Posted at 3:47 PM ET, 10/ 9/2006
It's not too late. Not for Donald H. Rumsfeld to turn things around in Iraq but, argues historian Robert Dallek, for President Bush to show Rumsfeld the door. He's the "public face of the U.S. debacle in Iraq" and, if history is a guide, it's time to bid that face farewell.
What interested Peter Lattman at the Wall Street Journal's legal blog wasn't Dallek's logic, but rather his opening anecdote. Dallek recounts career advice that then President Richard M. Nixon bestowed upon Rumsfeld in March of 1971. Nixon told him he should be a Cabinet officer but not just any Cabinet officer. "I wouldn't put you in Defense and I wouldn't put you in State," Nixon said. "Actually, you could be attorney general."
Well, could he have been? Or, as the Journal blog asks, "Is he one of us?" No. "Not according to our crack Law Blog research staff, which revealed that the secretary of defense is a law-school dropout, quitting Georgetown Law in 1957."
Dallek's piece is based primarily on historical precedent-defense secretaries who over or under stayed their welcomes, and how Rumsfeld will stack up. The Journal is not uninterested in historical precedent. Just historical precedent of a different kind. "Has a non-lawyer ever served as attorney general? We thought the AG was the nation's top lawyer, but maybe President Nixon knew something we didn't."
So far, the answer seems inconclusive. Though an astute reader points to Reverdy Johnson, who never received a formal legal education.
Elsewhere, a reader more critical of Rumsfeld notes that not only is it time for him to go: "It's been time for him to go."
What does Rumsfeld himself think? While others are drafting opinion pieces urging Bush to show him the door, Rumsfeld himself wrote a memo, obtained by Bob Woodward, that highlights-among other things-the "United States' antiquated system of government [that] makes competence 'next to impossible.'"
At the leftcoaster, one a reader decodes his understanding of Rumsfeld's displeasure with that antiquated system:
"What Rumsfled [sic] seems to be saying is that his job would be a lot easier if it didn't have to worry about such things as laws, The Congress, the Supreme Court, etc."
And at the Progressive Action blog, Rumsfeld's own words are "translated" in "English." Where Rumsfeld writes "Today the world requires new international organizations tailored to new circumstances" it should be read as "The world is not bowing to us as they should..."
For further translation, Dallek was live online on Monday discussing his take on Rumsfeld. Most readers wanted to know how likely a significant personnel change might be and what, if anything, a Rumsfeld ouster would accomplish. Dallek's take: "The parallels to Vietnam are eerie. I'm afraid it's going to take a new admin to get us out of the mess we are in."
Posted at 2:51 PM ET, 09/25/2006
The Torture Debate
Ariel Dorfman wrote about a former political prisoner who had been a victim of torture in his play “Death and the Maiden.” Considering torture and interrogation practices this week in Outlook, he revisited not his invented-torture victim, the “Maiden” character Paulina Escobar, but the actual first person he met who had been tortured. He looked again at a man he met—a broken, troubled man—in order to “force my fellow citizens here to spend a few minutes with the eternal iciness that had settled into that man's heart and flesh, and demand that they take a good hard look at him before anyone dare maintain that, to save lives, it might be necessary to inflict unbearable pain on a fellow human being.”At Reason’s blog, the eventual legislative compromise on“alternative interrogation procedures” is called “all to the good” but, like many others, “the mere fact that we actually have to have such legislation is disheartening.” Dorfman, Reason says, "eloquently decries the use of torture and how it betrays the values that America stands for.”
Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat’s Outlook piece, like Dorfman’s, touched on her experience chronicling the lives of victims of torture. Reader Michael Binder notes that Danticat “leaves unsaid what we all know, that U.S. support of torturous regimes, including technical support on the art and craft of torture, is nothing new. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the old cold warriors surrounding George W. Bush are insisting on torture as an item in the U.S. arsenal, since for them it has always been there.”
