Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

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Month: January 2007 (page 1 of 4)

Crippling The Civil Service

Longtime LiberalOasis readers know I’ve been regularly noting how Dubya has been implementing the Heritage Foundation plan, laid out in Jan. 2001, to undermine our civil service by empowering political hacks.
As Huffington Post readers are likely not as aware of my obsession, and as there were some significant developments on the civil service front today, I sought to put them in context over at HuffPo. (The issue also relates to matters that Campaign for America’s Future focuses on: Social Security, Medicare and energy.)
Past LiberalOasis posts on the subject are here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Clinton on Iran

LiberalOasis has previously expressed wariness about Sen. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy objectives, as she has left open the possibility of permanent bases in Iraq.
But today on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, when asked about possible military action in Iran, she was properly skeptical — pushing back on White House framing of the rhetoric.
First, when asked about crafting a strategy to stabilize Iraq, she said we needed a “comprehensive strategy” that included:

…an international process that looks at how to prevent what’s happening in Iraq from spilling over.
That means not only bringing the countries together that we already have relations with … but it means being engaged with countries that our president will not engage with.
I don’t understand this philosophy that you don’t talk to bad guys. We talked to the Soviet Union all during the Cold War.
I think you have to engage with people who are your enemies or your potential adversaries in order to figure out what’s on their mind.

Then, Cooper asked for her reaction to Dubya’s saber-rattling with Iran earlier this morning. She responded:
CLINTON: We’re playing a very dangerous game of Chicken here.
For domestic political consumption, the Iranians believe that they can continue to be belligerent and make outrageous claims against Israel [and] the United States, interfere with what’s going on in Iraq.
We’re standing back here, threatening and pointing fingers. And I think we’re hearing a lot of the same rhetoric we heard before the president’s decision to launch a pre-emptive war in Iraq.
COOPER: Do you think this president is preparing the ground for some sort of military action against Iran?
CLINTON: I don’t know. I don’t know. I think that we in the Congress are going to have a lot of questions about that.
LiberalOasis would quibble that Clinton should not say “the Iranians” are monolithically “belligerent,” when the belligerent President Ahmadinejad just had his wings clipped by the public and by the Supreme Leader.
Still. Clinton did the helpful thing by challenging Administration credibility and questioning the rationale for expanding the war.
This doesn’t get her off the hook for her earlier statement on permanent bases. She should clarify her views and make clear when her vision for the region is.
Still, her Iran comments should be factored in as we try to discern the Iran policies and the foreign policy visions of all the prospective nominees.

Air America This Morning

I’ll be on The Sam Seder Show at 9:20 AM ET this morning. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

Why haven’t the Republicans united around a plan for Iraq?
Why can’t they come up with a coordinated message?
How can we even have a debate if Republicans refuse to put a strategy on the table?
Republicans are in a political pickle.
They know the public has turned against the war, and they can’t be seen as blindly supporting it.
But, for the most part, they’re ideologically committed to maintaining a permanent military presence in the region.
They can’t make a clean break, and offer a lucid change in course.
Instead, they grope to find cosmetic ways to put some distance between themselves and Bush.
And so, Republicans across the Sunday shows yesterday ended up being simply incoherent.
Leading the incoherence parade is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, he announced opposition to any Senate resolution that criticizes Bush’s plan to increase troop levels.
Why? Because such a resolution “says to the troops who are going there this is a mission that doesn’t have a chance of succeeding.”
Then in the same breath, he indicates he doesn’t think the chances of success are all that good:

I think I can pretty well speak for virtually all Republican senators when I say this is the last chance for the Iraqis to step up and do their part.

On NBC’s Meet The Press, presidential hopeful former Gov. Mike Huckabee also opposes any Senate resolution that criticizes Bush’s plan:

I think that’s a dangerous position to take, to oppose a sitting commander in chief while we’ve got people being shot at on the ground.

And then, he criticizes Bush’s handling of the troops:

I think we need to be very careful about the overuse of the Guard and the Reserve in our military.
As a governor for 10 1/2 years and commander in chief of our Guard, I’ve seen 80 percent of our Guard forces deployed to Iraq. Now we’re talking about sending them back yet again and again.
These are citizen soldiers. They didn’t sign up to be gone all the time.

