Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

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Month: February 2007 (page 1 of 3)

An Old Desire For Appearing Pragmatic

Another diplomatic feint, another round of punditry announcing a changed Bush White House.
This time, it’s the decision to participate in an Iraq conference with its regional neighbors, including Iran and Syria.
The NY Times headline today proclaims “A New Respect For Pragmatism,” and USA Today offers, “Diplomacy Could Define End of Bush’s Term.”
But as LiberalOasis said back in April ’06, and again in June ’06:

…it is very possible that Bush may well take intermediate steps before an attack [on Iran], just so he can say he exhausted all other avenues.
He may try economic sanctions. He may even do a round of direct talks at some point. (Remember, for a while they said they wouldn’t talk to North Korea.)
But Bush cannot be counted on to take such tacks sincerely, and give them a chance to work.
This must be said now. The skepticism has to be in the media bloodstream ahead of time, or else Bush will succeed again in stringing the media along…
…If you don’t challenge Bush’s sincerity towards diplomacy, Bush will be able to co-opt our proposals and continue his phony multilateralism unfettered.

Sitting down with Iran was not unexpected.
The question remains: will there be sincere attempts to negotiate?
Or will talks be truncated (all that’s planned is a one-day conference of Iraq’s neighbors) or sabotaged so the Bushies can say they really really tried but it didn’t work?
(If you’ve read Seymour Hersh’s latest in the New Yorker — reporting that the Bush Administration is engaging in covert ops against Iran and Syria without informing Congress — that’ll help answer the question.)
Until we see how the Bushies actually approach any negotiation, there’s no evidence of any substantive change in foreign policy objectives.
Only of a minor change in tactics.

You Don’t Need 60

Overnight reports on the House Dems’ plans for war funding from the AP, W. Post and NY Times are a little conflicting.
But it seems like the plan is to change Rep. John Murtha’s proposal — preventing funds from being used to send new troops to Iraq without proper training and equipment — by adding in a loophole:
Giving Bush the authority to waive such a requirement, albeit publicly.
Yes, it’s a flinch, and a disheartening sign that congressional Dems still haven’t learned how to stand together and pushback against conservative hit jobs.
But there’s no need to lament that the flinch is letting Dubya go ahead with the escalation.
Because Dubya will escalate anyway, no matter what Congress does, as he fundamentally does not believe in checks and balances.
Since Dems cannot stop the war with a Oval Office occupant who will keep himself unchecked and unbalanced, the best thing Dems can do is:
Convey the alternative Dem strategy for Iraq and the region, and show how the Republican minority is blocking it and continuing the current failed strategy.
That’s why the deliberation in the Senate over revamping the congressional authorization of force is arguably more important than the upcoming funding bill.
Because the authorization of force language can clearly articulate an overarching foreign policy vision and strategy.
Though that process is also hitting some obstacles.
The AP reports:

The Senate bid to narrow the 2002 resolution authorizing the war appears to lack the 60 votes it would need to be approved in the Senate, and action on it now is likely to be put off — at least for the week.

It’s not clear from the wording, but it appears that some leading Dems are trying to get 60, even at the expense of crafting clear language.
NYT reports the draft proposal, “faced skepticism on two fronts.”:

Some liberal Democrats expressed unease at the prospect of approving a new military mission, even a narrower one, while moderate Republicans said they preferred to look ahead rather than revisit the past.

That would imply that Dems are seeking support from certain Republicans in hopes of getting 60 votes to break any filibuster.
That may not be the case. And obviously, there’s nothing wrong without asking someone in any party to support your iegislation.
But there is something wrong in creating a meaningless bill just to get 60 meaningless votes.
Sen. Russ Feingold is concerned that the working draft would still allow Dubya to maintain a permanent military presence.. From the W. Post:

Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), a prominent war opponent, said he rejected a draft of the new resolution because it appeared to grant Bush too much leeway to continue the conflict. In effect, he said, Democrats would be reauthorizing a war while trying to end it.
He was particularly bothered by a provision that suggested an open-ended U.S. commitment to providing border security. “It’s crazy to create a new military mission in Iraq when we should be getting out of there,” Feingold said. “I didn’t vote for it in the first place. I’ll be darned if I’m going to vote for it now.”