Dissatisfied with both Dorfman and Danticat, libertyblog notes that neither one of these pieces talks about explicitly about the victims of terrorists acts—acts that “alternative interrogation techniques” are meant to prevent.
Thus, the anecdotal evidence, artistically rendered, is unconvincing. “If these are the best arguments the opposition can muster, Bush wins.”
A third point of view on the torture and interrogation question came straight from Army interrogators themselves. The Booman Tribune uses the interrogators’ words to write a short lesson on interrogation techniques for President Bush.
Another novelist wrote in Outlook this week, with a somewhat better news story that Danticat’s ruminations on torture. Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, who was charged with “denigrating Turkishness” in her novel “The Bastard of Istanbul” was acquitted last week. She also gave birth to a baby girl. It was a busy week. And, as one reader notes, it was also “a rare victory in the Muslim world for the values that we all hold dear—and take for granted—in the free, democratic societies of the West.”
Elsewhere in Outlook, Anthony Faiola, the Post’s Northeast Asia Bureau Chief, wrote about Japan’s Junichiro Koizumi. He also used a Koizumi-as-Anakin analogy, one that inspired a question of how best to analogize future Japanese political developments. “So are we reaching the end of Episode III now? Is Mori going to pull Koizumi out of the volcano, slap body armor on him and turn him into a Sith Lord? “Darth Kakuei,” maybe?"
Posted at 3:12 PM ET, 09/18/2006
Advice Overload, This Time for Republicans
It's only fair. In June, Outlook presented Democratic candidates with a wide array of tips—both strategic and philosophical—on how not to blow it come November. This week, the Republicans get the guidance that many in the party think they so badly need.
Former Congressman Joe Scarborough was one advice-giver. His take on how not to get swept out of office by GOP fatigue and frustration? “Blame George W. Bush
It’s more nuanced than that of course, but the main point is: the President does not really represent conservative values and it’s time to, among other things, “castigate [the] president for claiming to support homeland security while allowing our borders to remain wide open.”
Would that work? “Sounds like a winning message to me,” says Rod Dreher, Mr. Crunchy Con. Though he says he's not sure he wants them to win and adds himself to the (growing) list of “conservatives who believe it'd be better for the GOP to lose the House and get busy reforming itself to be ready for 2008.”
Stuart Stevens is not a Scarborough Republican. He's still a George W. Bush Republican and he wrote in Outlook about how life imitates high school, in politics and everything else a and a temporarily-losing quarterback shouldn't be snubbed when the going gets tough. His analogy resonates for at least one reader, who notes that "the Democrats want desperately to nationalize the election into a vote on Bush and Bush's policies. Getting sucked into that is not a good idea for Republican candidates for a simple reason: voters are not stupid."
Congressman Joe Schwarz might not have as high an opinion of Michigan voters. Moderates, whom he was counting on to keep him in office, stayed home during the primaries. He offers advice on how not to lose an election like he did. And in Michigan, both the Club for Growth and MichiganLiberal take note of their opponent (or would-have-been-opponents) views or, as they interpret them, sour grapes.
Perhaps Rep. Schwarz can pursue a post-Congressional career in cable television. The medium has been good to Joe Scarborough, who was live online discussing his article on Monday. Scarborough fans were online too, peppering him with question preambles like “Joe, I'm a progressive but I enjoy watching your show, because I find you to be honest and refreshing, for the most part,” and “Hi Joe, love your show, but wish you'd leave it to run again!” Among the fans, though, was one less than effusive reader, accusing Scarborough of piling on the anti-Bush train when it seemed convenient and selling out. Scarborough says anyone who thinks he sold out has confused him “for a sitting Republican.”“I am saying the same exact things I said in 1994. Unlike too many in the GOP, I still support tax cuts, spending cuts, a less intrusive government and a strong national defense.” He’s saying the same things he said in 1994, just saying them on cable television now. His main question is: are enough (or any) candidates listening?
