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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

March 24, 2006 PERMALINK
Bush Prepares to "Influence" Afghanistan
(posted March 22 1:30 AM ET)

The Bush Administration initially downplayed the case of the Afghan who could get executed for converting to Christianity.

The AP noted that on Tuesday:

The Bush administration ... appealed to Afghanistan to spare the life of Mr. Rahman, but said the matter was one for the Afghan government and courts to decide.

In a case that has sparked international outrage, the remarks of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns were in sharp contrast to condemnations of the trial by lawmakers and by leading European allies.

That got the back up of the right-wing Christian group Family Research Council:

This is all [Burns] offers in response to a threatened judicial murder ... Americans have not given their lives so that Christians can be executed.

That put the end to any attempt to de-prioritize the issue. The next day, Bush took the matter more seriously, saying:

...we expect them to honor the universal principle of freedom. I'm ... deeply troubled when I hear the fact that a person who has converted away from Islam may be held to account. That's not the universal application of the values that I talked about.

How will he do that?

We have got influence in Afghanistan and we are going to use it to remind them that there are universal values.

“Influence.” There’s the problem with the entire Republican foreign policy.

Influence, in this case, means unilateral influence.

Or in laymen's terms: “Hey Karzai, you’re in power because we cleared the deck for you in the election, and you’re staying in power because our military is protecting you. So you best not screw us over with our political base.”

This sort of influence brings major resentment, as if we are imposing foreign values on another land at the point of a gun.

As LiberalOasis has argued in the past, the best way to balance the principle of self-governance for every country with the principle of human rights for all, is to endorse and uphold international human rights standards agreed upon in the United Nations.

That way, calling on a country to respect human rights is not an imposition of values by one country on another, but an adherence to a standard the world has collectively set.

In fact, the Afghan Constitution does require the country to abide by the UN charter and international treaties.

And Amnesty International notes that includes the treaty which protects religious freedom.

But since the Bush Administration wants to undermine and de-legitimize the UN, and does not want the US to lead by example and adhere to international standards, they will not making that case.

They’ll just be using “influence.”

Granted, “influence” is likely to get the job done in this situation (now that Bush has chosen to apply it here, after being pressured by his base).

And that is no small matter for Abdul Rahman, whose life is on the line.

But a liberal internationalist foreign policy approach could have also protected Rahman’s rights, without giving the Taliban fresh rhetorical ammo, and weakening our long-term ability to champion democracy abroad.

March 22, 2006 PERMALINK
The Bases Are Built
(posted March 22 12:30 AM ET)

Earlier in the week, LiberalOasis noted there was additional momentum for the Center for American Progress’ “Strategic Deployment” Iraq plan.

Howard Dean had already been trying to get Democrats to coalesce around the plan, and Sunday’s implicit endorsement from Zbigniew Brzezinski may give it a new shot in the arm.

Part of that plan, which Zbig did not explicitly mention Sunday, was the renouncement of permanent military bases.

And there are developments on that front that Dems should be calling attention to.

First and foremost are the headlines generated by Dubya's admission that the troops will not be home by the end of his term.

He made that admission the same day that the AP reported from the inside of some of the “long-term” bases already built, quoting one solider, “I think we'll be here forever.”

Finally, last Thursday the House passed Democrat Barbara Lee’s amendment to an Iraq spending bill banning funds for permanent bases.

The GOP leadership, clearly unwilling to go on the record opposing the amendment, allowed it to pass on a voice vote.

But there’s no way the amendment will survive the legislative process.

After the Senate (which voted down a Dem resolution renouncing permanent bases in November) passes its version of the spending bill, the House-Senate conference will surely strip out the Lee Amendment, allowing the GOP to get rid of it without a recorded vote.

Bush’s comments and the AP story give Dems a fresh opportunity to press the bases issue: how the GOP doesn’t have an exit strategy because they have no plans to exit.

That partial withdrawals are meaningless PR, if the end goal is still a permanent presence to exert unilateral influence in the region, breeding resentment and fueling terrorism.

And when the final war spending bill is passed, without the Lee Amendment, will be another opportunity to show how things will be different if a Dem Congress in elected in November.

