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Im working today on

I'm working today on a magazine article about Democrats and foreign policy, and whether they have an effective vision and strategy for confronting the present challenges -- setting aside whatever one thinks of the policies embraced by the current administration. That's got a monopoly on my time today -- as it has for the last few weeks. So let me just put out a few thoughts on the aftermath of Madrid, which I hope to return to, and to dig into in more depth, later.

First, here are four columns on the topic which have appeared in the last several days. I don't agree entirely with any of them. But they each contain important food for thought. They're by Bob Kagan, Anne Applebaum, Jim Pinkerton and Timothy Garton Ash.

It probably won't surprise you to hear that I find the right-wing charges -- now omnipresent in this country -- about Spanish 'appeasement' to be crass, verging on disgusting, not to mention I think simply untrue.

However, I think Ash has a very good point when he writes the following ...

So far as the Spanish voters' intentions are concerned, the election result was not subjectively a victory for al-Qaida. But it is, as Marxists used to say, an objective victory for al-Qaida. The Madrid bombings look likely to do exactly what a message posted on a radical Islamist website months ago said they should do: exploit the election moment to knock Spain out of the "Crusader-Zionist" coalition in Iraq. Conclusion: terror works.

I don't see how you get around that. But I don't think the policy prescription following from that insight is clear. At a minimum<$Ad$> it raises the vexing question of whether we persist in policies or approaches that we realize were mistaken simply because we see that abandoning them, or fundamentally reworking them, might have the perverse effect of encouraging our enemies.

In the case of Spain, if the impression is that the Spanish have been run out of the country, that's a bad thing. This is especially so since our only real hope of success in the country is to dramatically broaden the military presence, to internationalize it, as the now overworked phrase has it, either through the UN or preferably through NATO -- in some version of the Balkan model.

It's worth noting that the new or incoming Spanish government is on record supporting the continued presence of its troops in the country if such an internationalization of the effort occurs.

(One heartening, encouraging sign in today's papers comes from the Wall Street Journal, which reports that "Germany -- which helped thwart Washington's pursuit of a United Nations Security Council endorsement for the invasion -- privately has asked Spain's likely new leadership to tone down its anti-U.S. rhetoric." This is precisely the sort of drawing back from the brink -- and distinguishing rather than conflating these different issues -- that we need right now on all sides.)

If there is anything good that can come out of this Spanish tragedy, and it certainly looks like close to wall to wall bad, it is that it may force us to shake the attitude of denial that we're in about the nature of our coalition. A couple of the columns above are right to talk about the increasing danger this all poses to the Atlantic alliance.

But the truth is that we've just been fooling ourselves with all this mumbojumbo about New Europe and whatever Spain had meant, up to this point, about Western unity. The idea that there was a hawkish, pro-American, anti-dirigiste New Europe that we were allying ourselves with against Old Europe (i.e., Germany and France) was never more than a fantasy or a farce.

There was some variation in attitudes toward our policies in Iraq across the continent -- most notably in Poland. And support was somewhat higher in some countries in the post-Communist east. But by and large popular opposition to our policies was close to overwhelming from one end of the continent to the other.

What we were doing was piggybacking on intra-European struggles over unity, fault lines between the bigger states at the center and the smaller, generally poorer ones, on the periphery. And on the topic of the war, we were relying on leaders who offered their support over the overwhelming opposition of their electorates.

In the short-term that kind of support can be key, especially in a military context. But when dealing with democratic allies, in the medium and long-term, it's a losing game. In this sense, I don't think what's happened in Spain has been a blow to Western unity so much as a wake-up call to an already-existing reality which we must face if we are to wage a real war against Islamist terror as opposed to a war of words over Iraq.

On this latter point I continue to believe what I wrote last August, that "generality, vagueness and abstraction is the problem. They are becoming the engines of policy incoherence and the cover for domestic bad-actors who want to get this country into fights few Americans signed up for."

Some of this chatter about the 'war on terrorism' and 'appeasement' and Iraq as a sign of this or that is just disinformation, abuse and lying. But our real situation is genuinely bedeviled and obscured by how deep we are in a thicket of abstraction. This is a struggle of ideas, big ideas. And it's correct to see it in such terms rather than simply as a matter of police work or military capacity. But it can also makes us stumble, make us stumble or fall prey to the trickery of bad actors.

