Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Why Democratic officials need Democrats

The Democratic Party's current position requires the Democrats in the Senate and House to fight for the restoration of Constitutional government to maximize their own partisan itnerests as well as the people's interests.

Whether they will do so will be largely a function of what kind of signals they get from the Demcratic base. Because some of the ideas and practices that have caused the Dems to stagnate in many ways over the years are still on auto-pilot.

For instance, we had Presidential contender Joe Biden trapsing down to South Carolina to try to impress a bunch of Republican white guys by criticizing his own party and also by assuring them he appreciates
the traditional values of the Old Confederacy. He later backed off from those comments.

Yes, I'm sad to say that's the Joe Biden who is now the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The one we realy on to be conducting extensive hearings and asking tough questions and seriously demanding the White House honor subpeonas and so forth.

Instead, he goes down to South Carolina to tell a bunch of Republicans who won't vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in a thousand years and tells them, "America needs, and I need, for the Republican Party to get back up. There’s not a single problem out there that cannot be solved without a bipartisan coalition.”

He needs the Republican Party to "get back up"? Since now they only control the Executive Branch, which claims its not obliged to follow the law or the Constitution, and also the federal judiciary? No, what we really need is for Democratic leaders to just shut up with stuff like this and concentrate on their Congressional oversight jobs.

These two articles from the San Francisco Chronicle 12/04/06,
Diplomacy seen as essential, but difficult by Matthew Stannard and Bush digs in at pivotal point in Iraq war by Carolyn Lochhead, give a good look of three of the Democratic Party's problems in dealing with the Iraq War over the next two years: political inertia, the authoritarian Republican Party's commitment to the war and a dysfunctional American press corps.

Political inertia

Lochhead quotes Charles Kupchan from the Clinton administration's National Security Council staff, offering a pre-emptive excuse for the Democrats to duck confronting the Iraq War issue:

The bottom line is that the president still holds the cards. Even though the Democrats won the midterms, they're not yet in control of Congress, they're not yet in control of the committees, and even though I expect the discussion next week to be very testy, Democrats can do little more than scream and shout and jump up and down.
This has become much too typical of a lazy Democratic attitude that still has far too much influence. The Dems are taking control of both Houses of Congress after an election in which they Iraq War was the single most important issue. A large majority of the public wants an early exit from Iraq. The Cheney-Bush administration is vulnerable to the revelations from Congressional investigations on so many fronts it's hard to count them.

And it's Bush that "holds the cards"? Say what?

I have a little more sympathy with serving elected officials, whose normal tendency is to step carefully around issues as controversial and volatile as the Iraq War. There's a terrible tendency to try to kick the can down the road in hopes that you can win points from one side while minimizing controversy from the other. For instance, California's staunchly Democratic Congressman George Miller spelled out the cautious, kick-the-can approach for Lochhead:

"I think we have an obligation to have the hearings so we can ask the questions the Republicans refused to ask, the hearings they wouldn't have, and I think we can do it in a very expeditious fashion," Miller said. "Then we'll have to come to a conclusion, given the evidence that's been presented to date."

Miller said he wants a U.S. troop withdrawal to start in six months.

"Clearly there are people in our caucus who would be shorter or longer," he said. "But hopefully the hearings and the actions in both the House and the Senate will be helpful."

Miller ruled out cutting off funding for the war.

"I don't think you're at that point yet," he said. "I certainly don't think you're at that point before you have an opportunity for the Democrats who are most deeply involved in terms of their committee jurisdiction having a chance to take a look at it under their stewardship."
Not necessarily a bad position the month prior to taking over the Congressional leadership. But after the Democratic-led Congressional Committees have had their "chance to take a look at it under their stewardship", how hard they press for answers and results will depend to a very large degree on pressure from the base.

Because even though I'm willing to give George Miller the benefit of the doubt here in December based on his solid previous record, I really don't see why the Democrats need to tiptoe around the issue of de-funding the war. What, are they afraid the Republicans might now criticize them if they suggest imposing deadlines? The Republican campaign this year was already calling them defeatists, "Defeatocrats" and allies of The Terrorists. Is he worried the Reps might really insult them now?

And this "begin withdrawal in six, four, twelve months" business is nonsense. The Iraq War has long since been doing the United States more harm than good. And the amount of control that the US can exercise of the outcome may not be negligible. But it's not that great either. If anything, the US would have more influence on Iraqi developments after withdrawing than with 140,000+ American troops on the ground there.

We need to start withdrawing now and plan to get all the combat troops preferably within six months. We also need to be aware that the situation is deteriorating so fast that we may not have the option to select the time length of the US withdrawal.

Republican support for Bush's War and the dysfunctional press corps

These are separate but closely related phenemena. The partisan Republican outlets - OxyContin radio, FOX News, the many Republican advocacy groups - spew out new defenses for the war and attacks on war critics nonstop. The Establishment press not only picks up on many of those. They also are operating on so many war-friendly and Republican-friendly scripts that they reinforce the Republican spin on events even without copying the partisan press.

Lochhead gives the Republican-friendly (and lazy-Democratic-friendly) view about the nomination of Robert Gates for Secreatary of Defence:

This week, they'll grill Gates on his plans, hopeful that unlike Rumsfeld, he is not wedded to past mistakes. A CIA director under former President George H.W. Bush, Gates is viewed as a member of the realist Republican school rather than the neoconservatives who backed the invasion of Iraq. He has called for engagement with Syria and Iran, an approach the Iraq Study Group is also expected to recommend even though the Bush administration long has spurned those nations.

