State of the Union

On the Other Hand

CNBC has a source who says it is Palin.

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I Don’t Think It Will Be Palin…

… but Will Ruger of Texas State University makes the case for why the Alaska governor ought to be John McCain’s veep pick:

Palin could do something few Republicans seem interested in or able to do these days: Help fuse the two pillars of the Reagan Revolution, traditional conservatives and libertarian Republicans.

Palin can win the hearts of conservatives, given her strong pro-life views — views that were backed up with action this year when she gave birth to a son with Down’s syndrome. It would probably also help with these folks that her oldest son recently enlisted in the Army. And she can excite libertarian Republicans, given her fiscal conservatism as governor as well as her reputation for anti-corruption, love of guns and the outdoor life, and moderation on social issues other than abortion.

I’m not sold on Palin yet — and if I were, I wouldn’t want her to be tied to McCain — but politically she would be a good choice, much better than Kay Bailey Hutchison. I’m hoping against hope, though, that McCain will go with Lieberman. That’s the neocon dream ticket, and it might just be egregious enough to wake complacent conservatives up to what has happened to their movement.

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Barry the Greek

Rod Dreher argues that Barack Obama’s plan to use Greek columns as a back drop plays into the “messianic” meme, but I honestly can’t understand why. Greek columns are more theatrical than messianic, and as one of Dreher’s commenters notes, President Bush used them in 2004.

I’m not paying close enough attention to know if this whole Obamamessiah business is justified. For all I know, Obama might literally believe himself to be a Greek God; but even if he does, he would still be less arrogant than George Bush and most likely less dangerous than John McCain.

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Freedom of the Press … When It Suits!

While the rest of the pack chases the next Obama-Clinton kerfuffle, ABC News has at least put a team on the streets of Denver to chase down real news — like how wealthy special interests and corporate fat cats are laying down big loot to ensure primo placement at the federal trough and regulatory racket under the new administration. But as Asa Eslocker found out — apparently with a pair of Johnny Law’s hands on his neck — the streets aren’t exactly friendly — especially to the more inquisitive of the Fourth Estate.

ABC reports that Asa was arrested for trying to take pictures of VIPs as they were leaving the Brown Palace Hotel. The charges include trespassing, interference and “failure to follow a lawful order,” because the hotel claims it owns the sidewalk. That’s a new one, but not being familiar with Denver laws, I’ll wait for the follow-up. The ABC investigative team had published an earlier report about the swanky skyboxes at the Pepsi Center — not exactly breaking news. But I enjoyed this quote:

“It feels very elitist,” said Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group that pushes for openness in politics. “To flaunt the fact that there is a higher elite class of people who are big political donors, who have reached that status because they have more money, feels fundamentally undemocratic,” she said.

I’m guessing Asa would agree right about now, especially if he’s at the Denver gitmo:AP

UPDATE:Video of ABC reporter arrested. Got to love the cigar-chomping cop helping to subdue the errant Jimmy Olsen.

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What We Will Leave Behind, Part II

The Pentagon may have given the Sunni “Sons of Iraq” the dough and weapons to fight al Qaeda for the American cause, but according to Wired Magazine, these now-targeted fighters were left with a far more deadlier token for their troubles.

Warhawks have embraced — very matter-of-factly– the efficiency and technological wizbangery behind the hand-held biometric devices recording iris scans and other personal data of every Sunni that lined up for the $25 a day to fight our enemies in Sunni cities and villages. Similar biometrics have been logged to keep residents of locked-down, urban battlefields like Fallujah in check and “secure” from outside interference. Fused with the thousands of records that former dictator Saddam Hussein kept on his friends and enemies, electronic dossiers built with American ingenuity will be available to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia-led government as soon as we leave. If not now.

The Iraqi government has one other card to play, says [Colin] Kahl, just back from the Middle East. Over the years, the American military in Iraq has assembled a series of biometric databases; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis’ fingerprints and irises are stored inside. In Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated cities, the only way to get in or out is within a U.S.-issued badge, complete with this biometric info; that restricts potential insurgents’ freedom of movement. The Sons of Iraq have also been iris- and fingerprint-scanned; that makes them easier to identify, if they’re caught rejoining the insurgent team. Finally, the databases — partially built on the backs on Saddam’s crminal records — “provides a useful enemies list to the Government of Iraq, if they chose to use it,” Kahl says. That echoes what U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel John Velliquette told DANGER ROOM last year, when he said that the biometric info becomes “a hit list if it gets in the wrong hands.” Or the right ones.

