Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Draft Clark?
The big question for months in Democratic circles has been whether retired General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, will seek the party's nomination for president. The Washington Monthly's Amy Sullivan makes a very persuasive case for Clark in the latest issue. Sullivan argues that deficits in fundraising, grassroots support, and national exposure are not too deep to overcome, even at this stage in the game. She also claims that the Democratic field has no clear frontrunner, and that the Dems might coalesce quickly around Clark should he declare.

This is all well and good, but doesn't explain why Clark got fired from the army after the Kosovo war, of which he was one of the chief architects. The General, who has gotten some much-deserved praise for basically predicting the post-war fiasco in Iraq, seemed to have miscalculated before the Kosovo conflict, believing that a brief display of air power would cow Milosevic immediately. Unfortunately, the war stretched on for months and caused a great deal of suffering, both for Serbs and for the hundreds of thousands of Kosovar refugees who took flight after the beginning of the campaign. While the conflict looks rosy in retrospect -- Milosevic is gone, Kosovo is peaceful if not stable -- critics would be well within their rights to question the conduct of the war itself. Clark also allegedly wanted to intercept Russian forces who occupied Kosovo's main airport in Pristina, in apparent defiance of NATO. Thankfully, he was overruled.

Beyond Clark's conduct of the war, I'm not convinced that Clark really has time to secure the nomination. And in light of recent polls, the idea that the Democrats have no frontrunner is also questionable. Dean leads in New Hampshire, according to Zogby, 38-17 over Kerry and company. 21 points! The New Republic may still be fawning over soon-to-be-goners Joe Lieberman and John Edwards, but Dean is now the man to beat. I still think Dean-Clark is the best choice. They would also be the first monosyllabic ticket since Bush-Quayle. Minor consideration? Perhaps.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Wild race
The Wild Card race in the National League is getting more crowded than the California recall. After the Phillies' 12-1 thrashing at the hands of the Expos last night, there are eight teams within three games of the lead. Meanwhile, the sharks in the Philly media are beginning to circle around Bowa. The guess here is that if the Phils choke and go home without a playoff appearance this year, Bowa will be packing his bags, despite his wild popularity with the fans. In any case, none of the teams chasing the Wild Card has a prayer of beating either the Braves or the Giants.

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Monday, August 25, 2003

Generational conflict
Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan plead for a generational committment in The Weekly Standard, criticizing the administration for skimping on Iraq's rebuilding, and calling on the powers that be to enlist more manpower in the reconstruction. Kristol and Kagan write:

Until recently, only a handful of State Department employees have been at work in Iraq. The State Department, we gather, has had a difficult time attracting volunteers to work in Iraq. This is understandable. But it is unacceptable. If the administration is serious about drawing an analogy with the early Cold War years, it should remember that the entire U.S. government oriented itself then to the new challenge. We need to do the same now. The administration must insist that the State Department pull its weight. Indeed, we need to deploy diplomats and civil servants, hire contract workers, and mobilize people and resources in an urgent and serious way. Business as usual is not acceptable. Getting the job done in Iraq is our highest priority, and our government needs to treat it as such.

Mind you, K & K don't have any suggestions about how exactly the administration might attract American men and women to suffer in 125-degree heat for the privilege of being blown up by the Iraqi resistance. They just think it's "unacceptabe." As I've said before, I'm not in favor of immediately pulling the U.S. army out of Iraq and abandoning the country to whatever forces are organized enough to step up and run the place, but I'm not convinced that Iraq should become the great quest of my generation, either. It doesn't help that the leader of the free world can hardly string together a coherent sentence (did anyone else see his abysmal performance during the blackout?), let alone talk young people into voluntarily putting their lives on the line for a dubious cause halfway across the globe.

The problem isn't that the State Department "isn't pulling its weight." It's that we have too few soldiers in a hostile country teeming with armed militants, fighting a war that wasn't necessary in the first place, which is now attracting combatants from all over the Muslim world. It's that the President sold this war as an easy, unavoidable victory over terrorism, when in fact it was a war of choice against a country that was, at most, a peripheral player in international terrorism and a minor threat to its neighbors and the United States. If the Kristols and Kagans of this world think that securing Iraq without the United Nations is so important that thousands of young Americans need to sacrifice their lives in the years to come, they better hope that the President finds the backbone to level with the public about the costs and consequences of this audacious project. Personally, I think the Milwaukee Brewers will celebrate a World Series title before George W. Bush asks Americans to make real sacrifices for this foolish war.

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Friday, August 22, 2003

Rubin on Iraq
Foreign affairs enthusiasts who don't live in Philadelphia are probably unacquainted with the Philadelphia Inquirer's indispensable international relations columnist Trudy Rubin. Today Rubin has a column about the mess in Iraq and what needs to be done to clean it up. She writes:

The blast that toppled the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad ought to smash the Bush team's la-la-land illusions about Iraq. Time is running out to salvage a decent result from the Iraq war.

