Saturday, September 08, 2007

Are Weenie Boys Advising Bin Laden?

Think Progress is insulted by the attempts of David Brooks and conservative bloggers to associate Osama bin Laden's latest video with the progressive blogosphere.

Much as I like Think Progress, I couldn't disagree more.

It's almost always a mistake for people on the left to be "outraged," "denigrated," or "insulted" by conservatives. When conservatives write or say racist, misogynist, homophobic stuff or accuse people on the left of pedophilia, treason, or effeminacy, they're usually trying to stimulate exactly that kind of emotional response. When liberals and those on the left fall into the "outrage" trap, it traps liberals into a narrow moralism that loses sight of the big social and political pictures. Really, what more can a person say after they've accused someone of insulting them. It also confirms the conservative view of people on the left as "wimpy," "emotional," "soft," and easily manipulated, and gives them an unearned sense of superiority.

Ann Coulter is the master of the "outrage the left" rhetorical game but the whole right loves to play it. It makes conservatives feel powerful and effective in their sophomoric kind of way and should be pitied more than anything else. Given the disastrous failures of their Bush administration, their Republican Party, and their war, it's easy to see that "outraging" liberals is pretty much the only thing conservatives can do to feel superior.

There are lots of better responses to conservative "outrages" than outrage. It's important to tie conservative race-baiting back to their racial bigotry, to emphasize the racism in color-blind rhetoric about race, and point out all the ways that the Republicans play the racism card like Bob Corker did in his Senate campaign against Harold Ford in 2006. As racist as most right-wingers are, they are still "very sensitive" at being called racists and even more sensitive about being tied to the virulent racism of so many Republican voters. Who knew?

Like Glenn Greenwald and Digby, I also enjoy picking on the comic-book masculinity of right-wing figures from George ("we're kicking ass") Bush, to Karl Rove, the helium-sucking twerps over at the Department of Justice, and macho blowhards like John Bolton. The most recent example is NRO's Mark Hemingway, a super wimpy-looking guy who writes Terminator-tough. Having failed at traditional masculine athletics and (one suspects) dating activities, right-wingers now project the biggest macho gestures they can imagine. Greenwald treats these guys as hypocrites. I call them "weenie-boys." Let history decide which one of us is right.

That brings us back to bin Laden. Instead of being insulted, Think Progress could have mentioned that 9-11 happened on Bush's watch, that the search for bin Laden was called off due to the invasion of Iraq, and that bin Laden is currently staying in the territory of Pakistan, one of the Bush administration's allies. Given that bin Laden owes his fame and continued existence to George Bush, Dick Cheney, and friends, he probably includes them in his prayers.

Ther's also reason to think that bin Laden is getting more practical assistance from current or former Bush personnel. Just as Karl Rove tried to promote John Kerry's candidacy by attacking John Kerry, it looks like bin Laden is trying to promote the Bush administration by releasing a video just before the crucial testimony of Gen. David Petraeus. Bin Laden's interest in helping Bush is obvious. If the war in Iraq winds down, there's going to be less business at the bin Laden terrorism store. Bin Laden's counter-intuitive manuevering here is such an obvious Karl Rove manuever, that it's tempting to think that the "boy genius" himself is responsible.

But, I think it's more likely that one of Rove's protege's is consulting with bin Laden on his current publicity campaign. Maybe Dick Wadhams is trying to get his mojo back after the failed George Allen re-election campaign.

Whoever is consulting bin Laden, we can be sure that neither Rove nor his proteges would have any ethical objections to helping bin Laden out.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Petraeus: Intent and Effect

Into a Stagnant Cauldron: When Gen. Petraeus comes to Washington next week, he'll be trying to jump start a stagnant American political milieu. But he is likely to fail. President Bush is determined to carry on the war despite strong public opposition. Constant failure, Democratic victories, and the increased isolation of the White House have not convinced the president to draw down American involvement in Iraq. At the same time, White House promotional efforts have had no effect on public opinion or the opposition of Democratic majorities in Congess.

The American political system is deadlocked.