March 21, 2006 PERMALINK
India Deal In More Trouble
(posted March 21 12:30 AM ET)

On Friday, LiberalOasis noted that while Bush’s nuclear deal with India is meeting bipartisan resistance in Congress, without grassroots pressure, Bush is more able twist arms and may be able to salvage it.

But yesterday, former right-leaning Dem Senator Sam Nunn, now co-chair of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, joined the skeptics and called for “conditions” on the deal.

(The Bushies say conditions could kill the deal, though one would assume it all depends on what the conditions are.)

Nunn’s statements scored a W. Post story, calling it a “setback” for Bush. The piece ended with:

"Nunn's voice carries weight," said Henry D. Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and a Pentagon official in the George H.W. Bush administration, who opposes the agreement.

"We have waited for a moderate, respected voice to speak clear sense on these matters. Now that he's spoken, it would be very strange if Congress doesn't listen."

So while this development doesn’t do anything to spark grassroots pressure, it creates significant pressure from within the Beltway establishment on Congress.

LiberalOasis had also suggested Dems make a point of connecting the India deal to an Iran strategy. Nunn did that and then some:

... Nunn, who was briefed on the deal by State Department officials last week, said he is concerned it would lead to the spread of weapons-grade nuclear material, unleash a regional arms race with China and Pakistan, and make it more difficult for the United States to win support for sanctions against nuclear renegades such as Iran and North Korea.

Interesting side note: the W. Post noted that Nunn is on the board of General Electric, and Bloomberg has reported that General Electric stands to gain from the deal.

This doesn’t change LiberalOasis’ analysis from last week – more public pressure would still be ideal.

But today, we have a better shot of killing the deal without it.

March 20, 2006 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted March 20 2:30 AM ET)

The big question of the day: is Iraq in a civil war?

Vice-President Cheney on CBS’ Face The Nation said “no”:

Clearly, there is an attempt underway by the terrorists, by Zarqawi and others to foment civil war ... but I don't think they've been successful.

On NBC’s Meet The Press, General George Casey, the senior commander in Iraq, said “no, but”:

I do not believe, one, that we are in a civil war right now; two, nor do I believe that a civil war is imminent or necessarily inevitable.

Now, is the situation here fragile because of the increased tensions and sectarian tensions and increased levels of violence that are ... of a sectarian nature and because of the forming of the government? That’s absolutely right...

Let’s just say if your main defense is tedious semantics -- “it’s not civil war, just some sectarian violence” – you’ve lost before you’ve opened your mouth.

In any event, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel on ABC’s This Week , undercut that feeble messaging by revealing what our generals say privately:

I think we've had a low grade civil war going on in Iraq for the last six months maybe the last year.

Our own generals have told me that privately ... So that's a fact.

Having said that, what the Bushies are trying to do is simply hold the line until they can get the Iraqi political class to form a government – and get a day or so of “turn the corner” press, which could temporarily damp down the negative coverage and relieve some pressure on themselves.

The long delay in forming the government is making leading Senate Dems, who have hesitated from backing any sort of timetable for ground troop withdrawal, more open to the notion.

Last Sunday on Meet The Press, Sen. Joe Biden said:

...in the next six to eight weeks, we don’t get something moving in terms of a government ... It’ll be closer to a civil war.

We’re going to have to have a different function for our troops ... You’re going to have to figure out how to contain rather than how to, how to build ...

... If they don’t have a constitution in place by this summer that is viewed as a uniting document, where everybody signs on to it, it’s game over.

Now, how you pull them out, where you pull them to, whether you have them over the horizon, whether you have a containment policy that, that, that secures the region in a different way, that’s a whole different question.

And yesterday on CNN’s Late Edition, Biden urged Bush to convene a “contact group, bringing in the rest of the world to put incredible pressure upon all of the parties in Iraq to reach a political agreement.”

Over on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Jack Reed (one of the Dems’ pointmen on Iraq) agreed that “we have to reassess our entire presence” if there is no “political solution” in about six weeks.

And he called on Bush to dispatch Condi Rice to Iraq and press for compromises.