The W. Post also reports that other Dems believe Feingold’s concerns can be addressed.
Hopefully, they are thinking of removing Bush’s authority to keep permanent bases in Iraq.
That would show any border security mission will be a temporary one, not part of a back door strategy for permanent occupation.
And hopefully, there are not adding in wishy-washy wording in hopes of getting 60 votes.
Because there’s a cost of getting to 60: a mushy bill that will be ignored by Bush, without conveying to voters what an alternative approach really looks like.
Senate Dems should not sweat 60. They should sweat crafting a compelling proposal that will impress the public.
If they do that, they might get to 60 thanks to public pressure. And if they don’t, it’s Republicans who will pay the price in 2008.
Which will really give Dems the ability to redeploy our troops out of a civil war.

Editor’s Note

I’m heading down to DC in the wee hours to blog the Apollo Summit, convened by the Apollo Alliance, which is a project of my peeps at Campaign For America’s Future.
The Summit will bring together “business, labor, environmental and community partners” to “highlight successful local and state efforts to create clean energy jobs and climate solutions” and “strategize on ways to replicate these successes”. Participants include Sen. Hillary Clinton and Govs. Deval Patrick (MA), Ed Rendell (PA), Joe Manchin III (WV) and Chet Culver (IA).
That means no Sunday Talkshow Breakdown this week. But Monday and Tuesday, feel free to check out my blogging over at the Apollo Summit site.

Lessons From GeffenGate

The front page of today’s New York Daily News said it all.
In between pictures of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, read the words: “Two Years Of This?”
That said it all because it not only summed up the inherent silliness of a spat over the opinions of a single private citizen not working on any campaign.
It also spoke to this irony: it wouldn’t be “Two Years Of This” if media outlets like the Daily News didn’t choose to put such silly stories on their covers.
But it’s not just the media.
The Clinton and Obama camps fed the story with their heated statements and counterstatements. They treated Geffen’s comments as legit news that needed a response.
All the candidates need to understand that how they spar with each other reflects not just on themselves, but on the entire Democratic Party.
When they get into a juvenile whine-fest over the comments of a Hollywood donor, it makes the whole party look like the ridiculous limousine liberal stereotype that conservatives have been cultivating.
To prevent “Two Years Of This,” all the candidates should get together and make an informal pact.
They should agree not to let the media lead them by nose.
They should agree not to comment on manufactured conflicts that have nothing to do with the issues voters care about.
This is a long campaign. That can be a good thing.
The extra time can give the voters the ability to fully understand the issues and make an informed decision about who can best handle the issues.
And if the voters see a principled fight between the candidates over the issues, the party will come out stronger for it in the end.
But if the candidates think they can triumph by making their rivals look bad over trivial matters, then the entire party will look trivial for the rest of the year.

The Republicans’ Secular Problem

In recent days, there’s been another round of heated dialogue within the Left about perceived slights against both religious and nonreligious liberals.
Hopefully, this round will lead to additional understanding, since we need a strong religious-nonreligious coalition to best stand up to the fringe fundamentalists of the conservative movement.
Forging that coalition is something I discussed in Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!, as a way to defuse charges that liberals are hostile to religion.
But I also wrote:

…there are an equal amount of voters who attend services at least weekly as there are voters who seldom or never go. It is true that regular churchgoers trend Republican and the “seldom of never” group trends Democratic, but that means you could just as easily say Republicans have a “secular problem.”

That was written before the 2006 midterm elections.
Now, the GOP “secular problem” is far more severe.
Eschaton recently called attention to the Pew exit poll from the midterms.
Which found that the Democrats’ lead has widened to massive proportions among those who attend church seldom (now at 60%-38%) or never (67%-30%).
While the Republican lead weakened among those who attend services weekly (now just 53%-46%).
(Democrats also opened up a big lead among the little discussed swing group, those who attend church monthly.)
Republicans are failing to be competitive among the secular (defined broadly), while Democrats are being competitive among the religious.
In turn, the Republicans have a secular problem.
As noted earlier on the LiberalOasis Wire in the right-hand column, Frameshop warns that:

Republican consultants … are again telling their clients to attack Democrats as “anti-religious” … preparing to launch smear after smear to sell the idea that religious folks in America are under attack.

The improved 2006 poll numbers should not make Dems let down their guard. Poll numbers can always change.
A prominent religious-nonreligious coalition — based on shared principles, not phony pandering or craven capitulation — is still needed to neutralize those expected attacks.
But those attacks will do nothing to solve the Republicans’ secular problem, and may very well make it worse.

