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Home Page --> November 2007

Blog Libel

Shaun Mullen of The Moderate Voice (via research done by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit) breaks down the lack of libel suits in the blogosphere:

* The Internet is no bar to libel suits per se and blogs are no more immune from them than newspapers and other publications.

* However, bloggers cannot be sued because of intemperate comments left on their blogs because of a clause in the Communications Decency Act.

*The exposure of bloggers is further limited because they usually blog about public figures and, as is the case with more traditional media, malice with reckless disregard for the truth would have to be proved.

* An ideal target for a libel plaintiff would be a rich blogger who has done substantial original reporting, as opposed to a blogger quoting published material, but few bloggers make tempting financial targets.

* Blog culture itself frowns on libel suits. Blogging economist Donald Luskin, for example, threatened to sue then-anonymous blogger "Atrios," who has since self-unmasked himself. Luskin withdrew his threat under pressure from other bloggers.

* Many blogs are more like personal diaries and do not make tempting targets for litigation. A number of the largest blogs are group efforts like Huffington Post and Daily Kos that offer mostly opinion, which is not actionable as libel.

One-State Solution

Hamas Style:

Hamas on Thursday called on the UN to rescind the 1947 decision to partition Palestine into two states, one for Jews and one for Arabs.

The group said in a statement, released on the 60th anniversary of the UN vote, that "Palestine is Arab Islamic land, from the river to the sea, including Jerusalem... there is no room in it for the Jews."

Regarding the partition decision, Hamas said that "correcting mistakes is nothing to be ashamed of, but prolonging it is exploitation."

This is partly why Annapolis was a bit of a waste. All talk of a two-state solution is meaningless when one of the key actors in the region thinks this way. Carl at Israel Matzav seems to take the flip of this opinion, and oddly enough, appears to agree with Hamas that the 1947 partition plan was a mistake.

If both sides are indeed that far apart, then I don't know how any kind of peaceable deal can be reached.

Others Blogging It:

Michael van der Galiën
A Blog For All

Dobbs and the New Center (Updated)

Heather Wilhelm relays her Lou Dobbs experience on the TIME Blog:

Dobbs...centering his talking points on two unrepresentative parties and the need for an independent, populist candidate - one who, he predicted, would surface in "the next 90-120 days...same timing as Ross Perot. We need this desperately."

Could it be you, Lou? "I have absolutely no one in mind when I make that prediction," Dobbs said. "If I did, I would be on their doorstop, begging them to run."

It may be true that America is ripe for a strong third party candidacy, and if there's any truth to what Michael Lind argued in yesterday's Financial Times, then a platform of economic populism and protectionism may well be the ticket, so to speak:

The two great trends now are the collapse of libertarianism as a political force and the rise of economic populism.

Libertarians succeeded in promoting deregulation and the liberalisation of trade and finance. But, partly as a result of their success, the popular anxiety caused by globalisation doomed far more radical libertarian reforms.

Even as libertarianism was losing its political lustre, economic populism came to life in US politics for the first time since the 1930s. Unlike the reactionary populism of Patrick Buchanan in the 1980s and 1990s, the middle-class populism represented by CNN's Lou Dobbs cannot be dismissed as marginal. The decline of libertarianism and the revival of populism are already reshaping politics in the US and similar societies.

What formerly was the left - welfare-state liberalism - is once again the ­centre. To its left (in economic, not social, terms) is protectionist ­populism; to its right, neoliberalism.

There's a difference, however, between the welfare-state liberalism of the 1930s and of today. While a coalition of economic populists (be them socially conservative or not) was possible in 20th Century electoral politics, the post-1968 changes to that system make such a coalition less likely today.

That being said, some of the most successful third party bids throughout American history coalesced around a single issue--be it anti-masonic, anti-slavery, anti-desegregation, etc.

Immigration--perhaps an issue that could bring the economic populists of the Left and Right together--remains a hot-buttom issue. The latest numbers on illegal immigration appear to be in this movement's favor, although it remains unclear if there's a unified front on how to deal with this issue.


Meanwhile, at Dobbs '08 National Headquarters:

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Others Blogging It:

Crunchy Con


Andrew Sullivan on Mike Huckabee:

But among the crowd on stage, Huckabee seemed by far the most congenial candidate. Paul is much clearer; McCain soared tonight, in my view. I think McCain's experience, independent streak, fiscal responsibility, moral core, and national security mastery make him easily the best viable candidate on stage. Yes, I am immensely proud of Ron Paul. And after Iraq, I find his non-interventionism far more credible than McCain's full neocon jacket. But experience does count; and McCain is in a class of his own in wartime.

Nonetheless, it's clear that today's Dixie-based, pro-torture, anti-immigrant GOP will find it very hard to accept the bipartisan, anti-torture supporter of comprehensive immigration reform as its candidate. Romney really is a tool. Giuliani is just too urban for the party Rove has built. So you can see why Huckabee is rising. I bet he's on a roll now.

Two-State Solution, Three-State Problem (Updated)

One word never uttered in President Bush's opening remarks in Annapolis? Hamas. This snippet grabbed my attention:

The emergence of responsible Palestinian leaders has given Israeli leaders the confidence they need to reach out to the Palestinians in true partnership. Prime Minister Olmert has expressed his understanding of the suffering and indignities felt by the Palestinian people. He has made clear that the security of Israel will be enhanced by the establishment of a responsible, democratic Palestinian state. With leaders of courage and conviction on both sides, now is the time to come together and seek the peace that both sides desire.

The problem with this analysis is that all sides are not developing responsible leadership. How can this summit produce anything of substance without Hamas at the table? They were kicked out of the Abbas government in June, and judging from the president's speech, it would appear as if the first rule of Hamas is that there IS NO HAMAS.

But there is, and it's the shadow cast over all of the niceties coming out of Annapolis. Hamas ostensibly runs Gaza, and their presence in the West Bank is becoming more apparent. James Kirchick rightly points out how everyone (minus the Syrians) seems to be saying and doing the right things, but what good is this without all peaceable partners present?

Tom Friedman is equally skeptical:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been so starved of emotional content since the Rabin assassination that it has no connection to average people anymore. It's just words -- a bunch of gobbledygook about "road maps." The Saudis are experts at telling America that it has to be more serious. Is it too much to ask the Saudis to make our job a little easier by shaking an Israeli leader's hand?

The other surprise we need to see is moderates going all the way. Moderates who are not willing to risk political suicide to achieve their ends are never going to defeat extremists who are willing to commit physical suicide.

The reason that Mr. Rabin and Mr. Sadat were so threatening to extremists is because they were moderates ready to go all the way -- a rare breed. I understand that no leader today wants to stick his neck out. They have reason to be afraid, but they have no reason to believe they'll make history any other way.

Moderates sacrificing for a greater good requires an agreeable endgame for everyone involved. As we discussed yesterday, there's a difference between peace and a lasting peace. Israel has repeatedly had the former shoved down its throat, while their enemies continue to dismiss their very existence.

Two sides can sit at the same table, and still be worlds apart. This has been the case with the Israel-Palestine conflict.


As should be expected, James Joyner writes my post for me with just one clever cartoon.

Others Blogging It:

Soccer Dad
Middle Earth Journal
Israel Matzav

Peace With Honor

James Kirchick on neo-progressive diplomacy:

As if further evidence were needed that the party is rejecting its past, Lamont's own column embraces the worst elements of coldhearted GOP "realism," the sort of foreign policy that Clinton and Gore derided when they ran for the White House and the antithesis of everything that progressive internationalists should stand for.

Lamont is hardly alone. So-called progressives look with great reverence to Scowcroft and Baker, erstwhile bugbears of Democratic Party talking points.

But tyrants the world over have no better friends in the American power elite than these two men.

So why are liberals warming up to them?

Amid his effusive praise for GOP realists, Lamont betrays an astounding degree of obliviousness to the fact that he epitomizes the death of the Roosevelt-Truman-Kennedy tradition that Lieberman bemoaned earlier this month.

Illiberalism is certainly on the rise in American politics, and it's not just Ned Lamont. On the one hand, this makes obvious sense. The nation is exhausted by war, and despite marked improvement in Iraq, no doubt longs for a quiet and stillness that resembles peace. This kind of a peace--the kind that makes a Ron Paul candidacy appealing--is logical after nearly six years of war on multiple fronts. It's the sort of realism that rears its head after every American war, as Gaius reminds us today.

The problem is that inaction--or "restraint"--is not a policy, but a tactic. If a nation foregoes violence for the sake of "soft" power, then they are very publicly demonstrating to the world the extent of their foreign policy. It's not so much isolationism, but rather, the desire to cease conflict for the sake of doing so. Even the former is rooted in some sort of foundation--be it religious or something else--whereas the latter is more like policy in absentia.

And Kirchick is right to point out the Democratic Party's turnabout on this. The reason these neo-progressives revert to such a hollow brand of "realism" has more to do with the absence of violence than it does with genuine peace. Democrats once understood the difference between the two, but in today's state of "progressivism," those days appear to be lost.

Further yet, the faux argument for "restraint"--which was once the language of the GOP--has replaced what the Democratic Party once referred to as peace with honor. This wasn't "cowboy diplomacy," nor was it unilateralism. It was, however, a policy of peace through democracy promotion and justice. It was a combination of hard and soft power, both with the intention of creating lasting peace.

Critics have argued that we've exhausted the hard, while not truly utilizing the soft power at our disposal. This neglects the fact that America's primary weapon against state-sponsored terrorism has been economic in nature--be it the seizure of Al Qaeda's funding resources, the pursuit of economic sanctions against Iran, or the lifting of such sanctions for coming clean (as was the case with Libya), the U.S. has used all of the diplomatic tools at its disposal.

The failure of Bush diplomacy wasn't a lack of applied soft power, but instead the hope that more opportunities would emerge following the invasion of Iraq. Much like the Libyan case, the hope was that the Iraq example would force terror regimes to give up their nukes, shut down their madrassas and start buying blue jeans. Needless to say, this did not happen.

(h/t meme)

Republicans In A Lott Of Trouble

In what may be the most shocking resignation this year, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott announced earlier today that he will resign by the end of the calendar year. Perhaps the most important part of the previous sentence is not that he is retiring, but that he is doing so by the end of the year - more on this later.

The move comes as a surprise to everyone as Lott was just reelected last year by an overwhelming majority. Likewise, he had come full-circle and regained the leadership post he first held over ten years ago: Senate Minority Whip; he was forced to resign as Majority Leader back in 2002 when he made some racially insensitive remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party.

Just when you think the news cannot get any worse for Republicans, things just seem to keep piling on these days. Now forced to defend 23 senate seats in next year's elections, and strapped for cash no less, the GOP's best case scenario is, sadly enough, to only lose 2 or 3 seats; worst case scenario has them losing as many as 6, 7, or even more contests. On the surface it may not seem like Democrats have a realistic shot at Lott's seat, but think again - if they catch a break or two, expect this to be become of the most hotly contested races in the nation.

But first, why did Lott resign in the first place, especially after having just won another term in office the year before? For one, being in the minority stinks - Senate Minority Whip just isn't the same as being Senate Majority Whip. Many bloggers are speculating there are some ulterior motives behind the move however. Senate 2008 Guru takes a look at a new ethics law that would require Senators to wait two-years before becoming lobbyists. It just so happens that the law comes into effect at the end of this year...what a coincidence.

