Part of being a good blogger is admitting when you're wrong. And, as I thought that today's election was going to be marred with attacks and low turnout, I should do that now. From what I've heard, mostly from watching election coverage on CNN, the election was a resounding success. So much the better. However, it is important to remember that this is the assembly that will be picking the constitution of Iraq, and with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which believes exactly what it sounds like it believes, expected to pick up a large number of seats, I have my worries over whether the constitution will truly make Iraq a liberal democracy, emphasis on liberal. And while the security operations were obviously well-planned, with the large presence, and effectiveness, of the Iraqi security forces plainly visible, the lack of such successful security in past days and weeks suggests that this level of safety can not be sustained. However, today truly was a great one for Iraq.
This interpretation may have been severely skewed by CNN, which seemed to have the most gung-ho coverage I've ever seen. Every minute was anecdotal conversations with happy Iraqis, claiming that today was the happiest day of their lives. The fact that they lacked real statistical evidence, combined with this reliance on anecdotes, was discouraging. However, other blog coverage has suggested that it's not just CNN. What was also made clear by CNN was the fact that the inked finger idea was unbelievably stupid. Most civilian deaths, according to CNN, were of voters identified by their fingers. Why not just put big red target signs on voters?
The interviews were the most annoying part. Condi Rice, being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, claimed four times that we're in Iraq under "U.N. mandate". And did he call her on it? Of course not. However, the most revealing interview was that of James Warner. See this snippet:
WARNER: Well, clearly we're making steady progress in training the Iraqi forces. As I said, we're going to put advisory teams, somewhat like we did during the Vietnam conflict, with those forces.
BLITZER: Well, when you bring up the Vietnam conflict, that didn't turn out great.
WARNER: Well, I know, but the concept of our people being -- in other words, actually living and eating and sleeping and actually working on the tactical situations, I think that'll work and work well.
There are two problems with Glenn Reynolds. First of all, most of his posts consist of "So-and-so says such and such about X issue", with a link and nothing else. That's not blogging; that's meta-blogging, and extreme meta-blogging at that. The second problem is that, when he does post more than usual, it's often horrid tripe like this:
Various lefty readers email to say that Ward Churchill is not the authentic face of the Left.
I wish I agreed with that. But, sadly, he is its very image today.
When Ted Kennedy can make an absurd and borderline-traitorous speech on the war, when Michael Moore shares a VIP box with the last Democratic President but one, when Barbara Boxer endorses a Democratic consultant/blogger whose view of American casualties in Iraq is "screw 'em," well, this is the authentic face of the Left. Or what remains of it.
Unfortunately, this post can't be dismissed as the the idiotic drivel it is. This is the most popular blogger online, after all. We have to take these charges head-on.
First of all, Kennedy's speech, which called for an American withdrawal from Iraq, is not in any way, shape, or form treasonous. First of all, withdrawal, while an idea I disagree with, is a perfectly reasonable one. Iraq, whether Glenn chooses to realize it or not, isn't becoming a liberal democracy tomorrow. It may never become one. That's a legitimate possibility, and one that Glenn tries his hardest to be shielded from, isolating himself in his echo chamber.
Second of all, speech can never be treasonous. Opposing a war isn't treasonous, voicing support for the enemy in a war isn't treasonous, and even wishing for the slaughtering of American soldiers isn't treasonous. Handing over intelligence to the enemy in a war is treasonous. Taking up a gun and fighting with the enemy in a war is treasonous. Aiding the enemy's war effort in a war is treasonous. Actions are treasonous; speech is not. Comparing Ted Kennedy to people like John Walker Lindh only trivializes the evil that Lindh committed.
I suppose the inclusion of Michael Moore in the list of atrocious Democrats is due to his comparison of Iraqi insurgents to the minutemen. This, of course, isn't extreme at all. It's a comparison I made the other day. Also, Moore was one of the most prominent opponents of Bush, so wouldn't it only be natural for him to be commended for levying much needed criticisms? After all, even Glenn can't deny that Fahrenheit 9/11's second half is incredibly powerful.
