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Leading With The Left
The daily view from the oasis

July 9, 2004 PERMALINK
Outsourcing The War On Terror
(posted July 9 3 AM ET)

To LiberalOasis' eye, the interesting thing about this week's The New Republic scoop was not that the Bushies are pressuring Pakistan to deliver "HVTs", or high-value Al Qaeda targets, before Election Day.

What's interesting is that the Bushies are still outsourcing the Get Osama operation.

Sure, this excerpt from TNR sounds particularly conspiratorial:

...according to this ISI [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence] official, a White House aide told [ISI director Lt. Gen. Ehsan] ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

But it's also pathetic.

The Bushies don't have much control over the situation if they have to ask another country to deliver the goods by a certain date, instead of taking the lead themselves.

This same mistake was made in 2001 at Tora Bora, where we hired Afghan warlords to nab Osama, and they proceeded to help him escape.

As The Christian Science Monitor quoted one "Western diplomat" following the Tora Bora debacle:

Maybe the only lesson that is applicable is: whenever you use local forces, they have local agendas.

Similarly, the Bushies can't rely on the Pakistanis being willing and/or able to get the job done.

The TNR piece, while disdainful of the election-year motivations, sounds optimistic that the pressure will work.

It notes the increased pressure has prompted Pakistan to send troops to tribal areas they've stayed out of for 50 years.

And TNR points out that last month Pakistan took out pro-Taliban warlord Nek Mohammed in a targeted strike.

But remember that a March siege, that the Pakistanis hoped would snag Qaeda's #2 Ayman al-Zawahri, ended in humiliating failure.

And Mohammed, who wasn't widely known until recently, was taken out only after Pakistan cut an amnesty deal with him in April.

He quickly reneged on it in very high-profile fashion, embarrassing the government. Then he was killed.

The point is that Pakistan has an inconsistent record here, and is most compelled to directly act when the local politics dictate it.

That doesn't give the Bushies much to bank on, even if, as TNR argues, Pakistan has incentive to prop up Bush and hurt Kerry.

Kerry and the Dems are staying away from using the TNR scoop as campaign fodder, apparently worried they will sound too conspiratorial and unserious on terror if they flog it.

The message the Kerry campaign wanted to get out yesterday was delivered by foreign policy adviser Jamie Rubin on CNN's Crossfire:

The al Qaeda people better understand that, whoever's elected, the United States is going to fight to destroy them.

And if John Kerry is elected, he's going to use every inch of his power, every element of our national power to destroy the al Qaeda organization...

They don't want give the GOP even the slightest opening to attack Kerry on terrorism.

Which is smart, especially since Kerry has been gaining ground on Bush on the terrorism question.

But even if they don't want to play up the election charges, they can still hit Bush for giving up too much responsibility to Pakistan for apprehending Al Qaeda.

That gets at how well they are prosecuting the war on terror, without providing the GOP an opportunity to falsely accuse Kerry of downplaying the threat.

QUICK HITS

New Book From Joe Trippi

Last night, LiberalOasis was lucky to get a last-minute invite to the book launch party for Joe Trippi's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," about the Dean campaign and the importance of the internet in better distributing power to the people.

In his remarks, Trippi offered some insight into the presidential race, speculating that Cheney would be dumped, and praising the Edwards pick as "brilliant" and "out of the box."

Perhaps most importantly, he credited Howard Dean and his supporters for bypassing the federal campaign fund system, without which Kerry would not have done the same and been able to match Bush nearly dollar for dollar.

As Trippi noted, that was not in Karl Rove's plan.

You can purchase the book by clicking here.

LO Interviewed By The Friday Thing

England's "The Friday Thing" is a "fiercely independent weekly email comment sheet" that has thousands of paying subscribers in 20 countries.

This week's issue features an interview with Exec. Ed. Bill Scher, covering a wide range of topics, from Air America's pioneering use of blogs to what politician most deserves to be punched in the face.

You can check out the interview by clicking here.

July 8, 2004 PERMALINK
No Class Bush
(posted July 8 2 AM ET)

STEVE HOLLAND, REUTERS: [John Edwards is] being described today as charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist, and even sexy.

How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?

BUSH: Dick Cheney can be President. [DRAMATIC/AWKWARD PAUSE] Next.
-- North Carolina press conference, 7/7/04

Well, maybe I overshot a little.
-- Melvin (Jack Nicholson), "As Good As It Gets"

A vice presidential choice is not usually greeted graciously by the opposing party.

But the harsher words are typically dished out by surrogates. The Prez stays above the fray.

And to flat out say that the opposing veep can't plausibly be president is a particularly coarse personal attack.

