Saturday, March 10, 2007

David Obey vs the Anti-War Juggernaut

Thunder on the Left. There's a video out on YouTube and Fox of Rep. David Obey in a sometimes heated exchange with Tina Richards and another anti-war activist about Nancy Pelosi's current plan. Fox seriously overplays the heat of the exchange, but it is fun to watch.

A couple of points:

Needed: Good Guys on the Left. People on the left have always blamed corporate money on the ability of big business to beat liberal reformers in Congress. That's largely true, but one of the things that corporate money allows the business lobbies to do is hire extremely attractive personalities to promote business agendas--the happy warrior good-old-boy types, drinking and golf buddies, and prom queens who have a gift for making everybody comfortable around them. To the contrary, the do-gooder lobbies are often filled with abrasive, self-righteous people like these two anti-war lobbyists who have a tough time with anyone who disagrees with them. The liberal versions of Tom DeLay and Sean Hannity, these folks are often horribly ineffective at convincing people to take them seriously.

Moving the Debate to the Left. Those irritating people on the left are pretty effective right now. On election night last November, Nancy Pelosi and her team had no idea that they would be doing anything like setting deadlines to get out of Iraq. It's because of the people Obey called "idiot liberals" that Pelosi has been pushed into being more aggressive in opposing the Bush administration. Obey is irritated to no end that the anti-war left is pushing him to go much further than either the Congressional votes or public opinion will take him. However, the left deserves credit for pushing both the Congressional Democrats and public opinion a long way toward ending the war.

I See a Book in This: We on the anti-war left owe our moment in the sun to the monumental arrogance and incompetence of the Bush administration. Somebody should write a book entitled How to Annoy People and Win to celebrate the coming triumph of the anti-war movement.

McCain: Frightening Authoritarian?

Reason magazine (via Matthew Yglesias) has an offputting article on the "frightening authoritarianism" of John McCain. Author Matt Walsh has a hard time deciding what makes McCain more of an authoritarian--the history of McCain's family in the Navy, the politics of patriotism that McCain developed during the 1970's, or McCain's role in pushing campaign finance reform. Walsh's efforts to smear McCain with the military history of his family were especially bothersome to me because my own heritage is a lot less noble than McCain's. It's bad enough that my grandfather on my mother's side left my mom's family during the Depression but it appears that both of my grandparents on my father's side were relentless philanderers who either abandoned (my grandmother) or practically abandoned (my grandfather) their four kids. And my abusive, misogynous, racist father isn't exactly a credit to humanity either.

To the contrary, it seems to me that John McCain has grown as much from the failures of his life as anybody could be expected to grow. In his autobiographical books, McCain took his failures as a POW (he ultimately cracked and signed a confession) and his involvement in the Keating Five as opportunities to become a better person and devote himself more fully to the good of the country. Good for McCain. In my own way, I've attempted to employ my experiences with my deeply flawed father to become a better father, better professor, and better human being. All of our families have skeletons and we all have failures in our lives. But it is possible to learn from these things and John McCain has done as well as a person could be expected.

I was never going to vote for John McCain and I'm disappointed with the non-stop pandering of his presidential campaign. At the end of the day, however, John McCain is not a frightening authoritarian in any way. In fact, he deserves a lot of credit for the way he's lived his life.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Super-Asshole of the Week

Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias refers to Rudy Giuliani as a jerk, but "jerk" is too mild and too vague to apply to a guy like Giuliani. I prefer the term super-asshole. Lots of people can be jerks, but it takes a special kind of asshole to introduce your mistress to your wife over television (Giuliani) or let your wife know that you're divorcing her while she's in the hospital with cancer (Gingrich). A super-asshole.

The race for the GOP nomination looks like it's becoming the "Super-Asshole Challenge" with events like "Extreme Pandering," "B.A.S.S. Master Flopping," "Competitive War-Mongering," "Filling Your Closet with Skeletons," and coming before you know it--"The Ultimate Negative Ad." Republican primary voters have come to demand high standards of "Super-Assholeness" from their candidates and the Republican candidates have shown that they aim to please.

