Saturday, August 25, 2007

Giuliani's Lying Strategy: Flooding the Zone

One of the striking characteristics of the Bush administration is the readily identifiable lying techniques of top Bush officials. The result has been a diverse, flexible, sophisticated, team-centered approach to lying that worked for a long time. With President Bush, it's saying "white is black" with a straight face. That's how he can say "the United States does not torture" with such sincerity and confidence even though he himself approved the torture techniques. Dick Cheney prefers to torture small bits of information into big dishonest conclusions while Albert Gonzales specializes in saying things that everybody knows are untrue and then daring opponents to prove him a liar.

One of the ways that Rudy Giuliani has tried to prove himself the true heir to the Bush administration legacy is to develop the strikingly new lying technique of "flooding the zone." Of course, "flooding the zone" is a football term for the tactic of sending several receivers into one part of the field. In that way, the offense expects that one of the receivers will be open. Rudy Giuliani's approach to lying can be described as flooding the zone because he's so prolific as a liar.
Here's a catalogue of Rudy's lies from TPM:
But just as importantly, Giuliani keeps undermining his own credibility on all policy issues by exaggerating to the point of comedy. He can't just say he spent time at Ground Zero; he has to exaggerate to say he spent as much time (if not more) than the rescue, recovery, and cleanup workers who spent a year sifting through human remains and rubble. He can't just say he's interested in counter-terrorism; he has to exaggerate to say he's been "studying Islamic terrorism for 30 years." He can't just say he's committed to promoting adoption over abortion; he has to exaggerate his record as mayor. He can't just he cut taxes in NYC; he has to exaggerate his record to include tax cuts he opposed (he even counted one cut twice). The guy can't even release a list of congressional endorsements without exaggerating the numbers.
Steve Benen of TPM thinks that Giuliani is "undermining his own credibility" with all these seemingly unnecessary lies. But that's not the case at all. Right-wing activists enjoy, expect, and even demand these kinds of lies because they interpret Giuliani's contempt for truth as an indication of contempt for the mainstream media, liberal audiences, and the Democratic opposition. One way or another, demonstrations of such contempt are required of Republican candidates.

There are several things that are ingenious about Giuliani's flooding the zone with lies. First, lying so often gives Giuliani the chance to cover up some of the more unsavory aspects of his record. Liberal media outlets like TPM and Salon might catch Rudy lying about the time spent at Ground Zero. But when the liberal media is hashing over that lie, they're not talking about Rudy's marrying his cousin, Rudy's use of the Emergency Command Center as a love nest for his mistress, or the inhumane way he treated second wife Donna Hanover during their divorce.

That's a plus for Rudy.

Flooding the zone with lies also means that individual revelations of dishonesty won't be so damaging. Because there's so many more lies coming down the pike, discussion of any particular lie only lasts for 24-48 hours. Rudy's tendency to "exaggerate to the point of comedy" doesn't hurt him because it's impossible to pay much attention to any particular dishonesty.

Another advantage for Rudy is that a few of his lies might get accepted as the truth. Given how hard it is to keep up with Rudy's dishonesty, the media might end up accepting Rudy's exaggerations of his tax-cutting record or his congressional endorsements as "conventional wisdom." Assuming that Rudy's going to have bigger and better lies in the future, the shear frequency of his fibs means that there's a chance that some of those lies will really help him.

"Flooding the zone" with lies is such an effective technique for Rudy that I wouldn't be surprised to see Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson to adapt it pretty soon. Both of them have a long way to go before they show that they're really serious about winning.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Warner Slows "Save the Surge" Campaign

Like most people on the left, I don't think much of John Warners proposal for a token withdrawal of American troops by Christmas. If Warner doesn't think the surge should be successful, he should just join the Democrats in calling for a withdrawal.

Yet, it seems like Warner's speech has pretty much stopped the "Save the Surge" momentum that had been developing since the O'Hanlan/Pollack op-ed a couple of weeks ago. It certainly wrong-footed the Bush administration which had to backtrack and ask if they still had Warner's support.

