Sunday, January 25, 2004

An Open Letter to Peter Jennings

The inestimable Bob Somerby--one man truth squad--has been all over the story of Peter Jennings' journalistic malpractice in Thursday's Democratic debate in New Hampshire, regarding George Bush's service record. I got a little worked up about it myself and, to blow off steam, decided to drop Mr. Jennings a line (via the World News Tonight inbox over at The text follows:

Dear Mr. Jennings:

I have long admired your work for ABC News, and regarded you as the most distinguished journalist among the major network anchors. Perhaps this is why I was so very disappointed by your performance in the recent Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire.

In a question to Wesley Clark, you challenged him to disassociate himself from a comment made by Michael Moore that charged President Bush with having failed to complete his service obligation to the National Guard during the Vietnam war. Your words were, "Now that's a reckless charge not supported by the facts."

Now I grant that there is a real question as to whether the charge was correctly framed by Mr. Moore. The word "deserter" was probably inappropriate. It would probably have been more accurate to raise the issue as one of Mr. Bush's having been Absent Without Leave (AWOL). I would happily defer on this point to someone with expertise in the relevant military law.

However, that Mr. Moore's charge does indeed have a solid basis in fact, is something that ought to have been well known to a professional journalist of your caliber. It was simply unconscionable, in my view, for you to have framed your question to Gen. Clark as if President Bush's innocence of Mr. Moore's charge were a forgone conclusion.

I wonder what evidence you drew upon in taking that view? If you know of any evidence that exculpates President Bush of this admittedly very serious charge, surely it is incumbent upon you to report that evidence to the American people immediately?

In the meantime, I see no reason not to credit as definitive an account such as the one linked to below, which certainly seems to be based on an extensive review of the relevant documentary evidence:

Finally, The Truth About Bush's Military Service Record

Mr. Jennings, I apologize if the tone of this email has offended you, but I find I cannot suppress my dismay at this failure of journalistic scruple on your part. My dismay is worsened by the little hope I have that your misrepresentation of the known facts will be set right in time to undo the damage to our political process.

If our best-known journalists cannot be counted upon to uphold the most elementary journalistic standards (such as the simple obligation to check the facts), but instead allow specious popular prejudice to guide their interventions in the political process (such as the framing of questions in a Presidential debate), then there is, indeed, little enough hope to spare.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Wes Clark's Background: A Non-Supporter's Doubts

I posted the following in response to this diary entry by ultrageek over at Daily Kos. In a nutshell, ultrageek stated both a desire to like Clark, and a reluctance to do so--the latter based on a scruple about Clark's military background:

Thanks for asking this question

Democrats who entertain such doubts should express them frankly; those who already support (or would consider supporting) Clark should be ready to answer such doubts with equal candor--as Rob, libertas, hilzoy and al Fubar have all done here.

The reality is, indeed, far more complicated than the Jack D. Ripper stereotype of the militaristic officer can hope to capture. Clark has been both loathe to fight (when it seemed to him the wrong fight at the wrong time) and plenty willing (when it seemed to him the right thing to do).

In September of 2002, he was one of several retired generals who publicly counseled Congress against acceding to Bush's rush to war in Iraq. Yet, as Supreme Allied Commander, he pushed as hard as he could (within the bounds of loyalty) against the then-prevailing Pentagon view that would have left the Kosovar Albanians to the tender mercies of Slobodan Milosevic.

For some, these facts imply self-contradiction on Clark's part. And that would be so, if one's country's decision to go to war were always either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. Anyone who believes in either proposition should probably not look to Clark as their candidate.

Beyond the issue of when to fight, there is the question of what kind of organization today's military is, and what sort of ethos someone like Clark might bring with him to the White House. And here I think we have to face the fact that the all-volunteer military is a very different kind of institution than the conscript forces of yesterday and that, partly as a result of this difference, it in many ways far surpasses the standard of fairness currently accepted as normal in civilian life.

Clark's (and many other senior officers') rock-solid commitment to affirmative action, and the resulting diversity of the officer corps, illustrate this. So does the fact that the gap between a private's pay and a general's is tiny compared to the gap between what entry-level workers and CEOs make in the private sector. So does the fact that military schools are on the whole more equitably funded than public schools. So does the plain reluctance of most senior officers for imperial adventures of any kind.

All of these data points describe a common underlying reality: A volunteer force is one that can not (and does not want to) depend on coercion to get and keep its members. Instead, it must give them real incentives to sign up, and to stay on. Odd as this may sound, the modern military may well be the closest thing to a functioning social democracy in American life. It will be interesting to see whether a sensibility formed in that environment can rub off on the kind of voters who are inclined to respect the military above all other public institutions.

It remains true that Clark (for all his evident executive, strategic and diplomatic skills) has never had to win votes in an election. This, as he freely admits, is his Achilles heel, and it is no trivial objection. He can have, it seems to me, no answer to it, save to prove himself in the series of primary contests now under way. But of course he can't even begin to do that if support for him is ruled out on principle, because he is a political rookie. To me, imposing such a catch 22 on someone of Clark's character and accomplishments seems both churlish and immensely unwise, politically.

On the other hand, Clark supporters should be grateful for the strong competition afforded by Kerry, Edwards and Dean. Clark has passed many difficult trials in his life, but he needs to pass through one more--the trial by ballot box--if he is to be fully ready for Bush in November. Fortunately, circumstances seem to be conspiring to provide him with a good, stern test. The most we Clark supporters can ask of the rest of you is not to prejudge the result of that test. Let us see what kind of candidate he will make.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Blogging the SOTU: What's the Difference?

Judging from the coverage by bloggers and others, tonight's State of the Union speech wasn't one of Bush's better efforts. Highlights, based on the color commentary I read or heard: Teddy Kennedy sighing in exasperation, Charlie Rangel dozing off (or doing his nails?), and the soldiers and Joint Chiefs sitting there like agnostics dragged to a revival meeting by devout relations. And of course the applause when Bush announced (in the course of calling for its renewal) that the PATRIOT act was due to expire.