Not only have we handed Maliki the tools for a massive political witch hunt (or at the very least, large-scale, sectarian oppression), we throw up a mirror: welcome to the endless possibilities of biometric “security” in our own world.

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We are all South Ossetians!

I just had to say it, after reading the story about the ramshackle province (country?) in the Times today, whose inhabitants wouldn’t fill Beijing’s Olympic Stadium. Of course there are sound realist reasons for not backing Georgia in this little Caucasus ethnic/boundary spat: our relationship with Russia is important on many fronts, especially those concerning nuclear proliferation (we have a joint common interests that trump just about anything else).

But I find it mystifying, and a subject that deserves serious exploration, why my erstwhile fellow Cold Warriors are so eager to stick it to Russia, to humiliate it, to run Nato right up to its borders. There was a time– more than forty years to be exact–where almost anything that happened in international politics could be measured on the “good for communism/good for freedom” continuum. Of course a simplification, but a significant truth as well. The world came near to blowing up over this in 1962. Virtually every significant battle in America and Western intellectual life referred to this dichotomy in some way or other. And it seemed so impossible to solve–captive nations, thousands of nuclear weapons, an evil empire on one hand, a more virtuous crusader state given to over-reaction on the other.

And then, miraculously, the other side capitulated. So gracefully it couldn’t even be believed. Eastern Europe, free, without a shot fired. The Soviet Union dissolved–deaths, maybe in the hundreds. No real worry about rogue military units with nuclear weapons, no civil war. Russia conceded the justice or our case, the injustice of theirs. No more graceful surrender had ever taken place. If Moscow’s behavior at its defeat could not possibly be seen as vindication of communist morality, it certainly seemed a measure of something positive, even noble– the goodness, perhaps, of the Russian soul.

And surely the George Orwells and Arthur Koestlers and Raymond Arons rejoiced in their graves, both at the West’s vindication and decency with which it was accomplished.

But what would they have made of the efforts to not celebrate the victory but to push it forward, to turn into a humiliation of the defeated? Not just autonomy and freedom for Latvia, the Ukraine, Georgia, full NATO membership! Richard Perle spearheading a committee for the liberation of Chechnya! If any of us had known that victory in the Cold War was supposed to mean a permanent humiliation of Russia, the cause would have never seemed attractive. So, Long live the autonomous Republic of South Ossetia!

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Awakening To Realities In Iraq

Just when Americans were getting to know the Sons of Iraq, otherwise known as the “Sunni Awakening” — if only at the base level of whether they began B.S or A.S.S (Before Surge or After the Senator’s Surge) — they seem to be breaking up. More succinctly, they are being targeted for termination.

Reports over the last week have suggested that the Iraqi government, under the direction of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, wants to completely disband the some 99,000 Sunni fighters on the American payroll. That they have been largely credited by the US with chasing al Qaeda out of town seems not to matter to Maliki’s now-emboldened government, which apparently sees them (perhaps rightly so) as a potential threat down the road. In a surprisingly candid admission that got no mainstream news coverage, Gen. David Petreaus said last week that Maliki hasn’t been doing his part to give these Sunnis jobs — as promised — in exchange for their help in The Surge.

From McClatchy: The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, said Thursday that the Iraqi government had been purposefully slow in absorbing into its security forces tens of thousands of mostly former Sunni insurgents who’d joined U.S.-financed militias.

When asked if the U.S.-backed Iraqi government had created stumbling blocks to absorb the now roughly 99,000 men known as the Sons of Iraq or Awakening councils, Petraeus confirmed that it had.

“That has certainly been the case,” he said in an interview with McClatchy.

But last week, Petraeus said, Lt. Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III received a commitment from Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki that he would uphold the government commitment to take on 20 percent of the men for the Iraqi Security Forces and the rest would go into other government jobs and vocational training.

Petraeus said the transfer had been too slow.

“We’re not going to walk away from them, and as I said, Prime Minister Maliki committed to taking care of them,” he said. “I do think it is somewhat understandable that the government struggles to hire former insurgents for its security forces or for its ministerial positions…But this is how you end these kinds of conflicts. That’s why they call it reconciliation. It’s not done with one’s friends, it’s done with former enemies.”

Only time will tell if the renewed commitment would translate into actions on the ground, he said.

“We’ll see what happens now that there is unequivocal direction and commitment from the prime minister,” he said. “We’ll have to see if this prime ministerial commitment is translated into the kind of action that we’ve wanted to see for a number of months.”

