Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Rove Busters

Rove's Remarks Lay Bare GOP Petulance, Immaturity

When will the Democrats learn how to deal with Karl Rove? Once again, they played right into his pudgy little blood-stained hands by issuing a bleating, defensive response to his claim that they don't really oppose terrorists.

Rove said: ``liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.'' He also said calls for ``moderation and restraint'' were the response from and others with Democratic party ties.

If we overlook Rove's dastardly lies of omission and exaggeration, then it becomes obvious he is essentially correct. Liberals know that understanding terrorists is essential to defeating them efficiently on both the military and ideological fronts. Liberals understand that American PRINCIPLES of due process strengthen the nation, its culture and society rather than weaken it. They also know that moderation and restraint are crucial military and strategic principles that have contributed immensely to America's unprecedented geopolitical success.

As Rove emphasizes, the right wing's response to 9/11 was fundamentally emotional and essentially childish. Indeed, ``conservatives'' like Rove saw no need for understanding and, the record shows, achieved none. Like children, they proved themselves disastrously incapable of moderation and restraint.

Rove's comments were a stunning acknowledgement of the irrational root of our failure to achieve success in Iraq and the region. The emotional need for revenge and to, in Rove's revealing phrase ``brandish steel'' define the Bush administration's response to terrorism.

We need adults in the White House, not petulant, emotionally volatile children. The Democrats should have said this: ``We have but two words for Karl: Grow up!''

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Manifesto 1.0

To win back congress and the presidency, the Democrats must lead rather than follow.

The party must take a principled, consistent, thorough, unambiguous stand against the war in Iraq. The party also needs to fight for and win support for a bold, broadly developed plan to gradually hand responsibility for security and oil extraction in Iraq to an international coalition that can win the active support of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan.

It will take courage, intelligence and endurance -- leadership -- to see such a policy through. The U.S. news media has a vehement bias against fundamental criticism of the military's activities abroad. Any critical analysis of U.S. policy in Iraq that is systematic will routinely be framed as ``unpatriotic,'' ``irresponsible'' and even ``traitorous.''

The Republican party has benefited from this brand of media bias since the Nixon era. The 9/11 attacks made criticism of U.S. foreign policy even riskier for opposition politicians. Media bias, however, is not what has hurt and will continue to harm the Democrats most.

The dagger to the heart of Democrats has been the party's Promethean unwillingness to make clear its opposition to the war out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic. In the 2004 election, no single comment about John Kerry was repeated more often and with more alacrity than the one noting the candidate's own declaration that he voted both for and against the war.

Democrats' appeal to independent voters is decimated by this kind of equivocation. As a party, it must first admit that it was mistake not to have vigorously opposed the invasion of Iraq.

Why did John Kerry equivocate on the war? Because he listened to the people who, for decades, have insisted that Democrats can only win by being more like Republicans. That critique is true, in an obvious way, since Republicans are winning elections more often than Democrats. But that's meaningless unless you understand exactly what accounts for the Republican victories and what parts of that can be used by Democrats.
Today's GOP is more ideological, even more strident, and less committed than ever to subjugating political ends to policy development and implementation means.

The GOP keeps winning because it projects the appearance of confident, principled commitment. The Bush team branded this idea ``moral clarity,'' and sold it like Viagra.

It is crucial to understand that we live in the age of moral narcissism. One of the most common complaints among ``conservatives'' about ``liberals'' is that right-wing Christians and/or rural traditionalists are not portrayed reverently enough in news and entertainment media. Apparently, these constituencies consider it their right to have their values held up as superior and a failure to do that shows contempt for them personally.

Apparently, the main problem for this constituency is not that it's worldview is unpopular among educated Americans, but that its ways are derided or belittled on television and in movies. This is how white, middle class men bestow upon themselves the mantle of victimhood.
The point for Democrats is that no amount of pandering or redneck-friendly gestures or even policies are going to erode the self-declared victim status of this constituency.

The white trash jokes and derision did not, of course, originate in the Democratic party or even among liberal political activists; rather they are borne of a rural-urban divide that stretches across all societies everywhere. There is no point for Democrats to try to placate these feelings of righteous aggrievement, as they exist primarily for their own sake.

