A majority of Congress has voted for a withdrawal timetable, but using the powers of the presidency and a dedicated minority, George Bush’s war policy remains in place. So the war in Iraq drags on politically in weird dreamlike way, neither supported nor repudiated. Sadly the real war is what even the best wars are, nightmarish.
Bush still rules the war, but he and a bi-partisan coalition striving for immigration reform have been defeated—at least for the moment—by another bi-partisan coalition made up of people who either oppose the reform as it stands or who are looking for ways to straddle the fence.
This article on the immigration debate in the Houston Chronicle ends with a revealing set of findings from a new poll. To quote:
In a recent poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, 55 percent of the respondents said penalizing employers who hire illegals is the best way to reduce illegal immigration. One in four said more border agents is the best answer, and 7 percent favored more border fences.
When the word"amnesty" was not invoked, 62 percent of Republicans said they favored letting illegal immigrants now in the country obtain citizenship if they have jobs, pass background checks and pay fines. But only 47 percent of Republicans said they favored giving amnesty to illegal immigrants if they met those same conditions.
What an odd world we live in. The word “amnesty” matters more than the substance of the offer to a key swing group of voters. (I wonder if many in the same group also oppose gay marriage but would accept on a point-by-point basis giving gay couples the rights of marriage.)
Then there is this last paragraph, also concerning the Pew poll:
Democrats, independents and moderate and liberal Republicans were most concerned about jobs, but conservative Republicans were about equally concerned with jobs and terrorism.
Is the border a front in the war on terror? If so, what does that mean? We don’t even have a consensus on that.
Welcome to the club, boys.
Now you know why this president is so hated.
It's not his positions so much--bad as those are on issue after issue--as the way he demonizes opponents and questions their patriotism.
He's been president of the Republican Party for 6 years. Now the Republicans are learning how that feels to the rest of us.
Some uniter he turned out to be.
How long has it been since we spoke to Iran?
How many years did the US and China not talk (according to Bob Dallek's new book on Nixon and Kissinger)?
There hasn't been an Iran Lobby to match the China Lobby. So how come we haven't talked for so long?
According to a fresh poll in the NYT the American people support this part of the bill, which reverses 40 years of policy. (Formerly, we gave priority to immigrants with family ties.)
Americans say they want educated people coming here. Who doesn't? But isn't it poor people we need too? It's the poor who will do the backbreaking work on farms that Americans won't do. EG: Last night NBC News profiled an onion farmer who had been forced to let 40 acres rot because he couldn't find workers to do the work.
But instead of offering the poor a chance to come here and become citizens all we do for them is offer limited guest worker permits. This sounds 1. unfair and 2. unworkable.
My prediction: this immigration bill will not work as advertised. Illegal aliens will still come here, but not in sufficient numbers to help farmers harvest crops. The workers who do come here will be second-class residents.
Here's Alterman in a recent column:
I hope it's no secret to anyone that I published a book in 2004 called When Presidents Lie. The thesis of my argument was that while deception often appears politically attractive to chief executives in the short term, it is just about always a mistake because reality cannot be lied away. Instead of dealing with the problems created by the reality, politicians end up dealing with the consequences of their lies and ignoring the actual problem with which they were dealing in the first place. Left ignored, this problem tends to metastasize and comes back, almost inevitably, to bite the liar in the backside.
Sounds logical. We can all immediately think of examples. Nixon lying about Watergate. Clinton lying about Monica. Bush lying about the threat Saddam posed to America after 9/11.
But as I always say, if something's too good to be true, it can't possibly be true. Just because something feels right at an elemental level--say, that telling the truth is a good idea--doeesn't mean it is empirically right. It would be appealing to think that lying is always bad and truth telling always good. We want the good guys to win. But history suggests that life is more complicated than this Manichean approach allows.
