In light of all this, you have to wonder what Democrats, who according to The New York Times are considering a compromise that sets a “goal” for withdrawal rather than a timetable, are thinking. All such a compromise would accomplish would be to give Republicans who like to sound moderate — but who always vote with the Bush administration when it matters — political cover.
We've seen this debate before, when in February Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed a bipartisan resolution by Levin and Republican Sen. John Warner as lacking teeth. It was an accurate criticism, since the resolution would merely have expressed the Senate's opinion on Iraq. But at the time, Reid was hoping to force Republicans to vote on a stronger, binding resolution. It never happened. Now it looks like Senate Democrats are going to be outmaneuvered once again, and it's because Reid is too keen on punishing the Republicans for their support of the president's policy. If he really wanted to end the war, though, Reid would give GOP senators the cover they need to call for withdrawal. That's exactly what Levin is trying to do.
U.S. President George W. Bush has apparently decided that the path to victory lies in a plan devised more than a year ago by ... wait for it ... Democratic Sen. Joe Biden.
That's right, as the Wall Street Journal reports this morning, the "bottom-up" strategy Bush was touting in Anbar yesterday, "bears some striking similarities to the 'soft partition' strategy pushed by senior Democrats." The Journal is referring, of course, to the "unity through autonomy" (Times Select) plan floated by Biden and former Council on Foreign Relations Chairman Leslie Gelb in May 2006.
Watching Republicans turn tail and support Biden's plan is as comical as it is tragic. Let's not forget just what conservatives said about Biden's plan back when he devised it.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan was certain that Biden's plan would doom Iraq to failure, saying the president supported only a "federal, democratic, pluralist and unified" Iraq. He added:
A partition government with regional security forces and a weak central government ... is something that no Iraqi leader has proposed and that the Iraqi people have not supported."
The feelings of the conservative intelligentsia were summarized by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who told the Washington Times (no longer online) that Biden's plan was "virtually certain to make things worse, not better."
The GOP's armchair pundits, meanwhile, attacked Biden viciously. "Liberal Democrats – who can figure them?" wrote 30-year Army veteran Michael John McCrae in The Conservative Voice. He added:
The terrorists see these proposals and they cheer their supporters in the American Congress."
After almost four years of fighting in Iraq, at a cost of nearly 4,000 American lives, round and round we go.
Has Harry Reid lost his mind? Why is the Senate leader allowing Gen. Petraeus to deliver his long-awaited surge report to Congress on September 11? That's the date John McCain said earlier today is the likely date for Petraeus's testimony.
Nothing says "we need to continue the surge" like reminding Americans that Saddam planned 9/11. Somewhere, Karl Rove must be laughing.
A few months ago, I predicted the U.S.-India nuclear deal would "mutate, but move forward, in the coming months." With negotiations between the United States and India completed and a draft agreement released, mutated may be too mild a description of its policy shifts.
According to Sharon Squassoni of the Carnegie Endowment, "As far as I can tell, the U.S. caved to all the Indian demands."
Among other things, the United States agreed that if it ever recalled its nuclear technology, it would reimburse India for the "fair market value thereof and for the costs incurred as a consequence of such removal." So if India tested a nuclear weapon and the U.S. government terminated cooperation—as required under U.S. law—and demanded its stuff back, American taxpayers would have to pay India for the privilege.
The U.S. Congress, which must approve the deal before it can go forward, still seems interested, but has so far reacted cautiously. As expected, Pakistan has expressed strong displeasure, citing a "nuclear arms race in the region" as one possible outcome of the deal. But goodwill toward Pakistan is at an ebb in Washington, and the U.S. administration brushed this claim aside.
In fact, it may be in India where the critics are loudest. There, opposition to the deal is wide-ranging, based on nonproliferation concerns as well as national sovereignty; coming from the Left parties as well as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which controlled the government when India tested nuclear weapons in 1998. So it's no surprise that on Monday, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed India's parliament on the deal, he faced a maelstrom of anger.
So why is this tortured agreement still moving forward? Aside from the oft-mentioned strategic concerns (grand alliance of democracies, counterbalance China, etc), the business communities in both countries have been lobbying hard for the deal. According to the U.S.-India Business Council, the planned expansion of India's civilian nuclear industry could generate $150 billion in commercial opportunities for U.S. companies. And India's third-biggest electric provider, Tata Power, has already lined up "major nuclear equipment suppliers and is ready to go." Remember Ike's famous warning about the danger posed by the military-industrial complex? Perhaps he was on to something.