Sam Seder Show This Morning

I’ll be on The Sam Seder Show in the 9 AM ET hour. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

Sunday Talkshow Breakdown

The first step is completed. Both the House and Senate held votes showing a bipartisan majority opposes an escalation of the war in Iraq.
(The House passed a resolution. Senate Republicans technically filibustered a resolution, but with 56 Senators supporting it, the point was still made.)
The question now is: what is Congress’ next step?
On the Sunday shows yesterday, two different tracks were discussed.
On the House side, Rep. John Murtha is in charge of drafting the next supplemental funding bill for wars in Iraq and Afganistan.
And he plans to put conditions on that funding, such as:

  • No troops to Iraq without proper training and equipment
  • No protracted tours of duty in Iraq
  • Closing down Gitmo
  • Ban on permanent bases in Iraq

The sad reality is: there aren’t enough available trained soldiers around to surge with.
So that may force war backers to insist Congress allow Bush send poorly trained and equipped soldiers into harm’s way.
On the Senate side, Sen. Joe Biden talked more seriously yesterday about what he floated last month — changing the Authorization of Force that gives Bush the authority to use the military in Iraq.
On CBS’ Face The Nation, Biden said:

I’ve been working with some of my colleagues to try to convince them … to repeal and restate the president’s authority.
Make it clear that the purpose that he has troops in there is to in fact protect against al-Qaeda gaining chunks of territory, training the Iraqi forces, force protection and for our forces.
It’s not to get in the midst of a civil war.

The Murtha strategy, which would be the first exercising of Congress’ “power of the purse” to try to change course, is getting more attention.
Especially since The Politico’s slanted characterization of it as a “slow-bleed strategy” is being giddily repeated by conservatives.
White House spokesperson Tony Snow, on NBC’s Meet The Press, sought to reframe the debate around funding, in hopes of scaring folks out of backing Murtha:

…if you ask the American people, “Do you like the way things are in Iraq right now?”, the answer is, “No, we don’t. We think they ought to be better.”…
…Interestingly, if you also take a look at polls, Tim, and they ask people, “Well, do you support continued funding for the forces?”, 67 percent say yes.
They say, “do you, do you oppose efforts to take away funding for the additional 21,000?”, 60 percent say, “No, we don’t support that.”
So it’s an interesting debate in the country … the president understands that war’s tough, they’re unpopular. … But the cost of leaving before we’ve succeeded is too high for this president or any president to risk.

Then asked about the likely Murtha bill — which puts conditions on funds, but does not cut off funds — Snow tried to pivot:

… I think it’s been referred to by some as a slow bleed … The president believes that what you need to do if you support the troops, is to provide the reinforcement for the people who are already on the ground to get the job done and finish the job.

So, does Snow have the goods to beat back Murtha?
Snow was pointing to the recent AP-Ipsos that showed strong opposition to “cutting all funding for the Iraq war” and “cutting funding for the additional troops.”
But it also showed strong opposition to “sending more troops to Iraq” and support for “a time-table for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of next year.”
There’s also a Pew poll this month, showing 53% support for bringing “troops home as soon as possible.”
To read between the lines, there’s an unsurprising concern for “cutting funding,” if that means soldiers get stuck out in the field without supplies.
Which of course, would never happen. Any banning of money for war would be linked to troop redeployments out of harm’s way.
But again, that’s not even Murtha approach anyway.
Yet Republicans have begin painting Murtha with that brush.
That’s the nub of the debate, and to beat back Snow’s frame, Dems will have to show their bill won’t leave a single soldier high and dry.
It would appear that with Murtha still hammering out details, and Pelosi lining up ducks, House Dems aren’t quite ready to launch a full-blown campaign to explain and rally support for the bill.
And the two Dem Senators on the shows yesterday — Jack Reed on MTP and Carl Levin on Fox News Sunday avoided saying anything directly about Murtha when asked — a sign that there’s no House-Senate coordination.
(In fact, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, on MTP, did a better job of boosting Murtha.)
But the game is on, so they better get on it.
Reed and Levin, however, did sound eager about the Biden approach of revamping the force authorization.
Is one approach better than other?
Not necessarily, and they are not mutually exclusive.
They can easily complement each other, and so, House and Senate leaders should be coordinating their messages.
And those messages need to be framed carefully.
Both the Murtha and Biden approaches need to convey a fundamental change in foreign policy — away from permanent bases and unilateral imposition, towards multilateral diplomacy to resolve sectarian differences and renewed focus on actual terrorism.
That is the fundamental objective. To win the foreign policy debate and build a mandate for a real change in course.
There should be no expectation Bush will allow Congress to change his long-held plans in the short-run.
Bush will ignore Congress — either by veto, signing statement or creative interpretation of the law.
But if the public recognizes that the Congressional majority has a clear plan, and it’s snubbed by Bush, it will be quite evident that a change in the Oval Office is needed to reverse the chaos in the Gulf Region.

