More coming later this morning on Iraq and other topics.
More coming later this morning on Iraq and other topics.
I'm currently writing a long article about the administration's grand designs to democratize the Middle East. And the subject is getting a lot of play today after the president's speech last night at the American Enterprise Institute. But the deal we've just cut with the Turks belies much of the democratization argument. Now, for reasons I'll try to get into later, I'm something of a turkophile. But the administration's apparent decision to allow the Turkish army to range at will through Iraqi Kurdistan -- the one place in Iraq where something like democracy is taking root -- doesn't bode well for any grand democratic experiment. As this piece in the Philly Inquirer put it yesterday, "Although the White House cites the democratic institutions of Iraqi Kurds as proof that Iraq can become a democracy after Saddam, Bush officials seem ready to sell out the Kurds in pursuit of [Turkish] bases."
Keep in mind, of course, that the stuff that happens before the bullets start flying is the easy part.
I'm sitting here listening to Bill Maher on Larry King Live arguing against going to war in Iraq. And he makes a pretty damn good case.
Okay, so here's the story.
The Democratic candidate we're talking about is Congressman Dennis Kucinich. And the article in question is this one which appeared in Cleveland Magazine in 1972. I strongly recommend reading it yourself to make your own judgement about what it says.
As those who are familiar with Kucinich's career know, he's been in and out of elective office almost literally since he was a kid. Now, some folks have written in to tell me that Cleveland Magazine has a long-standing beef with Kucinich. But I've read a good bit of press coverage on Kucinich from the 1970s. And the point about racial politics is not limited to that article or publication.
Basically, in the early days -- before he was running citywide, let alone nationwide -- Kucinich's political schtick was posing as the champion of the 'forgotten' white ethnic voters over against the rising force of black political power. Sort of a great white hope type, or great Slavic hope, if you will.
There was plenty of acrimony between blacks and white ethnic voters in Northern cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So it was fertile political ground. And playing on that divide for political gain was not at all uncommon. That fissure, after all, was one of the things that broke apart the Democrats' coalition in the North. Kucinich didn't create it. But at the time some pols chose to play to it while others didn't.
Now, what does it mean? This was a long time ago. And at the time Kucinich was, almost literally, a kid. When he was elected Mayor later in the decade I think he was still only 31. Plenty of folks from the South who are still active in politics today -- many of whom now get lots of black votes -- were still segregationists in the early 1960s. So people do change their stripes. And bygones often get considered bygones.
But people have been scrutinizing the backgrounds of a lot of politicians from the South, particularly Republicans -- I have as much as anyone. So I don't think it's unfair to raise this point. This is particularly so since Kucinich is now putting himself forward as a candidate for national office as the champion of the progressive wing of the Democratic party.
People do 'evolve' politically -- and not just in the euphemistic, wink-wink kind of sense. People really do change. And they change their style of politics too. But usually, for this to work, or be legitimate and believable, the pol in question has to make some sort of public accounting for why circumstances changed or why he or she did.
Given that Kucinich is now making a play for the votes of dyed-in-the-wool liberals, a bit more of such an accounting seems in order.
P.S. For some reason, as of late this afternoon, the Cleveland Magazine website seems to be down. Here's a cached copy maintained by Google.
Who is the mystery Democratic presidential candidate? The one tagged in the previous post as having his own history of rough-n-tumble race politics?
Well, not to paraphrase a certain former senator from Wisconsin, but I have in my hand a copy of an old magazine article covering an earlier point in the candidate's political career. And here's one choice tidbit. It's a quote from a John Metcalf, one of the candidate's campaign workers at the time ...
"[Candidate X] has gotten a lot smarter in the last couple of years," says Metcalf. "He learned to play dirty pool. Hell, there are a lot of ethnics out there who want to keep the n----rs on their side of the river. It's a racial issue. There are a lot of bigots in that district and someone has to represent them, let's face it."Let's be clear: that's not a quote from the candidate, but from one of his campaign workers. But the rest of the article paints a similar, if less inflammatory, picture of the style of politics in question.