Between Warner's speech, the pessimistic NIE Report, and Peter Pace's recommendation for troop withdrawals, it looks like the Save the Surge campaign will have to start over.

Full Circle for Right on Iraq

Yesterday, Hugh Hewitt pushed hard on President Bush's Vietnam analogy, emphasizing that a U. S. withdrawal would leave Iraqis to the Arab Pol Pot, genocide, and torture. Images of American guilt for Cambodian genocide were as hot and heavy as facts and analysis about Iraq were scarce and unmentioned.

This brings the right-wing full circle on Iraq. When the Bush administration and the attack media originally promoted the invasion, the argument that got them over the top was the idea of establishing "democracy in Iraq" and spreading democracy in the Middle East. That's an idea that had it's liberal origins in the French Revolution and Marxist development in the goal of spreading communism. The administration's conservative arguments about American "empire" and fear of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were not moving popular opinion decisively in favor of invasion. As a result, the administration had to throw in the liberal idea of spreading democracy abroad even as they were undermining the rule of law and our democratic rights at hom. The administration had to do this because United States is not a conservative country despite the presence of an active right-wing. To seal the deal on the war, the Bush administration's propoganda machine had to appeal to the liberal instincts of most Americans.

The right is making the same move now. Giving up temporarily on conservative analogies about Winston Churchill, our fate, and god's design for us, the right is now trying to appeal to a liberal sense of guilt over our potential responsibility for civilian casualties. Given the prominence which liberal filmakers and teachers have given to the Cambodian "Killing Fields" over the last twenty years, it's easy to see the power of the image and the sense of guilt and responsibility that it would stimulate.

One could be outraged over the cynicism of the right-wing's appeal. I don't remember the right caring too much about genocide in Cambodia in the years after the news emerged.

And it is outrageous.

Instead of being stuck on our outrage, however, let's design a little test for the sincerity of right-wing figures like President Bush, Hugh Hewitt, and the rest of the people flogging the Vietnam/Cambodia analogy.

The test is simple. If the Hugh Hewitts of the world are sincere in their worries about genocide, they will have already expressed a great deal of"guilt" and remorse over the at least one hundred thousand Iraqi civilian deaths since the invasion.

Personally, I haven't seen any of that guilt. So, I have to assume that the current effort by the right to promote a Vietnam/Cambodia analogy is as cynical and dishonest as the rest of their propoganda ploys.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Shadow of Disaster in Iraq

A Pinch of Progress. The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq is a typical bit of bureaucratic obfuscation. The main claim is that there have been "measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation." Then the authors divide the security situation in half. What's "measurable" is that the "escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now and that overall attack levels in Iraq have fallen . . ."

These are two separate things. When the authors are talking about "escalation of rates of violence," they are referring primarily to violence against civilians in car bomb attacks, assassinations, death squad killings, and the like. In halting the "escalation of rates of violence," the surge has merely kept the situation in Iraq from getting progressively worse as it had in 2006. It has not made the situation better. The only sense in which there is progress is in the sense that things are "better than they could have been." In fact, violence against civilians "remains high" and I've seen other sources that indicate that violence against civilians is higher than it was last year at this time.

At the same time, the surge has resulted in declines of attack levels against American troops and that's especially in Anbar where the insurgents who had been attacking Americans have switched sides and are now fighting with Americans against al-Qaeda.

As the soldiers op-ed stressed on Sunday, conditions have not improved for Iraqis at all. But the declining attacks on Americans do represent a pinch of progress.