Posted at 4:01 PM ET, 09/11/2006
Time to Remember the Forgotten War
As the nation (and the nation’s news organizations) looked backward at 9/11 and the intervening five years, Peter Bergen reported in Outlook on the forgotten war in Afghanistan and the resurgence of the Taliban. Most readers agreed it was an important memory jog. Steve Clemons—also an Outlook contributor--
found the tone of Bergen’s piece “and his depictions of the enemy sound very much like an increasingly encircled elite just before things went bad in China in 1947 and then again some decades later in Saigon.” Clemons also talked about Afghanistan and Iran, in light of Khatami’s recent visit to the U.S. Clemons reminds readers of the cooperation between Iran and the U.S. on Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. “Before President Bush's famous ‘axis of evil’ speech, most in the administration were appreciative of Iran's assistance inside Afghanistan, with which Iran has had a close working relationship with the Afghan military. The United States could not have successfully pacified Afghanistan without Iranian help behind the scenes.”
Another reader calls attention to Bergen’s point about Afghanistan's poppy fields and the "definitive link between the rise of the opium trade and increased attacks.” This connection isn't novel, the blogger notes: "It doesn't take an expert like Bergen to point out what we in the blogosphere have said for months -- the Taliban must be destroyed, and the only way to do that is to kill the opium trade and to demand Pakistan plug the holes in the porous border region.”
Elsewhere in Outlook, James Forsyth urged American universities to tear up any post Prime Minister-ship Ivory Tower invitations forTony Blair. The economist Greg Mankiw agrees: there’s more to be gained by being inhospitable than by rolling out the welcome mat for foreign politicians and academics. They’re both mostly tongue-in-cheek, of course, but Mankiw does note that “it is true that many of the best economists born outside of the United States end up at U.S. universities. This phenomenon is great for U.S. universities and their students (even if it depresses my salary). But I wonder if their immigration adversely affects the policies of their home countries.”
Finally, Michael Grunwald reported on the DC’s mayor’s race in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary. Grunwald noted the differences in Adrian M. Fenty and Linda W. Cropp’s approaches to campaigning and their goals for the city.
Grunwald was live online on Monday chatting about the article. In addition to some discussion of the Post’s coverage choices and why Marie Johns isn’t a frontrunner, a reader asked a fundamental question about the D.C. mayor’s race: why does anyone want to be the mayor of Washington anyway? “It's not like being mayor of another major city, where it can lead to be a governor or a senate run,” the reader asked.
Grunwald replied: “D.C. isn't much of a stepping stone these days, which is one reason I suggested that Fenty's grand ambition--which a lot of people seem to find somewhat distasteful--may be for the city as much as himself. Maybe he wants to be remembered as the mayor who made the District great.”
Ambition goes hand in hand with energy, which raised the question for some of whether Cropp actually wants to be mayor and whether she’d have the energy to govern. Per Grunwald, “Cropp says she has the fire in her belly but she doesn't seem to want it as badly as Fenty. And yes, there's something to be said for energy in the executive. I think Alexander Hamilton already said it.”
He did, in Federalist 70:“Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government.”
Whether either Fenty or Cropp has the energy to make Washington D.C. the definition of good government is up to the voters.
Posted at 5:38 PM ET, 08/28/2006
Home Sweet Home
Outlook went house hunting this weekend and the real estate market was not pretty. Michael Grunwald's article about the increasingly elusive dream of home-ownership and the new realities of who qualifies for affordable housing caused some online readers to say its time to ditch that original dream. At Economistsview, one commenter said: “It's time for America to re-imagine the dream of home ownership, and start thinking about smaller, better-made houses close to urban centers…It makes me ill to go to the rural community I grew up in and see miles of land once used for horse farms crowded now with cheaply-made "McMansions."