In any case, I thought I would try something a little unusual and actually blog the text of the speech, rather than the broadcast. Not the whole thing, mind you, but rather just the parts that contained controversial or misleading or inaccurate statements. The plan was to snip these bits out and use them to supply a sort of post-facto running commentary.

I should have seen the flaw in this plan up front: way too much raw material. I think I got about a fifth of way through before I realized I'd be up all night if I tried to finish the whole thing. I also realized that I wasn't quite managing to sustain the old sine ira et studio. In fact, I found myself getting downright bitter. So I quit. But I'll post the fragment of a commentary here anyway, if for no other reason than as a record of one blogger's encounter with the strangely inverted world of George W. Bush's political imagination.

(Bush's words are in italics.)


First, The Pitch:

Tonight, Members of Congress can take pride in the great works of compassion and reform that skeptics had thought impossible.

Were there actually "skeptics" out there who thought an unfunded education mandate and a pork-laden prescription drug bill wouldn't pass? Man, some people are really cynical.


We have faced serious challenges together - and now we face a choice. We can go forward with confidence and resolve - or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.

The Gordian Knot of Bushism:

I slept while Al Qaeda plotted. But then I took out Saddam. Sure, he wasn't much of a threat now, but what's the difference? So retroactively, it's as if I hadn't been asleep when Al Qaeda struck after all. But if you think I shouldn't have taken out Saddam, then you're the one who was asleep when Al Qaeda struck.

Paging Alexander. Hell, paging Einstein.


We have not come all this way - through tragedy, and trial and war - only to falter and leave our work unfinished. Americans are rising to the tasks of history, and they expect the same from us.

Translation: We have not come all this way--to lose in November.


Now on to the "substance" of the speech. We begin with foreign affairs (nota bene Democrats!). Albeit foreign affairs in a parallel universe:

The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free, and proud and fighting terror.

Or else ethnically divided, plagued by warlords, and surviving on opium exports. What's the difference? Turning now to Iraq....


We're working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June.

Somebody had better let the U.N. know we've got an election coming up--in November.


Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future.

And they had better be quick about it, because, as I may have mentioned, we've got an election coming up in November.


An aside from Department of Unintentional Irony:

For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible - and no one can now doubt the word of America.

Not a chance of that now, no sir. Just ask that Colin Powell.


No more Iraqs! Or, Bush the Peacenik.

Different threats require different strategies.

Since in context this refers to North Korea and Iran, apparently the secret to getting on Bush's pacific side is to go nuclear. But remember this, aspiring Rogue States! Until you're there, it's "don't ask, don't tell."


More from the parallel universe:

Our closest allies have been unwavering. America's intelligence personnel and diplomats have been skilled and tireless.

And we still don't listen to any of them: what a bunch of shmucks!


My heart goes out to my photo-ops:

We have seen the joy when [our soldiers] return, and felt the sorrow when one is lost. I have had the honor of meeting our servicemen and women at many posts, from the deck of a carrier in the Pacific, to a mess hall in Baghdad.

I'd attend their funerals too, but there have been so many and I don't want to play favorites. Besides, I'm a busy man.


Bad Political Theory Alert!

I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime - a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States - and war is what they got.

Crackpot Hobbesianism: Literal warfare not only cited as the ultima ratio of international affairs, but raised to its sine qua non; the very use of non-military means signals capitulation; war fighting--quite apart from its target, its strategic value or its military necessity--means progress against terrorism.


Time for the (almost) straight-faced WMD lie (otherwise known as the "O.J. goes to Baghdad" gambit).

But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We're seeking all the facts - already the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day.

By all means, let us be candid. "Weapons of mass destruction-related program activities?" Is that, like, closing your eyes and wishing real hard that you had some?


And now for a dose of pure isolationist demagogy:

There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.

I hear RPGs can be really effective against those Black Helicopters.


And now for a few rhetorical sops to the hardworking neo-imperialist propagandists:

America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. ....And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world.

Since the "historic work" needs to get wrapped up in time for the summer campaigning season, about all that's left of the "forward strategy," it seems, is more dough for pro-American TV and radio propaganda. Radio Marti East. At least this gives Neocon scribes something to do with their time, now that they're not needed to make the case for why the next four or five invasions are matters of urgent military necessity.


Turning to the economy....

In the last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental strengths of the American economy.

Blues Translation: "We've been down so long it's starting to look like up."


Time for Big-Lie-That-Must-Be-Told, number two:

And because you acted to stimulate our economy with tax relief, this economy is strong, and growing stronger.

Think of it as macroeconomic alchemy: turning permanent tax cuts for the rich, into temporary fiscal stimulus for consumers. Or think of it as an "F" in macroeconomics 101. Or, hell, just think of it as lying.


....And jobs are on the rise. These numbers confirm...

Er, what was that last "number" again?


....that the American people are using their money far better than government would have.

Strictly speaking, that would be our debt that we're using so cleverly. It's China's and Japan's and Saudi Arabia's (and the Social Security trust fund's) money. But, you know, what's the difference?


Some want to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards and accountability.

And then again "some" actually want to fund it. (Silly liberals! They think we mean this stuff for real.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Eye-Opener in Iowa

Well that was a wild ride! Without question, the surprising results out of Iowa utterly change the complexion of the race. As a Clark supporter, I suppose I should be disappointed. It is clear that Kerry's astonishing resurgence steals Clark's thunder in New Hampshire (as has been obvious in the NH tracking polls for several days), and that Edwards' strong second makes him, if nothing else, a much more formidable opponent in South Carolina. More generally, Clark can no longer count on emerging as the only viable alternative to Dean. It is now a four man race in New Hampshire--and possibly beyond.

But, for all of that, I find I can't work up the slightest bit of disappointment. In fact, I feel just the opposite. It's good to have John Kerry back in this race, and to have John Edwards finally in it for real. They are both first-rate politicians, and either one would make a fine standard bearer (or second) in the fight against Bush. I am stone certain that, whatever happens, their being in contention now strengthens the party for November.

Kerry was my first choice (before Clark jumped in) and I was disappointed when his candidacy seemed to fade so prematurely. He is, in many ways, the closest candidate to Clark in this race: the only one who can speak with something of Clark's authority on foreign affairs; the only one whose biography approaches Clark's for gravitas and patriotic pathos; and, I suspect, the only one who possesses a mind that is the equal of Clark's. To all these advantages must be added a long career of fighting and winning elections.

