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February 15, 2008

Walking In Vs. Sneaking In
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

I was at an event recently with Ray Takeyh, who made an excellent point about the American position inside Iraq as opposed to the Iranian position.  When, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans a trip to Iraq, he announces it and even lays out an itinerary

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will travel to Iraq next month in the first such visit by a leader of the Islamic Republic, Iraqi officials said Thursday, adding that Iran had postponed a fourth round of talks with the United States to discuss Iraq's security.

Invited by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Ahmadinejad is scheduled to arrive March 2 for a visit of two to three days to discuss bilateral relations, the officials said. He will also meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki…

Ahmadinejad is scheduled to visit the southern Shiite holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, Dabbagh said. Among other issues, the two neighbors are slated to discuss joint projects, mostly along their 900-mile-long border, including electricity stations and oil fields, Dabbagh said.

When is the last time President Bush, Secretary Gates, or Secretary Rice made an announced trip to Iraq?  I don’t know if any U.S. Cabinet level official has done something like that since 2004 or ever?  The last time the President was there in September, the trip was shrouded in secrecy.  And when Gates was there earlier this week it was for a “surprise visit.”  The security measures for any visit from a U.S. Cabinet level official to Iraq are intense.  Meanwhile, Iranian government officials just don’t need nearly the same level of security.

This juxtaposition says something profound about the relative influence of Iran and the United States inside Iraq.

February 14, 2008

Global Warming and the Military
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Peter Ogden and John Podesta have a great piece out on global warming's impact on military planning.  "Global warming is a national security issue" is a popular and relatively hollow mantra around Washington these days.  But Ogden and Podesta actually go the extra step of explaining why that is the case. 

That Wacky, Wacky O'Hanlon
Posted by Michael Cohen

Because I love a pile-on as much as the next guy, I had to reference this from Michael O'Hanlon's utterly inane op-ed in the WSJ today:

More recently, Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill's interim progress in convincing North Korea to dismantle its nuclear capabilities has resulted from a more flexible U.S. attitude -- combined with tougher Chinese and South Korean policies toward North Korea after its 2006 nuclear test -- not from presidential summitry. Direct bilateral contact has been a necessary precondition to progress with the North Koreans, to be sure. But high -level engagement has not been the chief explanatory variable for predicting success or lack thereof.

You know maybe I need to look a bit closer at Barack Obama's web site, but isn't a more "flexible attitude" precisely the point that Obama is making by saying we need to talk to our enemies.

Obama's complaint is (and granted take my words with a grain of salt since my application to the Very Serious Foreign Policy Community is still pending) that this Administration refuses to talk to our enemies, like Iran and Syria, at any diplomatic level, no less the presidential level - and that this is harming our national interests. Case in point, the fact that our Ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad was recently upbraided by the State Department for simply participating in a panel discussion with two Iranian diplomats at the World Economic Forum.

It's as if O'Hanlon seems to believe that the first thing Obama is going to do after taking the oath of office is get on a plane, fly to Pyongyang, sit down with Kim Jong Il for some bulgogi and kimchi, play a little ping pong, maybe watch a few movies (Kim is a big film buff) and then maybe take a few minutes to talk about that pesky nuclear program.

Honestly, if you're going to criticize the guy fine; but at least criticize him for what he is actually saying as opposed to some phantom argument that only seems to exist in Michael O'Hanlon's head.

Go For Broke Hillary
Posted by Michael Cohen

Forgive the diversion into political affairs, but courtesy of Taegan Goddard I came across this quote from Todd Purdum in Vanity Affair that I wanted to pass along:

Clinton’s only hope of winning would be some kind of backroom deal in which she persuaded super-delegates, the party elders and leaders who need not take a firm stand until the first ballot at the convention in Denver, that Obama simply lacks what it takes, even if he has won more votes and delegates in the state-by-state count. It would be akin to winning the presidency in the Electoral College after losing the popular vote. We’ve tried that, and it doesn’t work out so well.

Yeah, it didn't work out so well, but you know what, George Bush still got to be President - I'm not sure he's losing a lot of sleep about the way he won. There's a line in baseball that "flags, (i.e. pennants) fly forever" and the same is true for politics. Losing with dignity is still losing; winning without dignity may not look good, but guess what, you still get to hang out in the Lincoln Bedroom.

Look, if Hillary comes that close to winning the nomination, being within less than 100 delegates, wouldn't you expect her to do everything she could to win? Don't we all kind of wish Al Gore had been that ruthless in 2000?

O’Hanlon and Think Tank Sociology
Posted by Moira Whelan

So Matt and Ilan have done great work this morning capturing the now full frontal assault on Obama and a bit on Clinton coming from Mike O’Hanlon.

So what gives coming from this think tanker who has been a self proclaimed “war critic”?

I have a theory…

Think tanks in DC are traditionally known as refugee camps for the out-of-office team of foreign policy wonks. There’s an expected turn over when new administrations come on as each team goes about grabbing “the best and the brightest” to fill their ranks.

