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August 30, 2008

McCain's Puts Country Second
Posted by Michael Cohen

John McCain has been spending quite a bit of the summer telling voters that he puts "country first" while his opponent Barack Obama puts his own political aggrandizement first.

I wonder how John McCain can make that argument with a straight face after the selection of Sarah Palin as the GOP Vice Presidential nominee. There are many things that can be said about Mrs. Palin, but qualified to be President of the United States is not one of them. This is a woman, who has been Governor of Alaska for less than two years and before that she was mayor of a town of 6,000 people - this is not what anyone would consider a presidential resume. Her foreign policy experience is simply non-existent. 

But putting Mrs. Palin aside for a second, this pick says far more about John McCain and where he ranks country vs. his own political advancement. John McCain is 72-years old with a history of cancer. The question of his mortality has to be front and center in his selection of a running mate. In many respects, this is the single most important and consequential Vice Presidential selection since FDR chose a running mate in 1944.

The person who McCain selects has to be 'ready to lead' on day one; they have to be knowledgeable about foreign policy and national security affairs in order to take over a country that is waging two foreign wars.  It is simply impossible to say this about Sarah Palin. No one can reasonably argue that she has the necessary experience and background to serve as Commander in Chief.

So why did John McCain select her? Well Sarah Palin is a woman and the thought process seems to be that she will appeal to female voters, particularly disgruntled Hillary supporters.  As Ramesh Ponnuru noted over at National Review; "Can anyone say with a straight face that Palin would have gotten picked if she were a man?" Of course, there are plenty of women that John McCain could have chosen, like Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison or Meg Whitman, but they are pro-choice and thus not acceptable to social conservatives. Mrs. Palin, who is adamantly pro-life, however fits the conservative bill.

Clearly politics plays a role in every Vice Presidential selection, but has there ever been a more blatant example than this? There was a political consideration in picking Joe Biden, but no one questions that he is ready for the job. I have yet to hear a serious argument that Sarah Palin IS ready for the job of President. Indeed she is dangerously unqualified.

John McCain has made a Vice Presidential selection that from a foreign policy perspective couldn't be more irresponsible and reckless. Quite simply, when the stakes were highest, John McCain has put his own political advancement first and the interests of his country second.

What's wrong with this Hurricane?
Posted by Moira Whelan

Gustov I just noticed that the daily brief customarily done in advance of a hurricane is happening because Gustov is bearing down on the Gulf Coast…but a big shift here: the briefing is being given by NORTHCOM. So what does this tell us and why does it matter? It tells us that things are as broken as they were before Katrina.

The military, like EPA, Commerce, or anyone else, is only involved in emergency management to the point that they are requested to do so by the governor or the FEMA director (who acts on behalf of the President).

When it comes to disasters, the governor is always in charge. At any point, he or she can call in their state’s National Guard, and/or ask other governors for their help in augmenting response efforts with their national guard or other resources. If a governor is worried things are getting out of control, they ask the President to provide help through FEMA at any point before or after the incident. FEMA is then in charge of coordinating the resources of the federal government to support the governor and the state. In a sense, when FEMA is working properly—as it did under Clinton—when the FEMA director tells another Federal agency to do something, it’s as if the President is calling. The government agency is expected to deliver and cut through red tape to make things happen and happen fast. 

There is no allowance or legal authority for the Department of Defense to take any sort of control or command in this scenario. In a hurricane, DoD, like Human Services, Transportation, etc, all work for FEMA and the governor of the impacted state.

This is done for a very specific and important reason: here in America, we believe that governors should have control over their own states. The federal government needs to be there to help, but they absolutely do not move in and take over. We also do not believe that the military should ever forcibly operate inside the United States unless they are under civilian control.

With NORTHCOM taking the lead on briefing the public, it’s clear the Bush Administration wants to send the message that everything is under control. Instead, to those that do this for a living, the message is clear that everything is absolutely and completely broken.

Perhaps the state governments need help. Perhaps FEMA is not up to the job. Perhaps the Bush Administration simply wants a uniform on camera, and this way of doing things is preferable to things happening the way that they should (a process, by the way, that WORKED before Bush screwed it up).

NORTHCOM taking the lead in public relations is a clear indication that nothing has been fixed in DHS and FEMA since Katrina. As a result, there is no confidence in FEMA’s ability to respond to this hurricane. With NORTHCOM at the helm, the Bush Administration either doesn’t care if, or doesn’t want, the systems to work. This Administration has issued a lot of reports since Katrina (none of which suggest the military should take control, incidentially), but no one has been held accountable and the lessons have not been learned. The priority is still on preventing embarrassment, not keeping people safe.