The Regress in the Progress. The conventional wisdom about the weakness of the surge is that the al-Maliki government has not used the supposed "breathing space" from the surge to forge compromises with Sunni politicians about re-Baathification, the distribution of oil revenue, and regional autonomy. However, both the Maliki government and its constituencies have fallen apart. The Maliki government was built primarily on the support of the Shiite religious parties, the Sadr bloc, secular Shiites like Ayad Allawi, and relatively moderate Sunni politicians. But the government has been abandoned by the Sadrists, the Allawi Party, and the Sunnis. Even worse from the American point of view is that Sadr is becoming even more popular than he was as a politician even though his militia is fragmenting into little fiefdoms.

What the conventional wisdom doesn't acknowledge is that the dramatic weakening of the al-Maliki government is a consequence of the surge. What the surge did was create a set of cross-cutting pressures that were well beyond the Maliki government's ability to cope. Given that one of the main (though unstated) goals of the surge was the destruction of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, the Sadr political party pushed against the surge within the government. Stuck between the more aggressive Americans and the more popular al-Sadr, Maliki did nothing and the Sadr bloc eventually left the governing coalition because Maliki wouldn't set a timetable for American withdrawal.

Maliki couldn't satisfy the Sunnis or secularists either. Those parties used the occasion of the surge to push al-Maliki to destroy the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias altogether. Fortunately, Maliki proved that he wasn't as stupid as the Bush administration by refusing to risk a likely Shiite insurrection. So, the Sunnis and secularists withdrew as well.

The final outcome is a very mixed bag. As a result of the pressures created by the surge, the Maliki government isn't strong enough to function effectively. However, it has avoided the major disasters of confrontation with the American military on the one hand and confrontation with the popular Shiite militias on the other. Like the surge, the Maliki government isn't making much progress, but it has prevented the worst from happening.

The Shadow of Disaster. However, things can get much worse in a hurry, something emphasized by the NIE when it says that the escalation of violence has been stopped "for now." The problem is the intense American dissatisfaction with Maliki and the Shiites. The Bush administration has never wanted Shiite majority government in Iraq because of the intense sectarianism of the Shiite community and their ties with Iran. The outcome of Iraqi elections have stuck the Bushies with governments dominated by Shiite religious parties that have been very reluctant to engage the Sunnis in the way the Bush administration wants. Now that the American military sees an opportunity to bring former Sunni insurgents into the Iraqi government structure as soldiers and policemen, Bush and his advisers are even more tempted to seek a replacement for al-Maliki than they've been before.

The conditions are right for the Bush administration to be tempted to engage in a little putsch against Maliki. Maliki's government is weak, there's general dissatisfaction with the performance of that government, Ayad Allawi is available as a substitute, and Allawi is much more pro-American than Maliki.

But Allawi would be a disaster because his "conciliatory" policies toward the Americans and Sunnis would alienate the majority Shiite population. Given that Allawi would be committed to destroying the militias, an Allawi government could be a recipe for a Shiite insurrection. In other words, blowing up the Maliki government could lead to a dramatic de-stabilization of the situation in Iraq and reverse the pinch of progress that's been associated with the surge.

There's a lobbying group in Washington promoting the installation of Allawi in Baghdad. Hopefully the Bush administration won't be so stupid that they'll listen.

Job Training for Mitt

Mitt Romney obviously got his bounce from the Iowa straw poll. Big Mitt finally got off the 10% mark in the RCP average and has passed McCain at 13.5% to 11.7% in the national polls. He also leads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

What's not to like about Mitt? He's handsome, clean-cut, well-spoken, and seemingly sincere. I imagine that he also knows who's the president of Pakistan. The main questions about Romney come from liberals like Josh Marshall at TPM who think that Romney's too transparently dishonest to be taken seriously. Here TPM catches Mitt in a particularly gratuitous lie concerning Teddy Kennedy.

But I don't see why Marshall has to be so "negative." Liberals tend to overuse the "outrage" pedal in relation to conservatives anyway. I think it would be much better just to say that Romney was doing a little "job training." Given that routine lying is practically a job requirement for a Republican president, Romney will need to sharpen his "truth evasion" skills as a way to prepare for the job.

