Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fill in the Blanks

Thoughts on selected topics, but no time to blog. You'll have to fill in the blanks yourself:

Myanmar ... SCHIP ... Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ... Green Bay Packers (Favre) ...

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Close-Out Sale on Iraq Observations

Get 'em while they're cheap!

We reside in an interim period between eras. By virtue of the strength of the Presidency, Bush can maintain his "strategy" in Iraq through the end of his term. So long as Republicans side with Bush, they can block all reasonable efforts to instill some sanity to the effort. And, so long as we continue in this stalemate, Republicans and their media surrogates can continue to maintain a whistling-past-the-graveyard posture that their vision of foreign policy really is founded in reality.

Listening to a podcast of last week's McLaughlin Report, I was amused by the intense focus on the blunders of the Democrats in handling the Petraeus report. According to Pat Buchanan, they were shamefully impolite and abusive in asking tough questions. With pinheads like Chris Matthews poisoning the debate--so long embedded in this old reality of foreign policy "wisdom" that he cannot help but see the Dems as foolish--the faux reality hurtles forth like a dead buffalo of its own velocity.

But we need only look at three sentences from Bush's speech last week to see how screwed Republicans are:
"A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East."
George W. Bush is (sorry Mom, profanity on the way) batshit crazy. Dems are indeed floundering, but this is the consequence of the intractability of Iraq. The GOP, by comparison, is willfully holding a vision that is manifestly insane. The ship of public opinion is slow to turn around (it took forever following the FDR/Truman years for the Vietnam war to kill it, and it's taken a long time for Iraq), but once it does, a party's credibility is gone for a generation or more. When I'm qualifying for Social Security, the GOP will still bear the scarlet letter of neoconservatism, just like the Dems have borne, until the past year or so, the stain of traitorousness.

Future of Iraq
There are a few things that can be said about Iraq: 1) it will not be "free," 2) it will remain violent, irrespective of any choices we make, and 3) sectarian rivalries will challenge an intact state for at least years and probably decades to come. The best the US can do now is try to guide it to the least disastrous of several terrible possibilities.

The worst outcome is an Iraq left to itself to fester amid sectarian hatreds. In that scenario, thugs like Sadr get more power as they bring relative safety to neighborhoods. However, it creates a built-in feedback loop for instability, because each sectarian thug retains his power only by virtue of having other sectarian thugs to "protect" the people from. Iraq's neighbors would be the most empowered in this situation, as they offer clandestine support for factions, happy to see Iraq weak and subservient.

A better outcome probably looks something like a loose system of federalism, where a tripartite Iraq is governed locally. In this scenario, the US and world partners would have to be actively and militarily involved in a manner of parents keeping kids in a perpetual time-out, keeping the Sadrs from bombing too many mosques, and doling out oil money to keep the three happy (enough). This is an interim solution, with more permanent change decades down the road (independence for the regions, absorption elsewhere, or most unlikely, reunification under a stronger central government).

Politics of Iraq
The GOP thinks it can somehow foist culpability off on Dems by losing the next election, so they have a motivation to keep things going. This is willful delusion, but given the alternative, it's all they got. The '08 election, which the GOP still think can be won by invoking old bromides about "strength," will result in a profound rejection of the GOP and precipitate the decades-long banishing to the wilderness of foreign policy debates.

Dems, for their part, know that culpability will always rest with the GOP, so they're in no great hurry to lose the political advantage a catastrophic, unpopular war provides. So they also have a motivation to keep things going through '08. The Dems do have one big potential worry: by promising to get out yesterday from Iraq, they wield a potent political weapon against the GOP, but one they can't possibly deliver on. If they just screw around without a plan, hoping for the whole thing to blow over so they can turn to health care, which is what they really want to talk about, they run the risk of screwing up Iraq more profoundly--see scenario one, above.

I suspect the Dems will pull it together before the election sufficiently to avoid this fate (the antiwar talk of '07 will give way to a more realpolitik posture in the general of '08), but it's worth watching. Dems have a pretty impressive track record of screwing up.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Unity '08's Weird Survey

The forgotten Unity '08 movement, which sought to deliver us from this hell of polarized politics, released a poll they compiled of their 105,000 members (or, to put it in context, about a third the number of people who have given to Barack Obama). It's a group of disaffected "independents" who pine for a Mr. Smith kind of candidate. Since everyone hates Bush and the Dems haven't screwed up too badly, it turns out to be a bad year for this kind of movement. But that's another story. Anyway, they lumber forth, and the findings are worth a blog post, so here we go. For some reason, they sampled the returns randomly, rather than sorting and weighting or offering in toto. Dunno what it all means, but in the grist-for-the-mill department, a few thoughts.