The other thing to remember here is that this is not a mission the military wants. Sure, they can ride in on a white horse and do what they can, but their job is to fight wars, not deal with disasters. Governors need their national guards to make this a priority (but most are in Iraq) but DoD needs to worry about the rest of the world. By dumping this on them, the Bush Administration is reinforcing the idea that the military is the only government agency that people can trust and continues to burden them with missions for which they are not trained.

The bottom line is that things will not work the way they should with NORTHCOM in charge.  Governors don’t take orders from Generals. No one else in government takes orders from DoD. No one in emergency management even knows what NORTHCOM does, except come in and issue “orders” to a bunch of civilians who don't work for them.

I hope for the sake of the people on the Gulf Coast that the hundreds of civilians who want to do right by them prevail over the system that the Bush Administration has failed to fix.

H/T to Jason McNamara for this one.

Continue reading "What's wrong with this Hurricane?" »

August 29, 2008

Does Sarah Palin know what a Sunni is?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Wow, Sarah Palin? Really? We just got a big break. If the Democrats respond to this the right way, McCain is in deep trouble. Just picture it for a second now: in the VP debate, the moderator asks Biden about Iraq policy (maybe some curveball about provincial elections), then asks Palin to respond. It doesn't even seem fair. What is Palin going to say?

It's not really an issue of Palin's zero foreign policy experience (my little brother has no foreign policy experience either but at least he got the most major foreign policy decision of the last __ years right, when 80% of Washington got it wrong... I think it might of went something like this: "Shadi, wtf are we in Iraq?"). The real question is if Palin, before today, has ever spoke at length publicly about any major foreign policy issue. I imagine the answer is no. When the Iraq war started, and when Obama had the courage to oppose it, Palin was the mayor of some random city that has, like, um, 9000 people. In Egypt, a 50-ft. radius practically has more than that.

An award should go to the first person who asks Palin the difference between a Sunni and a Shi'ite. Has Palin actually ever said the word "Sunni" before? I'm not sure, and I'm too lazy to find out, but I suspect I know the answer. Perhaps more importantly, does she know what happened in Iran in 1953? She should know this because she spent a whole sentence today trying to sound hawkish on Iran. I don't want anyone in the oval office or any other office making Iran policy if they don't understand the importance of 1953

Or how about an easier one - who's Morocco's head of state? Even if she doesn't know the answer, she could probably guess. The nice thing about the Arab world is that if you forget someone's name, you can always recover by asking the person, Ahmad/ Mohammad/ Mahmoud/ Mustafa, and then add the word sahh (right) + question mark? This because literally 1 out of every 2 Arabs has one of these four names. Your best bet, however, is Mohammad, which just this past year became the number of one baby name in Britain (oh dear, the Muslims are invading!).

Enough suspense - the King of Morocco (yes, this is the part of the world that still has kings who actually rule, reign, govern, and just about everything else) is named Mohammad. There you go, King Mohammad. Was that too hard?

Palin as VP
Posted by Moira Whelan

"But as for that VP talk all the time, I'll tell ya, I still can't answer that question until somebody answers for me, what is it exactly that the VP does every day?" - Sarah Palin, 8/1/08, CNBC, Kudlow and Company

August 28, 2008

How Much Does the Middle East Matter?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

The rise of "declinist" literature (that’s not really a word, is it?) has been well-documented by others - these efforts aimed at recording (or perhaps inviting) the end of the American era. The gist is of the thesis is that America will remain strong, but will increasingly find itself challenged by rising powers, among them China, Russia, and India. America's declining influence under Bush is, it seems, often used a pretext to advocate correcting our seeming obsession with the Middle East and shifting our focus to "broader" global threats. I got a weird feeling the other day when I saw the following comment from Ezra Klein:

The Middle East has sort of overwhelmed all other foreign policy issues over the past few years, but with the Iraqi government now demanding we pull out by 2011 and Bush basically agreeing to that, that state of affairs will quickly ease and other issues will take preeminence.

I find this to be a troubling line of argument, because it presumes that the Middle East wasn't that much of a problem before Iraq (or even 9/11), when in fact it was. The problems we face in the region today - whether it be religious extremism, sectarianism, terrorism, or general economic stagnation - are products of the pre-9/11 era, when Republicans and Democrats alike supported misguided, sometimes destructive, policies toward the region. To think that once Iraq is "solved," we'll be able to, in some sense, wash at least one of our hands of the Middle East overlooks the fact that the region was, is, and will continue to be dangerous, independent of the Iraq war.