Later on Meet The Press, Sen. David Vitter creatively said: “I’m supporting the president’s plan, and I’m strongly encouraging some add-ons.”
On ABC’s This Week, Sen. Dick Lugar said he would support any critical resolution:

I don’t believe that it’s helpful right now to show this disarray around the world, as well as in our body politic.

Yet he also contributed to the disarray:

The President can be faulted for a good number of things.

I have doubts about the surge situation, both in terms of the numbers of people and so forth.

Over on Fox News Sunday, another ’08 candidate, Sen. Sam Brownback came out for one of the proposed Senate resolutions criticizing Bush’s plan:

[GOP Senator John Warner’s] resolution … contains a lot of the Baker-Hamilton [Iraq Study Group] type of thought and language about how we move to a political solution regionally, inside Iraq, and in the countries in the area, and also a political solution here.

But after echoing Democratic messages about a “political solution,” he also tipped his hat to his conservative base, saying Democrats and Republicans need to “pull together” so we can “maintain a fight over there”.
There were a couple of Republicans — namely ’08er Rep. Duncan Hunter on ABC’s This Week and Sen. Jon Kyl on CNN’s Late Edition — who blindly backed Bush’s escalation with no qualification.
But the party as a whole, recognizing that Iraq is a massive political albatross, yet unwilling to fully renounce Bush’s foreign policy objectives, is unable to coalesce around a plan and a message.

Iraqis Say, Dems Better For Iraq

From today’s LA Times:

Many [Iraqi officials] pointed out advantages to the Democrats’ increased sway over Iraq policy. Government officials said they had generally found the Democratic position on handing over security to Iraqi forces sooner rather than later closer to theirs.
Almost all agree on Democratic Party initiatives, squashed when Republicans controlled Congress, to prevent the building of permanent U.S. bases here. They note news reports of Democrats acknowledging the suffering of the Iraqi population.
“I see that the Democratic ideas are more related to reality,” said Ammar Tuma, a lawmaker who serves in Maliki’s ruling Shiite coalition. “They talk about the real problems that the Iraqis are facing every day.”

Who Will Get Iran Right?

On Wednesday during NBC’s Today, Sen. Barack Obama said:

I think all of us are talking about a phased redeployment which would leave American troops in the region to send a strong message not only to the Iraqi government that we want to help them, but also to neighbors like Iran that we’re not abandoning the field.

Also this week, John Edwards said in a speech:

Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table.

Finally, Rep. Dennis Kucinich remarked after the State of the Union:

He’s clearly laying the groundwork for an attack against Iran, and I think that ought to be a grave concern to all members of Congress.

A bright red line for LiberalOasis in sizing up the candidates is foreign policy vision.
Are the presidential candidates going to continue the neocon project of a permanent military presence in the Middle East, in order to exert illegitimate influence that would only breed resentment and spread the jihadist movement?
Or will they fundamentally change course, and articlate different objectives in the region?
(Ideally, credible democracy and eradicating poverty, only using our military for counterrerrorism, not geopolitical goals.)
We don’t have to worry about Kucinich going neocon on us.
But did Obama and Edwards cross that line with their statements?
Not quite.
Obama’s call for keeping troops in the region as a check on Iran comes particularly close, but he also has called for renewing diplomacy with Iran, so LiberalOasis won’t jump to conclusions.
More importantly, the statements of both fail to reframe discussion around a wholly different vision.
If the discussion isn’t fundamentally reframed, they might find themselves trapped by events — either during the campaign or even once one occupies the Oval Office.
Obama seems to understand the need to do this. In the same interview, he said:

we’ve got to recraft our foreign policy to deal with our national security, to deal with terrorism, but also to help to stitch back together a sense around the world that America is leading with its values and its ideals.

