Commentary here will pause for a week – a bit of vacation, a week visiting family in Cincinnati. New commentary will resume on Thursday, September 4, or shortly thereafter – although there may be some shorter posts as possible.
Tuesday evening, August 26, it was impossible to avoid presidential politics, and Hillary Clinton spoke at the Democratic convention Denver – urging unity, lauding Obama, and trying to calm her angry supporters who would split the party in two and have McCain win to make their point, that Hillary should have been the nominee and the whole process was unfair, what with all those caucuses, and everyone else was a misogynist, and whatever Bill Clinton had said, he was not a racist at all, and maybe the callow inexperienced black boy was too uppity, or really a Muslim, or whatever. It was a mess, and one Hillary really couldn’t fix. The movement – dubbed PUMA (Party Unity, My Ass) – was small and getting smaller, but it made for good press. It was something to report, along with all the rumors that Bill Clinton was still seething and, even if he were to give a rousing unity speech the next night, would spend the rest of the fall dropping subtle stink-bombs that would destroy Obama – if Hillary couldn’t have the presidency, he’d make sure this upstart kid wouldn’t win it.
In short, the whole business was dreary. Those of us who were, at one time or another, teachers – even if we got out long ago – had a bit of déjà vu. We’d seen this before – it was junior high stuff. It has been twenty-eight years since I myself walked away from all that – and I never thought I’d see adults, and in this case those who would lead us in hard times, fall into such silliness. It’s embarrassing.
On the other hand, as the sole adult in that odd family, she did ask the basic question – “Were you in this campaign just for me?” The implication was clear – what the hell were you thinking? There are things to fix, and we cannot have more of what the Republicans have done, so it might be time to just grow up, as this is not junior high. That might work. But then, who really grows up?
On the other side of things, John McCain was out here the night before, on the other side of the hill in Burbank, at the NBC studios – over there between Warner Brothers and Disney – a guest on the Tonight Show, chatting with Jay Leno. They tape at 5:30 in the afternoon and it’s easy enough to get tickets to sit in the audience, if you drop by in the morning. But why do that? That also seemed dreary. And this was John McCain’s thirteenth appearance on the Tonight Show – more appearances than Arnold Schwarzenegger – he of the silly action movies and Kindergarten Cop and now our governor. Now McCain is tied at thirteen appearances with Pamela Anderson, Doctor Phil, Larry the Cable Guy, Simon Cowell, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. This is another form of silliness. Obama, the shallow world celebrity, has been on once. Go figure.
But if you’d like, you can have fun with the Leno interview. Nicole Belle offers a cool screen shot and opens the contest – Write Your Own Caption. If you’re going to be forced to consider the absurd, you might as well have a little fun.
Then, in the Boston Globe, there was this:
Former governor Mitt Romney, perhaps continuing his audition to be John McCain’s running mate, attacked Barack Obama today for making an issue out of McCain’s many homes.
Speaking to reporters at a lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, Romney said that while McCain deserved his houses because of the “hard work” of himself and his family, “Barack Obama got a special deal from a convicted felon.”
“I think it was a strange thing for Barack Obama to seize upon,” Romney said. “If homes is going to be the topic of discussion that Barack Obama is going to end up on the short end of that one.”
But the Globe is having none of that, saying Mitt (his actual first name is Willard, like the rat in the movie) is stretching the truth:
He was referring to Tony Rezko, a political fixer in Chicago and former Obama fund-raiser who was convicted by a federal jury earlier this year on corruption charges. It’s true that Obama bought a piece of land from Rezko’s wife to expand the yard of his $1.65 million Chicago home while Rezko was under federal investigation; Obama has since said the deal was a “bone-headed move,” given the cloud that was already surrounding his former patron.
There is no evidence, however, that the Obamas got any “special deal” engineered by Rezko. Obama was able to buy the place thanks to two best-selling books and the six-figure salaries he and his wife were both earning.
But Mitt was doing his junior high thug thing:
In Denver to help lead the Republicans’ counterprogramming, Romney, for good measure, also dropped the name of Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical activist in Chicago with whom Obama has been associated in the past, as part of a broader assault on Obama’s background and experience.
