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January 31, 2008

Divorced From Reality Pt 2
Posted by Michael Cohen

A few days ago I wrote a post that argued George W Bush is completely divorced from reality. Today, in an interview with Morton Kondracke in Roll Call (via Dan Froomkin in the Washington Post) he confirms it. Here is an excerpt:

When I asked him whether he thought America was a stronger country than when he arrived in office -- in view of a weakened dollar, increased debt, rising oil prices and dependency and international polls showing a steep decline in America's reputation -- he batted the question back.

"'We're stronger because our military is stronger . . . and becoming more modern. We're stronger because we recognize the threats of the 21st century and are dealing with them.

"'We're stronger because we've added jobs. More Americans are working. . . . Real wages are up. . . . We're still a flexible economy with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. He have more debt, but we've also got more assets. We're stronger because America is in the lead, using its influence.'"

What is most interesting about all these arguments is that with slight exception they are basically all untrue. Let's go to the breakdown.

"We're stronger because our military is stronger." It's really hard to believe how after 5 years of war anyone could argue this point with a straight face, but that's our president! In case you were wondering, according to CAP, "The active Army today is recklessly stretched far beyond recommended use, ultimately hurting our troops and dangerously depriving our country of the strategic reserves necessary to respond to true crises."

But more to the point, the notion that our military is what makes America strong is so, how shall we say, 20th century thinking and yet in the next line, Bush says our military is becoming more modern. I suppose reminding our President that our recent security success in Iraq came from old-fashioned counter insurgency tactics as opposed to the use of modern information technology would sort of go in one ear and out the other.

"We're stronger because we recognize the threats of the 21st century and are dealing with them." Only in George Bush's mind is this true. Not only is Al Qaeda stronger than it was before 9/11 we have a report today that underlines just how unprepared we are as a nation for 21st century threats:

The U.S. military isn't ready for a catastrophic attack on the country, and National Guard forces don't have the equipment or training they need for the job, a commission charged by Congress reported Thursday. Even fewer Army National Guard units are combat-ready today than were nearly a year ago when the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves determined that 88 percent of the units were not prepared for the fight, the panel said in its report.

"We're stronger because we've added jobs." This has a kernel of truthiness, but is fundamentally misleading. Yes, we've added jobs, but at the lowest level in four years:

The increase in unemployment to 5.0 percent in December, paired with a meager 18,000 jobs added to the economy, make 2007 the weakest year for job growth in the past 4 years.

"Real wages are up." This is just a good old lie. Real wages actually declined in 2007. According to the Economic Policy Institute:

Both hourly and weekly earnings fell in 2007, a sharp reversal from the gains in 2006. After growing by about 2% in 2006, both hourly and weekly earnings fell, after adjusting for inflation, by about 1% last year.

"H[W]e have more debt, but we've also got more assets." Your guess is as good as mine as to what this means.

"We're stronger because America is in the lead, using its influence." Right, because when the President went to the Gulf and reiterated what a huge threat Iran was to the region everyone got on board . . . oh wait a minute.

Maybe the President was referring to his trip to Saudi Arabia where he convinced the Saudis to increase oil production . . . oh I guess that won't work either.

Do you think the President really believes that we are in the lead, positively influencing other nations? Here's the scary part; I really think he does. I often joke about the President's detachment from reality, but honestly I'm not sure it's a joking matter. I seriously wonder whether this man is even remotely aware of what's happening around him. If you based his mental acuity solely on his public statements in recent days you really have to wonder. Isn't this what the 25th Amendment was drafted for?

Roger Cohen Missing the Point About Shifting Power
Posted by David Shorr

Not only does Roger Cohen's NYT column today set up a huge straw man of believers in American decline, he off-handedly points toward the weak links in his own presumptuous optimism.

Those of us who are concerned about the challenges of a power-shifting world rarely predict that the bottom will drop out of American material power. If all we really cared about was power for power's sake, we'd be a lot less worried. But power itself isn't the issue. The real question is: does superpower-dom get you the kind of world you want?

I don't see how anyone could deny that being a superpower ain't what it used to be. In fact, Cohen doesn't deny it. In the same paragraph where he says what formidable challenges Europe and China face, and they do, he admits that, "America must work closely with them, but inspiration and leadership are unlikely to come from them."