Robert Neuwirth, at squattercity, seems to agree that the cost of housing should be a major political issue, but disagrees that—as Grunwald wrote—“the best thing local officials can do to promote affordable housing is to get out of the way.” Neuwirth writes that, “unfortunately, ending exclusionary zoning and upping density may result in more rental units, but experience shows that this will only nudge prices downward at the top of the market.”
So there’s no real solution. Or at least no real solution other than moving.
That’s what this reader did, writing in from North Carolina, having fled the DC housing market.
Elsewhere in Outlook, John McWhorter wrote a defense of Andrew Young, late of Wal-Mart and, to many, essentially indefensible. At bullwinkleblog, McWhorter’s case is “laughable,” and leads to a slippery slope of making excusing that few should buy. "By using McWhorter's reasoning, and I'm using the term loosely here, white supremacist's about blacks aren't necessarily wrong as long as they only make them at meetings attended by other white supremacists. Since Young was speaking to the black audience of the Sentinel his statements can't possibly racist, just misunderstood."
Others agree with McWhorter's take, though NativeSon does think McWhorter is off in his assessment of George Allen's statements: "I do think he knew what was he was saying. He may not have known the meaning of what he said, but he linked it to this young mans skin color."
Michael Grunwald was live online on Monday, discussing his housing story and fielding more plaintive queries about income, employment and the housing market than a journalist (albeit a very capable one) is perhaps qualified to answer. The upshot to it all still remains tempered pessimism and the unwelcome realization that maybe it's impossible to live how you want to live where you want to live.
Alternatively, move to Texas. That's what one commenter, from Austin, Texas, suggested: "There are vast swathes of the country where it's still possible to buy a perfectly respectable home for, say, $150,000-$175,000. Most of Texas is that way (although not, unfortunately, my city)." As Grunwald says, " The affordability crisis isn't everywhere. It's in metropolitan areas, and mostly in coastal states. I think you're right to assume that the housing downturn won't affect the other areas as much, since the housing upturn didn't affect them as much." If moving to Texas or non-coastal areas isn't for you, there were two other alternatives discussed. Work to make housing affordability and the housing crisis a major issue in the 2008 campaign. And if the political doesn't work, Grunwald has personal advice: marry up.
Posted at 2:09 PM ET, 08/21/2006
At Long Length, Civil War Declared
Outlook this week devoted significant space to Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack's piece on civil war in Iraq. Most online readers responded first and most vehemently not to the analysis of the regional implications for civil war in Iraq or to the historical comparisons with other civil conflicts in recent memory, but to the idea of calling Iraq a civil war at all. Byman and Pollack began their piece this way: "The debate is over: By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war."
Yet, the debate is not (never really) over, and perhaps has just begun. For Daniel Larison , the piece launched a glum thought experiment: "Imagine if, even after the collapse of the USSR, Russia were still in Afghanistan today with no end in sight-that would be our future in 2020. Imagine 15,000 more American dead and possibly six times as many wounded before it's all over. Iraq would become little more than our protectorate for the next generation, and possibly longer than that if we could retain control that long."
Readers on both the right and left discussed the domestic political implications of the piece. At DailyKos, a poster notes that Byman, Pollack and Outlook are part of "an important shift in the media narrative." That shift: "the new CW is that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war....it's an important milestone, because mention of civil war runs the risk of making American voter support, what's left of it, plummet."
On the other side, floppingaces reminds readers that even if Iraq is descending into civil war--and who are Byman and Pollack to say it is?--that's not as bad as Saddam. "Hundreds of thousands were killed from the criminal activity inside the Saddam regime...Whats sad is that the liberals desperately want it to become a civil war so they can tell the world that Bush was wrong, they were right"
Maybe Iraq is in the midst of a civil war and maybe it isn't, most online readers conclude. More importantly, though, who is Ken Pollack to be calling the civil war debate over? (He is the author of "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.") Jim Henley notes: "Ken, baby it's your civil war as much as anyone's. Pollack did more than anyone to encourage the famous 'liberal hawks' to provide the bipartisan patina so useful in getting the Iraq invasion started." Jonathan Schwarz, at This Modern World, quotes from Pollack's "Threatening Storm" to compare what he wrote then to what he's writing now. In Schwarz's estimation, it's not a favorable juxtaposition. And John Quiggen is equally surprised at Pollack's latest argument.
