Topic: Government and Politics

“Success” = “Not Leaving”

The surge worked. So declare Sens. McCain and Lieberman in today’s Wall Street Journal. They join the chorus of voices, including the Washington Post editorial board, who point to the decline in violence in Iraq that has occurred since the so-called surge went into effect as a sign that the opponents of the surge have been proved wrong.

No one disputes that the security situation in Iraq has improved. Although 2007 was the deadliest year of the war, American casualties declined sharply in the latter half of the year. We can all be thankful for that, and U.S. troops, who have once again proved remarkably adaptable, deserve much of the credit.

But as Air Force Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. noted in yesterday’s New York Times, “two other uncomfortable developments also helped suppress violence. First, the Iraqi population has largely segregated itself into sectarian fiefs. Second, supposedly ‘reformed’ insurgents now dominate Anbar Province.” Dunlap wonders aloud whether these newly-empowered “Sunni partisans” have “bought into the idea of a truly pluralistic and democratic Iraq.” If they have not, and if they remain opposed to reconciliation with the Shiite majority, arming the individuals and groups might prove a short-term strategy that cuts against our medium- to long-term objectives.

In this context, we should also keep in mind that military operations should be conducted in pursuit of a specific objective, and the purpose of the surge was to make a space for political reconciliation among the Iraqi people that would, in the president’s words, “hasten the day our troops begin coming home.”

Note that the advocates of the surge, including most importantly Sens. McCain and Lieberman, don’t want the troops to come home. Certainly not any time soon, and perhaps not ever. Sen. McCain last week said U.S. troops might remain in Iraq for 100 years. President Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates have drawn parallels to Korea, where U.S. troops have been deployed since 1950. (Kudos to Slate’s Fred Kaplan for his take-down of this outrageously inapt analogy.)

In other words, the surge strategy, marketed to the American people as a vehicle for hastening the end of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, is now being used as a justification for keeping U.S. troops there. Success, once synonymous with withdrawal (remember “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down?”) now means something very different.

Before his victory in the New Hampshire primary, Sen. McCain crowed that the surge had been successful, allowing him to resurrect his moribund campaign. “Thank God [Iraq]’s off the front pages,” the leading proponent for the war told reporters on board the Straight Talk Express.

But I’m betting that the vast majority of Americans are still thinking about Iraq, even if it is “off the front pages,” and their calculation of costs and benefits is very different from Sen. McCain’s. In poll after poll, a solid majority of Americans believe that we have already spent far too much blood and treasure in Iraq, and they aren’t going to passively accept another 100 years in Iraq, at a cost of $100 billion or more every year. And what of the human costs? The strains on our military from two or three or four combat tours are already plainly visible. How will we maintain, over a period of many decades, an army of citizen-soldiers who spend more time in a foreign country than they do in their own?

Sens. McCain and Lieberman may believe that staying in Iraq indefinitely is synonymous with success. For most Americans, the opposite is true: we will have succeeded when we have brought the troops home safely, and we are no closer to that goal than we were one year ago.

What Fresh Hell Is This?

In today’s San Francisco Chronicle, I take a look at Mike Huckabee, the winner of the Iowa caucuses:

After a year of wringing their hands over their choices in the presidential race - a pro-choice mayor with an authoritarian streak, a serial flip-flopper, and a senator who is a dedicated opponent of free speech - the Republicans finally have a new front-runner….

So … Republicans looking for a presidential candidate to inspire them are now faced with a tax-and-spend religious rightist who would have the federal government regulate everything from restaurant menus to local schools.

As Dorothy Parker would say, “What fresh hell is this?”

Where’s the Beef?

Sen. Barack Obama has excited the national media, Andrew Sullivan, young voters, and 38 percent of Iowa Democrats with his message of “change” and “hope” and “becoming one people, the United States of America.” It makes for a great speech. But I’m reminded of what the Democratic establishment candidate, Walter Mondale, said to insurgent Gary Hart after Hart did well in the 1984 Iowa caucuses with a campaign of “new ideas”: Where’s the beef?

It’s not that Obama hasn’t addressed questions of public policy. His campaign website has as many policy ideas as a Bill Clinton State of the Union Address. It’s just that they’re pretty much the same ideas: more taxes, more spending, more government help to scratch every itch a voter might have. He’s got more subsidies for workers who lose their jobs because of international competition, more subsidies for research and jobs and energy technology and broadband access and rural schools, more federal support for labor unions, and much much more.

To help borrowers and employees, he proposes more regulations on lenders, credit card issuers, and employers. These would, of course, make lending and hiring more expensive, so fewer people would be hired, and their wages would be lower, and borrowing on credit cards and mortages would be more costly.

But my main point here is, these are the same policies that Sen. Hillary Clinton proposes. So what’s so new? In what way does Obama offer “change” or “hope” or something different from ”the same kind of partisan battling we had in the ’90s”? Where’s the beef?