However, the Super-Asshole of the Week Award (SAWA) goes to Rev. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky who articulated the particularly creepy argument that doctors should be allowed to perform surgery on fetus' to change the sexual orientation of "gay" fetuses back to heterosexual and therefore cleanse out the "original sin." I'm not sure what's the most monstrous dimension of this idea. Readers should take their pick between the monumental hatred of gay people, the Joseph Mengele visions of the elimination of intra-uterine of supposed "deformities," or the hubris in the idea of "cleansing out original sin." Mohler apparently wants to make the Southern Baptist Convention into the lord of creation. Mohler's practically an embarrassment to heterosexuality.

Mohler's also shows a barely believable ignorance of the message of Jesus. If anything is clear from the biblical accounts, Jesus loved low-class fishermen, prostitutes, sexual sinners, and lepers as much as he was disgusted by preening, moralistic, busy-bodies like the Rev. Albert Mohler.

However you slice it, the Rev. Albert Mohler is the super-asshole of the week.

Stunning Gingrich Admission

Today, Newt Gingrich made a stunning admission while a guest on the radio program of James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, now the pre-eminent organization on the Christian Right.

That's right, Gingrich finally admitted that he wasn't God when he said that "there are times that I have fallen short of my own standards. There's certainly times when I've fallen short of God's standards."

Tsk! Tsk! The things people will do to become President!

Gingrich was ostensibly on Dobson's program to confess that he had committed adultery when he was married to his second wife Marianne. However, acknowledging that there is a god that is not an instrument for his own vision of American and human history must have been a lot tougher for a person of Newt Ginrich's world-encompassing ego.

Fortunately for Newt's newfound piety, he hasn't heard of Jesus' saying in Matthew 20:16 that "the last shall be first, and the first last."

If he knew that the Christian god didn't value winning life's competitions or imposing one's will on other people, Newt would go back to playing god himself.

Bush Scandals Unlimited

Free Falling Credibility. Every time the Bush administration thinks they've hit bottom, things get worse. The Mark Foley scandal broke just when the Bush administration thought they could curtail Democratic gains in the 2006 election. As a result, everything the Bush administration did to limit damage from other scandals, defend controversial figures like Donald Rumsfeld, and promote the war was wasted.

Killing the Surge with Scandal. The same thing's happening now with the surge. The Republicans have made a big effort to sell Gen. David Petraeus as the magician general who could turn their investment of 21,000 more troops into the political bonanza of a stable Iraq and functioning democracy. But the whole two-month public relations campaign for the surge has been forgotten as the Scooter Libby conviction, federal prosecutor purge, and Walter Reed scandal take over the headlines. The Bush administration loves to be hyper-aggressive with its enemies abroad and at home, but the triple whammy of scandals is forcing them into a defensive shell.

A Cloud in Every Silver Lining. Someone looking for a Republican silver lining might point out that having all these scandals at once blunts the impact of each scandal because of the media's short attention span. That true as far as it goes, but it's not like we can't expect more scandals from the Bush administration the future.

When you're running an unpopular renegade government, there's a cloud in every silver lining.

The Fifth Truth About the War

Four Unspeakable Truths. Jacob Weisburg of Slate magazine has a nice article out on the "four unspeakable truths about the war." For Weisburg, it's politically unspeakable that 1. the invasion of Iraq was a mistake; 2. that American troops have been victims of the Bush administration's misguided policies and incompetent execution, 3. that the lives of three thousand American troops have been wasted, and 4. that the U. S. is losing the war.

The Fifth Unspeakable Truth. The fifth unspeakable truth, something that seemingly can't be spoken by either politicians or the media, is that war opponents and the left-wing was right about the war from the beginning. The Bush administration, the right-wing, and the media made such a successful effort to stigmatize opposition to the war that nobody is yet allowed to say "you know, it was the people on the left who got it right on the war."

If the Bush administration had been half as effective in conducting the war itself, we'd be in a better situation.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Wisdom of the French, or the U. S. Rejoins the Rest of the World

The Wisdom of the World. The American public is gradually joining the rest of the world in its opinion of the Bush administration. World public opinion has opposed the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq since the beginning and a current poll shows that 73% of those polled in 25 countries disapprove of the American role in Iraq.

The Dawn of Wisdom in America. After four years of fruitless war, the American public is now catching up to that heavy rate of disapproval with 67% disapproving of President Bush's conduct of the Iraq War in a Feb. 25 Washington Post poll.

The Greater Wisdom of the French. Of course, we still have a way to go before we match the wisdom of the French where 92% of the population disapproves of the American role in Iraq.