Last week, presidential candidate-in-waiting and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich eloquently likened himself to the great French statesman Charles de Gaulle, holed up in the tiny French village of Colombey-les-Deux-Églises awaiting a call from his countrymen to lead them into the breach. Then he called the current field of Republican canidates a "pathetic" bunch of "pygmies."
The Republican Old Guard is having none of this name calling. Herewith, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole's reaction:
I don't know how he has set himself up as the spokesman for the world."
At a high level, U.S. officials are working with their Turkish counterparts on a joint military operation to suppress Kurdish guerrillas and capture their leaders. Through covert activity, their goal is to forestall Turkey from invading Iraq.
While detailed operational plans are necessarily concealed, the broad outlines have been presented to selected members of Congress as required by law. U.S. Special Forces are to work with the Turkish Army to suppress the Kurds' guerrilla campaign. The Bush administration is trying to prevent opening another war front in Iraq that would have disastrous consequences. But this gamble risks major exposure and failure.
Gee, who might possibly expose this secret mission? Reading further, it looks like Novak's source was someone in Congress who wants to torpedo the plan:
What is Washington to do in the dilemma of two friends battling each other on an unwanted new front in Iraq? The surprising answer was given in secret briefings on Capitol Hill last week by Eric S. Edelman, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and now under secretary of defense for policy. [...]
Edelman's listeners were stunned. Wasn't this risky? He responded he was sure of success, adding that the U.S. role could be concealed and always would be denied.
So much for that. But let's give Edelman some credit here. Surely, a graduate of the Dick Cheney school of congressional relations would know this would leak. So perhaps the plan was simply being floated in order to buy more time with the Turks, and Congress was used in order to kill it.
I must admit, I don't lose sleep worrying about what's inside the 11 million containers that arrive at U.S. ports every year. But with the new anti-terrorism bill being debated in the U.S. Congress, container security has become a (relatively) hot topic. Today, only the containers deemed high risk get separated and scanned, but Democrats are pushing to screen every piece of cargo in case there is a bomb packed somewhere among all those sneakers and DVD players.
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, this 100-percent scanning plan will only disrupt the flow of commerce and raise transportation costs for U.S. importers. And it makes no sense for a terrorist to smuggle in an explosive this way, argue James Jay Carafano and Robert Quartel of the Heritage Foundation, since it would be much easier to assemble it once it arrives. They add:
If terrorists had a nuclear weapon, it's not at all clear why they would risk allowing it leave their control. After all the time and trouble required to build a bomb, would they really wave good-bye and hope it gets to the right place?
Carafano dismisses the comprehensive-scanning proposal as just another form of "feel good security." That sounds about right to me.
An interesting question came up during last night's CNN-YouTube Democratic presidential debate: Would candidates, if elected to the White House, be willing to forgo the president's annual salary of $400,000 in exchange for the federal minimum wage, which just went up to $5.85 an hour?
Edwards? Sure. Hillary? Yep. Obama? No problem. Sen. Chris Dodd? No way.
DODD: I have two young daughters who I'm trying to educate them. [Ed: On the basis of that sentence, you may not want to home school them.] I don’t think I could live on the minimum wage...
Fair enough, Senator. That's why people distinguish between the minimum wage and a living wage. And you've done admirable work on this issue in the past, seeking to raise the minimum wage to more than $7. But what surprised me most was your next comment, which suggested that you consider your Senate salary a little spare:
OBAMA: Well, we can afford to work for the minimum wage because most folks on this stage have a lot of money. It's the folks... on that screen who deserve -- you're doing all right, Chris, compared to, I promise you, the folks who are on that screen.
DODD: Not that well, I'll tell you, Barack.
Really? In fact, Sen. Dodd, you make $165,200 a year as a senator; your net worth has been reported to be between $1.5 million and $3.5 million; and you own a vacation cottage in Ireland. What's more, you can anticipate a nice retirement thanks to your Senate pension, which averaged about $50,000 a year in 2000. Would that the rest of us could be so fortunate.
