Saturday, April 14, 2007

The War Chicken and the Funding Egg

Tonight's CBS poll is good news for Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership. When asked whether they supported a Congressional bill setting a deadline for withdrawal, a large majority refused to accept President Bush's position. The numbers were 58% for a deadline, 9% for an immediate funding cut-off, and 29% for giving President Bush what he wants. With 2/3rds of the public opposed to giving the President the blank check he wants, the Democratic leadership can hold out for a deadline and threaten to cut off war funding altogether if President Bush vetoes. Actually, cutting off funding doesn't require legislation. Congress can just refuse to send up another funding bill after Bush vetoes this one.

From the anti-war perspective, there is still some softness in public sentiment. A large majority of the public views the debate over war funding as harming troop morale. The percentage of those who believe that Bush should consider Congress in decision making about the war has gone down from 51% to 44%. Still, the President has a huge margin to make up at a time when the public largely disapproves of his job performance, is pessimistic about the surge, and believes that the war is going poorly.

The Bush administration might be in a classic chicken and egg dilemna. Bush administration chicken hawks might have to prove that the surge is successful before they get the nest-egg needed to implement the surge fully.

It couldn't happen to better people.

Bush's White Man's Burden

In March, I posted a comment on President Bush's lunch with a group of neo-conservative luminaries and Andrew Roberts, an English historian who enthusiastically praises British and American imperialism and views Bush as an even greater leader than Churchill. At that point, I thought that the main significance of that particular conservative get-together was that Bush is so weak that he can't enjoy even the smallest group hug with his allies on the right without being ripped to shreds by liberal bloggers like Glenn Greenwald.

Now it appears that there's more to the Bush/ Roberts connection. Actually, Bush entertained Roberts for three hours and was so enthused that Roberts' wife "told the London Observer, "I thought I had a crush on him, but it's nothing like the crush President Bush has on him.'" Talk about male-bonding homoeroticism! More significant is the fact that Roberts appears to be a racist and an apologist for mass murder. According to Johann Hari in The New Republic (via Matthew Yglesias), Roberts has spoken at a dinner for the Springbok Club, "a group that regards itself as a shadow white government of South Africa and calls for "the re-establishment of civilized European rule throughout the African continent.'" Likewise, Roberts has written justifications of the Amritsar massacre in which British troops opened fire on 10,000 Indians engaged in a peaceful protest.

George Bush's crush on Andrew Roberts is a symbol of both past and present for George Bush. There is little discussion of the extent to which Bush's leadership style has been influenced by his roots in the white elite of Midland, Texas. Bush has both sides of the Southern male outlook. Having grown up toward the end of the segregation period, Bush has the typical puffed-up cockiness and abrasiveness of segregation-era whites, an attitude that has its origin in the assumed right of white men to treat blacks as they please. Bush may never have been a racist, but his general attitude toward the world was shaped by white supremacy nonetheless. Thus, the white supremacy that informs the history writing of Andrew Roberts mirrors the white supremacy that shaped George Bush's way of dealing with the world.

It also says a great deal about Bush's present condition that his most prominent academic champion is as professionally marginal and racist as Andrew Roberts. Bush's personal constituency gets smaller and smaller as he nears the end of his second term. There's Laura, Dick and Lynne Cheney, the guys at the American Enterprise Institute, and media personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Fred Barnes. The circles in which George Bush feels at home get narrower and narrower as his administration flounders, so narrow that it's as if Cindy Sheehan was haunting the White House as well as the ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Democratic Leadership and Sticking It to the Veto

This was a slow week in the looming showdown over Iraq war funding legislation. House and Senate Democrats still haven't finalized a compromise bill and President Bush still hasn't vetoed it. It's getting to be a slow walk down to the OK Corral for both sides.

According to conventional wisdom, the Democrats have three possible responses to a presidential veto--Option 1. Give Bush the bill he wants; Option 2. send Bush another funding bill with a deadline; Option 3. don't send Bush a bill at all. In other words, the Democrats can either give into Bush, give Bush the finger by sending another bill he doesn't like, or vetoing the war by not funding it. Although I don't view caving as the complete disaster projected on the right, I've been in favor of the Democrats using the showdown to stop the war altogether.

Ending the war and getting on with the next step in dealing with the Middle East is the best policy. We can get our troops out of the Iraqi civil war, deploy our soldiers in ways that are more effective in protecting American interests, and distance ourselves from the corrupt, incompetent, and militia-ridden Iraqi government. If the war in Iraq has taught us anything, it's that American influence is best exercised at somewhat of a distance from the day to day management of affairs in a country like Iraq.

