Jonathan Landay has the latest. Obviously, our priority over there should be stopping the Taliban, not stopping poppy growers. If Afghanistan were to become a stable, heroin-exporting country that didn’t play host to radical anti-American terrorists that’d be a pretty good outcome in the scheme of things. Heroin use is a real problem, but it’s not the biggest problem in the world, and there’s no good reason to think that crop eradication programs in Afghanistan are an effect way of tackling the problem anyway.
Sarah Stern in The New Republic explains that Israel can’t make peace with the Palestinians because of the “maximalist Palestinian position” which I was expecting to see described as the destruction of Israel, but which actually turns out to be reasonably characterized as “an Israeli retreat to the pre-1967 borders, which are actually the 1949 armistice lines.” So why not make a deal like that? “These boundaries were nine miles wide at their narrowest point, lacking the strategic depth to enable Israel to defend itself, which led the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Abba Eban (of the Labour Party) to dub them ‘the Auschwitz lines.’”
Okay, but given that the ’49 armistice was the result of an actual war, the lines can’t have been all that indefensible. What’s more, the lines were successfully defending in 1967. And Israel’s conventional military superiority vis-a-vis its neighbors has grown larger. And now Israel has nuclear weapons! What’s more, Israel now has peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt. If non-nuclear Israel could defend the ’67 borders against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria combined surely it can defend them now against Syria alone with the help of its nuclear weapons.
This year, though, we’re in a historically odd position. The Republican Party is still in stage (b), but to a smaller extent, the Democrats are back there too. The Democratic Party spent so long in stage (a) during the 90s, moving aggressively to the center after years in the wilderness, and the GOP moved so far to the right under Gingrich and Bush, that Democrats have the luxury of being able to move modestly to the left and yet still be moving relatively closer to the center than the Republican Party. On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s like the GOP is moving right from 8 to 9 while the Democratic party is moving left from 4 to 3.5. The lunacy of the conservative base is providing a huge amount of cover for liberals to make some modest progress this year.
I dunno. I think it’s important to talk specifics here. On a question like health care, all three major Democrats are running on similar platforms that are considerably more ambitious than what John Kerry or Al Gore offered. On the other hand, they’re considerably less ambitious than what Bill Clinton proposed in 1993 or what Bob Kerrey proposed during the 1992 primary.
On the use of force, most congressional Democrats opposed the 1991 Persian Gulf War, taking a very skeptical view of the efficacy of American arms even when deployed in what was as close to a textbook instance of liberal internationalist collective security as the world has ever seen. By 1998, most Democrats were prepared to countenance the limited use of force with little-to-know risk to American lives against Serbia with the support of most of the UN Security Council’s members but in the face of Chinese and Russian veto threats that made an authorizing resolution impossible. By 2003 you had the bulk of the party leadership prepared to endorse a preventive counter-proliferation war against Iraq that was all-but-uniformly opposed around the world. Here in 2008, things have clearly evolved back in a dovish direction from where they were during the Summer of War but you still don’t see anyone ruling out unilateral air strikes against Iran.
What else? To me, that seems to generally be the pattern: Al Gore ran on a very timid platform in 2000, and 9/11 then sent Democrats into a years-long defensive crouch, but the point where the party’s gotten back to is pretty similar to where it was when Bill Clinton first got elected. Insofar as the party’s to the left of where Clinton was in at the end of his administration, that seems to mostly be because people are envisioning a Democratic congressional majority.
Marc Ambinder has the dueling memos from the Obama and Clinton campaigns on Iran. The Clinton’s effort to deny there’s a difference between the two when they did, after all, just take different positions on the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment seems weird. Equally weird in its own way, however, is Team Obama’s characterization of the difference as “once again, Senator Clinton supported giving President Bush both the benefit of the doubt and a blank check on a critical foreign policy issue. Barack Obama just has a fundamentally different view.”
This is a presidential primary after all. Chris Dodd’s already won my vote for Senate Majority Leader should the position come open. It seems to me that Obama needs to convince people that he would have a different, better Iran policy were he too become president and not that he has a better view of how he hypothetically would have handled Senate votes were he to have actually been in DC on the day of the vote. At the end of the day, this exchange helps Obama in my eyes, but it’s kind of a glancing blow.
Sometimes I wonder, can the Washington Post‘s editorials get any worse? The answer — always — turns out to be “yes.” Today we learn not only that the Bush administration’s drive toward war with Iran is in fact an effort to avoid war, but also that up is down, ignorance is strength (and Fred Hiatt is a very strong man) and that when the war does come we’ll all need to blame war opponents:
If this diplomatic offensive fails, President Bush or his successor is likely to face a choice between accepting Iran’s acquisition of the means to build nuclear weapons and ordering military strikes to destroy its facilities. That’s why it is senseless and irresponsible for those who say they oppose military action — including a couple of the second-tier Democratic presidential candidates — to portray the sanctions initiative as a buildup to war by Mr. Bush. We’ve seen no evidence that the president has decided on war, and it’s clear that many senior administration officials understand the package as the best way to avoid military action. It is not they but those who oppose tougher sanctions who make war with Iran more likely.