The window could shut within a very few months.

Unless the Bush team drops its pretense that Iraq is doing fine, the country could soon deteriorate into what it never was under Saddam Hussein: a terrorist haven where Arab Islamists link up with secular ex-Baathists to pool funds and explosives. Bush's taunt to Iraqi militants - "bring 'em on" - may come to look like the last hurrah.

Rubin recommends dispensing with the "illusion" that peace and democracy in Iraq can be had on the cheap, and telling the American people the truth about what the occupation is going to cost. There is an interesting split developing on the left, between those who recommend ending the occupation now and turning the whole festering disaster over to the Iraqis themselves, and those who argue for a full internationalization of the reconstruction, including a new UN resolution and French soldiers roaming the streets with their American comrades. A few thoughts:

First, the UN bombing does demonstrate that it will take more than blue helmets to end the guerilla uprising in the so-called Sunni Triangle (I say so-called because I doubt that's where Tikritis tell people they're from). Multi-national forces can be attacked, harrassed, and suicide-bombed too. Just ask the French and the Italians, whose troops died along with Americans in the Lebanese civil war. Hezbollah guerillas didn't make such fine distinctions.

The Anglo-American occupation is becoming increasingly untenable, however. With Bush trying to put a happy face on the sour economic outlook while dropping $4 billion a month on the occupation, the dissonance between official U.S. pronouncements and the facts on the ground is difficult to ignore. A brigade of Honduran and Dominican peacekeepers is not the answer. Unlike some, I refuse to sneer at these nations for sending their troops, but at the same time we have to realize that a brigade of experienced French peacekeepers would be worth a whole division of troops from the Caribbean. Bush's refusal to contemplate mending the necessary fences with his allies is emblematic of his entire foreign policy strategy.

At the same time, I think simply turning tail and running away would also be a disaster -- not because our "credibility" is on the line, but because we would leave Iraq in much worse shape, and much more susceptible to terror, than we found it. The sensible option is to set a firm departure date, get our traditional allies in on the action (even if it means kissing a little you-know-what), and do our best to build institutions and infrastructure in the limited time that we do have. We should also probably at least double our financial allocation for rebuilding Iraq (and Afghanistan). As my father always said to me, "If you're going to do a job half-assed, you shouldn't bother doing it at all." He was talking about dusting the dining room table, but the lesson, I think, travels pretty well.

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Thursday, August 21, 2003

Onward and upward

Is there a bigger blowhard in journalism than the National Review's Victor Davis Hanson? Since September 11th, VDH has written column after column about the Star Wars-like life-and-death struggle of the West against Evil and Terror. Today he seems to be egging the U.S. on into Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. He writes:

"Our astonishing defeats of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban cannot blind us to the reality — unchanging since 9/11 — that we are in a war to the end with those who wish to destroy Western society and all that it holds dear. Both tactically and strategically this is a conflict that our enemies cannot win — given their military inferiority and accompanying failure to offer an attractive alternative to the freedom and prosperity of the West.

This doom the nihilists grudgingly accept. Thus the past week in Afghanistan, in Baghdad, and in Jerusalem they have once more embraced the tactics of the bomb-laden truck and suicide belt to demoralize civil society and to win the only way they can — as was true in Beirut and Mogadishu — by eroding public support for the continuance of war. Otherwise, they will lose and the virus of reform and legality will only spread.

Because September 11 was a direct consequence of our early failures to confront our enemies, our general response to the latest challenges should be even greater defiance. It is time to bring to fruition the president's warning of nearly two years ago, that one is either with or against the terrorists. So Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, from which our enemies (many now in Iraq) operate, must either close their borders, turn over terrorists, and join the ranks of civilization — or chose the side of barbarism and accept the terrible consequences of such a fatal decision. And for the short term, we must continue on course-employing counterinsurgency tactics to go after the terrorists in the field, accelerating the transfer of governance to Iraqis to increase their visibility and responsibility in the conflict and restoring infrastructure to Afghanistan and Iraq."

Yes, VDH, perhaps we should simply garrison the entire Middle East? That sounds like a good idea. Three more wars might make it a little bit harder to continue "restoring infrastructure" to Afghanistan, wouldn't it? But if showering a country with cluster bombs and depleted uranium and then abandoning it to violent anarchy and grinding poverty is what counts for "restoring infrastructure" these days, then we're off to a bang-up start in Iraq. All we have to do now is leave and start our next "astonishing" war.

How long until that 2004 election?

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Pat the Bat
Is there a sadder sight in the majors right now than Pat Burrell trying to hit a baseball? The bleached-blonde leftfielder went 0-for-3 last night, stranding three runners a night after he was lifted in a crucial situation for that perennial all-star Ricky Ledee. For the record, Burrell is batting .201, with 17 homers and 49 rbi, a year after the slugger slammed 37 and drove in 116. The guy looks completely lost. Unless he wakes up, which doesn't seem likely, the Phillies will likely watch the playoffs from their condos on the Main Line.

