Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cohen tells it like it is

If you haven't already done so, please read Roger Cohen's op-ed in today's NYT.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Obama's gaffe?

In his interview with Larry King last week, Obama criticized John McCain for conflating al Qaeda and Iran:

[Y]ou heard, I think, the other day, Senator McCain confuse al Qaeda with Shia radical militias inside of Iraq. The president makes the same error. He keeps on conflating al Qaeda with all that's going on inside of Iraq. In fact, Iraq is a majority Shia country that is violently opposed to al Qaeda.

He then went on to correctly identify Iran's relationship with Hamas:

[I]'ve talked about the need for direct diplomacy with countries like Iran to get them to stand down on nuclear weapons and stop the kinds of rhetoric against Israel and the funding of Hezbollah and Hamas.

There's no doubt that, increasingly, Iraqis (Sunni and Shi'ite) are turning against al Qaeda. But if Iran is willing to cooperate with and fund Hamas, a majority Sunni organization, why is it impossible to imagine Iranian agents also backing al Qaeda? The Iranians certainly have an interest in promoting instability in Iraq, and funding al Qaeda could be one way to accomplish this.

That's not to say that Iran necessarily is sponsoring al Qaeda, but it's pretty silly so suggest, as many have, that there's no way the Iranians would put practical concerns ahead of sectarian ideology.

Anyway, this sounds to me like a gaffe on Obama's part.

Kristol's hypocrisy

Bill Kristol comes out against ever talking about race in America:

The last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race.

What we need instead are sober, results-oriented debates about economics, social mobility, education, family policy and the like — focused especially on how to help those who are struggling. Such policy debates can lead to real change — even “change we can believe in.” "National conversations” tend to be pointless and result-less.

Once again, this is total bullshit. The day after Obama addressed the issue of race in America, he delivered a major speech on the economy, followed by another speech on the state of the Iraq War.

It was conservative commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill Kristol who chose to focus solely on Rev. Wright's comments, prolong this discussion of race in order to browbeat Obama with a string of ad hominem attacks (many of them based in blatant lies).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Reflections on the Iraq War

In the many debates and discussions I have on the subject of Iraq, I'm often reminded by opponents of the war that, while Saddam Hussein was certainly a cruel and malevolent dictator, it was the United States that abetted his most murderous inclinations for the better part of two decades. America's apparent complicity in, for example, the Iran-Iraq War deeply undermined our country's moral authority to depose the Iraqi leader. And, at least to this extent, the U.S. intervention in Iraq was unjust.

Or so the argument goes.

The United States' relationship with Saddam Hussein dates back to the late 1960s, when the CIA aided the most militant wing of the Iraqi Ba'ath party in its effort to depose 'Abd al-Kariim Qaaim, a nationalist ruler whose sympathies for the Iraqi Communist Party were well-documented. Iraq stood as a counterweight to Soviet influence in the Middle East and, later, as a bulwark against Iranian terror. And so the U.S. secretly supported the Iraqi incursion into oil-rich Khuzestan, supplying Saddam Hussein with chemical weapons that he would repeatedly use on Iranian civilians, and that were later used in Halabja to gas Iraqi Kurds. We supported him throughout his murderous rampages against Shi'ite citizens, and in spite of his long history of human rights abuses. We supported him even as he supplied weapons and aid to various terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East and called for the destruction of Israel.

It was not until Iraq's annexation and brutal occupation of Kuwait in 1990 that the United States began, somewhat half-heartedly, to atone for its past sins. Alleging that the Kuwaiti government was slant drilling into Iraqi oil wells, Saddam Hussein staged a brutal military intervention and established provincial ownership over a country that he had for years sought to control. This was an act of aggression virtually unprecedented since the Nazi intervention and annexation of the Sudetenland, and it threatened the security of both the Arab states and the global community. (The only other modern case that may be considered comparable was the Indonesian annexation of East Timor, though some may argue that the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights was a de facto annexation.) With its own interests and the interests of its Kuwaiti allies at stake, the United States led the effort under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter to combat Iraqi hostility in the Persian Gulf.

