As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, August 19, 2005

F'in A Right

Kevin Drum, who I sometimes feel resides in the mushy middle of progressive politics, comes out firing with this one:

real way that involves the leadership of George Bush and his staff, not some fantasy scenario in which he suddenly turns into the reincarnation of FDR — or you don't. And the only reason to stay in Iraq is if you think we can win.

So: if you do believe we can win in Iraq, let's hear what you mean by "win" and how you think we can do it, and let's hear it in clear and compelling declarative sentences. "Stay the course" isn't enough. What Bush is doing now obviously isn't working, so what would you do that's significantly different?

Conversely, if you don't believe we can win in Iraq, and you're only suggesting we stay there because you can't stand the thought of "looking weak," then your moral compass needs some serious adjustment.

My mind is not irreversibly made up on this. But no one, neither Democrat nor Republican, has presented a convincing plan for winning in Iraq under the present circumstances. The insurgency is not going to give up, the Army doesn't seem to have any kind of consistent commitment to using counterinsurgency techniques against it, we don't know for sure that they'd work anyway, and let's face it: the track record of major powers beating large-scale overseas insurgencies is close to zero in the past half century. So what's the plan?

It's time for Democrats to shit or get off the pot. You can't have it both ways; you can't bash Bush for his conduct of the war, and then say "but we can't leave," and then go mum on the scenario of how we can stay and do better. Russ Feingold has broken the cherry on a timed withdrawal scenario (Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel agrees with him). Others must follow or explain exactly what they propose we do.

I've said for a long time that this can't end well, that Iraq's descent into chaos and civil war is increasingly inextricable. Any scenario from here on is the "least worst," and that should be made plain (as well as why we've passed the good options, due to mismanagement and incompetence). But if we "can't leave,' for God's sakes tell me why, and how we can make it better.

All of this is theoretical, as the Bush Administration has proven particularly impervious to public opinion, bad news, and pressure from the left. We'll be in Iraq in some capacity until 2008. Digby has a fascinating post about the politics of this thing, and how hawkish and dovish Democrats are squeezing Bush from both sides, leaving him with nothing but "stay the course," which proves empty among the constant stream of bad news. But Bush isn't running in 2008. It's early yet, but whoever's getting my vote has to give me a few answers. No more of this "we can't leave, but he's not doing it right, and I would better, but I can't tell you exactly how" crap. Kerry was actually a little forthcoming with his reasons (most of which included begging Europe to take over). The Biden-Bayh-"sensible war Democrat" wing has some answers to give.

And for God's sake, let's stop as Democrats caring about how our decisions will look, and start caring about what they will do. And explain them that way, forcefully. That's the only way to undercut Republican smear charges.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ethical Backflips

This news that Jean Charles de Menezes, the man shot in the head 5 times by undercover British officers the day after the failed July 21 Tube bombings, is troubling:

LONDON, Aug. 17 - The British press, lawyers and campaigners reacted with outrage on Wednesday after leaked reports from an official investigation contradicted police accounts of the death of a Brazilian man who the police may have thought was a suicide bomber.

The report from the investigation, made public in Britain by ITV News, suggested that Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, the Brazilian, was already being restrained by the police on a subway train in south London on July 22 when he was shot eight times.

The report, from an inquiry by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, includes accounts by witnesses, interviews with police officers and film from the surveillance system. The findings indicated that contrary to earlier reports by the police, Mr. Menezes seemed to be unaware that he was being followed from his home and into the Stockwell subway station, that he was not wearing a heavy jacket that could have concealed explosives and that he did not run from the police or jump over the subway station's ticket turnstile.

This is, on the surface, the result of panic from British surveillance, and a classic coverup by the London police. The guy started running to catch the train, which is what pretty much anyone in the subway station who hears the car come pulling in would do. A report on NPR claimed that the man assigned to watch the house from which Menezes came, a house purported to be one used by the July 21 bombers, was taking a leak when Menezes emerged from it, and was unable to properly match him to the bomber's profiles.

A mistake. A tragic mistake. And the police coverup is pretty abhorrent.

But worse than that is this attempted apology for the police, from Ann Althouse, a law professor no less, that makes the chilling claim that the murder of innocents is nothing more than a means to an end:

Is it not true that yesterday's sad mistake has already solved the problem it represents? In fact, a further good has been created: as ordinary persons change their behavior and drop the bulky clothing and unnecessary running, the real terrorists will stand out more. Indeed, if anyone ever behaves like Jean Charles de Menezes again, the presumption that he is a terrorist will be so overwhelmingly strong that the police really must kill him.

The problem is that Jean Charles de Menezes didn't behave like Jean Charles de Menezes (a fact she notes in a follow-up, without changing her view that maybe killing this guy to keep everyone else in line was OK). And that Ms. Althouse is basically advocating that we all change our behavior at gunpoint, or else. "No running" signs should be changed to "No running under penalty of death." It's unbelievable how easy it is for some on the right to give up their liberty for security.