The reasons for the Middle East failings are deep-seated, with a long history. Iraq is very small part of this history. A bigger part of that history has to do with the continued failure of ostensibly secular "pro-Western" regimes to provide basic services or basic freedoms to their own citizens. It also has to do with the fact that the U.S. has supported Arab autocrats at the expense of Arab publics for decades. While we have ignored hundreds of millions of Arabs, they, it seems, have not ignored us. We failed to realize that the internal character of states is not only an internal matter. What goes on inside Middle Eastern countries - the ongoing political and ideological battles between secularists, leftists, moderate Islamists, radical Islamists, Salafis - affects us, our allies, and our interests. If anything, this should be a prime lesson of the last 8 years.

Let's go back now to the issue of how much U.S. policymakers should be focusing on the Middle East. The problem with the Bush administration wasn’t that it was overly focused on the Middle East; it was that it was overly focused on the Middle East, and managed, at the same time, and somewhat amazingly, to make it even more screwed up than it already was. The latter part – rather than the former – is where we went wrong. The correct corrective, therefore, is not to decrease “meddling” but rather to address the region’s myriad problems not by engaging less, but by engaging better.

Continue reading "How Much Does the Middle East Matter? " »

BREAKING: McCain Said He Will Pick Cheney For VP
Posted by Max Bergmann

John McCain said he would pick Cheney to be his Vice President - okay that was in 2001. But it says something about his judgment doesn't it?

Asked on Larry King about whether he would have named Mr. Rumsfeld and Colin L. Powell to a McCain cabinet. "Oh, yes, and Cheney," Mr. McCain added that he, too, "would have offered Mr. Cheney the vice presidency.” [CNN Larry King, 11/28/01]

A Crappy SOFA
Posted by Shawn Brimley

According to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, during the recent SOFA negotiations: "The United States asked Iraq for permission to keep troops there to 2015 but compromised with Iraqi negotiators on 2011." 
Question: Why is it that instead of forcing the Maliki government to make political concessions in order to convince us not to leave, we end up making concessions to the Iraqis in order for us to stay? What kind of bizarro upside-down world is this?
Dr. iRack has more.

August 27, 2008

Kerry Slams McCain
Posted by Patrick Barry

"Talk about being for it before you're against it."

Kerry takes a dig at himself to slam McCain...nice.

More on Tiny
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias do the hard work that I wanted to do but was too lazy to find on explaining how Iran is in fact quite tiny when compared to the USSR or the U.S.  Which is what Barack Obama was saying after all.  So seriously how scared should we be of a country who we outspend on defense by a factor of 100? (Ezra's number don't include Iraq or Afghanistan).  How scared should we be about a country that has the GDP the size of Flordia's?

Iran is a serious national security concern.  And that is how it should be treated. But to imply that it an existential threat to the security of the United States is absurd.


Russiasbig_2 Iranpop


National Security at the Conventions -- A Seismic Shift
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Much less interesting than reporting on who does or doesn't edit President Clinton's speeches, Joe biden's train-riding habits, or John McCain's vice-presidential deliberations, but considerably more important, is the enormous cultural shift in the role national security plays at BOTH conventions that has taken place over the last two election cycles.

It's easier to speak to the Dems, as I'm sitting in Denver:  what used to be one set of foreign policy panels run by the National Democratic Institute has morphed into a giant policy jamboree.  Veterans' groups, human rights groups, think tanks (and of course DA's sponsor and my employer, the National Security Network) are here holding panels, luncheons and receptions.  I think the only national security threshold left to cross is the Giant Nighttime Party With Five Bands -- but if you count the ONE Campaign, and you should, we've crossed that one too.

So what's going on here:

  • national security is a political issue now, for better and worse;
  • the nationl security community is taking quantum steps in political savvy and plugged-in-ness;
  • the gap between how domestic policy is conducted and how foreign policy is conducted is slowly, but really, narrowing; and
  • nonetheless, the national security wonks are bringing our own wonkish folkways into the convention environment.  You can take the wonk out of the 10-point plan, but you can't take the 10-point plan out of the wonk.

What's really interesting is to look ahead to Minneapolis next week and see how much this is a bipartisan development:  Human Rights First will have its band of generals there to denounce torture as well.  New America will have its "Can We Make the Middle East Boring?" event there too. The Council on Foreign Relations will have its panels.