You may have thought that the U.S. economy was in good shape after the subprime mortgage debacle failed to have us all living in cardboard boxes and eating grass. That's an unlikely scenario, but the latest news suggests that we're hardly out of the woods. Investment house Bear Stearns set off warning bells on Wall Street yesterday when it announced that two of its hedge funds, heavily invested in subprime mortgages, are pretty much worthless. Even the top-rated subprime-related bonds are beginning to be affected by the crisis, worrying investors.
One risk to the outlook is that the ongoing housing correction might prove larger than anticipated, with possible spillovers onto consumer spending."
But the Wall Street Journal's Greg Ip looks on the bright side, noting that the overall tenor of Bernanke's remarks and the accompanying Fed report (pdf) on monetary policy was upbeat. And the stock market was humming yesterday, reaching new heights. Perhaps Bernanke is just hedging his bets?
Relax, folks, you can all go back to brushing your teeth with Chinese toothpaste: The government in Beijing has just outlawed juicing the stuff with diethylene gylocol (DEG), an industrial solvent. DEG-laden toothpaste has yet to kill anybody, but the Chinese have been feeling cautious lately. In addition to the recent ban, Beijing is gearing up to institute national food safety checks, and just executed the former head of food and drug safety. You know, just to be on the safe side.
Just when I thought the coast was clear, however, I came across the disturbing news that two new phony products have cropped up in China: Dumplings stuffed with cardboard shavings, and bogus Rabies vaccines. Talk about putting the "dim" in dim sum.
But before anybody goes back to shrieking about how China is out to kill us all, take a look at this interesting report from the New York Times. It compares the number of food shipments the United States has turned away from various foreign countries over the past year, and it turns out that China is surpassed by both India and Mexico. And if you think Chinese seafood is bad (391 shipments rejected), you'd better stay away from Danish candy (520 rejections).
So if Beijing isn't all the devil incarnate, then what's behind the hype? Sure, China has exported a few particularly nasty products in the last few years, but the "ChiComs" are no worse than some of the other top U.S. trading partners. I'd say all this hullabaloo has a lot to do with the sad fact that Americans just love to hate China. It's not a new phenomenon, but it has been magnified by China's dramatic rise. At this point, Americans (and their congressmen) will take any shot they can get at Beijing. The ultimate goal? To control the Chinese while that's still even remotely possible.
The Congressional debate over withdrawal is coming to a head faster than anyone expected, but the quality of discussion is far from impressive. The White House is terrified about the rising number of Senate Republicans defecting to the Democratic position on withdrawal in one form or another. One prominent bill under consideration in the Senate is the Iraq Study Group (ISG) Recommendations Implementation Act of 2007, known as the Salazar amendment because it was introduced by Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as an add-on to the Defense Authorization Act. It failed a procedural vote yesterday, but the bill has an appealing bipartisan sheen and could thus make a comeback. Like its House equivalent, it would turn the 79 recommendations of the Iraq Study Group into official U.S. policy. In announcing the legislation last week, cosponsor Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander declared, "The Iraq Study Group report is a strategy for tomorrow."
Actually, it's a strategy for yesterday.
The Iraq Study Group report is now eight months old, yet it just won't die. A lot has changed since it was introduced in December 2006, most notably the Iraqi central government's slide into irrelevance. Gen. David Patraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has mostly ignored the administration of Shiite leader Nuri al-Maliki and cut deals with local Sunni potentates to isolate al Qaeda. The few genuine successes touted in today's White House progress report are due to Petraeus's pragmatism, not to anything Maliki has done. Which is why the debate in Congress over "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government is so absurd. As military expert Anthony Cordesman notes today in his scathing critique of the White House's progress report, "It was all too clear that [the] Iraqi central government still remained too weak and divided to make the agreements and compromises required." Too bad Cordesman isn't writing Congressional legislation.
In a major blow to the Bush administration, U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici just endorsed a plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.
This is big. Domenici is a senior ranking and stalwart Republican, with 36 years in the Senate under his belt. He sits on the defense appropriations subcommittee. He's also up for reelection in 2008.
Come September, I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more Republicans sounding like this:
I want a new strategy for Iraq.... I am unwilling to continue our current strategy.
I have carefully studied the Iraq situation, and believe we cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress to move its country forward. I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq ... but I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."