As for Edwards, he is said to be the most eloquent of the major candidates and, indeed, he appears to be at least Clark's equal (if not his superior) in the possession of the common touch. Some have claimed that he is the equal of Bill Clinton in this respect, and that may be. This much is sure: of all the candidates, he has found the most effective ways to frame the issue of social justice (rewarding work vs. rewarding wealth, two economies, two educational systems, etc.). He is running as a Southern-fried Mario Cuomo, and that has got to make Rovenbush tremble a bit.

Finally, whatever the Iowa results mean for Clark, they have surely dealt a severe blow to the Dean candidacy, the major pillars of which (superior organization & money, new voters as opposed to swing voters, uncompromising stances uncompromisingly articulated) all pretty much lie in ruins tonight. New Hampshire is now probably make-or-break for Dean. And although I still respect Dean and his supporters for their innovations and energy, I admit that this comes as something of a relief.

For a candidate whose success is premised on instructing fellow citizens in the urgency of defeating a sitting President, Dean has seemed far too eager to accentuate his alienation from his own party, and (sometimes) to cram his message down his auditors' throats. Some of these same attitudinal liabilities may have even seaped down into the Campaign's vaunted organization, and done a fair amount of damage to the effort in Iowa. As Lincoln said, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Clark's Damning Allegations Against Bush Confirmed

Not that there was much doubt about this for anyone who has been awake. But perhaps having a former high-ranking Administration insider saying it too will wake up at least a few of the sleepy heads out there who still believe there was some connection between the Iraq War and 9-11 -- besides the latter being a useful pretext for the former:

Traditionally and ideally, we Americans meet our challenges by starting with the facts, analyzing the problem, and reasoning toward a solution - in as public a manner as possible. This Administration does things in reverse. They start with a solution, cast about for a problem that 'requires' their solution, and mold the facts to make their case - in as secret a manner as possible.

In so many areas, this Administration has the solution before they've heard the problem. They entered office with numerous solutions - among them national missile defense; tax cuts; drilling in the arctic, more secrecy for government; less privacy for citizens, and finally - the big solution: attacking Iraq. They seized on September 11 as proof of a problem that required the solution of attacking Iraq. Saddam was involved in September 11, they implied, and Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. So they made Iraq a centerpiece of the war on terror.

They worked to find the facts to make their case....

Wesley Clark
Speech before the Second Annual Convention of Military Reporters
October 3, 2003

A White House that seems to pick an outcome it wants and then marshal the facts to meet it seems very much like one that might decide to remove Saddam Hussein and then tickle the facts to meet its objective. That's the inescapable conclusion one draws from [former Treasury Secretary Paul] O'Neill's description of how Saddam was viewed from Day One. Though O'Neill is careful to compliment the cia for always citing the caveats in its findings, he describes a White House poised to overinterpret intelligence. "From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country," he tells [Author Ron] Suskind. "And, if we did that, it would solve everything. It was about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The President saying, 'Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'"

"Confessions of a White House Insider: A book about Treasury's Paul O'Neill paints a presidency where ideology and politics rule the day"
Time Magazine Online Edition, January 11, 2004

How big a deal is this? Well, were the popular understanding of our own Constitutional principles not so degraded by years of pseudo-scandals, this would quite possibly amount, by itself, to prima facie evidence of an impeachable offense; and it would probably lead, in due course, to the refusal of the incumbent President to stand for reelection, due primarily to opposition within his own party (cf. Johnson '68). In a healthier, more confident version of our own democracy, in other words, the story would be a titanic scandal. As Billmon sagely puts it:
[M]aybe I'm missing something. Personally, I think it's kind of a big deal when a president deliberately sets the wheels in motion to invade another country, before the events later used to justify the war have even taken place. To me that seems like a story worth pursuing

But since the Washington press corps' willingness to acknowledge the true meaning of the word "scandal" has degenerated so far in recent years, it is likely that this latest revelation will only have its impact as part of the cumulative weight of revelations almost sure to build up over the next several months, as both the Plame affair and Keane Commission (pre-9-11) investigations begin to produce publicly available results.

Of course, had Mr. Bush's war gone as smoothly as his Neoconservative policy intellectuals assured him it would, none of this would matter in the slightest. No mere build up of damning evidence about why a policy was undertaken is enough to discredit that policy, provided it is working as advertised. But the fact that the Iraq policy's consequences have been such an obvious disappointment (and might very easily become a still greater disappointment) makes the policy itself acutely vulnerable on "process" grounds as well. (The deceptiveness behind the Tonkin Gulf Resolution would scarcely have mattered had the Tet Offensive not given the lie to the Johnson Administration's endless promises of progress in Vietnam.) So I am cautiously hopeful that the mainstream press will eventually catch on to the importance of today's revelations, as one element in a much larger story -- namely, how the present Administration cares more for pursuing its prior ideological commitments than it does for carrying out its responsibility to safeguarde the nation.

As to the more directly political consequences: Whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be, he will undoubtedly benefit in the general election campaign from the damage done to what remains of Bush's reputation for both frankness and national security judgment among moderates and independents. Surely though, Gen Clark's credibility on the national security issue -- already the envy of every Democrat in the race -- just got a particularly large additional boost. Every Democrat is now free to repeat Clark's most damning criticism of the Administration's Iraq policy, without fear of being unable to back it up. But Clark of course is now free to point out that he did not wait for backup to arrive before calling it like he saw it. This, in turn, is likely to make it even harder (it was already going to be an uphill battle, in my judgment) for Dean to carry on with his recent line of attack, based on the patently false charge that Clark's record of opposition to the Iraq war is in any way inferior to his own.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Horse Race

Never mind Clark passing Kerry in New Hampshire. Were present trends to keep up for another week, Dean and Clark would be tied in the Granite State. That hardly seems likely now. But, then again, neither did this, as of last week:


These are the three day moving averages from ARG, whose tracking poll drew more than the usual interest today not only for these results, but for the curious note that accompanied them:

Over the past 2 days of calling, a number of older respondents registered as undeclared voters have reported that they have received telephone calls from a campaign informing them that they will not be allowed to vote in the Democratic primary because they missed the deadline to switch parties. A respondent discovered, however, that when she told the caller that she was thinking about voting for Howard Dean, the caller told her that she would be eligible to vote.