Ending the war is also good politics for the Democrats. For once, the Democrats are broadly in sinc with the public on a military/ foreign policy issue. The American public wants to get out of Iraq one way or another and has been supporting withdrawal deadlines by 60% to 34%. Unless the public does a 180, the Democrats will have broad public support. Standing up to Bush will also make the Democrats look better. For years, the Democrats have been preceived as too weak and vacillating to govern. Standing up to Bush on war funding would create an impression of principle and determination that would do credit to the Democrats. Given Bush's belligerent refusal to negotiate or compromise, the Democrats would also look more reasonable than Bush.

Not that looking more reasonable than Bush is ever very difficult.

But the Democrats have a fourth option that would also be both good policy and good politics. If Bush vetoes the current Iraq funding legislation, the Democratic leadership could draw up a new bill that defunds the surge altogether and appropriates money solely for drawing down American troops, training the Iraqi military, and maintaining buffers against Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

In other words, the Democrats could vote to "end the war as we know it." That would be a bold step, but writing legislation to draw down the war would make the current deadline legislation look like a moderate position and put the Democratic leadership in a stronger position to negotiate a compromise.

Unlike the current deadline legislation, defunding the surge does not have broad public support at the present. However, the Democrats might be able to generate support for drawing down the war if they put that position into legislation. Who thought last November that the public would be supporting deadlines at this point? The Democrats have already moved public opinion by pushing for withdrawal deadlines in war funding legislation. They could move public opinion again by pushing for troop withdrawals.

It's time for Pelosi, Murtha, Rahm Emmanuel, and the other House Democrats to take more in the way of bold steps. Responding to a Bush veto by writing legislation to draw down the war would be such a step.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Rudy and Racism: Again

According to Matthew Yglesias:

Giuliani's political career, by contrast, has been marked by massive hostility to African-American leaders, and a tendency to actively revel in being disliked by black people . . . He's not, at the end of the day, a very good person and much more so than with your typical politician it seems very plausible to me that he flirts with racist appeals because he's a racist.

That also might be why Rudy is ahead in the polls, because he's the kind of racist that could pass for being a non-racist. Sort of like Don Imus used to pass for a non-racist. Giuliani's trick is that he can show contempt for African-American leaders and revel in "being disliked by black people but also maintain a plausible deniability about his racial hostility.

In this sense, many of Giuliani's white supporters would want both sides of the "acceptable bigotry" equation. They want Giuliani's narrative of "toughness" toward black people at the same time that they want to avoid racial groaners like "nappy-headed hos." They want Giuliani to be "tough" but not "stupid." At the same time, the failure to play the racism card might be one reason why McCain, Romney, and Gingrich haven't started to catch on with Republican voters. Thus, Giuliani might be ahead because other candidates can't match his anti-black narrative.

It's a great thing that Rudy Giuliani appears to be the only major candidate of white racism in either party. Unfortunately, there's a possibility that Rudy's racism will give him his winning edge.

RSI Feels the Surge

GOOD NEWS! I'm not sure why but the hit count at Red State Impressions has risen from 50 per day to more than 400 today. That's a sign of progress if I ever saw one. RSI has now reached 1%--that's a full 1%--of our goal of 40,000 hits per day and we have the same sense of pride and accomplishment that the Bush administration feels in meeting 1% of their goals in the Baghdad surge campaign.

BUT LET'S BE REALISTIC. RSI has a much better chance of meeting its goals than the Bush administration has of achieving "peace and stability" in Baghdad. Today's attacks on the Iraqi parliament and the Green Zone provide ample demonstration that the surge has had little effect on the balance of forces in Baghdad. Sunni insurgents might not be able to operate in the open anymore, but the insurgents have shifted their emphasis to car bombings, IED's, and suicide attacks without skipping a beat. We've also failed to provoke Moqtada al-Sadr into the confrontation needed to destroy the Mahdi Army and end Sadr's infiltration of government ministries, the Iraqi Army, and the Iraqi police. Right now, the chances of destroying the Mahdi Army look even worse than Mike Huckabee's long shot presidential bid. Still, as long as the Mahdi Army exists, the Iraqi government will be a haven for death squads and the American mission will have failed.

DOES BUSH HATE THE REPUBLICANS? It still looks like the Bush administration's surge strategy is going to carry forward into the fall campaign next year. That will be disastrous enough for the Republican Party, but Republicans will also be expected to pledge loyalty to the Iraq War after everyone else has stopped believing. I can't help but thinking that Bush knows he's giving the Republican Party the royal shaft but doesn't care. Maybe he just hates the Republicans.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Line Imus Crossed

UNPLUGGED AND NOT SO POLLUTED. I should preface this by mentioning that the RSI family hasn't had television in our little house in Kentucky for more than eleven years. Mrs. RSI and I didn't want out daughters' minds polluted by the violence, crime, distorted relationships, and endless putdowns and humiliations.

