Election 2008 Foreign Policy Iran Israel McCain National Security Obama Politics

Bush to Attack Iran as an October Surprise?

After the past seven years, would you put it past this administration?

Andrew Sullivan is on the case:

Could Bush bomb Iran before the next election and create a sense of international crisis that could cause voters to swing back to McCain? From everything we know and Bush and Cheney, the answer, surely, is yes

Bill Kristol suggested on Fox New Sunday yesterday that Bush might attack Iran if it “looks like Barack Obama is going to win.”

John Bolton, also on Fox New yesterday suggests that Israel might decide to strike Iran before a President Obama took office.

Earlier this month, Israel conducted a massive war games exercise that American sources suggest was a test for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program.

The drumbeats of war are growing louder.

Election 2008 McCain Politics

Contempt, high-minded, and glamorous

David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times profiled McCain’s introduction to the Senate – an introduction which seems to directly affect his politics and his policies today:

After five and a half years of listening to senators’ antiwar speeches over prison camp loudspeakers, Mr. McCain came home in 1973 contemptuous of America’s elected officials, convinced Congress had betrayed the country’s fighting men by hamstringing the war effort. But in the halls of the Senate, he discovered a new calling, at once high-minded and glamorous…

Under Mr. Tower’s1 tutelage, Mr. McCain turned his anger over the management of the Vietnam War into an all-or-nothing view of international conflict that became one of the few guiding principles in his otherwise unpredictable political career — from his opposition to sending Marine peacekeepers into Lebanon in 1983 to his current staunch support for the Iraq war. And when prominent conservative Christians later protested Mr. Tower’s nomination as defense secretary over accusations of drinking and womanizing, Mr. McCain’s furious counterattack opened the hostilities with that wing of his party that have persisted ever since.

And here we have the main elements of McCain’s politics today: an all-or-nothing policy of international conflicts; a contempt for anyone who would undermine one of these all-or-nothing bets; a taste for glamor; 2 and a noble sense of his self and his work.

  1. Senator John G. Tower, a hawkish Texas Republican. []
  2. Isn’t that tie Armani? []
Election 2008 History Liberalism Obama Politics

Obama is our excuse

[digg-reddit-me]Last week, Charles Hawley, writing for Der Spiegel, declared that “The Social Democrats [of Germany] have no Obama.” This is the second article in Der Spiegel in the past month to reprise this theme.

Around the world, with David Cameron in the United Kingdom gaining strength and Gordon Brown losing it; with Silvio Berlusconi taking power again in Italy; with Nicolas Sarkozy, though struggling today, still the dominant figure in French politics; with Angela Merkel in Germany, Stephen Harper in Canada, Felipe Calderon in Mexico, Lee Myung-bak in South Korea, and Ma Ying-jeou in Taiwan – all center-right politicians – taking power in the past four years; and with Russia’s drift towards a 19th century autocracy and China’s successful resistance to liberalization, it seems that the world is drifting rightward. Since September 11 and especially since George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004, most of the leading world democracies and many of it’s leading autocracies have reversed progressive trends and generally adopted a center-right course.

But the worldwide left today has one figure it can look to – standing against this tide in one of the most rightward leaning democracies – and succeeding in ways that are redefining American politics: Barack Obama.

That is why when evaluating the state of Italian politics or German politics – liberals bemoan their lack of success, their lack of inspiration by saying: “We have no Obama.”

This seems to be an attitude that Obama himself would reject. In observing the crowds thronging to his speeches, the enthusiasm that has swept him to the nomination, the excitement in the air, the sense of hope and opportunity at long last, Obama observed to Michael Powell of The New York Times:

“I love when I’m shaking hands on a rope line and” – he mimes the motion, hand over hand – “I see the little old white ladies and big burly black guys and Latino girls and all their hands are entwining. They’re feeding on each other as much as on me….It’s like I’m just the excuse.” [My emphasis.]

Although Obama’s campaign has enabled his success, he understands that the success is not his own. It is of this particular moment in history – this American moment – and he understands that he is not the cause of this movement or this moment, but merely the excuse.