McCain Wants US Troops in Iraq for “100 Years”

I couldn’t believe it when I saw it either, but the dang thing is up on Youtube. Flanked by Joe Lieberman, John McCain on the stump responds to a question about George Bush talking about staying in Iraq for 50 years by quipping “Make it 100!” He then hedges, if you can call it that, by saying “as long as Americans aren’t being killed.”

And we wonder where these conspiracy theories in the Islamic world about the US trying to dominate the region come from…

Iowa Winners and Losers

The voters of Iowa have had their say and the 2008 presidential election campaign is now officially underway. While the Iowa dust (or snow) is just beginning to settle, it’s already possible to pick out winners and losers.

WINNERS

Barack Obama: He not only won, he won big. If he had lost in Iowa, the Clinton inevitability train might have been unstoppable. But now he has vaulted into possible frontrunner status. The race is far from over, but Obama has shown that his upbeat message of change and opportunity resonates with voters. Two big questions remain: What will happen when scrutiny moves beyond his positive generalities to his very liberal record? And can he survive the coming attacks from the Clinton machine?

John McCain: He finished in a rough tie for third despite putting in little effort in Iowa (and opposing ethanol subsidies). More important, Mitt Romney took a big hit. McCain was already surging in New Hampshire. With Romney wounded and Huckabee having little New Hampshire traction, a win is now a very realistic possibility. The media would love a McCain comeback story. But where doers he go next?

Mike Huckabee: A win is a win is a win. But Huckabee built his win almost entirely on a turnout by evangelical Christians who ignored his big-government positions. It’s hard to see how he can compete in anti-tax New Hampshire or socially moderate states like California that vote on Super Tuesday. Remember Pat Robertson surprised everyone by finishing second in the Iowa Caucuses in 1988.

LOSERS

Mitt Romney: He built his entire strategy on winning early in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. Now, despite spending $7 million in Iowa, that strategy is in tatters. He lost in Iowa and is trailing in New Hampshire polls. If he loses next Tuesday, it becomes very hard to see how he comes back. Perhaps money and perfect hair doesn’t overcome a lack of core political beliefs after all.

John Edwards: He had to win in Iowa to be viable. He had campaigned there virtually nonstop for four years. After all that time and effort, second place just isn’t good enough. Obama is now the anti-Hillary candidate. Edwards appears ready to limp on, at least until South Carolina, but if he does it will be more as spoiler than as potential nominee.

Hillary Clinton: Third place? For the inevitable, unstoppable candidate? For a campaign whose entire rationale was built on the idea that she was going to win, she now looks suspiciously like…well…a loser. Still, she has the money, organization, and determination to fight back. There is no more ruthless politician in America. Obama had better be ready.

Fred Thompson: The whole idea of his campaign was that he would unite the party and give all stripes of conservatives someone to rally around. A distant third place tie doesn’t suggest much of a rally. And, he is running even worse in New Hampshire polls. It’s hard to see why he will stay in a race he never really seemed to want to be in.

IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE

Ron Paul: His supporters were hoping that Paul’s fundraising prowess, internet popularity, and the zealousness of his followers would translate into a third place finish. Instead, he finished a disappointing fifth. Still, 10 percent of the vote is not bad for a previously unknown congressman from Texas with minimal media exposure. His limited government message clearly touched a chord and has inspired a new generation of libertarian activists. It’s hard to see where he goes after New Hampshire, but he can take satisfaction in what he had already accomplished.

Bill Richardson: He kept his vice presidential hopes alive with a respectable showing. Reports suggest that he actually received some 10 percent of the first round vote, although Iowa’s complicated system ended up giving him only about 2 percent of the regional delegates.

Rudy Giuliani: His Iowa showing was dismal, he trails in New Hampshire, and he has lost his lead in national polls. But the Republican race is now wide open. With no one likely to win all the early primaries, it may be that Giuliani’s strategy of playing rope-a-dope until Florida and the Super Tuesday primaries may be viable after all.

Mike Huckabee on Education

Iowa Republican caucus winner Mike Huckabee has a lot to say about education policy, much of it contradictory. Asked to point to the spot in the Constitution authorizing a federal role in education [hint: there is none] Huckabee responded “I don’t think there is really a federal role or responsibility, constitutionally, in education.” We have a winner!

But wait, there’s more. Huckabee continued: “I think if there’s a role [uh, you just said there isn’t one…], it is to encourage, it’s to recognize the value and importance.” What might this mean, you ask? Apparently, it means that the federal government should perpetuate the No Child Left Behind act (with some unspecified revisions), continue to operate a cabinet level education department, promote arts instruction, and use extortion to pressure state governments to act in accordance with its dictates (that is, collect taxes from every state for education but only return those dollars in the form of federal grants to states that “voluntarily” decide to follow federal rules.)

I wonder what gov. Huckabee would have the feds do if he thought the Constitution did delegate them any authority in education?