Here's Caplan, a George Mason University economist, in a new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (Princeton), I heartily recommend everybody read:
What happens if fully rational politicians compete for the support of irrational voters--specifically, voters with irrational beliefs about the effects of various policies? It is a recipe for mendacity. If politicians understand the benefits of free trade, but the public is dogmatically protectionist, honest politicians do not get far. Every serious contender must not only keep his economic understanding to himself, but"pander"--zealously advocate the protectionist views he knows to be false.
Both Democrats and Republicans find themselves in the quandry Caplan describes. Democrats have to deceive voters about their stand on free trade offering labor unions pablum about establishing fair labor standards in future trade agreements they know don't work. Republicans have to deceive their constituents about their stand on immigration, pretending to crackdown on illegal aliens in a sop to hardliners while endorsing policies that in effect give immigrants incentives to cross the border to find work in businesses that form a critical part of the Republican Party base.
Not all lies are alike. There are misdemeanors and felonies. But to argue that lying per se is bad in politics is naive. Politicans have to lie and deceive because the voters who elect them are irrational. Caplan has been brave to come right out and say this. Hats off to him!
First, it's a silly parlor game. Worst ever? How does one weigh matters like this? Is Nixon better or worse than Bush II? Nixon's pluses were big pluses: detente with the USSR and the opening to China. Bush doesn't seem to have any big plusses, save possibly for getting the Republican congress to approve more spending on health care, including malaria treatments for African nations. But how do we weigh the negatives? Nixon's include: a generation of cynicism because of Watergate and tens of thousands dead in Vietnam. Bush's negatives include Katrina and Iraq. But fewer died on his watch from presidential ineptitude and connivance than under Nixon. So Is Bush better than Nixon?
My grievance with Moyar is more substantial, however. He argues that Bush is better than JFK or LBJ because they arranged their national security policies with the elections in mind. JFK refused to stop Ambassador Lodge from supporting the coup against Diem because the president, with an eye on the upcoming 1964 presidential election, feared Lodge, a Republican, might turn around and accuse the Democrats of weakness or ineptitude. LBJ rejected military advice to escalate attacks in 1964 because he too had his eye on the election of 1964 and feared the negative reaction of the American people.
Here's Moyar's conclusion:
At this point, it appears that the Iraq war resulted from decisions that the president sincerely believed would benefit the U.S. and the peoples of the Middle East. If that is what history concludes, President Bush won't be considered the"worst" American president -- he will certainly deserve more respect than war presidents who undermined the American cause by putting re-election before the national interest.
Here's where I disagree with Moyar. He leaves the misleading and wholly unsupported impression that presidents generally don't allow domestic politics to drive their foreign policy decisions. This is a restatement of the classic"politics stops at the water's edge" myth.
I know of no president except for George Washington who did not allow political considerations to shape their war policies. In the 19th century Polk and Lincoln declined to appoint generals from the opposition party out of fear of giving them the opportunity to use their victories on the battlefield to gain political victories in the next election. (Polk, a Democrat, insisted on giving Zachary Taylor fewer troops than needed because Taylor was rumored to be a Whig; Lincoln declined to put Grant in charge of the main army until he was assured Grant harbored no presidential ambitions.) In the 20th century both Wilson (in 1916) and FDR (in 1940) misled the country into thinking they'd keep us out of war when in fact war was coming and both knew it. Nixon of course kept the Vietnam War going because he refused to be the first president to lose a war on his watch.
And then we come to George W. Bush. Did he not use the war on terrorism to silence his critics and win in 2004? Did he not mislead the country into thinking that Saddam was behind 9/11 somehow to win his war resolution in Congress? Did he not stick with Rumsfeld month after month after month despite Rumsfeld's obvious shortcomings as a leader merely because it was inconvenient to fire him in the middle of an election?
Presidents are not saints. They are politicians. I do not think it is likely that we will find many acting in obliviousness to politics. Bush II has not and neither have any of his predecessors save Washington, the only president who was given the office on a platter.
Now Mitt Romney is being accused of flip flopping. Same story? No.
Everybody knew where John Kerry stood on critical issues. He was a Massachusetts liberal and he made no bones about it.