So, for instance, we have a 'war on terror'. Then we insist that invading Iraq is part of the 'war on terror'. But most of our allies don't agree. And now we have one of our nominal allies in the Iraq war possibly pulling out. So we conclude they've bagged on the 'war on terror' when in fact they seem to have bagged on the Iraq war (through pressing our manichean view can become a self-fulfilling reality.) And now we're told that any rethinking of the Iraq war would be a defeat in the 'war on terror'.

The ins and outs of these arguments are complex, I grant that. Still, I think our preoccupation with abstractions -- itself partly a product of nostalgia -- gets us shadow-boxing with ourselves and our friends rather than fighting our enemies.

As Lincoln once said, and this applies across the ideological spectrum, "We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

A short follow-up on

A short follow-up on the Pew poll of foreign attitudes about the United States. Several readers have written in to question my characterization that the poll "appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States. Most daunting, the public in those states is apparently increasingly supportive of suicide bombings."

In fact, they note, the poll actually shows a slackening of anti-American attitudes in the four Muslim countries surveyed.

As Pew phrases it in one of their summaries, "anger toward the United States remains pervasive [in the four Muslim states surveyed], although the level of hatred has eased somewhat and support for the war on terrorism has inched up."

Now, one issue here is who's an Arab and who's a Muslim. But the key is what Pew's comparison point is. And what they're comparing to in that passage principally is the sounding they did in May 2003 -- in other words, about a month after the war. And from a month after the war to now there has been a slackening, although a modest one in those four Muslim states.

There was a spike. And it's true that the numbers have come down a bit from that high. I should have made that more clear. But the valid point of comparison, to me at least, isn't from the point when there was still smoke in the air till now (tempers do cool of course), but rather going back to before the war happened at all and over the period of the build up to it.

For that you need to go back to the data contained in this Pew survey which was released in 2002 but has data from 1999/2000 as well. Looking across that time horizon, which seems to me to the best for judging the impact of recent events, the trend line is quite clear despite coming down a bit from the spike during the war.

My reference of course was to Arab states nominally allied to the United States and the current Pew survey includes hard data on two of these -- though Morocco is actually mixed language and ethnicity. According to Pew, the favorability rating of the US in Jordan in the summer of 2002 was 25%. Just after the war it was 1%. And it has bounced back, if one can say that without too much irony, to 5%.

(Unfortunately, while Pew has pre-war-on-terror numbers for Pakistan and Turkey, they don't seem to have them -- at least not that I can find -- for Jordan. If anybody can point me to such numbers I'd be most obliged if you can send a reference.)

Now to the other point I mentioned.

One of the things that struck me most about these new numbers -- and comparing them with the December 2002 numbers -- were the opinions about the acceptability of suicide bombings.

Now, there's a problem because the questions don't seem to have been posed in the just the same fashion. In the earlier survey (Dec. 2002) the question was whether suicide bombings are acceptable in 'defense of Islam.' In the more recent survey the question was asked with respect to such attacks in Israel/Palestine and then against Americans or Westerners in Iraq.

Again, slightly different questions. But one can still draw some conclusions from the results. And they're not good.

In the earlier survey (and the questions were only asked of Muslims), the only country where Muslims seemed clearly to support suicide bombings was Lebanon (73% support, 21% oppose).

A number of countries were surveyed and after Lebanon the numbers jumped down rapidly, with a bunch of countries between more or less evenly divided. Jordan, for instance, the numbers were 43% for, 48% against.

Now, again, in the current survey they didn't use the straight 'defense of Islam' phrasing. They asked if suicide bombings were okay in those two places. Jordanians now believe suicide bombings are justifiable by Palestinians against Israelis by a margin of 86% to 12%. Against Americans and other Westerners in Iraq they believe they are justified by a margin of 70% to 24%.

In any case, as with all polls, to a get a sense of what they say you really need to dig into the details and the various subsidiary questions that are asked. So here's the link to the new one, the one from May 2003 and the one I've been referencing from 2002.

Are we about to

Are we about to capture Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaida's #2?

