If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb – as the useless bit of folk wisdom goes. The opposite is supposed to be equally true. This seems to have something to do with weather in the spring, other than in Southern California, being a bit changeable – as they say out here, we don’t have weather, we just have nuance. But then many extend this March observation beyond the weather. Things may seem bad, but thirty-one days later they will seem better, or will actually be better. Or you think that things are going reasonably well, but you just wait – thirty-one days later you’ll be somewhere between panic and depression as your whole world falls apart. The lion-lamb thing then is just an expression of the idea that you shouldn’t be sure of anything – your assumptions are foolish, all assumptions are foolish, and feeling smug and comfortable with things is as silly as being all worried about everything. Just give up, or at least roll with it all. Oh yeah – and then comes April, what Eliot called the cruelest month, “breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.” You just cannot win, it seems.
Maybe March 2008 came in like a lion in America – there was lots of turmoil, what with that “who really should answer the phone at the White House at three in the morning” business, and all the arguments about the administration’s need to intercept and record all data traffic from everyone without warrants, and the even greater need to make sure the telecommunications companies who broke the law to help that to happen receive retroactive and prospective immunity for what they did. It was curious – people on all sides of both issues got angry. Maybe the month did come in like a lion. It all passed.
And the month ended – Monday, March 31, 2008 – with a sense of things winding down, of things coming to a conclusion. It ended like a lamb.
There was the inevitable resignation – “HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, his tenure tarnished by allegations of political favoritism and a criminal investigation, announced his resignation Monday amid the wreckage of the national housing crisis.”
Jackson, at Housing and Urban Development, was the last of the old Texas crew. The guy had publicly questioned why Housing and Urban Development contracts “should reward someone who doesn’t like the president,” and did so repeatedly, and proudly. Punishing the city government in Philadelphia for not awarding a contract to one of his friends, cutting off key funding to the city because it went with the low bidder, seems to have been the last straw. The Republican senator from the state had had quite enough. Jackson may be an old Texas buddy of the president – but both Republicans and Democrats knew it was time for this clown to go. Bush can pout. It doesn’t matter.
So that’s over – as foreclosures nationwide hit an all-time high and home prices continued to fall like a rock, stripping most families of the equity they were using to finance most of their major purchases.
And the new major combat in Iraq also seemed to be over. The prime minister decided the official government should take back the south, mainly the oil port of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, from the warlords and militias, from that Sadr fellow in particular. That didn’t go well, even if we provided air support and the Brits shelled area they were told to shell. It ended in a stalemate, an ambiguous truce – a truce brokered by Iran, not by us. It was very odd.
And it wasn’t much of a truce – “Rockets fell on the Green Zone and random machine gun fire rang out Monday in the southern city of Basra as Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr sought to rein in his militia after a week of battles that claimed about 400 lives.”
The Green Zone is the site of the government, where the prime minister, Maliki, works. Think of it as Iraq’s DC – and think of Maliki as a goner.
The New York Times offered this:
The continuing fighting on Sunday left the ultimate significance of the statement uncertain, said Qassim Daoud, a former national security adviser who leads a secular Shiite party that has supported Mr. Maliki in the past. But the muddle that has emerged from what was supposed to be a decisive assault has serious consequences for the prime minister, Mr. Daoud said.
“The government now is in a weak position,” he said. “They claimed that they are going to disarm the militias and they didn’t succeed.”
Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud paused and said, “Everything is possible.”
Or consider this from the Washington Post:
A fighter from Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Baghdad, speaking to The Washington Post, sees things similarly: “The fighting has proved they have learned a lesson. The government is dead from our point of view.”
The general consensus seems to be that the Iran-brokered truce has damaged Maliki’s position badly. In Der Spiegel Bernhard Zand reports this:
The Americans’ portrayal of Sadr has also changed. The Evil One of the last civil war, a man wanted by authorities and dubbed the “most dangerous man in Iraq” by Newsweek, has been repackaged as a leader to whom General Petraeus now attests a sense of responsibility. US military officials speaking on Iraqi television refer to him respectfully as “His Excellency Muqtada.”
They know that they owe their successes partly to his withdrawal, and still do today. “Sadr is not the enemy,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker said last week in Baghdad. The Americans, he added, are battling “special groups” and “extremist military elements” that Sadr apparently “doesn’t have under control.” But this is not the view of Sadr’s Iraqi rivals, who now seek to deprive him of his power.
The main bad guy is now not the main bad guy. Things are changeable in March.
And the Middle East expert Juan Cole points out that Maliki was betrayed:
A parliamentary delegation from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s own coalition (mainly now the Da’wa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) defied him by going off to the holy seminary city of Qom in Iran and negotiating directly with Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr and with the leader of the Quds Brigades of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen. Qasim Sulaymani.
As a result of those parleys, Muqtada al-Sadr called on his followers to stand down, though I read his statement as permitting continued armed self-defense, as at Basra where the Iraqi Army is attacking them and the US is bombing them.