Even Michael Dukakis didn't go that far regarding Quayle, at least at first.

From the 8/18/88 NY Times, you can see how he comes close to that line, but doesn't cross it:

"Frankly, I don't know what he has done or what he hasn't done," Mr. Dukakis said at a news conference.

It's a judgment the American people are going to have to make," he said, "in judging Mr. Bush, in judging me, in judging the way we have selected our running mate, a person who quite literally will be a heartbeat away from the Presidency."

"But I want to repeat, nobody ever questioned Lloyd Bentsen's qualifications to serve as President."

Although later on, after Quayle's stumbles kept coming, including the "you're no Jack Kennedy" debate debacle, Dukakis was compelled to run two merciless ads.

One had a tagline referring to Bush I's decision: "Hopefully we will never know how great a lapse of judgment that really was."

Plenty rough, but that was after concern about Quayle's capabilities was widespread. So there was no backlash (though, of course, it didn't work either).

Conversely, Edwards is now riding a wave of honeymoon press.

The GOP is trying to make the case that Edwards is inexperienced, and the party's talking points are finding their way into the coverage.

But Edwards has done nothing to feed the charge, and the talking points haven't stuck, according to the overnight polls.

Kerry-Edwards beats Bush-Cheney by a whopping 11 points, says NBC. (It probably won't hold in the near-term, but still, it's an impressive bounce.)

And regarding experience, Gallup has Edwards scoring 57% on "qualified to be president," the same as Cheney in '00.

(Quayle had an abysmal 32%, and that's after serving four years as VP. These are not comparable situations.)

So for Bush to lead such a negative attack on Edwards' qualifications, an attack way at odds with public sentiment, puts him in very dangerous territory.

His exchange with the reporter was so pointed and abrasive that it was featured on ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, and surely more.

Was this the Bush plan?

The NY Times thinks so. LiberalOasis is not so sure.

As the W. Post noted, Bush initially responded with a safe "that will be up to the voters to decide" when asked if Edwards was ready to be prez.

It was only after a reporter rattled off all the praise Edwards was getting, that Bush got prickly.

That defensive reaction suggests that Bush isn't handling the pressure all that well and, in turn, is going off-message.

Much like his veep, Dick "F-Bomb" Cheney.

One of the few things Bush has in his corner is his (perceived) charm.

Now he's faced with a charm challenge from Edwards.

If Bush flinches and loses his "optimistic" persona, it will be all that much harder for him to dig out of this hole.

QUICK HIT

So What's The Problem?

Here's Dubya yesterday, complaining about judicial nominees being blocked:

...when the nominees come before people in my administration, we don't say, what is your specific position on that issue or another issue.

What we say to the person is, what is your judicial temperament? ...

...There are six judges that are being withheld because of their judicial temperament -- not because of a specific issue, but because of their temperament.

[emphasis added]

July 7, 2004 PERMALINK
A Good Pick, Not Yet A Great One
(posted July 7 12:30 AM ET)

John Edwards looks to be a good pick for VP. He'll have one day to make himself great.

LiberalOasis is not alone in arguing that the veep choice usually has minimal impact on the final outcome.

But already, Edwards has had a positive impact, for two reasons.

First, it was a pick that has galvanized the (already unified) rank-and-file, across the party's ideological spectrum.

Liberals do not seem to be grousing over Edwards' DLC ties. DLCers do not seem to be grousing about Edwards' "Two Americas" theme.

And for John Kerry to do anything that doesn't result in any debilitating, whiny carping from the Beltway Dems is a true feat.

Second, whether or not Edwards can turn North Carolina to a blue state (the Gore states plus NC are enough to win), he will likely force Bush to expend resources there.

(LO, in its March odds pegging Edwards fourth-most likely veep, said that Edwards wouldn't necessarily help much in his home state, which Bush won by 12 pts. But a May poll suggested otherwise, and several recent NC polls show just a single-digit gap.)

However, (as said here earlier) vice-presidents usually fade into the background pretty quickly.

Unless they are drawing bad attention, they tend to draw no attention at all through the bulk of the campaign.

So, by the time Edwards gives his convention speech, he won't have much opportunity to markedly help, and his job for Kerry will largely be done.

With one big exception.

Unlike past years, this year's VP debate is a (potential) big deal.

Cheney is so integral to the functioning of the White House, and has become increasingly controversial in recent months.

In particular, he is ripe for a takedown over his ties to Halliburton (Juan Cole notes that Edwards has not shied away from such attacks in the past.)

It has more potential to shift the momentum of the race than any veep debate in history.

