Bill Scher's LiberalOasis

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

Month: December 2007 (page 1 of 2)

The LiberalOasis Radio Show

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Frederick Clarkson of Talk To Action, who discussed how religion is roiling the Republican primary race.
Also, I analyzed Bush’s failed Pakistan policy, and the candidates’ reaction to Bhutto’s assassination.
The audio podcast for the show is here. Due to a technical glitch, no videocast this week.

“She Was Let Down By Those In Washington”

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, her former aide Husain Haqqani told Time magazine:

She was let down by those in Washington who think that sucking up to bad governments around the world is their best policy option.

As long chronicled here at LiberalOasis, the Bush Administration’s Pakistan policy had nothing to do with democracy, and not much to do with fighting Al Qaeda either.
It’s pure speculation who exactly was behind the assassination.
But it’s patently clear that a policy of propping up a dictator — including the attempt to keep Musharraf in power by shoehorning Bhutto into his government — did nothing to advance freedom and stability in Pakistan, nor our own national security.
It is also patently clear that Bush plans to continue his failed policy, if not make it worse.
The White House still puffs up Musharraf as a democratic leader.
Plus, the White House spokesperson yesterday talked of “strong lines of communication” with Pakistan’s General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, rumored to be a possible military strongman replacement if Musharraf cannot keep clinging to power.
Essentially, the White House signaled it is happy to work with this dictator or the next one — instead signaling it would work with whomever the Pakistani people choose to represent them in a free and fair election.
There was much pundit pontification yesterday regarding which US presidential candidates will benefits from the renewed focus on our unstable world, with the Beltway “wisdom” pointing towards candidates deemed to have foreign policy experience: Clinton and Biden for the Dems, McCain and Giuliani for the GOP.
Such analysis had little to do with the candidates actually had to say about foreign policy and Pakistan — just the general notion of “experience” (which, of course, Giuliani essentially has none.)
The voters should be able to hear what candidates have to say about the matter, then judge for themselves who is displaying experience and judgment.
For example, here’s what McCain had to say on Fox News yesterday: “I think we should be offering our support for the government as it is.”
Translation of McCain: More Musharraf please. He even said, “You may have to see martial law for a period of time.”
The allegedly experienced Giuliani had little to say about what he would to do with Pakistan policy, simply using Bhutto’s death as an opportunity to say: “We must redouble our efforts to win the Terrorists’ War on Us.”
On the Dem side, Clinton also said little of substance, though she took the opportunity to stress her personal interactions with her to give the veneer of foreign policy experience.
John Edwards, who like Clinton has expressed support for Musharraf, at least directly pressured Musharraf to allow an international investigation — a policy move recognizing the dictatorship cannot be trusted to get to the bottom of the murder.
It was Bill Richardson however who made the clearest statement about his foreign policy approach:

We must use our diplomatic leverage and force the enemies of democracy to yield: President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately. Until this happens, we should suspend military aid to the Pakistani government. Free and fair elections must also be held as soon as possible.

Yet Richardson is not getting mentioned as an experienced candidate because he is going against Beltway “wisdom” that Musharraf must be tolerated as a linchpin of stability, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Biden also deserves some respect for his efforts to protect Bhutto’s safety earlier, and for having a well thought out Pakistan policy in place already — saying Congress would suspend military aid if Musharraf did not restore democracy.
Obama’s team chose to engage the experience debate by connecting the instability in Pakistan with Clinton’s vote to authorize the Iraq war.
On message, I suppose. But he would have been better served if he stressed his earlier willingness to break with Musharraf — before the dictator declared his state of emergency, and despite the scoffing from the Beltway and candidates like Clinton, Edwards and Chris Dodd.
He missed opportunity to show how he would fundamentally change our foreign policy, as Richardson and Biden did. He already laid down the groundwork, yet he chose not to highlight it yesterday.
The bottom line is Bhutto did not need explicit, personal upport from Washington.
She needed Washington to sincerely support democracy. She needed Bush to engage all parties in Pakistan, not pick and choose his favorites, undermine the Pakistani people’s will, and stoke chronic instability.
The Bushies had no interest in that. That’s how she was let down by Washington.
Candidates who want to show how experienced they are should think about taking the time to explain that to both the media and the voters, and explain how they would replaced this disastrously failed policy.
(updated slightly, 12/28, 10:30 AM ET)

The Week In Blog

The latest installment of The Week In Blog, featuring the Heritage Foundation’s Conn Carroll and myself, is up over at We discuss Huckabee hatred, the Obama-Krugman scrap and the blogger-fueled campaign against the Senate FISA bill.

