Here’s a small but important note on the inner-workings of the policy world. For the last two years Hans Riemer has headed up the Social Security Information Project at the Campaign for America’s Future. A lot of people and a lot of hard work have gone into blunting and at least temporarily stymieing the Republican drive to privatize the Social Security system. (They’ve all been helped by the fact that the public — cooked-polls notwithstanding — simply doesn’t want Social Security privatized.) But I don’t think any single person — or a lot of groups of people, for that mater — did more to stem the tide than Hans.
His contribution has been that important.
That included mau-mauing the president’s hopelessly stacked-deck Social Security Commission and a lot of other stuff … working the press, organizing events, not letting the GOP run away from or lie about its pro-privatization positions during the last election.
Anyway, Hans is headed off to a new but as yet unannounced gig. So if you get a chance stop by the SSIP site and send him your appreciation. Or if you’re a pension fund investment manager who wanted to start managing and drawing fees off that Social Security gold mine, drop him a line and bitch about how you can’t buy that new vacation house.
Give a quick read to Chris Suellentrop’s piece from yesterday on Ken Pollack. Here’s one of several good passages …
Six months after The Threatening Storm’s publication, however, Pollack’s book reads as much like an indictment of the Bush administration’s overeagerness to go to war as it does an endorsement of it. A more appropriate subtitle for the book would have been The Case for Rebuilding Afghanistan, Destroying al-Qaida, Setting Israel and Palestine on the Road to Peace, and Then, a Year or Two Down the Road After Some Diplomacy, Invading Iraq. In interviews and op-ed articles, Pollack himself still supports the war, saying that now is better than never. But it’s fair to say that his book does notâor at least not Bush’s path to it.
This point goes too often unmade.
At about 10:20 PM on the east coast this evening, CNN ran a sobering segment on the North Korea crisis which finally detailed what TPM has been telling you for weeks if not months.
You can’t really say the administration has a bad policy on North Korea because in fact it has no policy. Why is there no policy? Because the president has not been able to break the deadlock between the (pro-engagement) State Department and the (pro-confrontation) Pentagon and Office of the Vice-President. And that has led to paralysis. Paralysis or purely reactive gestures. They can’t even find their way to a well-thought-out bad policy because they’re too tied up in organizational incompetence and procedural ridiculousness.
It’s been this way since January 2001 and it still hasn’t gotten resolved. This is why we’re drifting into disaster.
You know it’s really gotta be bad when even the Democrats are willing to stand up mouth some criticisms … Sheesh.
More on the North Korea debacle in a bit.
I got a lot of emails last week responding to the second installment of TPM’s interview with Ken Pollack. In particularly, there were a lot of responses to this passage …
I’ve always felt that we had to go to war against Iraq sooner rather than later. But I didn’t necessarily think it had to be this year. And there were always a whole bunch of things that I wanted to do to make sure that we were ready to go when we did go. But the problem that I face now is that I think we are so deep into this – we are so far down this road – that it is now or never. I think that if we don’t go to war this time around I don’t think we will ever go to war with Saddam Hussein until he’s acquired nuclear weapons. And then he picks the time and place of going to war … if given my preference I would prefer not to be in the position we’re in. But I can’t turn back time. And we’re in the position we’re in. And at this point in time, as messy as it may be, I think that it is now or never. And now is a much better option than never.
This captures a lot of the extreme discomfort of those like myself who think we should deal with Saddam but have started to wonder at what point the enterprise becomes so terribly botched that the cure becomes more harmful than the disease. E.J. Dionne touched on this in his Post column yesterday, as did the DLC’s New Dem Daily.
My column in The Hill this week addresses the point too. As I say in the last line of the column “Weâre all hostage to the Bush administrationâs incompetence, whether we like it or not.”
A quick note on the North Korean interception of an American spy plane over the waters near the Korean Peninsula.
Lest there be any doubt, this is an extremely serious development. It’s also a fairly predictable development. You may have been noticing out of the corner of your eye those almost daily warnings out of North Korea: there’s going to be a great disaster, we’ll repel a US attack, the US will be devoured by flames, the world will be trampled under by a race of gigantic goblins, etc.