Does one of the Democratic presidential candidates have his own history of rough-n-tumble race politics? No, I'm not talking about Al Sharpton. And, No, I don't mean what Republicans call race-politics or race-baiting (i.e., accusing racists of actually being racists.) No, I mean the real thing. The genuine article!
Here's my new column in The Hill. This week: the price we're paying for the White House's decision to piss off everyone in the world at the same time.
Hmmm. That's not a great sign.
Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim tells MSNBC that a prolonged US military occupation of Iraq could be met with a "religious war." And he's one of our guys, the head of one of the Iraqi exile groups we're relying on to help rebuild the place.
One could jump from this to a few good whacks against the Bush administration. But I think that would miss the point. al-Hakim's statement just underscores the sheer immensity of the task we're setting ourselves up for.
First, a little background. al-Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iranian-backed Shia exile group which the Bush administration has cautiously courted in its efforts to bring some unity to the Iraqi opposition.
The MSNBC article, I think, overstates al-Hakim's and SCIRI's importance. "Among the half-dozen Iraqi opposition groups," says the author, "Hakimâs council is the most significant." This may be true in one respect. Some of the opposition groups we support are so pitiful that they have little if any actual presence in Iraq. But though Shias make up the majority in Iraq, it's not at all clear that al-Hakim's brand of Iranian-backed fundamentalism has a big audience.
However that may be, his statements point to a big problem. Even our would-be supporters in regime change don't want to be associated with an occupation by a foreign (and non-muslim) power. And yet there's almost no way we're going to achieve our objectives without a long occupation which is deeply-entrenched and so overwhelming numerically that it can throw a blanket of enforced peace over all the tensions, divisions and rage that Saddam's tyranny has both created and held in check for three decades.
The real problem is that we're embarking on an enterprise which does not admit of half-measures. As Fouad Ajami notes in this article, an American invasion of Iraq will at first almost certainly be viewed as a neo-Imperialist attempt to take over an Arab country, secure its oil wealth, and do various other bad things.
Certainly, this will be the case outside Iraq and probably inside as well. There's a good chance it will always be seen that way. But the only chance of changing the equation is to undertake the sort of thorough-going internal transformation of the country that we managed in Germany and Japan. But as I say, the situation doesn't admit of half measures. You can go in, topple Saddam, turn it over to some oppositionists and wish'em the best. Or you can go for a massive military occupation and thorough reconstruction of the society. (The Army Chief of Staff told a Senate committee yesterday that the numbers needed would total several hundred thousand soldiers.) Anything in between seems doomed to disaster since you'll get all the down-sides of being a non-muslim occupying power and none of the (possible) upsides of installing a quasi-democratic regime. You'll get the fruits of all the region's deep-seated pathologies and no chance to uproot them.
For my own part, I think proponents of the root-and-branch approach miss an important part of why Germany and Japan worked. It's called World War II. One of the reasons the Germans and the Japanese stood still for what we accomplished in their countries is that we had just spent a couple years thoroughly bludgeoning their countries. Day and night bombing against major population centers, the disruption of the economies, the very real threat that if it wasn't us it'd be the Russians taking over, etc.
By 1945, we had pretty much destroyed the Germans' and Japanese' will to fight. And they were pleasantly surprised when they discovered how relatively benign our rule was. The same set of circumstances won't apply to Iraq. And that should be a cause of real concern.
Believe it or not, this isn't meant to say we shouldn't try to accomplish this. Once the decision for war is made it is really the only policy we can pursue. But the scope of enterprise is awe-inspiring.
One of the small, ugly ironies of all this haggling at the UN is this line of reasoning that the UN's credibility and future are on the line in all this. To a significant degree, I think this is true: The Security Council said Saddam had to disarm. Now they really need to make sure he does. But the people in the administration who are pressing this argument about the UN's credibility are also people who have more or less unconcealed contempt for the institution in the first place and would probably just as soon see it trashed anyway. As John Judis notes, they haven't worked with the UN. They've bullied it.
With so much sound and fury and just plain old crap being written about Iraq, be sure not to miss John Judis' new article about the Bush administration's three contending factions on the Iraq question and how they brought us to this current point. It's one of the most clear-minded and enlightening pieces I've read on the topic in some time.