O’Hanlon has by now gotten the message that he’s burned his bridges with his Democratic friends. Those that like him personally even agree that he’s radioactive right now thanks to his avid support of Bush’s war strategy.

So what’s a wonk to do?

Well, one option is pre-positioning yourself for the future. By getting out there and going after the leading Democrats—people that some of his closest colleagues are actively supporting—is he lining himself up to say that he was critiquing the next Administration before it was cool?

Continue reading "O’Hanlon and Think Tank Sociology" »

The Democracy Arsenal Stat of the Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

Today's stat of the day - 4,000.

According to a Financial Times article from this past weekend (I'm a little behind in my FT reading), Iran is dealing with a serious drug problem. Some international observers estimate that the country of 70 million people, may have as many as 5 million addicts.

As awful as that may be, this crazy stat jumped out at me:

The government is trying to stem the flow of drugs into the country, a struggle that has led to the killing of more than 4,000 police officers in the course of drug control operations since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

4,000 police officers killed since 1979! That's more than 130 police officers killed every year. Maybe it's just me, but is that not in an insanely high number? I like to keep pretty up on foreign affairs, but I simply had no idea that Iraq was dealing with such a serious drug problem or that efforts to stop the flow of drugs from neighboring Afghanistan were so violent. If any DA readers know more about this please offer comments below.

McCain on Torture
Posted by Michael Cohen

Well it seems that the Straight Talk Express has blown a tire and careened straight into a ditch.

You may remember that not so long ago John McCain was one of the few passionate voices in the Republican Party to speak out against torture. Indeed in 2006 he supported the Detainee Treatment Act, which "barred cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of any detainee." Apparently, that was then . . . and now he's running for President.

Senator McCain now feels that the CIA shouldn't be faced with such picayune restrictions on how they treat prisoners. Yesterday in a vote banning the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques, Senator McCain voted against the measure. (BTW, all DA readers can feel free to bang their against a wall over the fact that in the year 2008, 44 United States Senators joined with McCain in voting in support of the use of torture by the United States government. That would include the 2004 Democratic nominee for Vice President - JOEMENTUM!).

Kevin Drum here speculates that McCain's flip-flop is a result of the fact that torture is HUGE among conservative Republicans.  In an homage to the SAT; apparently redistributive economic policies is to liberals as waterboarding is to conservatives! Who knew?

Now here's my question for DA readers. What's worse, the fact that John McCain has flip flopped on torture or the fact that he and his advisers appear to believe that supporting waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation techniques will be a political boon for him among conservative Republicans? Discuss

Either way, I need a shower.

O'Hanlon... Grrr
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Seriously how is it that Mike O'Hanlon (R-Petraeus) manages to get himself into every single major op-ed page in this country so often?  I know so many more responsible and thoughtful people, who write much higher quality stuff but have a much harder time getting published.  His latest masterpiece in the WSJ today attacks Obama for his willingness to talk to regimes we don't like.   

If elevated to a doctrine, reliance on presidential-level diplomacy is a mistake. It risks rewarding foreign leaders who cause the most trouble, creating perverse incentives for those desiring the attention of the U.S. It also can confuse us about the nature of diplomacy. Foreign leaders, nice or not, make deals based on assessments of their interests, and any new diplomatic doctrine that fails to recognize as much would ignore centuries of history and potentially damage American security.

This is a classic case of an unfair strawman.  O'Hanlon is basically implying that Obama's foreign policy doctrine is that he will rely solely on talking to dictators as a way of dealing with them.  That's just absurd.  What Obama has said is that direct talks (instead of Bush's high school or kindergarten theory of diplomacy of not talking to people we don't like) need to be a central element of a broader strategy.

Anyone who thinks that America's strategy should be to talk to dictators all day, without laying the necessary groundwork through lower level negotiations, offering incentives, and sometimes using threats, is a moron.  So, there are a number of options:   A.  O'Hanlon thinks that Obama and his whole team of advisors (including Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Richard Danzig and Greg Craig) are just a bunch of morons; B.  He is deliberately misrepresenting Obama's position; or  C.  He hasn't actually paid close enough attention to figure out what Obama's policy really is.  I'll go with some combination of B & C.

Ghosts in the Computer
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Ghostbusters_logo China's pre-Olympic crackdown continues (after British athletes pledged not to "comment on any politically sensitive issues"), and now includes the bannishment of ghosts, spirits, apparitions, pixies, banshees and other paranormal entities from the internet.  Creatures that don't make the cut include:

"wronged spirits and violent ghosts, monsters, demons, and other inhuman portrayals, strange and supernatural storytelling for the sole purpose of seeking terror and horror"

With regulations like that, good thing Steven Spielberg has already pulled out of the Olympics...

February 13, 2008

The Hard-Hearted Left By George Packer
Posted by David Shorr

I can only add a little to what Matt Yglesias has to say about George Packer's new essay about Americans' views of the Iraq War. First, I will acknowledge that Packer's depiction of the human cost of the war is a public service. It is a limited one, however, and the limit is the point where Packer draws a cartoon of the domestic political debate about the war (as Matt points out).