To the extent that Democrats cater to the narrow moral narcissism of rural and religious conservatives, they only deepen the perceptions that the party is unprincipled. Instead, Democrats should be vehement about how and why they support the separation of church and state, oppose teaching creationism in schools and support limits on weapons ownership.

Independent voters will appreciate the principled consistencies, even when they do not hold similar positions themselves.
The confidence and ``moral clarity'' of Republicans is what Kerry should have been seeking to emulate, rather than the Orwellian militarism and doubletalk that frames so much of mainstream media discussion of the war in Iraq.

Opposing the war is not a tactic for victory in 2006 congressional elections nor even to win back the presidency in 2008. Rather, it is necessary for the party to survive the century as one of the countries two dominant political parties.

Some Democratic leaders and pundits are calling on the party to reposition its policy mix to draw the segment of independent-minded voters that happened to vote Republican in the past two presidential elections. Their argument is wrong, though not easily dismissed.
John Kerry's razor-thin loss in 2004 and Al Gore's disputed defeat four years earlier make it easy to believe victory lies only a handful of swing voters away.

That analysis crumbles when you consider why Bush lured voters at all and what that means for candidates in 2006 and 2008.
Bush lured voters by projecting the persona of a stubborn, unbending, determined warrior. This explains why polls show a majority of Americans oppose the Bush administration's specific policies, yet supports him as best qualified to protect U.S. security.

Democrats faced similar challenges with Ronald Reagan, who somehow transformed a broadly unpopular set of foreign and domestic policy positions into formidable backing at the polls. The former actor's charisma and winning personality have been credited with that achievement, but that's only part of the picture. Reagan, like Bush, projected the kind of constancy and courage of conviction that Americans demand of a president.

Reagan and Bush were and are neither consistent nor constant in the views or policies they advocated. Indeed, liberal pundits in the 2004 campaign could point to undeniable examples of the Bush administration flip-flopping on major issues. Reagan managed to craft the image of a happy, indomitable cold warrior while responding to a terrorist attack in Lebanon by retreating.

The man who called the Soviet Union ``The Evil Empire'' and joked about bombing Russia, responded to Iran's hostage taking and support for terrorism with arms-for-hostages negotiations that amounted to the most unprincipled example of appeasement in American history.
How do Reagan and Bush ``get away with it?''

Reagan's vaunted ``teflon'' was built up because he stuck to unpopular positions and even, cannily in most cases, wore them on his sleeve. The Bush team has refined this to an art, pitching the idea that their man's widening unpopularity outside the U.S. comes not because his policies and churlish gaffes have made the world more dangerous for everyone, but because he refuses to compromise U.S. interests to win favor abroad.

Their marketing proposition is: He may be dead wrong, but he's not going to change his mind just to add to his popularity.
Even if most Americans would prefer their president to win the hearts and minds of leaders abroad, a big enough swath of the nation hasn't held Bush's global unpopularity against him.

Again, this is because the defiance of global opinion fits with Bush's broader image of the unflappable sheriff, determined to defend the town against the bad guys, even if it makes him look like ``the bad guy.''
American popular culture, with its iconography and celebration of rugged, ostentatiously armed and individualistic justice-seekers, is hospitable to this aspect of the Bush/Reagan self-image.

But the Democrats biggest mistake is to think that they can compete with this image by weakly imitating it, while attacking only its particulars and, belatedly in most cases, its consequences. Republicans own the tough-guy image, lock, stock and barrel. On a national basis and as a party, Democrats have no chance of wresting it away from them. To the extent that they try to present a ``tough-guy lite'' image, they come across instead as disingenuous.

Repeatedly, Kerry claimed to have supported the decision to go to war in Iraq, but opposed the way it was carried out--a reasonable formulation and one that opinion polls seem to suggest most Americans share. But here's where the Kerry campaign missed it: Americans, especially swing voters, don't necessarily vote for the guy that most closely tracks their views. They vote on image.

On election day, opinion polling suggests, tens of thousands of Americans who agreed with most of Kerry's position on the war and disagreed with Bush's, stepped into the booth and voted for Bush.
Kerry's mistake was first to have voted to authorize the president to start the war in the first place and then say, disastrously, that he would have made the same vote again.

Likewise Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan, even though the Republicans most popular president failed throughout his term to persuade a majority of Americans to agree with the specifics of his militaristic foreign policy.

