Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

Home of the This Is Not Normal podcast, Bill Scher columns and other liberal commentary

Month: July 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Why The Dems Are Going To YearlyKos

Today, the Omaha World-Herald launches “Parties ’08,” an occasional op-ed series assessing the state of the two main parties throughout the ’07-’08 political season. The initial package includes my own contribution analyzing the relationship between the Democratic Party and the netroots, which follows below.
Bloggers Promote Fresh Ideas, Help Democrats Spread Message
by Bill Scher
In 2005, New York Times’ David Brooks dismissed liberal bloggers as part of a “university-town elite” who would lead Democrats to only “carry Berkeley for decades to come.” Yet in the 2006 elections, with blogs playing a significant role, voters from all kinds of towns chose Democrats to run Congress. Brooks acknowledged no misjudgment, writing, “If Democrats are going to take advantage of their victory, they … have to show they have not been taken over by their bloggers….”
This week, Democrats will ignore Brooks again. YearlyKos, the largest gathering of the liberal “netroots,” comes to Chicago, featuring all major Democratic presidential candidates along with the heads of the House and Senate.
Why are Democrats embracing a community that the Washington Post’s David Broder finds “vituperative” and “foul-mouthed,” and Time’s Joe Klein largely considers “bullying” and “witless.”
Because Democrats need their messages to reach voters. And liberal bloggers have shown they can help by countering misinformation, spotlighting underreported news, and pushing parameters of national debate narrowed by pundits and political consultants. For example:

  • In 2005, when President Bush proposed privatizing Social Security, many bloggers effectively argued that the program was not in crisis, rendering drastic changes unnecessary. Until then, much of Washington only treated harsh reforms as respectable options. Public opinion rejected privatization, giving Democrats firm footing to scuttle it.
  • In 2006, word leaked that ABC was about to air a factually inaccurate docudrama maligning the Clinton Administration as inert while Al Qaeda loomed. Perpetuating that myth would harm Democrats’ ability to earn public trust on national security. Several bloggers were able to debunk key scenes, forcing ABC to make edits and the New York Times to run a correction of its review.
  • When evidence indicated the Bush Administration was behind a political purge of US Attorneys, bloggers took it more seriously than many media professionals. Once evidence became stark, Time’s Jay Carney expressed contrition for initially downplaying the scandal conceding that “the blogosphere was the engine on this story.” The increased attention made it easier for Democrats to investigate and withstand charges of a “fishing expedition.”

If bloggers have proven able to make positive contributions, why marginalize them as dangerous for Democrats and harmful to our discourse?
There are two dominant criticisms. One is that some popular bloggers use, shall we say, colorful language. True! But it begs the question: so what?
Is the occasional bad word by a blogger, who otherwise increases citizen involvement, all that damaging? Both Bush and Vice-President Cheney have used foul language in dignified settings. But their misleading assertions – too often unchallenged by national media outlets – are what is toxic to the discourse and, in turn, our ability to make informed decisions.
The second is the notion, described in The New Republic, that the “netroots’ dream” is “a liberal army … marching more or less in lockstep.” Broder claims bloggers are “pummeling” politicians to enforce “ideological purity.” Klein complains that anyone not “in lockstep with the most extreme [bloggers] is savaged,” pressuring Democrats to move left and jeopardize their election prospects.
The hyperbole is unwarranted. Citizens urging representatives to follow their wishes – via mail, phone or blog – is not savagery. It’s democracy.
Furthermore, those bloggers striving for rhetorical unity do not envision a landscape barren of fresh ideas and vibrant discussion. There is open debate in the liberal blogosphere every day. They merely crave coordination when presenting liberal ideas to the broader public.
Liberal bloggers grasp what conservatives have long understood: Unless an army of people makes synchronized arguments across the cluttered media spectrum, their ideas won’t reach America’s 200 million eligible voters, and will be vulnerable to distortion by opponents.
Their goal is for unity after the time for internal debate is over, and it is time to win the debate among the electorate. The desire is not to have discourse for discourse’s sake, but to have productive debate with a clear result compelling our government to heed the public will.
That is not a strategy to shove Democrats left and lose the center. It is a strategy that sees Americans – not pundits or political consultants – as defining where the political center lies.
Blogging is a two-way medium, and that is its strength. It allows individuals to quickly exchange ideas with others nationwide. It helps connect politicians who exercise power with citizens who hold ultimate power — more fluidly than a poll, and more frequently than a town meeting.
Democrats may come to YearlyKos so bloggers will help disseminate their messages. But bloggers will be communicating their own ideas, and expect the substance-to-profanity ratio to be high. Those who have scoffed may find the hearty discourse that they cherish.

