Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Weekly Standard Tries Reality

William Kristol and Robert Kagan try reality in the Weekly Standard online. Leaving the dumb assumptions, deceptive historical analogies, and ad hominem attacks aside, the neo-conservative stalwarts make a determined empirical case for increasing the number of troops in Iraq. It's too bad that Kristol and Kagan decided to try reality so late in the game. Still, their analysis is worth taking seriously.

Kristol and Kagan's idea is that 50,000 more American troops would be needed to stabilize Baghdad and then they could engage in clear and hold operations in Western Iraq. If we withdraw over the next two years, the authors argue plausibly that President Bush would handing over both a genocidal ethnic cleansing and a series of al-Qaeda havens to his successor.

They've not so plausible when they suggest possible invasions by Iran and Turkey. Who besides the Bush administration would have enough hubristic stupidity to occupy Iraq now?

Still, the American military now has almost 15,000 troops in Baghdad. Fifty thousand more would increase the number to 65,000.

Would they have a chance of success?

Probably not.

The problem is that stabilizing Baghdad would mean launching an invasion and occupation of Sadr City, the slum stronghold of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. While defeating the Mahdi Army wouldn't be that much of a problem, attacking Sadr City would be a serious problem. Al Sadr and the Mahdi Army have become a major pillar of Nouri al-Maliki's Iraqi government. Attacking Sadr City would weaken Maliki, weaken the Iraqi military and police forces (many of whom would fight with al-Sadr), and make the Iraqi government much more dependent on the American military.

Likewise, once American troops occupy Sadr City, they would have to hold it against a large, determined, and trained (largely by the Americans) Shiite resistance movement. Kristol and Kagan think that the 50,000 American troops could move on to Anbar once Baghdad was stabilized. It's more likely that the U. S. would need the 50,000 troops to hold Baghdad and 100,000 more troops to perform operations in Anbar--50,000 to clear out the insurgents and another 50,000 or more to occupy and hold the Sunni cities.

The problem here is that raising the number of American troops from 150,000 to 250,000 or 300,000 would require the Bush administration to put the United States on a war footing. The Bush administration did not have the credibility to do this in 2003 when it was first needed. As last Tuesday's election shows, the Bush administration has far less credibility with the American public now.

A new administration would have to be in place before any big increase in American troop levels could be contemplated. Even then, it's not very likely that the American military could stabilize Baghdad or the country as a whole.

The Spleen in the Mirror

Ann Coulter's post-mortem on the "pathetic gains" of the Democrats is so spiteful that you can imagine her telling the Democrats to "shove their victory down their whiny little throats."

But if Coulter wants to understand the election, she should look in the mirror.

The voters held President Bush and the Republican Party in exactly the same kind of contempt that Coulter feels for the Democrats.

The Strongest Contender: Hillary!

One of the curiosities of political discourse is the mainstream media's continued silence over the presidential prospects of Hillary Clinton. Every poll for at least the last eighteen months has shown her as the leading prospective Democratic candidate for the presidency and a strong contender with any Republican.

Yet, while the media has showered attention on Mark Warner and Barack Obama, there have been almost no stories about a prospective Hillary candidacy from the mainstream media--nothing on Hillary as being the first female favorite for a party party nomination, no evaluationg of Hillary's qualifications, and no puff pieces extolling her Chicago roots, Methodist training, or her steadfastness during the Monica Lewinsky scandal . Hillary gets a lot of "mentions" as the leading contender, a polarizing figure, and liberal in the stories about other candidates. But the mainstream media seems to have an embargo on directly addressing Hillary's candidacy.

However, it's clear from the polling released by Newsweek that Hillary will be a very strong contender for the presidency. According to the survey, Hillary's numbers are about the same as Rudy Giuliani and John McCain's.

Hillary Clinton: Strongly likely--33%, Somewhat likely-- 20%, No Chance-- 45%
Rudy Giuliani: Strongly likely--24%, Somewhat likely--30%, No Chance-- 32%
John McCain: Strongly likely--20%, Somewhat likely --34%, No Chance-- 32%

The conventional wisdom is that McCain would beat Hillary Clinton head to head because of her huge negatives at 45%. However, the number of voters either likely or somewhat like to vote for Hillary is over 50% and she has a significantly stronger base of strong supporters than McCain at 33-20. That means that Hillary will have an easier time raising money than McCain and that she'll be better protected against the consequences of whatever gaffes she makes. That would be tough for McCain because his volcanic temper means that he would make more gaffes than the highly self-disciplined Sen. Clinton during the course of a tough campaign.