Packer basically accuses war critics of betraying their own better judgment and principles. We are so vengeful against the authors of the war that "what began badly, must also end badly." What's the hidden assumption here? That our continued, open-ended military presence can make it 'end well.' If Packer has war critics' number, I wouldn't have, as someone who didn't support the invasion, waited more than 2-1/2 years to conclude we should get out. Some of us wanted it to end well and only gradually concluded that it couldn't -- or that we couldn't make it so by our continued occupation.

Second, on the charge that liberals are the sort of people who you would expect to show solidarity with the insurgents' victims. Well, in a way this is the same issue. In between solidarity and an extended military occupation lie numerous links of logic. This reminds me of the humanitarian intervention argument for the war, which Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth debunked very effectively in January 2004. The fallacy is: 'they're bad guys, so we should fight them.' There was indeed a very good argument for a humanitarian intervention in Iraq -- in 1989, 1990, or 1991 when Saddam was carrying out the worst of his mass killings. But as Roth points out,

the extraordinary remedy of humanitarian intervention should not be used simply to secure justice for past crimes. This extreme step, as noted, should be taken only to stop current or imminent slaughter, not to punish past abuse.

New Reports out on Anbar Awakening and Sunni Infighting
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Today, NSN Policy Director Ilan Goldenberg and Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Brian Katulis held a Press Call on Sunni infighting and how America's "Awakening Strategy" in Iraq is creating a political powder-keg that threatens to explode at any moment. Both released reports this week on the subject, providing fascinating insight into an underreported yet potentially critical development. Below is an mp3 link to this morning's call as well as links to both reports:

NSN: Sunni Infighting Threatens Iraq's Stability
CAP:  Awakening to New Dangers in Iraq
Call:  Download nsn_anbar_iraq_call.mp3

The Democracy Arsenal Stat of the Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

A few years ago my best friend and I, Lamar Robertson, created the unofficial Stat of the Day -- an e-mail exchange that would highlight some fascinating and illuminating statistic that we'd come across. Now I should say that 99.9% of those stats involved baseball, but I believe the SOTD is transferable to the world of politics and international affairs. So here begins a new feature at DA - the Democracy Arsenal Stat of the Day.

Today's stat - 61%.

As in 61% Wisconsin voters, would like to see America withdraw all troops from Iraq in the next six months. These numbers mirror national poll results, but it's important to remember that Wisconsin is one of those all important swing states. Indeed, John Kerry won there in 2004 by a mere 11,000 votes.

It's numbers like these that dramatize the enormous challenges facing both John McCain and the eventual Democratic nominee.  In the case of McCain, these results provide compelling evidence of his greatest vulnerability going into a general election - he's on the wrong side of the war. Mind you, he's not kind of, sort of on the wrong side, but he's decisively out of step with the American people. Once Wisconsin voters and others begin to see more video like this and this . . . well let's just say I don't think his poll numbers are going to improve.

But these results also dramatize the challenges facing Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. We're not going to be out of Iraq in six months after either of them takes office. Indeed, as David Brooks noted yesterday, "Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have seductively hinted that they would withdraw almost all U.S. troops within 12 to 16 months. But if either of them actually did that, he or she would instantly make Iraq the consuming partisan fight of their presidency."

If either Clinton or Obama wins on a platform of getting the troops out quickly they are walking into a minefield - either energizing GOP partisans who will accuse them of cutting and running or disappointing liberal Democrats who want us to leave Iraq ASAP. How are those 61% of Wisconsin voters going to feel if a newly-elected Democrat is forced to drag their feet on withdrawal for either political or strategic reasons?

George Bush's War in Iraq - the gift that keeps on giving.

February 12, 2008

Who Doesnt Understand War?
Posted by Michael Cohen

I really hope this astounding interview with John McCain doesn't get lost in the media coverage of today's Potomac Primary, because it really is instructive in showing just how out of touch John McCain is on foreign policy. Watch the video here:

I couldn't find a transcript so I'm relying in part on my own back of the envelope scribbling, but here's the gist of what he said:

Anyone who worries about how long we’re in Iraq does not understand the military and does not understand war. The question is not how long we stay in Iraq, the question is whether we are able to reduce the casualties, eliminate them, have the Iraqi military, as they are today, take over more and more of our responsibilities. 

We have troops in Kuwait. I don't hear a single American say "get the troops out of Kuwait." We have a base in Turkey. We've had troops for 60 years in Germany and Japan. We've had troops in South Korea since 1950.

First of all, I'm not so sure it's the best idea to tell the 64% of Americans who oppose the war in Iraq that they don't understand war. Second, someone might want to mention to John that no one is shooting at the troops in Turkey, South Korea or Kuwait.

But the more important point here is that McCain simply is wrong about the real issues in Iraq. Improving security, while important, is not the key to ending the violence in Iraq. To channel my inner Mitt Romney, it's simply the wrong metric.