That’s on the mark.
But talk of leaving troops in other countries as part of a geopolitical chess game isn’t recrafting.
Neither is echoing the neocons’ crude portrayal of Iran, which actually has a factionalized government.
It is certainly important to talk of strategies to keep Iran from going nuclear.
But to do so in saber-rattling fashion maintains the neocon frame, facilitating the neocon strategy to lay the groundwork for an eventual attack.
Instead, candidates should not simply mention diplomacy, but explain how they can get diplomacy to work.
For example: dismantling permanent bases in Iraq to make clear regime change is not our objective, setting the stage for productive talks. And, reaching out to President Ahmadinejad’s opponents, who are on the rise in Iran.
(Sanctions, like Edwards proposed, can certainly be part of that message. But it must be clear there’s a carrot to go along with that stick — otherwise, sanctions amount to an empty gesture as part of a build-up to war.)
From there (as argued in Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!), candidates can explain how such a strategy help promote democracy.
When authoritarian regimes get nukes, they hold a trump card making it far harder to press for democratic reforms.
Preventing proliferation through war, however, further destabilizes the region — as we are seeing in Iraq — creating more problems than it solves.
Whereas preventing proliferation through diplomacy fosters stability and creates opportunities to push democratization.
As also discussed in Wait!, a great political opportunity presents itself once a conservative president is perceived as a national security failure.
The perception that a conservative approach keeps us safe and secure is questioned, giving us the chance to reshape perceptions and build a mandate for a change in course.
We are in such a moment right now. To miss that opportunity, and maintain conservative foreign policy frames, would be a huge mistake.
The more candidates that understand that, the better.

Forgettable SOTU, Heartening Response

There’s no need to debunk Dubya’s State of the Union point-by-point.
His political capital is nil. His credibility is shot.
He offered no proposal that will rally the public to his side. He failed to reclaim control of the domestic policy agenda.
Despite the attempts to assert himself on energy, health care, education and the budget, he did not move the debate. He did not force Democrats to alter their approaches.
Dems have the public support to draft legislation with free hands, and dare Dubya to veto popular bills that address long-standing problems.
While the SOTU confirmed Dubya’s lame-duck status on the domestic front, it offered no reassurance on the international front, as he continued to signal intentions to expand the war into Iran.
He struggled to craft a dark neocon worldview to justify an expanded war, as his dots fail to connect.
He sought to win intellectual points for noting the basic difference between Sunni Al Qaeda and Shiite Iran.
Then, he arbitrarily lumped them in together for maximum scare effect: “The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat.”
Then after pairing the two, he painted a scenario of Sunni and Shia attacking each other if we left Iraq:

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country — and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

Which, of course, is the path Bush’s policy of occupation has already put us on.
Sen. Jim Webb, in the Democratic response, did a nice job countering that vision:

…this country has patiently endured a mismanaged war for nearly four years.
Many, including myself, warned even before the war began that it was unnecessary, that it would take our energy and attention away from the larger war against terrorism, and that invading and occupying Iraq would leave us strategically vulnerable in the most violent and turbulent corner of the world…
…The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs.
We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable – and predicted – disarray that has followed.
The war’s costs to our nation have been staggering. Financially. The damage to our reputation around the world. The lost opportunities to defeat the forces of international terrorism. And especially the precious blood of our citizens who have stepped forward to serve.
The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction.
Not one step back from the war against international terrorism. Not a precipitous withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos.
But an immediate shift toward strong regionally-based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.

Again, nicely done. Though a key thing missing is a renouncement of permanent military bases and permanent occupation.
That’s critical to mention, because it explains how Democrats can make diplomacy work — that we can’t have good-faith negotiations with all parties in the region if they think our objective is domination of the region.
Otherwise, Dems can be knocked for using “diplomacy” as a naive, meaningless buzzword.
That criticism aside, last night was the begininng of a favorable contrast of foreign poiicy visions.
And that’s no small thing.

Blogosphere Reaction to the SOTU

Lots of takes from the blogosphere over in The Wire, in the right-hand column.
Also, check out my pre-SOTU post, on behalf of Campaign for America’s Future, over at The Huffington Post.

Air America This Morning

I’ll be on The Sam Seder Show this morning at 9:20 AM ET. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

Yesterday’s Washington Post broke an important Iraq story.

[On Nov. 30,]Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had a surprise for President Bush when they sat down with their aides in the Four Seasons Hotel in Amman, Jordan. [He] proposed that U.S. troops withdraw to the outskirts of Baghdad and let Iraqis take over security in the strife-torn capital. Maliki said he did not want any more U.S. troops at all, just more authority.
[In early December,] the president flatly told his advisers that the Maliki plan was not going to work. He had concluded that the Iraqis were not up to the task and that Baghdad would collapse into chaos, making a bad situation worse. And so the Americans would have to help them.

