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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

February 11, 2005 PERMALINK
Pakistan Paying Off Al Qaeda
(posted Feb. 1 12:45 AM ET)

Remember that Osama Bin Laden guy? Wondering how that whole War on Terror business is going?

Apparently, our close ally Pakistan is trying a new tactic: giving money to Al Qaeda.

The BBC reports:

Pakistan says it has paid 32m rupees ($540,000) to help four former wanted tribal militants in South Waziristan settle debts with al-Qaeda

Military operations chief in the region, Lt Gen Safdar Hussain, said the payments were part of a peace deal signed on Monday with tribesmen.

It is the first time Pakistan has admitted making such payments.

(First time admitting it?! Does that mean there have been other payoffs that were kept quiet?)

The South Asia Tribune is more pointed than the BBC:

[The] Pakistan Army has publicly admitted paying Al Qaeda over half a million dollars in the most bizarre deal it has ever made with militant Waziristan fighters, [who have been] battling the Army and the US forces in the rugged terrain bordering Afghanistan for months…

…General Hussain said the the payments were part of a peace deal signed on Monday with tribesmen, but the public admission that money had been paid to be transferred to Al Qaeda stunned analysts and diplomatic observers in Islamabad.

Also, Pakistan’s Daily Times had reported earlier that the ceremony for this “peace deal” was marked by “Taliban militants shouting ‘Death to America’”

The Daily Times editorial board was critical of the deal:

It sounded very much like the “peace” ceremony last year with Nek Muhammad, the Wazir “Taliban commander” with Al Qaeda connections …

...But where is the honour of the government of Pakistan and how has it redeemed it in the long drawn out “war with Al Qaeda” in the Tribal Areas?

The “deal” with Nek Muhammad fell through before the ink was dry on it and the man had finally to be killed with a missile, but not before he became a ‘hero’ of sorts despite his not so honourable personal profile in the area where he operated.

So, you can see why Dubya said just a few weeks ago that:

[The] Pakistan government has been aggressive in pursuit of al Qaeda targets in Waziristan.

And I appreciate the work of President Musharraf.

He came the other day, on a Saturday morning to the White House and it was an opportunity to thank him once again for some of the bold steps he's taken.

If this wasn’t ridiculous enough, it gets worse.

While four wanted militants accepted the payoff, a fifth rejected it, Abdullah Mehsud. The South Asia Tribune called him the “main militant rebel”.

The "main militant rebel" was actually in custody at Gitmo for two years. He was released last year.

According to NBC News, It’s unclear whether Mehsud was a hardcore militant who tricked the US into releasing him, or if he was radicalized at Gitmo and became hardcore upon release.

So in recent days, we have our main War on Terror ally paying off Al Qaeda, while being snubbed by a former prisoner.

We have North Korea getting nukes while we sat idly by.

We have the likelihood that the Administration delayed revealing until after the election what the FAA knew about potential suicide hijackings before 9/11.

We have a newly revealed Richard Clarke memo, showing that Condi lied when she said “no Al Qaeda threat was turned over to the new administration”

But leaving aside all that, the War on Terror is going just fine. We got 'em on the run.

(UPDATE 2/11/05 2:30 PM ET -- Discussion of this post is happening at Alan S' Daily Kos diary.)

(UPDATE 2/11/05 3:15 PM ET -- Wampum posted about the payoff earlier this week.)

February 10, 2005 PERMALINK
Reid Throws Down
(posted Feb. 9 11:45 PM ET)

As you may know, Harry Reid lashed out at Bush and GOPers after the RNC wrote and distributed an attack piece on him.

Some liberals liked Reid's moxie in firing back, others felt Reid came off weak and whiny.

For the skeptics out there, keep in mind that Reid’s move was most likely not an emotional knee-jerk reaction, but merely a way to free up himself to be more aggressively partisan for the foreseeable future.

Reid has been laying down markers to try to position himself as someone who could be bipartisan, but wouldn’t if Bush wasn’t ready to deal.

"I would always rather dance than fight. But I know how to fight,” was his initial message when he became leader.

A month later on Meet The Press, he similarly said, “we want to work with the president. But they can't jam things down our throats.”

Soon after that, Tim Russert asked him, if punched, would he punch back? Reid, “Sure will.”

And this week, you saw it. In essence, this week’s floor speech, was a “they started it” move.

Now it was silly for Reid to think he needed to establish who “started it” before leading in true opposition fashion.

And some time was wasted because Reid, and most of the congressional Dems, were hesitant in how to proudly carry on after the election.

In turn, under Reid’s leadership so far, it’s been a mixed bag: very good on Social Security, mixed on Cabinet nominees, muddled on Iraq.