And we weren't that happy with our own minds either.

So we unplugged from the cable system. We don't get much radio in our house either--just NPR on occasion and I've already posted about my hatred for NPR.

THE BIGOTRY ACCEPTABILITY LINE. In responding to the Don Imus Cultural Crisis, some shock radio DJ's in Chicago claimed that it's it's "harder than ever to draw the line between acceptable and offensive." Maybe they should have taken the time to think about the nature of "the line" they're trying to draw. What's acceptable for these guys are racist, misogynist, homophobic, and otherwise bigoted comments that are directed at people "who deserve it" or can be justified in colorblind or other kinds of neutral language. In other words, they can be just as an bigoted as they want as long as they have some form of plausibile deniability concerning the bigotry of their intent. From the DJ point of view, what tripped up Imus was that "the Rutgers basketball players did nothing to warrant the abuse they took from Imus and his producer . . . " Given that the Rutgers basketball players had no sex scandals, they were not civil rights activists, and had not been promoting themselves in the media, they seemed completely "innocent" and were therefore considered exempt from racist and misogynist abuse. Thus, Imus was "crossing the line" when he unleashed the abuse on them any way. Nevertheless, if the Rutgers basketball players had not been "innocent" (and who is completely innocent anyway?), then Imus' abuse would not have been crossing the line. In other words the line between "acceptable and offensive" is a "bigotry acceptability" line.

But the point needs to be made that the bigotry that does not "cross the line" is just as reprehensible as Don Imus was when he crossed the line. Going right up to the bigotry acceptability line and not crossing it is just as wrong as crossing it. Approaching the bigotry line is just as wrong as crossing it.

The bigotry is just wrong.

John McCain's Half Monty

According to Fred Kaplan of Slate, John McCain not only justified the war in his big speech at VMI today, he also went negative on the Democrats.

"McCain said Democrats who oppose the president's plans for Iraq are not just wrong on the facts but are seeking "advantage in the next election" and "the temporary favor of the latest public opinion poll."

Kaplan thinks this is a big deal, but McCain's not doing the full monty of partisan self-exposure here. He's not belittling the masculinity of white liberals, not proclaiming his homophobia, not using code words for his contempt for blacks, not complaining about voter fraud, and not demeaning Democratic constituencies like labor unions, teachers, or Hispanics. If McCain wants to win, he's going to have to show Republican audiences a lot more red meat.

Because pulling a half-monty just isn't going to cut it for Honest John.

demeaning democraticIf McCain wants to do a full monty, he can't just criticize those on the left, he must do his best to emasculate us. ly has a long way to go before he can connect with the dominant right-wing of the Republican Party. He not only has to criticize the Democrats, he has to belittle our masculinity

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bush: Gloating His Way to Defeat on Iraq Funding?

THE SWAGGER IS BACK. Today, the Bush administration baited the Democratic leadership by inviting them to the White House but telling them in advance that the administration would engage in no negotiation and no compromise on Iraq funding legislation. Here's Dana Perino, the interim press secretary smugly announcing the disingenuous invitation.

President Bush himself added that he was inviting the Democrats to the White House so they can cave into him on deadlines on troops withdrawals. In Bushspeak, this is discussing
"the way forward on a bill that is a clean bill — a bill that funds our troops without artificial timetables for withdrawal, and without handcuffing our generals on the ground."

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES? Barack Obama and Carl Levin have already announced that the Senate Democrats would rather give in to Bush than "play chicken" with funding for American soldiers. But I'm betting that Democratic Senators become a little less committed to avoiding a showdown every time Bush and his spokespeople gloat about cramming " a clean bill" without "artificial deadlines" down their whiny little throats. Who knows? Maybe Bush is even trying to precipitate a showdown that he thinks he can win in the attempt to reverse his political fortunes.

NUMBERS TALK. If the Democrats decide not to cave after Bush vetoes, the issue is going to come down to poll numbers. If 60% of the public continues to support withdrawal deadlines through a President v Congress showdown, Bush will gradually lose Republican support because the GOP really would like to avoid a landslide in 2008. That means the Congressional Democrats will win and Bush will be the lamest of lame ducks.

I'm not sure that a Bush victory would be so devastating for the Democrats though. Certainly losing public support on the war would be a big defeat, but the Bush administration is suffering death through a thousand little cuts in the fired prosecutors scandal, the Walter Reed scandal, the failure of the war and public hostility to the administration. Even if the Bush administration forced Pelosi and Reid to cave, all the deadly little cuts would start again the next day.

The Democrats have a lot to gain in the sense that they can bring this miserable war to an end. They should take the risk.