In fact, the next time Romney tells a whopper, people should stand up and cheer. It shows that he's really serious about winning.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cold-Water Hillary Notes

Needless to say, I'm heavily biased toward Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate. Viewing her as the best qualified candidate to make progress while the right-wing is waging war on the next Democratic president, I've endorsed Hillary and will put money into her campaign. Moreover, I've promised my daughter to take her to a Hillary inaugural if she wins.

But today, I'm going to throw some cold water her way.

1. Too Good at the Poll Margins. A Gallup poll has Hillary doubling up on Obama at 42%-21%. Rasmussen's robo-poll isn't much different at 42-22. I don't like it. Having only run as a candidate in only one real campaign, Hillary needs more experience with tight races. So does her campaign team. Edwards and Obama are still challenging in early primary states, but Hillary really needs them to be more competitive if her campaign is going to be running on all cylinders for the general election.

2. Too Positive About the Surge. While at the VFW convention, Hillary claimed that "We've begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it's working." First, this is inaccurate. As Anthony Cordesman made clear, the progress in al-Anbar was much more a matter of the luck of some Sunni tribal leaders changing sides than tactics associated with the surge. What's more, Hillary's indicating that she was influenced by the war cheerleading NY Times op-ed of Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack. Would she actually give those clowns jobs in a Hillary administration?

3. Irresponsible About Maliki. But the worst is Hillary's irresponsible comments about removing Nouri al-Maliki as Iraqi prime minister. Who would take al-Maliki's place. Maliki's government is so weak because Iraqi politics is so fragmented. Not only does Iraq have the three big mutually irreconcilable Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish groups, but the Shiites and Sunnis are tremendously fragmented within themselves. According to Hillary:

The Iraqi government's failures have reinforced the widely held view that the Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement, because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders . . ." Clinton went on to say she "hope[s] that the Iraqi parliament will replace Prime Minister Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure when it returns in a few weeks."
Of course, the Maliki government is beholden to religious and sectarian leaders. That's because the Shiite political parties, civic institutions, militias, and population are mostly religious and sectarian. Here Hillary is biting out of the same delusion of "moderate" Iraqi government as Bush. In fact, a "moderate" government would be even weaker than the Maliki government because it's support would be even more fragmented and tenuous than Maliki's.

The American cause in Iraq is on such tenuous ground that it's difficult to say what should be done with Iraq's central government. My best guess is that supporting Shiite elites as they figure out how to govern is the wisest course in the long run. But replacing Maliki is a bad idea in both the short and the long run.

Hillary's week isn't going as badly as my week, but I'm still hoping she starts to do better.

Postscript 1: Glenn Greenwald criticizes Carl Levin's and, by implication, Hillary's call for the removal of Maliki as a sign that the Democrats are going to give support to the surge ("embrace and celebrate") while blaming the horrific conditions in Iraq on the Maliki government. According to Greenwald, the Dems are "afraid to challenge the U.S. military's claims that we are Winning, and are even afraid to oppose the Surge." That's not likely. Harry Reid is already on record as challenging Gen. Petraeus. Instead, I would bet that the Democrats don't have the votes to effectively challenge the military and have decided to minimize their target area for right-wing attacks. It appears to me that the Democrats want wins but are willing to tread very carefully if they can't get the wins.

The Solution to Primary Creep

The conservative-leaning blog, The Politico, has an informative article on the sanctions the DNC might apply to Michigan and Florida for moving up their primaries to January.

But the only solution to the "primary creep" where states keep scheduling their primaries earlier is to end the Iowa/New Hampshire duopoly on the earliest primary events.

There's no reason why Iowa and New Hampshire should get to hog all the extra influence that goes with being the first big events for the presidential calendar. As long as Iowa and New Hampshire are first, states like Florida, Michigan, New York, and California are going to try to move ahead in order to have influence proportionate to their populations.

And who can blame them.