In effect, Roger Cohen is conceding the very point on which we fretters (is that a word?) are focused -- the necessity of working with the other powers on nuclear nonproliferation, global warming, economic development, genocide, etc, etc. In order to actually tackle world problems, the different powers have to cooperate. So remind me why we should be so carefree about our power? Rather than accept Cohen's straw man, you should check out Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen's excellent new book, The Next American Century (disclosure, a recent project of my Stanley Foundation colleague Michael Schiffer worked in tandem with Nina and Mona).

The reason we're worried, well me any way, is that we have a lot of lost time to make up for. I actually agree with Cohen that America's capacity for political self-renewal will be critically important. I'm hopeful that this will be a moment of renewal; it's badly needed. But it's something that will require concerted effort from us, not complacent self-satisfaction.

Chain of Command
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

In a totally expected development, Tom Ricks reports that troop levels in Iraq will likely be higher come election day 2008 than they were on election 2006.  This again, despite objections by senior military officials and the Defense Department. 

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and top military officers have said they would like to see continued withdrawals throughout this year, but Bush has indicated he is likely to be guided by Petraeus's views.

Max and Pat have both written about this before, but it's worth hammering this point home.   This management situation is completely ridiculous.  Think of the U.S. government as a corporation (Just for the purposes of this exercise.  Nothing to do with privatization).  Bush is the equivalent of the Chairman of the Board and Gates and Admiral Mullen play the roles of CEO of the company (DOD and the military).  Gates's and Mullen's job, along with the Joint Chiefs, is to think big picture and look at the overall health of the company and where it needs to be putting its assets.  Petraeus is the VP of one department.  An important department such as marketing.  But still just one department.  Yet here we have the Chairman of the Board essentially reaching down, ignoring all other concerns such production (Afghanistan), research and development (Pakistan), finance (China) and saying that the only thing that matters is marketing.  It's just bad management.

January 30, 2008

The Dream Has Died
Posted by Michael Cohen

After seeing Mitt Romney's lackluster performance in today's GOP debate I'm ready to throw in the towel - there isn't going to be a brokered convention on the GOP side after all. It would really take something to see McCain lose the nomination now.

If I may paraphrase Michael Corleone, "Mitt, you broke my heart!"

But don't fret progressives, I may be the only person in America who believes this, but John McCain is eminently beatable in November. Not only is he wrong on the Iraq war (and wrong in a way that he can't get away from), but his top economic adviser is Jack Kemp (major red flag), he doesn't seem to understand how fiscal policy works (minor red flag), he can't deliver a speech to save his life (medium red flag) and most of all, he is going to be 72 years old (a red flag so big you could fly it in Tiananmen Square).

The age thing is Mccain's Achilles Heel. I don't want anyone to accuse me of being an ageist, but President is a tough job and color me unconvinced that a 72 year man can handle it. (As a point of reference my father is 75 and he can't drive at night!) For the record, McCain hasn't exactly had an easy 72 years.

Don't believe me, look what the American people have to say. In a February 2007 poll, people were asked which attributes would be a reason not to vote for someone for President.

Homosexual was 43%. Guess what "72-year old man was" - 42%. That's right: the same number of Americans who say they would not vote for a homosexual would not for an old man. Now if I told you that John McCain was a homosexual you would say there is no chance in hell he could win, but based on these numbers, how is "72 year old man" any different?

Here's why this really matters. If Obama is the nominee, the contrast between a 72-year old man and 46-year old fresh-faced Senator would absolutely play in Obama's favor.  To me that is the dream match up for Obama and would absolutely bolster his change message. If Hillary is the nominee . . . well let's just say if you think she plays the race card well against Obama, imagine what she would do to an old man. I shudder at the thought!

Africa, Democracy, Human Rights

In Women’s Absence, No Security for Kenya
Posted by Marie Wilson

Today, the National Council of Women of Kenya decried their exclusion from the current mediation talks being lead by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  The Council’s chair, Isabella Karanja, condemned Kenya’s disregard for UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that supports women's participation in mediation.  I’ve been paying close attention to Kenya’s dramatic social and political breakdown, and I can assure you that the exclusion of women from the mediation process is not only unjust – it is a grave sentence for the Kenyan people and their nation’s future.