National security concepts are being marketed to politicians on all sides, in other words.  And, in terms of empowering political figures in Washington and the states to move away from the failed constructs of the last eight years, and be ready to think about real fundamental change after election silly season is over, this is a very good thing.

Now off to my next Denver shuttle bus...   

McCain: Too Reckless to Lead
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

John McCain has an ad up trying to scare the American people about Iran and saying Obama doesn't take the threat seriously enough.  I think it's time to take the gloves off and paint McCain as the reckless and dangerous overeager warrior that he is.

If I was the Obama campaign I would probably go with something like this: 

John McCain.  He was a cheerleader for George Bush and Dick Cheney's war in Iraq.  He has said we should bomb Iran.  He's willing to get into major escalations with China and Russia.  He thought war with North Korea was inevitable.  He even called Germany and France our "adversaries."  Is that who we want leading our country?  John McCain too reckless to lead (You can see supporting facts below the fold).

In terms of McCain's ad.  The whole point is to elevate the Iranian threat to some ridiculous level of fear and paranoia equivalent to the Nazis or the Soviet Union.  First of all, the quote is of course completely out of context.  Obama  clearly takes Iran seriously.  All you have to do is read his policies and listen to his positions.

But Iran isn't the Nazis or the Soviet Union.  The Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear weapons and controlled all of Eastern Europe.  The Nazis took over all of Europe and killed millions.  Iran is a country with 60 million people and a GDP the size of Florida.  By historical comparison it is simply not the same level threat.

But John McCain doesn't think that way.  For McCain every crisis is 1939 and every threat is existential.  As Max has so aptly pointed out, this is a very dangerous approach to the world.

Continue reading "McCain: Too Reckless to Lead" »

Unity against McCain
Posted by Max Bergmann

The key to Hillary's speech and why I think it will be very important, was not just because she called for unity and for people to support Obama - that had happened before and had left many of her supporters unconvinced - but because she explained why the party had to unite behind Obama. And that is the fact that John McCain will continue the disastorous policies of the Bush administration.

Ben Smith is also exactly right as well, and its a point I made earlier in the day, the press went in with very low expectations and as a result her speech and the unity exhibited on the floor was destined to exceed expectations. It did.

August 26, 2008

A Jumbo Foreign Policy
Posted by Patrick Barry

The award for DNC omnipresence has to go to Bill Richardson.  Seriously, the guy is everywhere, be it the convention floor, the Google kiosk, or hallowed greasy-spoon diner Sams No. 3 diner


Richardson's ubiquitousness is easily matched by his foreign policy judgement -- his unwavering commitment to a complete withdrawal from Iraq has unquestionably moved the debate to a much more rational place, a far cry from where we were a year ago, when people we're quibbling over what a limitless engagement would look like

Richardson's shrewd grasp of foreign policy should come as no surprise - he is after all a Jumbo, a proud graduate of Tuft's University.

But Richardson's not the only one.  Other notable Jumbo's include:

Les Gelb, President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations:


Adam Blickstein, Press Secretary, National Security Network (Right side):


If Democrats take the White House in November, these and other Jumbos will likely play a big role in reducing the deficit left by the Bush Administration.

Angry Man McCain
Posted by Max Bergmann

The Politico has a piece that focuses on the danger of John McCain's temper. McCain has a long and storied history of blowing up at his colleagues and the question really needs to be asked whether a man with such an angry temperament and who is prone to an overly hawkish foreign policy should be President. This is hugely important issue and one that has not been adequately talked about to this point.

Yet McCain's supporters seem to be in denial, the Politico writes that "Republicans have accused Democrats of inventing the temper line of attack to knock the Arizona senator."

Really? Invented? Ummm... it is pretty well documented. McCain himself admitted he gets angry and Republican Senators are on record saying he has an anger problem and one even said he wouldn't trust him running the country. Former McCain staffers have also noted that anger was a part of McCain. He even allegedly tried to physically attacked Strom Thurmond. Here are some snippets (sorry no links - came through lexis):

McCain himself admits that “I Get Good And Angry.” “I do get good and angry. Really angry! By God, I'm not going to let them beat me again. I don't like to lose.”
[Fortune, 3/20/06]

Orrin Hatch Called It “Awful” To Be The Focus Of McCain’s Anger. “Hatch, who serves with McCain in the Senate, said his colleague ‘is a passionate person and he does have a temper and sometimes it's awful to be on the wrong side of it.’” [Associated Press, 12/2/99]

