Editors’ Blog

Folks who follow Asia

Folks who follow Asia policy are familiar with what’s called the policy of ‘strategic ambiguity‘. That phrase refers to the United States’ long-standing policy on the China-Taiwan controversy. What would we do if war broke out across the Taiwan Strait? Would we intervene? Not intervene? And under which circumstances? We deliberately keep the answer a bit vague and muddled because we’d like to keep both sides a bit off-balance and give both good reason not to step up to, or over, the line that would lead to war. It’s hard to step right up to the line if you’re not quite clear where the line is.

In Korea, the Bush administration now seems to be pursuing a policy of what we might call ‘strategic ridiculousness’: a policy involving the seemingly intentional pursuit of every amateurish and counter-productive gambit conceivable in each given situation. What shrewd purpose might stand behind this doctrine I’m not able to ascertain. But we can at least tease out its main components.

We’ve already discussed how the Bush administration solved the vexing problem of preventing the NKs from becoming a nuclear power by announcing that they already are a nuclear power and it’s probably something we can live with.

And now there’s more.

At the White House and among Republicans on Capitol Hill there is increasingly serious talk of pulling out the 37,000 troops which the US has garrisoned along the DMZ for about a half century. (Henry Hyde’s International Relations Committee is apparently preparing hearings about a possible unilateral withdrawal of American troops.)

In other words, in order to take a tough line against North Korea’s nuclear jawboning, the Bush White House is now prepared to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and contemplate the unilateral withdrawal of all American forces from the Korean Peninsula.

If that’s the hardline approach, I’d hate to see what appeasement might look like.

And there’s more.

Yesterday we said that we’re now in the unenviable position of having to climb down from the consequences of our own boneheaded policies. The only thing I wasn’t clear on was how quickly it would happen. Out of the box the administration word was: there’s nothing to talk about until the NKs do what we say, period. That’s a good line if you can stick to it. But they didn’t. Ten days ago Colin Powell said we would not ‘negotiate’ with the NKs but we might possibly ‘talk’ with them. Today there was a late-breaking announcement that the administration will negotiate, but never compromise.

In other words, the administration is now in an embarrassing rearguard battle with itself over infantile word games and moronic or non-existent verbal distinctions. You almost expect Ari Fleischer to come out tomorrow, summon up his best Churchillian bluster, and say “For peace, we are prepared to be pathetic, but not pitiful!”

And there’s more.

The next wrinkle in the story, or the next question, may be when exactly the Bush administration found out about the NK’s uranium enrichment program. According to today’s always invaluable Nelson Report, former Clinton administration officials are now prepared to testify before Congress that they got intelligence about the NK’s clandestine uranium enrichment program back in 2000 and briefed the incoming Bush administration folks on that intelligence at the beginning of 2001.

If that’s true, says Nelson …

Democrats are prepared to ask what the Bush people did with this intelligence, all through 2001, and why negotiations with N. Korea weren’t begun on this vital topic. Democrats, and perhaps more objective observers, note that, instead, it was only in October, 2002, after months of international pressure to Pyongyang, that the subject came up.

Administration sources have refused comment on what they were told by the Clinton folks two years ago, but they frankly admit, off the record, that the Kelly mission’s use of the [uranium enrichment] intelligence on Oct. 3 was designed to continue the stalemate with N. Korea, not to start substantive negotiations on nuclear weapons.

Clearly, it never occurred to them that approach this would fuel the current crisis, with N. Korea seizing the opportunity to increase the “blackmail”, rather than “surrender”, as some Bush hardliners apparently predicted.

Oops…

TPM on Crossfire tonight

TPM on Crossfire tonight at around 7:30 PM EST talking about North Korea.

Washington has various mysteries.

Washington has various mysteries.

Why is there an H Street, an I Street and a K Street, but no J Street?

How is it that DC can’t hold on to a professional baseball team?

And, of course, how is it that Vice-President Dick Cheney manages to be responsible for pretty much every major goof-up that’s happened on the Bush administration’s watch and yet still maintain his rep as the shrewdest operator and surest hand in the administration? This one gets you into quantum mechanics and grand unified theory territory. (Cheney’s role in the unfolding North Korea embarrassment is just the latest in a long list of screw-ups.)

In any case, I take a stab at solving the mystery in my new article in the Washington Monthly.

Were all accustomed to

We’re all accustomed to those many political debates over the last couple decades in which there was one conventional wisdom in Washington and another one altogether outside the beltway. We’re now seeing a new twist on that paradigm in the mounting debate over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

On one side, you have most of Washington’s chattering classes, an assortment of blowhards and yada-meisters, telling a story about Clintonian appeasement and the current administration’s steely-eyed determination to deal with yet another run-amok rogue regime.

On the other side, you have most folks who follow politics and geo-politics in Asia, and especially in North Asia. You also have most politicians and diplomats from the region itself. They tell a rather different story: how the Bush administration blundered its way into this crisis by casting about for two years with loose threats it was in no real position to make good on. It is also a story about how the administration committed itself to what was effectively a policy of no negotiations rather than trying to toughen, and thus improve, the deals the Clinton administration had cut in 1994 and thereafter.

I’ve mentioned so many times before the Nelson Report. I’d like to quote the whole thing verbatim today. But the most interesting passage is that in which Nelson describes a dawning realization — seemingly even within the administration — that the administration committed a major strategic blunder in equating negotiations with appeasement. Now they’re trying to find a face-saving way to get out of this jam by asking the Chinese, the Russians, the Japanese, the South Koreans — just about anyone who has the North Koreans’ phone number, it seems — to let the North Koreans know that we’d really like to get back to the bargaining table if only they’d give us something to help us save a little face.

This is one of the many embarrassments of the situation we’re now in. Usually it’s the weaker party that needs to save face when backing down from some untenable position. But here we’re the ones who need to save face.

What got us into this situation was our refusal — a refusal based apparently on principle — to talk with the North Koreans or to assuage their security concerns. And now we’re looking for a face-saving way to get back to what we previously refused on principle to do. I’ve said it countless times now, but really, how on earth did we manage to get ourselves into a position like that? Who was watching the store? Who thought this policy through?

It’s a serious embarrassment. And more important than that it’s gotten us into a really dangerous situation.