Obama himself is just an excuse to allow Americans to find themselves again, to find their way again, to reclaim their nation, to restore our values to our government. 1 What Obama’s campaign offers and his presidency will offer is not solutions imposed from Washington, but an opportunity for us to engage with our government, to affect our politics, to make America once again a government of the people. Obama is proposing modest steps – as the tinkerer he is – to make the deliberations behind health care public; to create a website that encourages citizens to provide suggestions and feedback about government programs; to encourage transparency in law-making; to create “a web site, a search engine, and other web tools that enable citizens easily to track online federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and lobbyist contacts with government officials”; to require “his appointees who lead Executive Branch departments and rulemaking agencies to conduct the significant business of the agency in public” and online; and to make as much government data as universally available as possible.

He’s providing a good excuse, but we still need to do the work.

  1. As an aside, I can’t think of a healthier way for a leader to think of him or herself – as merely the excuse other people use to do better. []
Domestic issues Election 2008 Law McCain Politics

“Never really interested in judges”

We all know that economics isn’t really McCain’s thing. But apparently, neither are judges:

In his 22 years in the Senate, Mr. McCain has never been a major player in the judicial wars. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, said Mr. McCain “has never been really interested in judges.”

“It’s sort of something far afield because his interests are otherwise,” Mr. Specter said.

Apparently, McCain’s only thing is national security – and he still hasn’t managed to figure out the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.

Election 2008 Obama Politics

The two most powerful narratives in American history

Maureen Dowd:

Hillary knows that in politics, bimbos erupt. Tapes leak. Husbands disappoint. Friends commit suicide. Rivals get sick. Her Senate race against Rudy Giuliani suddenly turned in her favor when he got prostate cancer and dropped out.

The macabre story of 2008 is that the vice presidential picks are important. On the Republican side, it’s because of John McCain’s age and history of skin cancer, and that’s openly discussed.

But on the Democratic side, it is, as The Times’s Obama reporter Jeff Zeleny has written, a “hushed worry.” Barack Obama has fused two of the most powerful narratives in American history — those of Martin Luther King Jr. and Camelot — and that makes him both magical and vulnerable.

Foreign Policy

Generation Faithful

Who knew that defending a closeted Saudi traditionalism could sound so gay?

“If you want to know what your wife looks like, look at her brother,” Nader said in defending the practice of marrying someone he had seen only once, briefly, as a child.

What comes through so clearly in the Michael Slackman New York Times article is how alien Saudi society is. Yet Slackman demonstrates that the same human impulses are at work – lust, fear, hope – in Saudi society as our own.

Katherine Zoepf in her companion piece described the view of romance and youth from the point of view of young Saudi women.  She describes evocatively how modern tools are being used to express the frustration inherent in such a cloistered society and how traditional wahabi interpretations of Islam are being interpreted anew in light of new technologies and timeless frustrations:

A woman can’t switch her phone’s Bluetooth feature on in a public place without receiving a barrage of the love poems and photos of flowers and small children which many Saudi men keep stored on their phones for purposes of flirtation. And last year, Al Arabiya television reported that some young Saudis have started buying special “electronic belts,” which use Bluetooth technology to discreetly beam the wearer’s cellphone number and e-mail address at passing members of the opposite sex.

Ms. Tukhaifi and Shaden know of girls in their college who have passionate friendships, possibly even love affairs, with other girls but they say that this, like the cross-dressing, is just a “game” born of frustration, something that will inevitably end when the girls in question become engaged. And they and their friends say that they find the experience of being chased by boys in cars to be frightening, and insist that they do not know any girl who has actually spoken to a boy who contacted her via Bluetooth.

“If your family found out you were talking to a man online, that’s not quite as bad as talking to him on the phone,” Ms. Tukhaifi explained. “With the phone, everyone can agree that is forbidden, because Islam forbids a stranger to hear your voice. Online he only sees your writing, so that’s slightly more open to interpretation.

“One test is that if you’re ashamed to tell your family something, then you know for sure it’s wrong,” Ms. Tukhaifi continued. “For a while I had Facebook friends who were boys — I didn’t e-mail with them or anything, but they asked me to ‘friend’ them and so I did. But then I thought about my family and I took them off the list.”