There is no short-term military solution to the war in Iraq. The key to success in Iraq is moving forward with political reform and it is on this subject that McCain has nothing to say. This is a somewhat stunning omission, but it's genuinely reflective of McCain's basic mindset, which seems to place an inordinate emphasis on military rather than political solutions. When I saw him in Concord, New Hampshire he talked about "knowing how to deal with Iran" and the implication was pretty clear - he wasn't interested in having a chat with Ahmedinejad. This guy is a warrior. Fine, but frankly it's a warrior mindset that got us into the current mess we're in right now in Iraq.

And if I can dig a little deeper, if American troops are in Iraq say 5 or even 10 years from now isn't that a pretty clear sign that the strategy we've undertaken has been a failure. The question of how long we stay in Iraq actually is kind of important. I don't really understand how McCain can say that it doesn't matter.

In the end though, it's not just that John McCain wants to keep the troops in Iraq for 100 years it's that he doesn't really seem  to understand what victory in Iraq even means. If his goal is end the violence in Iraq and eliminate casualties (which by the way plays right into the hands of Al Qaeda insurgents) then he's right we might be there for 100 years, because without real political reconciliation that's likely how long it will take.

Continue reading "Who Doesnt Understand War?" »

So, Can We Have a Kinder, Gentler General Election?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Over at bloggingheads, Dan Drezner and I get into it, civilly, about whether there can be a civil, substantive general election debate on foreign policy.  Dan thinks there can be, and I don't -- or perhaps, more to the point, I think the candidate's civility doesn't count if surrogates and Party members run around making comments like Mitt Romney's the other day, that he was getting out of the race to avoid helping Sens. Clinton and Obama deliver the country to the terrorists, and the candidate does nothing to denounce the surrogates.  That's not civility, that's smart, nasty politics.  And candidates and their supporters who don't get that are allowing (sorry, can't help it) hope to triumph over experience.

Now, on a positive note, I do think we're having an election that ought to be a tonic for us and for the world.  Today everywhere I went in Maryland and DC there were people excited about voting -- arguing on the street, the subway, the elevator.  I'm not sure I've seen this much excitement about an election since Ukraine in 1990.  Between that and the snow, it kinda felt like what Iowa and New Hampshire have been experiencing all these years.

This is the way I want the world to see my country -- that our system is so open that a woman, an African-American son of an immigrant, a war hero, or an up-from-nothing governor who goes on comedy shows and talks about Jesus all have a reasonable chance of becoming President.

Mommy, Why Do Democrats Hate America?
Posted by Michael Cohen

Like many regular readers and bloggers on this site, I am outraged at what's happening today in the Senate on the FISA bill.  Part of me thinks the telecom immunity issue is being blown a bit out of proportion, because the much bigger outrage is that Senate Democrats are complicit in gutting FISA and allowing expanded wiretapping to occur without proper legal safeguards. You want to let the telecoms off the hook, that's one thing (to hell with the rule of law and all), but to basically enshrine into law this Administration's efforts to create a unitary executive somehow above congressional and judicial oversight . . . well that really is just beyond the pale.

But just as I was preparing to post pictures of Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller on my dart board I come across this quote from our fearless President about the FISA bill.

I think we're going to get a good bipartisan bill and so I applaud those Democrats. I'm not going after those Democrats. But there is a big part of the Democrat (sic) Party that is against giving our intelligence officers the tools necessary to protect America.

First of all, nice use of Democrat instead of Democratic (yeah that juvenile dig isn't getting old at all). As for the rest of this quote, of course, what the President is saying here is a lie. Democrats are more than happy to give our intelligence community tools they need to "protect America," they just want to be sure these tools are being used properly and that our judiciary (you know that tricky third branch of government) is able to conduct proper oversight of their activities.

It's shameless quotes like this and a media organization like Fox News that allows these untruths to be parroted to the American people, which goes a long way toward explaining why Democrats are surrendering on FISA as we speak.  They know that if they don't the President will spend the next 8 months spreading lies like "the Democrat Party is against giving our intelligence officers the tools they need to protect America."

Congressional Democrats have clearly made the decision that increasing Democratic majorities in 2008 is their number one priority. And with the sheer number of GOP retirements they may get their wish (and in fact over the long-term they may be correct to pursue this course). But such steps have their downsides - like sanctioning, the "single largest invasion of privacy in the history of the country."

I'm not saying it's right (far from it), but alas, 'it is what it is.'

That Wacky, Wacky Max Boot
Posted by Michael Cohen

In yet further evidence that neo-conservatives seem immune from the clutches of reality and common sense, Max Boot has written an incredible op-ed on American power.