Having said all this, let me direct you to what strikes me as the clearest and most concise statement yet on this topic. It’s Fareed Zakaria’s column on the North Korea crisis in the new issue of Newsweek. No one would accuse Zakaria of being either a partisan or a dove. And he captures a good bit of the problem in a very few words. The White House is long on moral clarity — calling the North Korean regime evil and barbaric and so forth. But they simply don’t have a policy for dealing with the problem. To the extent that they have a policy it has been one of tossing around loose threats that everyone knew, or should have known, we weren’t in much of a position to follow through on. Now we’re in a jam and we have to look for some face saving way to get back to something that looks a lot more like the Clinton policy than the one this administration has been pursuing for the last two years. Don’t waste any more time on my summary. Just read Zakaria’s piece.

If one thing is

If one thing is clear it is that we’d want to keep the Korean Peninsula calm while we’re concentrating much of our military might in Arabia. (When the US military makes contingency plans for fighting two regional wars simultaneously — a key point of US war-fighting doctrine through the 1990s — one of the notional locales is usually in Arabia, the other in North Korea or Taiwan.) In order to keep things calm on the Korean Peninsula we’d want above all else to keep our relations with our primary ally, South Korea (ROK), as cordial and as tightly-coordinated as possible. Yet relations between the US and South Korea have been going down hill since March 2001. And in the last couple months they’ve been in free-fall. (For the first time ever, prominent South Korean politicians are openly questioning the US-ROK alliance.)

So how exactly did we find ourselves in a virtual crisis in our relations with South Korea at just the time we’re in a very un-virtual crisis in our relations with the North? That’s an especially good question considering that it was logical to assume that the NKs would act up at about the time we were getting ourselves pinned down in Iraq. Was this the plan? Or was someone not paying attention? And how exactly is the near-crisis in our relations with the South Koreans the fault of Bill Clinton?

The Washington Post seems willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt on all this. But for those of us who aren’t inclined to carry the administration’s water, what are we supposed to think?

One point thats essential

One point that’s essential to understand about the current North Korea crisis is that while North Korea’s leadership is dangerous, reckless and all-around-bad, the US did a lot to escalate this situation over the last two years through mix of bad policy, two policies, and no policy. As we note below, that might not have been quite so bad if the administration had any idea how to handle the situation once it reached a boil. Since they don’t, it’s pretty bad. Today’s edition of the DLC’s New Dem Daily gets at some of this point.

Heres one way to

Here’s one way to understand the current North Korea situation. A month ago the North Koreans were pursuing a clandestine uranium-enrichment program that everyone thinks was years away from making actual bombs. Now they’re back online with a plutonium production program which will produce bombs in months.

Confronting an aggressor often leads to setbacks in the short-term. So for instance, after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US’s refusal to negotiate with the Iraqis or accept the invasion as a fait accompli led the Iraqis to further entrench themselves in Kuwait. Had we cavilled with them perhaps they would have withdrawn from part of Kuwait as part of some deal. But we rightly refused to do that. Point being that confronting aggressors often leads to what can be characterized as short-term setbacks or escalated tensions.

But in Iraq, of course, we had a plan. That was to threaten and eventually to follow through on forcing the Iraqis out of Kuwait. One might make a similar point about Kosovo in 1999. Confronting Milosevic and moving toward the military option led Milosevic to accelerate the ethnic cleansing. But the US had a plan which we followed through on: we reversed what he’d done. By doing so, we also helped bring about his fall from power.

In this case, however, we demonstrably don’t have a plan. Because of that lack of a plan, the fact that the North Koreans are now months away from cranking out nuclear weapons really is a big national security set-back for the United States and its allies in the region. How and why exactly did the US let that happen? Now we’re reduced to saying we’re willing to accept what we were previously never willing to accept: a nuclear North Korea. Chris Nelson had it right last week. They caught the bad guy. But they botched the arrest. Big time.

Tough criticism? Yeah. But it’s a bigtime screw-up. And in Northeast Asia it’s been going on for two years. It’s time for the Bush administration to take some responsibility and explain how we got here.

When you start hearing

When you start hearing angry cries from the opposition you know you’re beginning to draw some blood. That’s been the case with TPM’s recent postings on the Korea matter. One of the most amusing lines of argument I’ve seen is one attacking me or characterizing me as a foreign policy dove. Anyone who’s even casually familiar with my writing on the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic party’s continuing deficit on serious national security thinking, and in TPM generally would know this is false.

But the misapprehension raises a more important issue: criticizing the president’s management of foreign and defense policy is almost automatically seen on the right — and often on the left too — as dovish.

Not so.

Part of the issue here is that the Democrats’ persistent lack of seriousness about national security policy — which I discussed here in the New York Post — has made conservatives frightfully lazy on the same subject. Sad to say, but true. They’re in the habit of thinking that talking tough gets you credit for being tough. Only it doesn’t. Certainly, it doesn’t get you credit for being tough and smart in your management of national security matters. Talking tough simply doesn’t give the Bush administration a free pass to smooth over or cover up its policy screw-ups in Northeast Asia. I can understand their wanting it to. But it doesn’t.

If it weren’t so serious it would be hilarious the way you hear Asia hands describing the current situation. Yes, they say, talking to some administration appointee. Yes, you caught them cheating. But what are you going to do about it? What’s your plan? And the reply comes back, but we caught them. Yes, you caught them. You caught them with the uranium program and now they’ve put the far more serious plutonium program back up and running. What do we … But we caught them!!! This one goes to eleven!

You get the idea. More on this soon …

The argument advanced by

The argument advanced by Glenn Kessler in today’s Post and privately by a number of Korea experts is that the administration is treating it as a given that North Korea is already a nuclear power in part to reduce the urgency created by the NKs resumption of plutonium production.

Let’s unpack this argument.

There are two distinct nuclear weapons program the NKs have. One based on plutonium, another based on enriching uranium. The plutonium program has been on ice since 1994 — no one disputes this. The uranium program is up and running. But we don’t know quite how long it’s been going or how far along it is. The best information we have suggests that the NKs got the key uranium-enriching technology from the Pakistanis back around 1998. Precisely when they started or accelerated production is in dispute.

The key difference is that the NKs already have all the technical know-how and hardware they need to get weapons-grade plutonium. In fact, a lot of it has just been sitting there waiting to be processed. With plutonium they can be up and running in no time. With uranium, they’re years away from mastering the process of enriching it, though they’ve got the key hardware and have started working on setting it up to use. As one nuclear weapons expert familiar with the Korean situation told me today, it’s the difference between months (with plutonium) and years (with uranium).