Election 2008 Obama Politics

The moment Obama did not create

Frank Rich:

Mr. Obama hardly created this moment, with its potent brew of Bush loathing and sweeping generational change. He simply had the vision to tap into it. Running in 2008 rather than waiting four more years was the single smartest political decision he’s made (and, yes, he’s made dumb ones too). The second smartest was to understand and emphasize that subterranean, nearly universal anticipation of change rather than settle for the narrower band of partisan, dyspeptic Bush-bashing. We don’t know yet if he’s the man who can make the moment — and won’t know unless he gets to the White House — but there’s no question that the moment has helped make the man.

Election 2008 McCain Politics The Clintons Videos

Gas Tax Politics

Tom Friedman of the New York Times on the gas tax proposals:

The McCain-Clinton gas holiday proposal is a perfect example of what energy expert Peter Schwartz of Global Business Network describes as the true American energy policy today: “Maximize demand, minimize supply and buy the rest from the people who hate us the most.”

Good for Barack Obama for resisting this shameful pandering…The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious — the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout.

Paul Krugman – whose loathing for Barack Obama is one of the mysteries of this campaign – must have had some trouble writing these lines:

John McCain has a really bad idea on gasoline, Hillary Clinton is emulating him (but with a twist that makes her plan pointless rather than evil), and Barack Obama, to his credit, says no…

Oh wait – but he can hedge a bit. Krugman wouldn’t want anyone to think he might actually consider Obama an acceptable candidate because of the vast policy differences they have (a.k.a. two minor ones that have led to about a dozen columns of polemic attacks):

Just to be clear: I don’t regard this as a major issue. It’s a one-time thing, not a matter of principle, especially because everyone knows the gas-tax holiday isn’t actually going to happen.

Obama’s seeking to make some political hay out of this. Once again, he’s betting the American people will pay enough attention to what’s going on to give him credit for doing the right thing.

Election 2008 Obama Politics The Clintons Videos

Hillary: Stay in this Race!

[digg-reddit-me]A few weeks ago, when the electoral math began to indicate that Senator Hillary Clinton had little no chance of catching Senator Barack Obama, the voices of the Democratic establishment who had remained mainly neutral began to push a new meme. These establishment voices clearly wanted to send a message to the Clintons: “Stay in the race as long as you want. But keep it clean.”

Bob Shrum wrote in the New York Times two weeks ago:

She has very little chance of winning, but Hillary Clinton has no reason to get out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — for now. A long shot isn’t the same as no chance at all. And an extended campaign doesn’t have to wound the nominee, assuming a measure of self-restraint on both sides…

The degree of aggression on each side may not be comparable, as both sides argue on their own behalf. But the Democratic nomination may not be worth winning if the victor is lacerated as unready, unfit to hold the office, or un-American — not, as expected, by the vast right-wing conspiracy but by a Democratic rival.

The editors of The New Republic wrote:

[C]alls for Hillary to withdraw – calls that invariably rest on the mathematical case against her candidacy – are premature. By winning Ohio and Texas, Hillary won the right to continue in this race.

… [But] it’s imperative that, as Hillary Clinton continues her campaign, she conduct it in a certain manner: She can’t run the type of campaign she ran in the lead-up to Ohio and Texas. For weeks, Clinton attacked Obama with a relish not previously seen in this race. But it wasn’t the fact she was attacking Obama that was problematic, it was how she was attacking him–namely, in a way that will make it more difficult for Obama should he, as is still likely, be the Democratic nominee in November. For instance, it would have been fine for Hillary to argue that she’d make a better commander-in-chief than Obama; but it was wrong for her to essentially argue, as she did on more than one occasion, that she and John McCain would make better commanders-in-chief than Obama. Similarly, her strange hedging on “60 Minutes” about whether she believes Obama isn’t a Muslim only added fuel to the unfounded rumors that are already circulating about his faith. Frankly, Clinton’s chances are slim enough that a win-at-all-costs mentality from her campaign is not worth the risk of doing irreparable damage to the candidate who will likely be her party’s nominee.