It is interesting to think about what Gen. Petraeus will be trying to accomplish in his media events and appearances before Congress. There will be enormous media attention and public interest in Petraeus. So what's he going to do? Will Petraeus be attempting to shore up President Bush's and the right-wing's position in a way that allows current troop levels to be maintained until next April and provides a basis for hoping that American combat operations will continue indefinitely. In that case, Petraeus might try for a relatively low-key "just the facts ma'am" approach to justifying the American military commitment in Iraq. Or will Petraeus be attempting to break the political logjam and change public sentiment on the war in a dramatic way?

What to do? There's precedent for the latter. After all, Ollie North's testimony changed the dynamic of the debate over the Iran-Contra scandal way back in the dark ages. But to have such a powerful effect, Gen. Petraeus would have to go for something pretty dramatic.

One thing Petraeus could do would be to claim stunning military and political progress. But is there enough progress on the ground to make that plausible.

Gen. Petraeus could also make emotional appeals to American pride and patriotism. The difficulty there is that Petraeus would have to make appeals that are strikingly different from those already made by Pres. Bush and Cheney. I don't think that will work either.

Petraeus could also try to scare the American public concerning the consequences of withdrawal in Iraq. That seems to be the strategy that Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker take with official visitors to Iraq. But the Bush administration has probably worn out that rhetorical vein as well.

As a result, my guess is that Gen. Petraeus is going to focus on shoring up enough conservative support enough to ensure that any presidencial veto is sustained, and then return to Iraq.

And I wouldn't be surprised if the Democrats low-keyed their treatment of Petraeus in a way that ensured that Petraeus did not become another Ollie North.

The Petraeus Non-Effect. In other words, it's unlikely that the visit of Gen. Petraeus will have much effect. The morale of right-wing bloggers, conservative talk show hosts, Fox, and Republican politicians will temporarily improve. However, Congressional Republicans were never going to defy President Bush and shut down the war anyway.

Petraeus isn't having that much of an effect in Iraq. He won't have much of an effect in the United States either.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Gitlin is a "Git"

White Liberals can be extremely annoying and Todd Gitlin seems to be one of the more annoying of those white liberals. In a TPM Cafe plug for his evidently annoying new book The Bulldozer and the Big Tent, Gitlin develops a tepid-looking account of the rise of the new progressivism of Move.On and the left blogosphere, and argues for a "big tent" concept of the Democratic Party.

But it's all risk-free consensus politics.

Here's the core of the Gitlin program in talking point style.
• Universal provision of the fundamental requisites of a decent life, starting with universal health care, rock-bottom income supports, and more equality.
• Public incentives for the development of sound alternatives to fossil-fuel energy.
• The restoration of government encouragement to unions.
• Smart counterterrorism, which entails providing security without swelling abuses of executive power.
• The right to abortion and contraception. The democratic social-market contract is neither a suicide pact, a penury pact, nor an invasion of bedrooms.
• A rapid and orderly phase-out from Iraq is the quid pro quo for improving America's ability to diminish jihadi potential. And crucially, given the damage that a benighted war has done to Iraq, we are obliged to make decent provision for Iraqis who will be further jeopardized as we leave.
• America should move heaven and earth to bring Israelis and Palestinians into
negotiations that achieve peace and security for two states.
• Humanitarian intervention ought to be multinational, regional where possible, proportionate to the danger, self-limiting, and rare.
• America ought to promote democracy and freedom in other countries with an eye to helping, not endangering, human-rights activists.
• Finally, both for its own sake and to help the cause of nonproliferation, we ought to help restrain the possession of, and the threat to use, nuclear weapons.
I don't object to any of this, but this was about as white, male, and heterosexual an agenda as a Democrat can be given that the voting base of the Democratic Party is about 20% black, more than 50% female, and the Democratic Party attracts 80-90% of the gay vote outside Mark Foley and Larry Craig.

But it turns out that while Gitlin wants blacks, women, gays, feminists, and gay rights activists in the tent, he would prefer that they keep their mouths shut and watch the show. The "real people" Gitlin wants to bring into the "big tent" are (white) moderates of the Mark Warner/ NPR/ New York Times corporate bent.