The one catch is that a resignation before January 1st would put Mississippi Republicans in a bit of a bind. Why? Because it seems as though if a resignation occurs in an off-election year - like 2007 - then the governor, newly reelected Republican Haley Barbour, has to issue a new election within ninety days of the Senator stepping down. Because it seems likely that Lott's intent is indeed to resign before the end of the year, Barbour would have to schedule a special election, right? Well, maybe not. The governor, based on a technicality (at best), plans to appoint an interim Senator and schedule an election on the same day as next year's general election. The Secretary of State, a Democrat, appears to concede that there is indeed a loophole, but the state Democratic Party looks to be readying for a legal challenge.

As is to be expected, Democrats around the blogosphere are furious over the slick maneuvering on the part of Barbour. Trey Parker over at Cotton Mouth claims the governor is "trying to manipulate the law." Likewise, kos chimes in with a post entitled, "MS-Sen: Barbour's efforts to rewrite state law." Republicans are quick to point out, however, that, as mentioned before, Democratic Secretary of State Eric Clark is siding with Barbour on the technicality.

While it is still too early to know who may be lining up to run for the open seat, a few names are floating around. On the Republican side, Rep. Chip Pickering was widely thought to be interested, but The Fix is reporting that few insiders think that's the case. Considering Barbour has ruled himself out, the other obvious choice is Rep. Roger Wicker who has held a seat in the House since 1994.

The Democratic side is a bit more interesting because there are only a handful of potential candidates who could really make a race out of the contest. Rumored to be interested is the Democrats' dream candidate, former Attorney General Michael Moore (no, not that Michael Moore!). Considering he is the most popular Democrat in the state - he left office with a 65% approval rating - and he likely has nearly 100% name recognition, he would be extremely tough to beat. Also "seriously considering" a bid is former Governor Ronnie Musgrove - he too would likely put up a stiff challenge to any Republican.

Perhaps most ironic about this whole thing is that it was Trent Lott's own party that "stabbed him in the back" back in 2002 when they threw him under the bus after his controversial remarks. Now it seems as though the shoe is on the other foot.

Tehran, via Annapolis

From Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor:

Tuesday's meeting in Annapolis, Md., was once envisioned as a three-day conference to kick off the negotiation of final-status issues. It's now an incredibly shrinking 24-hour gathering, but its occurrence at all is in no small measure a result of the rise of Iran and its brand of radical Islam in the Middle East.

Consider how Iran plays into the picture for the following players:

•If President Bush has finally bought into a process he eschewed for seven years, it is not so much because he really believes now is a propitious moment for progress on peace. Instead, analysts say, Mr. Bush sees the need to contain Iran. He also sees how bringing Arab moderates to the table with Israel could work toward that goal.

•Saudi Arabia said it would attend a conference only if it addresses the core issues for establishing a Palestinian state. That won't happen, but still Riyadh will attend - in large part because the Saudis see as desirable any action that ties the United States into the region and challenges Iran's rise.

•And the attendance of Syria - something that both the Bush administration and Israel hoped for - reflects how Damascus is seeking to hedge its bets after having aligned itself increasingly with the regime in Tehran.

Syria has everything to gain by severing its ties with Iran. It could help their economy, open them up to regional trade partnerships and perhaps open a window on the disputed Golan Heights territory. But as Aaron Manne points out at Terror Wonk, the entire prospect is unlikely. Sadly, a more prosperous and open Syria would no doubt lead to the demise of the Assad dynasty, something that's obviously not in the best interest of the Alawite regime in Damascus. The Syrians--much like the regime in Tehran--have a vested interest in maintaining an unstable Middle East built upon struggle and conflict with Zionism and the West. Without this, their citizens might start to look inward as opposed to looking westward.

This is the whole tragedy of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, as Middle Eastern scholar Bernard Lewis astutely argued in today's WSJ:

The Poles and the Germans, the Hindus and the Muslims, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, all were resettled in their new homes and accorded the normal rights of citizenship. More remarkably, this was done without international aid. The one exception was the Palestinian Arabs in neighboring Arab countries.

The government of Jordan granted Palestinian Arabs a form of citizenship, but kept them in refugee camps. In the other Arab countries, they were and remained stateless aliens without rights or opportunities, maintained by U.N. funding. Paradoxically, if a Palestinian fled to Britain or America, he was eligible for naturalization after five years, and his locally-born children were citizens by birth. If he went to Syria, Lebanon or Iraq, he and his descendants remained stateless, now entering the fourth or fifth generation.

The reason for this has been stated by various Arab spokesmen. It is the need to preserve the Palestinians as a separate entity until the time when they will return and reclaim the whole of Palestine; that is to say, all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Israel. The demand for the "return" of the refugees, in other words, means the destruction of Israel. This is highly unlikely to be approved by any Israeli government.

The Arab states are now, ironically, changing their tune. John Burgess blogs at Crossroads Arabia on what Saudi Arabia hopes will come out of Annapolis, with the broader hope being a stable Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. This is something Riyadh never seemed to fret about in the past, but all of a sudden, there's a bigger concern than Zionists and Americans veering its ugly head--Iran.

The Saudi government represents everything reprehensible that the Islamic Republic was built to reject--Western imperialism, monarchism, apostasy and greed. This hodgepodge coalition against the Iranian hegemon is the real subtext of Annapolis, and Tehran knows it. The Israelis will now be pressured into making a land deal with 1/2 of the Palestinian government, not for the sake of a tenable peace, but instead to prepare for a regional mini-Cold War with Iran.

The idea is to contain Iran, and isolate them in their own neighborhood. But this can't be done, presumably, without some kind of "peace" between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Does anyone seriously believe that can happen in Annapolis?

The Travails of Tory Democracy

I'm late to chime in on George Will's latest column, but it's well worth the read. Ever the consummate conservative, Will makes the case for more conservative conservatives:

"We have a responsibility," Bush said on Labor Day 2003, "that when somebody hurts, government has got to move." That is less a compassionate thought than a flaunting of sentiment to avoid thinking about government's limited capacities and unlimited confidence.

Conservatism is a political philosophy concerned with collective aspirations and actions. But conservatism teaches that benevolent government is not always a benefactor.

Conservatism's task is to distinguish between what government can and cannot do, and between what it can do but should not.

Gerson's call for "idealism" is not an informative exhortation: Huey Long and Calvin Coolidge both had ideals. Gerson's "heroic conservatism" is, however, a variant of what has been called "national greatness conservatism." The very name suggests that America will be great if it undertakes this or that great exertion abroad. This grates on conservatives who think America is great, not least because it rarely and usually reluctantly conscripts people into vast collective undertakings.

While I have no personal interest in the purity of conservatism, I can see Will's point here. I think there is a very realist case to be made for the promotion of democracy, since democracies tend to avoid war with one another. There's room to disagree on how this policy should be applied, with even more room to dissect and analyze how this Bush administration has failed in properly doing so.

However, Will's broader point on "national greatness" is an intriguing one. The modern American political system--be it Republican or Democratic--will never shed itself of this trend for the foreseeable future. It not only highlights the less feasible aspects of political conservatism, but it exposes a greater failure of American republicanism. As Mark Halperin confessed over the weekend, electoral politics in America--once subjected to the whims of the public--becomes a product to consume, rather than an objective choice.

It's the American Idol-ization of politics. Survey research has its place in marketing and politics, but the culture-of-polling that has consumed America explains this trend in expecting "great" things from government. It relates to what Benjamin Disraeli called "Tory Democracy." In 19th Century Britain, this meant extending the vote to the masses so that they could be inculcated in the "rich" tradition of conservative thought. It would also, presumably, grant the Right a governing majority to do as they wish with.

"Tory Democracy" in the U.S. isn't about universal suffrage, but instead is a reflection of consumer culture. Americans will place you upon a pedestal, but you had better do a good Whitney Houston cover in the process. Your greatness may be bestowed from below, but we want something in return. I get little in return if I complete a survey online about my favorite flavor of soda, but I have the chance to win a free iPod at the very least. What can Barack Obama or Mitt Romney give me?

With the constant advancement of technology--most notably the blogosphere--every citizen is not only able to vote a candidate into office, but they are now capable of monitoring (and vocalizing) their returns on a daily, if not hourly, basis. This isn't republicanism, it's the NYSE. Such an environment makes leadership a less desirable quality. This requires consistency, and the good sense to leave a policy--be it Social Security or the Iraq War--alone.

This is why some activists feel entitled to govern in every district. This is why the messaging of Barack Obama is so attractive. It's no small coincidence that the strongest governing majority of the last 100 years was one built upon providing services to the American people. Unity built on the constant appeasement of the masses isn't simply a failure of Burkean conservatism, but a failure of representative government.

Others Blogging It:

Power Line
Michael van der Galiën
Unqualified Offerings

Blair/Sarkozy '08?

Don Surber maks the case for the Briton:

We need our Tony Blair, our Nicolas Sarkozy.

While Democrats select a presidential candidate, Republicans seek a president. There are a bunch of Jimmy Carters on the other side who are willing to apologize for America's greatness. Forget about finding the next Reagan. America can settle for another Tony Blair or Nicolas Sarkozy.

Wouldn't it be delightful to hear Mitt Romney say: "Sept. 11 was not an isolated event, but a tragic prologue, Iraq another act, and many further struggles will be set upon this stage before it's over. There never has been a time when the power of America was so necessary ..."

Wouldn't it be great to hear Rudy Giuliani say: "There is a myth that though we love freedom, others don't; that our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture; that freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law are American values, or Western values; that Afghan women were content under the lash of the Taliban; that Saddam was somehow beloved by his people; that Milosevic was Serbia's savior. ... ours are not Western values, they are the universal values of the human spirit. "

Wouldn't it be great to hear Fred Thompson say: "There is no more dangerous theory in international politics than that we need to balance the power of America with other competitive powers; different poles around which nations gather. Such a theory may have made sense in 19th-century Europe. It was perforce the position in the Cold War. Today, it is an anachronism to be discarded like traditional theories of security. And it is dangerous because it is not rivalry but partnership we need; a common will and a shared purpose in the face of a common threat."

Wouldn't it be great to hear anyone say: "We promised Iraq democratic government. We will deliver it."

Tony Blair said all those things and more on July 17, 2003, in an address to Congress.

Second Amendment Showdown

In what will be the first ruling of its kind, the Supreme Court plans to rule on whether the District of Columbia's ban on handguns is constitutional. The ruling, which will have broad social implications, will have also a significant impact on the 2008 elections. For those who need a refresher, here's the 27-word Second Amendment as it appears in the Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Winds of Change examines at the three types of rulings the Court can decide on. First, they can decide that the Second Amendment is a "relic of an older era" and is thus meaningless in its application in today's society. I tend to think this is, by far, the least likely of the three options - the Bill of Rights has long been considered the legal backbone of our nation, and if the Court can simply decide that the Second Amendment is a "relic," then what is to stop them from deeming the others antiquities as well?

The second choice the Court can come down upon is that the amendment applies to individual ownership of guns and the DC ban (and similar gun control laws) is thus unconstitutional. Jeralyn over at TalkLeft agrees with this sentiment claiming that the Bill of Rights is a collection of rights given to people, not collective groups or governments. Such a ruling would be a "best case scenario" for pro-gun lobbyists like the NRA and would be a huge blow to gun control groups. Considering the conservative tilt of the Supreme Court, my hunch is that they come up with a ruling similar to this scenario - Kyle E. Moore from Comments from Left Field seems to agree.

The final scenario, and perhaps the most intriguing one, would be that the Court decides that the Second Amendment only applies to "A well regulated militia" and thus an individual's right to own a gun is not guaranteed under the Constitution. What may provide for an even further twist is the fact that the District of Columbia is not a state by definition - the amendment says that the right to bear arms is "necessary to the security of a free State." If the Court decides to tackle the law from this perspective, they could realistically strike down the DC handgun ban while still leaving the meaning of the Second Amendment in an air of ambiguity.