They had respondents rate the major party candidates; they all clustered around the "fair" rating. On a 0-6 scale, Hillary scored the lowest, a 2.3; the rest of the leading candidates were clustered between 2.45 adn 2.52 (Giuliani, Romney, McCain, and Edwards), and Obama was about 2.9. To the extent anything can be said about this, it may be that partisanism, not ideology, is the dimension being measured. Among self-styled political agnostics, Obama comes up best. Food for thought when looking toward the general.

On a similar scale, the group was given seven statements about Iraq and asked to endorse or reject them. The highest-rated statement: "Iraq raises questions of future US military intervention."

There's more if you want it, but those are the salient points.


Oh great, and now he blogs. I'm starting to feel more and more like a Samuel Beckett character over here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Oblique Signals

This week, Oregon lefties were dealt a bit of a blow in our effort to see the exit of Republican Senator Gordon Smith--regarded as one of the top five most vulnerable GOP incumbents. John Frohnmayer, a former member of the Bush Administration (National Endowment for the Arts), announced his independent candidacy with a call to impeach President Bush. This doubly sucks, because we not only have a chance to take the seat back, but both Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley, the Dem candidates, are solid lefties.

But as I think about it, there is something interesting in this phenomenon. Frohnmayer, who has lately lent his support more in the Democratic direction, is nevertheless one of those candidates who acts as a kind of barometer for the national mood. In the mid-90s, the political winds blew right, whether it was Clinton ending welfare or the rise of the poisonous Fox network or the general derision directed all things culturally liberal and urban. Dems were a joke, liberalism was dead, markets and Jeses were ascendant (remember the discussion that we lived in a post-nation world?).

Frohnmayer, as the independent, gives voice to the extra-party mood of the electorate. And what he says, loudly, is that the American polity is incompetent and corrupt. His argument will undoubtedly be that the Dems are no more trustworthy. But while that may screw the Dem this year, the message is clear: the era of GOP rule is done.

I have this debate with friends pretty regularly, who argue that since Dubya was the worst candidate in history--theoretically or in reality--ipso facto, the GOP will win in '08 when the same electorate who voted W will have a better Republican on the ballot. If the ascendancy of the GOP brand were still so strong, however, former Bush administration officials wouldn't be running against the GOP in 2008.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The End and the Beginning

By Wisława Szymborska
translated by Joanna Maria Trzeciak

After every war
someone has to clean up.
Things won't
straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble
to the sides of the road,
so the corpse-laden wagons
can pass.

Someone has to get mired
in scum and ashes,
sofa springs,
splintered glass,
and bloody rags.

Someone must drag in a girder
to prop up a wall,
Someone must glaze a window,
rehang a door.

Photogenic it's not,
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.

Again we'll need bridges
and new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
from rolling them up.

Someone, broom in hand,
still recalls how it was.
Someone listens
and nods with unsevered head.
Yet others milling about
already find it dull.

From behind the bush
sometimes someone still unearths
rust-eaten arguments
and carries them to the garbage pile.

Those who knew
what was going on here
must give way to
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

In the grass which has overgrown
reasons and causes,
someone must be stretched out
blade of grass in his mouth
gazing at the clouds.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Ambiguity Song

It goes like this:
Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment being reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.
The study design and fuller results are in the article, but it looks solid. It explains why fear benefits Republicans; while people might be more open-minded generally, the fear of a terrorist climbing in the window changes the calculus. Interesting and alarming.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Out of Town

Given the frequency of posts on Hog, I doubt anyone would notice, but as an FYI, I'm out of town until Saturday. Have a fine week --

Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Fundamental Question

Bush may have unwittingly outlined the Democratic strategy for 2008:
But he said he saw his unpopularity as a natural result of his decision to pursue a strategy in which he believed. “I made a decision to lead,” he said, “One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?”
Let's see, how many incumbent GOP lawmakers agreed with his unilateral arrogance? I believe I'd be asking them all whether this fundamental question is the one they're running on. Or away from.