Well, Cole reads Arabic and Farsi, so he is plugged in. He seems to think both Maliki and the United States are losing here:
The entire episode underlines how powerful Iran has become in Iraq. The Iranian government had called on Saturday for the fighting to stop. And by Sunday evening it had negotiated at least a similar call from Sadr (whether the fighting actually stops remains to be seen and depends on local commanders and on whether al-Maliki meets Sadr’s conditions).
But the real story behind the “elaborate negotiations” that led to Muqtada al-Sadr issuing a statement in Najaf and asking his partisans to stand down in Baghdad and Basra is even odder. Leila Fadel of McClatchy has the details:
Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran’s Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.
….The Iraqi lawmakers held talks with Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Qods (Jerusalem) brigades of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and signed an agreement with Sadr, which formed the basis of his statement Sunday, members of parliament said.
Ali al Adeeb, a member of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s Dawa party, and Hadi al Ameri, the head of the Badr Organization, the military wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, had two aims, lawmakers said: to ask Sadr to stand down his militia and to ask Iranian officials to stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.
… The Qom discussions may or may not bring an end to the fighting but they almost certainly have undermined Maliki – who made repeated declarations that there would be no negotiations and that he would treat as outlaws those who did not turn in their weapons for cash. The blow to his own credibility was worsened by the fact that members of his own party had helped organize the Iran initiative.
“The delegation was from the United Iraqi Alliance (dominated by the Da’wa party and the Supreme Council of Iraq), and the Prime Minister was only informed. It was a political maneuver by us,” said Haider al Abadi, a legislator from Maliki’s Dawa party.
So the underlings and the spokesman for the Badr Army – the “good” militia, as it is the military arm of the party we help put on power – end up in Iran talking to Sadr. The Peace of the Lamb is brokered in Iran, by all sides, which are nicely aligned with Iran, by Iran. What are we doing in the neighborhood? And what good is this Nouri al Maliki chap?
Kevin Drum reacts:
Two comments. First: what a humiliation for Maliki. Not only did he blink first, but afterward his own people publicly undermined what little authority he had left. Yeesh.
Second: the head of the Badr Organization sure does seem to have, um, remarkably speedy access to the head of Iran’s Qods force, doesn’t he? It’s something to ponder the next time some Bush administration or US Army spokesperson casually maligns Sadr as “Iranian backed” but maintains a discreet silence when it comes to the far deeper and longer-lived Iranian ties of Maliki’s own Da’wa/Badr alliance. Just sayin’.
And where do we fit? See this excerpt from a war journal of a soldier in Iraq:
The American GI received the same stare forty years ago in rice paddies while hunting down Charlie. Billy Yank felt it on his back while he Marched to the Sea with Sherman, saving our nation from itself. Redcoat Sally came to understand it in a Boston town square, while a brave new world teetered on Revolution. Hell, Jesus’ family – if not the Master Messiah himself – unleashed it at more than a few Roman Legionnaires, I’m sure. It’s the same look any foreign power – or more accurately, the flexed bicep of said foreign power, the soldier – gets when a majority of the local populace feels that they’ve overstayed their welcome, if such a welcome ever existed in the first place.
Telling them we know what is best and that they need to start relying on their own government and police so we can leave and everyone wins and that any help we can and do provide at least offers a new spring in a land of endless, destitute winters doesn’t often have the effect you think it would. Or should. Or could.
Iraq is so over. The month ends.
And things seemed to be pretty much over for Hillary Clinton as the month ended. You got headlines like this – Clinton Says Obama Wants to Stop Votes. She wants the non-sanctioned Florida primary to count, and the non-sanctioned Michigan one where she had a different view of the rules and she was the only one who left her name on the ballot. This smacks of desperation.
And she wants this to go all the way to the convention in late August, to the Credentials Committee, where as the ultimate insider, as her husband was the last Democratic president, she knows she has friends. Obama by that time may have won the most states, and may have the most delegates, and may have won the popular vote – that’s the obvious math – but she has the party by the balls. Except, as March ended, it seems she doesn’t:
If the fight over whether to count the results in Florida and Michigan makes it to the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton will not have enough pledged votes on the 169-member Credentials Committee to deliver a majority decision in her favor, according to an analysis conducted for Politico.
Oops. The month ended badly for her.
She may yet get the endorsement of John Edwards, for what that’s worth. John Heilemann in New York Magazine says Obama blew his chance for that endorsement:
According to a Democratic strategist unaligned with any campaign but with knowledge of the situation gleaned from all three camps, the answer is simple: Obama blew it. Speaking to Edwards on the day he exited the race, Obama came across as glib and aloof. His response to Edwards’s imprecations that he make poverty a central part of his agenda was shallow, perfunctory, pat. Clinton, by contrast, engaged Edwards in a lengthy policy discussion. Her affect was solicitous and respectful. When Clinton met Edwards face-to-face in North Carolina ten days later, her approach continued to impress; she even made headway with Elizabeth. Whereas in his Edwards sit-down, Obama dug himself in deeper, getting into a fight with Elizabeth about health care, insisting that his plan is universal (a position she considers a crock), high-handedly criticizing Clinton’s plan (and by extension Edwards’s) for its insurance mandate.