But Reid, and the party, is a work-in-progress.

Yet, while there are fits and starts, there is progress.

For Reid to throw down the gauntlet in such a public way is another sign of progress, a sign that there will be more to come.

February 9, 2005 PERMALINK
What To Do While The GOP Squabbles
(posted Feb. 9 1:30 AM ET)

As the Congress chews on the Bush budget, it is very likely that Dems will be mostly squeezed out of the debate.

This is through no fault of their own.

There are two reasons why.

One, the “budget reconciliation” process in the Senate does not permit filibusters and severely limits amendments, giving the minority party little influence on the result.

And the media tends not to talk to folks that can’t impact the result.

Two, the interesting story about the budget is shaping up to be the fault lines within the GOP.

As some rigid ideologues have begun to criticize Dubya as supporting “big government,” and more provincial congresspeople complain about cuts that hit their states and districts.

While it’s always fun to sit back and watch the other side squabble, Dems should be careful of how they handle this dynamic.

The risk here is that the only two reasonable points of view become either Bush’s cruel budget cuts or even more cruel budget cuts.

And while Dems should pile on about how Bush’s is slathering the nation in red ink, if that criticism is done in a vacuum, it feeds the notion that more budget pain is needed.

Dems haven’t quite fallen in that trap in their initial messaging.

They have tried to defend programs for the poor, for children, for police and for veterans while calling attention to runaway deficits.

But the deficit message is probably carrying farther, and the temptation to perceived as moving to “the right of the Bushies”, as The Bull Moose recommends, will be strong.

Of course, since Dems have clearly shown their commitment to responsible budgets, and GOPers have shown the opposite, it is no longer a move to the Right to back deficit reduction.

But it is moving Right to want to slash budgets and cripple the ability of our government to serve us.

How do Dems attack deficits without moving Right?

As LiberalOasis argued in Dec., Dems have to come to terms with the fact that when they return to power, they will have to raise taxes to repair at least some of the damage done.

In turn, they need to start making the case for it, which should involving articulating how Bush’s tax cuts are currently hurting Americans.

And since they don’t really need short-term messages for the various budget skirmishes that will take place, as the media spotlight will mainly be on GOPers, they can afford to think long-term.

Of course, LO doesn’t expect Dems to swallow such a counterintuitive move at the present time.

It’s taking every ounce of energy to keep them unified on Social Security, a much easier call.

But the reality is, there are only two tools to wipe out a deficit, cut spending and raise taxes.

If you refuse to make the case for one, you will be forced to do nothing but the other.

One last thing: a long-term effort to control health care costs would do a lot more to reduce spending than the cuts Bush has proposed, since the growth in Medicare and Medicaid are huge strains on the budget.

Single-payer anyone?

February 8, 2005 PERMALINK
The Dangers Of Getting Cute and Tacking Right
(posted Feb. 8 1:15 AM ET)

Over the weekend, Washington Monthly’s Political Animal noted some major hackery on the part of Brit Hume and Fox News.

They selectively quoted from a ’99 Fox interview of Sen. Harry Reid to make it sound like he used to support Social Security privatization.

But the quote -- “Most of us have no problem with taking a small amount of the Social Security proceeds and putting it into the private sector.” – when viewed in context, referred to a wholly different proposal.

A Bill Clinton proposal for our government to try to shore up the trust fund by investing some of it in private markets.

That’s far different than diverting payroll taxes into private accounts in order to cut guaranteed benefits, fundamentally changing Social Security from retirement insurance to retirement roulette.

Now, Hume is no moron.

He did not say Reid was supporting the exact same proposal that Bush is offering now.

He said Reid “proposed something very similar”. Highly misleading, but not technically inaccurate.

Clearly, he knew full well what the difference was.

Like a chess player thinking several moves ahead, he fully expects the pushback, which will entail how Clinton’s proposal was different than Bush's.

That’s when the Dems will walk into the trap:

“Why are you only for putting Social Security funds in the stock market when the government does it? Why don’t you trust the people with their own money?”

LiberalOasis isn’t bringing this up to offer suggestions how to wriggle out of the trap, but to show the long-term dangers in pilfering conservative rhetoric.

Whenever you get cute and accept conservative premises, you risk fundamentally shifting the terms of the debate to the right.

And you can’t always tilt it back.

Clinton employed this tactic often, which tended to help him win short-term political battles, but didn’t help the Democratic Party win long-term policy battles.

He said he’d “end welfare as we know it.”

Though he didn’t want to sign the GOP’s harsh version of welfare reform.

Yet since he shifted the terms of the debate, he knew he'd look like a hypocrite if he vetoed it. So he embraced it instead.