Byman was live online on Monday and most readers wanted to know what the U.S. should do after facing the reality of civil war in Iraq. What of the operating rule "you broke it, you buy it?" Byman's take is that while the U.S. has a "strong moral debt to pay given that many of the problems in Iraq today occurred on our watch" reconstruction only works in a secure environment. "So without security and an impartial government, reconstruction dollars largely are wasted or go to making the problem worse." Another reader asked: "Isn't the first step to stability in Iraq or any place else to first acknowledge the reality of the situation?." Byman says yes. That's why he wrote the piece. It tries to acknowledge the reality of the situation, as he sees it. Which, as far as others are concerned, is pretty far from reality.
Posted at 4:45 PM ET, 08/14/2006
A Losing Proposition
Even the stickiness of an inconveniently humid Washington August not a news vacuum, as Outlook (and others) duly noted this week, nor was there a dearth of commentary on the news. In Outlook, James Mann detailed why Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice isn’t winning the war in the Middle East and David Kennedy explained why the United States isn’t winning the war on crime.
That’s two losing propositions for online readers to call into question. At dailypundit, Mann’s argument sounds like an early piece against the eventual candidate Rice. After all, how can it be Rice’s war? “Did the White House take off for Uranus, taking GWB with it?”
David Kennedy's piece on the war on crime also stuck some readers as potential campaign fodder. Kennedy wrote about soaring homicide rates and formally successful anti-crime policies currently in disarray in U.S. cities. David Adesnik at oxblog thinks that portions of Kennedy argument about how to attack the problems sound like pages from Karl Rove's playbook. Or, as he asks, "Is this guy on Rove's payroll?" More importantly to Adesnik, it seems, is the question of how Democrats can respond to continually escalating crime rates.
Elsewhere online, the author of an African-American opinion blog, writes that the statistics in Kennedy's piece "reflect the nation's complacency in fighting crime here in America. We are spending billions of dollars in Iraq while abandoning effective programs that emphasized prevention, putting more police officers on the street and controlling the spread of guns in urban (mostly black and hispanic) communities."
And Richard Layman , an "urban revitalization advocate," expands on Kennedy’s piece, talking specifically about what he’s observed in Washington. “The current burst of violent crime coincides with a recognition of greater economic disparity. In DC at least, while certain neighborhoods are experiencing great increases in income and wealth, other neighborhoods are experiencing persistent and greater levels of poverty.”
Kennedy was online on Monday where he was asked if things are so bad now, what can be done to regain positive crime-fighting momentum? Kennedy says that, among other methods,“those formally charged with public safety” must “work with communities to help them establish informal social control…We learned ten years ago in Boston how to do that, and back it up with enforcement and services.What we've learned since then is how to add to that the very, very powerful moral voice of communities, saying ‘we love you but what you're doing has to stop.’”
Posted at 4:06 PM ET, 08/ 7/2006
Chavismo on the March?Just in time for Castro's "first embrace with mortality,” as one reader noted, Outlook focused on Latin American politics, with dispatches from a Venezuelan playwright, a a Chilean newspaper editor and Francis Fukuyama on a trip to Caracas.
Fukuyama’s thoughts on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez generated the most interest online. Steve Sailer notes that the piece “tries to stick some fingers in the leaking [dike] of his End of History theory by explaining that the popularity of Hugo Chavez is a product of high oil prices.” Sailer faults--and has faulted previously-- Fukuyama's tendency to “explain the upsurge of Latin American leftist populism without ever mentioning ... race. It's obvious just by looking at pictures of representatives of the different sides in Latin America that the essential root of the conflict is that white people more or less own Latin America and dark people aren't happy about that fact. But Fukuyama is resolved to remain oblivious to the obvious.”
