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July 31, 2008

A Blatant Lie
Posted by Michael Cohen

A couple of days ago I blogged about John McCain's false ad about why Barack Obama did not visit wounded troops in Germany. But apparently the story gets even worse. This according to David Kiley at Business Week:

What the McCain campaign doesn’t want people to know, according to one GOP strategist I spoke with over the weekend, is that they had an ad script ready to go if Obama had visited the wounded troops saying that Obama was...wait for it...using wounded troops as campaign props. So, no matter which way Obama turned, McCain had an Obama bashing ad ready to launch. I guess that’s political hardball. But another word for it is the one word that most politicians are loathe to use about their opponents—a lie.

July 30, 2008

Turkey's Constitutional Court Rules Against AKP Closure
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Good news. Turkey has just averted a disaster, and by the slimmest of margins (a 6-5 vote). I, and many others, were bracing for the worst. This is a region that can't seem to get a break. If it can go wrong, it usually does. But it got a break today. The AKP will continue as Turkey's ruling party. However, the party's state funding will be cut in half, the Court's way of sending a warning to the AKP, without resorting to a full ban. For more on the decision, see here  for details. More analysis to come on later. This is a political equivalent of having a gun pointed to your head, but the gunman pulls back at the last second and only shoots you in the foot.

Feeling Winded
Posted by Adam Blickstein

A new survey set to be released next month from the American Wind Energy Association will proclaim that America is now the world's leading producer of wind energy. Of course this news comes before construction has even begun on T. Boone Picken's planned 200,000 acre wind farm on the Texas Panhandle, set to be the largest in the world, and amidst reports that China is attempting to out-pace American wind energy growth with a "Three Gorges of the Sky" initiative. While Picken's plan represents a great step forward for wind energy in America, bureaucratic hurdles and slow planning still inhibit true and rapid wind energy growth (and indeed other alternative energy sources) in the U.S. as compared to other countries, especially China:

"China's wind energy market is unrecognisable from two years ago, It is huge, huge huge. But it is not realised yet in the outside world," said Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council. "A few years ago wind energy was boutique, something to show off to foreigners to prove how green they are but now it is a very serious part of their energy policy. They can make things happen so quickly in China compared to the west. When they make up their minds, it is incredible how fast things happen."

Statements like that make it that much more depressing that President Bush and John McCain still think domestic, coastal drilling is the best energy policy America has moving forward, even though the environmental costs are certainly high and potential energy benefits are plausibly low as compared to coastal wind farms, which can reap much quicker energy returns and lower costs both in terms of environment and capital.  In fact, if we blanketed our East Coast with wind farms, a far more aesthetically pleasing and practical alternative to oil platforms, the benefits could be enormous:

Wind power could supply all the energy needs of much of the East Coast and then some, if a phalanx of wind turbines running from Massachusetts to North Carolina were installed offshore, a new study concludes.

...the energy needs of most of the East Coast could be met, or even surpassed, with the installation of over 160,000 turbines, according to Kempton’s findings.

The reduced use of fossil fuels would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the area by 57 percent, even in New England, one of the world’s most highly polluting areas, according to the study.

And a new study from the Department of Energy concurs:

The U.S.DOE estimates that there are more than 900,000 MW of potential wind energy off the coasts of the United States, in many cases, relatively near major population centers. This amount approaches the total current installed U.S. electrical capacity.

So, according to our own government, wind power has the potential to equal the entire electrical capacity of the U.S. Why aren't we tapping this resource?

The growth of wind energy in the United States has been impeded by several expiration/renewal cycles of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC), inhibiting sustainable momentum. State incentive programs (e.g., Renewables Portfolio Standards, Systems Benefit Charge programs) have provided some market opportunities and led to regional growth spurts. The European experience, in contrast, has been policy driven with long-term development goals and time horizons. This has succeeded in making Europe the home to the majority of the world’s wind energy development. It has also spurred the development of offshore wind, which is seen as a solution to dwindling siting opportunities on land.

It's pretty absurd that wind has the potential to equal our entire current energy capacity yet all we hear from Bush, McCain and the Republican party is DRILL DRILL DRILL! A federal/state partnership to establish an East Coast wind farm seems like a far more sensible approach in attempting to solve our energy crisis than more drilling, but election year political posturing is occluding our (Conservative) policymakers from taking such sensible positions.

July 29, 2008

That Wacky, Wacky Rich Lowry
Posted by Michael Cohen

On cue to my post below, Kevin Drum flags this wonderful quote from Rich Lowry at the National Review about McCain's demonstrably false anti-Obama ad:

I buy the basic Obama defense of his decision not to visit Landstuhl. I don't think he was deliberately snubbing wounded troops. So I think the McCain ad is unfair, but it hits on a key vulnerability of Obama — the sense that he's above-it-all and entirely too grand for his own good.

How magnanimous Rich! So if Barack Obama were to run an ad saying that John McCain bought his first car from Fred Flintstone or that the first President he met was Grover Cleveland or that he remembers the Redwoods when they mere saplings it would be "unfair" but defensible because it hits on a key vulnerability of John McCain; namely that he's old.