What the Democrats need to do is develop a system where states can rotate as the first state primaries for a presidential campaign. They could divide all the states (and the District of Columbia) into groups of five "first primary" states and then alternate the groups. For example, Group I could be defined as California, Nebraska, Indiana, Georgia, and Massachusetts and that group could be have the first primaries spread over three weeks in 2012. If such were the case, that group's next shot at the first primary apple would be 10 elections later.

The point here is that an entirely different group--perhaps Texas, Maine, Ohio, Oregon, and Mississippi--would be the first primary states in 2016.

The Democrats are the party of equality. The only way to solve the problem of primary creep is to spread the wealth of being a "first primary state" more equally.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Democrats and Their Two Visions

Joan Walsh of Salon has a very useful review of Matt Bai's The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake the Democratic Party. Actually, Bai's book itself doesn't sound that interesting. Bai's bothered by the rise of the netroots as a force in the Democratic Party and he mounts a fairly typical and fairly tedious line of attack. Bai likes his liberals to have "big ideas" but he wants them pure of heart and above the vulgar day-to-day nastiness of party politics. In other words, Bai wants his liberals to be noble losers. What's worse is that the big ideas Bai really likes are Republican big ideas like privatizing social security, dismembering labor unions, and juicing up the defense industry. So Bai is especially favorable to Democrats who embrace a lot of Republican positions like Joe Lieberman and especially disturbed by the bare-knuckled liberalism of popular blogs like DailyKos.

Not much interesting there.

But Joan Walsh does identify a tension that I believe is going to plague any incoming Democratic administration. That's because she's on both sides of the tension.

On the one hand, Walsh believes that any Democratic administration is going to have to come up with "big ideas" on important issues like health care to be successful.
Let me be clear: Like Bai, I would like to see more political will (the ideas are there; it's a mobilized constituency behind a few key ideas that's missing) to do something about the healthcare nightmare, the public education crisis, persistent inner-city poverty, the shock waves of globalization ... I could go on and on. I think the 2008 Democratic nominee will need to articulate and build a constituency behind a compelling vision of post-Bush America that reckons with terrorism, security and a new U.S. role in the volatile global economy. He or she may not need it to get elected, the way the Republicans are going, but they'll need it to govern and to solve the problems voters elect them to address -- as well as to get reelected.

Walsh's vision about a possible Democratic agenda is so expansive here that it would take a combination of the New Deal and Great Society to get it all done. Edwards and Obama (at least to a certain extent) are campaigning on this decisive separation from the Bush era, but neither of them asks how they're going to get big popular majorities and various elites to support such an agenda let alone how they would administer programs and pay for them. It's all pie in the sky and here Walsh is being as naively idealistic as Bai himself.

But Walsh also seems to recognize the insanity of trying to do that much and soon pulls back into a minimalist mode.
But unlike Matt Bai, I think undoing the disasters of the Bush administration makes for good policy as well as good politics, and I think most Americans agree.
In other words, Walsh believes that an incoming Democratic administration is going to have to clean up a lot of the Bush administration's messes before it embarks on a any ambitious new plans. In my opinion, this is the right track. In fact, undoing the damage of the Bush administration is a pretty big ambition in itself. The Bush administration has made an enormous mess of the war in Iraq, international institutions like the UN and the World Bank, terrorist detention, interrogation policies, the Justice Department, federal agencies like FEMA, and the federal budget.

And that's just the well-known disasters. It may turn out that a big chunk of the federal government is as dysfunctional as FEMA.

Cleaning up the federal government and repairing our relationships with other countries is going to be a full time job for incoming Democrats. That's especially because a Democratic administration will be under a lot of pressure from the right-wing attack media. Unlike Obama and Edwards, Hillary seems to have a sense of how tough the environment is going to be for the next Democratic president. That sense of hard-headed practicality is one of the reasons I support her candidacy even though my own views are closer to those of Edwards.