The country’s rapid descent into violence and relative chaos was sparked by a crack in the veneer of its successful democracy, and attributed to tribal anger and the back-and-forth of ethnic reprisals.  But the violence that Kenyans are suffering, and that we witness in disturbing daily imagery, is rooted in the nation’s lack of access to jobs and healthcare, inequalities in land and resources – all glaring disparities which are funneled into ethnic tensions.  Kenya’s current malaise will only be cured through the acknowledgement of human security as fundamental to state security.  And the issues which make up human security are the issues that women have continually championed worldwide: basic human needs like economic and environmental justice, safe streets, healthcare and education.

Kenya is not unique.  With few exceptions, women have found themselves systematically closed out of the security debate – with severe consequences for national and global security.  Which is why The White House Project, along with a myriad of other groups across the globe, have come together to permanently shift the way we think about, and enact policy, on security. 

In November of 2007, The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in partnership with The White House Project, the Council of Women World Leaders and the Women Leaders Intercultural Forum, convened the historic International Women Leaders Global Security Summit in New York, bringing together over 75 of the worlds most powerful women leaders in a Call to Action on international security.  Under the leadership of co-hosts Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Kim Campbell, former Prime Minister of Canada, they worked together to tackle the world’s most critical security issues. And in the Summit’s aftermath, hundreds of women and men alike have signed on to this critical cause, committing their resources to uphold the bold imperative of crafting policy that holds human security to be intimately intertwined with state security.  I encourage you to join this vital effort and sign the Call to Action as well.

We are witnessing moves in the right direction, and I am heartened by the women and men around the world currently working on issues of human security.  When I was researching the new afterward to my book, Closing the Leadership Gap, I was buoyed by how far women have come in the field of security since the book’s original publication four years ago.  But there is so much further that we need to go in order to normalize women’s leadership in this area, and truly listen to the women working on the ground when we craft national policy.  From Kenya’s post-election violence to the devastation in Iraq, we need women’s voices to be an integral part of the conversation.  As the scale of violence and human insecurity continues its rapid escalation, the critical paradigm shift on security cannot wait a moment longer.

Trouble in Awakening Land
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Marc Lynch breaks down new signs of the internal rifts within the Awakening movements and the danger that they pose

There are more and more signs of the Awakenings strategy hitting turbulence, if not going off the rails.  The drumbeat of assassinations of Awakenings leaders and attacks on their men continues.  Joseph Galloway reported yesterday of the growing tension over allegations that Shia militias are behind the recent upsurge of attacks.  Patrick Cockburn reported from Falluja that an important local commander warned that if his people aren't integrated into the Iraqi military and police in three months they are prepared to stand down and let al-Qaeda back in.   The Anbar Salvation Council declared that it would not fly the new Iraqi flag, meaning that for a while these local militias would literally be operating under a different flag than the national institutions from which they remain excluded.  Today, al-Hayat reports that 230 Awakenings fighters north of Baghdad quit because they hadn't been paid in two months.   And then, there's been a series of public eruptions between Anbar Salvation Council leaders and between the ASC and the Baghdad-based Awakening militias.

Just another reminder that this situation is extraordinarily volatile and that once these groups don't have a common Al Qaeda in Iraq enemy to deal with, they may very well turn on either the Shi'a or each other.

That Wacky, Wacky Gerson
Posted by Michael Cohen

You almost have to feel a little sorry for Mike Gerson. He's a true believer in George Bush, and all evidence be damned he's going to make Americans believe that the man is a true compassionate conservative.

In today's Washington Post Gerson argues that Bush IS truly a compassionate man. And here's part of the evidence:

Proposals such as No Child Left Behind, the AIDS and malaria initiatives, and the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare would simply not have come from a traditional conservative politician. They became the agenda of a Republican administration precisely because of Bush's persistent, passionate advocacy. To put it bluntly, these would not have been the priorities of a Cheney administration.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the winner of 2008's "Most Backhanded Compliment" award. Nothing else written this year will come close. Do you think maybe Gerson is reaching a bit when he needs to use Dick Cheney as a strawman to prove that George Bush is compassionate? Honestly, who doesn't look compassionate next to Dick Cheney? This is like boasting that you were runner-up in the 20th century's "Worst Fascist Dictator Contest."*

And can you even imagine the priorities of a Cheney Administration? It would probably start with strangling puppies and waterboarding kittens and then go from there.

