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The LiberalOasis Blog
The daily view from the oasis

June 17, 2005 PERMALINK
Another Bad Compromise?
(posted June 17 2 AM ET)

There are some nice-sounding headlines today, as the Senate attached an amendment to the energy bill, requiring utilities to increase the amount of electricity they generate from alternative sources from 2% to 10% by 2020.

But how nice is this development, really?

On the upside, in and of itself this is a decent, if modest, provision.

(The NRDC said “at least 10 percent” should come from clean sources, while PIRG is pushing for 20%.)

Also, the amendment was passed mainly with Dem votes, and the White House is whining about its inclusion. So it helps draw a distinction between the parties.

On the downside, this is one decent provision in a bad bill.

As Sierra Club President, and blogger, Carl Pope said earlier this week:

Whatever your local newspaper may tell you, Congress is not considering a comprehensive energy bill. It is picking your pocket.

Both the House and Senate proposals are larded up with big giveaways to insider projects, companies, and industries.

Similarly, NRDC said earlier this month that the bill would “dole out billions of dollars to oil, coal and nuclear companies while sacrificing wildlands, worsening air pollution and increasing American dependence on fossil fuels.”

And yesterday, the NRDC responded to another Senate vote that rejected an amendment that would have called for dramatically reducing oil imports:

If the energy bill doesn't take bigger steps to reduce our reliance on oil, then what's the point?

What’s the point, indeed.

What’s the point of Senate Dems playing footsie with the GOP on a bill like this?

Both the LA Times and Christian Science Monitor ran stories this week on how Senate Dems are trying so hard get this bill passed with bipartisan support.

Probably part of the reason is the public’s displeasure with gas prices.

Bush has been trying to use that to pressure Congress to pass his pet bill that’s been stalled for years.

Dems, who have been accusing the GOP of not addressing gas prices, may be afraid that voting against the energy bill will seem petty and hypocritical.

But such a fear would be misplaced.

Everyone in Washington knows this corporate giveaway package won’t have any significant impact on gas prices.

So why not attack the bill as the boondoggle that it is, while proposing a pure Dem version as a contrast?

Then, let the GOP pass its bill along party lines, and come 2006, mock Republicans mercilessly for their lame "energy policy" when the public gets nothing out of it?

This strategy goes against Beltway conventional wisdom, where the passage of bills is always assumed to be a victory.

But bills that make no positive difference in the lives of Americans are hollow victories, which can be turned into political liabilities by skillful pols.

The other part of the reason why Dems are likely involved is the pork. They don’t want their states to get cut out of the loop.

It takes strong party leadership to get Senate members to put short-term provincial interests aside for the larger good, and while Harry Reid has made great strides, this bill is evidence that there is more work to do.

But there still is time for the Senate Dems to redeem themselves.

The Senate bill, weak as it is, is better than the bill that has already cleared the House.

And when the two sides comes together in a House-Senate conference, whatever emerges will surely be worse than what the Senate produces on its own.

It’s also possible that Tom DeLay’s insistence that MTBE producers be granted liability from lawsuits will prevent a working compromise, as it has in the past.

But if conferees get past that, and a bad deal goes back to the House and Senate, Dems will have a chance to wash their hands of their current attempts to compromise and distinguish themselves on the final vote.

June 16, 2005 PERMALINK
What Is "Victory" In Iraq?
(posted June 16 2 AM ET)

You can’t help but be amused when NY Times’ Tom Friedman (via Eschaton) writes “Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq” on the same day LiberalOasis urges Dems to talk about Iraq.

(Of course, it’s more ridiculous for him to assert such nonsense while many liberals have been screaming at the top of their lungs for weeks trying to call attention to the Downing Street Memo. Calls which Friedman has so far ignored.)

Friedman’s full quote is worth examining: “Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.”

It this kind of dismissive attitude towards any criticism of the war, anything that deviates from the center-right Establishment view, that frightens some Dems from speaking out more forcefully.

But this attitude can and must be dealt with.

What this debate should be about is: what does “victory” or “success” really mean?

Defense Sec. Don Rumsfeld says we don’t have an “exit strategy,” we have a “victory strategy.”

Kudos for good word choices. “Victory” does sound more satisfying than “exit.” No reason why Dems can’t adopt similar language to describe their views.

But if “victory” means winning control of Iraq’s natural resources and establishing 14 permanent military bases that the Iraqi people don’t want, then Mr. Friedman is absolutely right: we don’t want Bush to be victorious.