Societal implications aside, the case will also have a tremendous effect on the presidential race. Adam B over at Daily Kos predicts that a ruling will come in June of 2008 - right when the general election will be heating up. Ever since Al Gore was hurt back in 2000 over gun control, Democrats have largely been silent on the issue; many Democrats, like Bill Richardson, are even staunch defenders of the right to bear arms. More than anything else, the Court decision will propel the Second Amendment back into the limelight of electoral politics and will force the nominees to take clear and precise stances on the issue.

Jack Balkin tends to think that the ruling, especially if it comes down in favor of gun-rights groups, will rally the gun control community and subsequently hurt Republicans. While I certainly see where he's coming from, I disagree. First, if the conservative Court strikes down the DC law, a scenario I think is likely, it will take the wind right out of the sails of the Brady Campaign and similar gun control groups - to have the highest court in the land rebuke you on something you've been fighting for for decades has to be demoralizing to say the least. Likewise, the NRA and similar groups have historically always been more vocal, more powerful, more wealthy, and thus, more influential when it comes to lobbying and elections - there's no reason to think that a decision that falls in their favor wont galvanize them to fight to keep the Court out of a Democratic President's hands for the next 4-8 years.

Should the Court rule how I think it will, perhaps the only thing that wont excite the NRA crowd next year is a Rudy nomination, but that's a post for many months down the road should he get the Republican nod.

The Other Bill

According to Ed Morrissey, the only winner of the latest Clinton/Obama kerfuffle is Bill Richardson:

Unlike either Barack or Hillary, Richardson actually worked in diplomatic service, and for several years. If both Barack and Hillary insist that foreign policy should be the biggest concern for voters when selecting a President -- and that's probably correct -- they're arguing for a Bill Richardson nomination. In fact, if they want to argue experience in almost any regard, Bill Richardson has more experience than both put together in legislative, executive, and diplomatic arenas.

If I ran Bill Richardson's campaign, I'd take the sound bites from both Hillary and Barack and make a series of television ads showing why they're arguing for his nomination. No one can take what the two frontrunners have to say about experience seriously in regards to their own candidacies, except perhaps the frontrunners themselves.

Secular Security

From Jonathan Chait of The New Republic:

The depth of American religiosity is precisely why secularism is so important. Since religion is premised on faith, theological disputes cannot be settled through public reason. Even the most vicious public policy disputes get settled over time. (Americans now agree on slavery and greenback currency.)But we're no closer to consensus on the divinity of Jesus than we were 200 years ago.

Not long ago, John McCain declared that, "since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles ... personally, I prefer someone who I know has a solid grounding in my faith." GOP Representatives Virgil Goode and Bill Sali, and conservative talk show host Dennis Prager, have railed against Muslims and Hindus offering their own prayers in Congress. I'm sure most advocates of faith-based politics would abhor this sort of discrimination. But it's really just the natural conclusion from the premise of faith-based politics: If it makes sense to support public figures because they share our religious beliefs, then it also makes sense to oppose public figures who don't.

I think this is a valuable point, and I agree with Chait that public secularism is in fact the best way to preserve the religious expression of all faiths, not merely the most dominant at any particular time. It's the Mario Cuomo case for spiritualism vis-a-vis secularism, and I believe the argument is pretty solid.

However, Chait belittles the role of faith--more specifically the role of Christianity--in the political and social develpment of the nation. He dismisses its involvement in the civil rights movement, and completely ignores its crucial role in the abolition movement. "Slavery, Jim Crow, and the one-party white supremacist character of Southern politics," argues Chait, "had destroyed every other possible outlet for African American politics other than the church. Civil rights activism took the form of preaching because that was the only form black politics could take."

Well, It wasn't the only one, but it was the most politically viable. African-Americans found an audience on America's college campuses; however, it was the association of the movement with the consistency of Christ's teachings that pulled the movement into the mainstream. It wed civil rights to a broadly accepted litmus for American morality, and that was Christianity.

Politically speaking, Chait seems to believe that the politically religious place themselves in an immovable box, one that bogs them down in wedge issues and muddies the policy discussion. But if this were truly the case, why would Pat Robertson endorse arguably the least pious of the Republican pack? Why would a prominent pro-Life group endorse Fred Thompson?

There's much more diversity of religious opinion than Chait is willing to admit, and as Jonah Goldberg points out over at The Corner, the more monolithic of the bunch might surprise you:

I don't think I've ever heard a prominent liberal -- who wasn't an activist for atheism or hyper-secularism -- sincerely object to liberal politicians who invoke religion as the wellspring of their politics. When the Catholic Church comes out for sanctuary cities, the New York Times applauds. Liberals hate Pat Robertson for all the usual reasons, but do not blink at the Reverend Jesse Jackson or the Reverend Al Sharpton being involved in politics. They despise the Christian coalition but have no problem with the mobilization of black churches. They cheer Democratic politicians who want to take back "the faith issue." Indeed, lame attempts to dog whistle evangelicals back to the Democratic fold are greeted as smart politics. Environmentalists who consider anti-Christian fringe elements in their ranks to be well-intentioned members of the team, cheer when they see a wedge issue on the environment that might divide evangelical community (out the window goes the usual lament about wedge issues as well). Hillary Clinton has a deep and abiding connection with the Social Gospel tradition of the American left, but no one cares because the religious left has the same public policy goals as the secular left on most if not all issues.

True enough, and if the topic of faith is an uncomfortable one, it's the secular Left that has made it so. America proved that it could transcend its religious bigotry in 1960--albeit narrowly--with the election of John F. Kennedy. But the debate was never about the foundation of American morality, but whether or not a Catholic could set aside loyalty to his Church in order to govern a nation of secular law. It wasn't religious extremism that discriminated against Kennedy, or even Al Smith. Concerns over their Catholicism were secular in nature, and their litmus test wasn't the loyalty to their faith, but to the Constitution.

Modern secularism is different. It has made faith an uncomfortable conversation in public life. Now, if a candidate speaks at a religious institution, or invokes God in a public setting, it's considered an act of political daring, a gamble. Imagine if, in 1933, President Roosevelt were held to such neurotic standards when he said that "the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."

Could any Democrat, in this day and age, give that speech? My guess is no, but I'll bet Mike Huckabee could. So could Rudy Giuliani. Both hold different policy positions on social matters, but neither is afraid to utilize what FDR called the ancient truths. The flag bearer of American Liberalism wasn't afraid of it, but for whatever reason, the modern Left is.

Others Blogging It:

Ross Douthat

Does Civility Matter?

Mark at The Moderate Voice on civility and the Constitution:

Recently, I noted that uber-blogger Arianna Huffington proudly publicized her interview with current Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Huffington didn't tout Pelosi's words, but her own confrontational question of the Speaker, "Are you too well-behaved to get us out of Iraq?"

Of course, the answer to anybody familiar with the Constitution, is that, frustrating as it may be for many in the country, Pelosi's inability to shut down the war has nothing to do with her being polite. It has everything to do with the fact that neither she or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have majorities able to override vetoes President Bush would smack against any measures the Congress passed for ending the war.

But to ideologues of the Right and the Left, it seems, the niceties of the Constitution are only to be heeded when doing so advances their preferred political decisions.

The Framers knew that the only alternative to adherence to such "niceties" was tyranny and mob rule.1

I like civility in politics. In fact, I think that such politeness is essential to getting things done, not to mention being one of the characteristics that separate human beings from the rest of the creatures of the world. (I believe that courtesy is something to which God calls us, as an expression of love for others.)

I also admire the Constitution.

Andrew, N-Pod and Iran

Andrew Sullivan and Norman Podhoretz have been going back and forth, essentially, over this (disputed) quote from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

Podhoretz has defended its authenticity, and he honestly does a pretty good job at it. Sullivan still has his doubts, however:

He gets Amir Taheri to cite his Khomeini quote as existing in an out-of-print compilation of Khomeini quotes from 1981. It appears that Podhoretz originally used the quote without knowing of its provenance. Taheri, whose reliability has come under suspicion before, says the remark was purged or censored or removed in subsequent editions of the book. I have no independent way of confirming any of this. Taheri, it should be noted, was the source of the story that Iran had recently required that Jews wear yellow stars in public, a story that was subsequently debunked. Maybe other Iran specialists can weigh in on whether the original alleged Khomeini quote is legit or bears in any way on the current debate about attacking Iran.

I am certainly no expert, and have no way of verifying that specific quote. But Khomeini's speeches were full of very similar rhetoric, and Taheri's point about the language of nationalism being removed from the state has been verified by other writers and journalists. Sandra Mackey, for one, notes it in her excellent book The Iranians. But rather than dissecting one quote from hundreds, maybe thousands of public statements made by the Ayatollah, how about we take a look at the constitution? From Chapter I, Article 11 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

In accordance with the sacred verse of the Koran "This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me" [21:92], all Muslims form a single nation, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran have the duty of formulating its general policies with a view to cultivating the friendship and unity of all Muslim peoples, and it must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world.

Or, instead of looking at quotes, we could observe the behavior of the regime under Khomeini. When Saddam Hussein attempted to negotiate a peace to the bloody and brutal Iran-Iraq War, the Supreme Leader would hear none of it. The only acceptable condition, in his mind, was the removal of Hussein's secular and Western-favored regime in Baghdad. Nearly 750,000 killed, a Pahlavi military exhausted and billions of dollars in damage to their oil industry were the end result. This is incompetent nationalism, at best.

Khomeini's nihilism aside, what about the behavior of his subjects? Would nationalism motivate Basiji children--with keys to heaven draped around their necks--to move in a human phalanx in order to absorb Saddam's mustard gas and land mines? The very name Iran was applied in 1935 by the same Pahlavi dynasty that the people would eventually dispose of. Is it likely that these men and women died for a revisionist model of Persia, imposed on them by a reviled shah?

I doubt it.

So, to answer Sullivan's question--Yes, the quote is relevant, as is the documented behavior of a religiously emboldened government. However, this does not necessarily mean we should bomb Iran preemptively. Rick Moran of Right Wing Nut House points out the factionalism that exists throughout the regime, and I think his assessment is pretty accurate. Hashemi Rafsanjani, often confused for a moderate, in all reality represents a strong survivalist wing from within the Principlist cabal. Kourosh of Iranian Truth explains:

Who is it that these "Moderates" represent? Certainly not those who are fighting for political reforms. It seems like these "heavyweights" are moderate only when it comes to the question of Iran's right to nuclear energy, but no less moderate when it comes to safeguarding Iran's civil society. To put it mildly: is Mr. Rafsanjani truly worried about the direction that the country is going, or is he worried about his pocket and the economic dynasty that he has built in the past three decades? I think that Messieurs Rafsanjani and Khatami are doing more to destroy the movements for strong civil society in Iran than Ahmadinejad. At least Ahmadinejad is clear about where he stands and grassroots activists are constantly challenging him. But then come the "Moderates" saying that Iran should bow down to Western pressure that most everyone in Iran sees as unfair. And they do so in the name of moderation and reform.

This government has its limits, and every time it's Rafsanjani who stands out as the conciliatory figure. He is the official fig leaf of Iran. But it's the combination of tactics--the perceived threat of an attack, coupled with strong diplomacy--that will ultimately bend Iran in the longrun.

If you ask me.

Others Blogging It:

Michael Goldfarb
Dean's WorldMORE

Win, Lose or Withdraw?

Jason Steck of The Van Der Galiën Gazette on the next step in Iraq:

So the best choice open now to the United States is to pocket the gains of the "surge" and begin a gradual but steady withdrawal. The message must be sent to the Iraqi government that its window of opportunity has been opened, but that it is already beginning to slide shut. And the message should be accompanied by an ultimatum to the effect that the United States will not spend its blood or treasure to open that window again.

