Democracy Arsenal

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January 25, 2008


Role Model in Chief
Posted by Lorelei Kelly

This is somewhat of a cheap shot, but I can't help myself. Harper's magazine has the gem of the week. If you want to leave the office today and laugh all the way home, have a look at this.

Short version: Bush’s favorite painting, from which he draws great religious inspiration, is actually a painting of a horse thief about to be re-captured by a lynch mob. Irony is not dead.

Economy, Energy, Environment...
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

As we say goodbye, at least for now, to an all-Iraq all the time media environment and replace it with all-economy all the time, I get to go back to one of my pet hobbyhorses:  how little we know about how voters understand the nexus among energy policy, national security, the economy and global warming.

Or, to put it another way:  wonks think that this is one interconnected ball of issues, and that talking about one gets you points on another.

The latest Pew poll suggests that the public thinks otherwise.  Thanks to Matt Yglesias for posting the relevant chart, even though his post is about something else.

67 percent of Democrats say "protecting the environment" is a top priority, 59 percent say "dealing with energy problems" and 47 percent say "dealing with global warming."

For Republicans, those numbers are 39, 53 and 12, respectively.

Strengthening the nation's economy, in case you wondered, gets 76 percent from both.

There's an interesting problem/warning lurking there on the global warming piece.  Have people decided it's hopeless?  Or is it not that important?  Or do they include it in environment?  Or in energy??

That Not So Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today Charles Krauthammer wrote a piece slamming the demagogic and dishonest campaign of John Edwards and quite uncomfortably I find myself agreeing with virtually every word of it.

Today he plays the avenging angel, engaged in an "epic struggle" against the great economic malefactors that "have literally," he assures us, "taken over the government." He is angry, embodying the familiar zeal of the convert, ready to immolate anyone who benightedly holds to any revelation other than the zealot's very latest.

Nothing new about a convert. Nothing new about a zealous convert. What is different about Edwards is his endlessly repeated claim that the raging populist of today is what he has always been. That this has been the "cause of my life," the very core of his being, ingrained in him on his father's knee or at the mill or wherever, depending on the anecdote he's telling. You must understand: This is not politics for him. "This fight is deeply personal to me. I've been engaged in it my whole life."

Except for his years as senator, the only public office he's ever held. The audacity of the all-my-life trope is staggering. By his own endlessly self-confessed record, his current pose is a coat of paint newly acquired. His claim that it is an expression of his inner soul is a farce.

A cynical farce that is particularly galling to authentic and principled left-liberals. "The one [presidential candidate] that is the most problematic is Edwards," Sen. Russ Feingold told the Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wis., "who voted for the Patriot Act, campaigns against it. Voted for No Child Left Behind, campaigns against it. Voted for the China trade deal, campaigns against it. Voted for the Iraq war. . . . He uses my voting record exactly as his platform, even though he had the opposite voting record."

Yeah, I don't have a real problem with anything Krauthammer has written here, which I have to admit gives me a sort of queasy feeling.

Just to reassure my loyal Wacky, Wacky Krauthammer readers, I'm not going soft on the man. I still think he is a fundamentally dishonest polemicist, but I suppose today's op-ed proves the old adage that on some days, the sun shines on a dog's ass.

Enjoy the rays Chuck!

January 24, 2008

The REAL Problem in Washington
Posted by Michael Cohen

As is often his way Matt Yglesias makes a great point today about the economic stimulus proposal agreed to by Congress:

Chris Hayes looks at the pretty disappointing stimulus package that's apparently been agreed to and argues "I think progressives have to do some very long, deep, sustained thinking about why this congress has been such a failure." I dunno about that. The man's not single-handedly to blame for every problem with this congress, but the main reason the congress has been so disappointing has been that George W. Bush is still President.

The initial Democratic proposal was much better than what eventually got agreed to. . . .But the reason it's not very good is the Republicans not some mystifying failure on Nancy Pelosi's fault.