But we're learning.

A Quick But Expected Failure

One of the reasons that public support has coalesced around Democratic efforts to limit the surge may be that the public is paying attention to the bad news coming out of Iraq. According to Juan Cole writing in Salon, the surge may already be failing because of an aggressive series of attacks on Shiite pilgrims, big suicide bombings, and helicopter downings launched by Sunni insurgents. Insurgents respect the American military enough to avoid getting stuck on the flypaper of large-scale confrontations, but the days of "shock and awe" are long gone.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Dick Cheney's Heavenly Peace

Few people know what it's like to be responsible for the suffering, maiming, and deaths of thousands and tens of thousands. I remember reading something once about how WWI flying aces were traumatized by the screams of those they shot down. Think how heavily the deaths of thousands would weigh on our minds, especially when we're asleep and our excuses, justifications, rationalizations, and other defenses are much more relaxed than they are while waking. While we sleep, the horrors we visit on others haunt us whether we killed by accident, negligence, or according to plan and it would take a super-human evil on the order of Stalin, Hitler, or Mao not to be paralyzed by the dream spectacle of other people's suffering.

Fortunately for our country, Dick Cheney is not such a man. A sensitive man, Dick Cheney feels the death of each of the 3,185 American soldiers who have died or been maimed in Iraq--their being shot, blown apart by IED's as they ride in their Hummers, drowned in the Tigris or Euphrates, or mangled to such an extent that they had to have large parts of their arms and legs amputated. Knowing that he was largely responsible for sending those troops, Dick Chaney sees American soldiers wounded and dead every night in his sleep. Shakespeare portrayed everyone killed by Richard III as visiting Richard in his sleep before the Battle of Bosworth Field, reciting Richard's crimes, and telling him to "fall thy edgeless sword: despair, and die!" In the same way, the American men and women killed or maimed in Iraq visit Dick Cheney to remind him of the half-truths and lies by which he promoted the invasion, his refusal to think through the problems of occupation, and the recklessness and arrogance with which he wasted their lives and continues to waste the lives of their friends and comrades.

The same is the case with the more than 50,000 Iraqis who have died as a result of the U. S. invasion. Poor Dick Cheney! There must be spectral riots as the shades of the Iraq War dead fight each other for the opportunity to haunt a little bit of his sleep.

It must be an awful thing.

That's why Dick Cheney needs our help. Unlike those on the right, we on the left also feel the burden that the death and suffering in Iraq imposes on Dick Cheney and all of us. Because our minds are not tied up in rationalizing the war or justifying the Bush administration, the shocking brutality of the situation in Iraq strikes us harder than it strikes the warmongers.

Therefore, it's up to us to help Dick Cheney as much as we can.

Some on the left might argue that Dick Cheney's own suffering would be a small price for him to pay for all the suffering he's caused and there's a way I can agree with that. It would be an "eye for an eye" vengeful kind of justice for Dick Cheney to experience some of the pain that he has dished out one way or another in Iraq.

But, in fact, Dick Cheney could never "pay in full" for what's happened in Iraq. Once person can never suffer enough for the tens of thousands of deaths that Cheney has helped cause.

More importantly for our own piece of mind, there is a justice of love and mercy that has a higher claim on us than the law of revenge. It's this higher sense of justice that is the most distinctive contribution of Christianity to modern life. The ability to love those who are not "our own" or even the opposite of our own, is what allows us to empathize with our soldiers even if we disagree with the war and feel the suffering of the Iraqi people even though we live a very different kind of life. The higher law of justice should also allow us to exercise a care even over the Dick Cheney's of the world, especially because he emerged out of our society and our way of life.

It's the Christian vision of love and mercy as the highest and truest form of justice that leads me to suggest "Silent Night" as our comforting song for Dick Cheney tonight. Dick Cheney certainly is haunted by those who have died for his war, but we on the left can visit a little "heavenly peace" to his soul by singing him this song.

Altogether now.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

Amen to that!

Democratic Leadership: Moving the Numbers

Very few people ever have anything good to say about the Democratic leadership in Congress--either Nancy Pelosi in the House or Harry Reid in the Senate. In fact, however, House Democrats have come up with proposals to curtail the war that enjoy broad public support.

