Friday, March 28, 2008

Maliki the Bold Adventurer?

The Bush administration is reporting that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched the offensive against the al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia without consulting them.
Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies, according to administration officials. With little U.S. presence in the south, and British forces in Basra confined to an air base outside the city, one administration official said that "we can't quite decipher" what is going on. It's a question, he said, of "who's got the best conspiracy" theory about why Maliki decided to act now.

Really? The Iraqi Army had U. S. air support pretty quickly in their operations. It seems unlikely that they would have begun their attack without arranging things with the American military.

More importantly, Dick Cheney was in Iraq just nine days ago. If one accepts that al-Maliki launched his assault on the Mahdi Army without consulting the Bush administration, that means that Maliki didn't breathe a word to Cheney about their plans while he was in Baghdad?

But why wouldn't he? It's not as though either Dick Cheney or George Bush would have rejected an aggressive approach to al-Sadr or an attempt to take over Baghdad. In fact, Cheney would have been a lot more enthusiastic about this kind of idea than most people in the Iraqi government.

Perhaps Cheney suggested the idea to Maliki himself.

In fact, it seems likely to me that the Bush administration pushed the Iraqis to make a big move now in order to help John McCain win in November. Likewise, I think that the Bush administration fully expected that American forces would quickly move in to confront Sadr after the Iraqi Army initially wilted.

And that's what's happened.

In this sense, the Bush administration would have goaded the Iraqi government into precipitating a showdown with al-Sadr to create a pretext for the American military to confront and hopefully destroy the Mahdi Army as a way to help McCain. If the assault succeeds, McCain could build his campaign around a real structural accomplishment in Iraq. If the assault fails, there's still almost eight months for McCain to dissassociate himself from the mess.

Of course, it may turn out that the American public really doesn't want to be reminded of the Iraq War. But the Bush administration has always had a "go for broke" mentality. It's not hard to see them taking one last shot at destroying Sadr and subduing Shiite resistance to the American idea of a "non-sectarian Iraq."

RSI:A Neglected Milestone

A couple of weeks ago, Red State Impressions had its one thousandth post in 21 months of existence. It turns out that blogging is my favorite writing medium by far. I wish I had time to post twice as much as I do now.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

John McCain's Media Mommy

The McCain "Post-Modern" B.S. Yesterday, Neal Gabler of the New York Times found a new way to sanctify John McCain by treating him as the zen master of post-modern media relations.

Seeming to view himself and the whole political process with a mix of amusement and bemusement, Mr. McCain is an ironist wooing a group of individuals who regard ironic detachment more highly than sincerity or seriousness. He may be the first real postmodernist candidate for the presidency — the first to turn his press relations into the basis of his candidacy.
What nonsense! Paraphrasing a line Lloyd Bentsen originally stole from me, "I knew Jean-Francois Lyotard, the author of The Post-Modern Condition. Jean-Francois Lyotard and I served in the Foreign Legion together in Algeria. Or was it Vietnam? Anyway, Jean-Francois Lyotard was a friend of mine. John McCain is no Jean-Francois Lyotard and John McCain is no post-modernist."

And neither are the reporters on the McCain bus. In fact, there's a better word for the reporters--hacks who like to throw around words like "post-modern" even though they have no idea what they're talking about.

An Alternative Hypothesis. So what was McCain doing when he was spending hour after hour "wooing" the gathered reporters with all his criticism of his own weaknesses and discussion of how he was manipulating the press. John McCain has to be the biggest media schmoozer who's ever walked the halls of Congress. He's always been willing to appear on any news program, be a discussant for any interview show, or participate in any debate. I think Michael Kinsley once referred to McCain and Joe Lieberman as "fifteen minute men"--the kind of politicians who would get an emergency call on a Friday night from "Crossfire" and be at the studio, made up, and ready to ponticate in fifteen minutes. Talking all day with the reporters on the campaign bus is just an extension of his long career of determined catering to the media. Maybe the press should stop referring to McCain simply as a "war hero" and start referencing him as "the war hero and legendary media schmoozer" Sen. John McCain.