We are keeping the North Koreans on the back-burner. But they want to be on the front-burner. So they’re continuing with a pattern of escalations and provocations until we put them there. This is simply the first time they’ve resorted to what can be regarded as a military provocation.
What the North Koreans want is direct talks with the US. Many of us believe that we should have done that a long time ago — not because of the North Koreans provocations but because it is in our interests to do so, usually a sufficient cause. The combined wisdom of the administration — on this issue a deeply-divided administration — thinks otherwise.
Now the North Koreans are moving into really, really dangerous territory to get our attention. Let’s stop for a moment to observe just how provocative but also how delicately calibrated this event seems to have been.
The North Koreans not only intercepted the US spy plane, one of the planes apparently “painted” the US plane. That is to say, it locked onto it with its weapons, as though it were preparing to fire.
As a number of news accounts have noted, if the American plane had had a fighter escort, that might well have led them to open fire on the North Koreans. Of course, the American plane did not have one, as the North Koreans well knew. Thus, they could get away with an extremely provocative action, knowing there was nothing we could do about it and that the situation would be unlikely to spin out of control.
The US now says that it will keep flying those spy planes and give them fighter escorts. Given the North Koreans’ provocation that is the only possible response. However, we are moving into extremely dangerous territory here. The North Koreans are masters of brinksmanship. But as I once saw former Clinton administration official Wendy Sherman say in a TV interview, “they don’t know when to stop.”
What’s more, the situation is not the same as it was in 1994.
Kim Il-Sung was the founder of North Korea, an extremely experienced hand and a charismatic leader. He had the more or less unquestioned support of the entire North Korean elite. None of those attributes apply to his son Kim Jong-Il. That makes North Korea much less predictable, since he and others who are controlling all this may have to prove their toughness to domestic critics.
The important point is that we need to send those planes up with fighter escorts but we cannot do so and continue to treat the situation there as something on the back burner. It’s a delicate, dangerous situation which will require our full attention, and a simultaneous show of military resolution and diplomatic seriousness. One without the other could lead us toward disaster.
Colin Powell’s message to the troops over at Foggy Bottom …
Secretary Colin L. Powell Washington, DC March 3, 2003
Charlotte Beers, a key and vital member of my team, is leaving us shortly for health reasons. Since she arrived in October of 2001, she has brought new energy, new ideas, and new enthusiasm to our interaction with the public in America and throughout the world. Charlotte brought incredible expertise from Madison Avenue to Foggy Bottom. At a critical and stressful time for our nation, she and her team sharpened our policy advocacy and took our values and our ideas to mass audiences in countries which hadn’t heard from us in a concerted way for years. She helped us find new ways of making our case to policy makers while expanding our outreach efforts to make connections with ordinary people, particularly in Moslem nations. Her goal of reaching younger, broader, and deeper audiences will remain with us as she departs. I thank her for revitalizing our programs, and wish her good health and success in her future endeavors.
If Beers’ departure is really for health reasons, we wish her the best. But it’s hard to say our image “particularly in Moslem nations” is on the upswing.
Is Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Charlotte Beers out at the State Department? Seems so.
This story is getting a lot of attention, as well it should.
The recently-installed senior director for Near East and North African affairs on the National Security Council, Elliott Abrams, has just canned three government Middle East experts who staffed that desk at the NSC. Presumably, they are to be replaced by others who will more faithfully toe and execute the party line.
It’s an important story. But actually an old story. The same thing has been happening throughout the national security bureaucracy for two years, particularly at the Pentagon. It’s not a secret. Any other reporter who covers foreign or military affairs knows this.
There’s a dynamic — and hopefully fruitful — tension which exists between political appointees and civil servants in these cases. The civil servants have to execute the policy decisions of their appointive superiors — at least they’re supposed to. But the civil servants are also supposed to give candid advice and raise the obvious questions.
They’re supposed to point out why the Assistant Secretary for such-and-such’s idea to do this-that-or-the-other is going to be a complete disaster. If they’re smart, the appointees listen, even if they decide to do it anyway.