The LiberalOasis Radio Show

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guests were Deb Kozikowski and Matt Barron of, who analyzed the presidential race from the rural voter perspective.
The audio podcast for the show is here. And you can watch my opening monologue below, about the cavalcade of conservative obstruction.
Mentioned on the broadcast:
Campaign for America’s Future “Block and Blame” report (PDF file)
The Field: RuralVotes blog covering the 2008 campaign.
“Farm Bill Follies” and the “apple and twinkie” video
Regarding next week’s guest, for some reason I kept saying “Frederick Carlson,” when obviously I meant Frederick Clarkson, the force behind Talk To Action.

The Homestretch

As we head into the homestretch of the Iowa caucuses, here’s how the leading Dems are trying to define the race:
Sen. Hillary Clinton: I’m a Clinton. We’re winners.
Sen. Barack Obama: I’m likeable, and I always opposed the Iraq occupation.
Former Sen. John Edwards: I’ll fight the corporate interests, not fawn over them.
How that shakes out is hard to say.
I would have thought that the “Clinton” argument was strong enough for Dem voters, especially if no rival was going to hit her hard for leaving the door open to continued occupation.
But having Bill as a surrogate has been a mixed bag as of late. (now you see why Al Gore wasn’t so hot to have Bill shadowing him in 2000?)
On top of the ham-handed attacks on Obama by other surrogates, the campaign isn’t putting the best face on the original Clinton Era.
If nothing else, Edwards has been offering a consistent message for months. He had a game plan he believed in and he stuck with it, despite being stuck in third place in most polls for a while.
He goes into the homestretch giving voters a sense he knows what he wants to do, instead of scrambling for a new message at the last desperate minute. Combined with a good organization, that could make for a surprise showing.
Obama hasn’t been all that inconsistent in his messages, his message just hasn’t been as sharp.
While he has offered policy papers as solid as the rest of the field, his primary argument has been based on his personal characteristics.
Nevertheless, he appears to have a slight edge in the Iowa polls.
With Clinton’s missteps, and perhaps concerns that Edwards has shifted too much from his 2004 platform, Obama’s personal characteristics may end up being enough.
Clinton is so well known, there probably isn’t too much she can do to attract additional support — outside of strong organization. Opinions of her are generally set.
And Edwards’ game plan seems firm too.
But Obama has room to sharpen his message, perhaps drive his foreign policy vision — laid out Tuesday — harder, challenge the surge spin more forcefully, show how he will stand up to the neocons.
We’ll see if he thinks he needs to.

Why Ruin a Good Surge?

How awesome is the surge?
So awesome, the occupying US military doesn’t want the millions of Iraqis forced out of their country to come back.
Because then the surge wouldn’t be awesome anymore.
From the W. Post: (emphasis added)

When the Iraqi government last month invited home the 1.4 million refugees who had fled this war-ravaged country for Syria — and said it would send buses to pick them up — the United Nations and the U.S. military reacted with horror.
U.N. refugee officials immediately advised against the move, saying any new arrivals risked homelessness, unemployment and deprivation in a place still struggling to take care of the people already here. For the military, the prospect of refugees returning to reclaim houses long since occupied by others, particularly in Baghdad, threatened to destroy fragile security improvements.
“It’s a problem that everybody can grasp,” said a senior U.S. diplomat here. “You move back to the house that you left and find that somebody else has moved into the house, maybe because they’ve been displaced from someplace else. And it’s even more difficult than that, because in many cases the local militias . . . have seized control and threw out anybody in that neighborhood they didn’t like.”
The vast population upheaval resulting from Iraq’s sectarian conflict has left the country with yet another looming crisis. At least one of every six Iraqis — about 4.5 million people — has left home, some for other parts of Iraq, others for neighboring nations.