I have my own mystification on why more progressives don't realize this. George Bush and his obstructionist minions in the Senate have pretty much opposed everything Democrats have tried to accomplish over the past year. This at the same time that Democrats are trying to avoid overreaching and protect their slim majorities in both Houses. Anyone who expected that Dems were just going to overturn everything George Bush had done in the first six years of his failed Presidency were smoking something that smelled like Otto's jacket. For all those progressives upset over  the performance of the Democratic Congress I want you to imagine what today's stimulus package would have looked like in a Republican Congress.

I don't offer this post as a defense for everything Congressional Democrats have done. Indeed I have been quite critical in the past, but the notion that a Democratic Congress would put in place significant change in the face of President Bush's unceasing obstructionism was simply never realistic. Newsflash to progressives: the revolution will not happen overnight.

The history of the Awakening Movement
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

The Asia Times has an excellent piece chronicling the history of the Anbar Awakening.  Apparently, the military had been trying to pursue this strategy of co-opting the insurgency for four years, but every time they made some inroads it got shot down by the White House. 

"Don't let the quiet fool you," a senior defense official says. "There's still a huge chasm between how the White House views Iraq and how we [in the Pentagon] view Iraq. The White House would like to have you believe the 'surge' has worked, that we somehow defeated the insurgency. That's just ludicrous. There's increasing quiet in Iraq, but that's happened because of our shift in strategy - the 'surge' had nothing to do with it."

In part, the roots of the disagreement between the Pentagon and White House over what is really happening in Iraq is historical. Senior military officers contend that the seeming fall-off in in-country violence not only has nothing to do with the increase in US force levels, but that the dampening of the insurgency that took hold last summer could have and would have taken place much earlier, within months of America's April 2003 occupation of Baghdad.

Moreover, these officers contend, the insurgency might not have put down roots in the country after the fall of Baghdad if it had not been for the White House and State Department - which undermined military efforts to strike deals with a number of Iraq's most disaffected tribal leaders. These officers point out that the first contact between high-level Pentagon officials and the nascent insurgency took place in Amman, Jordan, in August of 2003 - but senior Bush administration officials killed the talks.

A second round of meetings, this time with leaders of some of al-Anbar province's tribal chiefs, took place in November of 2004, but again senior administration officials refused to build on the contacts that were made. "We made the right contacts, we said the right things, we listened closely, we put a plan in place that would have saved a lot of time and trouble," a senior Pentagon official says. "And every time we were ready to go forward, the White House said 'no'."

The tragedy here is that four years ago, this strategy might have made a difference.  But since then the country has split apart along sectarian lines.  You've had massive fits of violence followed by complete political deadlock.  Even though we've now managed to temporarily co-opt the elements of the former Sunni insurgency, it's probably too late to try and put humpty dumpty back together again. 

More on the Electability Question
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ezra Klein, Kevin Drum, and others have been having an interesting back-and-forth on the electabiilty question. Ezra writes:

Via Kevin Drum comes yet more evidence that there's no open-and-shut case for Obama's electability. "The detailed results of the latest LA Times poll have now been posted," he writes, "and they show that Hillary is indeed the tougher candidate: she does at least as well as Obama against every leading Republican, and in a hypothetical matchup with McCain she wins by 4 points while Obama loses by a point."

Of course, other polls show other things. The point, though, is that the evidence folks are using to prove Obama's electability is weak indeed. Favorability ratings have a very tenuous relationship to votes. Obama, with a +27 favorable rating, seems to do little better than Clinton, with a +4 favorable rating, in match-up polls, and often does somewhat worse. Liking someone is not the same as voting for them.

Obama's favorability ratings may not translate into winning hypothetical matchups now, but that's not really the point. Higher favorability ratings mean that more people would be likely to consider voting for Obama in the future. In other words, if Obama wins the nomination and has a chance to make his case to the American people, a significantly higher number of voters will be at least open to his pitch. On other other hand, Hillary's ceiling of support appears to be somewhat lower.

Ezra says that "liking someone is not the same as voting for them." Well, no it isn't. But if you like someone, you will, all other things being equal, be more likely to vote for them.