But who is Mitt Romney and what does he stand for? Honestly I couldn't tell you. Which is the real Romney? The Romney who made liberal noises when he ran for governor of Massachusetts or the Romney who's making conservative noises now when running for the Republican nomination for president?
Was he really a conservative who sounded like a liberal? Or is he really a liberal who's sounding like a conservative?
He claims to be another Ronald Reagan. But no one ever had any doubt who Reagan was or what he basically believed even if he sometimes made compromises.
Romney will never get the Republican nomination, I'll bet. It will be because he's a Mormon and many Americans are prejudiced against Mormons. It is right that he not win. But it will be for the wrong reason.
Why haven't we faced another attack at home since 9-11?
The obvious reason would seem to be that bin Laden doesn't need to risk another major attack as long as we are pinned down in Iraq. From his perspective it makes no sense to take the time and money to attack us here in the states if he can more easily attack us in Iraq.
The arithmetic of terrorism has changed. First, bin Laden and his ilk believed the way to achieve change in the Middle East was to attack the enemy at home. That's why the Muslim Brotherhood killed Sadat. But that didn't lead to broad change. So second the terrorists moved to Plan B. Instead of attacking the near enemy they would attack the far enemy. That is, the United States, which was propping up the enemy at home. We are now in the third phase. Instead of launching attacks on our homeland bin Laden is attacking us in Iraq. The logic is impeccable. Mired in Iraq, the US has become the near enemy as well as the far enemy. Why travel to America to launch an attack when you can blow up US soldiers in Baghdad?
So is President Bush right that we have to remain in Iraq or the terrorists will follow us home?
He is and he isn't. I admit--and this is a concession I haven't been willing to make until now--that our being in Iraq has saved us from another attack at home. President Bush is right about this. So is John McCain for that matter.
So why am I unwilling to say flat out that President Bush has been right and his critics wrong about the reason we haven't been attacked?
First, the president has used the argument in such a demagogic way that I am reluctant to embrace it. He has played on Americans' fears in a despicable manner. Second, and worse, he has obscured the issues by the way he has framed the debate.
By his logic, victory in Iraq will make us safer at home. But the fact is both victory and outright defeat in Iraq are likely to make us less safe.
How's that? If we lose in Iraq bin Laden will be emboldened to launch new attacks on us until we finally leave the Middle East altogether. To him we are another USSR. Rather than fight a long war we'll give up and leave or else destroy ourselves at home. Either way, he will have won. Once the US is out of the picture he and his like-minded allies will be able (so he believes) to restore the caliphate and establish Islamic law.
What if we win? What if, mircle of miracles, President Bush's "surge" works and the Iraqi government is able to take control of the country and reduce violence enough to win the hearts and minds of the people there, allowing us to draw down our troops to a minimal force, say, 20,000. What then?
President Bush imagines that bin Laden and the terrorists will disappear. But isn't it likely at that point that they will come gunning for us at home again? Don't we have as much to fear, in other words, from victory as from defeat?
Just as we were content in the 1980s to watch the Iraqis and Iranians bleed each other to death as long as neither side won, so bin Laden is happy to watch us bleed in Iraq. Bleeding us to death is the name of the game. A decade of bleeding and the American people will insist we leave the Middle East altogether. But win or lose and the calculus changes.
If we lose in Iraq he will want to attack us at home again to double our pain and force us out of the region. If we win he will want to attack us at home again because it will only be at home that he can make us pay attention to him.
All this admittedly is grim, but there is a way out of this up is down and down is up and no-matter-what-we-do-we're-screwed scenario.
It involves doing everything we can to make bin Laden look like a loser.
It was bin Laden himself who said that people naturally follow the strongest horse (an avid horseman, he favors equine metaphors). We need to be sure that whatever we do in Iraq we come out looking strong. That means redefining success. Stability under a strongman can be defined as success if we embrace the strongman. If we keep insisting on the establishment of democracy there we are fated to look weak because democracy simply cannot grow under the current circumstances. It might evolve later. But right now security is needed, not democracy.
