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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

April 20, 2006 PERMALINK
No Policy Is Bad Politics
(posted April 20 1:15 AM ET)

Yesterday, Karl Rove shed his policy portfolio to fully focus on the mid-term elections.

This makes some sense. There’s no actual policy being made these days, so clearly Rove had some free time on his hands that could be put to better use.

What makes less sense is that Rove is now being paid taxpayer money to work on an election – and to boot, an election for which his boss isn’t even on the ballot.

Of course, the election will have a major impact on the Bush Presidency. As NBC’s David Gregory reminded viewers on “Hardball” yesterday:

If the Democrats win, not only will the president’s agenda go nowhere, but he’s going to be tied up in investigations about the war and leaks and all the rest for the remainder of his term once Democrats ... have subpoena power.

The Rove move comes on the heels of the RNC’s failed attempt to keep the party in lockstep with Bush.

Recall that in March the RNC (headed by Rove acolyte Ken Melhman) sent around a memo telling GOP congresspeople not to “driv[e] a wedge between themselves and the President” because “If he drops, we all drop.”

As noted here last week, after the latest leak revelations surfaced, congresspeople sought to salvage their own reputations and promptly ignored the memo.

With the White House becoming marginalized, the Rove move appears a final attempt by Bush to exert top-down control over the ’06 strategy and message.

This may be initially welcomed by the rank-and-file, if the few quotes in this LA Times piece is any indication. After all, Rove is perceived as a winner.

The downside for Rove is that hopes within the GOP will likely be raised, and he doesn’t have a whole lot to work with.

In August 1992, James Baker reluctantly agreed to relinquish his prestigious post as Secretary of State, to right Poppy Bush’s floundering re-election campaign.

Baker was seen as a brilliant political fixer. He still lost.

The Bush Presidency was too big a failure to be fixed by a hack, even a great hack. (The always classy Bush clan blamed Baker, and he temporarily fell out of the family’s graces.)

Rove faces a similar problem today.

While Rove is keen and saying “good policy is good politics,” his tenure as chief policy advisor hasn’t produced any good policy.

All he can do is throw around more McCarthyisms and muck.

Democrats must of course be prepared for such attacks, but at the same time, must not let Rove dictate the terms of the election.

That’s a tricky balance: knocking down smears without letting the smears take the focus away from the failures of total GOP rule in Washington.

But since the failures are so stark, and continue to pile up, Rove still has the harder job.

April 19, 2006 PERMALINK
Pushing Direct Talks
(posted April 19 2:15 AM ET)

On Monday, LiberalOasis cataloged the growing number of Republicans and Democrats calling on Dubya to initiate direct talks with Iran.

The GOPers: Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel, Richard Armitage, Richard Haass. The Dems: Evan Bayh, Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd, Dianne Feinstein.

And as of yesterday, Harry Reid appears to have joined the pack.

Can these voices prevent Dubya and the neocons from warping the debate over Iran and steamrolling Congress into war a second time?

Not by their stature alone.

Not by simply stating their preference for direct talks.

If these folks are truly committed to prevent another unnecessary war, they need to get a few steps ahead of the White House, and undermine the premises that the neocons are successfully laying down.

Two messages in particular are needed to buttress any “direct talks” strategy.

1. The Iran government, while distasteful, is rational.

This is the ballgame.

If everyone thinks Iran is crazy, then no one will believe that direct talks can work.

In turn, they can more easily be persuaded that we have no choice but to attack.

The “Madman” phase of the White House playbook is already underway. For example, Karl Rove just deemed Iranian President Ahmadinejad as “not a rational human being to deal with.”

Of course, Ahmadinejad’s fondness for belligerent and hateful rhetoric plays right into the neocon playbook -- Iranian blogger Hoder recently wrote, “There is no bigger threat to Iran's national security bigger than Ahmadinejad.”

That makes an already hard job even harder, but it’s a necessary job.

How can the "Madman" strategy be overcome?

First, stress the evidence of Iran’s rationality.

That Iran offered comprehensive talks with the White House to address their nuclear program and support for anti-Israel groups, and was snubbed.

That Iran offered to help us get Osama, and was rebuffed.

In turn, seeing that Bushies were not interested in talking to them, and seeing how North Korea is staving off an attack by getting nukes, the Iran government’s desire for a nuke is driven by a rational desire to prevent an attack.

That doesn’t mean it would good for the world if Iran had a nuke. Far from it.

But it you understand their rational reasons, you can figure out what it would take to forge a deal, and stop them from getting one.

Second, downplay Ahmadinejad.

He’s not president like a US president. He’s not the Supreme Leader. He is not even a mullah. He does not have final say on Iran’s foreign policy.

The neocons certainly didn’t make Iran’s reformist president Khatami the sole face of the Iranian government, when he was in power during Bush’s first term.

We should not allow to neocons make Ahmadinejad the sole face of Iran.

