Thursday, April 24 2004
GEPHARDT'S A CONTENDER: Let's get a couple of things straight concerning the election next year, if the economy and the stock market improve over the next 15 months President Bush will win, period. The only real political question will be by how much. The elections of 1984 (59%-41%) and 1988 (53%-46%) are probably reasonable blueprints for the size of victory President Bush could expect.

You can breakdown the economic/stock market possibilities into three broad groups: 1) UP and IMPROVING, 2) FLAT and STAGNANT, and 3) DOWN and WORSENING. Scenarios 2 and 3 are the only ones where the Democrats have a chance to win.

For a Democratic candidate there are two elections that will take place: first the nominating process which will take place over the next 12 months and second the general election to take place next November. To become President you have to win the first and then the second, in that order. Gephardt's bold move toward universal heath care gives him a chance to win the Presidential exacta.

If you throw out Bob Graham as a fringe candidate/VP wannabe, Gephardt and Lieberman are the only Democratic candidates who pass the sniff test on national security. In the post 9/11 world in which we live, at least for election 2004, general election candidates better have bonafide national security credentials if they want to win. On paper, Kerry and Edwards will make the case that they have those necessary national security credentials, but the public can see through phony votes and calculated positions. Of the announced candidates, Gephardt and Lieberman are really the only two who project a strong and confidant image in combating terror and defending the American people. (If the Democrats nominate Howard Dean, say hello to 1972. Kucinich, Mosley-Braun and Sharpton are joke candidates, though Sharpton may be able to cause quite a bit of mischief.)

Gephardt now has a lot going for him. He's a seasoned politician who has been a round the block a few times, not unimportant post 9/11. He has very strong union backing, a key Democratic constituency. He passes the sniff test on national security which makes him electable in the general, which in turn makes him attractive behind the scenes to the movers and shakers in the Democratic hierarchy who want to win. By stepping out early with a bold and ambitious plan to scrap all the Bush tax cuts and provide health insurance for all Americans he has an issue he can use to energize the Democratic left. If he is going to win the nomination he will have to mend fences with this large and important group who viscerally hate his stand on the war.

The conventional wisdom is this move by Gephardt helps him in the primaries, but hurts him in the general. But I wonder just how much this would hurt him in the general election. Remember, the only scenarios where the Democrat has a chance to win are scenarios 2 and 3 where the economy is stagnant or worsening. If the stock market continues to fall and unemployment continues to rise scrapping the Bush tax cut in exchange for universal heath care for all Americans may make for a powerful campaign issue.

None of this is meant to suggest I am endorsing Gephardt's proposal, which from my early reading, looks to be a prescription for an economic disaster. The point here is from a political stand point this is a smart, strategic move from Gephardt. It gives him a big issue to campaign on which might be enough to win him the nomination in a crowded field.

Once Gephardt's wins the nomination he can throw Bob Graham on as VP. Suddenly you have a Democratic ticket that is solid on national security, likely to win California, New York, Missouri, Florida and if you throw in a bad economy in a real position to upset a very strong President.   J. McIntyre 8:36 am

Wednesday, April 23 2003
I'm afraid it's a little bit worse than I'd expected. Let me first say that I don't think Newt's critique of the State Department is completely without merit., they've had (and continue to have) their struggles and make mistakes. But it's fairly obvious from the full text of the speech and from the public way the speech was delivered that Newt's primary interest isn't really in reforming the State Department but rather in taking a nice fat slap at Colin Powell.

Here's the meat of Newt's indictment:

As the State Department remained ineffective and incoherent, the French launched a worldwide campaign to undermine the American position and make the replacement of the Saddam dictatorship very difficult. This included twisting Turkish arms to block a vote in favor of the United States using Turkish soil to create a northern front and appealing to the other members of the Security Council to block a second resolution.

Despite a pathetic public campaign of hand wringing and desperation the State Department publicly failed to gain even a majority of the votes on the UN Security Council for a second resolution. Opposing America and a world of progress had somehow become less attractive and more difficult than helping America eliminate the fear of Saddam’s wicked regime.

Fortunately the Defense Department was capable of overcoming losing access to Turkey, losing public opinion support in Europe and the Middle East and turned those disadvantages into a stunning victory working in concert with our British allies and with support largely secured by Centcom and DoD among the Gulf States. Had Centcom and DoD been as ineffective at diplomacy as the State Department (which is supposedly in charge of diplomacy) Kuwait would not have been available, the Saudi air base would not have been available, and the Jordanian passage of special forces would not have been available, etc.

No matter how much disdain Gingrich might have for the State Department, it's wildly disingenuous to blame them for being on the short end of a battle against world opinion at the UN or in the Turkish parliament. After being on the losing end of so many of his own battles with the press and public opinion Newt should know better.