Monday, April 09, 2007

George Bush Needs Nancy Pelosi

Short post tonight because I'm reading senior seminar papers.

However, Democratic defenses of Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria are just as ridiculous as the Republican criticisms.

Of course as the liberal bloggers claim, Congressional big-shots have travelled to countries with which the U. S. has questionable relations and done like Nancy Pelosi did in carrying messages from one country to another.

But liberal bloggers are forgetting that George Bush is a particularly weak president who wouldn't carry much weight in either Tel Aviv or Damascus. Bush leadership was repudiated by the voting public at the polls last November and that repudiation is repeated every week when new polling numbers come out. Bush's leadership was also repudiated by the foreign policy elites who participated in the Iraq Study Group. In fact, it's hard to find anyone outside talk radio, the conservative think tanks, and the 34% Republican base who doesn't communicate a sense of repulsion about Bush.

To the contrary, Nancy Pelosi is the leader of the majority party and the highest ranking person who actually represents public opinion in the U. S. When Pelosi travels to Damascus to communicate American concerns over Syrian support for Hezbollah and other issues, she does so with a lot more sense of political weight and responsibility than anyone associated with the Bush administration. As a result of Pelosi's visit, Syria knows that the whole American political establishment disapproves of his strategies not just the lightweight renegade George Bush. In this way, Pelosi's visit performs the crucial function of getting a government to take the United States seriously even if it can't take the Bush administration seriously.

Really, Nancy Pelosi should be taking more trips to assure foreign governments of American seriousness about Israeli-Palestinian issues, Iraqi security, the Pakistani-Indian situation, China-Taiwan concerns and the like.

And the Bush administration should encourage her. Perhaps the world will take the Bush administration more seriously if they're backed up by Pelosi.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

In Praise of Spring Renewal Festivals

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and John Edwards blogger fame writes that "the good/ bad/ weird thing about being a believer in absolutely no religion is that the annual spring festivals of regeneration are utterly unimportant to you."

I don't know why.

Just as non-believers can claim Santa Claus and Christmas, we can also put in a legitimate claim to "spring festivals of regeneration." We had Easter at our house today in Kentucky and everything was about Easter baskets, Easter candy, and new clothes. If we hadn't had our own cold snap in Kentucky, there would have been a lot of talk about grass and flowers as well.

My wife is Catholic and she did take our two daughters to Mass. But there was the usual lack of comment about anything having to do with the resurrection of Jesus, forgiveness of sin, going to heaven, or any time-worn Christian theme. Jesus holds no interest for my daughters and the religious element in Easter is completely dependent on the celebration of Spring in our house just like it is most other places.

Why should we give up "spring festivals of regeneration" like Easter because they've been imposed on by Christianity.

We should share instead? We who don't believe should emphasize the energizing, sexualizing, rejoicing qualities of springtime and our willingness to share spring with Christians. I don't associate any religious significance with the Jesus story, but I'm more than glad to share the beauty of spring in Kentucky with anyone.

Tomorrow, I'll ask Mrs. RSI about some of the blooming trees. I think they're dogwoods.

Easter Iraq Notes

Sadr Statement Overblown. Moqtada al-Sadr's statement that Iraqis should focus on opposing the occupation rather than killing each other received a lot of play today. But Sadr's comments don't necessarily mean that his Mahdi Army is going to be stepping up operations. Given that tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, al-Sadr might have been making a vague ceremonial statement more than anything else, something like Condoleeza Rice calling the war in Iraq a "generational commitment."

Spreading Out the Violence. The surge has resulted in a decrease in sectarian violence to the extent that there are far fewer Shiite militia killings in Baghdad. But Sunni insurgents have increased their activity and the overall picture of violence in Iraq has changed little as a result. The violence is more diffuse in the sense that it's spread out to Tal Afar, Diwaniya, and Mahmoudiya. But it's still at such an extremely high level that it's hard to say that the surge has made much difference overall.

Still Not Enough Troops. There still aren't nearly enough American and good Iraqi troops to make the occupation work. Right now, the United States has enough troops in Baghdad to force out a significant portion of the Sunni insurgents and intimidate the Mahdi Army, Badr Brigades, and other Shiite militas. But, there aren't nearly enough American and Iraqi troops to stay on the offensive once the insurgents and militias move to other towns. Moreover, it would take two or three times our current deployment (of 170,000) or so to maintain offensives against opposing forces, provide good security for occupied areas, and engage in economic rebuilding. The proponents of the surge wanted to give the occupation of Iraq one more chance to work, but the chances of the surge succeeding are so ridiculously small that they just should have just started drawing down the occupation last December after the report of the Iraq Study Group came out.