The Democrats' prospects for 2006 and 2008 look daunting. Between then and now, we can expect activist right wing billionaires like Rupert Murdoch to only extend their control of news media and to even more brazenly bend coverage to suit their political tastes.

Even media outlets not directly owned by Republican supporters seem to be increasingly favoring right-wing talking heads while steering away from investigative reporting and systematic criticism of the widening failures in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Republican fund raising is almost certain to expand at the expense of Democrats as the party in power consolidates control over all branches of government and increases its margin in most state legislative bodies and governors' posts.

In 2008, the Republicans are likely to field a candidate who is a capable public speaker and has a record of success in private or public life and a less controversial adulthood than George W. Bush. W's fecklessness as a speaker and his long record of mediocrity in academia, the military and business did not help him beat Kerry. Alas, the Democrats can't dream of facing another Republican presidential candidate with Bush's level of vulnerability.

The Democrats, for their part, have some reasons to be hopeful for their election prospects, if not for their country. Iraq is still headed toward a widening, deepening conflict that will only cost the U.S. more lives and more money as time goes on. Nor is the economy likely to rebound in any thoroughgoing way by 2006 -- and may even worsen by 2008 -- as oil prices rise, the deficits deepen and interest rates are forced higher.

Popular support for the war itself is likely to wane, as its economic, geopolitical and human costs increase. Still, the Democrats cannot be assured of winning the allegiance of voters who turn against the war, since the party has yet to clearly establish itself as an opponent of the war with an alternative foreign policy prescription.

Recall that Richard Nixon was reelected in 1972, even as support for the Vietnam War seemed to be in a free fall as its costs escalated. In that war too, the Democrats never mounted a clear, principled, systematic opposition, and thusly ceded leadership on the issue to Republicans, despite that party's clear policy failures.

Then, as now, the Democrats needed leadership that understands the necessity of maintaining the courage of its convictions.

Monday, June 13, 2005

15 Right-Wing Myths About Iraq

Much of the coverage of Iraq in the mainstream media has been shaped by a set of false assumptions about how and why the war got started. You can find similar lists of these across the Internet, so by no means is Bunkerbuster making any claim to original insight here:

Myths and Realities About the Invasion of Iraq

Myth: 1. People who oppose the U.S.-led Iraq war do so because they think Saddam Hussein and his regime weren't a security threat to the U.S. and other countries.

Reality: Opponents of the war know the Iraqi regime posed a threat to its neighbors and the well-being of its own citizens. That threat could have been dealt with diplomatically, just as the Bush administration is now attempting with Pakistan, North Korea, Iran and China. Each of these countries posed a far greater threat than Iraq and efforts to contain them will be difficult, costly and never 100 percent successful. But they have and will cost less, be more effective and be more consistent with long-held American values of freedom and human rights than the invasion of Iraq has been.

Myth # 2. All, or even most, of the U.S. intelligence on Iraq said the regime had WMDs that were a threat to U.S. security.
Reality: Scott Ritter and Hans Blix, two arms control experts directly involved in the search for Iraqi WMDs repeated numerous times that they lacked evidence proving Saddam had WMDs. On many specific WMD issues, such as the aluminum pipes that the Bush administration said were for making nuclear weapons, the administration's own intelligence sources said they had serious doubts about whether there were any WMDs.
While there certainly was evidence that Saddam may have had such weapons, the evidence was by no means overwhelming or conclusive and it was certainly not exclusive in any way. There was a lively debate among intelligence and arms control professionals, even as the Bush administration was claiming that it was "certain" Iraq had WMDs.

Myth # 3. The Iraqi regime was allied with Al Qaeda.
Reality: While there were some serious intelligence professionals that had concluded Iraq had WMDs, no intelligence whatsoever showed any significant links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.
Clearly, the Iraqi regime's goals and history were aligned against that of Al Qaeda, which itself was more of a threat than an accessory to Baath party rule.
Indeed, we now know that an Al-Qaeda affiliate had set up a training camp in the part of Iraq controlled by the U.S. and the U.K. If Saddam had supported Al Qaeda, the camp would have been in territory Iraq controlled.
Moreover, documents captured in the war show that bin Laden disapproved of Saddam's rule and that entreaties from Al Qaeda to Iraq were ultimately rejected.
Al Qaeda has supporters across the Middle East in every country, but the level of support and its significance was less in Iraq than in any other major country.