This gets us back to the question of urgency and whether North Korea is already a nuclear power. What made the 1994 situation a crisis was that the NKs were about to proceed with serious production of plutonium. That was something we didn’t feel we could allow — for a variety of reasons. And that led to the 1994 Agreed Framework. Our standing position from then on was that resumption of plutonium production meant war.

Now we think — though even this is in dispute — that the NKs already had enough plutonium for perhaps two bombs back in 1994. We also think they probably knew how to make a bomb with plutonium. The question — in terms of its usefulness — was and is how big — in literal physical size — that bomb would be. If it’s too big it’s not effectively deliverable. And some of our best intelligence says that’s still the case — though we don’t really know.

The key is that if North Korea is already a nuclear power, if they’ve already crossed the nuclear line, then it doesn’t matter all the much whether they have two bombs or six or whether they fry up a few more. That’s essentially what Powell said over the weekend. Back in 1994 we thought it was critical to stop the plutonium production process immediately because we took the position that we didn’t know whether North Korea was yet a nuclear power. And we weren’t willing to let them go any further. By declaring that North Korea is already a nuclear power the administration is basically arguing away the very issue of urgency the 1994 agreement was meant to address.

They haven’t fixed anything. Nothing has changed. They’ve just moved the goal post.

More to come soon

More to come soon on the Korea issue. But for the moment, don’t miss this article in today’s Washington Post by Glenn Kessler. Why is the Bush administration upgrading the NKs to nuclear power status?

Lets call this entry

Let’s call this entry ‘Unraveling the Administration Korea Mumbo-Jumbo, Part I’. There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo so it’ll take a few entries to do all the unraveling.

Let’s begin by sketching out the stance and narrative favored by the administration’s supporters.

In their view, the Clinton administration went to the mat with the North Koreans in 1994. Instead of facing them down, they appeased them. They agreed to send them fuel oil, food, and perhaps even greetings cards on special occasions. They also agreed to build some non-weapons-grade-material producing nuclear reactors. And this was all in exchange for them agreeing not to do what they shouldn’t have been doing in the first place — that is, producing large quantities of plutonium to make nuclear weapons. But the Clintonites got hoodwinked by the North Koreans who took the goodies and proceeded to start a secret — uranium-based — nuclear weapons. The Bush administration found all this out, exposed the folly of Clinton’s appeasement, and now has to pick up the pieces.

That’s their story. And as the saying goes, they’re stickin’ with it.

This argument mixes so many distortions, falsehoods and tendentious points that it’s not easy to know where to start. But let’s begin with one thread.

Columnist and talk radio host Hugh Hewitt makes a version of the argument above. And in his new column he compares the current administration’s situation with North Korea to that which the British faced after Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939. It’s a revealing comparison — but one that shows the current administration in a rather poor light.

Let’s assume for the moment that most of what is contained in that thumbnail sketch above is true, that the last decade has been one of appeasement and that President Bush is Winston Churchill.

What had happened when Hitler invaded Poland? The British and the French had given Hitler an ultimatum: an attack on Poland meant war with Britain and France. As was clear then and since, this wasn’t the most propitious moment to draw a line in the sand — neither Britain or France were in a position to actually defend Poland. It was just a tripwire. It should have been done earlier in Czechoslovakia or the Rhineland. But a line had to be drawn. And it was drawn on the Polish border, even though it was done with the knowledge that it almost certainly would mean war. And of course, it did.

In their endless desire to see every diplomatic standoff through the prism of 1938, conservatives want to cast themselves in the role of the guys who put an end to appeasement — in this case, in North Korea. So they’re the ones who said ‘this far and no further’ — as the Brits and the French did in Poland with the Nazis.

But there’s a problem with this analogy, and an infinitely revealing one. The Brits and the French knew what they were going to do if Hitler called their bluff. They had a plan: go to war. And they did. They had, in a word, a plan.

What’s the administration’s plan with North Korea? They don’t have one.

The line taken on this point by administration defenders is, what do you want us to do? Go to war? They’ve got nukes and forty thousand of our soldiers are there ready to get slaughtered and they can destroy Seoul and on and on and on.

This line of argument is supposed to shut up administration critics because who wants to be in the position of encouraging the administration to go to war.

But it doesn’t end the argument, it just gets it going. If war is such an ugly and unviable option — and it is — then why in the hell did they provoke this situation in the first place?

It’s a really good question and one the administration and its defenders are entirely incapable of answering.

You only get to seem tough and principled and Churchillian if you draw a line in the sand and then have something to follow it up with. You only get credit for pointing out what everyone already knew — that the 1994 agreement was an imperfect one and perhaps only a stopgap — if you’ve got something better. If you don’t, you just look like a fool.

The administration says it has a plan: isolate the North Koreans economically and diplomatically. But how serious a plan is that?

Are we going to get the Europeans to withdrew their offer of membership in the EU? Please. North Korea has virtually no diplomatic or economic relations to start with. Their most serious one is with China. And that would make our entire policy dependent on the good will of a country whose influence in the region we’re trying to stem, not augment.

More to the point, in the situation the administration has painted us into the NKs have a lot more cards to play than we do. Short of doomsday scenarios like lurching across the DMZ, they can shoot off a few more test missiles or try to sell more missiles to other bad-acting countries. Of course, they can just kick back and start frying up plutonium in their reactor, every new ounce of which will destabilize the region profoundly.

Of course, getting rolled by those sorts of threats is simply untenable. We can’t blink just because the North Koreans won’t put any limits to their provocative actions. But that just makes the point. We’re in a very bad situation. The administration has sat us down at a card game in which we’re holding a fairly weak hand. Conservatives are free to play Churchill if they’ve got a better plan or the will to force a better solution. Since they have neither, they’ve got to put away the cigar and bowler hat.

As we said a few days ago ‘tough talk sounds great until your opponent calls your bluff and everybody sees there’s nothing behind the trash talk. Then you look foolish.’ We’re still there today.

Just to get us

Just to get us started on the North Korea question, here’s an apt interchange in an interview which CNN’s Miles O’Brien did with Newsweek’s foreign affairs correspondent Roy Gutman on Monday …

O’BRIEN: All right, some softening statements from the administration over the weekend. Secretary of State Powell saying, we don’t want to call these negotiations, but talks. There’s a lot of deciphering of the language here and maybe you can help us walk down that road. Why are they so circumspect?