The U.S. military pays an average of $25 million a month to members of the Sons of Iraq or Awakening councils. Earlier this week, a senior intelligence analyst told McClatchy that if they did not become part of the current government’s security forces or take on other government jobs they could become a “long-term threat” to Iraq if they turn back to their insurgent ways.

Two days later, the Los Angeles Times reports Maliki has launched “an aggressive campaign to disband a U.S.-funded force of Sunni Arab fighters that has been key to Iraq’s fragile peace, arresting prominent members and sending others into hiding or exile as their former patrons in the American military reluctantly stand by.”

This led to this telling nugget from Stephen Biddle, an establishment man from the Council on Foreign Relations and apparently, according to LAT, one of Petreaus’ expanding brain trust:

“We want to have our cake and eat it too, support Maliki and the Sons of Iraq. . . . Maliki wants to make that as hard for us as possible. He wants us to choose him,” said Stephen Biddle, a Council on Foreign Relations defense expert who has served as an advisor on strategy to Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq. “What it looks like we are getting is a Maliki government that won’t behave itself and wants to crush the Sons of Iraq.”

According to the report, when Maliki told US officials he wanted the entire Sons of Iraq program “handed over to him as soon as possible,” American officials got nervous and responded by promising to slash the ranks 60 percent by the the end of the year and completely by the summer of 2009.

That knocks right into another date — US officials have indicated recently that combat brigades could be coming home at that time. It also crashes into the timeline, supposedly imposed by the new draft agreement between the Bush Administration and Maliki, that would see most of American troops out of Iraqi cities by the end of 2009 — with a complete withdrawal from the country by 2011 (how “complete” is still unclear)

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration seems to be setting up the very scenario it has been admonishing the Democrats for supporting over the last several years: agreeing to a public “deadline” for troop withdrawal. Making the stakes higher, that deadline coincides with some 100,000 Sunni fighters potentially being persecuted and left jobless by a Shia-dominated government after the US could not come through on its promises, once again, to an ethnic minority that had become expedient helpmates. Promises that were made so that Bush and McCain could see their Surge succeed — at least enough to confuse the American people about what was really going on there.

(And it seems, at least on the surface, to have worked. Voters in a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last week said they thought John McCain would do a better job than Barack Obama on terrorism, 51 to 23 percent, handling international crises, 52 percent to 27 percent, and on Iraq, 46 percent to 36 percent. The results here should be viewed as nothing less than extraordinary, given the last eight years.)

Republicans are already boasting that an agreement between Bush and Maliki could neutralize the Iraq issue for the rest of the presidential campaign. That just might be nervous talk, given the contortions it would take to explain to the American public why, after years of sneering that a timetable would only put US troops in danger and encourage terrorists to “follow us home,” the White House had agreed to just that. Now, the Republicans might say that The Surge changed the landscape, allowing for “the space” for a timetable to happen, but the fact the end result looks more like Democrat Barack Obama’s original plan will be difficult to avoid.

But as the media has decided to ignore Iraq, leaving an empty palette for McCain and others to fill with their own inventions on how The Surge has won the day, perhaps it won’t be that difficult for the Republicans to explain how Bush lost control of the situation. Perhaps the train wreck that is the 99,000 US-trained Sunni fighters turning against the central government, five million refugees and displaced persons trying to find a home, the food crisis and continued political instability — will happen only after John McCain is deemed the man most fit to fill Bush’s shoes in the White House.

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And the Uncle Tim Goes To…

I used to be disgusted
now I try to be amused

–Elvis Costello, The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes

In Slate’s unfortunately named “Big Idea” column, Jacob Weisberg, waving about the latest NY Times/CBS poll (PDF) like Joe McCarthy brandishing his list of names, campaigns for title of this season’s most conspicuously contrite white (a la Steve Sailer’s “Uncle Tim” sweepstakes) by pointing out that Racist White America is not singing along enthusiastically or harmoniously enough with the Obama fantasia (unlike the lockstep support and vicious turn against the Clintons of Black America, which is either an allowable double-standard or a post-racial phenomenon noticed only by, presumably, Racist Whites) and the unfortunate consequence of a McCain administration will not be the result of an unqualified candidate but of an unqualified people:

What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage in the presidential race, is running only neck-and-neck against John McCain, a sub-par Republican nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums, and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, lacks clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two of them appear to be tied. What gives?