See Andrew Sullivan:
… it was rather bizarre to hear him say that John McCain deserves all his houses/mansions/compounds because of the “hard work” of McCain and his wife. McCain, to my knowledge, has never had a private sector job – unless you count working for his father-in-law – and his wife is a largely absentee heiress to her father’s beer fortune. They inherited their fabulous life-style, and did nothing to earn it, unlike Mitt. For good measure, Romney, McCain and Bush were all products of the affirmative action called rich-and/or-powerful daddy. Obama did it all with no father and no inheritance. But he’s the elitist. Their chutzpah is enough to drive you up the wall.
And then there was the fallout from Michelle Obama’s speech, where at the end, she did say the world was not perfect and some things needed to be done. Now if she had said she hates America that might cause some problems. But then she didn’t say that, or anything like that, but Fox News pretended she sort of did, or might have – arguing that saying things needed attention might mean that she sort of did still hate America, and was clearly an Angry Black Woman. Yeah, whatever…
Josh Marshall adds an interesting question:
Why did the Democrats let Fox News be in charge of the camera feeds for all the news networks?
Can’t get my head around that one.
At the moment, Fox News has cut away from Mark Warner’s keynote address to show Sean Hannity and Rudy Giuliani talking about Bill Ayers.
It’s all nonsense, and other things were happening:
QARAH TAPPAH, Iraq (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of police recruits in northern Iraq on Tuesday killing 28 people, in an attack that showed that parts of Iraq have yet to see the security gains felt elsewhere.
And in case you hadn’t noticed, (1) Pakistan’s government has collapsed (Musharraf had held things together, if nothing else), and (2) Iraq’s Prime Minister reaffirmed the need for a hard timeline for all US troops to leave Iraq, and (3) the Iraqi Prime Minister has also cut oil deals with China and Russia, and (4) the Russians have officially recognized independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and (5), in the wake of yet another airstrike killing dozens of civilians in Afghanistan…
Frustrated by the mounting toll of civilian deaths from U.S. and NATO airstrikes in Afghanistan, the government of President Hamid Karzai called Tuesday for a full-scale review of foreign-led military operations in the country.
As dday says at Hullabaloo:
We’re still in junior high. The rest of the world is not.
Out here in The Los Angeles Times, Shawn Brimley and Colin Kahl, once again, here, tell us that, in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite government is refusing to incorporate former Sunni militiamen into Iraq’s security forces – and that this may soon lead to a renewed outbreak of insurgency. This matters more than the tantrums in Denver:
The “surge” strategy in Iraq, as described by President Bush in January 2007, rested on the belief that tamping down violence would provide a window of opportunity that Iraq’s leaders would use to pursue political reconciliation. But this has not occurred, despite the dramatic security improvements. Indeed, if the problem in 2006 and 2007 was Maliki’s weakness and inability to pursue reconciliation in the midst of a civil war, the issue in 2008 is his overconfidence and unwillingness to entertain any real accommodation with his political adversaries. America’s blank check to the Iraqi government feeds this hubris.
Kevin Drum comments:
This problem repeats itself constantly in debates over Iraq policy: no matter what happens, there’s a reason to continue doing what we’re doing. If Maliki is too weak, he can’t compromise with the Sunnis. But now he’s too strong, so he doesn’t have to compromise with the Sunnis. In either case American troops need to stick around. Likewise, when violence is high, we have to stay to crush it out. But when violence is low, we can’t leave because the peace is so fragile. Elections, ditto. Infrastructure, ditto. Regional squabbles, ditto. It’s never quite the right time for us to leave.
Brimley and Kahl, like a lot of others, are convinced that there’s still some kind of magical middle ground where Maliki is a strong enough leader to enforce his will on a fractured country but a weak enough leader that the U.S. can exert meaningful leverage over him. Unfortunately, this is almost certainly a delusion. That middle ground is a target about an inch wide and nearly impossible to hit, let alone keep our balance on for long. So what happens when Maliki decides it’s time to consolidate Shiite power?
Drum cites Joe Klein:
The question now is: what can – or should we do about this? Whose side are we on if Maliki launches the crackdown? Brimley and Kahl think we can influence Maliki’s behavior by threatening to withhold U.S. military support – but that may be exactly what the overconfident Maliki wants. Then again, what choice do we have? I doubt that even John McCain will argue that the role of the US military will be to defend the Sons of Iraq in the coming battle.