GUTMAN: Well, the administration has had a very hard line approach to North Korea almost from the moment it took office. It decided not to pursue the Clinton administration’s approach, which was essentially to buy off North Korea off of its nuclear ambitions, off of its missile export ambitions, and for months and months, until the middle of last year, they could not decide really how to deal with them, but they’re preparing to take a hardline, then they decided late last year or the middle of last year to go back to some kind of negotiations, but it never really got started until this summer.

And I think the North Koreans realized or decided at a certain point that after they were included in the “axis of evil” and after the administration did drag its feet for a rather long time, that they were going to up the stakes and raise the ante, and now the administration finds itself in something of a crisis.

O’BRIEN: All right, but there’s another shift to consider here, and that is that under the Clinton administration, it was basically an article of faith that if the North Koreans resumed processing of plutonium at that facility, that’s prima facieia evidence to begin some sort of military strike against it. The administration now saying that is not the policy. When did that shift occur?

GUTMAN: I guess the shift occurred over the weekend. They realized, frankly, that their policy at the moment, which is don’t talk to the North Koreans’ at all, and that is the North Korean’s number one aim, was not working and would probably lead to some kind of a direct confrontation which would involve invoking, or might involve invoking the Clinton administration’s informal policy towards the north. That really leads directly to nuclear — it could lead to nuclear war, but certainly to some kind of a conventional war. They thought it was getting out of control.

O’BRIEN: Is this a tacit admission by the administration for all its might, the U.S. military can’t do much on the Korean peninsula?

GUTMAN: It’s a tough situation, because in terms of conventional sources, the north has enough force mustered and enough artillery aimed at the south that it can cause havoc and enormous bloodshed in a very short time. So in a sense, they’ve got a club on our head.

Secondly, you know, the U.S. does have about 40, 000 troops there, but they’re a kind of a trip wire. It can be the wrong kind of trip wire. They can be, in a sense, hostage. The options are not — there are not a lot of good options.

O’BRIEN: Is it time, given the feelings in South Korea in particular, to begin pulling the troops out, and thus eliminate that hostage scenario, as you put it?

GUTMAN: Well, it might send precisely the wrong signal, namely that when the pressure gets turned up, the U.S. pulls its forces out.

No, I think quite how we’re going to get out of this crisis I’m not sure, but I think it’s going to involve some kind of talks with the North Koreans and probably some kind of a return to policies similar to what was there in the Clinton administration.

O’BRIEN: So you see it easing in the near term.

GUTMAN: No, not in the near term, because I think the administration is still following a course which is to isolate the north, to put economic sanctions on, and to reduce the conversation with them, rather than to increase it. So I don’t see that — in fact, for the next few weeks, this could be a very tense time.

More to come on this soon …

Theres been a lot

There’s been a lot of talk in the last several days about whether North Korea is a bigger threat than Iraq, whether there’s an inconsistency between the policies the administration is pursuing with regard to each, and so forth.

These questions ignore the big issue, one that’s being inexcusably ignored in the American press.

This entire crisis — and it’s foolish to pretend it’s not a crisis — is an administration screw-up of mammoth proportions. The administration is trying to portray this as just another crisis that happened on their watch. But that woefully understates its own responsibility for the situation we’re now in. Here’s how our friend Chris Nelson put it today in an email …

[I] Will wait until next week and look at whether he’s succeeded in finally climbing out of the hole Bush and the hardliners dug for US policy back in March, ’01, when they dissed DJ and nixed any talks, thus enshrining the neurotic nonsense that negotiation equals appeasement.

For now, my analogy is that you can’t blame the cop for trying to bust the bad guy…NK definitely is the bad guy…but you for sure can blame the cop if he blows the arrest and it gets violent. Ruby Ridge? Waco? Will Pyongyang someday find itself on that list…with obviously more consequence?

The same inimitable style — and I think he’s got it about right.

There are two points to focus on here. One is that the situation we’re now in isn’t so much a matter of an over-focus on Iraq, or even the pursuit of too belligerent a policy. It’s really the product of the administration’s inability over the course of two years to figure out what its policy on North Korea was. It’s flip-flopped back and forth between Powell’s policy of engagement (which was essentially a continuation of the Clinton policy) and the hawks’ policy of confrontation. In so doing it’s let the whole thing spin out of control.

Point two: One of the most important rules of foreign policy is not to let yourself get pushed around. An even more important rule, though, is not to make threats or issue ultimatums that you either can’t or won’t follow through on. That not only makes you look weak. It also makes you into an object of contempt. That’s just what the administration has done in this case.

The White House called the Clinton policy craven and dishonorable. That policy was essentially to pay the North Koreans to behave and hope that in the medium-term a better solution — perhaps a soft landing in the North — would arise. Not pretty certainly, but it was a difficult situation.

The Bushies told the North Koreans that they either had to shape up or we’d take them out. Now the North Koreans have called our bluff. And the administration — as signalled by Powell’s comments over the weekend — has caved, enunciating a policy which is now substantially more dovish than the Clinton policy.

Tough talk sounds great until your opponent calls your bluff and everybody sees there’s nothing behind the trash talk. Then you look foolish. That’s where we are right now with North Korea. As Nelson says, no doubt the NKs are the bad guys. And this is an extremely complex problem with no easy solutions. But the Bush administration has pursued a keystone cops policy on the Korean Peninsula for two years now, mixing think-tank braggadocio with feckless inconstancy. Now we’re all going to pay the price.

They shouldn’t get a pass on this.

More details soon.

Schroeder in Germany Lula

“Schroeder in Germany, Lula in Brazil, now Roh’s victory in S. Korea…latest ‘wake-up call’ to U.S., but not clear what’s being heard.” So read the headline summary little more than a week ago in the Nelson Report, the news and gossip sheet of choice for DC’s Asia policy hands and trade policy mavens. (Yes, such a thing actually exists and it’s an extremely entertaining and informative read.)

In his inimitable style, Chris Nelson was pointing to an increasingly clear trend which has yet to garner much notice in the mainstream press: the growing number of elections around the globe in which the winning candidates ran on some variant of anti-Americanism.

Each of the cases Nelson noted have deep local determinants. Germany has a deep-seated — and quite welcome, thank you — anti-militarist tradition dating back to the de-nazification period. And Schroeder cleverly played to this sentiment in pulling out a devilishly thin margin of victory. Brazil — like most of Latin America — is in a deep economic crisis. And it only makes sense that as the boom years of the 1990s were tied to the free-trade and open currency market mantras coming from Washington that much of the bust would be credited — rightly or wrongly — to America too.