Clearly, something is afoot. Reports from the fighting near the Pakistani border say there is heavy resistance which suggests the fighters are protecting a 'high-value' target. What's more there are apparently intelligence reports -- from interviews with captured fighters -- to the effect that al-Zawahiri either has been or remains in just this area.

On the other hand, I don't think you can avoid noting that Secretary of State Colin Powell has been in the neighborhood, most recently in India. And today, the day we hear this announcement, happens to be the very day when Powell came calling in Islamabad with the news that we're designating Pakistan a major non-NATO US ally, which carries not only prestige but significantly facilitates the purchase of US arms.

One needn't assume that the Pakistanis aren't being honest with what they're saying. But I don't think you need to be too imaginative to believe that with Powell in town with a prize in hand there'd be a great desire to put the best face on what may be very ambiguous evidence.

What's more, experts on the running fights through the mountains of Afghanistan in recent years note that these fighters tend to put up fierce fights whether they're protecting a bigwig or not.

All of it adds up to my not really knowing what to make of it. I've talked to several al Qaida experts this afternoon and they don't really seem to know what to make of it either. The best description I could give is to say they each seem like they're in wait-and-see mode, as I guess we all should be.

We'll know soon enough.

Classic. The facts dont

Classic. The facts don't mesh with our theory, <$NoAd$>so let's get new facts.

Last night Richard Perle was on Chris Matthews Hardball show and Matthews pressed him on the results of the new Pew poll which appears to show a rising tide of anti-Americanism in Arab states that are at least nominally allied with the United States. Most daunting, the public in those states is apparently increasingly supportive of suicide bombings.

Here's the exchange ...

PERLE: It is appalling and it is very dangerous. It shows you what happens when you allow suicide bombing to go largely unresponded to for as long as we did.

We had a decade in which we were attacked again and again and we didn't respond. And, eventually, these thing become entrenched and even fashionable.

MATTHEWS: But you said last year, in 2001, right after 9/11, that if we go in, the idea that it is going to damage us in the Arab world is nonsense. You think that our going into Iraq has not stimulated a higher level of hostility to us that would support this kind of horrible attitude toward our deaths?

PERLE: Because the Arab world was on Saddam's side? What is the logic of that? That they object to the fact that we've liberated 25 million Iraqis?

In other words, the facts don't make sense to me so they're not facts.

If this were just spin to snow Matthews and other barkers it would be one thing. But it's the essence of how these folks think, how they deceive themselves when they're not busy deceiving others.

I touched on precisely

I touched on precisely this point in my column in The Hill on Wednesday but today in The American Prospect Ivo Daalder makes it more pointedly and concisely. And on top of that, he's Ivo Daalder and I'm not ...

This is the third election of a major ally in which the party running against George Bush won. Look at Germany in '02, South Korea in '03, and now Spain. The message is: If you want to get re-elected, don't go to Crawford. Bush is a political liability -- in Europe, in particular. His foreign policy has trampled on the European views and it's now resulting in the election of governments that do not support his approach.

Think about it. And if it doesn't click with you, pick up a copy of Sun Tzu and think about it again.

The Speaker Or the

The Speaker? Or the Meeker?

Denny Hastert on how it felt getting bamboozled by the White House on the cost of the Medicare bill ...

“Yeah, [the higher cost estimate] was a surprise to us, and [I was] surprised it happened. When the administration comes out and says this is going to be more expensive…[it] makes it tougher on us, kind of sticks it to us.”

The quote is from a piece tomorrow in The Hill, which also notes just how many investigations have already been spawned by this bum's-rush-bill.

Just a thought.One of

Just a thought.

One of the things we hear again and again from the administration is that Saddam Hussein still had both the intention and the capability to build and possess weapons of mass destruction.

Isn't this a logical fallacy?

I mean, if you have the intention to build WMDs and the ability to build them, then you have WMDs. It's about as close to 2 + 2 = 4 as you get in human affairs.

Not that this is the biggest bit of ridiculousness coming out 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue these days. But it's worth noting.

We can infer from the fact that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction that he lacked either the intention or the ability to have them. Something is missing from the equation. Maybe he had the intention to build them later. Maybe he was working to get back the ability. But he really couldn't have had both.