But why does he do it. My hypothesis is that John McCain looks to the media to be a combination of friend, confidante, protector, and nurturer. As William Greider mentioned, McCain wanted reporters to protect him from himself.

In 1999, William Greider wrote in Rolling Stone that, “While McCain continues examining his flaws, the reporters on the bus are getting a bit edgy. Will somebody tell this guy to shut up before he self-destructs?” Imagine, reporters protecting a candidate from himself!
"Reporters protecting a candidate from himself--that's what McCain wanted. But it's also what every kid wants from their mom as well. They want someone to be their friend, confidante, and protector, someone who will clean up their messes and make their clothes look all shiny and new, and someone who will be proud when they succeed and encouraging when they fail. "Mommy's" as limited to biological mothers. Lots of traditional guys get the mommy treatment from their wives and I'd bet my bottom dollar that Cindy McCain gives her "studmuffin" the full mommy treatment when he's home.

But when John McCain is working as a politician, he wants the media to be his mommy, works relentlessly to get reporters to see him as their own special child, and has largely succeeded.

Borrowing a line from Chris Matthews, McCain refers to the media as his "base." It would be accurate if he thought of him self as the media's "favorite son."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Needed: A Hillary/Wright Do-Over

Today, Hillary Clinton read out a fairly involved comment on how she wouldn't have had Rev. Jeremiah Wright as her pastor as he was blaming the government for the AIDS epidemic or damning America.

Here Hillary was being a politician and not in the worst sense either. She was trying to convince undecided Democrats to support her candidacy by raising "doubts" about Obama's judgment i sticking with Wright.

I would not have had Rev. Wright as my pastor either. Then again, I'm an atheist. I'm not going to have anyone as my pastor.

But if I were a nice Methodist girl like Hillary Clinton, I would have responded to Obama's speech by defending his relationship to Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the hilt. I would have said something to the effect that the primary issue in going to a church is highly personal. What Hillary should have said was that people have to ask themselves whether a church brings you closer to God, helps you understand Jesus, and leads you to follow the Golden Rule. And Hillary should have been emphatic. If Jeremiah Wright's church did these things for Barack Obama, Obama should have remained a member of that church whatever Wright said about the secular matters that paled into insignificance.

By the way, it was dumb of Obama to stick with Wright's church once he set his sights on the U. S. Senate.

But Hillary would have increased her stature with Democrats if she had transcended her battle with Obama and defended the integrity of his Christianity. Being that "big" and "daring" would have shown the depth of her own commitment to Christianity, the depth of her belief in the multi-cultural ethic of the Democratic Party, and gotten her away from accusations of being "calculating" all the time. Supporting Obama at this point would helped Hillary with lots of undecided voters and weak Obama supporters by making her look better rather than making Obama look worse. It might even have caused strong Obama supporters to rethink their negative opinions about her.

In other words, it would have been a great political calculation.

To the contrary, what Hillary ended up with was the same old "tit for tat" daily political manuevering. And maybe Hillary gained something at the margins with that.

But Hillary lost a real opportunity here.

Surge Moves to Its Real Target--The Mahdi Army

Over the last two days, the Iraqi Army has launched an assault on the Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army Shiite militia in Basra. The Iraqi Army troops have American air cover but seem to have been carrying out the operation on their own.

Basra is the second largest city in Iraq and has been largely under the control of the Mahdi Army since the British withdrew to their bases.

But the Iraqi government did not launch the attack so they could control Basra.

Instead, the main objective is to destroy the Mahdi Army and that's been the main objective of the surge all along. The American military got the gift of Sunni defections from al-Qaeda and a couple of stand downs from al-Sadr.

However, what the U. S. and Nouri al-Maliki want is the destruction of the Mahdi Army as an independent power base for Iraqi Shiites.

Here I think they're going to fail however the military attack on al-Sadr plays out. If the Iraqi Army destroys the Mahdi Army, the al-Maliki government will lose its own base of support among the Shiite population and they will be a tremendously weak government in a hostile environment. It will be the mother of all Pyrrhic victories.

Of course, if the attacks fail, the Maliki government will lose face and perhaps be even weaker.