But there's one thing for sure, the moderate Democratic--DLC--Lieberman era that Bai so much embraces really is over in the Democratic Party. In that sense, the liberal bloggers have won the war even if they continue to lose a lot of battles.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Drezner's Disappointing Attempt to Escape Dialogue

There's been a lot of back and forth over the last few days over blogger criticism of "the foreign policy community" between liberal bloggers Glenn Greenwald and Matthew Yglesias and foreign policy specialists Gideon Rose and Daniel Drezner. The liberal blogger or "netroots" critique of the foreign policy community or "establishment" is essentially the same as their critique of the mainstream media. According to Greenwald and Yglesias, the prominent foreign policy specialists who promoted the invasion of Iraq suffered no apparent consequences for their egregious misjudgments. In fact, the consensus of the foreign policy community still seems to be at least close to neo-conservative military adventurism. Likewise, it still appears that war opponents are frozen out of significant participation in foreign policy discussion. Despite the monumental nature of the Iraq disaster, nothing seems to have changed in the foreign policy community.

Greenwald and Yglesias are two of my favorite bloggers though and I think it fair to say that I'm biased toward them. However, I have to say that my main reaction to the controversy is disappointment in the writing of Drezner and Rose. They both work at foreign policy full-time and I believe they have more knowledge in the area than generalists like Greenwald and Yglesias. Yet, instead of using his expertise to further the discussion, the specialists set up a bunch of straw men and phony hypotheticals that seem designed to obfuscate rather than enlighten.

Let me give an example from Drezner's discussion of military intervention. Greenwald argues that "the U.S. should not attack another country unless that country has attacked or directly threatens our national security . . ." Greenwald's main weakness as a commentator is that he often engages in overly broad formulations like this and Drezner certainly could have contested this definition of legitimate attacks on other countries as too broad to be useful or in need of modification. Given Drezner's expertise in international affairs, he could have done so in a way that advanced the discussion of appropriate American conduct in a post/9-11 and post Iraq world. In other words, Dresner could have used his specialist knowledge to improve on Greenwald. But no dice. Instead, Drezner asks a set of rhetorical questions:

How does one define direct threats to national security? For the United States, would civil war in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan qualify? Should the use of force be categorically rejected in both cases? Does Iran's links to the Khobar Towers bombing justify the use of force against Teheran, as per Greenwald's criteria?
Ultimately, these questions are disingenuous, and perhaps dangerously so. By using the hypothetical examples of civil war in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan just to frame a rhetorical question about Greenwald's definition, Drezner implicitly claims that Greenwald's definition fails because Drezner can raise these kinds of questions. Instead of using his expertise to further discussion, Drezner apparently seeks to drive Greenwald back to a zero point where there is no limitation on the ability of the American government to attack other countries.

It didn't have to be this way. At a minimum, Drezner could have used his examples to articulate something like a concept of "indirect threat" to American national security as justifying attacks on other nations as a complicating factor. Such indirect threats certainly would not always justify attacks, but civil wars in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan "might" impinge enough on American national security to justify attacks in "certain circumstances" that shouldn't be discounted in advance. In such a case, one could justify an American military operation without aiming for the global domination envisioned by PNAC and the Bush doctrine.

In other words, Drezner could have defined a "prudent" rule of thumb that closed off military adventures like Iraq but didn't unnecessarily hamstring American policy-makers.

There's a danger in Drezner's giving Greenwald the back of his hand like this. While attempting to close down Greenwald's effort to define a limit to American attacks, Drezner is opening up the possibility that the U. S. has a right to attack any country any time we want as neo-cons like Ledeen, Bolton, and Robert Kagan (especially in Of Paradise and Power) argue. Without any principled limitations on the right of the American government to attack other countries, the question then becomes whether the U. S. has the military power to execute all the attacks that the warmongers can imagine. Given that the neo-cons believe we have potentially unlimited military power, that means we can attack practically any country (except Israel) at any time.