By extricating ourselves from Iraq the jihadists will be demoralized. They need us in their face to achieve the clarity of a worldwide struggle.
As jihadism begins to lose its appeal fewer and fewer people will be drawn to the jihadist cause. That means fewer and fewer suicide bombers. To be sure, some will be drawn to war-like jihadism for all the usual reasons: poverty, the appeal of charismatic leaders, the clash between modernity and medieval-like civilizations, humiliation, etc. etc. etc. But we will have weakened the wind that blew the sails of terrorism over the last few years.
Bin Laden naturally will not simply allow us to win. He will want to attack us again at home in a dramatic 9-11 manner. This is why we have to find him and capture or kill him. Without Iraq as a distraction it is possible to imagine our doing so.
UPDATE 5-14-07 I neglected to mention that George Tenet in his memoir claims that al Quaeda had approved an attack on the NYC subway system in the fall of 2003 and then mysteriously called it off for"something better," quoting Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy. The CIA never found out what he was referring to. Had bin Laden made the judgment to hold off because of what was happening in Iraq? This seems to me like a reasonable inference, though the wording of Ayman al-Zawahiri's quote suggests bin Laden had in mind another spectacular event and not the slow-bleeding of the US in Iraq. Alternatively, you could argue that bin Laden decided to hold off on a planned spectacular as long as were being bloodied in Iraq. The truth in this matter is unknowable, as Rumsfeld would say. In th absence of hard evidence I believe that it makes sense to go with the analysis that seems the most logical. Logic of course has its laws; logic led the CIA to conclude that Saddam was amassing WMD. But that merely shows that the CIA's logic was flawed, not that logic is inherently flawed as a measure of an enemy's likely course and strategy.
However, there could be a good—or at least interesting—outcome. The nomination might not be settled before the convention.
Rick Shenkman has been arguing for a while that political bosses nominated stronger presidential candidates than the primary system gives us today. We might just get a chance to see.
They've lost more than 3,000 soldiers already and will lose many more before we're through with them. Half a century from now the wounded will be walking the streets of America as grim reminders of Bush's failure and the turning point in the war on terrorism, which we will have won by then.
The Democrats I hear are claiming that Bush played into my hands in attacking Iraq and they're right. But they haven't thought through the consequences of their strategy to extricate America from Iraq.
Bush says if America leaves Iraq we'll follow the troops home to the US. Nobody believes him because he's so discredited. But he's right. We aren't attacking America now because we don't need to. We've got the Americans right where we want them. They're getting weaker and weaker at the same time that we're getting stronger and stronger. I've never seen so many jihadists as now. To make a little joke: Every day seems like Christmas!
My biggest fear is that the Democrats will come to power in 2008. They'll end the Iraq War and stop the bloodletting. By then Americans will be so ready for peace that they'll unite around the Democrats, though Bush in retirement will say they lost his war. Of course, it's possible that the withdrawal of the American troops will lead to chaos in the region, which will work to our advantage. But I worry that it will merely give the Shiites a chance to dominate Iraq as they dominate Iran. Who needs another Iran? Those Shiites are worse than the infidels. They're apostates.
If the Democrats end the war, though, they'll be in for a big surprise. Do they really think we are just going to go to sleep? We will need to follow them home just as Bush says. If we can't get them here, we'll get them there.
Another big attack is risky, of course. Right now it's the Americans who are the world's number one enemy. If we launch another big strike we'll become the enemy again and a lot of people will rally around the Americans just as they did after 9-11. And if we attack them at home again there's a risk that they might actually prove to be competent at anti-terrorism and succeed in busting up our networks and winning moderate Muslims to their side.
That's why the Iraq War is so beautiful. Thank Allah! The longer the Americans remain in Iraq the more the world is disgusted with them.
But I suppose we will have no choice but to strike America again and hard if they leave Iraq. It will be the only way we can get their attention and force the real changes we want in the Middle East: The collapse of the dictatorship of Mubarack, the end to the corrupt regime of the Saudis, and the destruction of Israel.