Democrats hope Gates will tip the White House balance of power, allying with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice against Vice President Dick Cheney, who was allied with Rumsfeld.
The guy was also known as someone who is willing to bend intelligence findings for pure propaganda purposes and engaged in at best questionable conduct in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. Democrats, in this spin, are supposed to assume the compliant role of asking a few questions, approving Gates and then putting confidence in the new Republican DefSec as a political and policy ally within the administration.

Meanwhile, who is going to confront the problems of the Iraq War? Why, those responsible moderate Republicans, of course! Lochhead writes:

Ironically, the greatest pressure is expected from Republicans, who just lost control of the House and Senate and, unlike Bush, face another election in 2008.

Republicans have begun cutting their ties to Bush. Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel warned the president last week to seize the opportunity offered by the Iraq Study Group, led by Republican former Secretary of State James Baker and Democratic former Rep. Lee Hamilton.

Hagel wrote the war is "not an American divine mission," and called any refusal by Bush to use the Baker commission to build a bipartisan exit strategy a blunder.
Hagel voted for the Cheney-Bush torture policy. That's about all you need to know about his willingness to challenge the administration on issues related to the "global war on terror" (GWOT). Wow, Hagel suggests that Bush seize the opportunity to come with some kind of vague bipartisan exit strategy under which maybe someday probably most of the combat troops would still be there. And, golly, he said the Iraq War is "not an American divine mission"! What a bold statement of independence and courage! Where would we be without those "moderate" Republicans?

This is not to pick on Carolyn Lochhead's reporting in particular. These brain-dead scripts in which the "moderate" Republicans bravely do something bold and responsible about the Iraq War are part of the script on which our dysfunctional press corps operates. But, still, the Republicans in Congress have hardly been showing bold leadership on the Iraq War in the weeks since she wrote that.

Lochhead's version of Democratic timidity is slightly more reality-based, i.e., not complete fantasy, for the reasons I mentioned above. But her report ignores not only the Democrats' political mandate to challenge the administration's Iraq War failures. It also doesn't look at the political dynamics of the situation where all but the most hopeless Democrats (like Joe Lieberman, and I'm really beginning to wonder about Biden) are likely to feel a lot of pressure to aggressively challenge a continuing war in Iraq.

The Stannard article assesses US diplomatic options by quoting five experts: James Dobbins of the conservative-leaning Rand Institute; Charles Hill of the conservative Hoover Institution and "diplomat in residence" (?) at Yale; Abbas Milani, a Stanford professor and co-director of the Iran Democracy Project at the Hoover Institution; Marina Ottaway of the nonpartisan Carnegie Institute for International Peace; and, tenacious war supporter Anthony Cordesman of the conservative-leaning Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

The last two are good authorities on the Iraq War. I quote Anthony Cordesman normally once per week or so. He's one of the few war supporters I could name who didn't get carried away by fantasies of a short easy war and the magical flourishing of democracy in Iraq. He's managed to keep his reputation for integrity intact, which is more than one can say for the neocons who were so in favor of this war.

But Stannard doesn't get around to quoting Cordesman until the very end. The first authority he quotes is Dobbins from a Foreign Affairs article:

"The United States did not invade Afghanistan in order to remake that country as a model for Central Asia, nor did Washington announce an intention to subsequently promote the democratization of all of the states neighboring Afghanistan. Had the United States committed itself to such a program, it would never have secured the support of Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan or Uzbekistan for the war," Dobbins wrote. "The United States, however, did invade Iraq with the intention of making that state a model for the Middle East, promising that success in Iraq would be followed by efforts to transform the political systems of Iraq's neighbors. This was not a vision any of those regimes was likely to embrace. Nor have they."
While it's true that some of the neocon true believers expected this democracy effect and the idea played an important role in the administration's push for war, Stannard might have informed his readers that there were two war goals approved by Congress in October 2002: dealing with the Saddam regime's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and ending the regime's (nonexistent) operational ties to Al Qaida. What Dobbins says about this aspect of the Cheney-Bush policy affecting the perceptions of surrounding countries is probably correct. But presented without the proper context it is misleading.

Next cited is the Hoover Institution's Charles Hill peddling straight Republican partisan propaganda:

"Until about a year ago, there were really very important achievements, although in some cases minor first steps, such as actually getting an election ... in Saudi Arabia, or getting Egypt to talk about things that would be more open and democratic that they hadn't talked about before. Getting (Libyan leader Moammar) Khadafy to give up his weapons of mass destruction is one of those." ...

"The most signal achievement was (U.N. Security Council) Resolution 1559, on Lebanon, which said the Syrian army had to get out of Lebanon," he said. "That opened the way for beginning to get Lebanon on the road to regaining its legitimacy internationally."
The timid democratic openings in Saudi Arabia and Egypt were largely cosmetic and mainly showed the popularity of Islamist candidates. The Libyan agreement over their WMD program was negotiated before the Iraq invasion, though the administration didn't formally conclude it until later exactly so they could make such a claim.

I'm actually very hopeful about the next two years. But the Democrats definitely face some problems, especially in challenging Bush war policies. Political inertia. Republican support for the war. Dysfunctional reporting.

Then there's Joe Biden pandering to white Republican Southerners who have fond memories of the Confederacy, Good Lord!

It's like Rummy said about the Army. You fight for the Constitution with the Democratic Party you have, not with the Democratic Party you want or that you might like to have.

It does make me a bit jealous of multi-party parliamentary democracies, though.

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