Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

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Month: November 2006 (page 1 of 3)

The Iraq Study Group Is Finished: *Yawn*

Prediction: The Iraq Study Group report, which will be formally released Wednesday Dec. 6, will be largely forgotten by Monday Dec. 11.
Because if today’s New York Times report previewing the main recommendations is truly indicative, this report will be incredibly lame.
It appears to be drowning in split-the-difference silliness.
A “gradual pullback” — not even necessarily a withdrawal — with no clear timetables.
Most notably, the NYT reports (emphasis added):

The report leaves unstated whether the 15 combat brigades that are the bulk of American fighting forces in Iraq would be brought home, or simply pulled back to bases in Iraq or in neighboring countries.

To leave in place tens of thousands of troops has always been the plan.
That’s the whole point of permanent bases — maintain a presence to illegitimately exert influence inside Iraq and outside in the region.
So this is not proposing any fundamental change in course.
The NYT also reports that the diplomatic recommendations are more specific than the military ones, but that only confirms what Zbigniew Brzezinski warned on Sunday:

The Baker commission will probably come out with some sound advice on dealing with the neighborhood, with Iran, with the Israeli-Palestinian issues, which is relevant, but essentially will offer some procrastination ideas for dealing with the crisis.

What should be put to rest after this sorry spectacle is the notion that the only way to solve the Iraq crisis is through a glorious centrist bipartisan solution.
Here’s your bipartisan solution: mush. Utterly worthless committee product mush.
The only way to solve the Iraq crisis is:
1) Have us Democrats, over the next two years, articulate our own distinct foreign policy strategy and objectives for the region.
2) Contrast it with the Republican’s failed strategy and reckless objectives.
3) Give the public a clear choice for the 2008 election.
4) Win the argument.
5) Implement our vision from the Oval Office.
Nothing positive is going to come out of this White House before then. Sad but true.
There is nothing noble about trying in vain to find nonexistent common ground with them. It will only make it harder for Dems to offer the public a clear shift in strategy.
Glorifying bipartisanship isn’t the serious way to get to good policy, especially when you don’t have good-faith partners across the aisle.
The serious thing to do is put a serious vision before the public and build support for it.
Washington Dems, now that you’re done punting to the Iraq Study Group, get going.

Midweek Politics Tonight

Tonight at 7 PM ET I’ll be talking about Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! on Midweek Politics, which airs on Northampton, MA’s Valley Free Radio, 103.3 FM. You can find Pacifica Radio affiliates that air the show here.

What We Need On The Intel Committee

Perhaps the most important positions in the next Congress are the chairs of our intelligence committees.
Specifically because we need to be able to prevent neocons inside and outside the White House from being able to rerun the 2002 Iraq playbook with other possible targets such as Iran.
That means preventing them from being able to inject dubious intelligence into the mainstream media, and have it be accepted as fact, unchallenged.
If our intelligence chairs have the will to publicly stand up to the neocons, the savvy not to get manipulated themselves, and the agility to debunk shaky intel quickly — before it warps our understanding of the world around us — then we can avoid being steamrolled again.
But if the chairs offer only timid voices, and allow the media to get manipulated again, then don’t be surprised if the neocons succeed in expanding the war in the Arab/Muslim world, despite the huge disapproval of the Iraq War.
Fortunately, it appears that Pelosi is thinking along these lines.
The W. Post reports that she has decided not to reappoint Rep. Jane Harman.
And the NY Times reports that Pelosi’s concern was that did not use “her position to attack the administration more directly on issues like the faulty prewar intelligence on Iraq and the domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency.”
Also, Pelosi announced she would not appoint Rep. Alcee Hastings.
Hastings may well have been willing to stand up to the neocons.
But fairly or unfairly, the cloud over him from his past impeachment and removal from the federal judiciary would make it harder for him to effectively challenge suspect intel.
Now, reports are that Pelosi is considering Rep. Silvestre Reyes and Rep. Sanford Bishop. (Rep. Norm Dicks is also being mentioned, but the NYT indicates that he doesn’t want it.)
Gauging, from the outside, who has the right character is near impossible.
There are potential red flags with both of them.
For example, Bishop voted for the torture bill and backed the Iraq War, which of course was based on manipulated and over-hyped intelligence (though he has been more critical as of late.)
And the Black Commentator harshly said of Bishop and three others:

These men are the worst malefactors in the [Congressional Black Caucus] on issues of war and peace, as well as social and economic justice. They … prevent the Black Caucus from carrying out its historic mission.