The Roh victory in South Korea (ROK) is perhaps the most sobering, as Roh is the first Korean head of state since the partition to be elected on a platform which called into question key aspects of the US-ROK security alliance, which has been a linchpin of America’s position in East Asia for half a century. An Asia hand TPM spoke to said Roh had gotten elected “by playing the Schroeder card.” There too there was a recent incident of American soldiers acquitted for criminal acts against South Korean civilians.

So, yes, in each case, the roots of the election result were multi-causal. But add these and other election results up and you start to see that hostile reactions to America’s newly strident and confrontational stance in the world are becoming an important force in world politics and an important force in the domestic politics of many of our allies.

Think of it this way: when was the last time one of our friends — or someone friendly, rather than unfriendly, to our current policies — won an election in a major country around the world?

Does this matter? Is it our fault? These are difficult questions to answer, certainly. It would be wrong to say or assume that just because people don’t like what we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing it. What’s more, much of this is clearly in response to our policy toward Iraq. And as I concluded — quite to my own surprise — last June, I think military action against Iraq probably is necessary — if it is done in the right way.

The point here, I think, is in that last clause. If it is done in the right way. Much of what we’ve done in the last eighteen months since 9/11 has been absolutely necessary. The question is how we’ve gone about it. And I think the election results noted above are some of the first signs that there are costs to how we’ve gone about it, for the petulant unilateralism, the mania to tear up every global treaty which might possibly constrain us in any way.

Think how much time and diplomatic capital might have been saved if the White House had figured out three, or six, or even nine months earlier that it’s guns-blazing-screw-the-UN policy toward regime change just wouldn’t work.

The standard answer to this on the pacifist left would be to say that clearly we’re doing something wrong if everybody’s getting so pissed at us. On the right, you’d have another knee-jerk response about blame-America-First, appeasement and various and sundry other yadas. But clearly there should be some thoughtful middle-ground. It’s one thing to be a hawk and have your hawkishness rooted in a cold-eyed realism and a willingness to use force, quite another to have it stem from emotional impulses arising from the fact that you grew up as a pencil neck and constantly had your lunch money stolen from you by the cool kids.

I can’t give you the precise lunch money victimization statistics for various civilian political appointees at the Pentagon, for staffers in the Office of the Vice-President, Richard Perle or even Frank Gaffney. But I suspect most folks who are familiar with these guys will know what I’m getting at. This isn’t about blaming America first. It’s about making sure America is as smart as she can be in her own interests, about managing the realities of the unipolar world system in ways that most benefit our long-term interests rather than simply doing what we can force through in the near-term. What we’re learning is that there’s a price you pay for telling everyone else in the world they can #$%& themselves and trying to govern the globe by sporadic applications of blunt force.

Flip open your average

Flip open your average conservative magazine or website this week and you’ll read the a slew of articles arguing that the Democratic party is today the real party of race politics. The GOP is clean on the issue, the argument goes, with the notable and now dealt-with exception of Trent Lott. (Call this the conservative commentariat’s mopping-up operation after Lott’s defenestration.)

We’ll be saying more about the particular fooleries, dishonesties and tendentiousness involved in these arguments. But for the moment, let’s note a broader assumption that underlies almost all of them. That is the premise that there is a basic equality between appeals to racism and charges of racism. It’s a equation which is as morally vacant as it is logically flawed.

Of course, when Republicans play race politics conservatives seldom even concede that that’s what’s being done. But for the sake of argument let’s assume more conservatives were candid enough to admit that George Bush’s visit to Bob Jones University was a play to race politics. That would be playing the race card. And Democrats calling him on it would also be playing the race card.

This doesn’t mean that Democrats can do no wrong on race or that they can’t on sometimes egregiously step over the line. (Stephen F. Hayes has an example of Jesse Jackson doing this, in a new article in the Weekly Standard which, I’m sorry to say, wholly buys into the equation above.) They can. And false or overstated charges of racism are wrong and damaging. But calling people on their bias, their playing to racist sentiment, or their indifference to the consequences of racism isn’t ‘playing the race card.’ If it is, then the phrase is meaningless.

For conservatives who have a hard time grasping the difference, try the HRASST, the Honest Republican’s Anti-Semitism Substitution Test. If a certain politician makes an anti-semitic statement or appeals to an anti-semitic constituency and then the ADL calls them on it, are both sides playing the anti-semitism card? Of course, not. Only the foolish and the immoral would say so.

Or as long as we’re taking the HRASST topic out for a spin, if a given politician gives an interview to a magazine known to espouse anti-semitic views, is that okay? Is it a sufficient answer to say that you don’t happen to agree with their anti-semitism but you give interviews to a lot of magazines? I doubt that would cut it.

Try the HRASST out. It’s great at cutting through a lot of malarkey.

I want to get

I want to get into some other questions on the race issue. But first, Mickey Kaus.

I’ve been watching Kaus’s posts on the Frist matter pile up. And to me it looks like another distressing case of Mickey’s BOBL — bend-over-backwards-liberalism, the curious but telling desire on the part of the afflicted to turn over every stone and spare no effort to find excuses for or rationalize the behavior of the right. One can certainly find better examples of it in recent weeks. But this one definitely fits the symptomatology.

The question with Frist is not whether excuse-making conservatives and Mickey can retroactively shoehorn his comments back into respectability by bringing up the fact, as he does today, that Barry was himself born, raised and educated in Memphis, Tennessee. Not even the fact that his then-opponent Jim Sasser sat on a subcommittee charged with overseeing the District.

The best evidence here is Frist’s own defense of his use of Barry at the time. When Sam Donaldson asked him what Barry had to do with a Senate campaign in Tennessee, Frist said: “Not very much, but Marion Barry symbolizes a lot about what people think about politics today.”

Mickey’s retroactive excuses had never even occurred to Frist. Or if they had, he knew they wouldn’t pass the laugh test under actual questioning. The essence of Mickey’s argument, as I myself argued earlier, is that a politician can’t be barred from bringing up a legitimate political issue relating to a black politician simply because that reference might also be interpreted as having a racial overtone.

As I said earlier, this matter of Frist and Barry is very much a close-run thing. But Frist couldn’t even seem to come up with what his legitimate political issue was. And that brings me back to the common sense understanding of Frist’s use of Barry, which is that he was an uppity-you-know-what who got videotaped in a hotel room smoking crack. That doesn’t mean Frist is a racist. I doubt he is. It just makes him cynical and willing to use race, albeit subtly, when convenient.