Josh Marshall is all over the story, snagging an interview with ARG president Dick Bennett, who confirms that this simply bubbled up from the ARG interviewers, who apparently noticed the pattern emerging during their Wednesday and Thursday evening calls. Whether the Dean campaign is really behind this (and, if so, whether it represents mere over-zealousness on the part of a few volunteers, or something more sinister and systematic) is impossible to tell. It could just as well be a third candidate's organization trying to swing such suspicion Dean's way. But whoever it is, they've truly gone over the line, and straight into GOP-style tactics. (Unless of course they were already there!)

The Poor Man, meanwhile, sees the same opportunity I do for Clark to benefit in New Hampshire from a muddled Iowa result. Conversely, as he points out, a clear victory for anyone would steal some of Clark's current thunder -- and a better-than-expected showing for Kerry (who has been moving up in polls there) would be especially unwelcome.

As for Dean's prospects, E.J. Dionne passes along some good advice from Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg, which boils down to this: work more seriously at convincing culturally-conservative Democrats and Independents that you share a country with them, and that you seek to care for the common things of that country. Perhaps Dean is capable of doing this, and perhaps not. But in either case, as Dionne points out, it is going to take more than "awkward forays into theology and Confederate memorabilia " to pull it off.

It is not that Dean was wrong in thinking that symbolism and rhetoric are partly what is called for. Indeed, what we are talking about here is probably not so much a matter of specific policies (though the right mix of policies can help), as of personal political style. But we should take care to give that term its widest and deepest possible application. Doing what Greenberg and Dionne suggest Dean do seems currently to require an odd amalgam of preacherly and lawyerly personalities (think of Clinton). Beyond that, however, we are partly dealing with imponderables -- things such as the peculiar "fit" (it can almost seem fated) between certain individual political figures and certain historical moments or occasions.

RFK, who was probably the last Northeasterner to pull something like this off nationally, did so by combining staunch patriotism and vigorous partisanship with a libratory view of human history and an unusually well-developed susceptibility (amounting almost to a kind of personal vulnerability) to human suffering and injustice. But there is no formula for such a thing, and each would-be leader of this disparate and dispersed Democratic coalition probably needs to find (or, rather, just possess) his or her own unique way of leading it -- one that somehow calls out, and answers to, what is common throughout all that astonishing diversity.

Friday, January 09, 2004

Half Empty or Half Full?

Because we like to keep things fair and balanced here at the Junction, today's post features a miscellany of reasons for both hope and despair.

Iraq: the case for optimism

Like me, Billmon sees a ray of hope for Iraq in the prospect of the Marines taking over the counter-insurgency job from the Army in the Sunni Triangle. It does indeed look like a replay of the old argument that Lew Walt and Victor Krulak had with William Westmoreland over how best to employ the Marines of I Corp. Maybe this time there is a better than even chance that the right side will win the argument, and that the whole effort won't wind up in a pointless blood bath like Khe Sanh.

Billmon is probably right that the conditions in Iraq are, if anything, more favorable to the Marine's prefered approach than they were in Vietnam (no enemy main force units to contend with). Here's hoping he's not also right in suspecting that the longer time horizon, and more direct risks, that such an approach entails won't keep our generals and politicians now, as it did then, from following through on the one strategy that at least has a chance of success.

Iraq: the case for pessimism

That ray of hope comes none too soon, considering the latest news out of Iraq: Nine dead in yet another helicopter downing near Falluja (this one a medivac), one of the 30 or so caualties from yesterday's mortar attack dead of his wounds, and a C-5 with 63 aboard struck by ground fire and forced to return to Baghdad airport. All told, a truly awful 24 hours that could easily have been much, much worse.

And as if that were not bad enough, there are fresh indications that the Kurds are not going to budge in their demand for a unified Kurdish region with not only local autonomy but "security rights" as well (that is, retention of the Pesh Merga militia). Given how badly handled the Kurds have been by all and sundry (including the U.S.), it's impossible not to sympathize with their unwillingness to surrender any of the control they have enjoyed over their own destiny during the long period of sanctions and no-fly zones. But the wish to prevent the Iraqi state from achieving a monopoly of the legitimate means of violence is a red flag.

If this comes to pass, the Shiite majority (which has its own legitimate reasons for mistrusting the tender mercies of neighbors and outsiders) will demand its own private army (or effective control of the putatively national forces), and the Sunnis will have found their new, post-Saddam rallying cry (the struggle for ethnic survival in the face of Kurdish and Shiite domination). Not to mention the effect that de facto independent Kurdish and Shiite quasi-states would have on the willingness of Iraq's neighbors to continue refraining from intervention in its affairs. Down that path lies what Billmon calls (in the post already cited), "a king-sized Lebanon."

Iraq: collateral damage

This, meanwhile, is just sad. Yes, Powell has grudgingly admitted what everyone who is awake already knows: that there is zero evidence of a Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. But he is still playing the loyal soldier, still substituting sophistries for the missing truth in his earlier pronouncements: "I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did." As if "possibility" meant "likelihood," and "consider" meant "flatly assert" and "use as an argument for war." Or this: "In terms of intention [to possess WMD], he always had it." As if anyone doubted that fact. As if the urgency for war turned on questions about what Saddam would have done, had he not had sanctions, inspections, no-fly zones and the threat of war arrayed against him.

Certainly, there can be nobility in loyally sticking by a leader with whom one disagrees on this or that point of policy, but whose overall judgment one respects (as did Geogre Marshall with Truman). But the decision of whether to support the Bush administration's diversion of the "war on terrorism" into an audacious neo-imperial gamble in Iraq was perhaps the central policy choice of Colin Powell's career. For whatever reasons, Powell made the wrong choice -- and, as Sidney Blumenthal is right to point out, he was irrevocably diminished in the choosing.