Have I mentioned that war is peace?
Completely missing from the Post‘s analysis of the issue is the idea that the US has any non-coercive tools in our toolkit. Maybe part of our diplomacy with Iran should be a willingness to put them returning to the NPT fold in the context of a broader warming in US-Iranian relations? Maybe part of our diplomacy with Iran should be a willingness to put them returning to the NPT fold in the context of our own willingness to return to the NPT fold? Maybe there’s something we could do in terms of our relations with Moscow and Beijing that would make them more amenable to playing a helpful role on the Iran issue? Like maybe pushing a missile shield policy that Russia views as unacceptably threatening isn’t a good way to get them to help us on the Iran front?
Meanwhile, the child-like confidence in the good sense, good faith, and competence of the Bush administration is just staggering.
The man pictured above is Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) who you probably haven’t heard of, but who’s at the center of what’s probably the most under-covered political story of the day. Ron Brownstein’s taking note:
This ideological inquisition among Republicans isn’t confined to the presidential race. The two House Republicans most critical of the Iraq war (Walter Jones of North Carolina and Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland) have drawn serious primary challengers from the right. So had Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, the Senate Republican most critical of the war, before he announced his retirement last month. Virginia Republicans recently decided to choose their next Senate nominee by convention rather than primary — a move that favors conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore over moderate Rep. Tom Davis. [...]
On problems ranging from health care to energy, they have retreated to a reflexive denigration of government and praise of unfettered markets aimed squarely at hard-core conservatives. Tellingly, the GOP hopefuls have broken with Bush primarily on the policies — comprehensive immigration reform and the Medicare drug benefit — that he consciously formulated to expand the party base.
Arnold Schwarzennegger and perhaps more plausibly Charlie Crist in Florida show there are templates for very successful versions of Republicanism out there, but the GOP’s base’s bizarre view that defeat in 2006 stemmed from insufficiently dogmatic adherence to the gospel of spending reductions, so that budget cuts plus doubling down on the war will redeem the party, is forcing everyone to walk off the cliff.
During his confirmation hearings, Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey refused to classify waterboarding as torture. His remarks prompted all 10 Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee to demand a “clear-cut statement” from him that the torture technique of simulated drowning is illegal.
This past Wednesday, Mukasey’s good friend Rudy Giuliani gave a similarly murky answer on waterboarding, stating that “it depends on the circumstances” and “on who does it” because “liberal newspapers have exaggerated it.”
Speaking in Iowa on Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who 40 years ago today was shot down, captured, and tortured by the North Vietnamese, took issue with Giuliani and Mukasey. McCain denounced waterboarding as clear-cut torture:
“Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak,” said McCain after a campaign stop at Dordt College here.
“People who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned in the U.S. We are a better nation than that.”
Mukasey’s unwillingness to distance himself from torture has jeopardized his confirmation. Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said yesterday that his vote “would depend on [Mukasey] answering that question.” “This to me is the seminal issue,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remarked, “I think if he doesn’t change his direction in that regard, he could have at least one concern and that’s me.”
Will McCain too demand that Mukasey condemn waterboarding as a precondition for his vote?
Ever since I read Kastellec & Leoni’s “Using Graphs Instead of Tables to Improve the Presentation of Empirical Results in Political Science” I’ve been slightly annoyed with the frequent presentation of data in table format. What’s more, I think the audience expects a multimedia component from today’s Professional Blogger, so I like a graph with bright colors. Hence, I took Table 1 from Peter Orzag’s “Estimated Costs of U.S. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Other Activities Related to the War on Terrorism” and made this thing below which may or may not be superior to the original table (unfortunately, I’m not much of a graph maker, my new dream is to find some kind of crack graph-making intern):
Under scenario one, the number of deployed troops is reduced to 30,000 by 2010. Under scenario two, the number of deployed troops is reduced to 75,000 by 2013. One takeaway here is to keep in mind that the next time you hear someone say the country can’t afford to spend an additional $50 billion a year on something (mass transit, day care, schools, whatever) that this is a bit less than the low cost scenario for future military ventures. As my old boss Bob Kuttner likes to say, we have a way of finding out that we can afford the things that our political leaders decide it’s important to afford.
On the other hand, puzzling through this I’m left baffled as to why House Budget Committee John Spratt asked for these particular things to be estimated. Running Iraq and Afghanistan together seems to blunt whatever political point it is one was trying to make, and doing so in the context of a discussion of potential troop withdrawals actually leaves it unclear what policy option we’re considering. Are our 75,000 troops supposed to be in Iraq or in Afghanistan? It may not make a large financial difference which country you deploy them to, but obviously those are two very different policies. Consequently, the main value of this exercise may be the portion near the end where Orzag compares his methodology to that of the famous Stiglitz & Bilmes paper and argues convincingly that they mishandled the question of the long-term treatment costs for Iraq-related brain injuries.