Don't look now, but Tigers pitcher Mike Maroth is closing in on 20 losses, and it isn't even September yet. The hard-luck lefty tossed 6 2/3 innings against Texas on Tuesday, allowing only three runs, but lost anyway because the Tigers' historically inept offense couldn't help him out. Maroth is pitching just well enough not to get bumped from the rotation, but poorly enough that 20 losses seems almost inevitable. As ESPN's Jayson Stark has tirelessly documented, no one has lost 20 games since Oakland's Brian Kingman in 1980. Kingman is loathe to relinquish his only claim to fame, and in recent years has taken to following pitchers on the verge of 20 losses around the country, which the pitchers themselves, needless to say, think is really, really weird. Better fuel up that jet, Brian -- it's going to be a long September!

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Magazine: The New Republic
Subject: Objectivity
Grade: D

The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), has displayed a vicious animus against Howard Dean since the beginning of the race to challenge Bush. Not surprisingly, the DLC's mouthpiece, The New Republic, mirrors that hostility. In the magazine's self-important "TNR Primary" various writers have given Dean poor marks for things like "intellectual honesty" and "domestic policy." Meanwhile, favorite son Joe Lieberman's recent marks include 'A's' for domestic policy (twice), intellectual honesty, foreign policy, and "political courage." One of Lieberman's A's came from Spencer Ackerman, who lauded the Connecticut senator for being the only candidate to publicly blast Bush's cynical pay cut for U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Of course, Dean publicly lashed out at the Bush administration for the same issue on the same day, but you know, he's unelectable, right?

I think the TNR primary has been held, and we already have a winner.

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Target: Road Map
The assassination of top Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab by Israel today has dashed hopes that Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas was ready to crack down on militant groups using PA security forces. Abbas called the assassination "an ugly crime against peace." While it is difficult to mourn for a man like Shanab, it seems relevant to ask if Israel has ever accomplished anything with targeted assassinations. Remember, it was the killing of a top Islamic Jihad official which led to Tuesday's Jerusalem bombing. 19-for-1 doesn't seem like much of a trade-off to me.

Today's violence, part of the worst week for the peace process in months, points to the structural weaknesses of the Road Map. To begin with, it demands something from Abbas (a frontal assault on Hamas and Islamic Jihad) which he is simply incapable of delivering, especially after three years of the IDF's military destruction of the PA's security forces. The document had nothing at all to say about the one thing Abbas has accomplished -- the now-defunct truce. And it demands nothing permanent from the Israelis in phase one. Settlement freezes can be (and have been) unfrozen, and illegal outposts can be rebuilt. Martin Indyk, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, offers a solution in today's New York Times:

To break this cycle, the Bush administration should negotiate a package deal: the Palestinians would agree to act against Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Israelis would agree to dismantle the outposts, freeze settlement activity and withdraw the Israeli Defense Forces from Palestinian territory. The United States would then act as guarantor, developing a detailed monitoring and reporting plan to ensure that each side carries out its commitments fully and promptly.

This deal, however, would need to be tailored to existing Palestinian security capacities. Instead of insisting on a general and currently impossible effort to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, the United States should work with Mr. Dahlan to define feasible security tasks. These should include the arrests of the people in Hebron and Nablus who dispatched the most recent suicide bombers, the closing of Hamas's rocket factories in southern Gaza and action against the gangs in Rafah responsible for smuggling weapons from Egypt to Gaza. The United States should also identify the appropriate Israeli responses, like the withdrawal of its forces from West Bank cities where the Palestinian Authority is about to assume control.

Indyk also recommends sending U.S. troops to fight alongside Palestinian security forces (!) against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Indyk's article is more fair-minded than most, but still suffers from a failure to realize that the terrorists cannot be defeated or permanently marginalized absent an end to the occupation and a comprehensive, just peace. American troops would not be very popular if they're seen rounding up members of the resistance while Israel's occupation continues with no end in sight. All the "confidence-building measures" in the world will not hide the fact that the Israel is an occupying power.

How about this: Begin final-status negotiations based on the Taba map. Come to an agreement which includes a symbolic acknowledgement of the Palestinians' right of return, allows a small number of refugees to return to Israel, provides the remainder with homes in the new Palestine and a just compensation, and sets up Jerusalem as the joint capital of two sovereign states. The catch -- as the Israelis are the doing the unpleasant work of evacuating tens of thousands of colonists from the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians must be simultaneously disarming militant groups and establishing the PA as the sole authority in Palestine, perhaps with the assistance of NATO troops. They must establish Weber's "monopoly on the legitimate use of force."

There. Easy, right? If only...

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