This was a moment of fear for Althouse, and her instinct was to immediately grasp at straws to justify an extrajudicial killing. This from a law professor. I fear for what our next set of laws will bring.


Russ Feingold, Alone Again (Naturally)

Senator Feingold was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act. Now he's the first Senator to propose a specific deadline for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq:

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) called on the White House yesterday to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of next year and criticized fellow Democrats for being too "timid" in challenging the Bush administration's war policy.

Although critical of the administration's handling of the war, many leading Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant to press for a concrete timetable for withdrawal, agreeing with Bush that it could harm the war effort. Many congressional Democrats voted in 2002 to grant Bush authority to invade Iraq, but their liberal base has grown increasingly vocal in opposition to the war, making it difficult to send a consensus message. But as Bush's poll numbers have fallen, some Democrats have grown increasingly outspoken.

In a telephone interview from Wisconsin, Feingold said he has heard a wave of public disenchantment at 15 town hall meetings so far during the August recess, leading him to propose a Dec. 31, 2006, deadline.

"There's a deepening feeling of dismay in the country about the way things are going in Iraq," Feingold said. He rejected Bush's assertion that a deadline would make it easier for insurgents to simply hang on. "I think he's wrong. I think not talking about endgames is playing into our enemies' hand."

Whaddya know, a politician that actually listens to his constituents. I'm sure the Right will call that a flip-flop. The Senator from Wisconsin can explain this one himself:

Even this June, when Feingold introduced a resolution in Senate that called on the president to clarify the mission in Iraq and lay out "a plan and timeframe for accomplishing that mission," the senator did not call for a deadline for withdrawing troops.

Back then, Feingold said he was not dictating "deadlines or dates certain . . . because drawing up timeframes is best and most appropriately left to the Administration, in consultation with military leaders."

Now, however, Feingold has changed his mind and believes a deadline is necessary.

"I offered a resolution and tried to engage colleagues and asked the president to give us a vision," he said. "The president has simply refused to give us a mission or timeframe to bring the troops home."

Feingold also said that many within his own party are afraid of demanding a withdrawal of troops from Iraq for fear of being branded unpatriotic or anti-military.

"I call what I am doing breaking the taboo," Feingold said. "The senators have been intimidated and are not talking about a timeframe. We have to make it safe to go in the water and discuss this. A person shouldn't be accused of not supporting troops just because we want some clarity on our mission in Iraq."

In short, we tried to play it your (Bush's) way, you stonewalled, and now we'll play it our way. This undercuts that whole "Democrats have no ideas" canard. It takes someone with courage to stand up and say this kind of thing. I've said for quite a while that we've run out of any good ideas in Iraq. A specific deadline would at least bring some urgency to training Iraqi troops. It gives us time to get a UN peacekeeping force mobilized if the country still has security issues at that time. It would let Iraqis know that we don't have long-term designs on their country. There are downsides (the "insurgents will wait us out" argument has some merit, although I can't see them quieting down if we stay either), but at least it's another option. We've gone almost 3 years with "stay the course." It's not working. The American people see this.

I've been on the Feingold '08 bandwagon for a little while. It's early yet, but this is a strong position, and a principled one. Feingold speaks his mind and speaks his personal truth. Many think that his upcoming divorce precludes a run for the White House. Yeah, because the Reagan and Jane Wyman thing never happened. Divorce in America is regrettable but common. I oughta know; I'm divorced. It's not a dirty word.

Feingold is on the right side on the war (not just in my opinion, but in the opinion of the American people, over 2/3 of who support withdrawal by the end of next year), he's a champion of civil liberties (something that ought to appeal to sought-after Western independents), he believes in PAYGO (pay-as-you-go fiscal discipline), he co-authored pioneering campaign finance reform (a bill that could do more, but was at least a start), and he believes in ending the disparate influence of corporate lobbyists. In short, his issues are my issues.

We're a long ways away, but right now Feingold has my vote.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

"It's Starting."

That's what my mother's friend from Palm Beach called me to say today. I usually never hear from her. But she had to call to tell me how she participated in a vigil for Cindy Sheehan.

"There were 20 vigils going on within 20 miles of me," she said. "I felt so helpless before to speak out about this war, but now I feel like there's something I can do. It's finally starting."

This is definitely a partisan Democrat, but not exactly a plugged-in activist, or blog reader. It's an average American who finally sees a ray of hope in this period of time. She was literally excited to participate in democracy. That doesn't happen a lot in this country.

Cindy Sheehan had her own reasons for staging her sit-in at the Western White House in Crawford. But she's giving a lot of average Americans courage. Public opinion had been turning against this war without the visible presence of anything resembling an antiwar movement, and in fact an outward hostility against anyone who would even dare to suggest an antiwar sentiment. Now that it's out in the open, you're going to see an avalanche. It's obvious.

