I think David Ignatius’ column on Pakistan today is pretty insightful. He makes the Iran analogy, and also makes the point that even with 20/20 hindsight it’s really not clear how Jimmy Carter should have handled that situation. Similarly, “changing Pakistan is a job for Pakistanis, and history suggests that the more we meddle, the more likely we are to get things wrong.”
The trouble, though, is that while it would be easy for us to not “meddle” if political protests started to rock Laos or Belarus, we’re already eye-deep in Pakistan-related meddling in the form of our huge post-9/11 aid packages. To pull the aid carpet out from under Musharraf would be a kind of meddling. To continue the unconditional aid policy, however, is a different kind of meddling. And to continue the aid but attach more strings to it — to make it clear that a violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators would result in aid cuts, say — would also constitute a kind of meddling. Similarly, if Pakistani officials ask American diplomats what they think about the situation and they don’t say anything, that’ll likely be read as a green light for harsh measures.
Basically, we’re in a position where “don’t meddle” doesn’t mean anything. In the medium-term, what we need to do is shift our overall posture to one where we’re doing less meddling in other countries’ internal political problems (as Ignatius says, we don’t seem very good at it) but we’ve meddled so much in Pakistan that there’s no non-meddling option for the short-run.
Earlier this week, Kansans for Affordable Energy, a coal-industry-funded advocacy group, blanketed Kansas with misleading advertisements that smeared Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) as supporting Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because her administration had denied air permits for two coal-powered generators in the state due to environmental concerns.
The founder of the group, Bob Kreutzer, eventually admitted that the sensational ad campaign was “a little bit extreme.” Apparently the Ahmadinejad-referencing tactic wasn’t too “extreme” for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). His campaign used images of the three heads of state as the backdrop for a speech on energy independence in Iowa on Monday after a member of his staff reportedly saw the ad:
Roy Dixon, a Garden City resident and treasurer of Kansans for Affordable Energy, said Tuesday a McCain staffer recently saw one of his groups’ ads featuring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Russian President Vladimir Putin and used the tactic during a campaign stop on Monday. [...]
“We’re darn proud McCain liked our ad enough to use it,” Dixon said.
A local ABC affiliate in Arizona has footage of McCain using the posters:
On Tuesday, as more and more newspapers picked up on the controversial aspects of the Kansas ad, McCain’s campaign distanced itself from the ad, with spokesman Brian Rogers telling the Topeka Capital-Journal that “the campaign had used the oversized photos at least once before at a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire.”
Despite Rogers’ denial of the timeline, however, Dixon maintained that he “understood that someone on McCain’s staff saw the advertisement and liked it.”
Let this be a wake-up call to progressives everywhere — the immigration issue is nothing to be feared. Reasonable immigration reform that includes strong border security without turning our backs on those that already live among us is not only the right thing to do, it’s the politically smart thing to do as well.
That National Review’s Jim Geraghty concedes that immigration is proving not to be the “silver bullet” that right-wing conservatives had hoped for.
Readers are probably aware that I’m not exactly heartbroken over the apparent tightening of the Democratic primary race in the polls, but I agree with Chris Bowers that the main causal mechanism here appears to be a fundamentally unfair media narrative. I watched an extended discussion on MSNBC yesterday of a host and two guests (all women) berating Clinton for “playing the gender card,” lambasting it as both a substantive outrage and a tactical blunder that called into question her ability to combat terrorism effectively. The closest thing to a defense of Clinton’s unforgivable conduct we got was the notion that maybe her staff had played this card without her permission, but that also cast her leadership abilities into doubt. Strangest of all, throughout the segment viewers were never told what Clinton had actually done so there was no opportunity for anyone to make up their own mind as to whether the MSM-lambasting was justified.
As Chris says, even if you like the result here (and I do) it still reflects a kind of sickness in our political culture that hasn’t served the country well in the recent past and seems unlikely to do so in the future.
Tim Lee complains that “The general point that violating the constitution is wrong even if it leads to results we like is a position that hardly anyone in mainstream politics takes seriously” and there follows some fulminating about liberals who are “perfectly willing to countenance tortured readings of the First Amendment in the name of ‘campaign finance reform,’ of the Second Amendment in the name of ‘gun control,’ and of the Fifth Amendment in the name of ‘urban planning.’”
Color me unconvinced. It’s easy for a libertarian who’s convinced that a non-tortured reading of the constitution would enact libertarianism to assert that the country’s vast non-libertarian majority ought to be less concerned about our policy preferences and more concerned about non-torture of the constitution. The reality, though, is that where the constitution is really ambiguity-free then people are happy to abide by provisions they don’t approve of. I think, for example, that judicial terms should be long, but fixed, rather than lasting until death or retirement. It’s clear enough, though, that that’s not the law.
Meanwhile, had the US Constitution not been written by a small and unrepresentative minority of wealthy individuals working in the 18th century, it’s possible that it would do something like guarantee a right to health care. Folks on the left would read that as a straightforward constitutional enactment of a universal health care system. More libertarian-minded people, though, could probably devise “tortured” readings of the provision indicating that “after all just go to an emergency room” plus the status quo is good enough:
Meanwhille, from where I sit it’s Tim’s reading of the Fifth Amendment that seems tortured to me — why shouldn’t urban planning count as a public use? But leaving that aside, I suppose it does take some torturing of the Second Amendment’s text to explain why the “right to keep and bear arms” doesn’t guarantee people’s right to keep and bear, say, weaponized forms of the VX nerve agent but I’d rather offer a tortured reading of the amendment than have deadly neurotoxins sold at the corner store. Obviously, there are some constitutional provisions I think should be very strictly adhered to, but those are just the provisions that I think enact morally worthwhile principles of justice. Maintaining the rule of law requires us to show some fidelity to precedent and to efforts at textual exegesis but whether or not we’re “getting the text right” as such pretty little bearing on the issue.