Operation Desert Storm marked the first time that the United Nations Security Council ever authorized the use of military force to repel an invading army. More than 30 member-states contributed forces to the effort, which lasted less than 100 hours. And in the aftermath of this swift and decisive victory, the Bush Administration called upon the oppressed Shi'ite majority to rise up against Saddam Hussein and reclaim the country. Though many in the Shia did take up arms against the Ba'ath regime, the United States failed to provide any of its promised support, and the rebellion was crushed by the Republican Guard with the all-too-familiar use of chemical weapons.

Once again, the American government had betrayed the Iraqi people, and allowed a brutal dictator to remain in power.

Saddam Hussein's punishment for twice invading and occupying an innocent neighbor, employing chemical weapons against his own people, sponsoring terrorism abroad, and later attempting assassinate a former U.S. president was little more than a slap on the wrist. He was called upon, under threat of force, to verifiably dismantle his weapons programs and allow a United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) into the country.

He did not, of course, do either of these things. And as late as 1996, UNSCOM officials were still destroying facilities like al-Hakam--a "dual-use" chemical plant that violated both the letter and the spirit of the UN resolutions--and being denied access into various parts of the country.

Rather than remove Saddam from power, the United States chose to lobby the United Nations for additional sanctions, which would ultimately lead to the deaths of, by some estimates, more than one million Iraqi civilians (many of them children who died of malnutrition). In 1995, a well-intentioned Clinton administration pushed hard for the United Nations-administered Oil for Food Program, which we have now come to learn was one of the most corrupt programs in UN history, with one of the most corrupt administrators, Benon Sevan, who ultimately fled to Cyprus to avoid prosecution. The program not only failed to feed Iraqi citizens, it also put millions (perhaps billions) of dollars back into the hands of Saddam Hussein.

In spite the UN's efforts--or perhaps because of them--President Clinton signed the Iraqi Liberation Act into law in 1998, altering the official US policy toward Iraq from containment to regime change. Later that year, Clinton also ordered the bombing of suspected chemical weapons sites in Iraq, after Saddam Hussein again expelled UN inspectors from the country.

This was the situation in Iraq in early 2001. Though many supported lifting the sanctions against Iraq, all indications at the time--and, indeed, all post-war assessments--suggested that this would likely allow Saddam Hussein the freedom to reconstitute his weapons programs. To keep the sanction in place, however, would mean allowing Iraqis to starve.

There were no easy answers, and many have argued convincingly in the aftermath of the Iraq War that a full-scale invasion and occupation was perhaps the worst course to pursue.

That may or may not be true. But how, after all of this, do we still have those who argue that we owed the Iraqi people nothing? How can they suggest with such smug indignation it is not our place to referee their civil war? And how can they claim that our past failings only demand that we abandon the Iraqi people now, at this most difficult moment in their history?

It is easy to oppose the Iraq War on the more practical grounds that it distracted from our efforts in Afghanistan. And it is important to note the Bush administration's incompetent mismanagement and repeated tactical failures that led to such chaos. While it may have been difficult for the military to anticipate the bombing of the Golden Mosque (al-Askari) in Samarra, which triggered the cycle of violence in 2005, the administration could certainly have taken steps to mitigate sectarian tensions and provide more security.

Indeed, many of the criticisms against the administration are well founded. But they simply have nothing to do with our obligations to the Iraqi people.

We need to stop pretending that they do.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Kristol's bullshit

It turns out that William Kristol's smear piece in today's NYT is based in, well, some pretty blatant lies.

The Times has issued a correction on its website, but shouldn't Kristol have checked his facts before printing something so patently false?

Especially since he was, ya know, calling one of the major presidential contenders a liar . . .

Just asking.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ferraro and racism . . .