Furthermore, Gingrich doesn't admit the obvious: Resolution 1441 was a diplomatic victory and provided exactly the sort of cover the Bush administration wanted and needed to move forward with the threat of force. The battle in the UN Security Council to win a second resolution, far from being the huge diplomatic failure that Gingrich asserts, exposed the UNSC - at least in the eyes of the American public - for being the ineffective debating club that it is.

The last paragraph quoted above, however, is the real giveaway. The idea that the State Department's efforts in the months leading up to the war were counterproductive to US interests but that Rumsfeld and the DoD were able to succeed in spite of Powell & Co. is just, to use Newt's term, "ludicrous."

It's patently obvious to anyone who follows the news that the State Deparment's efforts were and continue to be made that much more difficult by the impression (wrongly created I might add) of a trigger-happy, warmongering Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld triumvirate that scares the living piss out of the rest of the world.

It's hard to argue that Don Rumsfeld isn't the perfect person to be running the DoD. But that doesn't mean that he or someone who shares his thinking would be the best person to run State, as Gingrich seems to suggest. Would the administration really be stronger with, say, Paul Wolfowitz or Richard Perle as Secretary of State? Monopolies of thought are extremely dangerous, and it's hard to imagine that President Bush would be better served by one - especially since the evidence indicates that Bush seems to agree with Powell's advice at certain times and on certain issues.

What we're left with then is that Gingrich is using the success of the war in Iraq as an opportunity to promote the Rumsfeldian neocon view and to take Colin Powell down a few notches by flaying his organization publicly. This is the wrong time, the wrong fight, and the wrong way to conduct a serious debate on the issue. You just don't take such a historic victory, a weapon of invaluable rhetorical and ideological value against your political adversaries, and turn it against those who are on your team. -T. Bevan 8:17 am

Tuesday, April 22 2003
STATE PLAYING DEFENSE: I'm not sure the speech Newt Gingrich is going to give today at the American Enterprise Institute is going to be all that helpful. Actually, I think it's a bad idea. As distressed as Gingrich may be over Powell's decision to meet personally with Bashar Assad of Syria - described in the article as the "last straw" for Newt - nothing good is going to come from serving up such an aggressive, wholesale indictment of Colin Powell and the State Department in such a public way. Glenn Kessler reports in the Washington Post:

Gingrich said he plans to call for major overhaul of the State Department, including hearings on Capitol Hill and an examination of the department by a task force of retired foreign service officers. He said he wanted to contrast the success of a transformed Defense Department with the "failure of State," which he described as "six months of diplomatic failure followed by one month of military success now to be returned to diplomatic failure to exploit the victory fully."

Hearings on the hill over the "failure of State?" The only words that come to mind here are "extraordinarily unnecessary and counterproductive." I'd prefer Congress spent less time on superfluous oversight hearings and more time cutting my taxes and protecting the country.

Besides, I think Gingrich is wrong on the merits. I don't think we've seen a complete "failure" at the State Department over the past six months. Nor do I see how Gingrich can lay the blame for the antiwar, anti-American sentiment around the world leading up to the war at the feet of Powell & Co. I'm a fairly creative guy, but my brain simply cannot imagine a Newt Gingrich-run State Department producing different - or better - results.

I like and respect Gingrich but let's face it, diplomacy isn't really his forte. It is, by definition, a skill of compromise and negotiation, and one that is least effective when confined to a doctrine of strict absolutes. This isn't to say our diplomacy shouldn't constantly be guided by bedrock moral principals (like refusing to tolerate corrupt regimes that engage in the terrorist trade), only to make the simple observation that diplomacy is a finesse game rather than an in-your-face game. And yes, Colin Powell has made mistakes (as has Rumsfeld), but overall I think the guy has done an admirable job under the circumstances.

Personally, I'm happy with the tension and the differing instincts between State and Defense. While it never fails to provide a lot of grist for the media mill, I think the passionate debate between the two allows our President to make better decisions. I also happen to think that when properly controlled the "good cop, bad cop" routine has its advantages at the UN and overseas as well.

GAME ON: Don't miss this big, long New York Times profile of the Bush reelection effort. Be sure to make it all the way to the end for a couple of laugh-out-loud descriptions of Dem presidential hopefuls by "unnamed" Republican aides.

ALIVE AND KICKING: The Washington Times reports that the Iraqi National Congress claims to be hot on the heels of Saddam and one of his sons in eastern Iraq.

TRAGICOMEDY: If this report didn't contain Frank Bruni's byline you'd swear it was something straight out of a Monty Python script. - T. Bevan 7:45 am

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