McCain's temper led Republican Senator
to say "I decided I didn't want this guy anywhere near a trigger." McCain’s “ire is all too real. This has prompted questions about whether his temperament is suited to the office of commander-in-chief... 'I decided I didn't want this guy anywhere near a trigger,' Domenici told Newsweek in 2000." [AP, 2/16/08]

AP describes McCain’s Temper Is “Achilles Heel,” described by colleagues as "Senator Hothead."
“Temper, temper. Republican John McCain is known for his. He's been dubbed "Senator Hothead" by more than one publication, but he's also had some success extracting his hatchet from several foreheads. Even his Republican Senate colleagues are not spared his sharp tongue. "F--- you," he shouted at Texas Sen. John Cornyn last year. "Only an a------ would put together a budget like this," he told the former Budget Committee chairman, Sen. Pete Domenici, in 1999. "I'm calling you a f------ jerk!" he once retorted to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. […] The political landscape in Arizona, McCain's home state, is littered with those who have incurred his wrath. Former Gov. Jane Hull pretended to hold a telephone receiver away from her ear to demonstrate a typical outburst from McCain in a 1999 interview with The New York Times. McCain has even blown up at volunteers and, on occasion, the average Joe.” [AP, 2/16/08]

McCain’s Communications Director said anger was part of John McCain. Dan Schnur, John McCain's communications director in the 2000 presidential race, acknowledged McCain’s tendency toward anger, saying, “Anybody who knows John McCain knows that he gets angry.’” [Washington Post, 11/2/99]

Conservative Bill Bennett said McCain was irresponsible and intemperate. “William Bennett, the former education secretary, the prominent conservative who came very close to endorsing you a few days ago, called some of your comments irresponsible and intemperate. He talks about an emerging pattern with you in which -- and this is a quote -- "you portray those with whom you disagree as not just wrong, but wicked." [CNN, 3/2/2000]

Dobson: McCain has a legendary temper.
"Family founder James Dobson — talk to tens of millions of people each day. […] McCain's tone was certainly on Dobson's mind when he issued a stinging anti-endorsement on Super Tuesday. He mentioned various issues, but Dobson also said the senator 'has a legendary temper and often uses foul and obscene language.'" [AP, 2/16/08]

McCain Began His Senate Career Screaming At A Young Volunteer.  “It was election night 1986, and John McCain had just been elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time. Even so, he was not in a good mood.  McCain was yelling at the top of his lungs and poking the chest of a young Republican volunteer who had set up a lectern that was too tall for the 5-foot-9 politician to be seen to advantage, according to a witness to the outburst.”  Jon Hinz, then Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party, noted of the outburst, “You'd have to stick cotton in your ears not to hear it. He (McCain) was screaming at him, and he was red in the face.  It wasn't right, and I was very upset at him.” [Arizona Republic, 11/5/99]

McCain “Scuffled” with 92 Year-Old Strom Thurmond.  “In January 1995, McCain was midway through an opening statement at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing when Chairman Strom Thurmond asked, ‘Is the senator about through?’ McCain glared at Thurmond, thanked him for his ‘courtesy’ (translation: buzz off), and continued on. McCain later confronted Thurmond on the Senate floor. A scuffle ensued, and the two didn't part friends.” [Washingtonian, 2/97]

Posted by Max Bergmann

Apparently RSVPs mean very little these days. I planned to write about a Truman national security lunch event - but unfortunately the RSVP that was put in did not guarantee entrance - not even to the overflow room. Apparently this is a growing trend among many of the forthcoming parties and events...Oh well... off to a local diner.

Continue reading "RIP RSVP" »

Setting up for success
Posted by Max Bergmann

All the media buzz about the convention tonight is focused on the supposed huge rift between Clinton supporters and Obama. The media ponders - will this divide explode on the convention floor, will Hillary be less than gracious, etc. etc. This to me is very reminiscent of the hype prior to Obama's trip abroad when the media pontificated that the trip was a grave risk. Just imagine if he were to make a huge gaffe, such as confusing Sunni and Shia or misstating a name of a country - it would be devestating.

In reality, the likelihood of a gaffe on that trip was slim and the resulting picture perfect trip wildly surpassed expectations. I think the same is true tonight.

Continue reading "Setting up for success" »

Office of Special Plans Analysis of Joe Biden
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Apparently Michael Rubin has been reminiscing about his old days at the Office of Special Plans where if A = B and B >C then Saddam Hussein must have weapons of mass destruction and be working with Al Qaeda. 