The “natural and structural” advantages are Obama’s “charisma”, celebrity, a tight campaign organization and a busload of money. We remain unconscionably non-responsive to the superficialities, and it must be you-know-what. John McCain may very well be the greater evil in this race, but to conclude that there’s no contest here, between a junior senator of no achievement beyond leveraging a well-received, high-profile speech into a presidential nomination (assuming we’re still capable of  distinguishing between political maneuvering and actual governing) and a veteran senator and former congressman who nearly captured his party’s nomination eight years ago is like being the only pothead in the room and berating everyone else for not finding your new lava lamp mesmerizing.

Read More…

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The NYT’s don’t-read-this-book review

When a leading book review like The New York Times Book Review (NYTBR) decides to display a review of a certain book on its cover, it usually means that the editors believe that that is a notable book that ought to be read by, or at least draw the attention of the intellectual elites as well as the general public. It doesn’t mean that the editors expect the writer they assign to write the review to sing the praises of the book and its author. But they certainly don’t expect the reviewer to bash the book and pour scorn at the author.

But that is exactly how Max Rodenbeck, the Middle East correspondent for The Economist treated Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack and his new book Path out of the Desert: Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East in his Sunday’s NYTBR review. The way the review is displayed, accompanied by a large drawing and a bombastic title, “War and Peace,” is quite misleading. Rodenbeck calls the book “big” and “ambitious,” which is another way of saying that it is pretentious, and goes on to suggest (among other things) that the book “consists of vague outlines and policy homilies” and “salient distortions;” to point out to “this thick book’s thinness of ideas” (which, he adds, “is not its only flaw”); to argue that the author “commits errors that, despite his years in the corridors of power and some 70 pages of footnotes, betray a lack of intimacy with his subject,” “shows shaky grasp of history,” and is disingenuous and bias in his treatment of the subject. And he ends his review by suggesting that what is “troubling about Pollack’s view, which his fairly representative of his fellow liberal interventionists, who are likely to be in power soon is the lack of clarity.”

Some liberal critics have alleged that under editor Sam Tanenhaus, the NYTBR has become a “neoconservative damage-control gazette.” That certainly doesn’t apply to this latest review. It’s quite possible that Tanenhaus, who has been following the pro-Iraq-War coverage of The Economist expected Rodenbeck to follow the line of the magazine that employs him, which didn’t happen in this case.

Personally, I find most of what Pollack writes unoriginal and wrong and very, very boring, and reflect the me-tooismon on Iraq that has been promoted by many “liberal internationalists.” It seems to me that his latest book (which I don’t plan to read unless someone pays me to do that) is an attempt to create the impression that notwithstanding who wins the presidency, Democrats (like Pollack) and Republicans (like Robert Kagan) could help fashion a bi-partisan Middle East agenda. That would probably happen. But I still enjoyed the review.

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A Guy Named Joe

Bill Kristol’s “A Joe of His Own?” in today’s Times is priceless, particularly as it comes on the heels of an interview with Representative Peter King of New York on Fox News last Friday.  King and Kristol both believe that the best possible Republican Vice Presidential candidate would be lifelong Democrat Joe Lieberman.  As King put it explicitly if ungrammatically:   “because the overriding issues facing our country today are Islamic terrorism. And nobody — nobody — is stronger than Joe Lieberman, both as far as the overseas threat and the threat right here at home and seeing the interrelationship between the two.” To make sure that no one missed the point, King referred to “islamic terrorism” three times in what must have been a three minute interview.  Killing Muslims apparently trumps all other issues.  Joe can be counted on to shoot them over there and to lock them up over here… What more would you want in a Vice President?

Kristol puts it more subtly, describing Lieberman as a “bold choice” and a “country first” selection, not even mentioning that a Lieberman-McCain alliance would no doubt quickly bomb the hell out of Iran and Syria before reopening the Cold War with Russia.  That is precisely what Kristol would like to see, so why state the obvious?  Kristol pooh-poohs Lieberman’s liberal voting record, writing “…he is pro-abortion rights, and having been a Democrat all his life, he has a moderately liberal voting record…”  An interesting description, making it appear that his Democratic party ties somehow coerced Joe into voting against his conscience.  And, in reality, Lieberman is much more liberal than that except on foreign policy issues.  NARAL Pro-Choice America rates him at 100% on pro-abortion voting while in Congress and the gay advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) gives him an 87% on homosexual issues.  The NAACP gives him an 86% favorable rating on affirmative action.  Not exactly a normal Republican, is he?

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