Hey, why ruin a good surge by letting people come back home?
Recall that another W. Post reporter, Thomas Ricks recently summed up the current state of Iraq like so:

…one reason that [Baghdad] is quieter is because of the presence of American troops … another reason is that some Sunni neighborhoods are walled off, and other Sunni areas have been ethnically cleansed. In addition, the Shiite death squads, in addition to killing a lot of innocents, also killed some of the car bomb guys, I am told.

We have relative quiet (“moving from the eighth circle of hell to the fifth” according to Ricks) in part because militants successfully forced millions to flee, if they weren’t simply murdered.
And the occupying military force believes that relative quiet would dissipate if the displaced returned home.
So, the surge hasn’t helped bring about political reconciliation between Iraqi factions.
It is helping to solidify the ethnic cleansing that has already taken place.
Freedom! Stability! It’s Surge-errific!

The LiberalOasis Radio Show

Today at 10 AM ET, The LiberalOasis Radio Show was broadcast on WHMP-AM in Western MA. My special guest was Glenn Hurowitz of Democratic Courage, author of the new book, Fear and Courage in the Democratic Party. From Iowa, he discussed how the Democratic candidates were faring in showing courage and earning trust with the electorate.
Hurowitz also offered a news scoop:

I talked to a major statewide leader with a large following … I can’t say his name yet, but he told me that he’s going to endorse Edwards next week. And I think that could really [make] a significant difference. So I think we’re on the cusp of an Edwards surge.

Big endorsements (Al Gore, Sen. Tom Harkin, SEIU and AFSCME) did not seal the deal for Howard Dean in the 2004 Iowa caucuses, leading many to question their value in the modern era.
But with Edwards often squeezed out of the media spotlight in favor of Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a major endorsement could change the media dynamic.
The audio podcast for the show is here. And you can watch my opening monologue below, about how we can build the mandate to solve the climate crisis.


Doyle McManus from the LA Times sizes up how the presidential candidates are talking about Iraq:

…on the heels of good news from Iraq, the tunes have changed. Democrats aren;t talking about the war as much; their debate over the past week has focused, instead, on domestic issues like health care, plus the value of endorsements from stars such as Oprah Winfrey.
Even more striking, Republicans have become the party of stay-the-course again.
“I think we should give our troops a chance to succeed in Iraq,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at a debate in Miami on Sunday. “Our goal in Iraq is victory.”
“We are winning,” said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. “To take [U.S. forces] out of it not only means we lose, but it means we totally destroy their sense of morale, and it may take a generation to get it backā€¦ We have to stay.”
Arizona Sen. John S. McCain, whose dogged support for a more robust military strategy in Iraq once looked like a liability, did his best to remind Republican voters that – at least for now – he appears to have been right all along.
“We are succeeding,” McCain said. “I was the only one on this stage that said we have to pursue a new strategy…. Now we have a successful strategy. We can succeed. We will succeed.”

Here’s what “success” and “winning” looks like in oh-so-calm and peaceful Iraq. From today’s Washington Post:

On the first day of class, two male teenagers entered a girls’ high school in the Tobji neighborhood, clutching AK-47 assault rifles. The young Shiite fighters handed the principal a handwritten note and ordered her to assemble the students in the courtyard, witnesses said.
“All girls must wear hijab,” she read aloud, her voice trembling. “If the girls don’t wear hijab, we will close the school or kill the girls.”
That October day Sara Mustafa, 14, a secular Sunni Arab, also trembled. The next morning, she covered up with an Islamic head scarf for the first time. The young fighters now controlled her life. “We could not do anything,” Sara recalled.
The Mahdi Army of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is using a new generation of youths, some as young as 15, to expand and tighten its grip across Baghdad, but the ruthlessness of some of these young fighters is alienating Sunnis and Shiites alike.
The fighters are filling the vacuum of leadership created by a 10-month-old U.S.-led security offensive. Hundreds of senior and mid-level militia members have been arrested, killed or forced into hiding, weakening what was once the second most powerful force in Iraq after the U.S. military. But the militia still rules through fear and intimidation, often under the radar of U.S. troops.
“JAM is alive and well in Tobji, although they have gotten younger, like in many other areas,” said Lt. Col. Steven Miska, using a military acronym derived from the militia’s name in Arabic. For much of this year, his soldiers operated in many Shiite and mixed enclaves of Baghdad, including Tobji.
The rise of this new generation is a reflection of the Mahdi Army’s deep infiltration of society and could presage a turbulent resurgence of the militia as the U.S. military reduces troop levels. The emergence also highlights the struggle Sadr faces in his quest to control the capital and lead Iraq.
In late August, the 34-year-old cleric declared a freeze in operations, in part to exert more authority over his unruly, decentralized militia. Many followers stood down, so much that U.S. commanders give Sadr some credit for a downturn in violence this year. But some militia leaders have ignored Sadr’s freeze, and their young, power-hungry foot soldiers may ultimately undermine the cleric’s popular appeal.

Aside from the dubious implication that a reduction of US troops automatically would strengthen militias — as they seem pretty strong already — the piece strikingly illuminates that a nominal decline in the quantity of violence is far from evidence of stability, tranquility and freedom.

And it also notes — as another reporter at the Post has — that a fair amount of the reduction in violence is because of factors unrelated to the increase in US troops.
The relative Democratic silence on Iraq may not terribly hurt the party’s ability to talk about Iraq later in 2008 — silence is easily ignored and forgotten, and the party is still generally seen as opposed to the occupation.
But to talk about Iraq, to take a long view, to stress the fundamental flaws in a foreign policy of occupation — especially when the US media narrative is favoring the occupiers — is an opportunity to enhance the party’s reputation on foreign policy.
Because it would show the party’s foreign policy views are not beholden to the day’s conventional wisdom and poll numbers, but are based on long-term vision, and are rooted in principle and underlying reality.
Offering such a consistent argument, whether or not the day’s superficial punditry agrees with you — that’s how you establish trustworthiness and seriousness on foreign policy. Not by offering knee-jerk “toughness.”
The Dem silence may not ruin their chances in 2008. But it represents a missed opportunity.

Vapid Campaigning Ahead

Four years ago, I wrote that it looked like Howard Dean was going to coast in Iowa because his competitors shied away from direct attacks in what was their last scheduled debate.
Of course, that was way off. His rivals just didn’t want to attack him themselves, while everyone was watching. Attacks were just done through with surrogates instead.
And so, Huckabee has no reason to be sanguine after yesterday’s confrontation-free debate.
And it will not be surprising if today’s Dem debate is a polite affair as well.
But the attacks will come. They will likely be lame, and trivial and silly.

Ironically, this will be more true on the Democratic side, as evidenced by the recent attacks of Obama’s past (and freely admitted and repented) drug use.
Democratic candidates have put on the table far more detailed policy proposals than their Republican counterparts. Yet the Republican skirmishing has been far more issue-based.
With pretty much everyone in the GOP still geared up to spread the good times beyond Iraq, they are left with harping on supposed differences on immigration, taxes and abortion (and perhaps a bit of differentiation on personal religious belief.)
Meanwhile, Democratic candidates — particularly Clinton and Obama — are mainly stressing personal differences as they try to claim the mantle of electability.
Because the issues Republican candidates stressing are so far removed from the top priorities of most voters, perhaps their skirmishing is worse for their party’s brand.
But Democrats should recognize that many people still lack a firm grasp of what they are offering the American people in terms of vision for the country.
As a close race heats up, more people are going to start to tune in.
Seeing a lot of petty attacks, instead of policy disputes that educate people about critical issues, will do little to solve this party-wide vulnerability.

Seder on Sunday

At 4 PM ET today, I will be on Seder on Sunday as usual for the Weekend Watchdog. Go to” to listen online, or to to watch on the SammyCam.

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