Rubin has one of the sillier pieces I've seen in a long time on Joe Biden's record on Iran.  Naturally, it's in the WAPO op-ed page.  Rubin makes a convoluted and non-sensical argument that A.  Joe Biden supported engagement with the reformist Khatami government of Iran during the late 1990s and first half of this decade.  That B.  During that time trade between Iran and the EU increased.  That C.  A National Intelligence Estimate found that Iran had stopped working on its nuclear weapons program in 2003.  From this he deduces that it's Biden's fault that Iran has moved ahead on its nuclear weapons program because it used increased trade with Europe to fund a nuclear weapons program.  What???

This makes very little sense from a timing perspective.  The NIE did not mention when the nuclear weapons program began.  But apparently the Iranians hid a uranium enrichment program from the world for 18 years.   And the Iranians themselves decided to end it in 2003.  The Europeans increased trade with Iran between 2000 and 2005.  We have no idea how much of those revenues may have gone into a nuclear weapons program that is now defunct anyway.  We have no idea how active the weapons program may have been between 2000 and 2003 and how active it was before.  Rubin basically takes a bunch of unrelated facts and uses them to conclude that Iran must have spent 2000 to 2003 working furiously on its nuclear weapons program and that it did it with money from Europe that somehow Joe Biden was responsible for.  Yup, putting those rigorous analytical skills that he learned that the Office of Special Plans to work.

Rubin also forgets to mention little details.  Like the fact that under this Administration trade with Iran has actually increased ten-fold and is at its highest levels since before the Iranian revolution.  Or the fact that the 2007 NIE concluded that Iran did in fact stop working on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and was still years away from building a bomb.

Rubin then claims that Biden's vote against Kyl-Lieberman was partisan politics because Biden said that he didn't trust this Administration.  Ummm.... Trying to prevent war with Iran is not exactly a partisan activity.  It's not partisan to fear that an administration that has a track record of escalating conflict and misleading the American public might do it again.  That is in fact the exact opposite of partisan if you believe that war with Iran is against America's interests.

Finally, Rubin uses the fact that some of Biden's statements have been used by the Iranian regime.  Rubin writes

In the Dec. 7, 2007, official sermon, Ayatollah Mohammad Kashani speaking on behalf of Iran's supreme leader, declared, "This Senator [Biden] correctly says Israel could not suppress Hizbullah in Lebanon, so how can the U.S. stand face-to-face with a nation of 70 million? This is the blessing of the Guardianship of the Jurists [the theocracy] . . . which plants such thoughts in the hearts of U.S. senators and forces them to make such confessions." The crowd met his statement with refrains of "Death to America."

First of all.  Biden's statement was factually correct.  But even more importantly, according to Rubin's logic no one should ever say anything about opposing war with Iran and how it is totally impractical because that would only make the Iranians stronger and provide them with propaganda.  That is the precise logic that has brought us the last eight years of disastrous foreign policy.

For a paper that does such great reporting, the Wapo's op-ed pages never cease to disappoint.

The Clinton "Drama"
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Anatomy of the press creating a story. 

A.  Seize on a non-story, despite the lack of evidence, because you are bored and obsessed with something that the American public and almost all Democratic delegates are already done with.

B.  Write stories about how that story is dominating press coverage and is therefore crucial.

Seriously, the press needs to get over it.  Michelle Obama's speech was the best I've ever seen from a potential first lady.  Ted Kennedy's moment was stirring.  Both are much more interesting than rehashing old story lines that everyone except for the media, the McCain campaign, and a few diehards don't care about anymore.

A Gathering Storm in Iraq
Posted by Shawn Brimley

Of all the issues in Iraq, what happens with the more than 100,000 overwhelmingly Sunni "Sons of Iraq" is arguably the biggest and most dangerous. Colin Kahl and I explore this in a piece in today's LA Times.

There is a gathering storm on Iraq's horizon. Over the last several weeks, its central government has embarked on what appears to be an effort to arrest, drive away or otherwise intimidate tens of thousands of Sunni security volunteers -- the so-called Sons of Iraq -- whose contributions have been crucial to recent security gains. After returning from a trip to Iraq last month at the invitation of Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, we are convinced that if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his advisors persist in this sectarian agenda, the country may spiral back into chaos.