According to a USA Today Gallup poll, big majorities of the American public support Democratic ideas on Iraq. That includes requiring U. S. troops to come home if the Iraqi government fails to meet promises (77% favor-20% oppose), requiring troops to stay in the U. S. a year before being redeployed (76-21), withdrawing troops by the end of 2008 (60-39), capping the number of U. S. troops (54-42).

Interestingly enough, majorities do not yet accept the more aggressive approaches favored by liberal war opponents, including revoking the original war resolution (44-52) or cutting funding for the war (37-61).

Although strongly opposing the Bush administration's conduct of the war in general and the surge in particular, the American public is still reluctant to support a full-scale confrontation with the leadership in the White House. The Bush administration may be a renegade government, but the public doesn't want confrontations.

At least not yet.

Despite the uncertain and difficult environment, the Democratic leadership has shown a lot of political savvy in coming up with proposals that capture the public mood.

For that they deserve credit.

Now, for the more difficult task of embodying these ideas in legislation.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Kumbaya Dick Cheney

I feel so sorry for Vice-President Dick Cheney. He's had such a tough time lately. The combination of the bombing in Afghanistan and the blood clot in his leg were bad enough. Then today, Scooter Libby, one of his closest associates was convicted of four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. It must be so hard for Dick Cheney to find out that Scooter Libby is a CRIMINAL.

Gracious me!

I'm sure that Dick Cheney's going to have a hard time sleeping tonight and we definitely don't want him to get dependent on sleeping pills like the first President Bush.

So, what I'd like all of my fellow leftists to do is join your hands together while we sing "Kumbaya,"a traditional Gulla song from African-American settlements on the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.

I'm sure that Dick Cheney will appreciate this gesture from his left-wing friends. Like everyone from Wyoming, Dick Cheney has a deep appreciation for the Gulla dialect and black culture in general.

I admire him so much!

Everybody ready.


Kumbaya my lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my lord, kumbaya
Kumbaya my lord, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbaya

Someones singing lord, kumbaya
Someones singing lord, kumbaya
Someones singing lord, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbayah

Someones laughing, lord, kumbaya
Someones laughing, lord, kumbaya
Someones laughing, lord, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbaya

Someones crying, lord, kumbaya
Someones crying, lord, kumbaya
Someones crying, lord, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbaya

Someones praying, lord, kumbaya
Someones praying, lord, kumbaya
Someones praying, lord, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbaya

Someones sleeping, lord, kumbaya
Someones sleeping, lord, kumbaya
Someones sleeping, lord, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbaya
Oh Dick Cheney, kumbaya

I'm sure Dick Cheney appreciated our personal touch in revising the song a little bit. And I know that Dick Cheney will always have a warm spot in his heart for all the liberals and leftists who helped him sleep tonight.

God bless.

Finding The Enemy at Walter Reed

American troops have always had a lot of trouble finding the enemy in Iraq. Before the surge, the Army's basic strategy in Baghdad was to drive around Baghdad (DAB) and wait for someone to attack them.

But Disabled veterans did not have much trouble finding the enemy at Building 18 in Walter Reed Hospital.

It was them.

According to Paul Krugman's article in today's Lexington Herald-Leader (sorry no link available because of NYT policy):

"the administration is breaking longstanding promises of lifetime health care to those who defend out nation. Two months before the invasion of Iraq, the Veterans administration, which previously offered care to all veterans, introduced severe new restrictions on who is entitled to enroll in its health care system . . . So when you hear stories of veterans who spend months or years fighting to get the care they deserve, trying to prove that their injuries are service related, remember this: All this red tape was created not by the inherent inefficiency of government bureaucracy, but by the Bush administration's penny-pinching."

Surprisingly for such a good economist, Krugman doesn't fully get what's going on here. For Krugman, the point is the analogy with FEMA's performance with Katrina. He focuses on the appointment of an unqualified lobbyist as Secretary of the Army, the ensuring outsourcing of Walter Reed services to IAP Worldwide Services and the departure of skilled government personnel as the source of the incompetence at the Walter Reed hospital complex. This is bad enough as far as it goes.

However, services at Walter Reed were not only privatized, Walter Reed Hospital also began to act like an insurance company. Just as Allstate and State Farm insurance companies treated customers involved in car crashes as adversaries and bullied them into accepting low-ball settlements or face years of litigation, the privatized services at Walter Reed have been treating disabled veterans as adversaries when they apply for health care. They delay the acceptance of veterans into long-term treatment, warehouse them in a crumbling facility to encourage them to leave, and then pretty much ignore them.