4. The Iraqi regime was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Reality: While Bush himself has avoided claiming in plain English that Iraq was involved in Sept. 11, it continues to use rhetoric using the 9/11 attacks as a justification for invading Iraq. Cheney has insisted, even U.S. intelligence itself concluded there was no such connection, that Saddam "may have been involved.'' Yet no one, not Bush, not the vast right-wing blogosphere, not the U.S. or Israeli spy network: has been able to produce a shred of hard evidence linking Saddam to 9/11.

5. Opponents who speak against the war endanger the lives of U.S. troops.
Reality: The sooner the troops come home, the safer they will be. Moreover, in the long term, young Americans will be much safer if the aggressive militarism of the Bush administration is defeated politically. Opponents of the war are fighting for the future safety of Americans in addition to the well-being of troops already in harm's way. The right wing media talking heads claim that opponents of the war embolden Al Qaeda. This is dangerously naive. Al Qaeda are irrational fanatics who are immune to public opinion. To think that they would care whether Americans oppose the war in Iraq is to believe that they have a regard for public opinion that they clearly do not.

6. The Sept. 11 attacks changed the nature of the Iraqi regime and/or the threat it posed.
Reality: On Sept. 11, 2001, Iraq was run by a dictator who presided over a deeply divided country, 2/3 of which he did not even control. Opposed by the governments of virtually all of his neighbors, Saddam seldom, if ever, spent the night in the same place. Hemmed in by U.S. and U.K.-maintained no-fly zones and with no significant allies in the region and with only fractional access to his country's oil wealth, Iraq was a very minor threat to peace. The Sept. 11 attacks changed none of that. The only thing it changed was the emotional state of militarists in the U.S., who went on to use the attacks as a pretext to invade a country that was not involved in the attack.

7. The U.S.-led attack on Iraq has made Arab despots in the region less secure from U.S. attack.
Reality: The U.S. is borrowing the money for the war in Iraq because it simply cannot pay for it. Why would Syria's Bashir Assad or Iran's Khatami believe that Americans are willing to borrow ever more to pay for yet another military adventure? Even if the U.S. could pay for another war, where would the troops come from? Already, U.S. military personnel are being kept in Iraq far longer than they had been originally told. Moreover, the military has had to lower its recruitment and retention standards and still can't meet its manpower goals. Are the leaders in places like Iran, Syria and Pakistan going to pay more attention to the war cheerleading on Fox News Channel or to the fact that Americans refuse to pay for the war they're already in and, increasingly, refuse to fight in it.

8. The President of the United States should not be held responsible for his performance in analyzing competing intelligence claims.
Reality: Apologists for Bush's misstatements about WMDs in Iraq like to claim that the intelligence showed Saddam had the weapons, and the president was merely basing his views on what his intelligence sources were telling him. He wasn't lying, they argue, he was just misinformed. For the sake of argument, suppose the apologists are correct: the president was misinformed. That should not, however, be any comfort whatsoever to Americans. A president who willfully ignores counter-evidence or, worse, deliberately prevents himself from discovering it, is no less harmful to the country than a simple liar, who is aware of the evidence, but claims he isn't. If the Bush administration really believed it had failed the country by getting it wrong on WMDs, it would have punished the intelligence sources. Instead, it rewarded them. What does that tell you?

9. The Iraqi regime had no legitimate reason not to cooperate with UN inspections.
Reality: The U.S. has acknowledged that it was seeking ways to overthrow the Iraqi government. Scott Ritter and others have noted that the U.S. agreed to allow Israeli agents to infiltrate its portion of the inspection teams. Saddam did not maintain power by trusting the U.S. and the U.N. He was clearly, deeply paranoid, but that doesn't mean the U.S. wasn't out to assassinate him. U.S. attempts to organize or compel the assassination of Saddam gave him a legitimate reason to resist the inspections. We now know that inspections could have and should have shown that there were no WMDs. So why would Saddam resist? Saddam may have been cruel, but he wasn't stupid. He correctly surmised that the U.S. was intent on getting rid of him, one way or another, for one reason or another. By interferring with inspections, he could achieve three things: Limit U.S. intelligence gathering on his regime in general, create the impression he may have WMDs, deterring some threats, and bolstering his potemkin profile as a regional military strongman.