The former chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee fired a subtle shot across the bow of the White House this week. His message? President Bush must revise his Iraq policy now, or face mass revolt within his own party come fall. The warning was delivered in a floor speech by Sen. Richard Lugar, who has apparently now decided that President Bush's troop surge is a failure and the that U.S. must begin withdrawing some troops from Iraq immediately. Here's how to read Lugar's comments:
Lugar: The prospects that the current “surge” strategy will succeed in the way originally envisioned by the President are very limited within the short period framed by our own domestic political debate.... Unless we recalibrate our strategy in Iraq to fit our domestic political conditions and the broader needs of U.S. national security, we risk foreign policy failures that could greatly diminish our influence in the region and the world.
Translation: Come January, Democrats will probably have the 60 votes necessary to pass legislation that would cut off funding for the war and bring troops home.
Lugar: In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.
Translation: Most folks on the Hill believe that the assessment of the Baghdad security plan to be delivered by Gen. David Petraeus in September will say little or nothing other than "some progress has been made but more time is needed." But the status quo is not sustainable.
Lugar: Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari has told me that various aspects of an oil law and revenue distribution could be passed by September. But he emphasized that Iraqis are attempting to make policy in a difficult environment by broad consensus -- not by majority vote. He believes other policy advancements will take considerable time....
Translation: Setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government is all well and good, but it's anyone's guess as to when they will be met.
Lugar: We do not know whether the next President will be a Democrat or a Republican. But it is certain that domestic pressure for withdrawal will continue to be intense.... In short, our political timeline will not support a rational course adjustment in Iraq, unless such an adjustment is initiated very soon.
Lugar: Our security interests call for a downsizing and re-deployment of U.S. military forces to more sustainable positions in Iraq or the Middle East.
Lugar: The United States has violated some basic national security precepts during our military engagement in Iraq. We have overestimated what the military can achieve, we have set goals that are unrealistic, and we have inadequately factored in the broader regional consequences of our actions. Perhaps most critically, our focus on Iraq has diverted us from opportunities to change the world in directions that strengthen our national security.
Translation: This has been a fiasco. And if you think you're going to have an Iraq redux in Iran, Mr. President, think again.
CNN apparently decided that Paris Hilton's hearing was the bigger story, so I missed this until just now: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced today that General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. military, will be stepping down. If all goes according to plan, Pace will be replaced by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations, when the former leaves office on September 30. Vice Chairman Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr., will also be replaced.
Gates's press conference and statement were unusual because the defense secretary was seemingly transparent about his motives in letting Pace go. No excuses about "spending time with his family":
Gates said he intended to re-nominate Pace and Giambastiani but after consulting with senators of both parties came to the conclusions "that because General Pace has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the last six years, the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past rather than the future."
He said the confirmation process would have the possibility of being quite contentious. "I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them," Gates said. "However, I have decided at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform, and General Pace himself would not be well-served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
In other words, Democrats threatened to turn Pace's reconfirmation hearings into a hearing on Iraq, and Republicans told Gates they'd rather avoid that. Another explanation raised by the New York Times is that Pentagon and White House officials believe the U.S. military "needs a new direction after years of being strained by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan."
Interestingly, both the combatant commander for U.S. Central Command, William J. Fallon, and the prospective nominee to replace Pace, Michael G. Mullen, are Navy admirals. Fallon is rumored to be dovish on Iran, but it's worth noting that the U.S. military's two highest profile jobs will soon be held by guys who know a thing or two about protecting sea lanes such as ... the Straits of Hormuz.
America, so goes the conventional wisdom, is the land of opportunity. The land of self-made men. The land where the best and brightest can rise through nothing but their ability and will. The United States, however, could soon lose that reputation. In a little-noticed article in last Saturday's Washington Post, Anthony Faiola and Robin Shulman reported:
For years, foreign-born Nobel Prize winners, corporate officers, and top talents in sports, arts and sciences have had a fast track to permanent residency, and eventually citizenship, in the United States.
According to the current draft of the immigration bill, however, foreign nationals of extraordinary ability will have to queue up with everyone else for a work permit. This is because the bill does not provide anything like the EB-1 visa, a special track that currently allows talented applicants to bypass the ordinary immigration process.