Barry proved a convenient way to marry together a legitimate, if extremely obscure, issue of the subsidy the federal government rightly pays the District of Columbia — bear in mind that Tennessee is one of those states that receives back more in programs and subsidies than it sends to the federal government in taxes — and an appeal to unflattering views of blacks.

One of Mickey’s great claims to fame was forcing Democrats to stop their excuse making for one of their favored constituencies and start getting them to confront their problems. Now Mickey has a favored constituency of his own. And they could use the same sort of help.

Mickey Kaus takes issue

Mickey Kaus takes issue with my post questioning Bill Frist’s use of Marion Barry in his 1994 campaign stump speech, and says: “Does Marshall know that in the early ’90s Sasser [Frist’s opponent] was chair of the Senate subcommittee in charge of the District of Columbia — at a time when Congress exercised considerable control over the District’s budget (and when federal taxpayers picked up the tab for a large chunk of that budget)?”

To this I would say, yes, I know that. But does Mickey remember that Sharon Pratt Kelly won election as Mayor of Washington, D.C. in November 1990 and didn’t leave office until early 1995 — a couple months after Frist won election.

(Click here for more details.)

Barry was mayor of DC from 1978 to 1990 and then again from 1994 to 1998. In other words, the four years prior to Frist’s campaign were the only four years out of twenty when Barry wasn’t mayor of DC.

Its a whitewash I

It’s a whitewash, I tell you!!! Well, no, really, it really is. It seems after North Carolina Congressman Cass Ballenger got in trouble for describing his “segregationist feelings” (why does this remind me of Jimmy Carter’s 1970s admission to Playboy that he’d lusted in his heart?) he knew the scrutiny was going to get punched up a few notches. So on Friday he had the black lawn jockey in his front yard repainted white. “It was painted with the knowledge that he was attacked in the past for it, and it was likely to come up again,” Dan Gurley, Ballenger’s chief of staff, told the Hickory Daily Record.

Does Bill Frist have

Does Bill Frist have issues? No, not some comment he made on the hustings back in 1994. Not anything to do with his positions on abortion. Let’s get to where the real action is: the online CV. Check out how long this thing is!!! Do we need to know about the “William Martin Award for best all around boy in the school, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville, Tennessee” from 1970? Or how about “United States House of Representatives, Intern, Congressman Joe L. Evins, Tennessee (1972)”? What’s up with this guy? Okay, okay, you’ve done a lotta stuff. Sheesh!

With Jesse Helms and

With Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond signing off the Senate airwaves in a few weeks, Democrats will look in vain for many more Senate Republicans who have the same good-ole-down-home racial philosophies as Trent Lott. But there’s at least one out there who fits the bill pretty nicely. And I’ve been wondering when someone would turn their attention to him. Now someone has. Don’t miss Sarah Wildman’s new article on the gentleman from Alabama: Jeff Sessions.

In recent days Ive

In recent days I’ve gotten a slew of emails asking, or accusing me of saying that the Republican party’s a racist party. Or accusing me of saying that the only reason Republicans control the South is because of racial politics. And there have been a bunch of other similarly structured charges or questions, all of which muddy or confuse the question by framing it in … well — what else can you call it? — black and white terms.

Like the Democratic party, the Republican party is far from a monolith. There are neo-conservatives, social-issue conservatives spread around the country, money-Republicans, libertarians. Some of these groups have views on racial matters which liberals or Democrat don’t like. But they’re all different in kind from the latter-day Dixiecrat wing of the party which is so potent in much of the South.

The closest analogue I can think of is to the Democratic party in the early and middle 20th century and their dominance of many of the corrupt party machines in the big cities of the North and Midwest.

A few readers have told me that my thinking on this is all wet because racism or racialist thinking just isn’t part of conservative ‘thought’. But whether this is true or not is irrelevant. This is about getting votes, not ‘thought’. Ballot-box-stuffing wasn’t part of Democratic ‘thought’ either in, say, the thirties. Many Dems found it abhorent. And most didn’t practice it. But the party as whole benefited from it when it happened in Chicago because it kept Democratic congressmen or senators in Washington. (Needless to say, Republicans controlled corrupt machines too; just not as many. And election fraud never had anywhere the impact of the Republican absorption of Southern Dixiecrats.)

So just as we might say with the Democrats of 70 or 80 years ago, the issue isn’t one of ‘thought’ or whether the whole party is ‘corrupt’ or ‘racist’. These are false questions, either imprecisely posed or meant to obfuscate.

The question is whether the party as a whole benefits from the use of racism or race-tinged wedge issues in certain parts of the country and whether the party as a whole makes any efforts to say such behavior won’t stand. In the case of Republicans and race the answer to the first question is clearly ‘yes’ and the answer to the second question is ‘not nearly enough’.

The Democrats of course used to have this problem. For several decades of the last century they were the party of both the most liberal Northerners and the most reactionary Southerners — liberal and reactionary on the issue of race in particular. Eventually, the strain just became too great. And Democrats outside the South began pushing for the national party to take a stronger stand on civil rights. That led — among other things — to the 1948 Dixiecrat break-away led by Strom Thurmond — something you have heard of recently.

In any case, the latter-day Dixiecrats are an important part of the Republican party. Though many Republicans are repelled by its frequent appeals to race-politics, the party as a whole nonetheless benefits from it. So they have to take responsibility for it, even though Trent Lott-types have little to do with Wall Street Republicans or neo-conservative intellectuals. Republicans can’t be the party of black opportunity and anti-black resentment no matter how big the tent. The Democrats tried it; it didn’t work.

Now another point.

Earlier today I posted a line from Bill Frist’s 1994 stump speech in which he said. “[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry … While I’ve been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans’ wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry.”

Now I gave a lot of thought to whether I should post that or not. Marion Barry, as I said in the post, was a rotten mayor. Corrupt, drug-using, the list goes on and on. And one can’t get into a situation where one can never criticize a black politician for fear of being tarred as using a racial code word. But look at the line and tell me what on earth this had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee. I think the answer is obvious: nothing.

Now, I don’t think Bill Frist is a racist. Nor do I hope or expect he’ll end up like Trent Lott. One reader — flopping around like a fish-out-of-water making the case for Frist — sent me this link about how Frist goes to Sudan to operate on African children. So how could he hate black people? How could he be a racist?