Regarding Reyes, both Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein have positive impressions. He at least didn’t fall for the Iraq War.
But investigative reporter Laura Rozen raises that Reyes may have met with “infamous Iran Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, against the advice of the [CIA], and without informing the U.S. ambassador in Paris, as is proper protocol.” (Rozen also notes that Reyes’ office denies it.)
But none of that can definitely tell us if they are willing and able to resist manipulation and stifle misinformation.
For example, it’s possible that a conservative-leaning congressperson like Bishop may feel burned by his earlier war vote, and now is recommitted to demanding truth in intelligence.
(Let us not forget that Jack Murtha is a conservative-leaning Dem who became an eloquent war critic.)
And we can’t be completely sure if there was a suspicious meeting with Reyes, and what actually transpired at such a meeting.
This may be a situation where we have to put some trust in Pelosi.
That she can size up the character of the prospective candidates, and install someone that will do what’s necessary to protect us from manipulation.
Obviously, the grassroots will continue to have a strong role to play in fighting misinformation.
But it’ll be a lot easier with a strong ally as intelligence chair.
We’ll only know if we have one after seeing that person in action.

Fight a Civil War, or Contain It?

NBC has decided to acknowledge the obvious and unequivocally describe Iraq as suffering a civil war.
Most media organizations are not following suit, but because NBC generated considerable notice by publicly announcing the shift, it will likely solidify American perceptions of Iraq.
This development has been deeply feared by the Bushies for obvious reasons:
There is no public support for American troops to be in the crossfire of civil war, nor is there support for our troops to pick a side in a civil war.
But of course, just because it will deepen opposition to the war doesn’t make the increasing severity of civil war a great development.
It just means there’s a bigger mess that’s much tougher to clean up.
As Sen. Joe Biden said back in March:

…in the next six to eight weeks, we don’t get something moving in terms of a government … It’ll be closer to a civil war.
We’re going to have to have a different function for our troops … You’re going to have to figure out how to contain rather than how to, how to build … it’s bad enough it’s a civil war. It’ll be a lot worse if it’s a regional war.
… If they don’t have a constitution in place by this summer that is viewed as a uniting document, where everybody signs on to it, it’s game over.
Now, how you pull them out, where you pull them to, whether you have them over the horizon, whether you have a containment policy that secures the region in a different way, that’s a whole different question.

Containment is inherently a stopgap move. It’s not responsible to sit back and watch a civil war, so it needs to be combined with a political strategy.
Pretty much across the board, Dems have been pushing for the political solution that LiberalOasis discussed here yesterday — bringing in regional players to help resolve sectarian differences.
But LiberalOasis has also argued that you can’t pull that off with permanent military bases in the way.
Rapidly redeploying our military to a containment posture certainly is one way to scrap those bases. Not the only way, but one way.
Specific tactical options aside, the overarching point is that:
With “civil war” becoming more acknowledged, public pressure will increase to protect our troops from a no-win mission.
Democrats need to get ahead of the curve.
Not sit back and wait for the Iraq Study Group to cobble together a mushy committee product — or worse, blindy accept a half-baked plan and become complicit in continued chaos.
Instead, Dems should retool their plans to explicitly recognize the Iraqi Civil War, and call for a fundamental strategic shift that aims to contain it and resolve the sectarian differences fueling it.
And the worse things get, the harder it will be to come up with plausible proposals to do just that.
But if we want to earn the public trust, maximize our chances to win the White House in ’08, and actually have the opportunity to implement sorely needed strategic shifts, we will have to take on some extremely tall orders.

Air America This Morning

I’ll be on The Sam Seder Show at 10:30 AM ET. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

On the Sunday shows, Republicans were seemingly all over the map on what to do about Iraq.
Reacting to reports that the Pentagon sees our choices as Go Big, Go Long or Go Home, Sen. John Cornyn (TX) embraced the “Go Big” option while on CNN’s Late Edition.
(Though what Cornyn described — a short-term increase of at least 20,000 troops — actually is closer to the “Go Long” plan.)
Over on NBC’s Meet The Press, presidential hopeful Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA) sought to articulate his own strategy called “Go Iraqi,” reshuffling the placement of new Iraqi troops from relatively quiet areas into more violent areas.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising was leading social conservative Sen. Sam Brownback (KS) on ABC’s This Week, and Sen.-elect Bob Corker (TN) on CBS’ Face The Nation, supporting talks with Iran and Syria to enlist their help with Iraq’s stability.
That is evidence of further momentum for the idea of regional talks including Iran and Syria (an idea long pushed by the Center for American Progress and key Democrats.)
Today’s NY Times reports that the congressionally-created Iraq Study Group is seriously considering such talks for its recommendations.
And ISG Chair/Bush family “fixer” James Baker, as well as White House adviser/Vietnam favorite Henry Kissinger have suggested it in recent days.
If formally recommended by the ISG, and pursued by the Bush Administration, would that amount to a fundamental shift in foreign policy — away from the unilateralists and neocons and towards the internationalists and realists?
By itself, no. And in turn, we should be careful not to set the bar too low for the ISG.
Heed the warning from former Carter-era National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, offered on CNN yesterday, flagged by Think Progress:

The Baker commission will probably come out with some sound advice on dealing with the neighborhood, with Iran, with the Israeli-Palestinian issues, which is relevant but essentially will offer some procrastination ideas for dealing with the crisis.
The fact of the matter is, the undertaking itself is fundamentally wrong-headed … This is a mistaken, absolutely historically wrong undertaking…
If we get out sooner, there will be a messy follow-up after we leave. It will be messy, but will not be as messy as if we stay, seeking to win in some fashion.