The question of whether Geraldine Ferraro's comment was "racist" seems to me so ridiculous and tautological that it's scarcely worth addressing. But, since there still seems to be some debate on the subject, I might as well.

It is undeniably racist to portray the front runner in the Democratic primary as some sort of novelty candidate, whose only real appeal derives from his racial heritage. If a high-profile member of the Obama camp had said the same of Clinton with regard to gender, there would be no pondering over whether the comments were sexist--they would be immediately condemned.

The fact that Ferraro and other members of the Clinton team seemed so genuinely baffled by all of this--with Ferraro going so far as to accuse the Obama camp of racism--is disturbing, particularly after Bill Clinton's inane allusion to Jesse Jackson during the South Carolina contest.

In reality, Obama's race has been both a boon and an obstacle to his success. The same is true of Clinton's gender. While both Obama and Clinton have received additional media attention because of the "historic" nature of their candidacies, a considerable (and roughly equivalent) number of Americans seem to harbor reservations about supporting an African-American or a female.

So, Ferraro's remarks were irresponsible and ill-informed. But do they really belie a pattern of race-baiting on the part of the Clinton campaign?

Frankly, I hope so. I can deal with the notion that the Clintons are shameless and amoral--that they have no qualms about using race as a wedge to divide their party. But if they honestly believe that these kinds of statements are innocent, then they are completely out of touch with the realities of American life and American politics.

And that is far, far scarier.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Delegate math

I just did some quick calculations using Slate's Delegate Calculator.

Here's an experiment:
  • Let's say Clinton maintains a 60-40 edge in every remaining state except North Carolina.
  • Assume that the North Carolina vote is divided down the middle--50 percent for Clinton, 50 percent for Obama. (In reality, Obama will likely win more delegates than Clinton here.)
  • Finally, imagine that in the two U.S. territories still up for grabs--Puerto Rico and Guam--Clinton wins 100 percent of the vote.
The final delegate count comes to 1,609 for Obama and 1,601 for Clinton, even with these incredibly generous margins.

Why is she still in this? Does she know something that we don't?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Heh . . .

It's funny because it's true:

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wyoming Caucus

So, Obama wins the Wyoming caucus by a wide margin--61 percent to 38 percent--and garners at least 7 of the 12 delegates. The Clinton team wins 4 delegates, with one delegate still outstanding. The final count could very well turn out to be 8-4 in Obama's favor.

Why, then, is the Clinton camp saying that it's "thrilled with this near split" in the delegate count?

We've already had one president whose inability to acknowledge reality consistently led us astray.

Do we really want another?

Friday, March 7, 2008

The politics of division

"That was the world in which my grandparents were raised, the dab-smack, landlocked center of the country, a place where decency and endurance and the pioneer spirit were joined at the hip with conformity and suspicion and the potential for unblinking cruelty."

- Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father

We're seeing that same dichotomy today, aren't we?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Clinton and the young

One of the things I find most troubling about Senator Clinton is that she continually seems to be sacrificing the interests of young Americans for political expedience.

Let's take two key issues:

1) Health Care: The fundamental difference between Obama’s plan and Clinton’s plan is that the latter compels all Americans to purchase coverage, while the former does not. In essence, Clinton’s plan--the American Health Choices Plan--seeks to limit
adverse selection by forcing young, healthy Americans to purchase insurance in order pay for the older generation. It also bars insurance companies from raising premiums on at-risk buyers, or from denying coverage under any circumstances.

2) Mortgages: Clinton's
mortgage plan calls for a 30-day moratorium on foreclosures and a five-year freeze on adjustable rate mortgages, including those that are currently set below prime rates. Obama’s plan, which is not nearly as interventionist, is geared toward preventing and prosecuting “predatory lending” and creating a fund to help people refinance their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.