As for Barbara Boxer, does Reynolds believe that Jesse Helms, Bob Smith, and Strom Thurmond represent the right-wing? I thought not. Same thing goes with Kos; there are plenty of right-wing bloggers who've done worse than say "screw 'em"; they've condoned and supported torture.
We don't have to put up with scum like this anymore. We aren't the party that beat and tortured prisoners, and delighted in doing so. We aren't the party that has allowed 1,300+ American soldiers to die in an exercise in deception and secrecy. When people like Reynolds pull stuff like this, we have to call them on it.
You know, I liked his guest-blogging, but looking at Ross Douthat's recent abortion blogging, I'm wondering if the term "intellectual" has lost all meaning. Here is Douthat - a Harvard graduate, a former columnist at the Crimson, the former editor-in-chief of the Salient, and a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, one of the most intellectual journals of today - attacking the idea of judicial review, albeit indirectly, by quoting an Ann Coulter column. Of course, calling Coulter a neo-fascist, totalitarian, partisan hack is a bit like calling the Pope catholic; it sort of goes without saying. To see someone as smart as Douthat linking to her is truly a sad statement on the right-wing blogosphere.
As for the substance of the post, Douthat argues that Roe vs. Wade is inhibiting public debate over abortion. This argument could very well be extended to cover the concept of judicial review as a whole. Based on Douthat's logic, Brown vs. Board of Education inhibited public debate over integration by not letting the voters decide. Of course, we can all agree that the Supreme Court was well within its bounds in deciding that "separate but equal" wasn't a Constitutionally-permissible principle. By the same token, shouldn't it be within its bounds in saying that the right to privacy prohibits the government from raiding doctors' offices? Or, to extend the debate, isn't the Massachusetts Supreme Court within its bounds in deciding that discriminatory marriage laws go against the Massachusetts ERA? One can disagree with the jurisprudence of these cases, but to disagree with the very principle of judicial review, as Douthat appears to be doing, is nonsensical, and I sure hope he knows it.
The Weekly Standard has written an open letter to the White House, endorsed by a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, journalists, and retired military officers, proposing an expansion of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps by 25,000 a year for several years; as Kevin Drum points out, an increase of at least eight divisions. As Drum also points out, this is a costly proposition; $25 billion a year initially, eventually rising to $40 billion. However, in spite of the proposal's costs, I'd like to take this opportunity to express my whole-hearted support for it.
America's hegemony is an anomaly, an occurrence that would have been unthinkable two hundred, or even one hundred years ago. There is no question that we are the first democratic, if not the first "free", nation to become the world's preeminent superpower. As such, we have a unique opportunity to transcend the power politics and national interest-based realism that has dominated geopolitics for millennia. We have a chance to use our power to advance the cause of human dignity and freedom, rather than the cause of American industry. In this regard, President Bush's inaugural speech presented a step forward. I would prefer that Bush focus on more egregious human rights abuses, such as the genocide occurring in Darfur, Sudan, rather than on democracy promotion, but the spirit of the speech was fundamentally sound.
However, our relative omnipotence geopolitically is constrained by our military impotence when it comes to unconventional warfare. This first became painfully apparent during the Vietnam War, and it is revealing itself again every day in Iraq. Even Lawrence Kaplan, the pro-war coauthor, with William Kristol, of The War Over Iraq, now acknowledges that "the liberal component of liberal democracy--to the extent that it ever took hold in Iraq--has all but evaporated". This, most acknowledge, is due to a simple lack of the troops needed to succeed in a mission of this scale. This weakness could be ameliorated, if not eliminated, by the addition of several divisions. While I opposed invading Iraq, other humanitarian missions, such as intervening in genocides like those seen in Rwanda, Cambodia, and, indeed, 1980s Iraq, would be easier to execute with a larger military; the off-chance that a larger national security threat would arise as a humanitarian intervention is taking place would be more tolerable, as that threat could be dealt with at the same time as the humanitarian situation. Indeed, with a larger military, we can truly say, 60 years after the freeing of Auschwitz, "never again".