Should the bill pass in its present form, even individuals of extraordinary abilities like John Lennon or Albert Einstein would instead be subjected to a complicated point system that judges them according to their level of education, English proficiency, and a few other factors. (Being a superstar is only worth eight out of 100 points, less than the 10 points for having a degree from a community college.) Philippe Legrain raised some important problems with this point system in a recent web exclusive for FP. But to my mind, it's the elimination of the EB-1 visa—and the possibility that rare geniuses who want to come to the United States might be rejected—that is most troubling.
It's the beginning of the so-called summer driving season in the United States, which means gasoline prices are going up. And that means it's time for U.S. politicians to pander to popular ignorance about energy prices. Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the "Federal Price Gouging Protection Act," a bill that would make it illegal for gas companies to charge "unconscionably excessive" prices at the pump. A similar effort is underway in the Senate.
"Price gouging" is not a legal term in the United States, and the bill does not change this fact. What's an "unconscionably excessive" price? Presumably, as with pornography, the courts will be able to identify this phantom menace when they see it. Maybe they'll have better luck than the Federal Trade Commission. After Hurricane Katrina, the FTC investigated (pdf) allegations of price gouging and found none, concluding:
Based on well-established economic principles, the price increases were roughly in line with increases predicted by the standard supply and demand paradigm of a competitive market.
But the most idiotic part of the bill is that the same groups pushing for action on "price gouging" also rightly believe that the United States needs to reduce its demand for oil on national security and environmental grounds. Yet as Robert Samuelson points out in a spot-on column in today's Washington Post, only the pain of high gasoline prices will actually move significant numbers of Americans out of those Hummers and into Priuses and plug-in hybrids. The politicians surely know this, but knowing better has hardly stopped opportunistic lawmakers before. Why start now?
At a discussion yesterday featuring U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on the global economy, U.S. Congressman Barney Frank had this to say:
The most influential economic spokesman in America today is Lou Dobbs, who regards the rest of the world somewhat suspiciously in terms of the negative impact he believes it has on America's middle class and working Americans.
Granted, Frank was only trying to make the point that Americans are starting to feel like the global economy is a losing proposition for U.S. workers and therefore are now taking on a more protectionist stance. Though Frank admitted he doesn't agree with most of Dobbs' positions, it's still a stretch to think that one CNN anchor holds so much sway over the American public.
That's Thomas Friedman's take as well:
I would greatly dispute Barney Frank's statement that Lou Dobbs is the most important economic voice in this country … People aren’t stupid. They want the truth. They understand the world they are living in.
Since the 2004 campaign, more and more U.S. politicians have latched on to YouTube as a way to "go viral" and reach the increasingly powerful "netroots". Witness Democratic presidential long shot Bill Richardson's clever new job interview ad, which has already been viewed over 50,000 times since Tuesday. And as Kevin Drum cynically observed yesterday, the real prize for the attention-starved New Mexico governor will be when the New York Times writes "another thumbsucker about the power of new media, complete with chin scratching quotes from [new media gurus] Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis."
Well, here's something altogether new for the gurus to ponder: politicians who wish to be journalists. Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey recently debuted his own YouTube channel, where he has so far advertised not himself, but ... YouTube. Here's Markey's interview with YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley:
This was former Bush State Department Chief of Staff Lawrence Wilkerson speaking on NPR's "On Point" today:
[O]ur founding fathers, Hamilton, Washington, Monroe, Madison, would all be astounded that over the course of our short history as a country, 200 plus years, we haven't used that little two to three lines in Article II of the Constitution more frequently, the impeachment clause. I do believe that they would have thought had they been asked by you or whomever at the time of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia 'Do you think this will be exercised?' they would have said 'Of course it will, every generation they'll have to throw some bastard out'. That's a form of accountability too. It's ultimate accountability.... The language in that article, the language in those two or three lines about impeachment is nice and precise – it's high crimes and misdemeanors. You compare Bill Clinton's peccadilloes for which he was impeached to George Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors or Dick Cheney's high crimes and misdemeanors, and I think they pale in significance."
President Bush reportedly isn't thrilled about the House Democrats' plan for a new Iraq funding supplemental. The plan would immediately make available about half of the $95.5 billion Bush requested from Congress. The other half would be contingent upon the Iraqi government meeting benchmarks, with a subsequent Congressional vote on the second half of the funding in July.
The plan is too clever by half. It's unlikely Democrats can muster the votes to quash a veto by July, whether the inept Iraqi government meets a set of arbitrary benchmarks or not. So this plan merely forces Democrats to vote twice for continuing to fund the war—Bush will have won two times over.