It’s an important ballast in the process of policy formation, even if can be annoying for the politicals. But getting that kind of feedback can be uncomfortable and troublesome. And there’s always the temptation to shoot the messenger.
I’ve never discussed this in any of the articles I’ve written on national security or defense issues because in any given article discussing it can mean fingering people who are already trying to keep their heads down and avoid retribution.
But on the key issues that matter to this administration, particularly the Middle East, there’s been an exodus of government experts out of the executive branch into exile on the Hill, at National Defense University, and various other outta-the-way parts of the national security bureaucracy. A lot of these folks got canned like those Abrams dropped at the NSC. Others just got the message when they were instructed not to pen any reports or tender any advice which conflicted with the administration’s favored policies. Everyone who leaves makes one more open seat for a think-tank hack who will tell the politicals what they want to hear.
Let’s be clear: this tension always exists. Probably a bit more after a two-term presidency when the incoming crew believes the career bureaucracy has been shaped for a decade by the opposite party. But in this administration it’s gone to unprecedented levels.
Career civil servants aren’t the be-all and end-all. But without them, the policy-making process can become an echo-chamber of over-confident ideologues, confirming each others’ preconceived notions, and blundering into ridiculousness and disaster.
It’s the battle of the emigre NSC Directors! Today on CNN’s Late Edition Wolf Blitzer had on Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to quote Brzezinski at length because I think what he said amounts to some of the most sensible stuff I’ve heard of late on this subject. It’s worth reading through.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special LATE EDITION, Showdown: Iraq. We’re talking with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Dr. Brzezinski, how much damage do you believe there will be in U.S.-Turkish relations if the Turkish parliament does not reverse itself and authorize the deployment of some 62,000 U.S. troops to Turkey?
BRZEZINSKI: I think there would be resentment here, obviously, and understandably so.
But one has to take into account that one of the costs of pressing Turkey into this war, in addition to bribing them, which is pretty expensive too, in any case, might be significant political instability in Turkey. And this is another reason why I feel we ought to let inspection and verification run its course. The political costs we’re going to be paying for this, whether in Turkey or in Pakistan, probably in much of the Middle East, already in a great deal of Europe, throughout the world in fact, are going to be so high that, unless there is an imminent threat — I repeat the word “imminent,” which we’re not using actually — I think we can afford to let this process go forward.
BLITZER: But you heard Dr. Kissinger say, you have 200,000 U.S. troops, you can’t keep them cocked at ready to go forever. And if you start withdrawing, then it’s basically all over, and it underscores U.S. weakness in the face of Iraqi defiance.
BRZEZINSKI: You know, admittedly the Middle East is not Europe, and the climatic conditions are more adverse. But the fact is that we kept war-ready troops in Europe, war-ready, poised for war, for several decades, and we have far greater rapid-redeployment capability today than we ever did.
So the argument that we have to go to war because we deployed troops to press the other side to concede, I think, is not a sufficient cause for a war, which could be very costly, very destructive, and which, at least in the near future, is not necessary.
I don’t exclude the possibility that, in the long run, we may have to use force. What I am saying is, let’s think of the larger picture, the broad geostrategic costs. Let’s think of the dangers elsewhere before we take a plunge which could isolate us in the world at enormous cost to our international position.
BLITZER: Is this about as bad as you’ve seen the U.S. relationship with some of these NATO allies?
BRZEZINSKI: I think Henry is right in saying that this is very serious, but I think we have to ask ourselves, how have we conducted ourselves? We have in effect said to them, “Line up.” We have treated them as if they were the Warsaw Pact. The United States issued orders, and they have to follow.
Now, let me give you one striking example. The president since 9/11 has uttered the phrase “He who is not with us is against us” — mind you, “He who is not with us is against us,” anyone who disagrees with us is against us — no less than 99 times. We have a concept of the alliance, inherent in this kind of conduct, which involves giving orders and others falling in line.
The issue of Iraq is a complicated issue. It’s related to the whole question of proliferation and global stability. Ultimately, it points even to the issue of North Korea, that we haven’t talked about at all.
And how we conduct this problem, how we deal with it is essential to the effective exercise of America’s global leadership.