As I noted after reading Bush's inaugural speech, humanitarian interventions such as the kind I advocate do not serve our national interest. But as I should have noted then, they don't necessarily have to. Our hegemony will end eventually; all hegemonies do. If we are to make something of our power, we can't accept simply promoting our national interest; we must make a larger commitment. And such a commitment will only be possible with a larger military. President Bush would be wise to heed the advice of these experts; his, and America's, legacy depend upon it.
It's amazing, looking at the Social Security debate that has occurred over the past few months, and seeing just how much has changed. When it first became clear that privatization would be President Bush's top domestic priority at the beginning of his second term, it was basically conceded that he would get it passed. This is, after all, a president who was able to pass a combined $1.7 trillion (yes, trillion) dollars in tax cuts in less than three years, and that was after having lost the popular vote by 500,000 votes. Now, having won the popular vote with (as wingers never tire of reminding us) the largest number of votes in the country's history, he had claimed a mandate, and it seemed as though he might have been able to get Social Security privatization passed even without the compromises that were required with his 2001 and 2003 tax cuts ($400 billion was trimmed from the first one; $376 billion from the second). Now, that possibility seems laughable, at best.
Why the dramatic shift in expectations? These things are almost never simply the work of one person, but I think that it can be said, fairly, that a great deal of the credit for this turnaround can be given to Josh Marshall. Those of you who read Marshall's blog know that his sole and defining purpose over the past few months has been covering, and influencing, the debate over Social Security privatization. His readers' grassroots (or, if you prefer, "netroots") campaigning, facilitated through his creation of the "Fainthearted Faction", composed of pro-privatization Democrats, and of the "Conscience Caucus", composed of anti-privatization Republicans, has driven numerous Congress(wo)men and Senators to oppose privatization. But, perhaps more importantly, he has done something that no other person has done for at least six years: he's created a unified Democratic message. I feel safe in saying that, if it were not for Josh Marshall, Terry McAullife, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid wouldn't be working half as hard as they currently are at defeating Bush's proposal. They wouldn't be daring to do what they are currently doing, at the urging of Marshall: insisting that Social Security is not in a crisis. The entire Democratic party has stood firmly together against privatization; they haven't taken such a strong, unified stance on an issue since the Reagan era. Moreover, it's featured a unified argument, which is something that I can't recall seeing in this party, period; the argument that Social Security is not in crisis is all but universal today. This kind of unity in message shot the Republicans into our country's leadership, and it could very well do the same for us. And it wouldn't be happening if it weren't for Josh Marshall.
So, now, thanks to the enormous pressure being exerted by the Democratic party and, increasingly, mainstream Republicans against privatization, the passage of Bush's proposal seems less and less likely everyday. Think about that. A major, massive change in American public policy has likely been averted by a blogger. For all the hullabaloo over Powerline and Little Green Footballs' supposed taking down of the mainstream media, that will likely have much less of an effect on the country than Marshall's lobbying efforts have had. He's preserved one of our nation's grandest institutions; they got a news anchor fired. Which is a greater achievement for the blogosphere?
Daniel Drezner reports surprise over Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's willingness to work with the IMF and the U.S. This is best explained by the fact that the U.S. has tended to offer unqualified support for Brazil. Even as Brazil's economy was collapsing due to President Cardoso's short-sighted Real Plan, the U.S. maintained that the plan was a good idea. President Bush maintained these good relations. See this section from a speech by Undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs John Taylor on Lula da Silva's economic policies:
The recent electoral victory of Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva provides a valuable opportunity for a promising new chapter in historically strong relations between our two countries. In this new era, Brazil and the United States face many common economic challenges, from strengthening economic growth to combating the financing of terrorism. It is now more important than ever for the United States and Brazil to continue to strengthen our cooperation.