2. The Bush Administration is not credible and, despite their claims, will not seriously pursue a diplomatic solution.

Keep in mind it is very possible that Bush may well take intermediate steps before an attack, 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.

This is a major problem with relying on a bipartisan coalition to counter the Bushies, because GOPers will not criticize the Bush Administration’s credibility.

That’s why Dems should not try to over-coordinate their messages with sympathetic folks like Lugar, Hagel, Armitage and Haass.

There’s nothing wrong with Dems making a partisan charge, and GOPers making a softer case.

In fact, that could help broaden the appeal of the argument.

In sum, those members of the sane faction of the Washington Establishment must appreciate that:

If you don’t make the case that the Iran government is rational, you can’t sell direct talks.

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.

April 17, 2006 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted April 17 1:15 AM ET)

The sane faction of Establishment Washington sent a clear message yesterday: talk with Iran.

GOP Sen. Dick Lugar, as chair of the Foreign Relations Cmte, was the highest ranking pol to speak out. From ABC’s This Week:

I think that [direct talks] would be useful...

...the Iranians are a part of the energy picture. Clearly their ties with India and with China, quite apart from others, are really critical ...

We need to focus our attention, less right now on the centrifuges, than on how [energy] ... at least ... nuclear, is going to come to all of these countries in some more satisfying way.

Furthermore, we have an agenda with Iran to talk about as far as their interference with Iraq.

And there are issues there in which, ironically, we may come out on the same side with some of the Iranians.

Also on ABC, Dem Sen. Evan Bayh seconded the call:

I don’t think there’s anything to be lost by opening a dialogue with them. Perhaps we can accomplish something by that...

Bayh argued that economic sanctions combined with direct talks was key:

...There are some tangible things we can do to increase their discomfort level that might make the dialogue that Dick [Lugar], I and others favor, more productive.

Though Lugar argued that sanctions would be counterproductive at the moment, as we needed to “cool” the rhetoric.

Several Democrats also made the case for direct talks.

On CBS’ Face The Nation, NM Gov. Bill Richardson offered some big picture analysis:

...I would do [things] totally different from what the Bush administration is doing.

I would engage the Iranians directly ... about nuclear weapons, about Iraq. They have major influence on Iraq.

Secondly, I would stop outsourcing our foreign policy to the Europeans, to the International Atomic Energy Agency, to the UN Security Council.

I believe [we should] talk directly to them, but build an international consensus...

...This is why the fraying of our relationship with the Europeans, with the allies, has been so costly ... we can't build a true international coalition ... to get Iran to stop developing nuclear weapons...

...The fact that the Pentagon leaked that we would use tactical nuclear weapons is ridiculous.

Military options should always be on the table, but you don't bring it out first. You exercise your full diplomatic engagement and tools...

...There may be a communality of interest. Iran wants secure borders in Iraq ... Iran doesn't want to lose it's oil revenue...

Over on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace tried to push a conservative line that Dubya has already tried multilateral diplomacy – a premise which Dem Sen. Chris Dodd wisely rejected:

WALLACE: ... diplomacy doesn't seem to have worked ...

...Is it time to leave the U.N. Security Council ... and to get a coalition of the willing to impose tough economic sanctions on Iran?

DODD: Well, I certainly don't disagree with the sanctions option.

But I would disagree with your characterization, Chris, that we've sort of exhausted the diplomatic option.

We basically outsourced the diplomatic option ... We've been leaving it up to the Europeans and others.

I happen to believe that you need direct talks.

Former [Dep.] Secretary [of State Richard] Armitage made the point the other day ... had we had political leadership in this country in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s that had been unwilling to talk to the Soviet Union, had Richard Nixon been unwilling to go to China, think what the world might have looked like...

It doesn't mean you agree with them. It doesn't mean you support them. It doesn't mean you have formal diplomatic relations.

But there's an option...The Iranians have been very interested for us to be very directly involved, with the Europeans or not.

...we almost have no contact at all.

They are asking us to sit down and talk about Iraq with them ... That's an opening.

Finally, on CNN’s Late Edition, Dem Sen. Dianne Feinstein backed Lugar’s earlier comments:

I would absolutely support Senator Lugar ... I think this is a skilled man in these areas. He is absolutely right.

I don't know why we would even talk about using tactical nuclear weapons [against Iran] when we haven't directly spoken with the Iranians.

It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't compute.

All this comes on the heels of last week’s comments from GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, and former Bush officials Richard Armitage and Richard Haass, all pushing for direct talks.

Hagel said a “political settlement” is “the answer. Not a military settlement.”

Armitage told the Financial Times:

It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship...everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq.

We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away.

In a FT column, Haass offered a strategy for direct talks:

Iran would be allowed no - or at most, a token - uranium enrichment programme ... coupled with the most intrusive inspections.

In return, Iran would receive a range of economic benefits, security guarantees and political dialogue.

If Iran refused, the United Nations Security Council would ban investment in Iran's oil and gas sector.