Drezner goes on to bait Greenwald in ways that refuse to take him seriously even though the article was entitled "Taking Glenn Greenwald Seriously." Ultimately, both Drezner confirms the blogger critique of the foreign policy community. They are determined to learn nothing from Iraq.

More than anything else, I find that disappointing.

The Bears in the Cage

Over the weekend, a drunken Serb was killed and partially eaten after he climbed into a bear cage at the Belgrade Zoo. Apparently, the victim had been throwing beer cans, bricks, stones, and even mobile phones at the bears. However, after he climbed into the cage to show who was really boss, he probably lived long enough to regret his mistake. The two bears, Masha and Misha, "dragged the body to their feeding corner," started eating him like any other piece of meat, "and reacted angrily when keepers tried to recover [the body]."

The Republicans are more wary than the drunken Serb these days, but they have to wonder if they are going to be dragged into a bear cage as they watch the sub-prime mortgage crisis. Right now, it's sub-prime mortgage companies and the Wall Street firms that invested in their mortgages that are being eaten.

Who cares about them?

However, if heavily indebted consumers are dragged into the cage with Wall Street, the economy will be looking at a recession on top of the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Katrina, the on-going health care crisis, and the various Alberto Gonzales scandals.

Given that all these other things have occurred on George Bush and the Republican Party's watch, the onset of a recession would mean that the Republicans would get eaten alive by voters.

Couldn't happen to nicer people.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Smearkrieg No. 4--Rush Smear Needed!

The American right has such a reputation for immorality that some knee-jerk reactions are predictable. The upcoming smear campaign against the seven soldiers who authored today's New York Times op-ed on the surge is one of them.

The op-ed, "The War as We Saw It," was written by Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray, and Jeremy A. Murphy of the 82nd Airborne Division and is a devastating account of the war from the perspective of soldiers fighting it. In fact, one of the men was seriously wounded while the piece was being written. It took a lot of guts for the soldiers to write in defiance of the White House position and I'm sure that the military will find a way to punish them.

But military consequences are the least of their problems. Ultimately, the authors will have to face the wrath of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and the horde of right-wing talk show hosts and bloggers. Josh Marshall of TPM and John Cole of Balloon Juice both argue that the right-wing media will attempt to ignore the soldier op-ed, but that seems naive. Even more than the 24 hour cable networks, the right-wing media apparatus needs controversial material to chew over in order to hold listeners and keep advertising rates up. Because the soldier op-ed is ripe for potential controversy, the right-wing media will be drawn to it like moths to the flame with the ironical outcome that the conservative media will be giving wider circulation and more prominence to a view they might prefer to censor.

There are times when capitalism bites the right-wing in the butt.

If the right-wing media wants to turn the soldier op-ed to their advantage, they're going to have to smear the soldiers. That's because the soldiers rip the case for war optimism to shreds. Optimism, the soldiers claim, is a luxury of Americans coming in for short visits.
Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Iraqis are pessimistic because the security situation is so bad that they are in a Hobbesian nightmare where they can't count on basic services, can't invest in new enterprises, can't plan beyond the simplest survival needs, and can't protect themselves and their families.
In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act . . . When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

For the authors of "The War as We Saw It," the "battle-space" in Iraq is still too crowded and complex for Americans to credibly claim victory despite the enhanced efforts associated with the surge.
Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

If the various forces in Iraq don't "fit neatly into boxes," the American mission in Iraq does fit into a box of its own making. The American military cannot supply security for ordinary Iraqis because it cannot control "Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes." The American military also can't control the Iraqi Army and police and it can't control the collapsing al-Maliki government either. As a result, the various segments of the Iraqi population rely more on local militias and corrupt politicians to provide protection and get things done which makes these forces even stronger than they would have been.

Far from viewing the U. S. as gaining ground through the surge, "The War as We Saw It" paints the Iraqi population as being on the verge of throwing the Americans out.