According to Boot, America's biggest problem today is that rogue nations and leaders are not afraid enough of the United States. So what's Boot's brilliant solution for reversing America's "fear factor" - elect John McCain President. Why you ask? For those of you with a strong stomach read on:

Ask yourself which presidential candidate an Ahmadinejad, Assad or Kim would fear the most. I submit it is not Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Mike Huckabee. In my (admittedly biased) opinion, the leading candidate to scare the snot out of our enemies is a certain former aviator who has been noted for his pugnacity and his unwavering support of the American war effort in Iraq. Ironically, John McCain's bellicose aura could allow us to achieve more of our objectives peacefully because other countries would be more afraid to mess with him than with most other potential occupants of the Oval Office -- or the current one.

So let's see if I have this straight. We went to war in Iraq, in large measure, to show the world that you can't mess with the United States. Five years later, we are less feared today then we were then and the countries we were supposed to intimidate with our impressive display of American power are actually acting more mischievously.

But now according to Max Boot the problem wasn't that we wasted blood and treasure on an unnecessary war; it wasn't that we showed the world the true limitations of American military power; it wasn't that we poisoned relations with our key allies; it wasn't that we completely eschewed diplomacy in the name of a muscular and aggressive militarism.

No, no, the problem was we weren't bellicose enough. You see if we just elect someone who makes bat s*** crazy statements like we should be in Iraq for 100 years or jokes about bombing Iran, rogue nations will simply cower in fear and do America's bidding. Problem solved, now we can go back to cutting taxes and raping the environment.

I can just see it now, White House aides in a McCain Administration influencing foreign affairs by telling reporters sotto voce, "I've never seen McCain this angry before. He keeps talking about bombing back to the Stone Age. I tell you if the Iranians don't stop with that civilian nuclear program I don't know what he's going to do; maybe something really, really crazy."  Honestly, do you think it's the best selling point for a Presidential candidate to argue that people should vote him because he's a crazy SOB?

One would really think that after seven years of the Bush's Administration's disastrously confrontational and unilateralist foreign policy, conservatives would realize that maybe "flagwaving" is not the smartest approach to foreign policy. Guess not.

And right on cue, Josh Marshall links to an AP piece about recent talks between Ambassador Crocker and his Iranian counterpart. Goes to shows in foreign policy sometimes you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar:

The result, the officials said, was Iran's pledge to stop backing the Mahdi Army in return for the Bush administration lowering its rhetoric about Iran's nuclear program. The Iraqis who spoke about the talks said they believed the release of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in December was a quid pro quo to Tehran for it having turned its back on the Mahdi Army.

The NIE, in an about-face, said Iran had halted its secret attempts to build nuclear weapons in 2003, contrary to White House claims that Iran was using a civilian nuclear energy program as cover to build nuclear weapons.

Since then, Washington's pronouncements have softened significantly.

George Bush, you coward you!


The Democracy Arsenal Stat of the Day
Posted by Michael Cohen

Here at Democracy Arsenal, we've been talking quite a bit recently about the importance of election in foreign countries - but it's worth remember that here in the United States we haven't always been the best model for civic engagement. I wonder, however, if that is changing.

In 2004, participation in the presidential election was 60.7 percent of the electorate, the highest level since 1968. In 2006, voter turnout increased significantly among young people.

And of course this year, we've been bombarded with tales of huge turnout and long lines to vote. With that in mind, I pass along this reader e-mail from TNR's The Stump:

About ten voters were waiting for the polls to open at 6 a.m. this (windy and chilly) morning at an elementary school in Ashburn, Virginia (which lies about 50 minutes west of Washington, D.C.). A local Democratic organizer said that on a good primary day a total turnout of 200 voters is considered great.  This morning over 200 people had voted before 9 a.m.

Happy voting day!

DA Book Club: Still Broken by Alex Rossmiller
Posted by Adam Blickstein


  1. NSN Fellow Alex Rossmiller has a new book out detailing his experiences as a military intelligence analyst in the post-9/11 world—and  Still Broken: A Recruit's Inside Account of Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon leaves the reader quite disillusioned about America's ability to successfully fight global terrorism. Alex's rolling and unrestrained tone is measured against the sobering undertones that the nation's defense structure is truly ill-equipped to handle modern national security demands both at home and abroad.  But as LeVar Burton says "you don't have to take my word for it," to learn more, Alex discusses the book at AmericaBlog, and you can buy your very own copy here.

February 11, 2008

Voters are Ready for a Female Commander in Chief. So When Will the Media Catch Up With Them?
Posted by Marie Wilson

Recently, cable network MSNBC posed this question to voters in an exit poll: “With the field of Democratic candidates reduced to two, who would make the best Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces?” Senator Hillary Clinton was the clear favorite, besting her male opponent 50% to 35%--a ratio that surprised any number of journalists and, probably, quite a few voters who weren’t among the 50% who chose her.

Not that this is the first time the issue of a woman serving as the ultimate authority for our armed forces has come up. In June 2007, MSNBC anchor/pundit Chris Matthews (yes, him again) expressed his significant doubts about whether voters, women and men alike, would actually pull the lever for a female commander. His guest, New York Times reporter Elizabeth Bumiller, assured him that the voters could “get there,” invoking the historical records of leaders Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher to persuade him that the military might just take a woman leader seriously.