At least that's what I gather from Gitlin's response to a bunch of questions I raised about issues that blacks, women, gays, and anti-corporate activists might care about. Agreeing with another commenter who viewed the interests of those groups as too liberal to be reconcilable with moderates, Gitlin indicated that he was looking for an agenda that could speak to the needs of both white male liberals and white male moderates.

Talk about narrowly pitching your proposals! Talk about risk averse! Talk about non-inclusive! Gitlin doesn't even have any backbone or imagination as a writer.

Apologies to J. K. Rowling, but what a git!

Here's my questions below.

What about correcting the tremendous income disparities between the super-rich and the rest of us?
What about penalizing the takeovers that line the pockets of Wall Street and corporate hierarchies while eliminating jobs for the rest of us?
What about taxing the crap out of the golden parachutes for failed CEOs?
What about articulating strategies for addressing inner-city poverty?
What about reviving the Civil Rights section of the Justice Department?
What about developing a bully pulpit to combat the relentless stereotyping of African-Americans in the media?
When is something going to be done about sexual violence?
What about immigration policy?
What about language teaching to the children of immigrants?
What about articulating a more muscular ethic of multi-culturalism to combat the assimilationism of the right?
What about gay rights?

Ann Coulter and Kittens

Ooh! Ann Coulter has a new book coming out. Should be exciting. But topping Couter's previous "outrages" will be tough. Maybe she'll have a picture of herself biting the head off a kitten or something like that.

Fred Thompson: Bad Ideas Whose Time Hasn't Come

Fred's In
Will He Win?
I Used to Think So
But His Chances Look Slim

Fred Thompson announced his candidacy for president on Jay Leno last night.

And America yawns!

I used to think Thompson could parlay his Southern regional identity, red-meat conservatism, and actor's charisma into the GOP nomination.

And maybe he still can.

But there's a lot going against him.

First, Thompson is highlighting the name "Fred" as though his name were an important part of his appeal.

Talk about a bad idea.

Also, Thompson looks old in a skin stretched over skull way that reminds me of the 1996 version of Bob Dole.

That's not good either.

Finally, Thompson's basic campaign theme is "be scared, be very scared" on the war on terror, social security, and everything else (except global warming).

But Thompson's not the man for that particular message. If things are that bad, we would want somebody tough, determined, and policy-oriented like Hillary instead of a guy who spent much of their career as a skirt-chasing lobbyist and wasted his time in the Senate.

Since advisers, consultants, and communications people generally run campaigns, I'd normally say that Thompson's getting bad advice.

But given that his advisers and communications people keep quitting, it's hard not to conclude that Thompson just has bad ideas.

A lot of bad ideas.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Glenn Greenwald Outs Likely Weenie-Boy

The epidemic of conservative weenie-boys continues. This time Glenn Greenwald "outs" a weenie-boy, or to be more respecting a weenie "young man," named Mark Hemingway who's now writing for National Review Online.

Like a lot of weenie boys, Hemingway bristles with tough-guy comments about other men.

When Larry Craig got busted for his bathroom come-on, Hemingway wasn't surprised because Craig was in the United States Senate barbershop quartet.

The arrest of Idaho Senator Larry Craig is largely baffling — but not because it’s hard to believe that a member of “The Singing Senators” barbershop quartet might be gay despite a lifetime 96-percent American Conservative Union rating.

Trent Lott is the last member of "The Singing Senators" who is in the Senate (without announcing an "intent" to resign). Hemingway would probably recommend that Lott be tailed.

Today, Hemingway goes after David Souter:

Did Souter cry over 2000 recount vote? [Mark Hemingway] Of all the Supreme Court justices, I always suspected he was the sissy mary. Scalia probably waits outside his chamber to steal his lunch money.

So who is Mr. Tough-Guy Mark Hemingway? Here's a picture.

And that was after eating a bucket of nails.

And here's a picture of Mark Hemingway on his way out to break a couple of wild mustangs. Or was he going to land a record marlin instead?