Anyway, attacking the Mahdi Army in Basra looks like another bad idea whose time has come. Too bad the Bush administration has had so many ideas like that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bill Clinton and the Idiot Democrats

The Bill Clinton Rally. My family and friends saw the Bill Clinton rally for Hillary Clinton in Morehead this afternoon. I got in line at 4:00pm and it was a long, long, line--more than a quarter mile. I'm a bad judge of crowd size but I'd say that only half the people in line got into the auditorium. At least three of the sociology and social work professors I know were working as volunteers for the Hillary campaign. So were a couple of students. Morehead State University seems to be much more of a Hillary campus than an Obama campus. Perhaps the downscale demographic here militates against Obama's rhetoric of unity.

The Three Idiots. I've had occasion to discuss the stupidity, laziness, and ineptitude of Kentucky Democrats before. Today's performance by local state representatives John Will Stacy, Rocky Adkins, and Walter Blevins was particularly embarrassing. All three of them talked about "when the Clintons were in the White House" over and over again as if Bill and Hillary had been co-presidents between 1992 and 2000. Out of the three local politicians to introduce Bill Clinton, only one of them used Hillary's name and only used it once. Maybe, the local guys haven't noticed but Hillary Clinton has been working for the last eight years and especially for the last 15 months to define her own political identity. Perhaps they haven't noticed that the idea of a Clinton dynasty is one of the major objections to Hillary's candidacy. Or maybe they were afraid they would forgot her name.

Part of the blame for the introduction fiasco lies at the feet of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Where the Obama campaign engages in spontaneous organization and does their homework concerning local talent of various kinds, the Hillary Campaign has relied on the organizations of state and local politicians. Part of the outcome of that reliance was the spectacle of people promoting the Hillary campaign without using her name hardly at all.

And couldn't there have been a woman speaking for the Hillary campaign to introduce Bill?

As the first major female candidate for the presidency, Hillary should have at least one woman speaking up for her.

That was another embarrassment.

But by now, Kentucky Democratic voters have grown immune to the failures of Kentucky Democratic politicians. So, the idiot warm-up acts probably didn't do Hillary any harm.

The Bill Speech. The Bill Clinton speech was a lot better and did his wife's candidacy some good. After starting off with some weak stuff that I forgot, Bill Clinton settled into a point by point argument for Hillary Clinton's candidacy on the issues of energy independence, health care reform, withdrawing from Iraq, and caring for Iraq veterans. Having taken his medicine for his racial comments in South Carolina, Bill Clinton stuck to the specifics of Hillary's policy ideas, how her plans would improve people's lives, and her relevant experience in those areas. The Hillary Campaign should have been doing this all along. Hillary's policy knowledge and plans are a major strength of her candidacy and a major reason she'd make a good president. But Mark Penn and Hillary's staff decided not to build Hillary's campaign on her policy expertise. So her most important strength is being wasted.

Still, I felt better about supporting Hillary's candidacy after Bill's speech than before. In that sense, the Bill gambit worked well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bill Clinton in Morehead, the $100 Dollar Rumor, and Other Easter Notes

The Hillary Clinton campaign is kicking off in Kentucky next week. Bill Clinton will be holding a rally at the Morehead Conference Center on Tuesday, March 25 at 5pm. It will be his last stop on a three-city tour. Hillary is slated to come into the state later.

That's fact.

The rumor is that it's going to take a $100 dollar contribution to either get into the rally or get within shouting distance of the former president.

I don't particularly mind and I rather welcome the opportunity to nudge my Hillary contributions ahead of my Obama contributions.

But I'm a university professor rather than a student, a convenience store worker, or a retail associate. So, making that kind of contribution is not going to be the burden for me that it is to many others.

The other significance of the Bill Clinton events is that they are a strong sign that the Hillary campaign plans on carrying on until the convention.

Liberal bloggers like Josh Marshall and Matthew Yglesias have been arguing that Hillary should pull out.

But I'd be surprised if she did. There's a lot of ways to win and Hillary wouldn't be a top flite politician if she didn't play the game through to the very end.