The bottom line is this: We can’t can bully insurers and mortgage lenders into taking financial losses. It’s absurd to suggest that we can. The cost of forcing insurers to cover millions of Americans will inevitably be born by other Americans--mainly young Americans--whether through higher taxes or higher premiums. Likewise, the cost of forcing Mortgage companies to rewrite the terms of their contracts and forgive billions of dollars in debt will be born by young Americans who are seeking to purchase homes over the next five years.

The math on this is pretty simple. But I don't think that Clinton is very concerned about the blacklash from my generation.

After all, we're not voting for her.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Obama's Rezko problem?

The recent flap about Obama's former ties to Tony Rezko--a Chicago real estate developer who is facing fraud and extortion charges--strikes me as a bit odd. Obama's past associations with Rezko have raised eyebrows and given the Clinton camp more than a little ammunition, even though there is no real suggestion of any impropriety on Obama's part.

I think that it's a bit dangerous for Clinton, who has had close ties to convicted felons in the past, to make this a major issue in the campaign. But, more importantly, shouldn't Tony Rezko, who has pleaded not guilty on all counts, be presumed innocent?

The Rezko trial has just begun. Let's not be too hasty.

Sullivan on Obama

Andrew Sullivan, one of my all-time favorite bloggers, once again offers a reasoned argument in support of Obama:

"[W]e have a domestic politics that has become poisonously polarized by the cumulative impact of two decades of Dick Morris, Karl Rove-style politics and have lurched from one president whose every sentence was a carefully parsed legalism to one often in total denial about the reality he grapples with. We desperately need not some kind of new politics, but a return to reasoned politics, to leaders who, even when they disagree, can rationally explain how and why.

. . .

Obama is simply more capable, more trustworthy, more reasonable and less partisan than Clinton. That's all. He is not a messiah, for Pete's sake, and I'm tired of being told that those of us who support him are somehow irrational or emotional. Above all, he will not breathe new life into the very pathologies with which we have all been consumed for too long. She will. Some of this is her fault; some of it isn't. I see my own attempt to move forward constructively impeded by the emotions she and her husband have the power to evoke. But her partisanship and divisiveness are not in my mind alone. She knows what she's doing - and, in my view, we cannot afford her any more."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Krugman's bias

Paul Krugman's latest NYT op-ed once again targets Obama:

"What we do know is that Mr. Obama has never faced a serious Republican opponent — and that he has not yet faced the hostile media treatment doled out to every Democratic presidential candidate since 1988. Yes, I know that both the Obama campaign and many reporters deny that he has received more favorable treatment than Hillary Clinton. But they’re kidding, right? Dana Milbank, the Washington Post national political reporter, told the truth back in December: 'The press will savage her no matter what ... they really have the knives out for her, there’s no question about it ... Obama gets significantly better coverage.'"

Two quick points:

1) Even with the endorsement of Rudy Guliani, Rick Lazio was never a serious Republican opponent. (Clinton beat him by 12 percentage points in 2000.) And what about John Spencer?

2) It's silly to present the "media" as a monolithic entity--with a universal bias against a particular candidate (or party). But, more importantly, if you're a mainstream media personality who's trying to argue that the mainstream media is bias against Hillary Clinton, shouldn't you rely on stronger evidence than, say, another mainstream media personality who agrees with you?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Obama leads in Texas

The latest Reuters poll has Obama ahead of Clinton in Texas 48 percent to 42 percent. Clinton's lead in Ohio has also narrowed dramatically. There's no way her campaign can spin a loss in Ohio the way they've tried to spin the last 11 Obama victories:

"Spin works best when it's intermittent and plausible; the Clinton camp's has been constant and ludicrous. Is it really wise to dismiss the vast majority of the United States as insignificant? Does anyone believe that the misguided attack on Obama's kindergarten ambitions was "a joke"? Explain to us again why Michigan's delegates should be seated even though Democrats agreed not to campaign there and Obama wasn't even on the ballot? Why are we supposed to ignore Wisconsin when it's got exactly the demographics that Penn has assured us are part of Hillary's 'enduring coalition,' back when Hillary had a massive lead in the state and just about every other state?"