The smarter play is to wait for September. Because if you're a Democrat in Congress, four realities are undeniable. First, nearly six in 10 Americans now support setting a timetable for withdrawal. Second, you were elected in 2006 on a platform of bringing the troops home. Third, your base wants an immediate end to the war. Fourth, there's an election in 18 months. So the last thing you want to do is vote every couple of months to continue providing funds for the war in Iraq. That's exactly what you promised the American people you wouldn't do.
Come September or October, when Gen. David Petraeus reports back on the progress of the surge (and the defense authorization bill is floating around), Republicans in Congress will be getting extremely nervous that Petraeus will ask for more time, as Blake pointed out last week and House GOP moderates pointed out to Bush yesterday in a heated meeting. If you're a centrist Republican like Olympia Snowe, John Warner, Dick Lugar, or George Voinovich, you have to start thinking seriously about joining Chuck Hagel and Gordon Smith in supporting a timeline for withdrawal by fall. The same timeline language that passed the Senate with 51 votes on April 26 could probably pass the Senate with as many as 60 votes in October.
There will be plenty of opportunities to stick it to Bush in the months ahead. So the Democrats ought to relax. Time is on their side.
With Bush's approval rating at the lowest of any president since Jimmy Carter in 1979, Republican insiders are seeking solace in Nicolas Sarkozy's win. After all, France's new president was able to pull out a victory for the incumbent party despite Jacques Chirac, a similarly troubled and maligned leader. Here is Newt Gingrich summing it up on Face the Nation yesterday:
Nicolas Sarkozy is in the Chirac government. Chirac is at the end of 10 years, two terms. People are totally fed up with him, they're very tired. And yet Sarkozy has managed to become the candidate of change while Segolene Royal, the socialist opposition, has become the candidate of status quo."
But who among the current Republican field can position himself as a Sarkozy? Toby Harnden, who writes for London's Telegraph, suspects that Sen. John McCain's campaign may be trying to mimic Sarkozy's playbook. I don't see him pulling it off. Where Sarkozy offered France radical solutions on the country's two most pressing issues—immigration and economic malaise—McCain has become the candidate of the status quo on the United States' most pressing problem, Iraq. Sarkozy is about to become France's first baby boom president. McCain, if elected, would become the United States' oldest commander in chief.
Rather than having a maverick of the Sarkozy type emerge from within the Republican field, I suspect we are instead more likely to see one splinter off from the party and go it alone. Two leading contenders for that role, Sen. Chuck Hagel and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, appear to at least be giving that option some consideration. They'd better hurry. Desperate to get behind any candidate who offers charisma and hope, many Republicans who might support a Hagel or Bloomberg are already defecting to Sen. Barak Obama's camp. And that should tell us everything we need to know about the likelihood of a radical of the Sarkozy vein emerging from the Republican primary.
Everyone seems to want to compare the 2008 election to 1960. I guess the analogy is that, if Democrats can make 2008 a referendum on Iraq, just as John F. Kennedy made 1960 about America falling behind in the Cold War, then victory is in the bag. Jennifer Ruben made the case in the New York Observer on Tuesday:
It has been over 45 years since John F. Kennedy campaigned against Richard Nixon, an inveterate anticommunist with impressive foreign-policy credentials, on the 'missile gap'.... It has taken over four decades, but the time may once again have come for the Democratic Party to run on defense and foreign policy.... It's 1960 all over again.
Let's set aside for a moment the fact that Kennedy was as wrong about the missile gap as George W. Bush was about WMDs in Iraq. In the end, I'm fearful the better analogy might be to 1976. All of the candidates in the field so far—from both sides of the aisle—look more like foreign-policy lightweights such as Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter than they do John F. Kennedy.
I'll get to the Republicans in a later post. For now, what I want to know is: What foreign policy, exactly, do the Democrats plan to run on in 2008?
Until yesterday, I thought the policy was withdrawal from Iraq, an idea that resonates with the Democratic base, many independents, and an increasing number of Republicans. But it took Democrats about 12 hours from the time of Bush's veto to drop their insistence on a timeline for bringing troops home. That didn't look very Kennedy-like to me. But it didn't stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from trying to remain indignant, saying, "But make no mistake: Democrats are committed to ending this war."