A Question For The Candidates

Here’s a question for the presidential candidates attending the YearlyKos presidential forum.
Will you lead the effort to defeat in Congress Bush’s proposed multi-billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other undemocratic Arab states?
Why should this deal be defeated?
While the Bushies defend the deal as necessary to counter Iranian influence in the region, they neglect to mention that Saudis compromise the largest number of foreign fighters killing US troops and suicide bombers killing civilians in Iraq.
Juan Cole notes how ridiculous the US-Saudi relationship has become:

US officials say that they are upset with Saudi Arabia for undermining the government of PM Nuri al-Maliki by charging him with being an Iranian secret agent and distributing faked documents to that effect.
On the other hand, I gather that the Bush administration is not too upset with Saudi Arabia, to which it is planning to sell billions of dollars of fancy new military equipment.

Eric Martin at American Footprints sees the deal facilitating a regional proxy war between the Saudis and Iran:

The Saudis are arming and funding Sunni insurgents currently, and those same insurgents are attacking our soldiers (and the Iraqi government they are defending). They want to confront Iran, and have been doing so already via proxy in Iraq – much to our dismay as our soldiers have been getting killed in some of that cross-fire, and Iraq has been destabilized generally speaking.
So then, how will increasing the capacity of the Saudis to wage war foster peace in the region, since it is clearly not peace that they are pursuing with their current, lesser capacity?

Martin points to Who Is IOZ?, who writes:

…this all falls under my own maxim: Don’t listen to what they say; look at what they do. In this case, category Say is “prevent a wider regional war” and category Do is “pour billions of dollars worth of arms into the fragile, quarrelsome, precarious neighbors of an escalating civil war ever percolating under an American occupation.”

Suzanne Nossel at Democracy Arsenal criticizes the deal for doing nothing to press Saudi Arabia be helpful in Iraq:

Given the importance of Saudi cooperation on Iraq, the question immediately arises as to why the weapons sales are not tied to Saudi support for the Iraqi government and the effort to stabilize that country. What’s the use of being the global superpower if that power cannot be used to leverage support for US policy goals?

WashingtonPost.com’s William Arkin (via Political Animal) has a different concern:

The real threat is the army of contractors and U.S. service members that will have to go to Saudi Arabia to support the deal. They will just fuel more Arab anger and more terrorism.

Saudi Arabia has demonstrated over decades that it has no interest in building up its own high-tech arms capabilities. American contractors will train, maintain and even operate the new Saudi equipment. American military personnel will follow. We will buy nothing in terms of security, and we will just put our own people in danger. But most important, we will once again renew the cycle of American penetration into the heart of Islam, one of Osama bin Laden’s original and most compelling rallying points. That’s why the Saudi deal is so dangerous.

Put it all together, this deal is a furthering of the current conservative foreign policy that is destabilizing the region and strengthening Al Qaeda.
With the recent Clinton-Obama dust-up, we have the beginning of a serious discussion of the need to fundamentally change our foreign policy, and of what should replace it.
Now a major piece of the current policy will be coming up for a vote.
The easy thing to do is let this languish on the back pages, then cast a meaning opposing vote while the bill sails through Congress.
The impressive thing to do is to lead. Use the opportunity to frontally challenge this disastrous foreign policy and do all you can to stop it now.