But Greenwald's analysis of Hemingway is mistaken. Greenwald argues that figures like Mark Hemingway, Rush Limbaugh, George Bush, Sean Hannity, and Newt Gingrich are projecting an identification with "traditional masculinity" that they don't live up to in their own lives.

Virtually the entire top layer of Republican leaders, both political and media figures, are the very opposite of the virtues this movement claims to embody. From Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the rest of the right-wing noise machine, along with our brave neoconservative warmongers -- to say nothing of the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney -- it is virtually impossible to locate genuine acts of strength, bravery, regular-guy wholesomeness, or any of the warrior attributes and virtues of traditional masculinity they claim to exude.
Greenwald treats them as hypocrites and liars and offers somewhat of a moral condemnation of the "fictional character" or hypocrisy of right-wing masculinity. Of course, Greenwald is correct in claiming that conservative figures do not embody the virtues of "traditional masculinity." But, Greenwald is mistaken to think that guys like Hemingway are hold traditional masculinity as a standard. What's Hemingway defines as "masculine"has nothing to do with the "regular-guy wholesomeness," dating prowess, Boy Scout accomplishments, or athleticism associated with conventional masculinity. He spills the beans when he fantasizes about Antonin Scalia stealing David Souter's lunch money. For Hemingway, it's bullying, thuggishness, and taking advantage of smaller and weaker people that defines masculinity instead. In general, the right-wing interprets masculinity in terms of movie, video game, and comic book images of exaggerated power, viciousness, and domination. These kinds of images are so exaggerated that it's farcical to think of anyone but the bizarre, fanatical, and obsessive actually trying to meet them. That's why right-wing images of masculinity have a "weenie" quality to them. When one thinks about it, they're just too exaggerated for most people to take seriously.

But right-wingers take their comic book masculinity seriously indeed. Contrary to Greenwald, right-wingers like Mark Hemingway are determined to substitute a farcical weenie-boy standard of masculinity for the traditional standards they can't meet. And it's important to emphasize that the right has been extremely successful in their campaign to legitimize "weenie-boy" masculinity against the more conventional masculinity of guys like Al Gore or John Kerry.

Indeed, even as sharp a critic as Glenn Greenwald can be fooled into taking the right-wing brand of masculinity as a version of traditional male virtue.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Will the Bush Administration Assassinate Larry Craig?

It looks like Larry Craig might be deciding to leave some wiggle room in his resignation from the Senate which means that the "Larry Craig Sex Scandal Show" might still be running as Gen. Petraeus pulls into Washington for his "Save the Surge" Campaign.

So, what will the Bush administration do about it?

The Larry Craig scandal serves as a constant reminder of the incompetence and hypocrisy of the Bush administration and Republican leadership at what everyone views as a crucial moment in the Iraq War.

As a result, a Bush administration assassination plot to eliminate Craig can't be ruled out.

There are lots of reasons why is this the case?

One can't say that the Bush administration respects human life. After 9-11, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff David Addington was mooning over the prospect of one more terrorist bomb making it possible to eliminate the FISA restrictions on administration wiretapping altogether.

Lovely guy. But if Addington was hoping for more terrorist attacks on American soil, what's to keep him from advocating murder on American soil?

What about respect for the law?

If there's anything that's obvious in the world, it's that the Bush administration has no respect for any body of law. Not only did the Bush administration violate American and/or international law to torture terror suspects in American facilities, send terror suspects to other countries to be tortured, and engage in warrantless wiretapping, but they gloried in it.

If the Bush administration has no concern about torturing and killing foreigners, what about the various taboos on official murder and political assassination in the United States.

Perhaps those taboos would hold in the case of Larry Craig, but I don't see any reason why anyone would consider that to be a sure thing. Here's an example of a Karl Rove campaign tactic from an Alabama judicial race.
"We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
A lot of Karl Rove's repulsion as a political operative lies in his willingness to break social taboos about truth-telling, bigotry-mongering, and attempting to personally destroy people in order to pursue his political objectives. Of course, Rove himself has resigned, but all of his proteges have been trained in the same school of political repulsion.

