In a statement released this morning, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) said he will vote against the nomination of Michael Mukasey. Feingold said that, while Mukasey has many “impressive qualities,” the country “needs an Attorney General who will tell the President that he cannot ignore the laws passed by Congress. Unfortunately, Judge Mukasey was unwilling to reject the extreme and dangerous theories of executive power that this administration has put forward.”
Kevin Drum has the nominations up for the all-time wingnuttiest blog post competition. In my view, Lee Siegel’s “Origins of Blogofascism” is probably the worst work up there in large part because it doesn’t even reflect any discernable point of view beyond Siegel’s egomania and self-regard. It’s not, however, the wingnuttiest post by any means. For wingnuttery, I think it’s simply not possible to surpass Steven Den Beste, an internet figure people who’ve taken up blog reading just in the past two or three years may not be familiar with.
Kevin’s chosen example of Den Bestism is “It’s the Waiting that Wears” but I actually think Den Best outdid himself with “Suppose There Was Treachery” in which he contemplates the possibility of the United States going to war with France and Germany over the Iraq crisis: “It’s evident that no matter how it developed it would be really, really bad. Even the best plausible case outcome would be a catastrophe.” And, indeed, it would!
Fox News Sunday launched a new series this week called “American Leaders” that seeks to engage “prominent business, cultural and social figures in candid discussion.” The first “leader” featured by Fox was former President George H.W. Bush, who gave the network an exclusive interview at his Presidential Library.
In his interview this morning, the former president returned the praise, saying that when he watches TV news, he watches Fox News:
I used to pick up that paper, and turn on the Fox and listen to the news, and say “listen to this, look at this so-and-so, why’s he saying that?” I don’t do that anymore.
Bush also said that he would like to see another generation of Bushes in public office. “I’ve got a grandson that would make a wonderfully able public servant if he ran, George P.,” said Bush. “And Pierce, Neil’s son. They have an interest in politics.” Watch it:
Bush’s love of Fox News echoes that of Vice President Dick Cheney, who requires that all televisions in his hotel room be tuned to Fox News whenever he travels. In 2004, Cheney also told “a conference call” of “tens of thousands of Republicans” that he ends up “spending a lot of time watching Fox News.”
If the next generation of Bushes were to enter public office, it would likely be more of the same politics put forth by the current president:
- George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has been actively involved in his family’s political fortunes since 1988, when he spoke at the Republican National Convention as a 12 year old. He was also heavily involved in his uncle’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, working on outreach to the Latino community.
- Pierce Bush, the son of high-priced consultant Neil Bush, worked on his Uncle’s 2004 campaign, telling Larry King that “George W.’s done a great job.” He also shares some of his uncle’s frat boy “folksiness.”
For someone to consider another generation of Bushes in public office a good idea, they’d probably have to be watching nothing but Fox News.
Number of Americans who are “eager for a change in direction from the agenda and priorities of President Bush,” according to a new Washington Post/ABC News poll. With just 24 percent of the public believing the Bush administration is leading the nation on the right track, it is the “lowest public assessment of the direction of the country in more than a decade.”
The Washington Post hails the Schumer/Feinstein decision to take a principled stand in favor of the proposition that if one Attorney-General breaks the law all his successors should do it too:
The halls of Congress are too often filled with cowardice and groupthink. So it is reassuring when not one but two lawmakers show the moral fortitude to defy party politics to take a stand on principle.
Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) showed such courage Friday when they announced their support for attorney-general nominee Michael B. Mukasey. Both are members of the Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Mr. Mukasey’s nomination. It is likely that their support salvaged Mr. Mukasey’s nomination, imperiled because he would not state outright that the interrogation method known as waterboarding, or simulated drowning, is illegal. While we, like Mr. Schumer, Ms. Feinstein and others, would have wished for such an answer, supplying it would have put Mr. Mukasey in conflict with Justice Department memos that likely allow the technique — memos that those who may have carried out or authorized waterboarding relied on for legal protection. Both Mr. Schumer and Ms. Feinstein cited Mr. Mukasey’s intellect, his stellar qualifications and his reputation for being straightforward and independent as reasons to support his nomination.
The good news, I guess, is that this is consistent with the Post‘s steadfast advocacy of retroactive legal immunity for lawbreaking telecommunications firms. Basically, their point of view seems to be that since the Bush administration repealed the rule of law in such a sweeping manner during the years following 9/11 that any effort to restore legality and accountability would necessary involve putting some important people and corporations in legal difficulties, so we all need to just accept that we live in some kind of crazy plebiscitary dictatorship and hope that future elected officials behave themselves. After all, just because Mukasey won’t say he’ll follow laws against torture doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t. Why not make hope the plan?