The real problem is simply that the constitution is too hard to amend so that when provisions become outdated or unworkable or produces ludicrous results (VX gas, again) it’s unduly difficult to change things around. Meanwhile, undue reverence for the constitution prevents people from recognizing that a lot of the procedural aspects of the constitutional mechanism are clunky and absurd (see for example what happens if there’s no majority in the electoral college, a lurking time-bomb that’s bound to go off one of these days) and ought to be changed.
“There are reports that one of your principal aides and legal advisers, a Mr. John Bellinger, is taking the legal position that he cannot say whether it is permissible to waterboard Americans and that it depends on the facts and circumstances,” Leahy said about the State Department’s principal adviser on domestic and international law.
“I could not disagree more strongly. There are no conceivable facts or circumstances that would justify waterboarding an American anywhere in the world for any reason. Our treaty obligations and domestic law make waterboarding illegal. Please respond without delay and set this matter straight.”
Several smart correspondents have made the point that one of the other oddities of western press coverage of Benazir Bhutto is that you tend not to hear about how she’s a huge crook. Corruption in a middle-income country, of course, is nothing new and Pakistan in general is not a paragon of good governance. Still, the best of my knowledge Bhutto and her husband stand out as unusually corrupt by Pakistani standards, which is precisely how she wound up ejected from power.
The Bhuttos, naturally, claim that all of this is politically motivated, but if you look at John Burns’ account from early 1998 when the investigations were going down you can see that it’s grounded in some pretty solid evidence and involves lots of European banks and corporation that are hardly going to be under the control of her political rivals in Pakistan. And we’re not talking small change here, either, this one scam seems to have netted tens of millions of dollars. Back in the late 1990s, she even had Swiss authorities looking to get her indicted which, again, seems like a beyond-the-ordinary level of corruption rather than domestic political gambits. That’s not to deny that she has a real constituency in the country, but Pakistani politics shouldn’t be reduced to Bhutto versus Musharraf as there’s more forces in play than just that:
Sharif urged the West to abandon Musharraf but also ruled out teaming up with Benazir Bhutto, another key opposition leader, unless she cut off talks with Musharraf. Sharif told The Associated Press that Pakistan was heading deeper into chaos and his archenemy had outlived his usefulness in fighting terrorism.
I’m not sure what the takeaway is here, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
The State Department recently announced that it will force at least 50 diplomats to take posts in Iraq next year “because of expected shortfalls in filling openings there, the first such large-scale forced assignment since the Vietnam War.” Several hundred diplomats swiftly “vented” their “anger and frustration” over the forced posting, likening it to a “potential death sentence.”
The right wing has angrily attacked these diplomats. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), for example, said he had personally urged President Bush to fire them for speaking out:
I’ve recommended to the President today that we do this — that we fire those recalcitrant State Department personnel who say it’s too dangerous for them to go back to Baghdad. They want another assignment — let them leave the service.
Yesterday, the State Department joined in the bashing. On its Dipnote blog, it published an open letter by career Foreign Service Officer John Matel. In the letter, Matel insinuates that diplomats who refuse to serve in Iraq are “embarrassing” “wimps and weenies”:
We signed up to be worldwide available. All of us volunteered for this kind of work and we have enjoyed a pretty sweet lifestyle most of our careers. I will not repeat what the Marines say when I bring up this subject. I tell them that most FSOs are not wimps and weenies. I will not share this article with them and I hope they do not see it. [...]
We all know that few FSOs will REALLY be forced to come to Iraq anyway. Our system really does not work like that. This sound and fury at Foggy Bottom truly signifies nothing. Get over it! I do not think many Americans feel sorry for us and it is embarrassing for people with our privileges to paint ourselves as victims.
The State Department’s blog post appears aimed at providing fodder for the right-wing blogosphere, which has been ripping the “diplowimps” who refuse to serve in Iraq.
A new CNN poll reports that the economy is the “number-one issue on the minds of Americans.” 82 percent said the economy will be extremely or very important to their vote for president, two points ahead of those who cited the Iraq war. Rounding out the top five were: health care (76 percent), terrorism (76 percent), and Iran (73 percent). Charlie Cook writes that there seems to be a political disconnect on the economy. “Among elected officials in Washington, there seems to be little talk about the economy and hardly any mention that the housing sector is in a free-fall,” he writes.
Yet to my mind, the inheritance that in retrospect will carry with it the greatest regret and misgivings will be the lack of leadership of the United States over the last seven years on the issue of climate change. President Bush recently convened a summit of sorts among some sympathetic leaders and titans of industry on the matter of climate change to make clear that he now accepts climate change as an “issue of concern.” This effort was in many ways an alternative forum designed to avoid the likely public dunning the United States president would have been subjected to by the global community if he had instead chosen to participate in the concurrent United Nations effort on the same subject.