Good for you Rich Lowry in not letting pesky things like facts get in the way of your otherwise first-rate poltical analysis!

NSN Daily Update – Violence Erupts in Kirkuk, 7/29/08
Posted by The National Security Network

The full NSN Daily Update can be found on our website

Here are some Quick Hits:

A village in Pakistan’s border region was hit by a US missile strike, killing six, reportedly including a senior Al Qaeda leader. This came hours before President Bush and Prime Minister Gilani met at the White House to highlight their continued alliance in the war on terror. Bush “made a point of saying he respected Pakistan's sovereignty.”

Meanwhile, 30 policemen were taken hostage and three intelligence officers killed
in the FATA region of Pakistan. This is a gross violation of the truce signed between the government and the local militants.

A major joint offensive between U.S. and Iraqi forces in Iraq’s Diyala province began today
to root out some of the last remaining insurgent strongholds.

The US needs to put more emphasis on police and intelligence efforts in the fight against terrorists, rather than rely on the military, according to a new report by the Rand research center. “Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors.”

The Department of Homeland Security created another category of security alert a ‘POHA’
(Period of High Alert) for its employees in advance of “a series of upcoming high-profile events,” including the Olympics and the election.

Up is Down, Down is Up
Posted by Michael Cohen

So let me see if I understand this correctly - everyone is in a tizzy because Barack Obama didn't visit wounded troops in Germany during his recent overseas trip. And somehow this signals that Barack Obama doesn't care about the troops and just wants to use them as a campaign backdrop (even though he visited wounded troops in Afghanistan and Walter Reed Medical Center in DC sans cameras).

But on the other hand, even though John McCain not only didn't support the recent Webb GI Bill and in fact, couldn't even be bothered to venture to Washington to cast a vote for or against it because he was in California raising money. . . he loves the troops.

So for those of you keeping score at home:

Obama Doesn't Visit Wounded Soldiers in Germany = Hates the Troops

McCain Skips Vote on Bill Extending Veteran's Benefits = Loves the Troops

Campaign '08. It's Fantastic!

July 28, 2008

Americans and the World
Posted by Michael Cohen

One might imagine that the images of Barack Obama meeting with foreign leaders and attracting a crowd of 200,000 people to a speech in Berlin, Germany would provide a real boost to his campaign for the White House. However, in Dan Balz's Sunday piece on the trip he quotes an anonymous Democrat who takes a more gimlet-eyed view:

But a Democrat who supported another candidate during the nomination battle had a more skeptical assessment of all the imagery. He argued that the Obama team is mistaken in believing that meetings with foreign leaders will help overcome a relatively thin résumé in foreign affairs.

"It's not whether he has experience or is presidential; it's whether voters can relate to him, given his unusual background and his often seeming arrogance. Talking to Germans and having Sarkozy embrace you make this problem worse, not better. If I were the RNC, I'd use the German-language Obama flier in an ad to make him appear more foreign, more distant."

It should hardly be surprising that the person who said these words would demand anonymity. If I said something this foolish and ill-informed I'd want to hide my identity as well.

In recent years it has become a sort of conventional wisdom that Americans are wary of national leaders that are seen as too closely tied to the rest of the world or too inclined in engage in multilateral approaches to solving global challenges. Well guess what. It's bunk.

Take a look at the most recent Pew Research Center poll on America's image in the world:

More than seven-in-ten Americans (71%) say that the United States is less respected by other countries these days, up from 65% in August 2006.

For the first time since Pew began asking this question in 2004, a majority of Americans now sees the loss of international respect for the United States as a major problem.

It's not just effete, chablis-drinking Democrats who feel this way. It's a view shared by not only 81% of Democrats, but also 71% of Independents and 60% of Republicans.

Now what about the notion that a German-language flyer would make for a good John McCain ad. According to the most recent Gallup poll 82% of Americans have a favorable view of Germany; even 69% of Americans view France favorably! In fact, a stroll through the polling data shows that except for a brief period in the Spring of 2003 (the start of the Iraq War) Americans have maintained extremely positive images of our European allies. .

What about 2004, when Republicans were attacking John Kerry for his "global test" comment and alleging that he was "French." Well the jury is out on this one. The question wasn't even deemed important enough to ask in voter exit polls. But there is some data and it tends to argue against the conventional wisdom.

In October of 2004, a month before the election 56% of those polled were dissatisfied with America's image in the world. In a March 2004 poll, more than 8 in 10 preferred an international approach that saw America use its power "according to shared ideas of what is best for the world as a whole," rather than a narrow focus on US interests.

Of course, these numbers don't necessarily tell a complete tale because they don't take into account the importance that voters assign to these priorities. But they are largely in tune with most polling data over the past 8 years, which shows that Americans have hardly embraced a unilateralist approach to foreign policy. If anything, quite the opposite.