That this policy would be inevitably spun as a political victory by some anti-war elements should not be a sufficient reason to avoid the policy, even by their ideological opponents (of which I obviously count myself a part). The "we don't want those people to win" politics of demonization that has become the dominant theme in their ideological crusade should not be adopted by those with a more pragmatic bent. The success of "the surge" provides an opportunity to obtain an acceptable result from the mess of Iraq policy. The U.S. should take it.

Generally speaking, this sounds good to me. But what exactly do we expect of the Iraqi government, now that they've been granted this window of time? Certainly, figuring out the Kirkuk situation, along with a broader plan for oil sharing in the region, would be beneficial.

But has enough time really transpired to justify demanding the oft-mentioned "political solution" in Iraq? As we mentioned this morning, such a thing can be elusive.

It seems as if these political matters will remain secondary for a duration of time, despite increasingly obvious improvements in regional stability. As McQ of QandO reminds us, there is a natural hierarchy of human needs, and right now, most Iraqis still aren't having the most basic of those needs met.

He thinks we should wait until next summer. I think a timeline would be kind of arbitrary, as long as the endgame is to leave behind a secure and promising Iraqi democracy. Such political progress will no doubt be more organic than that. If you can't create democracy at the barrel of a gun, well you certainly can't do it with an egg timer. At best, I think we'd see some semblance of a reconciled government, thrown together haphazardly under pressure, lacking the Burkean-esque civil institutions necessary for sustaining it.

The Forgotten Occupation

Ed Morrissey on the forgotten occupation of Kosovo:

We do not need to continue our part in that foolishness. NATO and the EU acted to free Kosovo, and now they do not want to take responsibility for any negative consequences of that action. Whether or not Kosovo should have been partitioned off from Serbia, the invasion and occupation have already accomplished that, and the vast majority of people in that province do not want to return to Serbian rule. If the West believes in self-determination, the choice here should be very simple -- a choice NATO and the EU forced on themselves.

The US should make it clear that we will not remain in Kosovo for any longer than it takes to transition the provisional government to an independent state. If the EU wants to pretend it didn't liberate Kosovo, then let it do that all on its own. With the lack of participation that our NATO partners in Europe have given in Afghanistan, we can use our forces elsewhere for liberty rather than a strange and aimless occupation.

This strikes me as a rather interesting parallel to Iraq. In Kosovo, you had a relatively easy military campaign against a weak state, codified and blessed by the world community. Yet here we are--close to a decade later--and there is still no clear political solution in Kosovo.

Serbs are apparently boycotting the elections, despite 20 reserved seats on the provincial assembly. Sound familiar?

Predominantly Albanian, the ethnic distinctions in Kosovo are in fact drawn by regional lines. James Joyner wonders if northern Kosovo would secede as a result of the recent electoral bid for independence.

More thoughts and questions:

* Clamoring on about "political solutions" won't necessarily result in one.

* Looking at the record of UN transitional agencies, in this case the UNMIK, should we have any faith in a hypothetical UN presence in Iraq? Does the global body have any accomplishments to speak of in this area?

* Why does the so-called democracy agenda always seem to come up when we're discussing the enfranchisement of Islamist political parties, yet there's a debate on the matter when a mostly-secular party like the DPK wins a governing majority for independence?

* Shouldn't the world, just as a rule of thumb, disagree with whatever Putin thinks on these matters?

A Reunion Of Sorts

In what will likely be one of President Bush's most awkward experiences of the past seven years, former Vice President Al Gore will be making his first trip back to the White House since January of 2001 when he left office. The occasion you ask? Bush will be honoring, yes, honoring, Gore and the other 2007 Nobel Prize winners from the United States.

Here's a quick rundown of Gore's accomplishments in 2007 alone:

*Nobel Peace Prize

*Global Brand Forum Brand Icon of the Year



*Quill Award

*Gothenburg Prize

*New York Times Bestselling Author (The Assault on Reason)

*Live Earth Organizer

*Prince of Asturias Award

In all fairness, I'd provide a rundown of Bush's major achievements, but I just don't feel like doing hours of research to find each one. Maybe I'll save them for another post.

I would imagine that if any conversation does take place between the two political foes, it will be similar to what Oliver Willis envisions:

Bush: So how's Tipper?

Gore: She's great.

Gore: I heard Jenna's getting married.

Bush: Yep.

Others Blogging It:

Huffington Post
Say Anything Blog

Fourth Estate Blues

A reader e-mailed me and asked for my thoughts on this column by Zephyr Teachout at the Huffington Post. More of an outline, it seems like a laundry list of ways that political journalists could better cover the 2008 presidential race.

I recently came to the defense of Tim Russert and his ilk, arguing that it is not their responsibility to educate citizens on the minutia of every policy issue. Teachout seems to think differently, and here's the crux of her argument as I understand it:

* Political media plays an important role in American democracy, so it's important that they do a really, really good job.

* Political journalists get too caught up in the day-to-day "horse race," and focus too much on reporting polls, quarterly earnings and new Ad spots as news.

* Political journalists rely too much on the opinions of strategists and so-called experts, all of whom are irrelevant to the viewers/readers.

My thoughts:

Professor Teachout makes a lot of assumptions about the nature of political news consumption, and does a poor job of substantiating any of it with real data. She cites one study done by the Shorenstein Center, but fails to even provide a link. My guess is that she's referring to this one, although the survey research that they rely on seems to come from a separate poll conducted by Pew.

This is an important tidbit, because all of the conclusions reached then by Teachout and her colleagues are from a collection of political junkies and political scientists. But one thing the Pew study states plainly is that interest in the 2008 race is only moderately higher than in previous years. Let's work with that assumption, if we're to use that particular poll.

Professor Teachout, a political scientist, unsurprisingly believes that people are more interested in hearing about Hillary Clinton's take on Pakistan, farm subsidies and water. While I'm sure some are, I challenge the idea that most Americans care about anything Hillary Clinton has to say at this point. The people who watch these tedious debates, watch Tim Russert on Sunday morning and read blogs are a very tiny microcosm of American thought, and don't truly reflect the sentiment of the broader public.

It's false in my mind to argue that the Eyes Of America are on Tim Russert and Chris Matthews, and if they would only get to the important stuff--such as farm subsidies--well then they would grow their viewers and American democracy would be healthier. I think it's debatable to say that this may have been the case 50 years ago, but today, no citizen has the right or the excuse to blame these men (or their peers) for a lack of knowledge or information on the campaigns.

Their job is to cover the horse race. Polls and dollars raised aren't insignificant. They reflect support that these candidates have developed, and that's newsworthy. Why is it Tim Russert's job to give free press to a candidate who's struggling in the polls? This isn't civics class, it's ultimately just one of many mediums available to an interested voter. In this day and age, with talk radio, the blogosphere and detailed campaign websites, no active and interested citizen has to watch Meet The Press in order to pick their candidate. The information is out there, and it's more accessible than at any other point in American history.

It's equally unfair to dismiss the reporting of strategy and message development. These things are stories, especially for political junkies. A candidate's message, if done right, should be the spine pulling all the other campaign themes together. There's nothing especially concrete about a press release on Pakistan, whereas a candidate's message is rather static. It shouldn't vacillate, and if it does, it may be a sign of panic or weakness. This is how every candidate hopes to juxtapose his or herself against the other candidates.

Forgive me if I seem flippant, but every year we get these rather academic takes on how elections are conducted and won. I think some of the criticism of the political system is warranted, but I'm often puzzled by this excessive dependence on the fourth estate. 99% of news is relaying what happened, who said it and what's going to happen next. Whether it's the NYT, or your local journal that provides little league scores, the bulk of it is providing news at its face value. Yet for some reason, we expect Tim Russert & Co. to educate the masses on the nuanced energy positions held by Dennis Kucinich and Tom Tancredo.


Debate Redux

Chris Cillizza has a nice recap on last night's Democratic debate, and be sure to check out Reid's take on where this leaves the Dems now that the Nevada dust (or sand?) has settled.

I prefer to defer to these experts, but here are some quick thoughts:

* I think Joe Biden's "I KEEP IT REAL!" schtick is getting old.

* I think Wolf Blitzer should've asked the following hypothetical question: What if, aliens were to attack the United States and destroy most of the government. Would you THEN approve the use of nuclear weapons on American soil? Seriously, I'm glad the candidates (even Kucinich, NAFTA rant aside) rejected Blitzer's questioning. Obama made the best point, noting that this isn't about people coming to America to drive. It's about jobs, in addition to border security, and that's where the debate should be focused. Blitzer's hypothetical "but there is no immigration reform, and they're all driving cars, it's anarchy!" scenario was annoying.

* I don't, however, believe it's the business of CNN, or any political journalist, to coddle these candidates. No, hearing them talk about farm subsidies and solar panels would not make these things more interesting.

* I liked Chris Dodd's pragmatic interjection on elections in the Muslim world.

* When is Iowa again? These multi-candidate debates have exhausted their utility.

Ron's Realism

My thoughts on this, over at the TIME blog.

The Glorious Revolution of 1968

Daniel Henninger discusses it in today's WSJ:

What fell out of 1968 was a profound division over what I would call civic vision.

One side, which took to the streets in Chicago or occupied Columbia University, concluded from Vietnam and the race riots that America, in its relations with the world and its own citizens, was flawed and required big changes. Their defining document was the March 1968 Kerner Commission report, announcing "two societies," separate and unequal. The press, incidentally, emerged from Vietnam and the riots joined to this new, permanent template. That, too, has never stopped.

The other side was, well, insulted. It thought America was fundamentally good, though always able to improve. The Voting Rights Act passed in 1964 on a bipartisan vote, opposed mainly by southern Democrats. This side's standard-bearer called the U.S. "a shining city upon a hill." But after 1968, no Democratic presidential candidate would ever speak those words. Nor will Mr. Obama ever repeat Mr. Sarkozy's explicit repudiation of that era.

If it's Hillary versus Rudy, McCain or even the placid Mitt Romney, we will be in those streets again. Besides, her candidacy comes with Jumpin' Jack Flash himself, Bill Clinton. Would it be a good thing if the country's politics said bye-bye baby to the children of 1968? Probably. But it won't happen this time.

There's one other commission Henninger is forgetting, and that's the one of McGovern-Fraser. The McGovern-Fraser Commission was formed as a way of appeasing the elements on the Left that had rioted in Chicago. Removing the nomination powers from the old machine bosses, it built a strict primary system with quotas and guidelines for delegates. Race and gender--presumably for the first time--had been codified within the makeup of the Democratic Party.

We shouldn't be revisionists and pretend that the "glory days" of smoke filled rooms and racist, sexist ward bosses were preferable. But the upheaval of '68 without question changed the Democratic Party, and made it far easier for the GOP to pick apart what was left of the New Deal coalition. It was a bloodless revolution, but it was an internal one that changed political discourse in this country forever, and empowered those who would use social wedge issues as a means to mobilize traditionally Democratic voters.

Would Barack Obama signal the end of all that? Maybe so, and as Ezra Klein notes, just the very sight of Obama taking the oath of office would be like a wrench in the status quo political machinery of the last two to three decades. However, there are still systemic changes that need to be made.

Both parties have relinquished their role as a big tent housing numerous people, and instead warehouse the interest groups that claim to speak on behalf of those people. Money and the ability to mobilize activists have played a key part in this, and until that can change, it will probably be politics as usual for the foreseeable future.