Much of Iraq's dramatic security progress can be traced to a series of decisions made by Sunni tribal leaders in late 2006 to turn against Al Qaeda in Iraq and cooperate with American forces in Anbar province. These leaders, outraged by Al Qaeda's brutality against their people, approached the U.S. military with an offer it couldn't refuse: Enter into an alliance with the tribes, and they would turn their weapons against Al Qaeda rather than American troops.

Throughout 2007, U.S. commanders capitalized on this Sunni movement, the so-called Awakening, to create an expanding network of alliances with Sunni tribes and former insurgents that helped turn the tide and drive Al Qaeda in Iraq to near extinction. There are now about 100,000 armed Sons of Iraq, each paid $300 a month by U.S. forces to provide security in local neighborhoods throughout the country. In recognition of the key role the Awakening played in security improvements, President Bush met with several Sunni tribal leaders during his trip to Anbar last September, and Petraeus, who cites the program as a critical factor explaining the decline in violence, has promised to "not walk away from them."

But Iraq's predominantly Shiite central government seems intent on doing precisely that. Maliki and his advisors never really accepted the Sunni Awakening, and they remain convinced that the movement is simply a way for Sunni insurgents to buy time to restart a campaign of violence or to infiltrate the state's security apparatus. In 2007, with Iraq's government weak and its military not yet ready to take the lead in operations, the Maliki government acquiesced to the U.S.-led initiative and grudgingly agreed to integrate 20% of the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi security forces. Now, a newly confident Maliki government is edging away from this commitment.

For the entire piece click here.

August 25, 2008

Blogging from the Denver
Posted by Max Bergmann

So I just completed my first strut through the convention floor and never have I experienced a clearer demonstration of organized chaos. On the one hand everything is controlled, there are loads of ushers and security, the people are all enthusiastic, and the media all have their outposts for pontificating. On the other hand you are crushed by excited hoards desperate to hug Bill Richardson, Toby (the dude from the West Wing...  I think his last name is Schiff), and Charlie Rose. Meanwhile, Joe Trippi was fighting off an annoying reporter and junior staffers were desperately attempting to push their way through the crowds on behalf of their boss - a lowly congressman that no one recognizes - the short half an hour on the floor was exhausting. 

As for the speeches. The best had to be Jimmy Carter whose raucous reception quickly and bizarrely turned into confusion as he exited stage left without saying a word.  Truly the greatest speech ever.

Obama's sister clearly had a tough act to follow, but she gracefully discussed her childhood and expressed some found memories of her big brother growing up.

But Jessie Jackson Jr. clearly has a gift for oratory and gave a truly exhilerating speech - at least it seemed that way, I was after all jamed up against an usher - but the crowd went crazy. He alluded to the King anniversary and how it was appropriate that this convention was being held in the shadow of a mountain top. Indeed.

What the Olympics tell us about China
Posted by Max Bergmann

Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post is probably one of the best newspaper writers in the country - unfortunately for politics junkies, and fortunately for DC sports fans, he is a sportswriter not a political reporter. Boswell's column titled, with tongue squarely in cheek, "they made the buses run on time," captures the Olympic charade. The whole column is worth a read.

In decades at The Post, this is the first event I've covered at which I was certain that the main point of the exercise was to co-opt the Western media, including NBC, with a splendidly pretty, sparsely attended, completely controlled sports event inside a quasi-military compound. We had little alternative but to be a conduit for happy-Olympics, progressive-China propaganda. I suspect it worked.

Everything that met my eye at every venue was perfect. Everybody smiled. Everybody pretended to speak English. Until you got past "hello." Everyone was helpful until you went one inch past where you were supposed to go. Then, arms sprang out to stop you. Everywhere you went, even alone at 2 a.m., you felt completely safe. Because every hundred feet there were a pair of guards -- at attention in the middle of the night.

As sports spectacles go, I've never seen one more efficiently or soullessly executed than this one. I have no idea where they put the real people for 17 days, but I felt like Jim Carrey in "The Truman Show." Where's Ed Harris saying: "Truman is going to turn left on Main Street: Cue the smiling girl and the hearty hot dog vendor."

The family that's always perfect in public is the one you worry about. What's going on under the surface? The complete lack of dissent here -- not one person could get a permit to use the designated Olympic "protest area," though some were detained for trying -- has an eloquence of its own...

...I'll leave here more concerned about China's future, and its impact on those around it, than the future of the United States. Part of that is probably xenophobia, though I've spent a lifetime repeating, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

Some of it, however, is my suspicion that the cycles of capitalism and the inflexibility of authoritarian regimes make for a spectacularly happy marriage in the virtuous-cycle good times, but perhaps an ugly partnership in the inevitable bad periods.