But that isn't even in the biggest whopper in this piece as Gerson really goes on a limb  and argues "by any fair historical measure, Bush's achievements on social justice at least equal those of Bill Clinton." Really? I wonder if Bill Clinton ever vetoed a children's health bill. . . twice.

I understand that Mike Gerson wants to feel that his years in the White House were validated; and that the man he worked for really wasn't such a bad guy.

I wish him the best of luck with all that!

*(For the record, I am not comparing George Bush or Dick Cheney to a fascist dictator. It's a joke and one that I stole from Woody Allen).

A Bumper Sticker for Republicans
Posted by Shadi Hamid

This is one of the most amusing clips I've seen in a long time. More importantly, it's particularly insightful. McCain's platform, as Scarborough tells us, can be summed up as "less jobs, more wars." We Democrats always have trouble coming up with bumper sticker slogans. At least we now have one for attacking the Republicans. Imagine a debate with Obama/Clinton and McCain in the fall. McCain says something like "as much as I hate to say it, there will be more wars. And we have to get ready." Obama/Clinton interrupts and says, "Chris, take note here. John's a great guy but his message is essentially 'less jobs, more wars.' Is that what the American people want? I don't think so." A related thought experiment, which candidate - Obama or Clinton - do you think would be more likely to say that?

My Thoughts on the Trade
Posted by Michael Cohen

Twins got rooked! Carlos Gomez has marginal plate discipline and Phillip Humber is no Phillip Hughes or Jon Lester. And a few months ago the Twins could have gotten Ellsbury or Lester, each of whom are almost certainly better than anyone the Mets gave up.

It's a good deal for the Mets. Maybe this'll take the sting off the worst September collapse in baseball history. (Sorry Ilan, I can't let you get to big for your britches).

On the bright side, at least the source of all that is evil in the world, aka, the New York Yankees, didn't get him. No, instead of imagining Johan in pinstripes, Yankee fans can spend the next several months imagining Brian McNamee sticking a syringe full of HGH in Roger Clemens butt.

BTW, did I mention that the Red Sox are reigning World Series champions!

January 29, 2008

Men of Mystery
Posted by Patrick Barry

I went to an interesting talk today at the US Institute of Peace, with the somewhat noirish title “Iraq’s Mystery Men: Insurgents, Tribes, and Sadrists.” What’s so mysterious about insurgents, tribes and Sadrists you’re probably asking? Well quite a bit, though apparently not so much as there used to be.  For some time, these groups have played a more shadowy role in internal Iraqi politics, but now each seems poised to step out of obscurity to take a more significant place for themselves.  Views from the panel indicated that the Sadrists’s recent truce has allowed them the space to consolidate their power; tribesmen have used the awakening movement to come to make demands for inclusion; and insurgent organizations have remade themselves into political-military parties in the style of Hamas or Hezbollah.

Without delving too deeply into the specifics of what the panelists discussed, there seemed to be agreement that during the last several months, a view that the US occupation is coming to an end (albeit deliberately) has taken hold in Iraq, which has prompted a political awakening among the various ethnic and sectarian factions (looks like the folks at CAP are on to something.)  Guided by a perception that the US presence in the country is on the wane, former spoilers have coalesced into new, more coherent movements, movements which are now jockeying for political advantage, competing for American largess, and struggling to amass anything that will strengthen their relative position. To paraphrase panelist Daniel Serwer, a thaw has occurred in Iraq, and the political environment is now fluid.

These developments are typically viewed positively, and with some cause.  Violence in Iraq has lessened to the point where the different players recognize an opportunity to converge and enter the political sphere (though this has far more to do with the awakenings and the perception of an American departure, than the implementation of the surge.) But we have to be careful not to confuse movement with reconciliation.  The emergence of these new political forces by itself, does not portend greater stability.  In fact, if they are not integrated sufficiently into the country broader governing structure (which events indicate is the case), the results could be disastrous. 

Where there were once relatively few influential political coalitions with numerous ‘mystery’ movements operating on the periphery, now there are multiple parties, of differing sectarian and ethnic compositions, each with legitimate claim to the future status of Iraq’s government and each with the force and following to back those claims.  The Sadrists, the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance, and the Anbar Salvation Council are all examples of entities whose political consciousness has stirred, yet still insist on maintaining experienced, well-armed militias with no ties to the central authority in Baghdad.   Why do they feel a need to keep those armed men at their side? What end do they seek?  Here's a hint – it’s not reconciliation. 

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