We are literally undercutting it right now. We have never been as isolated globally, literally never, since 1945.
How much of the diplomatic capital we’ve built up over the last 50 years can we spend down in a few short months? I guess we’re about to find out.
The more I think about this Turkish rejection of US troops the bigger a deal it looks like.
Perhaps it can be salvaged next week, though that seems unclear.
But if you want some evidence of this administration’s diplomatic incompetence, consider this. We publicly sold out the Kurds to get this deal. We really should have made sure we had a deal before we tipped our hands to the Kurds about the price we were willing to pay for it.
Now we have no deal and no Kurds. I don’t think we should have sold out the Kurds regardless. But if we were going to do so we should have been clearer with ourselves about who we were in bed with, the Turks or the Kurds.
The administration has a stiff wind of anti-anti-Americanism at its back which has thus far allowed it to weather each of these storms. Every one of the administration’s diplomatic debacles is the fault, not of the administration, but of our conniving friends: the Germans, the French, the Turks, the Canadians, Gerhard Schroder, Noam Chomsky, Bono, Elmo, you name it. (The dog ate my homework, and so forth.) But the list of #$&@-ups is really becoming mind-boggingly long.
So far our experiment with Middle Eastern democracy-building isn’t going so well. We’ve just sold out an incipient democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan. And now we can’t get an existing democracy in Turkey to go along with our war plans (“Turkey rejects U.S. troop plan“).
Meanwhile, we’ve got some very good news in the war on terrorism, the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This isn’t just some capo in the organization. He’s about as high up the food-chain as you can get without being bin Laden himself.
This is great news. And I’ve got no problem with how we pulled it off. But in the democracy-building context, we should bear in mind that we accomplished this by continuing our long-standing policy of using autocratic governments in the Muslim and Arab worlds to do our bidding notwithstanding public opposition.
All of which is to say that exporting democracy and getting everyone to agree with you at the same time is a rather difficult proposition.
And this is the easy part.
Kucinich responds! Or at least to Salon. Jake Tapper has a new interview with Congressman Dennis Kucinich in Salon. In it he has this question and response …
A rival’s campaign has brought an April 1972 Cleveland Magazine article to my attention in which you are accused of using racial politics. The story says that after you arrived in the city council in 1967 you began “playing confrontation politics with the city’s black administration as if [you] had invented the game.” Care to comment?
My political career goes back to the ’60s and those were times of vigorous debates. But race was not a factor in those debates. The debates were on issues, not about race — there may have been differences of opinion. But they were never about race. When I was running for mayor I said that half of my major appointments would go to members of the African-American community, and they did. I could cite a long, deep connection with the African-American community. I have a very strong constituency in that community. So in the ’60s was it possible that there were some differences of opinion? Yes. But it was never based on race. Never. Not a chance. Not even the people I clashed with in major ways would ever say that.
Also of interest is this list of three people’s accounts of Kucinich’s career. One friend, one foe, one a bit of each.
We have our traffic statistics in for February 2003. Unique Visitors 138,279; Visits 368,900; Page Views 1,000,258.
Thanks so much to all who’ve visited the site, those who keep returning and those who spread the word. Thank you.
Okay, a number of intrepid TPM readers have gotten to the bottom of the Coldline mystery, noted in the earlier post. (Actually, what am I thinking? No one in his right mind in DC wants to offend the newsgods at the Hotline. They can make buzz or break buzz with a stern look. I just imagine them sitting in some smokey nightclub, with fancy suits and pinky rings, telling me “All I need is your respect and none of this ugliness has to happen.”)
Anyway, here’s what seems to have transpired. As we speculated in the last post, the story of the Georgia state legislators objecting to the musical South Pacific because it “justifies intermarriage of different races” is true. It really did happen. Only it didn’t happen yesterday. It happened fifty years ago yesterday.
Apparently the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the paper that ran the item the Hotline picked up, often runs fifty-years-ago-today filler-items. Here’s one from last week, for instance. Only this time they forgot to add the “Fifty Years Ago Today” moniker and it ran with the appearance of a normal news item. “Georgia Senators Attack ‘South Pacific’ Themes”
Apparently, the folks at the Hotline caught wind of it and, not surprisingly, thought it was a new story.