Moreover, McCain has been faltering lately. McCain's strong public support of President Bush and the war in Iraq has put him in a difficult box. Supporting the unpopular president weakens his appeal among the overall voting public, but abandoning President Bush would be very unpopular with hard-core Republican primary voters and make him vulnerable to right-wingers like Mitt Romney and Sam Brownback. Indeed, Fox published a poll a couple of weeks ago showing Hillary beating McCain 51-45 in a head-to-head match-up.

Right now, Hillary Clinton is the best positioned of all the serious 2008 contenders. Perhaps it is time for the mainstream media and Democratic elites to look more optimistically at her chances.

Is Pelosi Presidential?

One of my retired friends watches a lot of TV and says that he thought Nancy Pelosi has seemed "presidential" in the broadcasts he's seen since Tuesday.

My friend's a moderate to conservative Democrat who's a very religious Bible Belt guy.

Maybe Pelosi will be a more appealing face for the House Democrats than anyone thought.

Friday, November 10, 2006

If Karl Rove's Genius?

What was the impact of Karl Rove's micromarketing, get out the vote operation on Tuesday's elections?

It's actually an important question that should have a big impact on Democratic thinking over the next two years.

Let's consider the consequences of Rove's operation having a big impact. If Rove's 72 hour plan had a big impact, it means that Rove's still a genius, but it also means that the Republicans were in danger of losing by even bigger margins. As it was, the Democrats got a 53-47% majority of the vote, picked up 6 seats in the Senate, and gained 30 in the House. If Rove's operation had a four per cent impact, that means that the Democrats were within striking distance of a 57-43% margin. That would have meant picking up 40-50 seats in the House, and having a real working margin in the people's chamber.

The implication for the Democrats is that they should bust their butts to match the Republican GOTV effort in 2008 and should do their best to motivate the liberal activists who would be expected to do the grunt work.

What if Rove's efforts had little impact and the Democrats would have made the same gains anyway. That means that the Democrats can feel pretty comfortable about their own GOTV operation and can focus on solidifying their nice 6% in a year when the Republicans probably won't be putting up a strong presidential contender.

The Democrats are in good position now whichever way you slice it. However, if the genius of Karl Rove's ground game was the only thing that prevented a Democratic landslide in 2006, then it's time for the Democrats to get a lot more aggressive about pursuing big majorities in 2008.

Taking Up the Limbaugh Challenge

Today, Rush Limbaugh challenged the mainstream media to start speculating about how the Republicans could make a comeback.

But I've beaten him to the punch.

As I said yesterday, the key to any Republican comeback is understanding that the Republicans are a natural minority. If they are going to make a comeback, the Republicans have to create appealing new wedge successors to gay marriage, keep feeding red meat to the right-wing attack media, and raise obscene amounts of money to keep their smear campaigns going.

Otherwise, the right-wing political machine might fall apart, leaving the Republicans scrambling to maintain their viability as an opposition party.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Cold Hard Facts of Bi-Partisanship

It's 2000 all over again with a lot of talk about bi-partisanship between the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

But, believe me, bi-partisanship is not going to happen and its not going to happen because the Republican Party can't afford to have it happen.

The cold hard fact is that the Republicans are a natural minority party and have been so since the Great Depression and the New Deal.

Of course, the Republicans used to be a minority party because the upper and middle classe whites they represented were smaller than the Democratic constellation of the working class whites, blacks, liberals, and the South. Things have changed dramatically since the seventies, but the Republicans still emerge with a minority. Now, its because their Southern and rural base is declining. Urban areas like Phoenix, Denver, and Las Vegas are mushrooming while reliably white Republicans are leaving places like rural Colorado, Nebraska, or North Dakota and are being replaced by Hispanics and telecommuting Californians. That's why the Democrats are becoming more competitive in Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada and why the "natural base" of the Republicans is beginning to shrink back to depressed farm areas and the old Confederacy. The Republicans still control most of the land, but a majority of the people are leaning toward the Democrats.