China got aboard the free-market love train at roughly the time -- in the early 1980s -- that worldwide capitalism hit one of its long secular hot streaks that frequently last 15 to 20 years. Money couldn't wait to invest itself here. Let's see how the Party enjoys its first secular bear market.

When political writers wander into sports, they often sound like rubes. The odds are high that I've merely flipped that script.

But if China were a stock, based on what I've seen and felt at this Olympics, I'd downgrade it from buy to hold.

Hello Timetables
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So John McCain and George Bush continue to claim that the time horizons time tables that the administration has agreed to are only "aspirational" and "conditions based."  Too bad Prime Minister Maliki doesn't think so.

"There is an agreement actually reached, reached between the two parties on a fixed date, which is the end of 2011, to end any foreign presence on Iraqi soil," Maliki said in a speech to tribal leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

"An open time limit is not acceptable in any security deal that governs the presence of the international forces," he said.

Needing Russia
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Washington Post has an editorial cavalierly titled "Who Needs Russia" in this weekend's paper where it argues that we don't really need our relationship with Russia because it hasn't been very useful anyway.

A common theme of commentary since the war began has been that the United States is constrained in its condemnation of -- or sanctions against -- Russia because it needs Russia too much in areas ranging from counterterrorism to checking the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. But you can't lose what you never had, and it's fair to question how much help Russia has been providing in any of those areas, even before Aug. 7.

Yes.  One problem.  We do need Russia.  Of course their cooperation on counterterrorism or dealing with Iran and North Korea would be great, but the Post misses the point.  That is not why we need them.  We need them because they happen to have a massive amount of nuclear weapons and without their cooperation the non-proliferation regime won't have a chance of surviving.  Not to mention the fact that greater confrontation with Russia will make it even more difficult to secure all of the nuclear material that is still unprotected in Russia.

The Post's description of why we deal with Russia shows a fundamental misunderstanding of nuclear terrorism and the dangers we face.  A nuclear device of some sort is not going to go off in an American city because Mahmoud Ahmedinejad or Kim Jong Il decide to give it to some terrorist.  The likelihood of that is incredibly low because there is very little incentive for these leaders to supply nuclear weapons to terrorists knowing full well that if it is ever traced back to them they would likely face nuclear retaliation.  A nuclear terrorist attack would much more likely be the result of an A.Q. Kahn selling the weapons and knowledge to  the highest bidder.  That is the real danger.  An enterprising Russian scientist who has the means and the motive, in a country that has so much nuclear material and hasn't exactly done the best job securing it, could be much more dangerous than a dictator who has neither the intention or capability to give Al Qaeda a nuclear weapon.   

So, despite the fact that the Russians have behaved quite badly in Georgia, the reality is that we still need the world's second largest nuclear power.

Sending Cheney to Eastern Europe
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I'll have to agree with Kevin Drum.  While, sending Dick Cheney to Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Ukraine during the RNC makes for a great punchline, it's actually a little scary.  This is pretty much the last guy I'd want to send into a delicate situation these days.  And while everyone is watching the Presidential elections there is some potential for serious damage that no one will even notice.    I can definitely say that I'd rather have Joe Biden making that trip than Dick Cheney. 

August 24, 2008

Babies 4 Obama
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Imgp1275 So you might be wondering why I haven't said anything in the last two weeks.  Or you might not have noticed at all.  It's not that I don't have opinions about Georgia/Russia (Are we all Georgians now?), Joe Biden (Good Choice), the Iraq Agreement (It's a timetable as much as the Bush Administration and John McCain will try to pretend it isn't.  After all, McCain waited until 8 o'clock on Friday night to release a statement about it  Must be because he thinks it's such good news for his campaign), or on a slew of other things.   Like the fact that the Washington Post editorial board did a whole piece yesterday on how we should stop working with the Russians and forgot to mention that they are the world's second largest nuclear power and that is an area where their cooperation is sort of crucial.  But more on that later. 

Anyway, the reason I haven't is because I've been working on a carefully calibrated voter outreach program.  The focus has been on one little Anna Butler Goldenberg.  And although she's only two weeks old and won't be able to vote in a Presidential election until 2028, I can confidently say that like her dad she is supporting Barack Obama this cycle.  I like him for foreign policy.  She's a big supporter of his energy plan.  Right now she's a little off brand but official campaign baby attire is in the mail. 

I'll be blogging regularly again starting tomorrow...

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