The upside of Biden’s and Reed’s statements is that if there isn’t a government formed soon, they have opened the door a reassessment, which could help the party overcome its substantive differences and unite around a detailed Iraq plan.

The downside is that they are still playing White House Adviser, offering tactical suggestions which will never be heeded, instead of criticizing the entire Bush worldview and strategy and offering a comprehensive alternative.

Even Rep. Jack Murtha, who is pushing a comprehensive Iraq plan to redeploy troops over the Iraqi border, hesitates from contrasting Dem and GOP foreign policy visions,

On Meet The Press, Murtha criticized the White House happy talk:

...what they’re trying to do is paint it as if there’s progress in order to be able to get out.

That’s just wrong. They don’t want to get out. They want to stay.

Not making that clear to the public makes it impossible to argue that a Democratic government would offer a substantially better foreign policy course.

Furthermore, in all likelihood the Bushies will eventually squeeze out a compromise and get a government formed, (made of up mainly of exiles that the Bushies shipped in).

This illegitimate process is nothing to celebrate, but Biden, Reed and others will be forced to give Bush a pat on the back and return to playing White House Adviser when the civil war grinds on.

(Though do note that both Biden and Reed stressed that forming a government is just one small step, not the end of Iraq’s problems.)

Back at CNN, former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski prodded Dems to back a complete alternative:

One, ask the Iraqi leadership to ask us to leave...

...Secondly, once they have publicly asked us to leave, set a date. I think a year or so would be reasonable.

Third, get the Iraqis to announce publicly, as their initiative, the convening of a conference of all of Iraq's neighbors to deal with the problem of stability and stabilization in Iraq because they all have a stake in stability in the region.

And then, last, we could then convene an external conference, modeled on the one that we had regarding Afghanistan, regarding help from the major potential donor countries.

This tracks what the Center For American Progress proposed back in September, which came a month after Sen. Russ Feingold broke the taboo of proposing a target date for redeployment.

There is momentum behind this plan. With the Republicans wobbly, pathetically trying to claim there is no civil war, a strong united Dem front would be politically devastating and substantively consequential.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

American Research Group poll: Americans support censure 46%-44%, oppose impeachment 49%-42%

Open Letter To Chris Matthews: "... NBC apparently has a policy of not allowing anchors to take money for speaking fees from 'interest groups' ... The question becomes, is [Chris] Matthews violating that rule?"

Faithful Progressive: Pew Poll Confirms White Evangelicals Turning Against Bush

Fired Up! Missouri: House GOP Bans County Health Clinics From Providing Birth Control

Tapped: "If there isn't a plot afoot to start a war with Iran, then what's with all this Iran-related lying?"

Human Rights First: "We are asking you to sign our petition to call for a U.N. appointed diplomat of the highest international stature to lead a peace process in Darfur"

The Democratic Party blog notes press reports that Dean's 50-State strategy is starting to pay off

The Wilderness Society: ANWR drilling scheduled to be back before the Senate tommorow, contact your Senators

Deadline Pundit: "I suspect that Iran began by using the nuclear issue as a bargaining point, but in the long negotiations with the Europeans it found ... they were not bringing the Americans to the table. Iran's previous reformist administration, in particular, wanted some tokens of appreciation ... Iran had cooperated in the removal of the Taliban ... and could, at the very least, have made things much, much worse in Iraq ... In return, of course, the Iranians discovered that ... they were still a member of the 'axis of evil' ..."

The Reality-Based Community: "how low John McCain would go in his pandering to the radical right ... [he] has sought and gained Trent Lott's support ... McCain is in the habit of abandoning his 'straight talk' principles whenever he needs racist votes"

Faith and Policy Weblog: US Religious Leaders Support Global Family Planning

MyDD: CREW Files Against Grover Norquist

The Sideshow: "... for a while there the religiosity of the left, and the moral high-ground that came with it, so overwhelmed the right wing that they obviously had to grab it back, and they've done so with a vengeance. [But] liberals aren't hostile to Evangelical Christians, we're hostile to evangelical dirtbags who spread hate and division."

LamontBlog: "Today is the beginning of the end of Joe Lieberman's career in the United States Senate ... The Nedmentum starts"

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