If that's the case, one wonders by what moral principle, strategic conviction, or tactical consideration the Rove disciples in the White House political operation would stop short of killing someone who was upsetting their plans.

I'm not saying that the White House is going to assassinate Craig, but I can't honestly think of any principle or consideration that would prevent them from doing so.

Maybe Larry Craig should peak over his shoulder once in a while.

Michael O'Hanlon: The Clown Prince of War Mongering

The debate over Iraq funding is beginning even if everybody knows that the Bush administration is going to get Iraq funding in the end.

Bush is going to win the struggle over funding because he is more than cynical enough to play chicken with the lives of American troops. The Democratic leadership has enough backbone to pursue some kind of legislation tying war funding to withdrawal from Iraq. But Bush would veto any withdrawal legislation and the Democrats are not determined enough and don't have enough support in their own caucus to respond effectively to a veto.

Meanwhile the debate over the war goes on.

Clown Commentator Michael O'Hanlon and co-authors have an op-ed in the New York Times trying to document the progress of the surge.

But there's been almost no bang for the surge buck.

There aren't even that many more foreign troops in Iraq. Right now, there are 174,000 American troops and allied troops. That sounds like a lot, but it's not much more than the the U. S. and allies had from 2003-2005 when troop numbers ranged from 161,000-164,000.

Certainly, the effort by American troops is there. Daily patrols have gone up from 1,500 to 4,000 and the number of Iraqi prisoners in American facilities has gone up to 60,000.

But all the work has had minimal impact. Daily attacks by Sunni insurgents, al-Qaeda, and Shiite militiamen have declined from 160 to 120 (all statistics from chart accompanying O'Hanlon article). But the drop isn't attributable to the surge at all and actually obscures some disappointing news. The decrease in daily attacks occurred because Sunni insurgents switched from al-Qaeda to the American side. Attacks in the former insurgent strongholds of Ramadi have dropped 90%. The same has been the case throughout Anbar province as a whole.

However, the number of daily insurgent attacks remains high despite dropping so precipitously in Anbar. That means the surge has had a negligible impact on its main target of Baghdad and that al-Qaeda remains a very potent force despite losing their Sunni allies.

In other words, the U. S. military have not been able to capitalize on the enormous break they caught when Sunni insurgents switched sides. The failure to reduce the number of attacks even further has to considered a disappointment.

More evidence of the disappointing failure to improve security can be seen in the economic statistics. O'Hanlon, et. al, claim that "roughly six of Iraq’s 18 provinces are making significant economic and security gains, up from three a year ago."

However, this is a place where their clownishness comes out. Their own chart shows that economic measures for Iraq as a whole have been regressing over the last year. Oil production, electricity production, and household fuel production are all down for Iraq as a whole while unemployment has stayed steady at 33%. Given that the economic situation is worsening as a whole, that means that progress in six provinces is being more than compensated for by economic regression in other provinces.

There's a general consensus that the economic situation is not going to improve significantly until security improves. The fact that the Iraqi economy is still declining after 8 months of the surge is another indication that the additional American troops have not meaningfully improved security.

So what's happened?

To think about what happened, it is necessary to divide Iraqi violence into al-Qaeda and Shiite components.

The surge has not had a very meaningful effect on al-Qaeda capacities. Al-Qaeda might have gone into hiding, but it appears that they are still a potent force.

Meanwhile, things have actually gotten worse in relation to the Shiite militias. Sadr has lost control over the Mahdi Army and the militia has fractured into a number of violent sub-units attacking American troops and other Shiite militias on their own. Given the intense conflicts among the Shiite militias in Basra and Karbala, there's a chance that Shiite areas could descend into the same anarchy that has plagued Baghdad for the last eighteen months.

And the American military isn't even relevant to the growing civil war among Shiites.

This is the problem in a nutshell. The American military caught a big break with the "Anbar Awakening" but hasn't been able to capitalize. Despite the intensity of American effort, the thirty thousand additional troops and thousands of daily patrols have had little impact on al-Qaeda capabilities and aren't even relevant to the Shiite meltdown.