Calling the treatment of disabled veterans at Walter Reed depressing, disgusting, and outrageous doesnt' go nearly far enough. Given that the war in Iraq is a monumental failure, American society and the government owe a special debt to the soldiers we've put in harms way and a special love to them as we carry out our obligations. Given all the embedded journalists and television coverage of the war, almost all Americans have a detailed knowledge of the dangers that our troops have faced in Iraq. As a result, we should have a special affection for troops who have served our goals and exercise an enhanced care with the physical and emotional difficulties of surviving troops now that they're home. Likewise, our feeling for the troops should be enhanced by the Bush administration's foolishness and incompetence in waging the war. The Bush administration might have wasted their health, but everyone involved should do their best to ensure that their recoveries aren't equally wasted.

The Bush administration has identified returning disabled veterans as their enemies. That must not be allowed to stand.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bedtime with Dick Cheney

Ever since Dick Cheney was attacked in Afghanistan, there have been a lot of reports about people on the left who would rather see Dick Cheney dead.

I don't believe it.

My left-wing friends and I bear bear nothing but good will toward the greatest vice-president since Al Gore. In fact, we at Red State Impressions are so concerned about Cheney's health that I flew to Washington personally to tuck him into bed and read him a story tonight. Here's some lines I read from the children's classic, Margaret Wise Brown's "Good Night Moon."

Good Night Moon
In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of--
The cow jumping over the moon
And there were three little bears sitting on chairs
And two little kittens
And a pair of mittens
And a little toy house
And a young mouse
And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush
And a quiet old lady who was whispering "hush."

I told the Vice-President that I would be reading "Winken, Blinken, and Nod" tomorrow night, but he preferred "The Three Little Pigs" instead. It's one of his favorites.

If anyone has a bedtime story that they want me to read Dick Cheney, please reply below.


Biggest Priority for Right: More Pseudo-Scandals

Conservative Job 1. Now that conservatives are returning from the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference, they have a big job ahead of them--creating bigger, better, and more frequent pseudo-scandals for the Democrats.

The Crisis is Almost Upon Them. The political situation for conservatives is grim and there's no reason to think it's going to get any better. The Iraq War seems to get more unpopular by the minute and there's such widespread contempt for the Bush administration that conservatives barely tried to defend him at CPAC. The treatment of disabled veterans at Walter Reed is already a big scandal and the purge of federal district attorneys looks like it's growing into a big scandal while Congressional hearings over war profiteering are looming on the horizon. Worse, there are enough warnings of an economic recession at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 that stock markets are panicking. Unfortunately for the Republicans, 2008 is an election year when they will be defending their record on the economy. Few people have been satisfied with Bush prosperity because it's been so focused on the top 1/2 of one percent. Even fewer will be satisfied with the second Bush downturn.

Things aren't much better politically. McCain and Giuliani might be polling even with Hillary and Obama now, but a lot of conservatives don't see them or Mitt Romney as strong candidates for the presidency. The situation is even worse at the lower levels. I saw an estimate that the Republicans saved 10 House seats through Republican National Campaign Committee smear campaigns. If that's the case, the Republicans have to wonder just how weak they are in the House and the Senate.

The Pseudo-Scandal Solution. The solution to these problems. Since January, conservative bloggers and op-ed writers have responded to the political weakness of the Republicans by identifying and publicizing a series of pseudo-scandals. By the time the right was done with Nancy Pelosi's plane, they were ready to move on to John Edwards' feminist bloggers, Barack Obama's education in Indonesia, and anonymous commenters who were disappointed that Dick Cheney didn't die in last week's attack. Certainly, it took a lot of work and ingenuity to get these pseudo scandals out (that was especially the case with investigating anonymous blog comments) and the publicity might have kept things from getting worse for the Republican cause.

But, let's face it right-wingers, this little trickle of scandals has not been moving the poll numbers for Republicans. You need better and more frequent scandals. There must be a gay guy or a lesbian on Hillary Clinton's payroll somewhere. Why haven't you found them? Didn't some of Barack Obama's new Hollywood friends make morally offensive movies? Why haven't we heard anything about that? You're not working hard enough and you don't have big enough staffs of investigators? Maybe you should raise more money so you can hire "smear artists."