However, we absolutely want America's security interests to prevail and we want the Iraqi people to succeed in taking control of their own government.

The only way to acheive that is to make clear to the Iraqi people that the American people don’t want to be a permanent presence, that we don’t want to be a Syria to Iraq’s Lebanon.

That will "take the wind out of the sails" of the insurgency, allow the Iraqi people to claim their government, and allow us to leave Iraq better than when we invaded it.

The unfortunate reality is that the Bush Administration can’t do that, because it does want to be a permanent presence.

Recall that in one of the Kerry-Bush debates, Kerry said:

I think a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to convince the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn't have long-term designs on it.

As I understand it, we're building some 14 military bases there now, and some people say they've got a rather permanent concept to them.

When you guard the oil ministry, but you don't guard the nuclear facilities, the message to a lot of people is maybe, "Wow, maybe they're interested in our oil."

...

I will make a flat statement: The United States of America has no long-term designs on staying in Iraq.

Bush did not join Kerry in making such a "flat statement."

Does that mean that Bush has a mandate from Americans for a permanent stay in Iraq? The recent polls clearly say no.

We can’t make Bush change his Iraq policy. He is far too deeply committed to this disaster.

But we can make it clear to the American people and the Friedmans of the punditocracy, that wanting America and Iraq to be victorious is a far different thing than wanting Bush’s agenda to be victorious.

And that will allow Americans to make an informed choice when they vote in 2006 and 2008.

QUICK HIT

Some Movement Towards an Iraq Policy

An interesting report from Roll Call yesterday about congressional Dems and Iraq:

...House Democrats, after months of virtual silence on the subject, have decided to turn up the heat again on the Bush administration for its policies in Iraq.

At the same time, however, Democrats remain divided - just as they have been for more than a year - on how to press Republicans and the Bush administration to end the conflict.

"Some within our Caucus want to go from A to D," said one Democratic Member, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "For many of us who supported the president's resolution, we have to go from A to B to C to D."

Pelosi today will try to bridge the different views in the Caucus by offering her amendment to the Defense bill.

She also will lay out a specific set of criteria to be included in that strategy, including the number of troops needed, the status of Iraqi security forces and their readiness and goals for political stability within the next two years.

"Pelosi recognizes that this is an important issue, but also an opportunity for Democrats to demonstrate leadership," said a senior Democratic aide. "Obviously, she recognizes there are strong feelings in the Caucus about it, but also she's showing a real recognition for the growing unease in the country about" the conflict.

At a tense leaders' lunch Tuesday, Members spent two hours discussing the Democratic approach to the war and how best for the Caucus to proceed, both in action and in message.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), ranking member on Armed Services, told Members they cannot keep quiet anymore.

"They didn't spent three days to plan for the aftermath," Skelton told his colleagues. "It's taken three years. I am deeply concerned about what's happening in Iraq."

Those congress Members wanting more time to get from A to D need to understand that they are already behind schedule.

Still, these are baby steps in the right direction.

June 15, 2005 PERMALINK
Dems and Iraq
(posted June 15 1:30 AM ET)

Once again, attention is being called to the Democratic Party’s inability to have a clear, unified position and message about what to do in Iraq, going forward.

The renewed focus follows this month’s polls showing a solidifying opposition to the war.

56% say Iraq wasn’t worth it. 59% say withdraw at least some troops. 58% disapprove of Bush’s handling of Iraq.

But the Dems, lacking unity on Iraq, can’t easily seize the moment and galvanize the public around a change in strategy. And pundits have noticed.

Two weeks ago, The Nation’s David Corn reported from the Take Back America conference:

When Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean spoke to the group in the morning, he too said not a word about the war in Iraq.

After [John] Edwards finished and starting working the crowd, one attendee, Cindy Asner, approached him and remarked, "You didn't say anything about Iraq."

He looked straight at her and replied: "You're right."

It was left to Arianna Huffington ... to chide the Democratic Party for ignoring this 300 billion pound gorilla.

She especially excoriated Hillary Clinton for commenting that she was not comfortable discussing an "exit strategy" in Iraq.

Huffington huffed, "If you are not comfortable setting an exit strategy, please point us to someone who is."

Ron Brownstein, on CNN’s Inside Politics yesterday, further noted:

What's missing... is an alternative perspective from the political leadership...

...Usually, with the kind of [poll] numbers we're seeing on the war...you would see the opposition party kind of jumping up and down to differentiate themselves.

But the Democrats have been conspicuously quiet in terms of offering alternatives.