Given that we're accomplishing so little, I wonder why we're there at all.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Rove and Repulsion

Within a longer post on media reverence for Karl Rove, Glenn Greenwald includes a quote from a Jay Rosen post about Rove and the media cult of "savviness."
Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.

For Greenwald, media reverence for Rove is outdated because Rove didn't prove to be so savvy after all. Why would anyone consider Rove to be very savvy considering the disastrous way that Rove's initiatives on the war, social security privatization, and immigration have worked out for Bush administration? Why would media stars like Gloria Borger and David Broder still view Rove as the ultimate authority on practical politics given that Rove's client George Bush is one of the most unpopular presidents in American history and the Republican Party is dispirited, demoralized, and worried about a major defeat in 2008?

Part of the answer is simple. Rove returns the phone calls of people like Broder and Borger and feeds them little nuggets of information they can use in their columns and reports. Rove has an encyclopedic knowledge of red-state places like Texas and Alabama that media members are ignorant about and he is more than willing to share that information. "For our pundit class, Karl Rove is the North Star of what they do -- he provides their instructions, their leaks, their scoops, their access . . ." Partly because he helps them with their work in this way, media people think of Rove as a good guy who helps them get their jobs done. Like most people, media people appreciate this kind of thing.

Hillary media people should take note.

As Rosen claims, media people like and identify with Rove's political shrewdness. But Rove is not just shrewd, he is a repulsive person who has a fantastic amount of energy and enormous talent for exploiting people's weaknesses and prejudices. The Beltway media don't adore Rove just because he's smart and successful. James Carville and Mary Matalin are both smart and successful but nobody adores either one of them. The media adores Rove because they are tremendously fascinated by the Rasputin-like repulsiveness that inhabits everything Rove does. In fact, Borger and other Beltway media types have been so fascinated by Rove that they've decided to represent the full range of Rove's political immorality as a kind of innocence and save their contempt for Rove's critics rather than Rove himself.

There is no doubt that Rove is repulsive. From his earliest days as a campaign consultant, Rove campaigns have been dominated by vicious and dishonest attack ads, playing up the bigotries that potential Republican voters have about gays and blacks whispering campaigns about opponents, and phony prosecutions for voter fraud. According to a 2004 Atlantic article, Rove's approach is to be so brazenly unethical that both the media and opponents are left confused and unsure how to respond. Rove's mendaciousness has been so pervasive that it's difficult to identify any particular manuever as "the quintessential Rove." However, I'll mention two examples--Rove's successful effort to whip up anti-gay sentiment during the 2004 presidential campaign and his equally successful whispering campaign about John McCain's sanity during the 2000 South Carolina primary.

For the political media, Rove's combination of smarts, success, and repulsiveness is irresistible. It's an odd symbiosis. From the media's perspective, the unethical repulsiveness of someone like Rove makes his smarts and success particularly compelling. At the same time, the fact that Rove has been successful on a large scale provides the media with a post hoc justification for Rove's repulsiveness and in fact transforms it into a form of grand beauty and innocence. For the media, Rove's successes from 2000-2004 not only made him smarter, they made him more attractive and even more innocent than his critics.

Ironically enough, Karl Rove remained a media icon even as he was becoming an albatross around the necks of the Republican Party. The media might not notice it, but that wasn't the case with Congressional Republicans.

been such disastrous political mistakes that Greenwald wonders how anyone could consider Rove to be particularly savvy at this date.

Back to RSI

Zinya's visit appears to be over. So it's back to Red State Impressions. I think I'll leave the blue background though.

It Must Be Love

Mrs. RSI is recovered enough from her carpal tunnel surgery that she went into her office to do some charting. There's a sort of magic about recovery capacities. One minute Mrs. RSI can't make her hand comfortable at all. The next she's back to work.

There's also a magic about Mrs. RSI. I've been pretty much enveloped by a heavy sadness ever since I found out that my friend Greg had a bad form of stomach cancer.

But just watching a movie with Mrs. RSI dispelled the gloom. It was like I'd been sprinkled with fairy dust. I felt fifty pounds lighter when the movie was over.

Notting Hill is okay but not that great of a movie.