Radio Radio

At 1 PM ET today (10 AM PT) I’ll be on Nick Beeson’s Talking With America, airing on 1340 AM KIST in Santa Barbara, CA, discussing obstruction by Senate conservatives and the latest subpoenas of White House officials.
At 4 PM ET today, I’ll be on Air America’s “Seder on Sundays” for our regular Weekend Watchdog segment. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

Maintaining the Conservative Foreign Policy Frame

Sen. Hillary Clinton is seeking to prey on the potentially weak self-esteem of Democratic primary voters, by picking a gratuitous fight with Sen. Barack Obama.
During this week’s debate, Obama said he would be “willing” to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba in his first year as president, saying , “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.”
Clinton chastised him at the debate, saying “you [don’t] promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes. … I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters.”
In fact, Obama did not “promise” a meeting, the question was whether he’d be “willing.” Nothing in his answer indicated he wouldn’t take the obvious first step of lower-level meetings. (And saying “I” in this context does not necessarily mean himself personally, anyway.)
Yesterday, Clinton went a step farther, calling Obama’s remarks “irresponsible and frankly naive.”
This may well be smart short-term politics for Clinton.
By talking down to Obama while echoing conservative frames about negotiation, skittish primary voters may feel more comfortable that she can handle the eventual GOP nominee in the general election.
(In much the same way primary voters thought John Kerry was more electable because he was a veteran.)
But it’s awful long-term politics for us and anyone ’08 hopeful actually interested in fundamentally changing our foreign policy.
The neocon foreign policy debacle is a major opportunity to debunk conservative premises and reframe our foreign policy discourse, so we stop equating talking with weakness and saber-rattling with strength.
That is exactly what Obama was trying to do in his answer. And Clinton deliberately stepped on it.
Good for her perhaps, but bad for building a case for a new foreign policy.
An important side note: a way to enhance Obama’s answer to that question is offered in the foreign policy chapter of my own “Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!”.

When America deals with another country, instead of only talking to the people in power or to a single opposition party, we should deal with groups representing all people’s and parties representing all ideologies in that country. That way it will be evident that America is not trying to dictate who is in power in other countries for its own ends, but that we are willing to work with whomever sovereign peoples choose to represent them, now or in the future.

So, don’t hesitate to open to the door to meeting with the leaders of Iran, Syria, etc., but at the same time, pledge to meet with opposition leaders as well.
This should be part of a larger effort to reframe foreign policy discussion and positively define the principles and objectives of a liberal foreign policy vision — namely, promoting credible democracy and eradicating poverty to defeat the terrorist threat.
If it’s clear to the public where we want to take the country and the world, and we have a game plan how to achieve it, we can fundamentally reframe the debate.
Obama took a step towards doing that. Clinton took that step back. All of the candidates need to go farther.

How Did That Safe Haven Get There?

With the latest National Intelligence Estimate finding that Al Qaeda “has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability,” the White House took to the Sunday shows to fight the obvious conclusion that Dubya’s neocon foreign policy has utterly failed.
Their talking point? Pakistan screwed up and let Al Qaeda establish a “safe haven.”
Here’s White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend on Fox News Sunday:

They’ve been able to take advantage of the agreement between President Musharraf and the tribal elders in the federally administrated tribal area to find safe haven, to train, to recruit.

And here’s Director of National Intelligene Mike McConnell on Meet The Press, responding to a question how could last year’s intelligence estimate say Al Qaeda was “seriously damaged”:

…what happened? What’s different? What changed?
In Pakistan, where they’re enjoying a safe haven, the government of Pakistan chose to try a political solution. The political solution meant a peace treaty with a region that’s never been governed — not governed from the outside, not governed by Pakistan.
The opposite occurred. Instead of pushing al-Qaeda out, the people who live in these federally- administered tribal areas, rather than pushing al-Qaeda out, they made a safe haven for training and recruiting. And so, in that period of time, al-Qaeda has been able to regain some of its momentum.

Who would be stupid enough to get behind a peace agreement with militants tied to Al Qaeda?
George W. Bush, of course.
Townsend and McConnell somehow forgot to mention that peace agreement was “encouraged” by the White House, and publicly endorsed by Dubya — as noted by LiberalOasis recently.
(And Fox News Sunday and Meet The Press neglected to bring it up as well.)
The Bush Administration did not prioritize going after the actual terrorist threat, instead choosing to pursue a permanent occupation of Iraq as a policy goal, whihc has created more terrorists.
While the Bush Administration is trying to use this safe haven to shift blame to Pakistan, the fact is the safe haven is the direct result of a policy that the Bush Administration is directly complict in crafting.
Once again, the failure is their own.