He said “the era of big government is over,” which continues to make it difficult for Democrats to propose government solutions for anything.

And with Social Security, he tried to show the Dems love the stock market too.

Now it’s up to the rest of his party to square his past comments with the current strategy.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying the same sort of trick as she tests the waters for 2008.

She was widely praised by the punditocracy for trying to establish some common ground on abortion with pro-lifers.

Granted, some of her comments were innocuous.

She did not change any substantive positions, and there’s nothing wrong showing “respect” for those with different views, as she did.

But she used one key phrase that will cause the pro-choice movement problems if it catches on.

By calling abortion “a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women,” she is laying the groundwork for more severe restrictions on abortion than she supports.

For if the broader debate rests on the notion that abortion is inherently a tragedy, why should we ensure that people have access to it? Why wouldn't you severely restrict a tragedy?

It’s one thing to forge common ground to try to reduce unwanted pregnancies, as Hillary and others have suggested, because by definition they are unwanted.

It’s another to set as a goal a reduction in abortions, based on the premise that abortion is fundamentally immoral.

That has broader policy implications. That tilts the debate to the right.

Do we have any other option?

Consider that there was a time, not very long ago, when it was considered terribly foolish to deny that Social Security was in crisis.

But Dems took that chance, and have, so far, successfully tilted the debate leftward.

The Establishment may have you thinking that it would be crazy to staunchly back abortion rights.

That it would be crazy to showcase women who do not consider their abortions to be tragedies, but choices that benefited their lives.

That it would be crazy to state that being pro-choice is just as moral as being pro-life.

But what’s crazy is tilting the debate away from you for short-term personal political gain, at the expense of your core beliefs.

February 7, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted Feb. 7 12:45 AM ET)

Defense Sec. Don Rumsfeld hit all the shows but Fox News Sunday (where Cheney held court).

Questions about Bush’s Iran plans came up on most shows, but ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos delved the deepest.

And Rummy’s responses were quite ominous.

Here’s one portion of the exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Several of us met with The President on the day he gave his State of the Union [and] it was clear that the president believed at least two things about Iran.

One, that they’re going to do whatever it takes to get a nuclear weapon.

And two, that there are no good options to stop them.

Do you agree with that?

RUMSFELD: Is that what the president said?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m not allowed to say what the president said.

That was my impression after the hour-long meeting.

RUMSFELD: Well if that’s your impression, and it’s accurate, and that’s what the president said, then it’s probably right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just on November 1st, he said that our position is that they won’t have a nuclear weapon. He said that to Bill O’Reilly.

Is that United States policy?

RUMSFELD: I think the President has spoken on this. Condi Rice spoke on it this week.

It is a matter for the President and the Department of State.

And if I say something, and move a comma from one place to the other, someone will say, “Ah, there’s daylight there.”

And the reality is, the president has said he wants to approach this on the diplomatic path. And he’s doing that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the question is, can they be stopped?

RUMSFELD: Time will tell.

So it sounds like Bush was a little blunter in this off-the-record meeting than usual, enough to take Rummy by surprise.

The word formulation that tripped Rummy up was “no good options,” as Bush has not used such absolute phrasing publicly.

What’s the big deal with that phrase?

To have “no good options” effectively leaves one of two “bad options”.

Do nothing, which for this Administration means having other countries take the lead in negotiations that Bush doesn’t believe in and will regularly undercut (see Korea, North).

Or, go to war.

The Administration would like to be as coy about this as possible until they’re ready to go in, which is why they are talking up (yet not participating in) the European-led “diplomatic path”.

Some more trusting of Bush may assume that he is just doing a good cop/bad cop routine with the Europeans.

But that was recently debunked by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. From the NY Times:

[ElBaradei] has urged the United States to get involved in Europe's talks with Iran.

He describes military action - an option left open by the Bush administration - as "really naïve."

"You need a good cop/bad cop in addressing every issue," Dr. ElBaradei said.

"But the good cop/bad cop have to be on the same wavelength. They have to share the same objective."

And we don’t share the same objective.

Ours is regime change, and theirs is merely keeping Iran nuclear-free.

Of course, Bush can’t really do military-led regime change if Iran gets a nuke. (Again, see Korea, North)

Which is why he said our policy is we just won’t let Iran get one.

And since there’s “no good option” to stop that from happening, the “do nothing” option will eventually give way to the “war” option.

Here’s another key part of the Rumsfeld-Stephanopoulos exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: …Seymour Hersh…reported that there is a group in the Pentagon that believe a limited military strike would be useful because it would cause the regime to topple.