Political News: optimism makes a comeback

The latest poll numbers are all looking good for Gen Clark. In New Hampshire, Clark has passed Kerry, and is gaining on a weakening Dean, according to the most recent ARG tracking poll. Meanwhile, Kos has new Iowa numbers showing Dean, Gephardt and Kerry all bunched within about 10 percentage points of one another (and Edwards possibly edging up as well). The leader's share is only around 30 percent.

If this distribution of support is more-or-less born out in the Iowa caucuses, the result will leave all three contenders there weakened: Dean, for not having won decisively, despite his front-runner status; Gephardt, for not having won at all, despite his regional advantages; and Kerry, for not having managed even a second-place showing behind Dean. Given the enormous amount of time and resources that all three campaigns have poured into Iowa, an inconclusive result such as this would damage the whole field, while leaving Clark's current momentum in New Hampshire unchecked.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Case for Clark

The New Republic's endorsement issue is out and "the Editors" have chosen Joe Lieberman. That this is not exactly a surprise, a number of bloggers have already pointed out -- notably Kos (for whom this only confirms the mag's utter irrelevance to the Democratic party) and CalPundit (who generously sifts some critical wheat from the mounds of intellectual chaff). It's about as newsworthy as would be the announcement that The Nation is endorsing Dennis Kucinich (which, to my knowledge, they haven't yet done) -- and about as germane to the Democratic primary debate.

Still, TNR (again like The Nation in this respect) remains worth reading, not for the ideological rigidity and sterility of its editorial pronouncements, but for the diversity of good writing that still finds a home there. And the endorsement issue honors that tradition with a set of four well-written alternative endorsements. Edwards, Gephardt and Dean each get spirited defenses from three talented writers (Michelle Cottle, Michael Crowley and Jonathan Cohn, respectively). But (what also will come as no surprise) it is the case for Wesley Clark, by managing editor J. Peter Scoblic, that I want to highlight here.

Scoblic's case for Clark is built, exclusively and unabashedly, on foreign affairs and foreign policy considerations. I found this refreshing. Gen Clark has convincingly shown (especially now with the release of his tax reform plan) that he can more than hold his own on domestic issues. I believe he will, with a little luck, make a fine President on economic, educational, health and environmental issues. But what will win this election for Clark, if he wins it (and I mean both the primary and general election), is his claim to be the best candidate to deal with our current set of challenges abroad.

Scoblic recognizes that this is so and, even more, that it ought to be so -- that the election of 2004 should turn, first and foremost, on the question of the direction this country is going to take in the world after 9-11. We are electing a Commander-in-Chief, the person who will, more than anyone else, powerfully shape our response to that question. Scoblic's endorsement of Clark, as he makes clear, is not only based on the fact that the General is the most electable Democrat on this particular set of issues, but also that he is the best candidate to take on this particular job. Says Scoblic: "All the talk about how Clark's biography makes him electable has overwhelmed the more important point: It would also make him a good president. ."

Scoblic makes a powerful case for Clark as a pragmatic internationalist who both wants America to promote, defend and live by its ideals abroad, and also knows how to pursue those ideals effectively in the face of complex, and often dangerous, international realities. Such a marriage of tough-minded, realistic judgment and generous, liberal principle once characterized the mainstream American diplomatic tradition at its best. It can be so again with Gen Clark, whose military career uniquely suits him to revivify that tradition in a post-Cold War, post-9-11 world. The entire essay should definitely be read, but I can't resist reproducing some of the highlights here, if only to give the flavor of the whole:

In the last decade, the specter of genocide arose twice in the Balkans; both times, Clark was instrumental in beating it back despite tepid support among political and military elites.

More than just an asset for Clark's political campaign, this diplomatic and military experience provides the brains and the brawn behind a worldview that prioritizes threats to U.S. security without sacrificing humanitarian imperatives, that seeks to solve problems through negotiation but is bolstered with a proven willingness to use force.

The question was never whether the world would be better off without Saddam--of course it is. The question was whether the costs of ousting him outweighed the benefits. And, on that question, the jury is still out.

Other Democrats may consider themselves courageous for sticking with their support for a war whose chief rationale has evaporated, but far more valuable are Clark's common sense and his ability to prioritize dangers--a crucial ability for a commander-in-chief who will face a broad spectrum of threats with finite military, financial, and diplomatic resources.

Ultimately, however, what makes Clark's multilateral approach feasible and sets it apart from his competitors' is less the approach itself than the fact that he would be the one implementing it. Clark, after all, essentially did in Europe what he says we ought to have done in Iraq--i.e., successfully wage a multilateral war such that it leaves us with allies committed to winning the peace.

[T]he general held the alliance together and forced Milosevic to back down. He was able to do so, he writes, not in spite of the strictures imposed by coalition warfare but because of them. When alliance leaders signed on to the mission, they became inextricably committed to its success.

Clark's call to multilateralize the occupation is therefore not simply an amorphous criticism of the Bush administration's handling of postwar Iraq. It's a recommendation grounded in Clark's position at the vanguard of post-cold-war military operations and peacekeeping.

Clark's multilateralism is pragmatic, not fetishistic. His foreign policy puts self-interest first while allowing for humanitarian interventions, emphasizes diplomacy and international institutions while reserving the right for unilateral action, and endorses the value of nonproliferation treaties while acknowledging their weaknesses.

While many of the Democratic presidential candidates might agree with the tenor of Clark's broad policy guidelines, it's not clear that they would be willing to back up the soft side of U.S. power with its harder edge. With Clark, on the other hand, there is little doubt.

Clark will have no trouble standing up to the four-stars. (If he was willing to do so when they were his superiors, he surely will be when they're his subordinates.) And the moral authority he will possess as commander-in-chief will make it harder for a GOP Congress to stymie a liberal internationalist agenda that emphasizes diplomacy and treaties as tools of U.S. security and sanctions military deployment for humanitarian purposes.

Clark may also be able to persuade the antiwar left of the merits of a true muscular multilateralism--not least through his proposal for a New American Patriotism, which aims to restore the pride that Democrats, disaffected by the Bush administration's jingoism, feel toward the flag.