Errington Thompson Show

I’ll be on The Errington Thompson Show today at 9:15 AM ET, which airs on 880 AM The Revolution in Asheville, NC. Click here to listen online.

The Reality of Anbar

On TomDispatch, Kurdish advisor Peter Galbraith gives an stark assessment of the state of the surge, en route to making a case for shifting US troops to the Kurdish region, in part to “preserv[e] Kurdistan democracy.”
While over on American Footprints, Eric Martin argues that keeping troops in the Kurdish region would have plenty of destabilizing effects.
LiberalOasis generally sides with Martin’s argument (the Center for American Progress proposal appears acceptable, maintaining a Kurdish presence, but only until 2009, not for an indefinite and destabilzing occupation.)
But Galbraith’s assessment of Iraq is an essential read, as it is an antidote to the distortions from the surge advocates.
In particular, Galbraith echoes and elaborates on Sen. Jim Webb’s rejection of the surge-ites main argument: that the surge has turned the Iraqi people against Al Qaeda in the Anbar province.
Webb said on Meet The Press Sunday:

…the people in al-Anbar are not aligning themselves with the United States. It’s “The enemy of the enemy is my friend.”
This hasn’t been the Iraqi military, the national military that’s been taking out al-Qaeda. It’s been a redneck justice. It’s been these sectarian groups out there who don’t like al-Qaeda. And if we leave, they still will not like al-Qaeda.

Galbraith adds more detail, and paints an even more disturbing picture:

The developments in Anbar are more significant. Tribesmen who had been attacking U.S. troops in support of the insurgency are now taking U.S. weapons to fight al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. Unfortunately, the Sunni fundamentalists are not the only enemy of these new U.S.-sponsored militias. The Sunni tribes also regard Iraq’s Shiite-led government as an enemy, and the U.S. appears now to be in the business of arming both the Sunni and Shiite factions in what has long since become a civil war.

The surge was supposed to create the condidtions that would bring reconciliation between Iraqi factions. Instead, it’s directly contributing to conditions for a more bloody civil war.
Much like how invading Iraq was supposed to weaken Al Qaeda, and instead has strengthened Al Qaeda.

Painting The Big Picture

A positive sign on the Sunday shows yesterday: two major Democrats clearly articulating the underlying problem with the current neocon Iraq policy, and using that to make the case for an alternative foreign policy approach.
On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Carl Levin (not LiberalOasis’ favorite Senator in recent months), smartly rebutted Brit Hume’s slanted questioning:

HUME: Senator, do you really seriously believe that Al Qaeda, which has unmistakably been responsible for particularly this recent rash of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, gives a fig one way or another about whether there’s a political settlement among the — involving these issues among the Iraqis?
That’s not why they’re fighting, is it?
LEVIN: No, I think Al Qaeda has a great propaganda advantage by the western occupation of a Muslim country, and that’s what’s gone on here for over four years.
HUME: Well, do you believe…
LEVIN: Al Qaeda has grown in Iraq. Excuse me. Al Qaeda, according to our own intelligence, has grown stronger in Iraq because of the American presence and the American policies that we would occupy a Muslim country.
Al Qaeda is stronger now in Iraq than it has ever been. It is growing in strength because of our presence.
HUME: So you believe…
LEVIN: You can’t just simply say…
HUME: Do you believe, though…
LEVIN: You can’t just simply say, Brit…
HUME: I was just going to say, Senator, do you seriously believe, though, that if you had the de-Baathification program passed, that the oil sharing law was passed into law, that the other areas of political progress which you have said are necessary — and I think everybody agrees with that — if all that were to come to pass, that Al Qaeda would go away in Iraq?
LEVIN: No, I think the best chance of defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq is through two things. One, if you have a political settlement in Iraq, number one, because then the parties there will go after the real enemy, which is Al Qaeda.
Secondly, under all of our plans — under the so-called Levin-Reed amendment, which is going to hopefully be allowed to be voted on, we do provide that there be a force remaining to help an Iraqi hopefully unified government go after Al Qaeda.
Of course there’s a problem in Iraq with terrorism through Al Qaeda, but it’s a growing problem because of our presence, because of the failure of the Iraqi political leaders to come together to go after Al Qaeda.