Wait a minute. "Artist" might be seen as effeminate. How about "smear warriors" instead. Once you have the cash in hand, have your smear warriors serve apprenticeships with Ann Coulter and Michell Malkin before letting them loose on the Democrats. Of course, none of this has anything to do with nuking Iran, privatizing social security, getting rid of public education, eliminating more taxes for the wealthy, or any of the noble causes that conservatives really want to promote.

But these are tough times, and if digging deeper into the gutter is what tough times call for, then tough people dig deeper into the gutter and don't complain about it. Did Patton care whether his troops got dirty? Of course not! The point is to win and if you can't win the point is to lessen your losses. And that's what digging for pseudo-scandals is all about--lessening losses.

Hmm. Maybe I should work on my inspirational cliches. Anyway, I hope that all my right-wing friends enjoy digging around for new pseudo-scandals. It's really your best bet for keeping things from getting worse.

Got to go to work. Links later.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

All Ann All The Time

Maybe America's favorite bigot is thinking of a political career after all. Here's an example of Ann Coulter trying to have it both ways from Q&A at the CPAC conference last week.

"And of course, if you're working for a Republican candidate, you'll meet some nice heterosexual guys. By the way, before I let that slide, I do want to point out one thing that has been driving me crazy with the media, how they keep describing Mitt Romney's position as being "pro-gays, and that's going to upset right-wingers." Well, you know, screw you, I'm not anti-gay. We're against gay marriage. I don't want gays to be discriminated against. I mean, I think we have, in addition to blacks, I don't know why all gays aren't Republicans. I think we have the pro-gay position, which is anti-crime and for tax cuts. Gays make a lot of money, and they're victims of crime. I mean, the way --no, they are."

Coulter's argument is that people can be as opposed to gay marriage as James Dobson without being "anti-gay." This is the same kind of thing defenders of segregation used to say during the pre-Civil Rights era. They all "loved" black people, but did not want blacks eating in the same restaurants, swimming in the same pools, going to the same schools, serving on the same juries, or voting in the same elections. Similarly, Coulter isn't "anti-gay," she just wants to exclude gays from being married--a condition that's just as normal and basic to American society as going to the same schools, eating in the same restaurants, and swimming in the same pools.

Coulter is telling gays that "you can be normal except in the case of marriage where we conservatives think you're too weird and perverted to be allowed to be normal."

Or maybe not.

Maybe she's telling gays that "you can be normal except in the case of marriage where we conservatives can raise money and get more votes by saying that you're too weird and perverted to be allowed to be normal. Sorry about that!"

Because if she wasn't anti-gay, that would be the only reason for Coulter to oppose gay marriage.

Illusion and Reality in Sadr City

American troops entered the Shiite slum of Sadr City by the hundreds in the latest initiative of the surge campaign. Under Gen. Daniel Petraeus' counter-insurgency strategy, the U. S. military is setting up a "security center" as a way to have a forward presence in a Sadr City neighborhood. It also looks like troops are creating a blockade on Sadr City.

The beginning of the Sadr City campaign has created an interesting illusion/reality problem. Because American troops met no militia resistance, it seems like they're making progress. But the progress is an illusion. The Mahdi Army, Badr Brigades, and other militias and their death squads have decided to lay low, but they're very potent forces that command the loyalty of Sadr City residents. It looks like the militias might want to wait out the occupation.

But the American military can't allow that to happen. If the militias emerge from the occupation intact, they would be able to maintain their grip on the government and resume death squad activity as soon as the Americans left. In other words, the surge would have failed to help create the conditions for a "stable democracy" in Iraq among the Shiite population in Baghdad.

The American military and Iraqi governments know this. That's why the Iraqi government claims that it's going to purge the government and arrest "lawbreakers"--in other words militia leaders. It's also why the U. S. military is doing house to house searches. The idea is to bring the militias out of hiding and defeat them militarily. If the militias can't be drawn out to the flypaper, the U. S. wants to force them out.

From the U. S. point of view, the initial illusion of progress and stability needs to be undermined so that long-lasting stability can be achieved.