I could not have said it better, so I won't even try.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

The Fruits of a Competitive Primary Season

Amidst continued positive reaction to Wes Clark's progressive income tax reform proposal (see e.g., these posts from Eric Alterman, Ruy Teixeira, Ezra Klein, and the inimitable South Knox Bubba) it appears that Howard Dean may be about to take the hint and reverse himself on his determination to repeal the middle-class portions of the Bush tax cuts. (Due credit: The Boston Globe link comes via Hesiod, who is far more sanguine about Dean's general election prospects than I am.)

If true, this is good news for Dr. Dean, the Democratic party, and the country. It also happens to be a fine example of what primary campaigns are good for, namely, political reality-testing. Primary campaigns are supposed to force the candidates to expose their ideas to debate, learn from citizens' judgments about that debate, and then refine those ideas so that they better match those judgments. Looks like that might actually be taking place here. (Whaddaya know? Once in a while the system works.) If so, the Dean campaign owes the Clark campaign a debt of gratitude for the useful provocation.

And not a moment too soon for the good Doctor, who has up until now stubbornly resisted both the political case (proposing to 'raise' taxes on middle-income voters would hand Rovenbush a big stick with which to beat the Democratic nominee) as well as the public policy case (the tax cuts at issue are precisely those that were included as a grudging concession to Democratic priorities) against full repeal. If Dean follows through reasonably soon on his change of heart, at least one of his major general election liabilities will have been removed.

There would remain, of course, a number of others that will not be so easy to neutralize.

Bad News and Good News From Iraq

Today's mortar attack on a U.S. base camp in the Sunni Triangle that resulted in 35 casualties (thankfully none fatal), and a fatal RPG attack on an Iraqi police unit in Kirkuk (covered in the same story), underscore the continued ability of the insurgency to strike effectively, both at our own forces and also at local elements who choose to cooperate with us. This continued vulnerability (together with growing signs of tension over the issue of Kurdish separatism) gives us plenty to worry about in the new year.

On the other hand, the WaPo also has this report confirming a story I first encountered in the Times back in mid-December that the 1st Marine Division, which will soon be replacing elements of the 82nd Airborn in the Sunni Triangle, intends to bring with it a radical change of tactics. The report notes that the Marine plan explicitly references, as a model for the Iraq counter-insurgency effort, the example of the Vietnam-era Combined Action Platoons (CAPs), whose "clear and hold" operations provided practically the only unalloyed success story for U.S. forces in that entire war. To say it again: a shift to such tactics as these stands a good chance of making a real difference on the ground in Iraq.

Not all Vietnam analogies are pessimistic.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Two Quick Notes of Welcome

First, a hearty welcome back to the Horse, freshly returned from winter pasture and as amusingly cantankerous as ever -- truly one of the pillars of the small but scrappy Tabloid Left.

Second, early indications are that Wesley Clark's introduction today of progressive tax reform as his campaign's "signature issue" seems to be going over well with left-leaning bloggers, both the Clark supporters among them, as well as the more neutral observers. And it's no wonder: as Mark Kleiman points out, the plan is surprisingly well thought-out for something produced in the heat of a campaign, and, as Matthew Yglesias notes, it's both sounder policy and better politics than the front-runner's plan.

I would add that the adoption of such a seriously progressive proposal by a credible challenger (neither Leiberman nor Kucinich is going to get anywhere near the Democratic nomination, as everyone but them seems to recognize) puts significant pressure on Dean to revise his unyielding adherence to fiscal rectitude at any price. (In fairness this is something the prolific Mr. Yglesias has already pointed out in the follow-up to his Tapped post over on his own blog. I'm really just hammering the point home here.)

This could easily become a significant factor in the primary campaign. If the Doctor fails to budge, he will find himself in the position that both Paul Tsongas and Jerry Brown did vis-à-vis Bill Clinton in 1992--that of having the putatively more conservative candidate running to his left on fiscal policy and economic justice issues. Clinton then (as Clark now) could do this quite convincingly without sacrificing his relatively more moderate profile on cultural/social matters. Such a flanking strategy, if successful, leaves the supposedly more liberal candidate in secure possession of only those supporters for whom maximum cultural/social liberalism trumps everything else. And that is not a viable majority, even in the Democratic primaries.

GOP Attack Plan Update

Quick follow-up on yesterday's post regarding right-wing offensive planning: Preparations for broadening the presently Dean-focused smear campaign to include Gen Clark are indeed well advanced and Digby is all over the story. Follow the RNC link in his post for the Gore-y details. I still maintain that Clark will, in the long run, make a tougher target than Dean (or, for that matter, any of the other Democratic contenders) and, in particular, that the Flip-Flopper and Bad General memes (which the RNC are obviously counting on as key parts of their arsenal) are so far out of line with the known facts that they are going to be difficult to revive convincingly--even allowing for the pervasive negligence of the SCLM and its occasional outright complicity with the VRWC.

In fact, I think you can glimpse some of the resulting desperation in two of the charges the RNC is fronting: The idea that being seen as a "Clinton crony" would hurt Clark in the general election is, I think, one of the more wistful GOP attack lines of recent memory. Even more telling is the fact that they've stooped (as it were) to highlighting something as pseudo-substantive as the claim that Clark makes "poor foreign policy decisions." This certainly suggests that the bag of dirty tricks may be getting uncomfortably light uncharacteristically soon, at least where Clark is concerned.

(A policy beef? On an RNC oppo sheet? Is that all you can conjure Rovenbush? Wait, don't answer that.)

Still, I confess that actually seeing these marching orders all drawn up and ready to go gives me a sinking feeling. This is not because I think the General can't take care of himself (on the contrary, he's rather convincingly shown he can), but because it serves as such a vivid reminder of just how ugly things are going to get before this is all over--no matter who the Dems put up. A Democrat can win in November but, whoever it is, he's going to have to walk through fire to get there. I just hope the Republic's period furnishings don't get too singed in the process.

PS: You may have noticed a certain change of scene here at the Junction. What happened is that I decided I'd gone long enough without a Permanent Links feature. Unfortunately, the LiveJournal "style" I was using previously does not support this feature, so I was compelled to exchange it for one that does. I found the new template a bit spartan at first but, after some hacking about in the source code, it now meets pretty much all my essential requirements (like having a title for instance), and I suppose it's not hideously ugly, so it stays.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

What Portends this Silence on the Right?