This misses the point. I doubt Frist is a racist. But this almost makes the point more clearly. Even some of best Southern Republicans seem incapable of resisting the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump. (In Frist’s case, perhaps it was a rather notorious campaign consultant who worked for him that year and has a rep for such ugly tactics.)

I think the Bush family is a very similar case. I don’t think this President Bush or the last one were racist in any way. Nor do I think either of them liked dabbling in racial politics. But in a pinch, when the chips were really down, both have been willing to do so. For this President Bush you need look no further than the South Carolina primary fight in February 2000.

The issue here isn’t what’s in your heart or what your party’s ‘thought’ is. It’s what you’re willing to profit from, where you’re willing to draw the line, what you do and don’t look at and say ‘I’m not going to put up with that in my party.’

On that count, the GOP falls really short.

Neo-conservative Republicans are very different from Dixiecrat Republicans. So why won’t they stand up to them more often? Maybe they should try …

Is it okay with

Is it okay with you if I needle Byron York a bit more about the South Dakota story? Thanks. I appreciate it.

As you know we’ve been talking about the South Dakota voter fraud hoax for months now. And the National Review’s Byron York has been pushing the story heavily in the aftermath of Tim Johnson’s reelection victory.

For a moment, let’s set aside whether or not there’s any truth to the charges. One of the biggest obstacles for Republicans who are pushing this story is South Dakota’s Republican Attorney General, Mark Barnett, who insists, rather inconveniently, that the charges are pretty much all bogus.

So, predictably, the guns have now turned on Barnett.

In recent days the National Review has published a number of pieces claiming Barnett is stifling the investigation into voter fraud. The claim of late has been that Barnett is ignoring the voter fraud issue in hopes of future political gain. (Barnett and National Review have actually now gotten into a public spat.) As this editorial note from yesterday put it, Barnett is “a Republican with designs on the governor’s office.”

Can we unpack this for a moment?

If Barnett’s angle is riding this to the governor’s mansion, the guy is really thinking outside the box, isn’t he?

Normally, if one wants to get nominated by one’s party and then get elected, the angle is to curry favor with members of your party, not infuriate them by discrediting them, right? Now, the thinking at National Review seems to be that Barnett simply wants to avoid controversy and thus doesn’t want to get involved in a messy voter fraud investigation that will make him too controversial to get elected. “Starting an aggressive and controversial investigation into voting irregularities,” says York, “would be a sure way to anger at least half the electorate in his state.”

But does even that make sense? If this were a race in California or New York or even Ohio, it might. In states with lots of Democrats, a Republican has to rely on large numbers of crossover Democrats, who might not react well to someone who pushed voter fraud charges — rightly or wrongly — against other Democrats. A stretch still, but not unreasonable.

Yet, as Republicans were very fond of noting — until John Thune lost — voter registration in South Dakota leans heavily Republican. Republican candidates don’t need many crossover Dems. They don’t need any. So what on earth would Barnett would be thinking? And if his angle were avoiding controversy wouldn’t he just be taking some uncontroversial middle road? As National Review is rightly noting, he’s got himself in quite a controversy by so aggressively seeking to refute National Review’s claims.

Just because Barnett’s a Republican and doesn’t believe in the voter fraud charges doesn’t mean the charges aren’t true. But National Review seems to be straining to find any ulterior motive — even the most ridiculous — to explain Barnett’s inconvenient apostasy.

Does National Review think Barnett is going to switch parties and become a Democrat?

Now that would be a story!

Jim Sasser is sending

“[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry … While I’ve been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans’ wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry.” … Bill Frist, 1994 campaign stump speech. Marion Barry was one of the worst things that ever happened to Washington, DC. No doubt about it. What he had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee isn’t so clear.

P.S. Also see this article on North Carolina Congressman Cass Ballenger (R) and why he said yesterday that he found out-going Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney so annoying that it gave him “segregationist feelings.”

Its sad really sad

It’s sad, really sad, to watch some conservatives try to wriggle out of, or turn the tide against Democrats, in this evolving national conversation about race. Patrick Ruffini runs a very nice blog from the rightward side of the political spectrum and he’s just posted an entry attacking one of mine of last night. He argues that the Democrats have just as bad a history of race-bating in the urban centers of the North.

It’s certainly true that, as Southerners of all political stripes have long said, racism isn’t limited to the South. It’s just more visible there.

That said, Ruffini’s list of particulars is pretty revealing in its weakness. He says it’s a list he came up with off the top of his head of instances since 1968. Oddly, most seem to be from 1968 and 1969. They’re examples of the original Mayor Daley or George Wallace when he ran as a Democrat in 1972. Isn’t this sort of pitiful?

Another example of his is former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. That, of course, is a poor and telling example since Rizzo eventually became a Republican in large measure because of his admittedly rather unrefined views of racial matters. As in the South, there were tons of racist and anti-civil rights Democrats. Most became Republicans.

My point here is not to pile on. Democrats certainly aren’t pure on race. Far from it. But I think most conservatives will realize that the argument Ruffini is trying to make is a losing one. Not to mention a pathetic one.

Many Republicans want to rid their party of this ugly baggage. Many more refuse to play this sort of politics for advantage. But over the last forty-odd years, many Republicans, in many small and large decisions, decided to organize much of our national and even more of our regional politics around race. They shouldn’t whine. They shouldn’t cry. They shouldn’t make up excuses. They made their bed. Now they should sleep in it.

P.S. Ruffini says I have ‘statist economic views’. What on earth he’s talking about I have not a clue.

Heres the transcript of

Here’s the transcript of Bill Clinton’s brief exchange with a CNN reporter about the Trent Lott business …

CNN: Do you have a comment on Senator Lott?

Clinton: No, other than….I think that — obviously — I don’t agree with him.

But I think there is something a bit hypocritical about the way Republicans are jumping all over him. I think what they really are upset about is he made public their strategy.

The whole Republican apparatus supported campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina on the Confederate flag. There is no action coming out of the Justice Department against all those people, Republicans, who suppressed black voters in the South, in Arkansas and Louisiana, and lots of other places. Telephone operations telling people in Florida they didn’t have to vote on Election Day, that they could vote on Saturday but not if they had parking tickets. I mean, this is their policy.