Eunomia also raises the question of Fukuyama’s “ignoring the salience of questions of race and ethnicity as forms of identity that are very powerful in driving history.” From Eunomia’s point of view, the current political realities in Venezuela “absolutely does not verify Fukuyama’s fantasy about the ‘direction’ of History (which does not actually have a discernible, necessary direction) or his notion that History is against anyone.”
Fukuyama took readers questions online Monday, where he reiterated his view that Chavez is not a dictator, but rather “a quasi-democratic, quasi-authoritarian leader whose instincts incline him towards the latter position.” Thus, in response to a question on the subject, calling Venezuela a dictatorship is not off-base. “Democracy in my view is more that being elected every four years. It also involves institutions of horizontal accountability like courts, rule of law, political parties, and independent civil society and media, and all of these things Chavez has steadily brought under his control.” Fukuyama and his readers discuss Chavez as a reaction to social inequality, how petrodollars can address that social inequality, and Venezuela’s chances of a seat on the U.N. Security Council, among other topics. From Venezuela, a reader asks what the effect of the purchase of “very powerful and sophisticated Russian war material will have in the regional political balance.” Fukuyama says it’s hard for him to believe that “Chavez actually wants to use these weapons against his neighbors…but I suppose stranger things have happened.”
Elsewhere online, one blogger responded to the section as a whole, including Julia Sweig’s piece on Washington and Latin America. The blogger wants to know why, as Sweig does, “more people don’t look at what seems to be the real effect of Hugo Chavez on the region. He got Evo Morales, but his mere existence helped tank Lopez Obrador’s recent candidacy in Mexico, despite there being no known connection between the two.”
And Mattias A. Caro read and wrote about the section as a whole as well, noting that “the crown jewel” was Paula Escobar’s piece on “why Chile has enjoyed the success and stability its Latin American brothers find so fleeting.” Caro, presumably a Chilean himself, likes the very end of Escobar’s piece—“the student with the best grades is rarely the most popular one”--which he says aptly describes both Chile and himself.
Posted at 4:20 PM ET, 07/24/2006
Outlook this week detailed daily life in both Beirut and Haifa as attacks in the Middle East continued. Apart from the dark humor in the diaries, the section also featured Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Hezbollah scholar in Beirut, trying to answer the question, as she put it, “what on earth” Hezbollah was up to when “it abducted two Israeli soldiers and provoked a punishing response that is creating orphans and bringing down buildings all around us?”
A blogger reading Saad-Ghorayeb from Jerusalem says that reading her piece is a sobering reminder that compromise isn’t really an option in any realistic way. Jonathan Keiler agrees with most of Saad-Ghorayeb’s argument, especially the notion that Israel “can completely defeat [Hezbollah] only by conducting the kind of vicious campaign…that Israel will never do.”
Though where Saad-Ghorayeb says a weakened Hezbollah is more dangerous than a strong militia, Keiler disagrees. “It is hard to imagine that Hezbollah can be much worse than it is... Better it be weakened when it resumes the offensive than to act from a position of strength.”
There was plenty of additional disagreement earlier on Monday when Saad-Ghorayeb answered reader questions online. She noted that many non Shiites were initially resentful of Hezbollah for provoking Israel’s attacks, but now that anger has been “replaced by a resentment of Israel’s excessive violence,” which, is “perpetrating collective punishment.” Now, Saad-Ghorayeb said, one poll indicates that over 90 percent of Shiites support Hezbollah’s right to exist. Many people writing in used the word terrorist to describe Hezbollah, a term that Saad-Ghorayeb disputes. The spirited back and forth prompted one commenter to say that the conflict on the washingtonpost.com live online session is one tiny window into why “resolving the conflicts has been such an intractable problem…It may be satisfying to be oppositional, but it doesn’t seem like a good way to move forward.” Saad-Ghorayeb doesn’t find opposition for opposition’s sake satisfying. She says she finds it difficult to find common ground with readers whose basic assumption is that Israel is “a peaceful nation. I have to make a counter-argument. Some critical thinking is in order here.”