Others Blogging It:

Betsy's Page
Power Line

Draft Dodgers (Updated)

Glenn Greenwald with some harsh words:

It's hard to put into words what twisted self-absorption and lack of empathy is required to wallow in such self-pity -- exactly the same strain that led Romney earlier this year to equate his sheltered sons' work on his presidential campaign with other Americans' sons and daughters who are in the Iraq war that Romney so loves and exploits for political gain.

Romney's draft-avoidance isn't quite as shameful as Super Tough Guy Rudy Giuliani's, whose deferment request was denied in 1969, thus placing him at imminent risk of being drafted, when he somehow convinced the federal judge for whom he was clerking "to write to the draft board, asking them to grant him a fresh deferment and reclassification as an 'essential' civilian employee." The very idea that a first-year judicial clerk, just out law school, is "essential" for anything is absurd on its face. Yet the swaggering tough guy Rudy Giuliani used that blatant lie to ensure that someone other than himself was sent to fight in Vietnam.

But Romney's record is hardly better. Although he claims he was ultimately convinced by his dad that the war was wrong, he spent most of the war cheering it on -- from the same safe and sheltered distance where one finds most of our right-wing tough guy warriors today, the ones who understandably recognize themselves in both Romney and Giuliani. Needless to say, a centerpiece of both of their campaigns is how "tough" and courageously pro-war they are.

I think Greenwald may have a point about Romney, and yes, some of his comments sometimes strike you as those of the most effete and disconnected in American society.

However, I've never quite understood this infatuation with the military records of those who support war. One of the things that have safeguarded the American republic for over 200 years is the fact that our laws are kept separate from our servicemen and women. We have a civilian-led, volunteer military, and it's the best in the world.

Here's a thought--Perhaps Rudy or Mitt would've been a liability on the battle field. Would that have made their war support anymore credible?

I think Greenwald's logic is a fairly common one, and it really exposes a certain perception that war critics such as him hold of the troops. Many who oppose any and all wars on the Left seem to view American troops as interchangeable cogs, who could easily be replaced with any given farm boy from somewhere in the South or Midwest. Forget the fact that they are the most skilled and highly trained fighting force in the history of the world. Forget the fact that many, if not most of them are damn proud of what they do, and think they do it well.

No, to many on the far Left, troops are just lost souls--kids who wanted to go to college, and maybe just got duped by some clever (albeit wicked) military recruiter. This logic insults our men and women, and it belittles what they do. And they are the best at what they do.

Romney and Rudy don't need to be veterans in order to support American military action, because our nation is not built on a military junta. Our troops fight to preserve the civilian government we have established, and they are the strongest, smartest and bravest the world has ever seen. Wishing to replace them with Rudy, or Mitt, or any other seemingly hypocritical war supporter is an insult to their capabilities and their heroism.


Mona at Unqualified Offerings pokes fun at the thought of Mitt or Rudy simply not making good soldiers. Her response is amusing, but it ignores the point.

John McCain is a veteran of the Vietnam War and a former POW. He has seen all of the worst imaginable products of war, yet he is still one of the biggest supporters of the Iraq War. Romney's war record is moot, because we don't look to a president for their own physical prowess, or whether or not they could beat a terrorist in an arm wrestling contest.

The toughness we expect from the executive is mostly mental, and our expectations of them as Commander-in-Chief stem not from how many men they've shot, but rather, how they would lead in a time of conflict. Abe Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt--all of whom sent young men off to die in war--never fought in a war themselves. My guess is that none of these figures would be held to such a peculiar scrutiny as Romney or Giuliani.

Would anti-war activists prefer that General Patton run for president? Would that be more consistent for them? The argument is a canard, unless of course it satisfies some bizarre bloodlust of the war critics. As one of the comments noted over at UO, "wanting Rudy/Mitt/etc. to be on the receiving end of an IED or a sniper bullet in Baghdad instead of some young guy doing his job is rather appealing."

I'll bet.

Balancing Kos

Who will be the yin to Kos's yang at Newsweek? Captain Ed is out:

Speculation has already begun on Newsweek's choice for a Rightosphere head-popper. Tom Maguire kindly recommends me for the position, but Newsweek has not contacted me, and if they plan to announce this soon, they must already have communicated with their first choices. I'm not certain that I would be a complete analog to Markos in any case. I try to expand minds, not explode heads; a proper balance would have a conservative willing to match Kos' stridency on topics, and hopefully with better arguments.

Who would make a good match for Markos at Newsweek? Who can burst open heads with tough-minded conservative rhetoric? Or should that be what we want in the soon-to-be filled position at Newsweek?

Feinstein To Be Censured?

California Democrats are getting fed up with Senator Diane Feinstein's votes and they're about to hold her feet to the fire. Their qualms include:

-Voted in favor of Bush's FISA bill

-Passed the bill containing immunity for telecoms out of the Rules Committee

-Condemned MoveOn for their "betrayal" advertisement

-Voted for Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

-Passed Hans Von Spakovsky, the "father of voter suppression" out of the Rules Committee

-Voted in favor of funding the Iraq war without conditions

-Authored a horrible voter "integrity" bill giving power over elections to the EAC made up of Bush appointees and confirming the power of corporations to own the secret counting of the votes

-Served as chairperson of the Military Construction Appropriations subcommittee which oversaw funding for her husband Richard C. Blum's many military (no-bid) contracts in the U.S., in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo

Short of supporting a primary opponent, the most embarrassing thing your supporters and party can do is censure you - and that's exactly what many progressives plan on asking the California Democratic Party to do this weekend. It looks like it's going to be a classic progressives vs. establishment battle with progressives wanting to keep their members in check and those in the establishment wanting to stay above the fray.

Others Blogging It:

Amor Mundi

Talking To Tehran

Matt Dupuis of Foreign Policy Watch has a nice roundup on Iran, and Washington's efforts to curb their behavior:

There are two other reasons why the Bush administration is not about to reverse course anytime soon. One is that the US has already set clear conditions under which it would engage Iran bilaterally: when Iran first halts its enrichment activities. Admittedly, setting this as a precondition to talks was a major diplomatic blunder on the part of the administration because it asked the Iranians to hand over its main bargaining chip and thus produce the goal of negotiations before the two sides had ever sat down at the negotiating table. That came at a time when Iran's enrichment efforts were minimal and technical progress at Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was far less advanced than it is today. While most everyone agrees a diplomatic solution is the most viable option to resolving the standoff with Iran, Washington should not readily give the appearance that it is willing to bend over backward to achieve one. Retreating from the posture of "suspension first" would make Washington look weak relative to Tehran and undermine the credibility of future coercive strategies if adversaries are led to believe they can weather US-imposed pressure longer than Washington can sustain it.

The second reason is that there is little hard evidence suggesting that Tehran itself is ready to negotiate away its enrichment program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly said that Iran will not retreat "one iota" in its nuclear dealings, consolidated his control over Iran's nuclear portfolio by appointing a loyalist of his as Iran's new negotiator (a move most analysts agree could not be undertaken without Khamenei's nod), and just today denounced those in Iran who have criticized the nation's current handling of the nuclear program. Moreover, even if it is true that Ahmadinejad is a powerless and only symbolic figurehead in Iranian politics, no other prominent figure has emerged to officially speak for Iran or moved to restrain the boisterous president.

Fair points, although Matt answers his own query in the second paragraph. As he points out, it seems unlikely that Ahmadinejad and the rest of the regime will back down on nuclear power. It has become a topic of national coalescence, and an act of impunity in the face of Western imperialists.

There are of course other measures the Iranians can take however to appease the West, two of which being the reduction of terrorist financing in other parts of the Middle East, in addition to the curtailment of insurgent support in Iraq. These are in fact much more immediate concerns, since they both effect the security of American troops and our allies.

A deal could involve Iran bending on all three matters, with some kind of nuclear energy deal getting done via Russia (which was already offered over a year ago). It's looking more and more likely that the IAEA will come down harder than they previously had, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is currently lobbying for a global banking ban on the Islamic republic. China and Russia may feel compelled to get on board, lest they find themselves standing alone with an increasingly isolated Iran.

Others Blogging it:

Captain's Quarters
Little Green Footballs

Clinton's Conundrum

Steven Stark has a couple of suggestions for Hillary's campaign team:

First, she needs to put a bit of distance between herself and Bill. It's understandable that the former president wants to help his wife (and she can use the help) but his presence on the trail is threatening to overshadow and even undercut her. There's no need to take him off the campaign trail but, since borrowing lines from JFK seems to be the flavor of the month, she could do the same by reworking some lines from his famous Houston Minister's speech in September 1960.


Second, she needs to reframe the question of old politics vs. new politics. She shouldn't go on the attack but if her principal opponent wants to point out differences, she can certainly respond to those, with a smile, by saying something like:

"I know the difference between the old politics and the new politics and so do the voters. Is it old politics or new politics to make a major issue out of a key vote on Iran -- when the candidate in question couldn't even be bothered to come to Washington to cast a vote on the issue and take a real stand because he was too busy campaigning? Is it old politics or new politics to promise you're going to walk into the White House, snap your fingers, and instantly transform the health care system because all that lack of experience really means is that you're not tied to the mistakes of the past?

"We all know that labels are easy; decisions are hard; achieving real results even harder. I'll make the tough decisions and I'll lead. I'll leave it to others to categorize what kind of politics that is."

If Clinton starts to respond directly, she'll rejoin the campaign, so to speak. But not until then.

I think this is pretty sound advice, however Clinton has a couple of problems that make both of these suggestions less plausible: 1. She has rather high negatives, and 2. Her husband is more popular than she is. Much more.

Her husband's experience and charisma may be the biggest asset Clinton possesses, and to declare such distinctions from him could prove risky. Some Democrats may in fact be yearning for the good old days.

As for directly responding to her opponents, this could place Hillary in another tough spot. Most female candidates for elected office walk a fine line. If they accuse their critics of a "pile on," they risk accusations of victimhood. However, if she comes across as too negative or assertive, she'll be called shill and probably much worse.

Perhaps it's the other Clinton who needs to stay on message better. It may sound harsh, but the less Hillary speaks the better off she may be. When Bill Clinton went on the offensive against Tim Russert it changed the debate. It went from being Hillary versus the MSM to the Clintons versus the MSM. The former you can work with, because it offers Hillary an opportunity to confront the media's "good ol' boys" club. The latter reminds us of the worst things about the Clinton White House--scandals, personal attacks and defensive personal politics.

Bill is not like the other spouses, and cannot go negative like Michelle Obama or Elizabeth Edwards. The Clintons perhaps need a role reversal--let Hillary play up the good old days, and have Bill play up Hillary. Going too negative might not be a luxury the Clintons currently have.

If Senator Obama asks us to turn the page, Hillary can remind America of how good the book was the first time. Bill's role shouldn't be diminished, but instead altered. He may indeed be the better messenger if Americans are to like Hillary Clinton, so have him sell Americans on her record and experience.

Allow Bill to respond on his wife's behalf, and as Steven argues, keep the senator smiling.

Others Blogging It:

Comments From Left Field
Blue Crab Boulevard

Dobbs '08?

Influence Peddler ponders:

The Democrats are traditionally more protectionist than the Republicans; if the Democratic nominee sees an opening to win support from Wall Street, that could leave room for Dobbs to appeal to labor. His populist rants against the high and mighty might sound more Republican than Democrat right now.

But in the last few years at least, it seems that immigration has been a bigger issue for him than trade. He's had harsh words for Democrats and President Bush, over their support for 'comprehensive reform.' It certainly appears that whoever the nominees are, the 2008 race is likely to see a return to type -- with the GOP standing for tough anti-illegal immigration laws, and the Democrats more supportive of legalization. This might lead Dobbs to focus his criticisms on the Democratic nominee.