But how? Sure, as Blake's post suggests, upcoming appropriations bills will provide some opportunities. But what's to say Bush won't veto those too, and that he won't still have the votes to block an override? And after the troops have come home, the terrorist threat won't have gone away—merely modifying terminology won't change that. What's the Democrats' plan for keeping Americans safe?
I'm hardly the first to ask this question. When the Democrats took control of Congress, I remembered a 2004 article by Peter Beinart—who, like Kennedy, is a liberal hawk— in which he posited that the fundamental failure of the Democrats is their inability to formulate a foreign policy consisting of anything other than criticisms of Bush:
When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world.
Beinart has gotten many things wrong, particularly when it comes to Iraq and the war on terror. But here he's got a point. And three years later, the Democrats still haven't convinced the U.S. public that they are anything but "not Bush." Is that good enough to win? We'll find out in 2008.
Speaking to a crowd of general contractors yesterday about his showdown with the U.S. Congress, George W. Bush expounded on his views about presidential authority:
The question is, ‘Who ought to make that decision, the Congress or the commanders?,’’ Mr. Bush said. “As you know, my position is clear – I’m the commander guy.”
He's being mocked pretty widely in the blogosphere for this rather unsophisticated formulation, but it's not as if he's wrong: Article II of the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that the president "shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States." The Constitution also grants Congress the explicit authority to "declare war" and "to raise and support armies."
So once the military is in the field, it's the president who calls the shots. You know, he's the commander guy. But Congress has the clear authority to cut the funds if it disagrees with the president's policy. The balance of powers becomes a lot murkier, however, when Congress tries to get fancy, as it has done in trying to set a deadline for the start of the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
So why didn't the Democrats do as legal scholar Bruce Ackerman recommended and use the power of the purse? As prominent Democratic Senator Joe Biden put the matter back in February (pdf), "from my experience here back to the Vietnam era, that is a very dicey, difficult, troublesome, and not at all an ennobling experience that unites people very well." Another way of saying this would be, "We don't want the Republicans to be able to accuse us of defunding the troops." And so we have the present impasse and a divided Democratic caucus. Counterinsurgencies take years to win, not months. But unless Iraq miraculously begins to turn around soon, though, expect Republicans in Congress to get very, very antsy about the 2008 elections. The commander guy's veto won't save his policy if and when that happens. So what's Bush going to do?
It's extremely rare for active-duty officers to criticize the U.S. military establishment. So it's a big deal that Lt. Col. Paul Yingling let one rip in today's Armed Forces Journal, a publication aimed at military readers but owned privately by a subsidiary of Gannett Company, Inc. (Gannett also owns USA Today.)
Yingling is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment, though perhaps not for long. As Thomas Ricks notes in today's Washington Post, Yingling was the commander responsible for the "miracle of Tal Afar" so often cited by U.S. President George W. Bush.
Yingling doesn't single out any general by name, but says that "America's generals have been checked by a form of war that they did not prepare for and do not understand," a statement that a majority of the U.S. public would probably agree with at this point.
His preferred solution to the military's failure to get it right in Iraq, though, is for the U.S. Congress to use its power to confirm three and four-star generals as a way of holding generals accountable for their actions. To which I say: yikes. Think generals are political now? Wait until they start having to take some grandstanding Congressman out to lunch. And it's not as if the legislative branch has the staff or the tools to evaluate who's a good general and who isn't.
Better ideas, please.
How much time did the staff of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spend crafting this morning's remarks to members of the U.S. Congress on the sex slaves brouhaha? They were very carefully done. Abe, who is now hanging out at Camp David with President Bush, is "sorry" about the plight of "comfort women" who were forced—by whom, he doesn't say—to service the Japanese military during World War II. He supports a 1993 declaration that acknowledged the Japanese military's active role in sex slavery, but he won't explicitly repeat it.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports, citing anonymous congressional aides, that this artful dodge was not artful enough to satisfy U.S. lawmakers, who left the meeting "puzzled" by Abe's stance. That may lend momentum to Congressman Mike Honda's resolution demanding a formal, unequivocal apology from Japan. Honda issued a short statement today welcoming Abe's latest comments, but reiterating his call for a formal, unambiguous statement from the Japanese government.