In this context, the right-wing isn't going to be able to adequately refute the soldiers' op-ed by citing the work of other soldiers, war-romantic Michael Yon, or Gen. Petraeus. As a result, the right pretty much has to smear the authors and the only way to do that is to perform opposition research on them the same way they would a politician. If any of these soldiers has misbehaved in Iraq, they can expect to be swift-boated for their troubles. If any of them has enemies in their units, they can expect those enemies to be interviewed by the right-wing media. If any of them has any blemishes on their civilian records, they can also expect them to come out.

And they'll have to do their smearing quickly before "The War as We Saw It" gets baked into American political memory.

That's why the right badly needs a "rush smear." They need to destroy the authors of "The War as We Saw It" before the truth of the soldiers' argument is just assumed.

College Professors: A New Hate Target

Now that comprehensive immigration has been defeated, the right-wing is focusing more of their hate on college professors. Here's a rant about a college professor in New York by Jason Rantz of the Family Security Foundation that was posted on the site.
Something I hate more than the New York Times is the Los Angeles Times. Something I hate more than the LA Times is a professor who puts his or her politics and personal beliefs over the proper curriculum of the class. What I hate the most is when a major liberal propagandist newspaper celebrates selfish professors who bring their politics into a classroom that isn’t supposed to be about politics. Unfortunately, that’s what the LA Times did this past weekend.

Hate's an extremely flexible thing for the right. Depending on the news of the day, it shifts from blacks to gays to feminists to white liberals to Muslims to Mexican immigrants. Given the roulette wheel nature of right-wing hate, college professors were bound to become a primary target one of these days, and it looks like that day has arrived. The popular right-wing critic of academics David Horowitz has been campaigning for years to force colleges and universities to adapt an affirmative action program for right-wingers. More recently I've seen articles on the supposed dangers of parents sending their conservative students off to college and other articles about revoking tenure for college faculty.

The target of Jason Rantz' hatred is Steven Brodner, a professor at the School for Visual Arts in New York who made the Iraq War the focus of an art class. Rantz' idea is that art and politics are entirely different topics and that an artist should focus on "looking at things, finding the lines and shadows, and copying them onto a sheet of paper" while talking about the Iraq War should be limited to political scientists or even more narrowly, specialists in international relations.

Talk about naive definitions of art!

Actually, Prof. Brodner has exactly the right tone.
I felt that while they were in my class, students should focus on what I believe to be the most urgent issue of our time: the Iraq war.

Given that the Iraq war is "the most urgent issue of our time," organizing classes around war oriented themes is an appropriate way to enhance student interest in topics like painting, sculpture, literature, music, and even mathematics. Given the elements of social and political commentary in so much art-work, art professors probably should be introducing political issues into classes as a way of getting art students to think about subjects and potential subjects to address with their art pieces.

To be honest though, I wouldn't use the Iraq War as an organizing theme for my political theory classes. For the purposes of my teaching, I prefer themes that carry a lot of ambivalence. Students thus have to think out their positions on themes like "individualism" while learning the arguments of bell hooks, Locke, Plato, or Jesus. Given the ambivalence Kentucky students have about individualism, focusing on individualism is a good way to get them out of their comfort zone and encourage independence of thought. The same is not true of the Iraq War anymore. As urgent as the issue of the war is, a large majority of students have already made up their minds that the war is wrong and that Bush is an idiot. As a result, there's not enough ambivalence for the war to still be a useful theme.

In that sense, conservatives should appreciate the intensity with which Prof. Steven Brodner approaches the war. Most professors I know don't talk about the war because they think the war was an obvious mistake and failure and that talking about the war is boring. For a lot of people, the Iraq War is yesterday's news and saying something about the war is almost always a conversation killer. Conservatives should recognize that the common ground they share with Prof. Brodner in thinking that the war is still a live issue and appreciate the passion he still brings to it.

I certainly do.