This means triggering a battle that would appear to mean that American forces were failing and would get a lot of bad press in the short term. After winning such a battle or series of battles, the U. S. would then pacify the neighborhoods and begin the long-term work of economic and political reconstruction. That's the Petraeus Doctrine--Clear, Hold, and Reconstruct.

But I think that the idea long-term progress is also an illusion. The guiding assumption of the American occupiers is that large populations can be converted to the American/Iraqi govt cause if Sadr City neighborhoods are cleared of militias. To the contrary, it seems much more likely that Sadr City residents would become more antagonistic toward the Americans and Iraqi government. American doctrine assumes that residents of cities and neighborhoods have no connection with the insurgents. However, if the U. S. destroys the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigades, they will be killing the male relatives--husbands, uncles, brothers, sons, and sisters-- of families--all over Sadr City. In my opinion, no forward command forces, no American candy, and no economic reconstruction would have much impact on the resentment and bitterness of the Sadr City population after any decisive battle with the Mahdi Army. Instead, the U. S. would have to engage in a full scale occupation that would make Sadr City into another Fallujah or Ramadi.

In the minds of those planning the surge, American military power has an almost infinite ability to bend civilian populations to its will. I'm afraid that the U. S. military is going to discover once again that the idea of infinite power is the biggest illusion of all.

Counter-Productive Insults

Here's a featured response to Ann Coulter's CPAC speech from a commenter named RB at Talking Points Memo.

"As I read the reaction/fallout from Ann Coulter’s remarks at CPAC this week I’m annoyed by the entire progressive reaction to it and most of the many other outrages committed on a daily basis by the Republican Party. Why doesn’t a progressive with an audience say something to the effect “This is who and what the once proud and honorable Republican Party has turned itself into. It is a party of hate, intolerance, incompetence, greed, treason, fanatical, hostile to science and reality, and totally corrupt. They have no honor and no shame. They’re fascists and a cancer on our great nation, plain and simple and this is just another example of that.”

This is exactly the wrong kind of reaction to Ann Coulter's provocations.

First, RB's response is exactly what Coulter is trying to elicit from liberals/ progressives. In fact, the only thing that Coulter and her audience enjoy more than making the comments themselves is "outraged" liberal reaction. Congratulations RB, you've been jerked around and your opponents are enjoying their little moment of victory.

Second, RB is profoundly wrong in lumping everybody who attended the conference or everybody in the Republican Party into the "fascist" camp. Coulter conservatism may be dominant, but my impression is that it does not constitute a majority of the Republican Party. A lot of business-oriented Republicans, Main Street Republicans, Western rancher types, and conservative evangelicals would be either neutral or turned off by Coulter (in the same way that lots of liberals are turned off by Al Sharpton). Tarring all of these kinds of Republicans with the "fascist" brush is both inaccurate and counter-productive because it supports Coulter's basic arguments about liberals.

Third, it's important to emphasize that a lot of the people attending the CPAC conference wouldn't have necessarily agreed with Coulter even if they were highly entertained. Several students from my classes went to CPAC and moon over "Ann Coulter" even though they might argue that they don't share Coulter's "extreme" views. Actually, the head of the campus Republicans has told me several times that conservatives aren't nearly as extreme as I portray them on this blog let alone the "fascists" that RB is claiming. By calling the CPAC audience "fascists," RB is cutting off any possibility of communicating with people who might only be weakly identified with the Coulter agenda. Once again, this is exactly what somebody like Coulter would want because it tells conservative-oriented students that they can't talk with liberals (to paraphrase one of Coulter's titles).

There are many ways in which the various types of conservatism are defined by "hate, intolerance, incompetence, greed, treason . . . hostile to science and reality, and [total corruption]. I've argued most of these things myself. Still, just throwing around the terms is the liberal version of Coulterism and a not very clever version of Coulterism at that. If liberals want to be convincing, they have to show how Coulter's "jokes" actually appeal to hate and intolerance, how the Bush administration's incompetence is a manifestation of their conservative loyalties, the ways in which the religious right is hostile to science, and the many ways that people on the right are uncomfortable with living in the United States. It was by patiently working out these criticisms in the context of the failed war in Iraq that the left got the upper hand in the current rhetorical wars. Maintaining that patience is crucial to keeping that upper hand.

RB should have kept his insults in his pocket. Coulter and other right-wing put down artists are having a tough time these days. There's no sense in making life easier for them by playing their game.