Ring of Fire, Today & Tomorrow

Unlike last weekend, this weekend (5 PM ET Saturday, 4 PM ET Sunday) I will actually be on Air America’s Ring of Fire, discussing the continuing conservative campaign to cripple our civil service. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

On The Bright Side…

On Sunday, when LiberalOasis posted about the lack of evidence tying the Iranian leadership to Iranian-made munitions in Iraq, you have to admit it seemed like one those obscure points that would be a tough sell.
Perhaps it would have been if Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Peter Pace didn’t make the same point.
And while warmongers still had stenographers to feed bogus intel to (the NY Times’ Michael Gordon and CNN’s Barbara Starr), the mainstream media aggressively pushed the point with WH spokesperson Tony Snow and Dubya himself.
Under pressure, the flimsy charge was walked back — definitively today by Pace and Defense Sec. Bob Gates.
Of course, this not does not mean that the neocons are undeterred. There has been much effort by the Bushies to make lemonade out of this lemon.
And using Gates today may simply be the continuation of the strategy to maintain his credibility, so they can leverage it when the time is “right.”
But at least, the public, the Democrats, and the media are showing some ability to resist falling for the same script a second time.

North Korea Shift?

LiberalOasis has long insisted that the Bushies would never do the deal with North Korea, and that the six-party talks were just a show. Is LO proved wrong?
Maybe, though the jury is out. And even if this deal is for real, it may provide very small solace.
First, it’s not unusual for the White House to quietly undermine deals with North Korea shortly after they are announced.
In November ’06, Joseph Cirincione of Center for American Progress said:

Remember, Kim [Jong Il] conducted his fizzled nuclear test last month only after regime change ideologues in the administration led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney successfully torpedoed the deal negotiated with North Korea in September last year.
How did they do it? Only days after North Korea and the five other countries engaged in the Six Party talks came to a breakthrough agreement on ending the Korean nuclear program, the hardliners in the administration launched a crackdown on North Korea’s limited access to foreign exchange, targeting a bank in Macao that held Kim Jong Il’s personal accounts.

Such tricks may still be played here.
Or, it’s possible that an actual change in course has happened in Korea.
But only to free up the Bushies to go Neocon on Iran.
Newsweek posts today:

Former senior administration members say the North Korea deal is evidence of two big changes: one, several key hardliners have left, and the influence of others, including Cheney, is waning; and two, that Bush is now consumed with Iraq, Iran and the Middle East.
“It was so clearly against the approach we had tried to impose,” says a former top Bush nonproliferation official. “Why now? I can think couple of reasons. One is that he is completely overwhelmed with the Middle East and desperate for a political victory anywhere. And a lot of people who were against engagement have either left the administration, like Bolton and Bob Joseph [Rice’s former under secretary for counterproliferation], or are otherwise preoccupied, like the vice president with the Scooter Libby trial…”

And as noted earlier on the LiberalOasis Wire (in the right-hand column), The Washington Note says more pointedly:

One hopes today that [negotiator] Chris Hill has not succeeded in securing a positive arrangement in North Korea in some sort of quid pro quo that State will acquiesce to Cheney’s desire for military action against Iran.

Now, things don’t have to go down that brazenly.
But remember that the Bushies loved to hold up their (anti-democracy) deal with Libya, so they could say they were not only interested in war and saber-rattling and unilateralism to solve international problems.
It’s possible that they will now hold up North Korea as evidence they are more than happy to talk, hoping to dampen American concerns about a rush to war, while they continue to ignore diplomatic openings in Iran so they can rush to war.
Further, the North Korea deal is far from comprehensive and final. It’s billed as a trust-building baby step.
Pragmatic neocons could rationalize it as a temporary stall tactic while their hands are full with Iran.
What does that mean for us?
1) Insist on good-faith follow through, and call out any attempts to undermine the deal.
2) Don’t let this give Bush cover on Iran.
The diplomatic openings with Iran stand on their own, from the 2003 “grand bargain” proposal to the 2006 offer of snap inspections to the recent political shift inside Iran away from Ahmadinejad.
The possibility that Bush may have finally wised up on the Korean peninsula, does not give him a free pass to launch a regional war across the Arab/Muslim world.

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