But in the end, it would probably be up to Dobbs. His populist repertoire is broad enough to allow him to train his fire on either the Republican or the Democrat. He could wind up being a kingmaker.

What a scary thought.

Be Like the NYT

Dan Drezner has been following the Brooks, Herbert and Krugman kerfuffle, and has come up with a clever idea:

They're exactly like a typical blog exchange, in that the debate quickly devolves from Big Questions to minutiae. Unlike a typical blog exchange, none of the participants have linked/mentioned the others by name. Also, instead of taking a few days to play out, this will take two months.

In that spirit, the hard-working staff here at urges its readers to participate in its first ever Mimic the New York Times Op-ed Columnist Contest!!

To enter, just submit, via a comment to this post, the opening paragraph of either Maureen Dowd or Thomas Friedman's op-ed contributions on this subject. Winners will be lifted from comments and promoted to the hilt by this mighty blog.

Drezner does his best Tom Friedman, and offers up his comments section for others to try it out.

A Tale of Two Fallons

1. Read up on Admiral William Fallon's comments regarding attack plans (or lack thereof) against Iran.

2. Read Kevin Drum's take on the matter.

3. Then read Ed Morrissey's analysis on it.

I mentioned this over on my own blog, and I believe it's worth mentioning here. I think we need to come to terms on what diplomacy actually looks like. War talk seems to mostly come from the fringes of the political spectrum, both Left and Right. Admiral Fallon has asked everyone to calm down, and to let diplomatic channels run their course. Drum asks us to "speak softly," yet he neglects the second part of that popular and historic quote.

Ed Morrissey, however, gets it:

This news will not make some conservatives happy -- but it should. We can hardly afford to expand the shooting war outside of Iraq at the moment, nor should we do so except in the last extremity. Iran is not Iraq. It's much larger, with a terrain that negates many of our military advantages, similar to that in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their military has not had the same degradation that Saddam Hussein's suffered in twelve years of no-fly zones and neglect.

We have to leave the military option on the table to have diplomacy taken seriously by our enemies, and make no mistake, the Iranian mullahcracy is an enemy of the US. That being said, we can't simply expect to have even the most surgical of strikes go unanswered, and a shooting war with Iran will have grave implications for Iraq, especially in the Shi'ite south. We need to solidify our gains in Iraq before looking for another adventure -- and we need to act in the best interests of our nation while ensuring that we don't make the Middle East exponentially more explosive than it already is. Admiral Fallon offers some excellent advice in this instance.

(Emphasis my own)

Both sides are certainly to blame here. Whereas the N-Pods of the world have created a mythical enemy in the caliphate-seeking "Islamofascists," the far left has concocted a neocon bogey man in order to create the good vs. evil dichotomy they need for their readers. The reality of the matter is that our government, along with our allies, is pursuing the diplomatic channels that some of these bloggers continue to clamor for. Isolating Tehran, cutting off funds and not ruling out a surgical strike are all diplomatic tools used by states for decades.

There are substantive steps being taken to curb Iranian behavior, while remaining mindful of our military's vulnerability in Iraq. The key difference between Morrissey and Drum here is the perceived threat of attack, and how important that is in dealing with an authoritarian government. Drum seems interested in calming the nerves in Tehran. It's a fallacy that you must be friends with your adversaries. Giving them some incentives to curb behavior is fine, as long as it results in Iranian capitulation on the big three concerns the international community has with them.

Lions For Lame

Jules Crittenden revels in Tom Cruise's failure.

While I'm sure part of the problem is this bland cottage industry dedicated to 9/11 nuance, a lot of it must be attributed to the immeasurable craziness of Cruise. I think moviegoers are experiencing Tom fatigue.

In Defense of Russert

Matthew Yglesias on Tim Russert:

Turning back to the Democrats, a serious question about Clinton's biofuels subsidies or Barack Obama's past support of coal gasification schemes might prompt some embarrassment and would be worth asking. But it would be bizarre to jump initially to these topics since they're less important than the more general issue of carbon caps and auctioned permits and voters deserve to hear about the important issues. But Russert wouldn't do it that it. It wouldn't be "tough" to provide politicians with an opportunity to explain their plans. Rather, the "tough" thing to do would be to leap straight ahead to whatever question is most likely to create problems for the politician irrespective of the importance of the issue. The reason, of course, is that Russert doesn't care -- at all -- about whether or not his actions inform the American electorate. Rather, he cares about creating a "news-making" event -- likely something embarrassing for the politician -- and about burnishing his reputation for toughness. He attracts a circle of admirers who share his perverse and unethical lack of concern for whether or not his work helps produce an informed public, gobs of less-prominent television journalists seek to emulate his lack of concern with informing the public, print journalists eagerly court opportunities to appear on the non-informative shows hosted by Russert and his emulators, and down the rabbit hole we go.

But he's tough.

It's pretty obvious that the far Left doesn't like Tim Russert. We've certainly heard this before.

This latest hate-fest appears to have blown up over a question Russert posed to Hillary Clinton during the most recent Democratic primary debate. When Russert pressured Senator Clinton on having the National Archives release communications between her and her husband, the former first lady was clearly taken aback. President Clinton lashed out at Russert, as did the Netroots, and the pile on proceeded.

But Russert's inquiry was fair. If you go back and read the letter in question, you'll see that President Clinton was very specific in keeping certain communications between he and his wife sealed. If Senator Clinton wishes to use her time in the White House as a resume booster, well then the exchanges she may have had with the president are in fact relevant. Russert was right to press her on this, and anyone not too afraid of the Clinton messaging machine should do likewise (would it not be a valuable tactic for Senator Obama, who constantly has his experience called into question?).

Anyway, it's questions such as this one that have apparently given Russert a bad reputation. Well what is a Tim Russert to do?

According to Yglesias, he should instead be asking questions about carbon caps and auctioned permits. These are important Matthew Yglesias. They're important to me, too. However, there are some who think that all of this climate crisis stuff is just hogwash, and would probably rather eat glass than spend their Sunday morning's listening to Barack Obama talk about coal gasification and alternative energy. Tim Russert can't cater to every single policy nuance that his viewers may take a real or cursory interest in. These are timed segments, with commercials and such. Not to mention the campaigns no doubt send a laundry list of untoucables prior to their appearance on the show.

Russert in fact does candidates a favor by asking them these political questions. Why? Because it's these things that will be on the under-the-radar direct mail pieces used to slam them. It's questions about sealed documents and President Clinton's secrecy that will run on targeted radio spots, not Hillary's position on biofuel subsidies. Every week, Russert gives these candidates the opportunity to practice their tested and honed messages on national television, thus giving them free campaign time and exposure.

It isn't Russert's job to educate you. That's your job. If you want to know more about Obama's energy policy, go read about it. You're never going to get so deep in the policy muckety-muck in a ten minute segment. It just won't happen, and for the sake of all the potential glass eaters out there, it shouldn't.

Others Blogging It:

Carpetbagger Report
Ann Althouse
Kevin Drum

Tom DeLay Is The Laughing Stock Of Britain

Remember Tom DeLay? In the latest edition of "can he be serious?" I present to you a recent quote by the former House majority leader:

By the way, there's no one denied health care in America. There are 47 million people who don't have health insurance, but no American is denied health care in America.

Think Progress takes a look at the outlandish claim. DeLay was so far off the mark that the audience probably couldn't tell whether he was joking or not:

The audience, understandably, greeted DeLay's preposterous claims with "derisive laughter," according to the AP. A recent report showed that for the sixth straight year, jobholders continued to see a decline in employer-provided health insurance, with 38 states seeing "significant" drops in benefits offered by employers.

Observers estimate that anywhere from one to 18 percent of Americans are denied health insurance because of pre-existing health conditions. These conditions can range from heart disease to high cholesterol to yeast infections to being too skinny.

Wonkette chimes in and adds her chuckle to the chorus of laughter as well.

Ending It Right

Colin Kahl on Iraq:

if our *only* goal is to end the civil war and one judged that our actions are, at best, only delaying the inevitable here and have no prospect for creating a stable equilibrium, then maybe we should stand aside, let nature run its course, and let the conflict "burn itself out." But ending the civil war is not our only interest. It matters to our interests very much *how* the civil war is ended. We want to avoid genocide if possible (so allowing the conflict to "burn itself out" is not a good idea -- since the mechanism for this happening could be the slaughter of many tens of thousands of people), we want to degrade al Qaeda in Iraq (so leaving the Sunnis on their own is a bad idea because it re-incentivizes them to make common cause with AQI against the Shia), and we want to maintain some influence in Iraq to limit Iranian gains and prevent a wider regional conflict (which argues for having some presence *inside* Iraq).

h/t Yglesias.


David Dryer blogs on it at Foreign Policy Watch:

This point of view can be called realist liberalism, or liberal realism, but I can't see any reason not to call it LibRealism (hence the silly title of this post). Of course, Saudi religious extremism is complicated, and a sudden political opening is unlikely to stop the flow of Saudis into Iraq, for example. Nor, in the medium term, will Saudi reform mean that the next terrorist vanguard will not be Saudi -- Osama Bin Laden, after all, became a radical in part because he wanted fewer religious, minority, and press rights in Saudi Arabia, not more. But in the long-term, an accountable government, transparent legal structures, and a modern educational system are invaluable tools against Islamist radicalism, and indeed extremism of all kinds. That's good news for liberals, realists, Saudis, and all of us who would like to see terror not only fought, but also ultimately vanquished.

Sounds good, but there's still the question of what benchmarks should be used here. Do elections mean progress? Health care? Some free press?

There's also the issue of Western imperialism and Westoxication. Will the Saudi people ever view us favorably and reject radicalism if we continue to dump weapons and cash on the House of Sa'ud?

What Russia Wants (and Fears)

Russian President Vladimir Putin threw the world for a loop last month by expressing a seemingly strong sign of support for the nuclear ambitions and security of Iran. Meeting with the Supreme Leader during the Caspian state summit in Tehran, the two nations no doubt discussed several issues of concern. The one we talk about the least? Energy.

EurasiaNet blogs on it:

Behind the façade of cooperation, Russia and China are waging a spirited, though not yet adversarial competition in Central Asia over access to natural resources. In May, Russia appeared to lock up much of Central Asia's natural gas, when Russian, Kazakhstani and Turkmen leaders announced the expansion of the Prikaspiisky Pipeline.

Since then, however, the project, which would funnel the bulk of Kazakhstan's and Turkmenistan's natural gas to Russia via a pipeline network skirting the Caspian Sea, has stalled.

At a bilateral meeting with Russia's Zubkov in Tashkent on November 2, Kazakhstani Prime Minister Karim Masimov pledged to finalize negotiations on the Prikaspiisky pipeline in the near future. The talks could be completed at a meeting of the Kazakhstani-Russian intergovernmental commission later in November, Masimov said. Incidentally, Zubkov refrained from comments on the Prikaspiisky pipeline.

Lingering uncertainty over the Prikaspiisky route has given China an opening, especially in Turkmenistan. During a brief visit to Ashgabat, Wen, the Chinese prime minister, called for efforts "to step up bilateral trade cooperation to a new level." Berdymukhamedov, in turn, expressed interest in "working closely" with China on a natural gas pipeline project, Xinhua reported.

Putin is obviously worried about a challenge to his nation's energy monopoly, which had as much to do with the Iranian meeting of last month as nuclear power did. Appeasing Iran on nuclear power could assist Russia with Azerbaijan, and this latest attempt to make a regional energy power in Central Asia appears an attempt to keep China out of the oil and gas rich region.

Does this factor in to our diplomatic efforts wit Russia?