And from a political standpoint, you couldn't have bungled this more than the Bush Administration has. They were in a no-win situation, but they could have had the President meet with her and diffuse this thing early. Now it's lingering, and what's worse, the GOP's initial instinct was to treat a grieving mother like a political operative and do a hit piece on her. It makes them look like anti-military Republicans, and it's not far off. When the body armor for troops is still not competent, when veteran's health benefits are cut, when the commander-in-chief has yet to visit a funeral of anyone killed in service to the War on Terror, when parents of dead soldiers are subject to oppo research, what would you call it?

So, I agree. It's starting.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005


That's what it feels like in Iraq time, and 1861 with the first shots fired at Fort Sumter could be just a few weeks away. Yesterday Iraq decided to delay the deadline for presenting its draft constitution, and I don't think seven days are going to solve the intractable problems between the major factions. The Shiites want a federal semi-autonomous regoin in the south and the Sunnis don't want that to happen; the Kurds basically want their own country and nobody wants to give it to them; both the Shiites and the Kurds want to keep the oil money and the Sunnis are scared Al Anbar will become an ethnic slum. And practically everyone wants Islamic Sharia law to be civil law except for some secular holdouts and the frantic US envoys. These aren't small issues of language. One deadline passed could beget another, and another, and another.

Of course the only group that's really on deadline is the US. The Administration simply has to get some troops out of there by spring to stave off public opinion, which has been turning against the war. Even the Iraqis understand this:

Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak Rubaie, said Monday he still expected U.S. military strength to be below 100,000 troops by early spring. About 138,000 American troops are now in Iraq.

But without stability before pullout, 1861 will come that much quicker. And many sides in the constitutional debate are already pushing that angle:

New elections could benefit Sunni Arabs, most of whom boycotted the January elections that seated the current assembly, leaving them with little clout in the constitutional debate. Sunni leaders are now encouraging participation in the next vote.

Kurdish and Shiite delegates accuse Sunni counterparts of holding out in the constitutional talks in hopes of forcing new elections, and warn that the tactic could result in the constitution being approved without Sunni delegates' approval.

Ultimately, "maybe Arab Sunnis will not be on board with us," said Othman, the Kurdish delegate.

If the next round fails, the recriminations will only get louder and louder. This is really really bad, and the worst part is that there's virtually nothing we can do about it. All we can do is push deadlines, and build up yet another artificial "turning the corner" moment for political purposes. But I honestly can't understand how anyone would believe that "we've turned the corner, we're winning" tripe anymore. Just how many corners are we expected to believe Iraq has? Is it an octagon? A dodecahedron? That is such a short-term strategy, crafted to minimize criticism for a month or so. Meanwhile the basic problems remain to fester and get worse.

You know, I think we have to speculate about why the Administration is so gung-ho about getting the troops out by spring (despite public denials). Could it be because we have another war to start by the midterm elections next fall?

President Bush says if Iran doesn't halt its nuclear program, "all options are on the table."

The president, vacationing in Texas, has delivered an unusually blunt threat in an interview with Israeli television.

He says the U-S and Israel are united in the goal of making sure Iran does not get nuclear weapons. He says military force would be any president's final option, but reminds the Israeli interviewer: "We've used force in the recent past to secure our country."

And we all know how well that's turning out.


Monday, August 15, 2005

Your Government Is Failing You

This article from Matt Taibbi in, of all places, Rolling Stone, is too good to excerpt. You simply have to read it all; in fact, it should be mandatory. Taibbi follows Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as he tries to pass four amendments to legislation in Congress. All of them pass with broad bipartisan support; none of them end up in the final bills. I defy you to read this and not have your head pop off with rage.

To be honest, after reading this piece, seeing the scads of money larded upon big business by compromised Congressmen on both sides of the aisle, seeing how nothing is done in Washington with the best interests of the people in mind, I almost shut down this blog. Of course that would be the exact wrong thing to do. Shedding light on the dirty dealings of politics is precisely what is needed right now. I agree completely with Kos that corruption is a nonpartisan issue. You're either ethical or you're not. It doesn't matter what side upon which you line up. The Democratic establishment at the top has lived off the same kind of cheap graft that the Republicans are now feasting upon themselves. Neither of them are right. The right-blogosphere response to this that I've seen is "both sides are doing it, so nothing's wrong," essentially. My answer is "both sides are doing it, so everything's wrong," and if you read Taibbi's article, you'll understand why.

It's foolish to think that power won't corrupt. But it's corrupted so absolutely and so systematically over decades and decades that the only real solution is a Watergate-style referendum on politics as usual, on the left and right. My DD is seeing it in the potential rise of "Iraq babies," veterans of the Iraq War, most of them Democratic, returning home to challenge incumbents and the status quo. That's what we saw in OH-2, where Paul Hackett almost pulled off the miracle in one of the reddest districts in the country.

I truly believe that the party that looks inside Washington and spreads truth to power about the rot in the halls of the Capitol will have the opportunity to win and win big. I don't think we'll see this out of the GOP. And if some of the big guns on the Democratic side fall in the wake of this sea change, big deal. They weren't helping out anyway.