Thanks to TPM readers TFW and JS for some above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty sleuthing.
Well, I’m always up for a good story about unreconstructed Republicans making themselves look stupid with racial wackiness. And I thought maybe I had one. The Hotline picked up a story from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer today which said that two members of the Georgia state legislature had some problems with a certain musical. (“The Broadway musical “South Pacific” is ‘offensive to Southern tradition,'” said two GA legislators 2/27″.) Here’s the item from the Ledger-Enquirer website.
Georgia Senators Attack “South Pacific” Themes
“South Pacific,” smash Broadway musical hit, is “offensive to Southern tradition,” two Georgia legislators charged yesterday.
Rep. David C. Jones of Sylvester and Sen. John Sheppard of Ashburn said in a written statement they would ask the next legislature for a bill to prevent the showing of “theatricals which have an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.”
Jones said the play “justifies intermarriage of different races” which “produces half breeds which are not conducive to the higher type of society… We in the South are a proud people and have pure blood lines. We want to keep it that way.”
Now, as regular readers know, TPM likes nothing better that ridiculing these sorts of yahoos.
But, I’ll be honest: this one just seemed a bit too good to be true. So I picked up the phone and called the Georgia House Information Office and the same office on the Senate side. According to them, neither of these men exists. At least, neither is a member of the Georgia House or Senate.
The other items on the page at the Ledger-Enquirer website are from the early 1950s so it seems like this is maybe something that actually happened back then. From the site, it’s just not clear. Whatever the case, on this one the Hotline looks like the Coldline.
TPM, preserving the good name of the South one step at a time.
I had intended to write more about Iraq yesterday but I ended up spending the entire evening working through several years worth of notes to come to a final determination about how many English settlers and Indians there were in New England in 1675 and, equally important, how many — particularly how many Indians — were left by the end of 1676. As regular readers will understand, this is part of revising the draft of my dissertation which I’ve mentioned several times over the last few months.
The headline, if you can call it that, is that 1675 and 1676 went really badly for the Indians. But finding out just how badly, and precisely how it went badly, and for how many people, is a complicated matter. At least a thousand New England Indians, and probably many more, were shipped overseas as slaves that year. Most went to the Caribbean. But I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to piece together as many details as I can about what happened to about 200 of these deportees, from what is now southeastern Massachusetts, who ended up, of all places, in Morocco.
Specifically, in Tangier.
In any case, that took the place of Iraq last night. But back to Iraq.
First a few observations.
I’m struck by how few people have made this point. For about a year the administration’s line was that we did not need nor even particularly care if we got support from our European or Arab allies. Then, when we finally went to them for support, they either said ‘no’ (French, Germans, et al.) or gave it grudgingly (Turks). And this we’re supposed to see as a betrayal. That doesn’t make any sense. A betrayal implies some earlier agreement, formal, tacit or implied. Not only did we not have this, we spurned it.
Now, I know this is a sort of simplified version of events. But I think it captures the essential truth of what’s happened. And I think it gets to the problem some us — or, I’ll speak for myself, I — think we’re facing.
I don’t have much truck with those who don’t believe Saddam is a threat. He is. Not an imminent threat, but one we needed to face sooner rather than later. A number of readers have sent me this link to a response to Ken Pollack published on the Carnegie Endowment website. Some of its points are good. Others turn on detailed knowledge of intelligence estimates which just aren’t available to the public. But the key error I see in the argument is about our ability to sustain containment over time.
I think the authors are right when they say that as long as we’ve got Saddam under the gun, and with a bunch of inspectors running around the place, he’s not going anywhere. He is contained. I’m not worried about him developing nukes as long as those inspectors are there and they’re able to work in concert with the leads our intelligence agencies are able to produce. What I doubt is that the current situation is sustainable. I’ll say more later about why I doubt it’s sustainable. But, for the moment, that’s my criticism.
But some necessary actions can be done so disastrously and foolishly that it becomes a serious question whether or not to do them at all.
We’re in one of those situations.