And he went on to quote a government consultant, who said… Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief…

RUMSFELD: That’s fiction.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Fiction? Completely untrue?

RUMSFELD: …First of all, it’s an unidentified consultant.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s why I’m asking you.

RUMSFELD: Not somebody from inside the department.

How in the world would anyone know whether Wolfowitz or Rumsfeld’s views were on this?... [sic]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, presumably they didn’t talk to you.

RUMSFELD: Well, it’s factually untrue that we talked to anyone and said anything like that, at least for myself.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you believe that a limited strike could cause a regime to topple?

RUMSFELD: Who knows?...

...I’ve been amazed in many times in my life. I was amazed at how rapidly the Shah of Iran fell, and the Ayatollahs took over that country. It happened, just seemingly, like that...

...And you look at Romania, when that fell, it was fast.

We can’t predict these things...I just don’t know.

I do know that there are obviously, young people and women in that country who know what’s going on in the rest of the world.

They know how other people live…They have access to the outside world. They can move in and out for vacations.

People from our country go in there and talk to them.

It’s not as though they’re in North Korea, and don’t have a good sense of what’s taking place in the rest of the world.

Some classic Rummy dissembling.

He first does a blanket denial, but then refines the denial to only apply what was said to a reporter.

Which was never the point, Hersh never claimed to have gotten his info firsthand from Rumsfeld.

But more important was the way Rummy answered the big question -- does he believe a limited strike could flip Iran’s regime?.

While the nominal answer was “who knows,” he then expounded on how fast regimes can fall, specifically citing Romania.

And the Romania experience is exactly what was cited in the Hersh piece as part of the basis of the neocon view:

The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership.

“Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement,” the consultant told me.

“The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse”—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

(The theoretical thread is not the military strike, which didn’t happen in Romania, but the end of an “aura of invincibility.” The neocons just think that blowing something up is the way to get there in Iran.)

So it would appear that Rummy’s inclusion of Romania in his answer to Stephanopoulos was a little wink to show where he really stands.

Rummy also noted that the Iranian people know what is going on in the rest the world, to further imply that, having seen democracy flourish nearby, they would leap into action following a limited strike.

Well, it’s certainly true that they know what’s going on around them.

Some even have a few words to say about it.

QUICK HIT

McCain’s Crooked Talk

Lest you still believe Sen. John McCain is always in “straight talk” mode, on ABC’s This Week, he was peddling the GOP lie that the Social Security trust fund is going bust.

McCain was asked if he was on board with Bush’s plan, and he said:

I’m certainly with him in principle. I think that for us to wait until 2042 when it’s completely bankrupt would be crazy.

LiberalOasis has noted before that McCain has expressed his support for privatization.

And he said, “privatization.”

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

The Left Coaster: "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting reveals the New York Times killed a story just before the election which contained assertions from a NASA digital imaging expert that Bush cheated during the debates by using electronic assistance in violation of the debate ground rules"

Juan Cole: "So let me propose to [National Review's Jonah Goldberg] that we debate Middle East issues, anywhere, any time, he and I. Otherwise he should please shut up and go back to selling Linda Tripp tapes on Ebay." (via Atrios)

Oliver Willis, Pam's House Blend and AmericaBlog on Alan Keyes cutting off his gay daughter

Basie! interviews liberal Fmr. Sen. Birch Bayh, father of possible prez candidate Sen. Evan Bayh

Burnt Orange Report: Dean secures majority of votes needed to win DNC Chair

Daily Kos: "Who was the Iraqi Woman in the balcony?"

Editor & Publisher: Early Iraq turnout numbers may be fuzzy math (via Altercation)

Tapped: "it's ... disingenuous that George W. Bush mentioned the reauthorization of the Ryan White ... Act ... five of six Ryan White funding areas were cut ... in fiscal years 2004 and 2005."

Hullabaloo: "We who were born in the mid 50's are the biggest bulge of the baby boom cohort. And we are the ones who are first in line to get fucked if this social security 'reform' is passed."

Talking Points Memo: Hastert axes three independent GOPers from the Ethics Cmte, makes lackey Chair, during the SOTU when few are looking

MyDD: "Santorum belongs to a party that takes money from hard-core pornographers"

MaxSpeak: FactCheck shows it's not about checking facts with its analysis of MoveOn's Social Security ad

Abu Aardvark sizes up recent think-pieces on Arab political reform

Human Rights Watch: "U.S. Fiddles Over ICC While Darfur Burns"

We The Parents is defending their Cupertino, CA school from right-wing lies that it banned the Declaration of Independence

The SEA-EAT Blog has information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts for victims of the SE Asian tsunami

**************

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