Consequently, the Republicans don't have many options. I guess one can imagine that the Republicans can give up their base and try to out-Democrat the Democrats like Schwarzenegger is doing in California. If Bush does try to do bi-partisanship this is exactly what activist conservatives will accuse him of doing. However, given the hostility of blacks, hispanics, and independents to the right-wing, this doesn't seem viable. And it's not like the administration has any bi-partisanship skills to start with.

No, if the Republicans hope to win elections outside their Southern and rural base, they have to keep diggging deeply into their traditional bags of tricks. Even then, the Republicans are in a tough spot. Perhaps most importantly, the Republicans need to come up with a new stream of wedge issues to turn independents and traditional Democratic constituencies against the Democratic leadership. There are some candidates out there--mostly warrantless wiretapping, anti-immigrant proposals, support for Bush judicial nominees, and attacks on gay marriage. Maybe Republicans could rally around McCain's idea of putting 100,000 more troops on the ground (They could call it "Really Winning") and challenge the Dems to either put up or shut up on Iraq. However, the Republican think tanks haven't developed much in the way of new wedge ideas since privatizing Social Security and invading Iraq. The Republicans have both the presidency and an extensive communication apparatus in Fox and talk radio for promoting divisive new ideas. They just don't have the ideas to work with.

The Republicans also need to engage in a relentless demonizing of Democratic Party and liberal personalities as a second method for turning independents and traditional Democratic constituencies against the Democrats. Here, they are on stronger ground. Fox News, right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and religious and conservative activist groups are just as committed to demonizing the Democrats as ever. Limbaugh is especially skilled at micro-analyzing Democratic documents and events to reveal the inevitable hypocrisies, absurdities, and self-contradictions. Likewise, Bill O'Reilly will continue his one-man cultural war and Ann Coulter will show as much contempt toward liberals as humanly possible. But if the conservative media is going to have any success at this game, they need the Bush administration to continue to feed it the red meat of creative new wedge issues. If the Bushies go bi-partisan, the talk show zealots won't want to, or be able to, help them.

The third dimension of any Republican come-back would have to be relentless negative advertising against the Democrats on every important issue before Congress. Every debate would have to be a hundred million dollar debate like the health care debate in 1994. One Republican tactic has been to be so aggressive that a battle-weary public is willing to go along with them just to bring the issue to a close. Perhaps the Republicans would have to go to the mat on every issue in order to make a comeback. But the Republicans could only enhance the present permanent campaign if they had even more obscene amounts of money than they have now. Really obscene money hard to raise when the Republicans don't have the leverage to extort it from business.

The Republicans have little choice. Their only chances for success are either continued hyper-aggression or waiting for the Democrats to blow it. However, I've never felt that waiting was part of the right-wing game.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Kentucky Might Avoid Embarrassment After All

If the Democrats get a majority in the Senate, Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell will NOT become the Senate Majority leader. The whole country can breath easier. Now that Tom DeLay is out of politics, McConnell is the leading practitioner of the politics of extortion in the United States. As outlined in a recent newspaper expose, McConnell's office and affiliates are famous for hitting up potential corporate donors as legislation affecting them is being considered. It would have gotten a lot worse if McConnell became Majority Leader. The apparent success of the Democrats has saved the nation, the state of Kentucky, and probably McConnell himself from a lot of scandal and embarrassment.

RSI Gets Close

No one got the election more right than Red State Impressions. I had the Dems gaining 25 in the House and six in the Senate. The current numbers have the Dems up 28 in the House and up four and ahead in two in the Senate.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not Too Bad

My predictions last Tuesday are looking pretty good. I predicted that the Dems would gain six in the Senate and 25 in the House. At 1:30am on Wednesday, the Dems are five up for the Senate and 24 up for the House according to CNN.

Not Too Bad!

Big Win for Dems in Kentucky

This might be a good sign for Speaker Pelosi. Ann Northup, a twelve-year Republican member of the House from Louisville lost to her Democratic opponent, John Yarmuth. Northup has always been considered vulnerable because of the large Democratic registration edge in Louisville. This year, the Democrats finally turned the corner on her.

Bonus Comment: If the Dems do take the House, Speaker Pelosi will lead a retreat from Tom DeLay's "culture of extortion" to the more normal "culture of corruption."

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Not So Unlikely Couple

Two thoughts that go together--Saddam Hussein is guilty and the American occupation of Iraq has failed.