And MSNBC’s Tom Curry reported from a DNC meeting this past weekend, finding that even anti-war DNC members are at a loss for what to say.

“I think Democrats have largely been backed into a corner on Iraq,” said Judith Hope... “While most of us believe we should never have gone in there in the first place, many of us believe that now that we’re there, we have no choice but to finish the job...”

She added that the day may come when “the political leadership of this country has to say, ‘Not only was it a mistake to go in there, it’s a failure, and we’ve got to get out,’ but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Another DNC member, Karen Marchioro...said, “Once we’ve gotten ourselves into a mess like this, I’m not sure what I think we should do — and I was opposed to this thing from the get-go. I don’t think it’s a fair question to ask of people who opposed this war to figure out how to get out of it.”

Frankly, this is getting kind of pathetic.

Iraq isn’t going away. Dems have to deal with it and get behind an alternative strategy.

With polls showing increased support for withdrawal, and new resolutions this week calling for a withdrawal timetable – from Russ Feingold in the Senate, and from Walter Jones and Neil Abercrombie in the House – there will be increased pressure from the Left for Dems to fully embrace a timetable.

This can be a good thing, but the “withdrawal timetable” argument needs to handled with some care and sophistication.

Withdrawal is generally treated as an “unserious” position by the punditocracy and by Dems like Joe Biden who claim to be “national security Democrats.”

You don’t want to walk into the trap of feeding that perception by making a crude and flimsy argument.

Jones, a conservative Republican, did not make a serious case on Sunday when he said we should pull out because, “I feel that we've done about as much as we can do [in Iraq.]”

Feingold made some strides in this regard in his floor statement yesterday, but it falls short in one key aspect:

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the Administration’s refusal to set a plan and timetable ... is actually an advantage for insurgents and terrorists.

This large U.S. military presence smack in the middle of the Arab world is a major recruiting tool for international terrorist networks, and young men are coming to Iraq from around the world to get on-the-job training in attacking Americans.

These foreign forces are motivated by our presence, and they feed off conspiracy theories and suspicions regarding American intentions.

When I was in Baghdad in February, a very senior coalition officer confided to me that he believed a public U.S. timetable for withdrawing from Iraq would “take the wind out of the sails” of the insurgents.

Feingold’s argument is superior to Jones’ because Feingold doesn’t just throw his hands up the air and disregard the national security consequences.

Instead, he concisely explains how withdrawal will help America, and the world, be more safe and secure.

Where Feingold falls short is when he pulls his punches on Bush’s true motivations, dismissing such talk as “conspiracy theories.”

Feingold is by no means alone here. On Sunday, Sen. Pat Leahy said on Face The Nation:

...at some point, we've got to tell the Iraqis that we have no intention of keeping our troops there permanently. We're not out there to take their oil. We're not looking for permanent bases.

It's their country, and they're going to have to fight for it.

Leahy makes it sound like a mere procrastination problem, that Bush just hasn’t gotten around to telling Iraq that we have no plans for permanent bases.

(Though at least Leahy makes it clear that he doesn’t want permanent bases, unlike Sen. Hillary Clinton who left open the possibility in a Feb. Face The Nation interview).

For Dems to convince the public that they deserve the public’s trust on national security and foreign, and that the Republicans don’t, they need to give the public substantive reasons to be worried about where the GOP is taking the country.

And as LiberalOasis has said before, the clearest manifestation of where Dems and GOPers differ on foreign policy goals is the permanent bases being established in Iraq.

That shows that this is not a question of which party can best finish the job in Iraq.

This is a question of which party wants to leave Iraq, and which party wants to stay forever.

This is not about tactics. This is about goals.

The GOP’s goal is to stay and unilaterally project our influence in the region militarily, against the will the Iraqi people, breeding further resentment and helping terrorists grow their ranks.

The Democratic Party’s goal is to ensure the Iraqi people are actually independent and free of outside influences, because as Bush himself says, “as long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export.”

As Digby and Atrios have noted recently, the Downing Street Memo gives Dems (and the media) a fresh opening to question why Bush really invaded Iraq.

LO would also suggest that there is another opening yet to be explored: why the Bush Administration is closing 33 military bases in the US and opening 14 in Iraq.

What does that say about Bush’s long-term plans?

These developments get at the heart of this Administration’s true goals.

And policies are best understood by the public when they see how they flow from goals.

Right now, the public is pretty confused. If we captured Saddam, found no WMD, and helped organize an election, why are we still there, and why are we taking casualties?