In other words, unless actual foreign policy objectives change, mere tactical shifts won’t solve anything.
The crystallization of the current objectives is the permanent military bases.
Trying to exert control over Iraq’s political system and natural resources via permanent occupation is the main destabilizing force — strengthening terrorist organizations and giving incentive to Iran and Syria to be counterproductive.
If you don’t renounce the bases, and the plans for further “regime change” that go with them, then talks with Iran and Syria will be nothing but a show.
Much like how the six-party talks involving North Korea have gone nowhere. Because Dubya’s Asia policy still centers on constraining China, China has no incentive to help out.
So when sizing up the final product from the ISG — and more importantly, Bush’s actions thereafter — watch to see if they renounce and begin to dismantle the permanent bases.

Asheville Love

Paul from Brainshrub who I encountered from my book tour visit to Asheville, kindly has posted a book review of Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!, which you can check out here.
And Errington Thompson, the host of Where’s The Outrage on Asheville’s 880 AM, uploaded his Oct. 28 radio interview of me here.

Editor’s Note

Now that I’m basically home from my book tour travels (there is a backlog of tour photos and shoutouts to post, by the way, which I will get to), and with the Thanksgiving holiday behind us, my plan is to return to a steady blogging schedule — beginning with the return of the Sunday Talkshow Breakdown on Monday.
I may experiment with posting during the day, as opposed to the late night/early morning, but the plan is to get back to posting columns at least once a day during the work week. Thanks for your patience during this hectic period.

Bill Dwight Show This Morning

At 9 AM ET today, I’ll be discussing Wait! Don’t Move To Canada! on “The Morning Newswatch Extra With Bill Dwight”, heard on Western Massachusetts’ WHMP-AM. Podcasts of the show are available here.

Failing Lebanon, Abandoning Democracy

At the end of the summer’s Israel-Lebanon war, LiberalOasis concluded:

…this does appear to be a poorly constructed cease-fire resolution.
Why? None of the actual root causes of violence are addressed. Neither Israel nor Lebanon get anything.
The resolution punts on the occupation of Shebaa Farms and on the prisoners from both sides.
While the resolution calls for the Lebanese army to replace Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, without any political gains for the Lebanese people, the Lebanese government has less political capital with which to pressure Hezbollah to disarm.
And without disarmament, and without the return of the abducted Israeli soldiers, the Israeli people get nothing from the resolution as well.
Meaning both the Israeli and Lebanese governments may well be weakened, perhaps fatally, by this resolution.
Which could strengthen both Likud and Hezbollah, a recipe for more conflict and instability.

This analysis sadly appears to be pretty accurate, particularly in regards to Lebanon.
Hezbollah is widely perceived in Lebanon as politically strengthened since the war.
Emboldened, Hezbollah has demanded greater power within the Lebanese government, while pushing the government to the brink of collapse by having its affiliated cabinet ministers resign.
Yesterday’s assassination of an anti-Syrian cabinet member may be the next stage of that effort. As the Christian Science Monitor explains:

Under the Lebanese constitution, a government cannot function if one-third of the cabinet resigns or is incapacitated. The resignations of the six ministers last week and Gemayel’s murder means that if another minister is removed, the government will fall.

Now, LiberalOasis can’t say with certainity that Hezbollah and/or their supporters in Syria are behind the assassination (the Syrians are contending that the killing is not in their interest, as every prior killing has politically weakened them).
But it is a certainty that the killers, whoever they support, are looking to take advantage of a grievously unstable political situation in Lebanon.
A situation that could have been stabilized if the Bush Administration, the Israeli government and the United Nations heeded Lebanon Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s repeated calls to resolve the Sheeba Farms dispute.
As LiberalOasis noted throughout the war, the Israeli occupation of Shebaa Farms has been used by Hezbollah as a pretext for continued “resistance.”
If Siniora could resolve the dispute, and deliver a tangible success for his country, his coalition government would be strengthened and Hezbollah would lose justification for remaining armed.
Instead, after the war, Hezbollah is the only entity that is perceived as doing something for Lebanon.
In fact, immediately before the assassination, Siniora was pleading once again for the Shebaa Farms dispute to be resolved, as well as for Western and Arab donor nations to come through so the country can rebuild after the war.
If the Bush Administration was sincere about promoting democracy, it would do everything possible for democratic Middle Eastern governments to survive and thrive.
That means helping them deliver for their people, not leaving them to twist in the wind.
The Bushies did nothing for the Siniora government they supposedly back. Now it hangs by a thread.
And once again, extremists are strengthened and moderates are marginalized.

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