(A reference point: the 10/5/88 Bentsen smackdown of Quayle helped Dukakis narrow a 10-pt deficit to 6, according to a tracking poll taken four days later.

10 days and one prez debate later, it was back to 10 pts.)

But for such a shift to happen, Edwards has to win. This is no given.

Recall that Joe Lieberman was perceived by some to be the more accomplished debater and more personable candidate in '00.

And yet the seemingly laconic Cheney calmly swatted Lieberman's canned lines into the cheap seats with some deft ad-libs.

We know Edwards can give a speech better than anyone.

We know Edwards can grill a witness in court and in a Senate hearing room.

But debating Cheney is a unique kind of nut to crack.

He will be prepared. He will be non-plussed. He will not be beat with a few one-liners.

Edwards will have to prep like he has never prepped before. He should probably start right after the convention.

But if he can successfully prosecute the case against Cheney, he will be a giant slayer, turning himself from a good pick to a rare great one.

And any lingering questions about Edwards' level of experience (meaningless to the Nov. outcome, but relevant to Edwards' political future) will be completely put to rest.

July 6, 2004 PERMALINK
Dubya's Dictator Initiative
(posted July 6 2:30 AM ET)

While John Kerry's veep pick is expected to command the political world's attention today, there's a holiday weekend scoop that his campaign shouldn't overlook.

Turns out Dubya's vaunted democracy initiative mainly props up dictatorships.

From the Boston Globe:

The Bush administration, while stating that democracy is the cornerstone of its Mideast policy, has directed more than half of the funds in its key democracy-promotion initiative to assist autocratic regimes in promoting free trade and education.

Only about $3 million of roughly $95 million went for direct funding for local groups promoting democracy or "civil society," according to 2002 and 2003 data from the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative, which describes itself as "the primary diplomatic policy and development programmatic tool" of President Bush's "strategy of freedom in the Middle East."

...

"Almost nothing is going to [organizations] that are really willing to challenge the government," said Nir Boms, a senior fellow at the Council for Democracy and Tolerance, a bipartisan think tank..."Various opposition groups have been complaining for a long time that they are unable to get access."

...

Tamara Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution...calculates that more than 70 percent of the partnership's funds were allocated to programs that directly benefited Middle East governments...

...Amy Hawthorne, associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the funds are not "really designed to press for reforms."

She added: "The stated purpose is to promote 'reform' in Arab countries, but it also is designed to support pro-American governments and pro-American policies."

In the funds devoted to education, American companies cropped up.

[A] $1 million project to teach business to young people in the Middle East is a partnership with ExxonMobil Corp. and Citigroup.

This is not simply another Bush flip-flop to add to the pile.

This undercuts one of the last threads that Bush clings to:

The notion that his foreign policy, whatever its flaws, retains an essential moral, idealistic core.

Bush himself reguarly aims to frame his policy in moral terms:

Freedom is not America's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty God's gift to each man and woman in this world.

And conservative pundits have tried to malign Kerry by comparing his "cruel realism" (which they define by arbitrarily extrapolating Kerry's comments) to Dubya's brave and bold democratic "vision."

Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby:

The problem with [Kerry's] realpolitik is that the stability it champions is often beneficial only in the short term, and sometimes not even then.

American backing for Middle Eastern dictatorships helped turn the region into an incubator of terrorism.

The Wall Street Journal editors:

We'd be the first to admit that idealism run amok can be dangerous, and that often the U.S. must deal with nations as they are.

But it also seems to us that 9/11 exposed the Faustian bargain at the heart of Mideast "realism."

To President Bush's credit, he has overturned that bargain and is attempting to drag the Arab world into the 21st century.

Wall Street Journal's Brendan Miniter:

President Bush's Iraq policy is revolutionary because it overcomes the idea that Arabs do not desire democracy and aren't capable of running a government based on popular elections.

What Mr. Kerry is embracing here is the idea of a strongman--the notion that it's acceptable and possibly even preferable for a strongman to emerge and keep a lid on the chaos for us.

New York Times' David Brooks:

You can see why Kerry thinks that's a clever shift, after the arduous efforts to promote democracy in Iraq. With realism, you avoid humanitarian interventions.

But if America is going to turn realist, let's be clear about what that means.

It means worrying less about the nature of regimes and dealing with whoever happens to be in power.

But as yesterday's B. Globe report shows (on top of these two 12/03 LiberalOasis posts), dealing with dictators in power is exactly what Bush does, so long as Bush deems the dictator to be on our side.

That is not brave idealism, but realpolitik at its worst.

In the near-term, Kerry will likely coast on a wave of favorable press coverage following the veep pick, and again during the convention.