And then there was the time back in May of 2005 when Matthews reacted with shock to Retired General Barry McCaffery’s suggestion that the troops would have little issue taking orders from Senator Clinton. “Why wouldn’t they listen to a [female] commander in chief?” McCaffrey asked incredulously. “You're chuckling a little bit, aren't you?” Matthews replied.

It’s easy to pick on Matthews for gaffes like these, but he’s not alone in being behind the curve when it comes to voter sentiment on this issue—and that’s partly because attitudes in this realm have been changing at lightening speed. A Roper ASW poll conducted in 2000 showed that 70% of respondents believed that a male president would perform better on foreign policy than a female president would. At the time, a woman president outranked men only on the issues of trustworthiness and honesty.

But by 2007 a similar Roper poll showed a dramatic change: seven years later, more than half of Americans felt that women were either equally suited or better suited to handle the complex issues of foreign policy, homeland security and the economy than their male counterparts.

How did it happen? And how did it happen so fast?

Let’s just call it “Seeing is believing.” Today, Americans have the benefit of a decade spent watching Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice occupy the highest National Security positions in our country. Simply put, Albright and Rice have made it “normal” to have females in those positions by way of their mere presence.

And it’s not just the highest ranking officials who matter. The nightly news from Iraq features women who, whether as enlisted soldiers or as officers, are serving on the front lines of war and in the line of fire. This time around, women are proving themselves as brave and as tough (and sometimes, to our disappointment, as vulnerable to mistakes) as their male colleagues.

Of the over 400 experts on The White House Project’s online data base of women experts that are being placed on network and cable shows each week (, almost 25% of them boast credentials in some aspect of national security.  Every week they duke it out with the likes of Pat Buchanan and Bill O’Reilly, or appear on Sunday morning talk shows and the evening news to prove that national security is not just a man’s game.

And don’t go discounting how many people got comfortable with actress Geena Davis deciding where our naval fleet should be deployed and sending Special Forces in for dramatic rescue operations on the short-lived prime time network television show Commander in Chief.  The White House Project both built and monitored the show’s audience, and we know that young men, particularly, liked seeing a woman wield this kind of power.

Meanwhile, Senator Clinton herself has served on the Senate Armed Forces Committee and, of course, has suffered for her vote that allowed Bush to go to war in Iraq.  But beyond this, she has been able to speak with authority to voters about her plans for withdrawal and ending the war, as well as about the importance of diplomacy.

Then there’s influence the rest of the world has had on us: Increasingly, women like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia are showing us not only that women can lead, but that their unique perspectives are as desperately needed now as they have ever been.

“Research by political psychologists… find[s] that women, compared with men, tend to excel in consensus-building and certain other skills useful in leadership,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in a recent column, titled “When Women Rule.” Living as we are in one of the most dangerous times in recent history, where catastrophic conflicts can come from the actions of a very few individuals, women may turn out to be our best hope for true security, having proven themselves experts in both peace building and prevention. These, too, are a set of facts more and more of us are coming to understand.

As a woman candidate trained in security issues by The White House Project put it in her stump speech, “Let diplomacy be our pre-emptive strike.”  As much as any other argument, her words capture the essence of what women can bring to our political process—and why the polls are showing increased support for women leaders on security issues worldwide.

Tom Lantos
Posted by Max Bergmann

I was struck with great sadness this morning learning of the death of Tom Lantos.

As an immigrant and a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, whose thick accent and life story mirrored that of my grandparents, Lantos was revered in my family. To my grandparents the mere fact that someone like them could achieve so much here, spoke volumes about America.

His stubborn persistence on human rights pushed the notion that American foreign policy “national interests” were not just defined by geopolitics or economics, but by our values as well. Lantos’ advocacy on behalf of human rights and combating genocide came, not just because of some abstract belief in these values, but because he had experienced the horrors of genocide first hand. But Lantos had also experienced the power of America to help those in need. He was a constant reminder to us of the good that America could do in the world. He did this not just through his efforts in congress, but through the power of his story. He will be missed. 

African Highway through the Danger Zone
Posted by Adam Blickstein

Sorry for the consecutive sport's posts  (there might be one more as the Met's head to spring training this week), but the three decades old Dakar Rally is moving from North Africa to South America next year after this years rally was canceled due to fear of terrorism. The marathon off-road endurance motor-race normally traverses through parts of Northern Africa, including through the Sahel region known for a growth in terrorist activities, where last Christmas Eve a French tourist was killed in Mauritania which prompted the Dakar's cancellation.  With President Bush leaving this Friday for Africa, nothing on his schedule shows him addressing terrorism and terror elements on the African continent. Deadly bombings over the past year in Algeria and Morocco along with the continued terrorism presence in North Africa, ongoing issues with radical Islam in the African Horn, Sudan and Egypt, and terror cells of African origin posing problems in Europe illustrate Africa as another breeding ground for terror. So it's curious that even as Bush tries to make fighting terror the centerpiece of legacy that he isn't addressing it or AFRICOM on his upcoming trip.  While dancing with the Kankouran West African Dance Company might make a good photo-op, it certainly won't help solve the problem of African-based terrorism.