Would such a deal work? The short answer is "maybe".

There is evidence that not all Iran's leaders are comfortable with their president's outrageous statements and his confrontational tack.

Publicising the contents of the diplomatic offer would increase their discomfort.

In this way, the Iranian people, who care more about jobs than nuclear weaponry, would pressure their government to compromise.

As you can see, there’s real potential for a bipartisan coalition in support of direct talks.

Can such a coalition have any impact on an Administration clearly laying the groundwork for an attack on Iran?

LiberalOasis will seek to answer that question later this week.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

Needlenose: "Yessir, once all these folks are together in the same government, it's gonna be smooth sailing in Iraq..."

MyDD: Congressional candidate and former military intelligence analyst writes, "I can tell you exactly what would happen if we were to strike Iran ..."

Informed Comment: Iran Can Now Make glowing Mickey Mouse Watches

The Agonist: "What the current push on Iran needs right now more than anything is sunlight. Bright, bold sunshine."

Fact-esque reports from the Love Park immigration rally

Dos Centavos has the reaction in Houston

NewMexiKen: 10,000 Words

Facing South:Southern States Crack Down on Immigrants

Oliver Willis and Seeing The Forest and Mahablog on the conservative response to the rallies

De Sentenia: Sudan: A John Bolton Power Play?

Faithful Progressive: White House in Close Contact with Illegal Phone Jamming

Firedoglake: Does Fred Hiatt Even Read the Washington Post?

Blue Latinos: "Democratic Senate leaders stood firm against floor amendments, knowing that Senators like Kyl would much rather see millions of people deported; piled on trains, ships and planes out of the country. The Senate is now on recess for the next two weeks, and I hope that during this time Senators will hear immigrants' cry for justice."

The Left Coaster: "By not challenging the court filing, the White House has two choices. They are either going to challenge Libby’s grand jury testimony and claim he is lying about what Cheney authorized him to do in Bush’s name, which would require the White House to testify to that effect at Libby’s trial. Or they know they are caught red-handed here, and will argue semantics"

Talk To Action: United Church of Christ stands up to right-wing attacks from the Institute on Religion and Democracy

wonk NOT!: "Massachusetts' step into the national leadership to address the health coverage crisis, also put forth the important concept that the responsibility is shared- government has its part, employers and the private sector have a part, and individuals have a part. This frame blows away the regressive efforts to leave the individual out on his/her own"; The Grey Matter: "Thanks to GW and the GOP-controlled Congress, an increasing number of national problems are being forced to be addressed by states."

TomPaine's Dilip Hiro: "Bush’s dogged refusal to rule out a military option to resolving Iran’s nuclear issue along with his thinly disguised attempts to foment 'regime change' in Tehran by bankrolling opposition is leading to a dangerous impasse."

Firedoglake: "Well, lookie who was authorizing Scooter Libby to leak like a glass full of birdshot in the run-up to the Iraq War, according to Libby’s own testimony ..."

Swing State Project: Rep. Curt Weldon a Moonie Cultist

Alternet's Jessica Valenti: "President Bush committed $100 million a year for the next five years to a "Healthy Marriage Initiative" as part of the welfare reform bill reauthorization. This move diverts funds from programs that have proven successful -- such as education, child care and job training -- and gives money to often religious-based programs that tell women marriage is the best way out of poverty."

The Washington Note: "one of the take-aways from my recent Israel trip is that Israeli national security bureaucrats -- diplomats and generals -- have far greater confidence that there are numerous potential solutions to the growing Iran crisis short of bombing them in an invasive, hot attack."

MyDD: "The way to guarantee that Iran gets a nuclear weapon is to go in with F-15s and bomb them."

Think Progress and Political Animal: Senior U.S. Officials "Want To Hit Iran"

The Stakeholder, Public Campaign Action Fund and Off The Kuff on Tom DeLay's political demise

First Draft: "The Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that another $6 Billion is needed to rebuild the levees for [New Orleans] ... Bush’s point man on Katrina reconstruction has said Bush is making no promises ... The decision will be made this week or next ... Without levee protection residents and business will not return ... No doubt Bush is counting on the fact that people have lost interest"

Political Animal: "As Bob Somerby and Peter Daou and Media Matters have all pointed out, it really is remarkable how little attention the confirmation of David Manning's explosive prewar memo has gotten in the past week."

Orcinus: Tancredo Takes Aim

My Left Wing: "[The Nation's Mike] Davis takes us on a tour of exactly how New Orleans is being murdered. He explains the role of the Bush administration in killing city government - refusing to guarantee municipal bonds, which forced the layoff of over 3,000 city employees, or the Small Business Administration's redlining of black neighborhoods ..."

Stygius: "Mugabe starves Zimbabwe: One of the most wretched regimes in the world continues its imposition of death and chaos on its own people."

The Democratic Party: "we're on schedule and gearing up for the unprecedented Neighbor-to-Neighbor Organizing Day on April 29th."

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

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