Iraqi Refugee Bill
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This is an important bill and a good first step.  Points for Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and John Dingell (D-MI).  When people talk about the moral obligation to the Iraqis, it shouldn't be based on keeping hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq with no clear strategy.  It should be based on what steps we can meaningfully and constructively take to improve the lives of the Iraqi people.

Two key members of Congress yesterday asked President Bush to add $1.5 billion to his spending next year on the Iraq war to help pay for several Iraq refugee programs, including the one that would bring as many as 5,000 former interpreters or translators for U.S. forces to this country over five years.

Reps. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said in a letter sent to Bush that "our government has a moral responsibility to provide leadership" with more than 4.5 million Iraqis either internally displaced or in neighboring countries because of the war. "Iraqis are now the third-largest displaced population in the world and the fastest-growing refugee population globally," they said and thus have "grave potential to lead to a regional crisis."

The lawmakers said the U.S. government should provide $80 million to pay for transportation to the United States and settlement of former Iraqi interpreters; another $80 million for other Iraqi refugees seeking to come to the United States; another $130 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which provides health care and financial support to Iraqi refugees; $200 million for displaced Iraqis inside that country; and $700 million to Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon to support Iraqi refugees in their countries.

My Bloomberg Prediction based on Rumors and Speculation
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Some second-hand hearsay twice-removed from someone associated with Mayor Bloomberg leads me to make the following prediction:

If Hillary wins, Bloomberg will run.
If Obama wins, Bloomberg will not run.

So, if we're talking about the electability of Obama vs. Hillary, that's something worth considering. Regardless of whether such speculation is to be believed, it's also fairly intuitive. The raison d'etre of a Bloomberg insurgency crumbles almost entirely if Obama is the nominee. But if we're running headlong into a Hillary-McCain or particularly a Hillary-Romney faceoff, then a Bloomberg run has a much better chance of gaining traction with Americans - an outcome which would probably hurt Democrats more than Republicans.

January 23, 2008

What Happens After We Leave Pt III
Posted by Michael Cohen

Ok I'm starting to feel bad that Shawn and I are ganging up on Max so I appreciate Ilan weighing in! In his last post Max argues "the problem with Michael’s moral obligation argument is that it implies that we actually have this power to make things significantly better" in Iraq. Actually, my argument is quite different. I don't believe that we have the power to make things demonstrably better in Iraq . . . but I do believe that we have the power to make things a heck of a lot worse.

My argument from the beginning has been that Democrats are ignoring the very serious repercussions of a hasty departure from Iraq. In fact, in the Democratic debate on Monday, John Edwards foolishly challenged his opponents to "commit to having all combat troops out and ending combat missions in the first year." John, this isn't a contest to see who can withdraw fastest; it's to see how we can do it most effectively with the least loss of life and the least further damage done to Iraq.  But Edwards comment is indicative of the blase attitude many progressives seem to have toward departure.

I realize for some it may seem difficult to believe that we could make things worse in Iraq, but that certainly seems the case. What's more, we seem to already be washing our hands of responsibility for future problems there. There is something that is beginning to trouble me about the fact that we have done enormous damage to Iraq; we have unleashed tribal and radical forces that threaten to break apart the nation and yet all three Democratic candidates for President seem to be putting the entire onus on Iraqis to affect political change. Guess who will get blamed when things fall apart? Yes, Iraqis have to solve these problems on their own, but we are not blameless and simply announcing that we are departing doesn't end our responsibility.

As for Max's and Ilan's point that our "leverage" in Iraq may not necessarily being results; well he's absolutely right about that. But it seems to me that the process Shawn lays out, namely that "America should begin – finally – to make our security, economic, and diplomatic aid conditional on demonstrable efforts at real political progress in Iraq" has a stronger chance of success than the approach most Democrats seem to be advocating, namely that by threatening to leave it will force the Maliki government to move forward with political reform. Now that approach may bring results, but then again it may not. There is certainly a reasonable chance that it may lead the Shiites to simply bide their time, build up their forces and then once we begin our drawdown seek to wipe out the Sunnis.  Exercising our political leverage is not a panacea, but it might be the least bad option available to us. At the very least, it will give