It must be love.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Why Petraeus is Losing the PR Battle

I usually like what I read from Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly. For some reason, however, Drum thinks that Gen. Petraeus is winning the public relations battle over the surge.
For months the military transports to Baghdad have been stuffed with analysts and congress members, and every one of them has gotten a full court press of carefully planned and scripted presentations, tightly controlled visits to favored units, and assorted dollops of "classified" information designed to flatter his guests and substantiate his rosy assessments without the inconvenience of having to defend them in public. And it's worked. Even though there's been no discernable political progress, minimal reconstruction progress, and apparently no genuine decrease in violence, he's managed to convince an awful lot of people that the first doesn't matter, the second is far more widespread than it really is, and the third is the opposite of reality.

Talking Points Memo agrees with this analysis, but who's really changed their mind? As far as I know, the only people who've been influenced by the Petraus propoganda effort have been a couple of Democratic congressmen like Brian Baird of Washington state who didn't support timelines for withdrawal anyway. Figures like Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton have made token acknowledgements of the "Anbar Awakening," but Democratic politicians have also shown a lot of irritation over the heavy handed manipulation of the Petraeus apparatus. There hasn't been any movement among the moderate and liberal punditocracy either. I remember a little David Ignatius hand-wringing about partisanship, but neither Bush-sympathetic columnists like David Broder nor moderately liberal types like Clarence Page have come out in favor of the surge. In the final analysis, Petraeus' effort to influence opinion makers to support the surge has been just as much a failure as the surge policy itself.

And public opinion hasn't changed either. That's not surprising. Having had so little effect on opinion-makers, it was unlikely that Petraeus would have much impact on broader public opinion either. The American public still disapproves of Bush's conduct of the war, disapproves of the President's overall performance, and believes that the U. S. should start withdrawing troops by April, 2008. In fact, the most notable feature of current public opinion is the disgust of ordinary Democrats with Democratic politicians for their failure to end the war. When Pelosi and Reid caved into the President over supplemental war funding last May, they left a lot of voters (and bloggers) extremely frustrated. Now, even consistently anti-war senators like Ron Wyden of Oregen are getting roughed up in town hall meetings over their failures of leadership. The Petraeus public relations campaign has had a negligible impact on the public as opposition to the war has hardened into contempt for any politician even vaguely connected to the war effort.

Has anything changed at all as a result of the propoganda effort in favor of the Iraq War? I would say yes. The morale of the Bush administration, Republican politicians, and the right-wing attack media have all improved as a result of the O'Hanlon/Pollack editorial and President Bush's speech on Iraq and the Vietnam analogy. There never was any real chance that Congress could override presidential vetoes on Iraq war funding, but the pro-surge campaign has ensured that the President will have nearly unanimous Republican support.

Perhaps that's all that General Petraeus wanted out of his propoganda efforts, reassurance that he would be able to continue the current levels of American troop commitments through spring and summer 2008.

But nothing's changed. The U. S. is still an anti-war nation that's fighting a disastrous war because of the arrogance and stupidity of a shrinking minority.

Petraeus, Allawi, Irrelevance, and Other Surge Notes

ARE WE RELEVANT IN IRAQ? One of the major questions before the surge was whether the increase in American troops would once again make the U. S. military relevant in Iraq. It's still an open question. In Anbar province, many of the Sunni tribes have switched allegiance from al-Qaeda in Iraq to the American side with the American military now serving as the weight that gives tribal forces the advantage of al-Qaeda. But the ethnic cleansing of the Baghdad region and struggles among Shiite factions in the south of Iraq continue as if the American military weren't there. McClatchy quotes a British analyst as questioning whether the number of U. S. casualties has declined because the American military isn't very relevant.

One British analyst, using the example of the British drawdown of forces in southern Iraq, suggested that the lower numbers may mean that American troops are irrelevant to the many conflicts racking Iraq: ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad, massive bombings of religious minorities by Sunni Muslim extremists in northern Iraq and Shiite-on-Shiite-Muslim violence in southern Iraq. Instead, he suggested, Iraq’s armed factions and politicians already are thinking beyond the troop buildup.