Yet – for whatever reason, despite the fact that she has little chance of winning – Ms. Clinton has continued to attack Obama using Rovian tactics of guilt-by-association, character assassination, the questioning of patriotism, and divisive identity politics. Barack Obama’s campaign has not been pure – from the beginning, he made it clear that he was willing to fight when challenged, as the hiring of David Axelrod as his campaign manager demonstrated. But the restraint he has shown has been truly remarkable. Just a taste of the topics he hasn’t brought up: cattle futures; Travelgate; Filegate; her own pastor; pardons by her husband of terrorists that were intended to help her 2000 Senate campaign according to internal documents; the many shady deals her husband has made since leaving the presidency, often acting against his wife’s public positions. All of these directly relate to the kind of president she might be. We’re not even touching on Monica Lewinsky, on Whitewater, on Vince Foster, and the dozen other scandals of her husband’s administration as well as the persistent rumors of his continued infidelities and disconcerting business deals.

If Mr. Obama’s campaign has showed great restraint, Obama personally has shown even more restraint. Ms. Clinton has not – and her campaign has been worse. Last night, she demonstrated – in front of over ten million viewers – that she has no shame.

Perhaps that is why, today, without any significant event to move him except Ms. Clinton’s unconscionable performance at last night’s debate, Howard Dean demanded that superdelegates make their decisions “now.”

The Democratic party is worried about the damage Ms. Clinton is doing; as a co-worker of mine listens to hard-right talk radio through much of the day, I can hear the memes starting to spread – I can hear them gaining traction. Ms. Clinton is damaging herself, her party, and Obama – and she is attacking him using the very tactics she abhorred and laying the same groundwork for the “conservative” attacks on Obama that the right launched at Al Gore, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Max Cleeland, and many more Democrats (and a few Republicans).

That’s why I want Ms. Clinton to stay in the race. As I wrote almost two months ago:

If Ms. Clinton wants to help her party win the White House this November, she can give Mr. Obama the “vetting” she claims he lacks, and with ever increasing histrionics, throw every smear, every false allegation, every innuendo at him. She can make her name synonymous with the sleaze she throws at him; she has proven that she is capable of a viciousness reminiscent of a Karl Rove. And by playing the villain, she can discredit and de-fang the many attacks that are sure to come at Mr. Obama after he secures the nomination.

It is better for these attacks on Obama to come out now than in September or October before the election. And Mr. Obama must overcome this type of politics if he is to win in November. Perhaps it is best if these attacks come from a source reviled on the right, so they can be more easily dismissed as time goes on. Though I doubt that Ms. Clinton is thinking in these times, I am trying to determine the best way Ms. Clinton’s destructive course could be used to benefit Mr. Obama.

Most observers thought that Mr. Obama looked weary last night. He wasn’t able to – and didn’t seem to even try to – launch the “knockout punch” that would end the race. Some quip, some throwaway line that would undermine the basis of Ms. Clinton’s candidacy, as Lloyd Bentsen’s response to Dan Quayle:

What Obama did – again and again – was to respond to the allegations and pivot back to the issues. Mr. Obama was tired and off of his game, and Ms. Clinton was on point – yet, my gut feeling is that Mr. Obama won more votes last night than he lost, because a weary Obama was far more compelling and far more presidential than an invigorated, desperate, and affected Clinton.

Ms. Clinton is playing the villain well so far. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like an act last night.

Here’s my proposition: the Pennsylvania primary is less than 10 days away. Let Ms. Clinton bring everything she has to this – which is to say, let her throw all the mud she can. We’ll see in 10 days who the mud is sticking to – and if Mr. Obama survives these Rovian, Atwater-style attacks, he will be a significantly stronger candidate. If he can rise above them, then he will be a truly great candidate.

I say let Ms. Clinton play the villain – because she is not giving us a choice. She is staying in this race. Obama has bet his candidacy on the fundamental decency and good sense of the American people. And he’s gotten this far. I have hope that he can make it a bit farther.