Dems should help clear up that confusion.

Only then will an alternative strategy, centered on withdrawal, really make sense to the public.

CLARIFICATION

On June 2, LiberalOasis wrote about Gen. Charles Wald, deputy commander of our European Command, and his extenstive comments detailing how oil politics shapes our counterterrorism strategy.

LO did so because the W. Post reported that Wald was going to be named head of the new National Counterterrorism Center.

But last week, Bush named someone else to the post, Vice Adm. John Scott Redd (someone “who has never been involved in counterterrorism operations”).

However, this does not negate the importance of Wald’s speech. It still remains the clearest explanation of what is driving Bush’s military actions and support of certain dictators.

June 13, 2005 PERMALINK
The Sunday Talkshow Breakdown
A weekly feature of LiberalOasis
(posted June 13 1:15 AM ET)

The media spotlight stayed on the Gitmo gulag yesterday.

The political pressure is leading more politicians to consider shutting the place down, sparking an intra-party, intra-Administration fight.

And as LiberalOasis has been saying, this wouldn’t be happening if Amnesty used punditocracy-approved nicey-nice language in describing what Gitmo is.

On Fox News Sunday, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter revealed that the Bushies are “divided” over whether or not to close Gitmo.

And Fox pundits Brit Hume and Bill Kristol had quite a catfight.

Kristol hoped (and predicted) that Bush would close Gitmo in a few months, while Hume snarled that would be an admission of error, and it should stay open as a “model” of how to treat prisoners in the terror war.

This is not to say that Kristol should be lauded for his compassionate position.

As Hunter indicated, the unsurprising reason why some Bushies are considering a shutdown is for empty PR, not linked to any desire to substantively change prison policies. Said Hunter:

Some members of the White House have come to the conclusion that the legend is different than the fact.

And when that's the case, you go with the legend that somehow Guantanamo has been a place of abuse...

...you close it down and you shorten the stories, you shorten the heated debate and you get if off the table and you move on.

That's not Hunter's view, however.

He's very much in the Hume camp, and angrily insisted that no prisoners could possibly be abused since they get food with fancy-sounding names:

I sent down yesterday for the menu from Guantanamo so that the average American could understand how we're brutalizing people in Guantanamo...

...For Sunday, they're going to be having -- let me see -- orange glazed chicken, fresh fruit grupe, steamed peas and mushrooms, rice pilaf -- another form of torture for the hijackers. We treat them very well...

... So we have the legend that end that there is so-called gulag-like treatment and the reality is honey glazed chicken on Sunday.

Of course, the “average American” knows that menu is not indicative of a four-star restaurant, but more like a Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine or a hospital cafeteria.

More importantly, the menu has nothing to do with people being disappeared, detained secretly, held incommunicado, provided no legal representation and no due process to argue for one’s innocence.

Not to mention, you can be given a halfway decent meal and then be tortured in a 24-hour stress position once you’re finished.

Hunter’s “honey-glazed chicken” talking point was not adopted by any his GOP brethren.

In advance of the Sunday shows, Sen. Mel Martinez came out as the first GOPers to formally call for Gitmo’s closing.

Over at CNN’s Late Edition, GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel said he didn’t know if Gitmo should be closed, but lashed out at the Administration’s attitude:

...if in fact we are treating prisoners this way, it's not only wrong, but dangerous, and very dumb, and very short-sighted...

...there is a culture that develops in any institution. And a lot of what I've heard the last couple of years, the top officials of the Pentagon saying, "Well, we didn't order any of this. We didn't know about this."

Come on guys. I was in Vietnam in 1968... I saw a culture develop that was a very bad culture that ended in disaster for this country.

And this is all adding up to a very dangerous drift in this country...

...Not only is it going to end in disaster for us and humility for this country, but we're going to present to the world a very dangerous world if we don't wake up and smell the coffee here.

But on CBS’ Face The Nation. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was quite indignant over the Abu Ghraib abuses, stuck up for Gitmo, but not as unequivocally as Hunter:

We've had problems at Guantanamo Bay, [but] I don't think we need to close it. We'll need a place like it.

While the GOP is scrambling to get it’s story straight, there is an opportunity for Dems show the nation how their foreign policy principles are superior to the Republicans.

But while all the Dems on the Sunday shows were critical of Gitmo, they mainly shied away from making partisan distinctions and putting the blame at the Republicans’ feet.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, on CNN, lamented. “I don't know why we don't learn... I don't know why we didn't learn from Abu Ghraib,” as if she has something to apologize for.