News from the Clarkista blogs: South Knox Bubba has gone and done a little recon in the right-wing blogspace and reports back that, while Howard Dean is taking a lot of flak, the right-wingers are largely silent on the subject of Wesley Clark. This silence on the right comes, I would add, despite the new seriousness with which the mainstream press is taking the Clark campaign, in light of his improving poll numbers in New Hampshire and robust Q4 fundraising. (Prometheus has the scoop).

What's going on? SKB raises two possibilities--either the right-wingers are discounting the possibility of a Clark challenge because they don't think he can win the Democratic primary, or else they're worried as hell he might win it, and are holding their fire in hopes of not drawing attention to, and thereby stoking up, the General's campaign. The first possibility seems a lot more likely to me: All the right-wing fire is trained on Dean at the moment because he is the front-runner. I have no doubt that if Clark breaks through, he will get the same treatment. As we learned during Clinton's impeachment, the right-wing appetite for destruction, once blood is in the water, just isn't the kind of beast that can be held back by strategic considerations.

That said, I do think SKB is right that Clark is going to be a much tougher target than Dean for the right-wing attack squads. No doubt some of them have already made their contingency plans for shifting quickly from anti-Dean fire to anti-Clark fire. But I suspect that the first volley, when it comes, is likely to be fairly weak. Look for an attempt to recycle the 'Iraq flip-flopper' and 'reckless self-promoter' memes that emerged in the first weeks of the General's campaign--but seem largely to have run their course with mainstream reporters and pundits, who are the primary audience for such attacks. In other words, I expect that Clark's emergence, when and if it comes, will catch the right-wingers at least partly off-balance--all the more since they are presently so enchanted by the prospect of hammering Howard Dean night and day for months on end.

PS: Just why have the two aforementioned anti-Clark memes lost so much of their steam in recent weeks? Well, this is ground I've covered before, but just to refresh our memories:

The 'reckless self-promoter' meme was largely based on Gen Hugh Shelton's charge (mindlessly echoed by Gen Tommy Franks) that Clark was asked to step down early as SACEUR because of 'character and integrity issues.' Since then, however, Shelton--having very publicly thrown down what is probably the ultimate insult from one military officer to another--has chosen to shut up, rather than put up. Clark, for his part, has explained the matter quite plausibly as the sequel to a sharp policy disagreement (over the Balkans) in which his views prevailed--and which Shelton took personally. As a result of Shelton's silence, and Clark's forthrightness, the charge wound up looking all-to-obviously like what Elizabeth Drew was the first to call it--a smear. Now smears, of course, are the bread-and-butter of the right-wing attack machine. But if you hope to keep a smear alive in the mainstream press, you have got to give mainstream journalists at least some basis in fact, no matter how thin, for regarding it as something more than a smear. And that just hasn't happened here.

As for the 'Iraq flip-flopper' meme: The problem here, I suspect, is that at least some reporters finally grew weary of just endlessly repeating the charge and, remembering that they were once trained in a profession called journalism, actually opened up a Web browser and started checking out some of the relevant facts. When they did this, they of course ran headlong into the public record of Gen Clark's September 2002 testimony before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. And that record (unfortunately for the meme) clearly shows Gen Clark warning Congress against a rush to war, and giving policy advice that anticipates, pretty much point-for-point, his post-war criticisms of Bush's Iraq policy. Flat contradiction in the public record is kind of a tough headwind for a meme to overcome.

PPS: South Knox Bubba is, for the time being, my new favorite blog. I base this judgment partly on the contents of its recent postings, partly on the logo, the disclaimer and the wonderful motto from Edward Abbey, but mostly on the magnificent Constitution of the Rocky Top Brigade. I'm not sure what "Democratic Republican Socialist Libertarianism" is exactly, but it sounds like something I can get behind 100%.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Making Democrats, Ignoring Independents

I've been poking around over at Daily Kos, hoping to find some Dean supporters to engage in friendly debate on the merits of Dean v. Clark. Mostly I've gotten the uneasy feeling that friendly debate might not go very far, so I've refrained from making much noise, feeling like something of an intruder (and certainly a late-comer). But I did come across this interesting if fundamentally wrong-headed post by one steina, extolling what s/he takes to be the Dean campaign strategy of "making Democrats" (in sharp contrast to a putative Clark strategy of, evidently, converting Republicans). I found the argument provocative in the good sense, and the writer's reasonable tone encouraged me to give it the old college try. Here are the results:

Dean Campaign Strategy: A Response

I have no idea of course what Dean's general election strategy actually is, but I sincerely hope, for the sake of our party, that you are wrong in thinking that he is pinning his hopes on a major infusion of new voters into the process, with him taking the lion's share of those new voters for the Democrats.

Please don't mistake me. It is a wonderful old dream of the Left that you are promoting, this creation of new Democrats from the great mass of nonvoters. And something like it has happened before--notably when FDR's first victory in '32 brought a wave of new voters, chiefly of Southern and Eastern European immigrant stock, into the Democratic coalition, boosting national turnout mightily in the process.

I hope we will see something like this happen again someday, perhaps when the present wave of immigrants comes to full citizenship. After all, 'Hispanic' turnout still notably lags that of both 'Whites' and 'African-Americans' nationally, while sunbelt swing states where Latin American immigrants are disproportionately concentrated remain near the bottom of the heap in turnout. I await with hope the national campaign--even if it proves to be a losing effort, like Al Smith's in '28--that heralds, in the rising turnout that accompanies it, the full arrival of the new immigrants upon the national political stage.

But, as we Clarkistas like to say, "Hope is not a plan." All the more is this true when hope is attended by fundamental illusions about the way things are. And there is none more fundamental, when it comes to national politics, than this picture you give of the potential electorate:

There are mainly three kinds of Americans, now. There are committed Republicans, committed Democrats, and people who aren't involved in the political process

Now I am bound to say that this is plain wrong, in a perfectly straightforward, empirical sense. You build your picture out of two well-known facts, but neglect a third, just as well known, that changes the picture entirely (I rely in what follows on numbers from the F.E.C. and the latest Pew Center research):

First, it is true that about half (though not, as you claim, 60%) of the voting age population does not routinely vote in presidential elections. This is indeed a pitifully high number, and it has been that way for a very long time. In the last two cycles, the percentage of nonvoters has been just below (in 2000) and just above (in '96) the 50% mark; in '92 it reached a twenty-year low of about 45%. It hasn't been down in 40% territory since the 1960's.