We are encouraged by the economic leadership that President Lula and his new economic team have already shown. We have seen an agenda designed to fight poverty and increase economic growth and stability. The new economic plan is rightly ambitious in its specific aims to end hunger, combat corruption, and discourage drug trafficking. And it is responsible in its emphasis on economic reform in the four key areas: fiscal policy, monetary policy, trade policy, and structural policy. There are clearly many reasons to be hopeful about Brazil.
What was most annoying about the Rice confirmation hearings was the accusations of bitterness against her opponents. I could handle the racism accusations; the accusers are obviously imbeciles. But the bitterness argument is both more pervasive, and more hypocritical. The reason I opposed Rice's confirmation was not due to bitterness over the election. It was due to the fact that she:
These two things show that she does not deserve to be "America's face to the world", or the President's chief advisor on foreign affairs. Having been identified as an obvious lier, what shot does she have at being a successful diplomat? And, having shown her incompetence through her failure to plan for the occupation in Iraq or carefully examine the data on Iraq and al-Qaeda or Iraq's WMD, she certainly doesn't deserve to be the top Presidential advisor on international relations. My opposition to her appointment has nothing to do with the election; it has everything to do with her inability to do the job.
P.S. Speaking of bitterness, Taegan Goddard reports that Republicans are still showing more than a little of it in Washington State:
"Republicans have confirmed that 240 convicted felons and 60 other people voted illegally in the election that Democrat Christine Gregoire won by 129 votes," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports.
The Seattle Times notes the party "has not released the names of the people they say cast illegal votes... but it will have to do that before a trial begins."
Will Saletan has an interesting, but, fundamentally, wrong essay in Slate about Hillary Clinton's sudden shift to the right on abortion, of all things:
Abortion is "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women," said Clinton. Then she went further: "There is no reason why government cannot do more to educate and inform and provide assistance so that the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances."
Does not ever have to be exercised. I searched Google and Nexis for parts of that sentence tonight and got no hits. Is the press corps asleep? Hillary Clinton just endorsed a goal I've never heard a pro-choice leader endorse. Not safe, legal, and rare. Safe, legal, and never.
Once you embrace that truth—that the ideal number of abortions is zero—voters open their ears. They listen when you point out, as Clinton did, that the abortion rate fell drastically during her husband's presidency but has risen in more states than it has fallen under George W. Bush. I'm sure these trends have more to do with economics than morals, but that's the point. Once we agree that the goal is zero, we can stop asking which party yaps more about fighting abortion and start asking which party gets results.
Critics of birth control say the surest way to avoid unintended pregnancy is to avoid sex. They're right. I've heard a few liberals complain that this message is too preachy and encroaches on the sexuality of teenagers. With all due respect, it's time for Democrats to throw these people overboard. Many profound things are at stake in the abortion debate. Afternoon delight isn't high on the list.
Charles Johnson repeats the common right-wing comment that what happened at Abu Ghraib wasn't torture. I'd advise Johnson to look at the testimony against Charles Graner. It's pretty informative in this matter:
Opening statements began on January 10. During this hearing, witness testimony began. Three soldiers in Graner's unit testified; the first was Specialist Matthew Wisdom, who first reported the situation at Abu Ghraib. Wisdom said that Graner had enjoyed beating inmates (saying that he had laughed, whistled, and sung) and was the one who first thought of arranging the prisoners in naked human pyramids and other positions. On this day the judge-advocate, Michael Hunter, banned any further reporting of the hearing.
Testimony continued the next day, as Syrian foreign fighter Ameed al-Sheikh told the court in video testimony that Graner has beaten him while he was recovering from a bullet wound. Al-Sheikh described Graner as the "primary torturer" and said that he had forced him to eat pork and drink alcohol, told him to thank Jesus for keeping him alive, and had threatened to kill him. Al-Sheikh also gave testimony about interrogations at the prison, saying that Americans known only as "Mikey" and "Steve" told him that Graner would beat him if he did not cooperate.
On January 11, military prosecutors also presented evidence not publically released, including a video of forced group masturbation and a picture of a female prisoner being forced to show her breasts.