On NBC’s Meet The Press, Sen. Joe Biden simply called for a “political consensus” on closing it.

Though Sen. Pat Leahy, on Face The Nation, was more pointed:

LEAHY: It's not helping our security. It's hurting our security.

If they're criminals, then prosecute them. If they've violated rules of combat, then [use] Article V [of the Geneva Convention].

[Or] do [a] military commission. At the beginning of this, the White House said, “Well, we're going to have military commissions because they're faster.”

Three years later, we haven't had a single military commission.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, how do you get the administration to move on this?

LEAHY: Well, I'm hoping that public opinion will.

You know, we've had so many things in here that they've been able to hide.

We just got this recent report that said that the Justice Department, the FBI, never connected the dots before 9/11. Had they done that, we might have avoided it.

Well, the former attorney general made sure that that was kept classified until after the election.

At some point, we have to understand, this is not just a political issue.

This is the issue really that goes to the basic security of our nation and what our nation stands for.

And right now we're not getting a very good report card.

Maybe instead of getting in Howard Dean’s face over trivial matters, you guys make want to take Leahy’s lead here, and get in Bush’s face on such a critical matter.

QUICK HITS

Legitimizing Curt Weldon

Another awful move on Biden’s part yesterday was his praising of GOP Rep. Curt Weldon, who just published a book clearly designed to lay the groundwork for a military attack on Iran.

Biden lauded Weldon as someone who has "forgotten more about [counterinsurgencies] than I know".

But Weldon's agenda is a very dangerous one, and does not deserve such legitimization.

For more details on Weldon, the place to go is Laura Rozen’s War and Piece. Rozen recently penned two investigative pieces on Weldon which uncovered that Weldon’s key info originates from a discredited figure from the Iran-Contra scandal.

Get additional Weldon-Iran analysis from Xymphora, Hooman Majd, Suburban Guerrilla and Cannonfire. Also, John Gorenfeld reported on Weldon’s Moonie ties last year.

Finally, Arianna Huffington looks to be moving in on our Sunday Talkshow Breakdown turf, with her Russert Watch series. Here’s her take on the Weldon-Biden interview.

Freedom Fries Guy Flips

The congressman who got the House cafeteria to call French fries “Freedom Fries,” is about to introduce a resolution supporting a timetable to withdraw from Iraq. Crooks and Liars has the video of his interview on ABC’s This Week.

The Blog Wire
Tracking the liberal blogosphere

DCCC has collected more than 1000 personal stories about stem cell research

W. Post WH Briefing: "When is it time to start referring to Bush as an unpopular president? When his approval ratings are solidly below 50 percent for at least three months? Check. When his approval ratings on his signature issues are in the red? Check."

Star Tribune: "the Downing Street memo [is] one more in a string of accounts that undercut the administration's version of events. Tuesday's brief, narrow denials may have generated the desired headlines, but they did little to set the record straight." (via Cursor)

Body and Soul rips David Brooks' and Dubya on AIDS in Africa

Salon gets you up to speed on Ohio's CoinGate

Opinions You Should Have on the Bush Administration's global warming reports

The Oil Drum on the Saudi contention that it will not run out of oil: "it is to the Saudis' benefit to not tell us the truth about any of this"

Amnesty International continues to fight the White House smears (via Buzzflash), while Balkinization says "the problems at Gitmo and the constellation of U.S. run prison camps will not be solved simply by closing down the prison camp there and transferring the prisoners elsewhere"

Pandagon: "The GOP race card is large [and] tattered ... Their discussion of racial progress and ethics largely consists of appearances that amount to political melanin transfers"

Blue Mass Group: "Most of the Justices voted predictably [in the medical pot case], in that they stuck to the principles they had set out in the Court's recent interstate commerce cases. The two exceptions are Justices Kennedy and Scalia"

Left In The West: WH can't give straight answer on birth control

After Downing Street and Democrats.com and BTC News react to the Bush-Blair comments on the Downing Street Memo

The Agonist interviews Matthew R. Simmons, author of Twilight in the Desert, on peak oil

Needlenose: When We Lost The War

Just World News: "The whole process of 'trying Saddam' is absolutely, inextricably political at this point. However, it is not the main priority for the Iraqi people. It's a sideshow, grotesquely inflated for western audiences by an Iraqi administration seeking to curry western favors."

The Huffington Post's Jane Wells blogs from Darfur

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