Dough and Democracy

bboyd blogs about it in Uzbekistan:

If dough is being shipped rather than flour, this points to a standard recipe which has a similar quality throughout the distribution area (and is not a good sign for quality, actually). It reflects a command economy. It means that regional centers are able, non-transparently, to change the quality of the flour or introduce other binders and fillers. In the U.S. before the advent of the 1880's muckraking journalists, this was quite common also. Plaster, for instance, was used to extend flour and create profits: the bread of the pioneers.

Transparency means quality-and so does competition. If dough is arriving pre-mixed at each bakery, then no one can compete in terms of flavor, nutrition, or price. The elements of production are the same. The profit also never comes to the locality, but stays in the regional center where the allocations are decided. But that's a dough of a different color.


Elections in the midst of starvation aren't usually a good idea in nominally democratic countries: they tend to create upset, upheaval, revolutions. Ruling parties generally try to provide at least basic welfare at the advent of the electoral moment. Uh, that isn't happening, at least in the provinces. President Karimov has introduced a system of food coupons, but if a bread ration is so much smaller, its value is only partial. Which leads one to suspect that the election is in the bag, and that the attitude of leader impunity has reached a new altitude.

History Repeats?

David Ignatius draws the Pakistan/Iran parallel:

The Iran analogy was made forcefully two weeks ago by Gary Sick, a Columbia professor who helped oversee Iran policy for the Carter administration during the time of the revolution. "There was no Plan B," Sick wrote in an online posting. He sees the same dynamic at work in Pakistan. "We have bet the farm on one man -- in this case Pervez Musharraf -- and we have no fall-back position, no alternative strategy in the event that does not work."

So ask yourself: What Iran policy would have made sense, in hindsight, given the ruinous consequences of the Iranian revolution? Should the United States have encouraged the shah to crack down harder against protesters and ride out the storm, as some hard-liners urged at the time? Or should it have moved more quickly to encourage a change of regime, after it became obvious the shah couldn't or wouldn't reform?

Even now, almost 30 years later, it's hard to know what we should have done. And perhaps that's the point.

I think Ignatius is mostly accurate here. It's hard to envision what we may have done differently in Iran, especially since all forms of nationalism relied upon the clerics in order to spread their agenda and win over the peasants. We sat back and watched while Muhammad Reza stifled free speech, leaving the mosques as one of the few places where the free flow of ideas could take place. This attracted nationalists, Marxists and other critics of Pahlavi rule.

If there was ever to be a freedom agenda, the support of a free (and secular) press, along with an independent and mostly secular judiciary woud need to be paramount. Musharraf has cracked down on both. In Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, you had a jurist who ruled against attempts by regional Islamists attempting to impose illegal Sharia law.

The press and the law should be the cornerstone, and it looks as if both have been tossed aside in Pakistan.

Others Blogging It:

The Heretik
Matthew Yglesias
Ezra Klein

Howard, William and Ralph

James Joyner on Ron Paul:

Nader ran as an independent to the left of Al Gore and cost his erstwhile party the presidency. I take Paul at his word that, should he not win the Republican nomination, he'll bow out of the 2008 race. Were he to nonetheless run as an independent, though, it's far from clear to me that he draws more Republicans than Democrats. While there has been a strong libertarian strain in the GOP since at least Barry Goldwater, there has been a social libertarian strain in the Democratic Party even longer.

Dean, though, strikes me as the likeliest analog. Both raised wild sums of money from a highly energized online constituency and seemed to be the only candidate in their party's field that sparked genuine excitement. Neither, though, seemed to have the experience or disposition to pass the "gravitas" threshold expected of those who would be president.

I would agree, however with one little caveat and correction. While I think the Dean comparison works best, I'd add that Paul's campaign resembles Nader's 2000 campaign mostly in the fresh blood it seems to have pulled into electoral politics. Young people, somewhat surprisingly, appear to be jazzed up about Paul.

Nader had the same kind of buzz, and in fact ran on the Green Party line nationwide. So not only did he offer political newcomers a fresh voice, but he provided them with a new party that wasn't the one of their parents. This didn't result in electoral success, but it get the Green Party on ballots all across the country, and for at least a few years, helped them advance their own candidates.

This might even explain the enthusiastic audacity we've seen in so many Paul supporters. They don't want to hear that their guy can't win, and they don't care about the way it has worked in the past. Fresh faces don't care about the conventional wisdom.

It isn't a campaign, it's a "revolution."

Others Blogging It:

Andrew Sullivan
The Corner

Dennis Denial

Via Rebecca Traister of Salon:

Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It's time to come clean and admit that we are a Dennis Kucinich-loving party trapped in Hillary Clinton-supporting bodies.

This is not such a joke, actually. There is no better illustration of exactly how far right political discourse has swung, and how self-loathing and beaten down the Democratic Party has become, than that among its presidential candidates, the one most willing to consistently, unapologetically stand for the things on which the party is supposedly built (some of your more basic civil liberties) is also the guy who believes in aliens.

Others Blogging It:

Brilliant at Breakfast

A Middle East Moment

Brian Beutler on Brooks:

Solving the Palestine problem is both essential to creating stability in the region and good for its own sake. Likewise, creating circumstances under which Iran can realize its growing power in the region in an acceptable manner is...likewise both essential to creating stability in the region and good for its own sake. What's neither essential nor good for its own sake is threatening Iran with military strikes while working to establish a weak alliance of mutually hostile peoples meant to serve as its temporary regional enemy... and then calling the whole plan "diplomacy"

Perhaps I'm working with a different definition of diplomacy here than Beutler is, but at what point did capitulating to your enemy's hegemonic desires become good diplomacy? When did diplomacy become the reliance on unconditional niceties?

This is a regime that has assumed a role of stewardship over Shiism and Islamic, faqih-style government. This is a government that sponsors global terrorism. How does allowing the republic to "realize its growing power in the region" make for good policy?

As long as this particular regime is in power, they should be isolated and curtailed. It's not about a coalition of hostile third parties, but rather, a coalition of those who can compel Tehran (and Qom) to change their behavior. This is why China's involvement in a new round of sanctions is vital. Same goes for the World Bank, and various European powers that may waver on isolating Iran.

That's diplomacy, because that's where the power resides. You don't make nice with the weaker state. If you completely remove all threats of hard power, what negotiating position does that put you in?

And Beutler misreads Brooks on the Palestinian conflict. Here's the crux of the latter's argument:

Iran has done what decades of peace proposals have not done -- brought Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. together. You can go to Jerusalem or to some Arab capitals and the diagnosis of the situation is the same: Iran is gaining hegemonic strength over the region and is spreading tentacles of instability all around.

The Syrians, who have broken with the Sunni nations and attached themselves to Iran, are feeling stronger by the day. At least one-third of Iraq is under Iranian influence. Hezbollah is better armed and more confident now than it was before its war against Israel. Hamas is being drawn closer inside the Iranian orbit and is more likely to take over the West Bank than lose its own base in Gaza.

In short, Iran is taking advantage of the region's three civil wars and could have its proxy armies on Israel's northern, western and southern borders.

Arab opinion, even in Sunni nations, is sympathetic to Iran. Egypt, which should serve as a counterbalance to Iran, is sclerotic and largely absent from the scene.

It's no wonder Rice has acted so forcefully to forge the "moderate" coalition. She seems to sense what leaders in the region say privately: It's not so much that they have high hopes of peace; it's that they are terrified they will fail. If they cannot restart the peace process and build an anti-Iran alliance upon it, then the days of the moderates could be numbered. That's why Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel, pinned what's left of his career to this Annapolis process at a speech before the Saban Forum Sunday night, and why other leaders are so fervent behind the scenes.

It's a progressive-manufactured myth that only the U.S. and AIPAC are concerned about Iran. This is not an American contrived division in the region, but one built upon centuries of history. All involved parties face a legitimate threat from an ambitious Iran, something the Palestinian refugee crisis didn't necessarily pose for them. It's a bit of a misnomer that Israel/Palestine has far reaching implications that alter diplomatic relations in Iran, Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Many of these nations are quick to use the Palestinians as a political tool, while their own Palestinian populations languish in poverty and marginal existence.

But Brooks makes a valid point--however unlikely a lasting Palestinian peace may be, the threat of an expansive Iran has pushed many of these actors into the peace process. If they can stabilize this problem (a problem they have incidentally propped up and contributed to), then maybe they can focus the region on the real growing threat--Iran. But until then, Palestine is an open sore that allows Iran to act with impunity in the name of Islam against "Westoxication," Western imperialism and Zionism.

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Ron Paul: Fundraiser-In-Chief

Ron Paul is becoming more than just a thorn in the side of Republicans. Much has been made of the libertarian Republican's online support, but today's events top them all. In a span of twenty-four hours Ron Paul smashed the Republican record and raised a whopping $4.2 million. As QandO points out, Paul will certainly 'Remember The Fifth of November.'

What exactly does this mean for the Paul campaign? For one, it means he has a ton of serious, serious cash to spend. What will be interesting is whether he spends it trying to actually compete in the crowded primary field or will perhaps save it for a rumored third party run. But can this quirky, IRS-hating Republicans actually compete in the primaries? Chances are very good that he wont win, but look for him to finish third or even second place in a number of states. Take New Hampshire for example: a poll from a couple of weeks ago showed Paul in fourth place with 7% of the vote. And that's before he even hit the television airwaves. Who knows, a very strong finish in the Granite State may give him some considerable legitimacy and momentum going into Super Tuesday.

Even Democrats are impressed. Jerome Armstrong urges that those candidates on his side of the aisle take a lesson or two from the Paul campaign when it comes to online organizing. Or they can just go on a field trip to the DNC and talk to Howard Dean.

Progress = Consensus

Jay explains:

Welcome to American governance, Democrats. It's one of the most frustrating jobs you can have. You are running a system whose designers intended to thwart you. And so, even though you have the majority, and you face a president whose numbers have been in the gutter for more than two years, you still cannot seem to do what you want to do.

This follows quite logically from the Madisonian design. Power is dispersed in our government so that no single faction, even if it is a majority (e.g. the liberal Democrats), can achieve its policy goals if those goals are "narrow." The only way these goals can be achieved is if a broad coalition, comprised of multiple factions (e.g. the liberal Democrats, the moderate Democrats, and the moderate Republicans), accept these goals and coordinate their actions to implement them. In this way, no faction can impose its will on another faction unduly - and true republican government is thereby preserved.

All Foreign Policy is Local

From Matthew Yglesias:

Ultimately, the most helpful think would be for a progressive president to successfully implement progressive ideas under circumstances (unlike those of the Clinton administration) when the public is paying attention. That means dropping the assumption that liberal ideas won't fly politically and need to be kept hidden under layers of macho posturing and, instead, actually try to build progressive messaging around progressive ideas.


I think progressive politicians -- but also progressives more generally -- need to make the point that good things can happen inforeign policy and will happen with smart leadership, it's not just a realm in which scary people do scary things and we try to stop them.

The word of the day, you see, is progressive.

But what does progressive foreign policy look like?

As Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute recently noted, U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East has traditionally been a reactive one. Bad guy does something, America does something to bad guy. Beyond that, the American public has generally left an overwhelming amount of faith in the executive branch to deal with global affairs. Especially in the matters of war and security.

This of course makes sense. While Congress legally grants war and fronts the check, it's the lone executive who makes the case. It's the Commander-in-chief who rallies the troops, enlightens the public and eases domestic tensions. Despite any rumored or realized indiscretions, Americans have historically given their president the benefit of the doubt to conduct war.

Franklin Roosevelt had New Deal programs declared unconstitutional, attempted to pack the Supreme Court and interned his own citizens during wartime. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Both have been rewarded by history as successful wartime executives.