Their CIA may be on to me. Who knows? Maybe they have finally figured out how I think. But those stupid Democratic politicians running for president sure haven't. They aren't preparing the American public for the chaos I have planned if they withdraw from Iraq. So after the troops come home from Iraq and the folks in the Middle West are thinking peace has broken out I'll knock them hard between the eyes!
Maybe they'll still rally around their leaders and maybe the world will rally to their cause. But will they won't be eager for another war. Maybe by then it will be time for a deal. Get out of the Middle East and leave us alone or else face more attacks.
I like making deals. My deal with the Saudis in the 1990s was beautiful. They agreed to leave me alone as long as I agreed to leave them alone. It was as they say in America a win-win situation.
Here's the AP's account:
... there was the president suggesting Queen Elizabeth was over 230 years old.
The president's slip of the tongue during welcoming speeches was inadvertent, of course, and quickly smoothed over with humor. But it wasn't exactly the flawless effort Bush had hoped would erase memories of the "talking hat" episode during the queen's last U.S. visit. (In 1991, during Bush's father's administration, a too-tall lectern left the audience able to see only the queen's hat behind microphones.)
The queen, a sprightly 81, gave an embarrassed Bush a gracious nod after he suggested she had celebrated the United States' founding in 1776. He meant to say she had attended 1976 bicentennial festivities.
"She gave me a look that only a mother could give a child," the president quipped, earning a reserved chuckle from his guest.
Later, Laura Bush made her own minor calendar mistake. She flubbed the year that she and her husband attended the state dinner hosted by President George H.W. Bush in honor of the queen, saying it was in 1993.
On NBC's NIghtly News last night Brian Williams twice referred to the slip in the teases before the story was broadcast.
As a viewer I was expecting Bush to have done something really dumb--like drink water out of a bottle as he did at a state visit to London a few years ago. (Colin Powell had had to correct him to drink from a glass.)
But this slip-up? It was certainly over-sold.
The media have gone from ignoring Bush's mistakes to overdramatizing them.
Instead we get drivel like this morning's column, a profile of the French presidential aspirant Ségolène Royal that could well have been published in US or People if those publications had anybody on staff who writes with the panache of a Dowd.
It's all personality this and personality that.
Her opening two paragraphs give you the flavor:
It’s hard not to be drawn to a presidential candidate with a name like a Bond girl, a smile like an angel, a figure that looks great in a bikini at 53, a campaign style like Joan of Arc, and a buffet for the press corps brimming with crustless fromage sandwiches, icy chocolate profiteroles, raspberry parfaits, red Bordeaux, espresso and little almond gâteaux. (When in France, let us eat cake.)
Ségolène Royal brought back the sizzle to socialism, raising the ire of Stephen Colbert’s right-wing TV host, who warned that “socialism is always a threat but never more so than when it looks like this.”
One of the main defects of media in the present age is that media people all grew up on television. That shows in a column like this. Television brought candidates into our living rooms. This naturally led viewers to consider the personalities of the candidates.
Before television a pol's character and agenda were considered much more important than their personality. It's worth remembering that. History suggests that our preoccupation with personality is a recent phenomena. Before we get too far into the campaign of 2008 we shoulde pause and wonder if perhaps there was not some merit in the approach we formerly took.
You would think after Bush II we would as a country have decided that we should not elect presidents on the basis of their personality. But it would appear that we haven't learned that particular lesson over the last 6 and half years. Gore is a bore, so let's elect Bush! Spot on!
Have we learned nothing?
Statistics tell the tale even more starkly: terrorist attacks are up 91% in Iraq, 53% in Afghanistan but down by 3% in the rest of the known world. It is a Jon Stewart chin-stroking 'hmmmm' moment and the Times turns to its own Terrorism Expert, John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School:"It is most curious that the areas where we have military operations have the most attacks," Arquilla marvels."These statistics suggest that our war on global terrorism is not going very well. It suggests that we need to try a new approach."