It's just 'p's and 'q's.

Intelligence gathered by this

"Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq's neighbors and against Iraq's people. The regime has a history of reckless aggression in the Middle East. It has a deep hatred of America and our friends. And it has aided, trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda. The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country, or any other." George W. Bush, Address to the Nation, March 17th, 2003.

You dont get more

You don't get more trenchant than that.

Bob Novak has a column today noting how tragic it apparently is that Illinois is trending increasingly Democratic. So much so, he laments, that the Bush campaign has already essentially written the state off.

Then he writes ...

Illinois also appears to be getting eliminated from serious consideration in the battle between George W. Bush and John Kerry for the presidency because of a change in the way the state is perceived. No longer a classic swing state that could go either way and produce famous standoffs in 1960 and 1976, Illinois is now considered the most reliably Democratic state in the Midwest.

The 2000 election had a lot to do with that revised image. Al Gore won 55 percent of the vote to Bush's 43 percent, with a 570,000 vote margin. If Illinois were subtracted from the national totals, Bush actually enjoyed a popular vote plurality in the rest of the country.

Hard to quarrel with that <$Ad$>logic, isn't it?

This vaguely reminds me of the line one often hears in TV commentary about Democrats and their 'dependence' on the African-American vote. It's only the African-American vote, the argument goes, that keeps the Democratic party from becoming a permanent minority party.

That's true of course. But what's the point exactly? Presumably if you scratch out all the votes of a major constituency of any political party that would put a bit of a dent in their electoral fortunes, right?

If you wanted to be a little nasty you might, with equal merit, note that the Republican party's goose would be cooked if we disenfranchised everyone who doesn't believe in evolution.

CNN's Bill Schneider gave an almost textbook version of this line a couple years ago on CNN ...

Judy, how dependent are Democrats on the African-American vote?

Without black voters, the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections would have been virtually tied, just like the 2000 election. Oh no, more Florida recounts!

What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.

Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.

Black votes were also crucial for Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. Washington state and Nevada don't have many black voters, but they were still crucial to the victories of Harry Reid in Nevada and Maria Cantwell in Washington.

Nebraska and Wisconsin don't have many black voters either, but Ben Nelson would have lost Nebraska without them and Russ Feingold would have lost Wisconsin, too, in both cases by less than half-a- percent. Bottom line? Without the African-American vote, the number of Democrats in the Senate would be reduced from 50 to 37.

A hopeless minority. And Jim Jeffords' defection from the GOP would not have meant a thing -- Judy.

I don't want to overstate the point. But nestled down deep in this argument is some sort of perhaps unconscious notion that the Dems are just hopelessly sucking wind among real voters and thus have to resort to padding their totals with blacks.

Again and again I

Again and again I read -- or hear directly from administration supporters -- this excuse that any questioning of the administration's record in foreign affairs, or Iraq, or even on other matters is just a deplorable focusing on the past, a distraction, when the nation faces grave challenges which we need to focus on solving.

This is more than just simple buck-passing. It is a sort of through-the-looking-glass version of how problem-solving and accountability are supposed to work. It also has the perverse benefit of allowing the scope of the administration's failures to become reasons for not discussing those failures -- a sort of self-reinforcing anti-accountability causality loop, with all manner of moral hazards built in.

We've created such a mess that we don't have the time or the luxury to start second-guessing how badly we screwed things up!

I've always been strict about keeping four-letter words off this site. So I apologize for the graphic nature of this analogy. But this is like I come back to my office to find my new employee has taken a crap right on my desk.

Puzzledly and not happy, I say, "What, umm ... what happened here?"

To which he replies, "There you go again, always focusing on the past, how this or that could have been done differently, when what's really important is the future, how we deal with this and other challenges we're going to face."

To which I would reply, "No. The future is exactly what I'm thinking about. And that's why you're fired. Because in the future I can't afford to have anyone working here who craps on my desk, and then when I confront them about it all they can do is dodge responsibility with moronic excuses and try to put the blame on me for asking what the hell is going on."

These guys should be fired too.

And, no, I wouldn't advise the Kerry campaign to base a 30 second ad on this analogy.


I'm here!