If we could turn back the clock a year and we had the choice of a) doing exactly what we’ve done or b) waiting a year or two for a more favorable moment or until a new team was in place who knew what they were doing, I think option ‘b’ would unquestionably be the better choice.
Unfortunately, we don’t have that choice. The administration has already done massive damage to our standing in the world. And they’ve managed to create facts on the ground — intentionally and unintentionally — which make pulling back arguably more dangerous than pushing ahead. The question is no longer what the ideal thing to do is. It’s more aptly described as which of the really bad alternatives is best to choose given the jam the administration has backed us into.
More soon on what the damage is to our standing in the world and what those facts on the ground are.
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.
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!
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.
Cover-ups are so easy when no one chooses to pay attention. Yes, we’re talking about GOP Marketplace and the phone-jamming scandal.
(Click here to see the “You are not authorized to view this page” sign where GOP Marketplace’s website used to be)
The New Hampshire Republican party has always claimed that the $15,600 it gave GOP Marketplace was supposed to be used for get-out-the-vote calls, not the sabotaging of the Democrats’ phone-banks for which it was actually used. In fact, members of the New Hampshire state GOP professed to be so irate that they were demanding a refund. “If we donât get it back,” State party Election Law Committee member Richard Kennedy, R-Hopkinton, told The Manchester Union Leader, “you might see a theft of services charge.”
Now, if you’re interested in getting to the bottom of these sorts of hijinks you want to see dust-ups like this because if things get ugly — and especially if they go into the courts — you know all the details are going to come out.
But now it seems the New Hampshire Republican party isn’t quite so interested to see that happen. Late last week, the head of the New Hampshire GOP, Jayne Millerick, told the Union Leader that she’s decided not to seek any refund after all, preferring instead to “move forward.”
That’s what’s called the other shoe dropping.
As most of you know, the standard six degrees of separation mumbo-jumbo seldom applies to the political world, since you can usually connect up most things with two or perhaps three degrees tops.
Like Miguel Estrada — would-be conservative ideologue in residence at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and the still too-little-noted phone-jamming scandal in New Hampshire.
How do they connect up? Let’s go to the tape …
According to this press release, the Republican Leadership Council (RLC) is now running Spanish-language TV ads in California, Florida, Nevada and New Mexico attacking Democratic Senators who are part of the filibuster of Estrada’s nomination.
Now, as you — the loyal Talking Points reader — will well remember, the Executive Director of the RLC, Allen Raymond, is also the president of GOP Marketplace, the Republican phone-bank chop-shop which sabotaged Democratic phone banks in New Hampshire last election day and is now being investigated by state and federal authorities.
Now, my mistake here was to imagine that the eight Republican Senators who are on the board of the RLC would have blanched a bit at the head of their organization getting caught hatching political dirty tricks which also seem to violate state and federal laws. But apparently it’s not that big a deal. Last week I spoke Dave Lackey, a spokesman for Maine Senator Olympia Snowe (R). He told me they didn’t have any comment. And if I had any questions I should take it up with the RLC, i.e., not their problem.
I’ll call some of the other Senators’ offices tomorrow and see what I come up with.
Some stuff you just can’t make up.
Until a few months ago Saddam Hussein was sending his Mig-21 jet engines abroad for refits and upgrades. That wasn’t all. The sanctions-busting company doing the refits was also apparently working with the Iraqis on converting some of their jet trainer aircraft for remote piloting. This would have made them into so-called ‘poor man’s cruise missiles,’ capable of delivering thousand pound munitions up to 900 miles.
Where was this factory?
The island in the South Pacific Osama bin Laden is setting up as a new Shariah-based version of Fantasy Island?
Try a section of Bosnia (Republika Srpska) under the jurisdiction of the United States military.
Check out this new article in The Washington Monthly for all the ugly details.
I’ve had a number of readers write in to take me to task for the quote which leads off the second half of the interview with Ken Pollack. I told a few folks who wrote in to look more closely and see that it was Pollack’s quote, not mine. When I looked back at how I framed it, though, I realized that that wasn’t as clear as it should have been. In any case, that’s Pollack’s quote (see below), not mine.