Evan Wallach writes in The Washington Post about the American government’s history of prosecuting waterboarding as a war crime: “After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.” Meanwhile, during World War II our interrogators weren’t torturing people. And yet we managed to win the war somehow, possibly because torture is not, in fact, a vital tool of effective statecraft nearly so much as it is an intimidation tactic beloved by sadists and authoritarians.
Like most everyone in the blogosphere (but see Barnett Rubin for a counterexample) my knowledge of and understanding of Pakistani politics is rather limited. What’s more, it’s clear that people who are knowledgeable about Pakistan disagree on the key points. One school of thought holds that Musharraf is a key bulwark against Islamist extremists whose power we need to help shore up. Another school holds that Musharrafism is actually rotting away the social foundations of moderate Pakistan. As Joshua Hammer put it:
And while the military aims to do the opposite, it is slowly destabilizing Pakistan. Eight years of usurpation of power by Musharraf have weakened secular parties, corrupted the judiciary, and implanted army men in every facet of civilian life. Pakistan’s population is now doubling every 38 years, creating severe social pressures. If the political process remains stunted, the Islamists may continue to gather strength until the country reaches a tipping point. “We are not going to collapse if Musharraf goes tomorrow; Pakistan will go on, insha’allah,” I was told by Mohammed Enver Baig, a senator with the Pakistan People’s Party. “But the 2007 elections could be a turning point for all of us. If the elections are not fair, don’t be surprised if next time—after five years—you come and see me, I might have a long beard myself.”
My best guess would be that this latter line of assessment is closer to the truth. The real policy problem, however, is simply that it’s hard to know. Very few Americans have the sort of language skills and life experience that puts them in a good position to really understand Pakistan, and of course the Pakistani most capable of influencing the American elite’s understanding of the situation are interested parties — Musharraf himself, other security officials, Benazir Bhutto and her circle, etc. — whose ideas and information are of questionable probative value.
The deeper problem, I think, is not so much that our understanding of Pakistan isn’t as good as it might be, but that the country has put itself in a position where there’s widespread consensus that we need to be trying to micromanage political outcomes in Pakistan. Within that context, there’s a lot of disagreement, but the general trend is still to try to analyze the situation and then frame a policy as the thing to do if you want to bet that the analysis at hand is the correct one. It seems to me, however, that understanding and micromanaging Pakistani politics isn’t something the United States is likely to be good at. The knowledge gap is sufficiently severe that the more we wade into trying to manipulate events there, the more likely it becomes that in fact we are the ones being manipulated and I don’t think there’s any way around that.
Rather than strategies for micromanaging Pakistani politics more successfully, what we need are strategies that don’t require successful micromanagement and that try to avoid betting too heavily on any particular group or individual or interpretation of internal Pakistani events. Whatever the shake-out of the current crisis, we need to be prepared to deal with the resulting power structure on issues that are important to the United States, but I don’t think it’ll serve our interests to be too closely identified with whoever that is or to have us trying to pick the “best” candidate or course of events. Sheryle Gay Stolberg and Helen Cooper write in this morning’s New York Times that “For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.” This time, though, one can hardly chalk up their failure to the usual Bushian bumbling. That, simply put, would have been a really hard thing to do. And, indeed, “on Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly.” But it probably would have been impossible to keep them together.
The problem’s not in the failure, but in the setting of the goal. Or, rather, in the setting up of a grand strategy that gets us stuck in that vise. We need approaches that don’t depend on our ability to successfully pick and choose who comes to power where since our efforts to do this seem to have a noticeable pattern of making things worse.
Went to the Wizards’ home opener last night, and I have to say that the $50 million in taxpayer money did, in fact, buy some very nice scoreboards for the arena. On the other hand, it appeared that nobody actually knew how to operate them properly and the information was consistently out of date. Along the same lines, the Wizards seem to have completely forgotten how to play basketball. Or, more specifically, Gilbert Arenas seems to have forgotten how to play, since giving up 94 points is usually consistent with a Wizards win and Brendan Haywood stepped up with 10 points 16 rebounds 5 blocks and a solid shooting percentage. But Gilbert: ten points! Six turnovers! I’m beginning to worry that this may be a very long season….
Responding to the post below, Tony V comments: “So the only problem with this analysis, MY, is that HRC and her camp are among the worst practitioners of ‘testosterone based foreign policy’ in the Democratic Party.” I don’t think that’s the problem with my analysis, that’s the problem with Hillary Clinton’s approach to foreign policy issues. At the same time, one of her great strengths in the primary is that precisely because she’s a woman I think a lot of the dovish Democratic primary electorate doesn’t really see the stances Clinton’s adopted for what they are. It’s ironic that the candidate in the race most committed to the politics of machismo is the woman, but most indications you get from the campaign is that they’re committed to this political approach in part because she is a woman and so they think it’s necessary to double-down on “toughness” to stay viable in a general election.