My guess is that the end result in Iraq is an authoritarian Maliki- or military-led Shiite government, less toxic than Saddam Hussein’s, which will stand closer to Iran than to Saudi Arabia in the regional Sunni-Shiite contest. The war in Iraq will not have been “lost,” but can this be reasonably described as “victory?” I think not. It can be best described as a terrible, shameful waste of lives and resources.
Drum’s position is that one way or another, “Iraqis are going to solve Iraq’s problems.” In short – “Our presence only puts off that day, it doesn’t eliminate it.”
Marc Lynch has much more on this:
The Awakenings experience demonstrates the limits of American influence over the Iraqi government – months of sustained, intense pressure on Maliki to integrate the Sons of Iraq into the Security Forces has produced remarkably little results, and now Maliki is cracking down on a pillar of Gen. Petraeus’s strategy against al-Qaeda. This should be another nail in the coffin of the popular idea that improving security will lead the Iraqi government to make political accommodations with its rivals. Quite the opposite – much more on that coming soon, I promise.
It gets complicated, but a key passage is this:
If this is indeed the showdown, and – in the words of the influential ISCI leader Jalal al-Saghir – “the Awakenings have no future in Iraq”, then what’s going to happen? It could shape up into a real world test of two competing hypotheses: ‘we don’t need to accommodate those hoodlums’ (Maliki, Gen. Keane) versus ‘they can cause a lot of trouble if not accommodated’ (Petraeus and Odierno, among many others). The first position basically assumes that the Awakenings are the remnants of a spent force, unwilling and unable to go back to the insurgency, which can be easily bought off with jobs or ignored. The second basically assumes that the Awakenings represented a choice made by the insurgency factions, which could go back to the insurgency if it had to.
But for all the detail and sources cited, Lynch says we do have a basic problem here:
What if that battle is joined, but the “former Awakenings” (“the once and future insurgency?”) choose not to turn those guns against their American “friends” but concentrate exclusively on the Iraqi government. Which side does the US support? The Awakenings movement which it has built and cultivated – or the Iraqi government which it has built and cultivated? Could get messy.
No kidding. What happens in Denver and in the NBC studios in Burbank is oddly fascinating to many, but so was junior high.
As for our little mistake in Afghanistan, with sixty children dead, that could have been an accident, or a mistake, or we were being played:
How the military came to call in air strikes on a civilian gathering still remains unclear. Two parliamentarians, Mr. Safi and Maulavi Gul Ahmad, who is from the area, said the villagers blamed tribal enemies for giving the military false intelligence.
“According to the villagers their enemies give false report to Americans that foreign fighters were gathering in the village,” Mr. Safi said.
Someone figured out how to use our airpower to settle local scores, and let us take the blame.
Andrew Sullivan, again, adds useful perspective:
… sometimes, it seems to me the US needs to better understand the psychological impact of an event like this on populations Americans are trying to win over. Imagine if an airstrike from a foreign power killed 60 American children – even in an accident. It would be an historic event that would be seared into the Western consciousness forever. And yet, US bombs just killed exactly that number and the odds are: this is the first time you heard about it.
And of course others take advantage:
Russia, at odds with the United States and much of the West over its recognition of two breakaway regions in the Central Asian country of Georgia, said it would raise the issue on Tuesday afternoon at the Security Council.
And see Tass:
Moscow “is seriously concerned about a new case of mass death of civilians in Afghanistan and expresses sincere condolences to the families of those killed”. The ministry “urges the command of the foreign military contingents deployed in Afghanistan to take all measures to prevent such ‘indiscriminate’ strikes that lead to the loss of human life among civilians”.
As Sullivan says – “From the people who brought you the Chechnya war.”
So the Russians are now a problem. John McCain is on the case, calling for us to stand up to them over the matter of the territorial integrity of Georgia, saying “we are all Georgians now.”