So I think the way that the Republicans treated Senator Lott is a pretty hypocritical since right now, their policy is in my view inimical to everything this country stands for. They tried to suppress black voting, they ran on the Conferederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina and from top to bottom Republicans supported them. So I don’t see what they’re jumping on Trent Lott about.

I think the Democrats can say we disagree with what he said and we don’t think its right but that’s the Republican policy. How do you think they got a majority in the South anyway?

CNN: So he should step down as majority leader?

Clinton: I think that’s up to them. But I think that they can’t say it with a straight face. How can they jump all over him when they’re out there repressing and trying to run black voters away from polls and to run on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina. Look at their whole record. The others, how can they attack him? He just embarrassed them by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Bill Clinton says that

Bill Clinton says that it’s “pretty hypocritical” for Republicans to ditch Trent Lott for stating publicly what they say “on the back roads every day.”

Here’s the full quote he gave CNN yesterday …

“How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?” Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending. “I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy.”

He added: “They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it.”

No one compares to Bill Clinton when it comes to cutting to the chase and telling truths in a way sure to make Republicans howl. And howl they will. Because this statement is undeniably true. An RNC flack named Jim Dyke gets off a feeble reply in the CNN piece (see this piece for more on Jim Dyke and his … well, just read the article). But this really gets us into the bigger story, the bigger picture.

One needn’t think that the Republican party itself is racist. I don’t. (In any case, that’s too big a word, too general a question.) What the Republican party does have is a history — not by accident, but by design — of playing to and benefiting from the votes of racist and crypto-racist constituencies in certain parts of the country — particularly, though not exclusively, in the South. They built the Republican party in the South on the foundation of racial resentment and civil rights rejectionism. Since then they’ve built a whole house on top of it. But the foundation’s still there.

To deny this is to deny the obvious. There’s just been a prohibition on saying it. And a good deal of the Republican displeasure with Lott — though mixed with a lot of genuine outrage at his retrograde views — is tied to his having brought this all into the open.

More later on bogus Republican outreach to African-Americans, voter suppression, and comic relief from the ridiculous Conrad Burns.

Compare and contrast …There

Compare and contrast

“There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus,” DiIulio tells Esquire. “What you’ve got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis”

Esquire,
January 2003

The [decision over which side to take on the Michigan affirmative action case] is ultimately likely to be resolved by Bush’s chief political strategist, Karl Rove, who is the architect of Bush’s effort to broaden the GOP appeal to minorities.

Washington Post,
December 18th, 2002

Looks like DiIulio had no idea what he was talking about …

Oh man Theres a

Oh man! There’s a quote from Frank Luntz tonight on Hardball that’s so choice it’s almost beyond belief. We’re going to be waiting with bated breath for the transcript to pop up on Nexis.

Basically, Luntz said that the “problems” Lott was talking about, which voting for Strom Thurmond would have avoided, were Bill Clinton’s moral and sexual lapses. If ever there was a statement so ridiculous that the speaker deserved to be laughed out of three dimensional space, buddy, this is it.

Meanwhile, Chris Matthews is actually pretty good on the Trent Lott stuff, talking about the Dixiecrats and their exodus into the Republican party. The guy was up there speaking truth to power. Or at least to Bill Bennett. Same difference, basically.

You can pretty much

You can pretty much tell Trent Lott is toast when he tells Black Entertainment Television that he “absolutely” supports affirmative action.

One of the subtexts of the intra-Republican fight going on right now is that congressional Republicans are already looking to push an agenda that is, let’s say, racially edgy. They don’t want to hit that fight with Lott’s baggage in tow.

Ed Kilgore is the Policy Director of the Democratic Leadership Council — in other words, not exactly like a proxy for Al Sharpton or anything. And today he told me this …

The angle some people may be missing about conservatives and Lott is that they are eager to pursue a number of things–a scaleback of affirmative action policies, private school vouchers, appointment of conservative judges with backgrounds more questionable than Lott’s–that will create some concerns that the GOP is not exactly the reborn Party of Lincoln that appeared on TV screens at the 2000 convention. Given this agenda, conservatives don’t want the task complicated by a Senate Leader (whom they don’t like anyway) whose very name will conjure up racial dissension for the foreseeable future. For one thing, they’re afraid the Bush White House will put the kibosh on controversial conservative initiatives if Lott has carry the water. So don’t be fooled into thinking that GOP conservatives will drop an anvil on Lott strictly because they are horrified by his words.

I think that’s exactly right. If Lott now tries to remake himself as a born-again civil rights man, that just makes him doubly useless to the fire-eaters in his caucus. Certainly not all Republican Senators see it in this light. I doubt Linc Chafee or McCain or Olympia Snowe look at it this way. But then that’s why it’s the conservatives in the caucus who are pushing hardest to dump him.

Also be sure to read this New Dem Daily (I’m sure written by Ed) on what the Lott scandal really means.

I was wrong I

I was wrong! I was wrong! There really is a voter fraud scandal in South Dakota — the scandal surrounding the increasingly suspicious affidavits used by the state and national Republican parties to help prove their charges of voter fraud.

As we noted yesterday, South Dakota’s Republican Attorney General Mark Barnett said that two of the three affidavits that alleged anything illegal turned out to be “either perjury or forgery.” The signer of the third affidavit could not be located.

Now it turns out, according to an article by David Kranz in today’s Argus Leader, that those affidavits were “pre-worded” by Republican lawyers involved in the RNC’s voter fraud investigation.

The chairwoman of the Tripp County Republicans apparently just went through the reservations with pre-written ‘I was in on voter fraud’ affidavits to see if she could get anyone to sign. Here’s the key passage …

Kim Vanneman, of Winner, said in an interview Monday that she traveled through the Rosebud reservation, including the town of Mission, asking people if they had any evidence of wrongdoing on Election Day, particularly of Democrats paying people to vote.

“I just went through the document, read it, asked them if it was correct, and if they wanted to sign it,” said Vanneman, a notary public who verified the statements.

Vanneman said she does not know the source of the original allegations, but word on the streets of Mission was that Democrats were paying $10 to those who would vote.

“I didn’t do the investigating,” she said. “Somebody else did that. They (the affidavits) came through work of different attorneys.”

For some reason, no one else involved in the Republican-backed investigation seems to have any idea where the affidavits came from either.

Other Republican lawyers involved in the effort — including the previously mentioned John Lauck — either don’t know or won’t say who was responsible for drawing up the “pre-worded” affidavits. They’re referring all questions to the Republican National Committee.

I think we may have a scandal on our hands after all.

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