The new approach would seem to be clearly dictated by the statistics: where large numbers of U.S. troops are not, terrorism drops by several percentage points; where they are, terrorist attacks rise dramatically. (All quotes from NY Times, May 1, 2007, p.12)
And they want to run this country?
Actually, it’s not the primaries being so early that haunts me; it’s the thought that we could have up to 9 months of a presidential campaign that follows. That’s long enough to have a kid, but at least with pregnancy, you get to make love first.
But they should be braver.
How about holding their next debate at the Nixon Library? And the one after that at the Hoover Library.
Democrats could hold theirs at the Carter Library.
Of course, I am in fantasyland. Political parties are only interested in the libraries of presidents who succeeded. No one wants to "get right" with Nixon, Hoover, or Carter. And I would bet that there will never be a Republican Party debate held at the future George W. Bush Library. No one will want to "get right" with George W. Bush.
Getting right with former (and usually dead) presidents is an old American tradition. The first president pols wanted to get right with was Andrew Jackson. Two successors, Martin van Buren and James K. Polk, may be said to have owed their election in part to their ability to associate themselves with Jackson. Polk was even known as Young Hickory.
David Donald, in perhaps his most famous essay, "Getting Right with Lincoln," showed the remarkable ways in which Radical Republicans used Lincoln to advance their agenda after his assassination. While he was alive they barely tolerated him. Wendell Phillips, the fiery abolitionist, called Lincoln "a first-rate second-rate man." But when he died they used the occasion of his three-week funeral to adopt him as their own and blame Democrats for his murder.
For the next half century Republicans of all stripes, radical, conservative and in-between, sought Lincoln's endorsement, as Donald aptly put it, in their runs for the White House. A strange assortment of pols including McKinley, Harding and Coolidge, whose resemblance to Lincoln was hard to fathom, claimed possession of the Springfield hero as a partisan right.
Democrats, whose political base was the Solid South, did not contest the Republicans' ownership of Lincoln. The Great Emancipator was political poison to too many of their natural consituents. So Lincoln remained a partisan symbol well into the twentieth century. Not until Woodrow Wilson, the first Southerner elected president since the Civil War, did a Democrat celebrate Lincoln and attempt to borrow against his prestige. That was more than half a century after Lincoln's death.
Today Lincoln is everybody's hero. One day Ronald Reagan will be too.
As many Democrats now leave behind their stated goal to end the war to find compromise, it is wise to remember that fact. The government is designed to resist sudden changes in course by a simple majority.
Sadly, for our county, our course at the present time is deeper into the war. That course is set by a president whose abilities as commander-in-chief are now distrusted by most Americans. But a significant minority still supports him. Buttressed by that and by the power of the presidency in our system of checks and balances, President Bush can continue to wage war, limited only by the resources at his command.
So opponents of the war are left with three choices; stop war funding by blocking new appropriations, acquiesce entirely, or set up “guidelines” or “benchmarks.” If the majority that distrusted Bush was also firmly committed to withdrawal soon, then the logical approach would be to block funding. But a portion of that majority was already uncomfortable with a quick, mandated withdrawal, and neither Democrats nor Republicans are certain which way they will turn if this crisis degenerates into a game of chicken. Today at least, it looks like the Democratic leadership will not play that game.
Simple acquiescence is highly unlikely. Even many Republicans desire some benchmarks. So what we will probably get are benchmarks keyed to the actions of the scapegoat du jour, the Iraqi government. The Democratic leadership will do their best to make sure that any such benchmarks have mandatory consequences and that they underscore any administration recalcitrance. The president and the Republican leadership will work to make them vague and effectively ignorable. Either way the issue is not solved.
I will end with a constitutional thought. We really do have a system that forces compromise. More often than not, that’s a good thing. It is tragic that the blundering extremism of the Bush Administration, united with the attacks on 9/11, have left us in a situation in which a majority cannot change course without going to the extreme themselves, by cutting off funds while Americans are still in battle.