Over at Real Clear Politics, Rod Dreher argues that this is pure nonsense:
We are? Spare me. You couldn’t find one American in a thousand who could locate Georgia on a map, but the Republican hothead who would be president is ready to bind America’s sacred honor to the place. And more than our sacred honor, our military might, too. Mr. McCain, a tempestuous Russophobe to the marrow, demanded that the US accelerate efforts to bring Georgia into NATO, thus extending a tripwire for war with Russia to Moscow’s southern border. Because, you know, having conquered Iraq and Afghanistan while barely breaking a sweat, we’re rested and ready to let an adventurous Caucasus nation led by a nut shown on TV chewing on his cravat drag us into World War III.
Yes, see this video clip making the rounds – from the BBC, Georgian President Saakashvili deep in a serious conversation trying to save his heroic little country, while stuffing his necktie in his mouth and chewing on it. It is a tad disturbing.
Dreher has this analogy:
You don’t have to find Vladimir Putin a sympathetic figure to appreciate what the world looks like from a Russian point of view. Imagine that America had lost the Cold War and gone through a decade of economic and social collapse. During this time, a victorious Soviet Union had brought several Central American nations into the Warsaw Pact and was trying to fast-track Mexico’s entry. Would we feel threatened?
Well, yes, but we’re all still in junior high:
One would have hoped Barack Obama would meet Russia’s aggression with a more balanced, realistic response. Mr. McCain’s reckless anti-Russian huffing and puffing sent a strong signal that a vote for Mr. McCain is, at least on foreign policy, a vote for a third Bush term. If there’s one thing that makes Mr. Obama’s knee-jerk liberalism on social issues tolerable, it’s the thought that a President McCain would lead the country into more and worse wars.
Instead, Mr. Obama me-too’d his way into Mr. McCain’s shadow, joining the call for Georgia’s NATO membership to go forward. Thus did Mr. Obama prove himself to be about as useful as the congressional Democrats who, having come to power in 2006 promising to bring the unpopular Iraq war to a close, went on to give President Bush all the money he asked for to fight it.
What is it with the Democrats? Are they so afraid of being baited by the Republicans as cowards that they sign on to any foolish policy proposed by GOP jingoes?
Or is something deeper going on here?
He cites Andrew Bacevich, arguing that we’re trapped in our knee-jerk emotional reactions:
Argue for the proposition that not every fight across the globe is properly America’s, and you set yourself up for being called soft on tyranny. Who wants to vote for a squish? A poll out last week found that, 2-to-1, Americans believe Mr. McCain is better able to deal with a resurgent Russia than Mr. Obama.
Are Americans thinking through the implications of all this? No.
Most Americans endorse that confrontational stance. Note that less than one percent of Americans serve in the military, which would have to do the fighting and dying should the tie-eating Thomas Jefferson of Tbilisi decide to keep poking the nuclear-armed Russian bear. That’s not a coincidence.
Perhaps we need to grow up.
Also see Matthew Yglesias:
I think a lot of people have a tendency to wave the flag of “morality” or “idealism” in foreign policy as a way of evading responsibility for the consequences of their ideas. At the extreme, I think everyone agrees with this. There would have been nothing “moral” about it if Dwight Eisenhower had taken an “idealistic” stand over Hungary in 1956 and wound up causing a nuclear war. Nor would the fact that the resulting war would, in an important sense, have been the result of immoral Soviet actions really done a great deal to exculpate Eisenhower. There’s nothing new about this idea, it’s all in Max Weber’s “Politics as a Vocation” where he says that in the political domain we need an ethic of responsibility, where you put forth initiatives that actually lead to good consequences.
In foreign policy, this is the animating ideal behind Lieven & Hulsman’s concept of Ethical Realism which despite some disagreements on policy specifics, I think is generally the right way to think about this stuff.
When I say that maintaining a good relationship with Russia and China so as to allow for progress on nuclear proliferation, climate change, and international terrorism rather than a new era of cold wars and proxy conflict is so important that we need to let some other stuff slide, I’m not saying we need to set morality aside in order to pursue our interests. I’m saying that, morally speaking, the one course is better than the other.
Trying to promote a world in which peaceful cooperation and commerce predominate over coercion and violent conflict is a profoundly moral approach, even if it at times requires people to temper the natural human instinct toward moralistic posturing.
But that’s no fun. We watch our presidential race and remember junior high.
So, is Bill Clinton still angry, and what will he do?