Some may express concern that Levin is supporting a residual force to remain in Iraq. But at least he is designating a very narrow mission, one that probably would be accomplished swiftly if executed sincerely.
Why? Because Al Qaeda in Iraq is not an especially big force and not well-liked among other Iraqi insurgent groups.
See how Sen. Jim Webb took Sen. Lindsey Graham to school on NBC’s Meet The Press.
While surge flacks insisted things were going great because of success in the Anbar province, Webb explained what’s really going on, again emphasizing the underlying reason for Iraq’s destabilization:

Al-Qaeda didn’t come to Iraq to try to destroy a democracy. That’s a very, very flimsy democracy there. We all recognize that.
Al-Qaeda came to Iraq because the United States was in Iraq, and the people in al-Anbar are not aligning themselves with the United States. It’s “The enemy of the enemy is my friend.”
This hasn’t been the Iraqi military, the national military that’s been taking out al-Qaeda. It’s been a redneck justice. It’s been these sectarian groups out there who don’t like al-Qaeda. And if we leave, they still will not like al-Qaeda.

Earlier, Webb accurately characterized as not “a war,” but “a botched occupation.” He continued:

…all of the things that people like myself were predicting would happen if we went into Iraq, are exactly the sorts of things that the president and the small group of people who have sort of rallied around him are saying will happen if we leave.
We were saying that Iran would be empowered, we were saying that international terrorism would be empowered, we were saying that the reputation of the United States would be diminished around the world, and we were saying the region would become more unstable … There is no greater recruiting tool for al-Qaeda than the United States being in Iraq.

And he warned of where neocon Senators were trying to take our foreign policy:

This is what I don’t understand with Senator Graham [and] Senator Lieberman … You know, Senator Lieberman, every day, is calling for a war against Iran and probably Syria. Maybe they can tell us where the line should be drawn. Maybe the United States military, all of it, should go to the Middle East and stay all the time.

This is what Democrats need to do to be viewed as “serious” on foreign policy.
They do not need to sound superficially “tough.”
They need to make a sound, consistent argument why conservative foreign policy has created and exacerbated so many problems, and use that critique to build an alternative approach.
Levin and Webb made good strides Sunday.

Seder on Sundays

I’ll be on Air America Radio’s “Seder on Sundays” today at 4 PM ET, for our regular Weekend Watchdog segment. Click here to listen online or find a station near you.

McCain’s Problem is Every Republican’s Problem

John McCain campaign is faltering for one simple reason: Iraq.
More specifically, McCain has been mistrusted by the conservative base of the GOP ever since he picked fights with them in 2000, despite his long-standing neoconservative foreign policy views.
In turn, his implicit argument to win their support this time around, in addition to his explicit pandering, was: I’m your best shot at winning independent voters.
LiberalOasis was concerned that was true a year-and-a-half ago. But it’s not true now.
His high-profile support of Bush’s surge, complete with decidedly not-straight talk, turned independents against him. No longer could he argue to Republican voters that he’s the most electable candidate.
That should give the other Republican candidates no solace.
All the leading candidates back the surge and and oppose a timeline for redeployment. All the leading candidates push the neocon worldview and are actively saber-rattling with Iran.
All of that will get them in trouble with the broad majority of the country that wants an end to the occupation.
In my recent bloggingheads.tv segment with Eric Alterman, he argued that the eventual Republican could pivot away from their neocon rantings after the primary is over. I don’t think it’ll be that easy, especially if there’s a coordinated effort to remind voters what they were repeatedly saying.
But that may will be be their only hope, pretending they will actually scrap the current neocon foreign policy.
McCain operated under the delusion that Joe Lieberman’s 2006 victory proved that a fervent backer of occupation could win indepedent voters, ignoring how Lieberman fudged and blurred his position.
And he’s suffering the consequences.

Older posts