So there is no rush for Kerry to jump on this story.

But as the campaign unfolds, Kerry should not allow Bush to disingenuously corner the market on morality and idealism.

Even if you believe that competence will trump ideology this year, which it may well might, there's no reason to give Bush an opening anywhere if it can be avoided.

The Kerry campaign should pocket the Globe scoop, and when the time is right, blast Bush for hypocrisy on his signature tenet.

QUICK HIT

LO on VPs

LiberalOasis gave odds on Kerry's VP back in March.

And last Friday, LO discussed the unimportance of the veep's ideology.

The Sandbox
Humor Column by Mark Spittle

Things To Do With Chalabi Now That The Pentagon Is Done With Him

Many Americans awoke a few days ago with the heartbreaking news that Iraqi exile and Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmed Chalabi is a "con man."

Those of us who read the occasional dissident press of the Europeans knew --- as far back as pre 9/11 days --- that Chalabi had been convicted of bank fraud in Jordan and sentenced in absentia for 22 years, and that his word was less than trustworthy.

Now, thanks to our state-run me... erm, I mean "aggressive free press," all Americans have finally been told about Chalabi's dark past.

That the release of this news to the American press coincides with the White House's reversal of position on Chalabi is, I suppose, just a really, really weird coincidence.

But pity poor Chalabi! Here was an Iraqi leader who had been supported by the Pentagon for decades and thought he was going to take the place of the last Iraqi leader who was supported by the Pentagon... but, alas, the twists of Fate are meandering, thorny brambles.

I did some poking around, though, and found a lot of people still have a warm place in their hearts for our little bean-headed buddy from Baghdad.

Assuming Chalabi escapes without a chemical glow stick inconveniencing his posture in any way, let's look at some future career possibilities for Iraq's prodigal son.

1) TELEVISION

CBS executives have already been trying to get communications over to Chalabi's office, asking him to host their new reality television series, "I'm A Former Dictator, Get Me Out of Here!"

The premise of the show is that various nefarious international leaders (Hussein, Pinochet, Kissinger) are abandoned on a desert island until only one remains. The winner will get to rule Burkina Faso.

CBS feels Chalabi "has the right stuff" for hosting the show, seeing as how he "has unprecedented experience in handling rulers of various nations across the world."

It's also thought that Chalabi may "add some excitement" to the program by enticing the dictators to do various ratings-enhancing stunts, like resorting to cannibalism or (worse yet!) denouncing conservatism in exchange for chocolate.

2) POLITICS

There may yet be a role for Ahmed Chalabi in the Bush administration!

Sure, his international street cred may be in tatters, but that takes nothing away from his ability to sway policy makers with only the most scant bits of evidence and huge gobs of deception.

Such traits would do him well on the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign team, where the American people will occasionally need to be convinced that destroying Iraq, alienating the UN, polluting the US Constitution with discriminatory amendments, ignoring the Geneva Convention and ruining the US economy are actually "compassionate" deeds, making the nation better than it was under that evil sicko Clinton.

If anyone can spin Bush's record to the general public, it's the guy who convinced Colin Powell that an abandoned Iraqi trailer park was an active nuclear weapons facility.

3) FINANCE

With his Bush family connections, Ahmed can probably turn his Jordanian conviction to his advantage.

After all, Dubya had problems with Harken, Arbusto and the Texas Rangers. Jeb caused the Florida S & L collapse. Neil had the Silverado Savings & Loan debacle. And Poppy Bush topped them all with the BCCI scandal.

If anything, Chalabi's work is downright quaint compared to his patrons.

Given that, perhaps Chalabi could put his white collar criminal past to good use and gain a position of power like the Bushes... perhaps replacing Dick Grasso at the NYSE?

4) CARTOONS

Ahmed Chalabi left Iraq at age 12, studied at Chicago University and MIT --- but he still has that funky, broken-English accent!

How's that, you ask? Unbeknownst to many, Chalabi is a skilled voice actor.

In fact, a Freedom of Information Act request discovered that Chalabi's vocal talents have been heard on The Simpsons (he's Dr. Nick), Batman (he's Alfred the butler) and Kim Possible (he's Kim.)

He's even overdubbed quite a few Asian films, including a new release of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (he was the ugly ronin) and Godzilla vs. Megaguiras (he was the old scientist.)

With this impressive resume already on his record, is there any question that he won't take advantage of what he once called "an amusing hobby" and turn it into a lucrative career?

The producers of Toy Story 3 are already sending offers, I'm told.

Mark Spittle is one half of the political satire duo Spittle & Ink. He is a former Washington lobbyist and congressional assistant.

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

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