Presidents have always had their military ambitions quelled by Congress, as George Will just recently pointed out. But a president with a groundswell of support from the grassroots of America can be granted an indefinite license on executive privilege. Foreign policy consensus begins with the polity, not the legislative branch. It's a gambit we have often chanced, investing faith and capital in the president to fight the bad guys and protect our nation.

For a multitude of reasons, President Bush has lost a great deal of that capital.

But how would these progressives govern differently? What makes pre-emptive wars more enticing than pre-emptive foreign aid? Americans usually reject the latter. My guess is that most Americans pay little attention to global institutions like the UN. "Fear mongering" works because it addresses what Americans are most concerned about in foreign policy--security. We give up freedoms for it, and unleash our military to ensure it.

How does one change this?

Others Blogging It:

Democracy Arsenal

Whitewash at WaPo?

Soccer Dad asks the question over at

Jules Crittenden is a little more blunt about it:

Bush-bash accomplished, some Iranian nuke boilerplate ensues. Blah blah blah ... "outstanding questions" ... yada yada yada ... "long concealed" ... blah blah blah ... "A.Q. Khan" ... yada yada yada ... centrifuge blueprints. More of the same, you know ... "IAEA has been stymied" ... "studied mounting a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile" ... "1,200-foot-deep underground shaft apparently designed to confine a nuclear test explosion" ... that kind of thing.

It's heartening to see that, news organizations having shamefully aided and abetted in the demonizing of Saddam Hussein in the runup to war in 2003 by guzzling Bush Koolaid, there is now an effort to give American-killing, hate-spewing, rabid anti-Semite terrorism sponsors every benefit of a doubt. Only 14 1/2 months to go!

Others Blogging It:

Crooks and Liars
No Quarter

All Eyes On Virginia

Virginia has certainly been one of the focal points of political attention over the past couple of years. In 2005, the state saw one of the premier gubernatorial races between Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore. In 2006, Jim Webb defeated George Allen and tipped the balance of power in the Senate. 2007 will be no different - all eyes will be on Virginia to see if the Democrats can win control over either chamber of the state legislature.

Why is that at all important? For one, it is expected that the state will likely be in play in the following year's presidential election. Coming off Kaine's and Webb's respective wins, Democrats are very hopeful that they'll be able to make a run at the state's thirteen electoral votes. Tuesday's elections could very well be a bellwether as to the Democrats' chances next year.

Perhaps even more importantly though, Virginia is heavily gerrymandered in favor of congressional Republicans. Despite being a "purple" state, only three of the state's congressional representatives to the House are Democrats. If Democrats do indeed manage to win control of either state legislative chamber, this year or in 2009, they will have a very prominent seat at the table when redistricting comes back around after the 2010 census - if that happens, I expect that Democrats will be able to easily send at least two more members of their party to Congress.

With the stakes so high, it's not surprising that things have gotten very, very dirty in the Old Dominion. Black Velvet Bruce approves of a recent mailer that those on the left have called a vicious attack:

Karen Schultz is the opponent of Jill Holtzman-Vogel, and apparently dumped a lot of cash for a professional candidate makeover to turn this "openly lesbian 33-year-old" into someone who won the Democratic nomination. These "candidate makeovers" are seem to be pretty successful, unless the consulting agency happens to trumpet their work in their marketing materials and on their website. Oops.

One of the most competitive races Virginia on Tuesday will be Chap Peterson vs. Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis. This Northern Virginia race has gotten extra attention because Devolites-Davis is the wife of Republican Congressman Tom Davis, who up until last week, was widely expected to run for the Senate against Mark Warner. In a mailer sent out a little over a week ago, Devolites-Davis published her opponent's address and phone number, a move that is, at the very least, highly unethical and dangerous for the Peterson family. Not Larry Sabato chimes in:

Here is the mailing. See all those black boxes I put in? That would be Chaps home address, Chaps home phone number, and the names of Chaps wife and children. NONE OF WHICH WERE EDITED OUT BY JEANNEMARIE.

I'm still shocked looking at this. And yes, Jeannemarie's arrow points directly to Sharon Petersen's name.

In the State Senate, Republicans currently hold a 23-17 advantage. The lieutenant governor is a Republican and thus casts tie-breaking votes in the chamber. As a result, Democrats would need to pickup four seats to gain control of the chamber. In the House of Delegates, Democrats face an even greater uphill battle; the current make up of the chamber is 56-41-3, with two of the Independents caucusing with Republicans.

As for predictions - I expect Democrats to make gains, though not large enough gains to win control of either chamber. All they have to do is get close, however, with one more round of state elections in 2009 before redistricting. Some, on the other hand, are actually predicting a Democratic wave on Tuesday. Brimur thinks Democrats are likely to pick up at least five seats in the upper legislative chamber. If such a scenario plays out, national Republicans can kiss their usually-reliable thirteen electoral votes goodbye next year.

Selective Hawkery

Joe Klein engages in it over Pakistan:

I'm puzzled by all the neoconservative bloviating and war-whooping about Iran and the near deathly silence about the deteriorating situation in Pakistan. I mean, we have actual terrorist training camps in Waziristan that are just sitting there, ripe targets for the sort of quick special forces strikes that the Turks are laying on the PKK in Northern Kurdistan (with our not-so-tacit approval). But I haven't read much in the Weekly Standard about the need to act against Al-Qaeda-Not-in-Iraq. Bill K, N-Pod, you remember Osama, right? What gives?

Klein attempts to engage in the same disingenuous, zero-sum argument that we've seen from others recently on Iran. They mislead their readers into believing that the only people concerned about Iran reside in the EOB and the offices of The Weekly Standard. They act as if the United States government has never handled multiple diplomatic matters simultaneously (and as for the 'neocons,' simply do a quick google search and you'll see that Kristol has had plenty to say about Pakistan).

What would Klein propose we do with Pakistan? Does he not see them as a fundamentally different problem than Iran? One is an ally, the other is quite clearly an enemy. One wants nuclear weapons, the other has them. Which one might we be able to influence more easily, the one with the bomb, or the one without the bomb?

Shall we bomb Waziristan? Musharraf has already declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. Should we abandon him? What then of the campaign in Afghanistan?

Moe Lane of Redstate dismantled this Pakistan argument not too long ago. It might behoove Joe Klein to read it, lest he continue his irresponsible and selective brand of hawkery.

Others Blogging It:

The American Street

Triangulating Iran

From the NYT:

In an hourlong interview on Wednesday, Mr. Obama made clear that forging a new relationship with Iran would be a major element of what he pledged would be a broad effort to stabilize Iraq as he executed a speedy timetable for the withdrawal of American combat troops.

Mr. Obama said that Iran had been "acting irresponsibly" by supporting Shiite militant groups in Iraq. He also emphasized that Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program and its support for "terrorist activities" were serious concerns.

But he asserted that Iran's support for militant groups in Iraq reflected its anxiety over the Bush administration's policies in the region, including talk of a possible American military strike on Iranian nuclear installations.

Making clear that he planned to talk to Iran without preconditions, Mr. Obama emphasized further that "changes in behavior" by Iran could possibly be rewarded with membership in the World Trade Organization, other economic benefits and security guarantees.

I've complained a lot about this lately, so I think we should give credit where it's due. Sen. Barack Obama, albeit ever so subtly, has hinted at a (dare I say it) third way on Iran. I'm in agreement with Matthew Yglesias, who rightly points out the similarities in Obama's plan to Senator Clinton's.

He hits upon the key concerns here: 1. Iran's role in Iraq, 2. Iran's nuclear program and 3. Iran's state-sponsorship of Islamic terrorism. Obama mistakenly agrees to unconditional talks, however I find that to be sort of a throw away line. He has already hinted at preconditions, and the Iranian regime isn't stupid. They know what behavior we wish to see halted. Though were I the Clinton camp, I would exploit this language to the fullest.

Michael van der Galiën accuses Obama of hypocrisy here, citing his refusal to lend his signature to a foreboding White House letter. The letter, partly intended to clarify matters for those who voted for Kyl-Lieberman, warns the president not to attack Iran without Congressional consent. I disagree with Michael, and believe it wise of Obama to avoid signing such a vacillating document. The senator correctly points out its vacuity, and instead chooses to legislate on the matter. Politically speaking, it makes sense.

And reassuring this regime's stability may be controversial, but it's smart strategy. Obama has maintained the right to strike Iran if necessary, but a policy of regime change against this nation could be disastrous. The median age in Iran is somewhere around 25, mostly male. The economy is struggling, and domestic unrest is on the rise. The last thing we should do is give this regime its casus belli. Iran has a long and painful history of foreign invasion and occupation, and it's likely that an invasion would awaken that frustrated sentiment in otherwise sympathetic Iranians.

We have been at war with this regime in one form or another since 1979, and have meddled in their affairs since the middle of the 20th Century. If Iranians have an irrational fear of Western encroachment and imperialism, well we are now the face of it (whereas it was once Russia and Great Britain). This is one reason they extend their sphere of influence through terror. Experience and history proves that the West will back away if exposed to constant guerilla warfare, especially terrorism (the most depraved version of such war). By using a human wave, they believe they can keep America occupied (no pun intended) in other parts of the world, fighting small wars and pursuing tiny tyrants. Don't look at the mullah behind the curtain.

It makes sense to offer Iran tangible carrots, while maintaining a firm position on the "big 3" issues of terror, nukes and Iraq. Ed Morrissey asks us to hit the brakes:

It sounds great. In fact, it sounds so great that it's hard to believe that neither Obama nor Michael Gordon or Jeff Zeleny recall that the EU-3 and the US made precisely that offer to Iran in the summer 2005 round of negotiations between the Europeans and Iran. The Bush administration even made the offer publicly in support of the European peace initiative, and even talked openly of restoring diplomatic and trade relations with Iran.

Did it work? No, it did not. Iran had more interest in pursuing nuclear weapons than in WTO membership or normalized relations -- because Iran considers itself at war with the United States. It doesn't want normal trade; Iran wants regional hegemony over the Middle East, after which it can demand trade on whatever terms it likes with the entire world.

True, but we can figure out their hesitation over the WTO. Their economy is bloated and state-run, with various families and Revolutionary interests maintaining control over the various Bonyads. For them to join the WTO, it would involve an economic overhaul that they're probably not willing to embark on yet.

But it's still a good idea, and Obama would be wise to articulate this better and outline a serious plan. Iran is a founding member of ECO, one of the regional alternatives Iran prefers to work with (seemingly as a way to snub the West and their managed trade programs). Several of the ECO's permanent members are strategic allies of ours, and we would be wise to exert influence through bodies such as this.

Box the republic in, but give them that tiny window.

Others Blogging It:

Right Wing Nut House
The American Street

Boom or Boondoggle?

Publius Pundit on Russia's growing (not growing?) economy:

Yesterday, for instance, it was reported that the U.S. economy is on pace to post almost 4% GDP growth this year despite the drag effect of surging oil prices and the problems in the U.S. housing industry due to a speculation bubble. An idiot might say: Aha! Russia is outdoing the USA by a factor of two!

Context, my dear fellow, context! When the $12-trillion U.S. economy posts 4% growth, it adds about $500 billion to its total. This added amount is roughly one-half the value of the entire Russian economy, and works out to nearly $1,700 per American citizen. When the $1-trillion Russian economy posts 8% growth, it adds only $80 billion to its value -- a puny figure of less than $600 per Russian citizen. With an economy twelve times larger than Russia's but a population only twice as large, half the amount of GDP growth produces nearly three times more value per capita in the U.S. compared to Russia. This a race Russia can't even be competitive in, much less win, without even considering all the reasons why Russia's $600 figure itself is a gross overstatement.

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