That Wacky, Wacky Krugman
Posted by Michael Cohen

A few weeks ago I wondered aloud if Barack Obama had stolen Paul Krugman's girlfriend or maybe accidentally run over his dog. At the time, I was joking, but after reading his piece in today's New York Times, I'm really beginning to wonder. 

After claiming that there is too much "bitterness" and "venom" in the Democratic race, Krugman makes this astounding argument:

I won’t try for fake evenhandedness here: most of the venom I see is coming from supporters of Mr. Obama, who want their hero or nobody. I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality. We’ve already had that from the Bush administration — remember Operation Flight Suit? We really don’t want to go there again.

This is just unhinged. Does Paul Krugman really believe that the popular support for Barack Obama is akin to the sycophant-like behavior that we see around President Bush? Does he really think that Obama would pull a stunt like "Mission Accomplished" or even for that matter preemptively attack a foreign nation? Just because Obama supporters passionately want their guy to win does that mean, ipso facto, we're going to have a repeat of the worst excesses of the Bush Administration? It pains me to tar Paul Krugman with this brush, but this the kind of argument I would expect to see coming from Charles Krauthammer!

As for the notion that the Democratic race is filled with venom, as far as I am aware neither candidate has run a single negative TV ad against the other and neither has launched any sort of personal character attack. This has been one very tough fought, but pretty substantive presidential campaign. Indeed, if every campaign was like this, we'd all be much better off.

But what I find most hilarious about Krugman's allegation of the venom supposedly coming from Obama supporters is that he doesn't even bother to point to a single example of this phenomenon, instead highlighting mainstream media attacks against the Clintons and arguing that Obama folks aren't exorcised enough by them. Sheesh! This is just embarrassing.

It's really about time, Paul Krugman went back to talking about economics because when it comes to politics he's starting to sound like a broken record.

Contractor Deaths in Iraq
Posted by Michael Cohen

Some pretty extraordinary numbers out today on deaths of civilian contractors in Iraq.

According to the Department of Labor, 1,123 military/security contractors have been killed in Iraq, compared to 3,954 U.S soldiers. That means civilian contractors represent 22% of all personnel, civilian and military, killed in Iraq.

In fact, 2007 was the worst year for contractor deaths - civilian contractor deaths rose 17 percent in 2007: a higher rate that than of the military. And here's the even more disturbing part, the actual number could be much higher. These figures are compiled by the Labor Department (why it's not done by the Pentagon is inexplicable) and they only reflect insurance or worker compensation claims filed with the department. If the family of a contractor doesn't seek compensation they don't get counted.

Yet, even at these levels, these are huge numbers and they are unprecedented.  When one considers that contractors are not engaged in combat with the enemy and generally perform support functions, like serving meals, washing clothes etc, these numbers are even more sobering.  It's just a startling example of exactly how reliant the US has become on private contractors to fight wars.

It also demonstrates how using contractors can allow elected leaders to shield from the American people the true costs of war. In previous conflicts many of the contractors killed would be military personnel so in a sense by only focusing on uniformed casualties the American people are not getting a clear sense of exactly how many individuals have died, and are dying, on behalf of the Iraq mission.

This is not to say that using contractors in national security operations is a bad thing - it's not. These individuals can, and often do, play a critically important role. But our elected leaders need to be upfront about their use and contractors shouldn't be a tool for political obfuscation. Unfortunately, that seems to be what's happening in Iraq.

That Wacky, Wacky Kristol - Kiss of Death Edition
Posted by Michael Cohen

So after victories in Nebraska, Washington, Louisiana and Maine for Barack Obama I figured things were looking pretty good for the Illinois Senator. Then I read what Bill Kristol had to say in the New York Times today:

After his strong showing over the weekend, it is Obama who now has the clearer path to his party’s nomination.

Kristol goes on to basically argue that it's Obama's race to lose. If this isn't the Kiss of Death I don't know what is. Bill Kristol has been wrong so many times, he has invented new and creative ways to be wrong. Here are a few choice examples.

July 15, 2007

If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president. I like the odds.

March 7, 2005

Just four weeks after the Iraqi election of January 30, 2005, it seems increasingly likely that that date will turn out to have been a genuine turning point. The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, ended an era. September 11, 2001, ended an interregnum. In the new era in which we now live, 1/30/05 could be a key moment--perhaps the key moment so far--in vindicating the Bush Doctrine as the right response to 9/11. And now there is the prospect of further and accelerating progress.

April 4, 2003

There's been a certain amount of pop sociology in America ... that the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular

See here for an even more comprehensive list of Bill Kristol's wrongness.

I tell you, this is the best news the Clinton campaign has received in days.