"Everyone is preparing for what happens" after U.S. forces leave, said James Denselow, an Iraq specialist at the London-based Chatham House, a foreign affairs research institute.

THE DECLINING RELEVANCE OF PETRAEUS. I'm beginning to wonder if "the Petraeus Report"the White House is writing is going to be relevant at all. That's partly because the political "market" has already absorbed the Petraeus argument that the surge is making "measurable" but not earth-shaking progress and that withdrawal will have horrible consequences. The right has promoted Petraeus to the hilt, but the left has developed counter-arguments and public opinion is still firmly against the war. What difference is the actual appearance of Petraeus going to make?

Another reason to think the views of Petraeus won't be particularly relevant is that the country might still absorbing the rapid fire succession of Rove's departure, the resignation of Gonzales, and the Larry Craig scandal. That particular trio represents three of the four horsemen of the Bush/Republican apocalypse--Repulsion, Incompetence, and Hypocrisy. Even though Dick Cheney and Arrogance were missing, recent events have undermined Petraeus by providing such strong reminders of why people dislike and distrust the Republicans.

THE TICKING BOMB. That's not the worst of it. Petraeus will be completely overshadowed if Ayad Allawi is able to pull off his parliamentary "coup," dislodge the al-Maliki government in Iraq, and declare a state of emergency in Iraq. Liberal blogger Digby portrays the Allawi coup as something that has been so widely anticipated that it's now a form of entertainment. But that is only true for political junkies.

Removing al-Maliki would not be a coup in the same sense as a military coup. In parliamentary forms of government, a prime minister can be removed if he or she does not maintain the support of a parliamentary majority and replaced by someone who can. Nevertheless replacing al-Maliki with Allawi would be the equivalent of nuking the Iraqi political system because it would change the basis for Iraqi government. Since the first elections in 2005, a Shiite religious coalition has been the core of Iraqi government because the Shiite religious parties represent a large majority of the Shiite population which is a majority of the Iraqi population. If Iraq had any democratic progress, it was the transformation of the Shiite population from a target of brutal political oppression to the core of the governing coalition.

The Shiite-led governments of al-Jafaari and al-Maliki have been unacceptable to the Sunnis. An Allawi government would put the shoe on the other foot. According to the Chicago Tribune, Allawi (a secular Shiite) would get his support from the Sunni population with Kurdish and secular Shiite support mixed in. Allawi's support from former Baath officials and former Sunni insurgents would make him just as unacceptable to Shiites as the current government is to Sunnis.
As a secularist, Allawi has pledged to end the politics of sectarianism that have plagued Iraq. He is pro-Western, an old Washington ally, who would seek to prise Iraq away from Iran's sphere of influence. He also has the support of former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and most Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups, excluding Al Qaeda in Iraq, which have indicated they would stop fighting if Allawi were installed.But those features also make him unpalatable to the Shiite majority, who suffered most under Baathist rule and who have borne the brunt of the insurgency's wrath.

Therefore, if Allawi became prime minister, he would be on a collision course with the Sadr bloc, SCIRI, Dawa, the other Shiite religious parties and the many Shiite militias. And it would be quite a collision. Currently, the Shiite parties and their militias run most government ministries, are well integrated into the army and national police, and control Basra and Shiite holy sites like Karbala and Najaf. If an Allawi government wanted to control more than a couple of rooms in the Green Zone, they would have to confront the whole Shiite political and military structure.

And it looks like the Allawi government will be seeking that confrontation because part of "their published program" is to "not only appoint a new government but also suspend the new constitution, declare a state of emergency and make the restoration of security its priority."

Given that the al-Qaeda has been contained and that Baathists and Sunni insurgents would be supporting an Allawi government, the main target of the "state of emergency" would be the Shiite militias and militia control over government ministries, Shiite holy sites, and Basra.

And the main weapon in an Allawi government's hands would be the American military.

If Allawi takes over the Iraqi government, the Petraeus report would be irrelevant because the focus of the on-going Iraqi civil war, and American involvement in that civil war, would shift to battles over the Shiite heartland.