Abe had more success with the White House, where he evidently convinced President Bush not to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism just yet. As former top U.S. negotiator Robert Gallucci explained to FP recently, "while the North Koreans were guilty of some kinds of atrocious acts of terrorism in the past, we haven’t associated North Korea with terrorists for decades." North Korea claims it has accounted for all of the Japanese citizens it kidnapped in the 70s and 80s, but Abe has complicated the six-party talks by demanding that the issue be resolved to his satisfaction. Which is not to say that North Korea hasn't done enough to muck them up on their own.
The most telling thing about the Senate vote this afternoon on the $124 billion supplemental war spending bill, which happens to require American troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq in October, is who abstained from voting: John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Tim Johnson.
"The Maverick" McCain was either too busy campaigning for president to return and vote on the most important and contentious issue facing Congress today, or he was afraid vote for or against a troop withdrawal on the record.
Likewise with Republican war critic Lindsey Graham. Sure, he's on everyone's A-list for Veep. But he's also one of the smartest guys in the Senate, which is why I would have expected him to backup his rhetoric with a vote.
The argument over the Iraq war just got a little nastier today, with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Vice President Dick Cheney getting into a war of their own—this one a war of snarls and sound bites. And the stakes could not be much higher: at issue is whether the United States should set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Democrats in Congress say yes; the Bush administration says no. Thousands of lives and billions of dollars hang on how this drama plays out.
|Mark Wilson/Getty Images News|
Enter Peter R. Neumann, who as a director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King’s College London can hardly be said to be a partisan gunslinger. Neumann is an expert on terrorism and strategic thinking, so we asked him what he thought would likely happen if the United States announced a timetable for withdrawal. His answer was sobering. I urge you to check it out, whether you favor continued U.S. involvement in Iraq or not, and make up your own minds.
I think we can guess at the origins of this Newsweek interview with Imad Mustapha, Syria's ambassador to the United States:
The inked-up pages of Imad Moustapha's date book have a story to tell. In the first four months of 2007, the Syrian ambassador to Washington has had more interaction with U.S. officials than in all of 2005 and 2006. He has met with every single member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He coordinated the trips to Damascus of at least three congressional delegations, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's this month. He's even had talks with a senior official in the State Department.
Look no further than Mustapha's own blog, where most of his entries since he began blogging in April 2005 have been about art, his family, or meetings with friends. This entry is dated April 20, 2007:
I have never thought when I started my blog a couple of years ago that it might become physically impossible for me to squeeze-in any time, however short it may be, to write a new entry. Yet this was the situation I found myself in during the last month. I had to travel to Syria twice within 10 days while sustaining my crazy schedule of giving public speeches, and media interviews. Once back from Damascus, I had more appointments than ever before. Visiting Capitol Hill alone to meet with various congressional leaders can easily consume 23 hours a day. However, spending long hours in the plane crossing the Atlantic and Europe hence and forth carries with it one blessing: for hours and hours I put on my Bose noise reduction headphones attached to my iPod in the shuffle mode, delve into a book, and read, read, and read…
Just yesterday, in a speech hammering congressional Democrats over setting a timeline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops, President Bush said:
The consequences of failure would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America. To protect our citizens at home, we must defeat the terrorists."
But buried in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,141 U.S. adults is a finding that spells trouble for a U.S. administration that, from the beginning, has linked success in the Iraq War to victory in the war on terror.
When asked if they thought "the United States must win the war in Iraq in order for the broader war on terrorism to be a success," only 37 percent of those surveyed agreed, while 57 percent said that "the war on terrorism can be a success without the United States winning the war in Iraq." Back in January, 45 percent of respondents viewed the Iraq war as a must-win, whereas only 47 percent thought the United States could win the war on terror without victory in Iraq.
With the caveat that the poll oversamples African Americans (who tend to oppose the Iraq War), it seems that—three months after President Bush announced he was sending more troops to Iraq—the bottom is dropping out of public support for the war in Iraq. Whatever the results on the ground, the surge has clearly backfired at home.
Naím fears that the United States is operating under the same faulty assumptions in getting out of Iraq that it operated under in going in to Iraq. And we all know how well that turned out, right? Naím cites three major faulty assumptions that, together, add up to a "learning disability" that the United States—including both the Bush administration and the Democrats in Congress—must overcome if it is ever to understand the problem of Iraq:
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