But over at the New Republic you’ll find this observation (this link sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t):
I got the impression Edwards’s calculations were mostly dictated by – surprise! – self-interest. Early on, he wasn’t sure Obama was tough enough to beat Hillary. Or to reassure voters and superdelegates that he’d be able to win the general. And what good does it do you to endorse a guy who’s going to lose?
Since then, Obama’s obviously become the favorite to win the Democratic nomination, which has changed Edwards’s calculus. The risk is no longer endorsing a guy who may lose. (At least in the primaries.) It’s that you won’t get credit for helping Obama win. Endorsing Obama at this point would basically mean jumping on a bandwagon, and there’s no percentage in that. So I’m guessing Edwards is biding his time until there’s a moment when his endorsement would matter–for example, when it could help bump Hillary from the race. (Say, after a loss in the North Carolina primary.)
All she may have left is Fox News, and Richard Melon Scaife – the man who once spent millions on the Clinton Project, ten years of claiming she was a murderer. And see this video clip of her Pennsylvania campaign head, the governor there, Ed Rendell:
I think during this entire primary coverage, starting in Iowa and up to the present – FOX has done the fairest job, and remained the most objective of all the cable networks. You hate both of our candidates. No, I’m only kidding. But you actually have done a very balanced job of reporting the news, and some of the other stations are just caught up with Senator Obama, who is a great guy, but Senator Obama can do no wrong, and Senator Clinton can do no right.
She wants the Bill O’Reilly crowd? Are they more useful than Democrats? Can she argue she’d bring in the pro-Bush people? This also smacks of desperation.
And there’s the matter of her campaign running out of money, in the most ironic way as Politico reports:
Among the debts reported this month by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s struggling presidential campaign, the $292,000 in unpaid health insurance premiums for her campaign staff stands out.
So much for universal health care – but her folk say that the check is now in the mail.
But then the month also ended with this – they finally finished up the post-primary caucuses in Texas. Obama won the most delegates – she won the popular vote, but he won what matters, the delegates. So much for that. And Eliot says April is the cruelest month.
Then there are the polls – Gallup Daily: Obama Holds Lead Over Clinton, 51% to 43% – and this is the longest stretch as front-runner for either candidate since late February. Add this detail – all Democrats and all Republicans polled say McCain would have a tough time beating Obama, but not beating Clinton. There goes another of her arguments.
Still there’s hope, as Media Matters for America reports – Scarborough on Obama’s “dainty” bowling performance: “Americans want their president, if it’s a man, to be a real man!” It seems that during the March 31 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist really laid into him. Obama went bowling in Altoona and bowled a score of 37 out of 300. Like Dukakis in the tank in wearing the goofy helmet, that’s all she wrote. This may help her. It may not. It’s the bowling test. And on April third she appears on the Jay Leno show – Leno may show the bowling clip.
But at Politico, the reporting is that the signs are not good:
Describing the mood in Washington, a top Democratic strategist who supports Clinton said: “There’s a little bit of a deathwatch going on. Instead of, ‘Who’s going to win?’ the chatter is, ‘How’s it going to unfold?’”
The strategist added: “There is general panic among Democrats. The big question is: Does she walk to the door, or is she shown to the door?”
That’s one of her supporters?
Readers comment at Andrew Sullivan’s site:
Say what you will about the Clintons, they are not stupid. They know that their only chance of winning the nomination is some of kind of major event. The fact is though the odds of this major event are greater than zero. Therefore, there is no reason for her to quit. If I was in her shoes, I wouldn’t either – fate is a funny thing. Their plan is to go through all of the primaries (6/4). At that point many of the super delegates will start breaking for Obama in large numbers and it really will be over for her. At that point, she will quit and endorse Obama.
However, since this is her plan, she can’t admit that or nobody will vote for her in the remaining primaries or give her money. Therefore in order to give her delegates faint hope and keep them in line now until the end, she has to talk about the convention, Michigan and Florida, pledged delegates switching, etc. This is all a smokescreen.
Another reader adds this:
It was a beautiful thing to see — because the moment a presidential candidate is forced to vow that he or she isn’t quitting, you know they are toast.
So the month ends, in a whimper, not a bang. Hey, that’s also T. S. Eliot.
Of course at Slate you can visit The Hillary Deathwatch – Christopher Beam has his Rodhameter for Hillary Rodham Clinton. The graphic of her on the Titanic is cute. March 2008 ended with this:
Lots of Clinton news over the weekend, not all bad – but bad enough to dock her another 0.6 points in the Rodhameter, bringing her chances of winning to 9.7 percent.
It’s over. The month is over with three endings – on to cruel April.