10. The UN inspectors failed to prevent the Iraqi regime from acquiring WMDs.
Reality: No one has suggested Saddam would not have obtained WMDs if he could have. The U.N. inspections prevented him from doing so, since, in addition to surviving U.S. assassination or overthrow, he also wanted the sanctions to end and a precondition to that was showing that he didn't have WMDs.

11. The U.S. and U.K. abided by the terms of UN resolutions that ended the first Gulf War.
Reality: The U.S. bombed Baghdad in retaliation for an alleged plot by the Iraqi regime to assassinate George H.W. Bush.

12. Saddam Hussein could have survived by cooperating with UN arms inspections and abiding by UN resolutions that ended the First Gulf War.
Reality: The G.H.W. Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush administrations made it clear that the U.S. would pursue the ouster of Saddam, regardless of the outcome of inspections.

13. The Bush administration exhausted diplomatic options before initiating its attack on Iraq.
Reality: The U.S. failed to gain U.N. sanction for the invasion. Moreover, the Iraqi regime had made clear that it was prepared to remove all obstacles to U.N. arms inspections.--an obvious diplomatic option. G.W. Bush made no "diplomatic'' offer to the Iraqi regime, but rather said Saddam and his sons had to leave the country, or an invasion would take place. Clearly, then, Bush was prepared to call off the war, but not for any reason related to the stated rationale for the invasion, which was of course the removal of the WMD threat. On the eve of the invasion, the U.S. had yet to obtain the support of key allies such as Germany and France. Worse, Iraq's biggest neighbors all opposed the war, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey. One diplomatic option would have been to seek the support of these countries, which had so much at stake on the outcome of the war.

14. The attack on Iraq hasn't limited the U.S. ability to help rebuild Afghanistan.
Reality: The war in Iraq has cost at least $100 billion, and probably twice that, so far, depending on how you count it. This is money the U.S. has borrowed. Every dollar spent on Iraq is one that isn't available to build schools, hospitals or roads in Afghanistan.

15. The U.S.-led attack on Iraq had broad international support.
Reality: The key countries of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Turkey all supported the first Gulf War. They opposed the second, because they knew it was not the best way to deal with the threat Saddam Hussein posed. Any effort to invade a country that does not include support from its neighbors cannot be said to have "broad" support. Moreover, allies that have steadfastly backed the U.S. in previous wars--France and Germany--were opposed to the invasion.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Irony deficiency

How masturbatory is blogging for right-wing hotheads? One measure has to be the conservative T-shirt series being advertised on rightist blogs across the Internet.

The t-shirts are modeled by comely, big-breasted young women posing with their arms lifted to enhance the bodacious effect. Slogans on the shirts are intended to skewer liberal ideas and institutions. One, for examples, says: ACLU, Enemy of the State. The C in the initials is replaced with a hammer and sickle.

The ad says the shirts "put Libs in their place without saying a word.'' See other examples at

But what the shirts' makers don't realize is that "Enemy of the State'' is a term of approbation among the vast majority of T-shirt wearing American teens and 20somethings, connoting as it does nonconformity, rebellion and take-no-shit-from-the-man bravado.

Modeling the shirts skin-tight over bulging boobs only inflates their countercultural charisma. How many rock bands, songs and albums have "enemy of the state,'' or a related pun, in their names? Try Googling the phrase. You'll find movies, book titles and so forth, the vast majority of which cast the "enemy" as the hero.

But the blogsters behind the ads seem blissfully unaware of the compliment they're paying the ACLU. If they are aware of the righteous-outlaw chic the phrase embodies, they don't understand how it actually plays to the typical college student, for example. Perhaps, like their patron saint George W. Bush, the right-wing blogsterbators don't read the newspaper and never have.

It is doubtful as well that 40, 50 and 60-somethings will miss the unintended message the shirts convey, given that Stalin pioneered the ''enemy of the state'' label in his ruthless purges of liberals.

The shirt puts liberals in their place all right: in favor of human rights, against statism and smart enough to wield the sharp blade of irony without cutting their own peckers off.