In other words, the head of supposedly sovereign state says he doesn’t want more foreign troops in his country. Yet the foreign power overrules and does it anyway.
That is not supporting democracy and regional stability. That is perpetuating occupation and breeding regional resentment.
This story was noted by two of the Sunday show hosts, but without stressing the full import.
Face The Nation’s Bob Schieffer led of his interview of internationalist GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel by calling the W. Post piece, “fairly extraordinary.”
But in Schieffer’s view, it’s extraordinary because Maliki’s proposal “sounds like the recommendations that [came from] the Baker-Hamilton Commission”. Hagel agreed and expressed support for the Iraq Study Group.
Both missed the deeper relevance to what it says about Bush’s fundamental goals in Iraq.
Meet The Press’ Tim Russert got closer to the mark, asking neocon GOP Sen. John McCain, “If the Iraqis didn’t want more troops, why are we sending them?”
McCain lamely responded that, “I think we’ve convinced Prime Minister Maliki then, as the situation continues to deteriorate, that we need to do that,” then derided the Maliki government as a “slender reed.”
Instead of asking McCain how dictating to a sovereign state is consistent with democracy promotion, Russert shifted to asking how much we should like Maliki.
At the same time, Democrats on the Sunday shows missed an opportunity to press that point:
That Iraq is disintegrating because Bush’s foreign policy is not about promoting democracy, but about imposing an unwanted permanent military presence in the Gulf region.
Though if Dems missed that opportunity, Senate Foreign Relations Chair, and prez candidate, Joe Biden, did potentially create an opportunity.
Biden has been pushing, with Hagel and Sen. Carl Levin, a nonbinding Senate resolution expressing opposition to Bush’s escalation.
And earlier this month on Meet The Press, Biden signaled an unwillingness to go beyond that and directly try to stop Bush from sending more troops.
Biden said then, “he’ll be able to keep those troops there forever constitutionally if he wants to” and “I think it is unconstitutional to say, ‘We’re going to tell you you can go, but we’re going to micromanage the war.'”
Biden was referring to the congressional authorization to use force in Iraq passed in 2002.
But yesterday, on Fox News Sunday, Biden warned that authorization’s days might be numbered:

…if we’re really going to do something about this, which if, in fact, we can’t dissuade the president by showing him he has no support [through a nonbonding resolution], then I think we have to change the authorization for the use of force and make it directly deal with this straight up.
Capping and limiting funds are constitutionally able to be done, but they will not get the job done.
And I think we should be talking — I’ve drafted; I’m not going to introduce it right now — an authorization for the use of force that renders the last one null and void.
We’re in a civil war now. Saddam’s gone. There are no weapons of mass destruction.
And we should be instructing the president of what the limitations on his use of force in the region are if he does not … begin to move in the area of consensus … no more troops, begin to reduce troops in order to get a political settlement. A political settlement has to deal with oil and has to deal with local control. Mr. President, get about it.

If Biden follows through, pending on the details, that would be in line with (perhaps one notch better than) what LiberalOasis recommended two weeks ago:

…Democrats should respond by passing defense budget legislation that spells out such a strategy: renouncing permanent bases, refocusing troops on counterterrorism, supporting Iraqi-led reconstruction, beefing up regional diplomacy.
Of course, Bush will ignore such legislation and spend the money as he likes.
But Bush will ignore whatever Democrats do. That’s not the point. He’s going to keep us in Iraq come 2008 no matter what, so long as he’s President.
The point is to make it clear to the public that Democrats are trying to change the course, have a plan to change the course, and if the course isn’t changed, that’s all on the shoulders of Bush and his supporters.
Then the public knows what it has to do to change the course. Change the occupant in the Oval Office.

Both Biden, and Sen. Ted Kennedy on Meet The Press, both set up the expected nonbinding resolution as a foundation for more substantive action:
If Bush doesn’t follow the will of the people as expressed by their Congress, then that will give Congress further legitimacy to take tougher action.
That’s a sound political approach, but to work best, Dems to complement it by challenging Bush’s flawed foreign policy vision.
The news that Bush overruled Maliki on troop levels, undermining any pretense of promoting a sovereign democracy, gives Dems a fresh opportunity to do just that.

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