It is equally true, secondly, that today's voting age population is quite sharply divided when it comes to the presidential election choices of Democrats and Republicans. In 2000 exit polling data, 92% of Republicans went for Bush, while 89% of Democrats went for Gore. This pattern of partisan identification translating almost 1 for 1 into votes for the party's presidential candidate has unquestionably hardened in recent cycles.

But now comes the fact that you somehow completely ignore--and that is commonly ignored, I think, by people trying to make the case that Democrats should downplay their strategic emphasis on swing voters and/or swing states in 2004: For all the polarization between Democrats and Republicans, these two groups do not come close to dividing the electorate between them. On the contrary, there is a third group of voters that is equal to (or actually slightly larger than) the Democratic and Republican identified voting blocks. This third group is of course the Independents--the elephant in the room (pardon the metaphor) for any Democrat preaching a damn-the-center strategy.

So while it is true that about half of Americans vote and about half don't, and that Democrats and Republicans are both very committed to their presidential candidates, it by no means follows that the whole voting age population is made up of committed Democrats, committed Republicans and nonvoters. The voting age population is made up of committed Democrats, committed Republicans and Independents, who aren't terribly committed at all, but merely "lean" this or that way. It is also made up of voters and nonvoters. But these divisions do not map onto one another, they cut across one another. The Dem-GOP-Independent split is about the same among nonvoters as it is among voters.

It is because the presidential preferences of Independents have been so closely divided in recent years (they went 51/49 for Bush over Gore in 2000) that our elections have been as close as they have. With party affiliation now about even (the Dems having lost some ground since 9/11), Independents constitute the single most decisive third (plus) of the electorate. As they lean, within a percentage point or two, so leans the nation. Now because a point or two can be decisive in a close contest, the parties do well to mind their get-out-the-vote efforts. But to ignore the decisive role of Independents would be utterly ruinous. We are increasingly polarized because the parties are, but we are evenly divided because the Independents are.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Clark's Internationalism

Found en route to looking up other things: an interesting blog out of Philly called Dane Shelly's Point of View. Dane has a post both citing and questioning Clark's commitment to intervene abroad to stop ethnic cleansing. I believe Dane is a supporter of the Iraq war, and the post in question relied on Peter Boyer's distinctly unflattering New Yorker portrait of Clark. I despair at seeing obviously smart people uncritically recycling Boyer's attacks on Clark, but I detected none of Boyer's snide contempt in Dane's own post, so I thought it deserved an honest response, which I hereby repost (the title link goes to the original posting by Dane):

Confused Clark: A Response

Greetings Dane. I found your blog while tracking down links relating to my old teacher, John Schaar. Thanks for posting the link to the excerpt of his Patriotism piece. It's one of my favorites, and I know I have a hard copy filed away somewhere, but it's good to know that it is available online in some form.

I was also delighted to find another blogger who feels as passionately as I do about Sophia Coppola's astonishing Lost in Translation, and I was all set to comment on that post of yours, when I saw this one regarding Gen Clark.

I have to say that I think you will not be disappointed if you put your faith in Clark being the kind of liberal you can be proud of. The Boyer piece in the New Yorker was quite a mean-spirited hatchet job in my estimation, for it worked hard to put Clark's positions in the worst possible light, but I'm pretty sure Clark himself has taken the stand he has on Iraq for honorable reasons, and that he is quite serious about regarding imminent or ongoing ethnic cleansing or genocide as a sufficient causus belli.

My reasons for thinking this are several: Clark has in fact said that he would have intervened sooner and more decisively in Liberia than did Bush; he has expressed regret that we stood by and allowed genocide to go forward in Rwanda; he cites with approval the standard enunciated by a chastened Clinton, that when we can make a difference, we must try. Most convincingly, for me, Clark speaks with what I take to be deep and genuine passion when describing how the torment of the Bosnian Muslims, and later of the Kosovar Albanians, drove him to be the strong advocate that he was for decisive U.S. and NATO action.

Why then did he oppose the Iraq war? The lack of an imminent threat -- of either humanitarian catastrophe or direct danger to the U.S. or our allies -- is indeed the paramount reason he always cites. He further argues that there was (and is) important unfinished business with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that this should have remained the priority, as long as that transnational terrorist organization remains the preeminent threat to our national security.

But for all of that, Clark had (and has) no illusions about Iraq. Before the war, he strongly advocated keeping up, and even increasing the pressure on Saddam Hussein through the vigorous combination of force and international diplomacy. In this, he was essentially advocating the model used against Milosevic, and it is quite clear to me that he envisioned the possibility of that course leading eventually to war -- albeit a war that would have had far greater international backing and legitimacy (whatever the final role of the U.N.) and far better post-war planning.

Since the fall of the regime, moreover, Clark has repeatedly made the case to Democratic audiences that we must find a way to succeed in the effort to build a stable, legitimate and non-hostile state there -- regardless of the fact that the timing, manner and rationale for the war were all deeply flawed. His point is that although Iraq was not in truth a battle in the war on terror (for Clark, this was the basic deception at the heart of the Bush policy, the "bait and switch"), a failure to win the peace there would in fact hand Al Qaeda a huge victory -- both in terms of lost American prestige and, worse, by creating a failed state in the heart of the region, one that Al Qaeda could easily exploit as a new base of operations.

One last word (by way of explaining why I've troubled to write so many): I've been waiting a long time for a presidential candidate to come along who combines the ardent wish to live up to liberal principles both at home an abroad, with the ability to articulate and embody that desire as part of something like the inclusive, principled patriotism Prof. Schaar outlines in his essay. It might be wishful thinking on my part, or just a desperation born of dark times, but I think I see such a candidate in Wesley Clark.

Thanks for the opportunity to post these thoughts here, and best wishes to you on the New Year.