February 10, 2008

The Accountability Moment
Posted by Michael Cohen

Do you remember when Republicans used to be the party that preached responsibility and accountability? Those certainly were the days. Try to take a wild guess what happened when the RAND Corporation wrote a report detailing the Administration's many mistakes in preparing for the Iraq war:

After 18 months of research, RAND submitted a report in the summer of 2005 called “Rebuilding Iraq.” RAND researchers provided an unclassified version of the report along with a secret one, hoping that its publication would contribute to the public debate on how to prepare for future conflicts.

But the study’s wide-ranging critique of the White House, the Defense Department and other government agencies was a concern for Army generals, and the Army has sought to keep the report under lock and key.

Here is the report's equally unsurprising conclusions:

A review of the lengthy report shows that it identified problems with nearly every organization that had a role in planning the war. That assessment parallels the verdicts of numerous former officials and independent analysts.

The study chided President Bush — and by implication Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who served as national security adviser when the war was planned — as having failed to resolve differences among rival agencies.

The Defense Department led by Donald H. Rumsfeld was given the lead in overseeing the postwar period in Iraq despite its “lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.”

The State Department led by Colin L. Powell produced a voluminous study on the future of Iraq that identified important issues but was of “uneven quality” and “did not constitute an actionable plan.”

Gen. Tommy R. Franks, whose Central Command oversaw the military operation in Iraq, had a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the military needed to do to secure postwar Iraq, the study said.

However, since the report expanded beyond looking at the Army's screwups to the entire US government, well, apparently that wasn't of much use.

"After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army. Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”

Yeah, I'm sure that's the case.

Nation-building: still harder than you think
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

East Timor's Nobel Peace Prize-winning president was shot at his home Monday morning, in an apparent coup attempt.  There are unsubstantiated reports that the Prime Minister's home was attacked as well.

Lest you forget, the international community intervened in 1999 to protect Timor's 876,000 people from Indonesian-backed militias... the country's been a global darling ever since... with the UN and Australia providing security... did I mention it has less than a million people and huge foreign aid (relatively speaking) and still can hardly manage peaceful politics?

Timor is still a success story.  It's just that this, not Berne-between-the-Tigris-and-Euphrates, is what national-building success looks like.  Messy and slow.  (Thankfully, it looks as if Ramos-Horta's injuries are not fatal.)

Bush on Obama
Posted by Michael Cohen

Courtesy of Marc Ambinder, here's the President today talking about Obama's foreign policy:

WALLACE:  Do you think there's a rush to judgment about Barack Obama. Do you think voters know enough about him?

BUSH: I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and embrace Ahmadinejad. I think I commented that in a press conference when I was asked about that.

WALLACE:  I hope not.  But so you don't think that we know enough about him or what he stands...

BUSH: It doesn't seem like it to me, but this campaign is plenty of time for candidates to get defined. He is yet his party's nominee.

WALLACE:  So why do you think he's gotten this far if people don't know what he stands for?

BUSH:  You're the pundit. I'm just a simple president.

This is sort of hilarious and sad at the same time. On the one hand, Bush is completely mischaracterizing Obama's message on Pakistan and Iran, but what's really amusing is that he claims to have only heard Obama talking about these issues and never say, his opposition to the Iraq war! But you really have to love it when George W Bush is complaining that an American political figure is recklessly threatening the use of force. That George Bush, he's so adorable!

I did, however enjoy the Obama campaign's response - a tricky combination back-handed swipe at Hillary and a full-frontal attack on Bush. The East German judge gives that a 9.5.

“Of course President Bush would attack the one candidate in this race who opposed his disastrous war in Iraq from the start. But Barack Obama doesn't need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy decision in a generation."

The Roast of Ahmadinejad
Posted by Michael Cohen

Courtesy of the Onion, if only foreign affairs was this much fun:

World Leaders Gather To Roast Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

In what observers are calling an unprecedented opportunity for the international community to express its grievances against Iran's controversial leader, dozens of world leaders and key U.N. delegates gathered Saturday to roast Iranian  president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

You know, a lot of folks have been criticizing Ahmadinejad for covering up one of the most horrifying and unspeakable crimes ever perpetrated on humankind," Russian president Vladimir Putin told the assembled guests. "But don't you listen to them, Mahmoud. I happen to like your beard."

Ahmadinejad, seated in a plush red armchair just to the right of the podium, seemed in high spirits as he calmly endured countless ribs from his allies and fellow arms-race competitors. Rolling his eyes and shaking his finger in mock disapproval, he was taken to task for everything from his brutal treatment of political dissidents to his recent visit to Columbia University.

Next up was President George W. Bush, who began his remarks by pulling a small piece of what he claimed was plutonium from behind Ahmadinejad's ear. Bush then told him that this was only the first of two bombings he would witness an American president perform this year.

"What the hell is with that last name, anyway?" Bush said. "Ahmadinejad? Ahmendinifragelisticexpialidocious? I can't even pronounce it, let alone write it on a top-secret Black Ops memo."

There's much more here - and it gets a lot dirtier. So, if you're easily offended . . . well you've been warned.

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