Now this brings us back to Obama. The cynic might argue that the issue with his trip to Europe is that it makes him seem foreign and inaccessible to "ordinary" Americans. Well considering that ordinary Americans have a rather positive view of our European allies and considering the fact that they view our strained relations with our allies as a "major problem" wouldn't Obama going to Berlin and being embraced by foreign leaders and people make him seem less distant and more presidential?

When one considers that experience and Obama's capabilities to handle the job of commander-in-chief are two of his biggest liabilities it's hard to see how this trip isn't a net benefit. I'm at a loss to understand how being embraced by European leaders makes Obama seem more foreign - doesn't it make him seem more mainstream and capable of carrying out the responsibilities of President? Certainly, if Americans were dubious of close relations with the rest of the world then yes, this trip would be harmful to Obama. But quite simply, they don't.

Now I'm not going to do start arguing that improving relations with our Allies is a major reason to vote for Obama or will drive many voters to his camp, but at the same time there is little empirical evidence to suggest that it's a hindrance either.

Indeed for all those Americans who might look askance at Barack Obama speaking to 200,000 people in Berlin there are an equal, if not larger group of Americans who think it's pretty excellent - and the latter category represent a majority of Americans. (And one can possibly draw the assumption that those in the former category are not terribly likely to vote for a Democrat anyway).

The notion that Americans want their presidents to maintain an arm's distance relationship with our Allies is a canard. There simply is no evidence to support this notion. But due to constant repetition by neo-conservative politicians and various enablers of this Administration it has become conventional wisdom. It's about time we put this silly idea to rest.

History Vs. Campaign Issue
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Over at the Wonk Room Matt Duss makes an important point.  According to McCain:

Support for the Iraq invasion = a matter for historians. Support for the surge = a matter for the voters.

I think Matt is spot on in his assessment.  Unfortunately for McCain, I don't think the public is willing to ignore the mistake of going into Iraq in the first place.  It's sort of a big deal...

Tragedy in Turkey?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I am genuinely surprised that the ongoing assault on Turkey’s democracy hasn’t gotten more attention in DC policy circles or in the broader commentariat. For an overview of the crisis and the (dissapointing) U.S. response, take a look at the article I recently co-wrote with Alex Taurel last week in the Christian Science Monitor.

Very briefly, let’s look at the facts: a pro-West/ pro-EU political party wins 47% of the vote in last year’s elections – an unprecedented number in a country where parties rarely win enough of the vote to rule alone. Since first being elected in 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has passed a series of far-reaching legal and political reforms in order to meet EU accession requirements. The list of what the party has done is long: it has eased restrictions on freedom of expression, civilianized the National Security Council, granted the Kurdish minority greater rights, and abolished the death penalty. Not only that, it has helped usher in an impressive period of economic growth. Good for democracy and your pocketbook.

Yet, as soon as tomorrow, Turkey’s Constitutional Court may very well decide to close down the AKP and ban its leading figures, including the current President and Prime Minister, from political participation for five years. The Court's case is premised largely on the fact that the AKP lifted the country’s longstanding headscarf ban, an action which the majority of Turks supported (Turkish women are not allowed to cover their hair in universities and other government/ public institutions). I've always found it interesting - and somewhat bizarre - that women in the U.S. can wear the hijab anywhere they want, while in Turkey it can be grounds for a judicial coup. Former Ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz, sums it up: "the banning of a ruling party—one that has been in power for over five years, and quite successfully at that—is unprecedented in the modern West."

In a region where optimism is rare, and where successful democratic experiments are almost unheard of, one would think that democracy enthusiasts would issue a call to action and do whatever in their power to avert what may become a great tragedy, and one that will surely have lasting consequences for a region already in turmoil. But this is not a good time for talking about “democracy” abroad (tainted by Bush, Iraq, and the neo-cons). It is not a good time for those who believe that American and European power should be employed - peacefully - in the service of freedom. So we avert our eyes, just like we have many times before. It is an old story. We do not, it appears, learn from the lessons of the past, even though 1953 and 1991 stand out as clear warnings.

Continue reading "Tragedy in Turkey? " »

NSN Daily Update 7/28/08: A Violent Weekend around the World
Posted by The National Security Network

The full NSN Daily Update can be found on our website.

Quick Hits

The LA Times examines the Bush administration policy shortcomings towards Pakistan and how the next administration will inherit a highly volatile situation there.

Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, a moderate, Muslim, Democratically elected party, may be outlawed by Turkey’s highest judicial body, striking a major blow to Turkish democracy.
The decision would also ban the AKP’s leading figures, including the current Prime Minister and President, from government for five years.  The ruling will carry enormous implications for Turkey’s stability and global prospects for Islamic democracy.

The New York Times Magazine investigated Afghanistan’s flourishing opium trade.

The Washington Post is running a series on energy security
this week entitled “Oil Shock.” The New York Times also has a piece today on the effect of energy subsidies.

Congress approved a major housing bill on Saturday designed to help homeowners and mitigate fluctuation in the global markets,
which shook last week following fears of a Freddie Mae or Fannie Mac collapse.

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