwards was the big winner - hence populism works! Not only is that, how shall we say, a small sample size on which to base an argument, but if Edwards strategy was so effective then why is he still running third in Iowa?  Krugman blames the media for blunting populist appeals and in particular, the Des Moines Register, which recently attacked Edwards "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric." One would think that for a populist, Krugman would give Iowa voters a little more credit. Voters may respond viscerally to populist appeals, but in the end they usually choose the guy with the more positive message (just ask George Wallace and Ross Perot).

But even worse, Krugman's "FDR argument" ignores the fact that in FDR's first race for the White House he ran a very tepidly populist campaign (even in the throes of the country's worst economic downturn). Yes, FDR attacked big business, but not to the extent that Edwards is today and frankly most of his venom was directed at government inaction. "Bold experimentation" was the catchword of the campaign not us vs. them - that would come in 1936 and even then was far more tame then the radical populism of Huey Long and others. For anyone who thinks Roosevelt ran on liberalism and big government in 1932 go back and read his campaign speeches where he attacks Hoover for failing to cut government spending.

Continue reading "Krugman vs. Obama II" »

Krugman vs. Obama
Posted by Shadi Hamid

There's, as many of you know, a bit of a back story here, but Paul Krugman's latest column, I think, gets Obama wrong:

At one extreme, Barack Obama insists that the problem with America is that our politics are so “bitter and partisan,” and insists that he can get things done by ushering in a “different kind of politics.”

There is a tension in Obama's rhetoric which can sometimes be confusing. On one hand, he says that our politics are too "bitter and partisan," but, on the other hand, he wants to transform the American political scene as we know it. The latter transformation will probably, eventually, inspire fierce opposition and even hatred in some quarters (political transformations, as rare as they are, are dangerous to those with vested interests in the existing system. This is why they're rare). So, in a sense, if Obama's "transformation" actually comes to be, it will, by definition, have to be somewhat partisan, if not in intent then in effect. Perhaps this is Obama's greatest strength - the ability to propose and promote an undeniably progressive agenda without freaking people out, a trait that Ronald Reagan had on the opposite side of the aisle.

Still, though, it would be interesting to see what a "post-political" politics would look like, as Obama envisions it, because I don't think anyone's entirely sure what it entails in practice (but maybe that's the point: Obama can be something to everyone. There's a reason, after all, why Andrew Sullivan likes him so much even though they disagree on a whole host of specific policies). In contrast to Krugman's suggestion, I don't think post-politics would be similar at all to triangulation or 1990s-style centrism. There is something messianic about Obama's vision, and messianism and centrism do not usually go hand in hand. At the same time, it's pretty clear that Obama isn't the kind of guy who wants to - or has any interest - in destroying the Right. He seems more interested in developing a national consensus in favor of liberal policies, without defining them as explicitly liberal ventures. Again, this would necessitate a difficult balancing act. 

Huckabee and Pakistan
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This is also quite reasonable

Iraq may be the hot war, but Pakistan is where the cold, calculating planning is going on. If al Qaeda strikes us tomorrow, the attack will be postmarked "Pakistan."

Full of Contradictions
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Mike Huckabee's Foreign Affairs essay is just like everything else I hear from him.  One second he is totally reasonable.  The next second I think he's completely clueless.

Totally reasonable:

American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. My administration will recognize that the United States' main fight today does not pit us against the world but pits the world against the terrorists. At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

Totally nutty:

At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.

I have a question for Governor Huckabee.  How do you plan to get rid of the "bunker mentality" if you won't even agree to the Law of the Sea Treaty? The Law of the Sea is as harmless as it gets.  What will you do about a global warming treaty or strengthening the NPT?  And how are you going to engage allies and friends if you won't pay attention to their priorities or be willing to sign any international treaties?  I don't get it.  This makes no sense.


Pakistan: Another Embarassing Terror Suspect Escape on President Bush's Watch
Posted by Brian Katulis

Here in Islamabad, Pakistani authorities are scrambling to explain how Rashid Rauf (pictured here) the alleged mastermind of a August 2006 plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights from Britain slipped away from Pakistani police this weekend.   

Rashid_raufThough the news media is abuzz about yet another videotape from Ayman Zawahiri (Al Qaeda's second in command probably somewhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan), people should carefully watch what happens in the case of Rashid Rauf' in the coming days and weeks.

The circumstances surrounding Rauf's escape are still murky.  Earlier last week, BBC reported that a Pakistani judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to try Rauf, reinforcing skepticism about how real the plot was.  The New York Times reports this morning that Rauf escaped after an extradition hearing on Saturday here.  One Pakistani newspaper reports today more unusual details and circumstances - that the two policemen responsible for Rauf were transporting him back to jail in a private taxi cab and had allowed Rauf to perform prayers at a mosque, where he escaped using the backdoor wearing his handcuffs.

Whatever the circumstances, this incident could be deeply embarrassing for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who imposed emergency rule in early November using the threat of insecurity and terrorism as the main rationale (and then throwing thousands of mostly secular lawyers, judges, and human rights activists in jail).  The same day emergency rule was lifted a key terror suspect flees.

More broadly, Rauf's escape raises questions about the growing numbers of terror suspects and terrorists that have given authorities the slip over the past four years.  The record is abysmal, and more people should be asking questions.  Few other recent escapes that people should ask about include:

1.  July 2005 Bagram prison escape.   Four detainees escaped from the secretive and supposedly highly secure U.S. detention facility in Bagram.  Omar Al-Faruq, one of the escapees, was reportedly killed in Basra, Iraq in September 2006.  Another escapee, Abu Yahya al-Libi, remains on the loose and returned to his role as a chief Al Qaeda propagandist.  Profiled recently by the Washington Post as one of the key leaders in a revived Al Qaeda network, al-Libi brags about the escape in this video.

2.  Several escapes and releases in Yemen.   In 2003, 10 Al Qaeda suspects escaped from a prison in Aden, Yemen.  Another 23 escaped from a prison in the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in February 2006.  Earlier this year, the United States used the suspension of development assistance to pressure Yemen to detain once again Jamal al-Badawi, one of the 2006 escapees who turned himself in October of this year and reportedly was placed under some form of house arrest by Yemeni authorities.

3.  Zarqawi's release in 2004.  Iraqi authorities reportedly detained and released the former leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi more than a year before his death in June 2006, giving him time to foment sectarian strife and lead a movement that murdered thousands of Iraqis. 

Nearly everyone knows about how top Al Qaeda leaders were allowed to slip away at the end of 2001 in Tora Bora, and Democrats in Congress understandably complain about the thousands of days that Osama Bin Laden has been on the loose. 

But where is the Congressional oversight hearings on these escapes by terror detainees and suspects?   Where is the investigative journalism into these failures?  And will the applicants to become the next U.S. commander-in-chief move beyond vague campaign rhetoric and offer more concrete plans to address these failures and the continued challenges posed by terror networks? 

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