Elsewhere in Outlook this week, Michael Grunwald wrote about the politics of global warming—making the pun it is perhaps impossible not to make that “global warming is having its moment in the sun.” In response, Glen Barry writes at climateark that Grunwald’s piece indicates that “denial is starting to crumble” even though “Americans continue to resist the dramatic personal and societal actions necessary to lower carbon emissions.”
Pat Cleary writes about Grunwald’s piece at Shop Floor, the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers (the “millions of people who make things in America”), which was also linked to on RedState. Further global warming puns prove impossible to resist. “This piece re-heats…lots of canards, assumes consensus and alludes to the hot weather in Washington as just so much more global warming.” Cleary sees no evidence that it is and thinks the discussion remains “one-sided.”
From Australia, Blue Beyond notices that Americans “now accept that global warming is a reality, but don’t want to take the responsibility to do something about it. It’s too easy “to blame the Americans” because, as Blue Beyond notes “we Aussies are doing our bit to screw up the planet too.” A solution? “I hope that Americans do the one good thing and put Mr. Gore into the Presidency. Then we have a chance that one man’s voice can make a difference.”
But where, really, should one man’s voice be making a difference? Is the presidency really the place for Al Gore? Grunwald also argued in Outlook this week that Mr. Gore should think about a second act as the second in command and re-run for Veep.
Andrew Sullivan for one doesn’t think “it’s nuts.” Sullivan says Gore is “the most viable candidate in my view,” mostly because of his pre-9/11 hawkish record and foreign policy experience. He is though, as Grunwald writes as well, a “terrible candidate.” A solution? “An Obama-Gore ticket, with Gore as the veep, is a variation on the Bush-Cheney 2000 strategy—a young, untested pol with a daddy at his side.”
Who else could run with Gore? At the Democratic Daily, former unofficial Kerry blogger Ron Chusid asks whether anyone is up for a Kerry-Gore ticket. He notes “it will never happen” but likes thinking about it anyway.
Posted at 9:29 AM ET, 07/18/2006
A 19th century history lesson on slavery found in the basement of a Georgetown home “could not have come at a better time,” according to one reader of Andrew Stephen’s Outlook piece this week. The story, tracing the largely forgotten (or rarely discussed) history of black families in Georgetown resonated today, in part, some readers say, because of a DC police inspector’s remark last week that “black people are unusual in Georgetown.”
The police officer’s comment came at a neighborhood meeting following a murder in Georgetown earlier this month. Reading the history together with the recent news was an important juxtaposition for blogger NativeSon. “Now, as a 30 y/o educated black man with no criminal record, I am also concerned by the recent increase in crime. But for some reason I have been categorized as ‘unusual.’ I found this odd, because the last time I checked, black people visit and live in Georgetown….So how did my existence and presence all of a sudden become “unusual?”
In addition to Stephen’s piece, Outlook also featured the oral history of a family with multi-generational ties to Georgetown, a piece that also resonated for NativeSon.“As I read this piece, I completely connected with the interviewees. Especially when they talked about people approaching them at their doors asking to speak to the owner of the home, assuming they were hired help. This perception and attitude still exist in the work place and in the daily lives of black people”
Another reader notes that, though of interest, it’s unfortunate that a broader discussion of race in Georgetown appears to have been prompted by violence: “People are actually talking about race, rather than treating it like the ‘elephant in the front room’…Instances of talking about race should not require tragedies as the prime motivation.”
In addition to local history, Outlook also featured some personal history of a particularly geo-politically relevant sort. When Hasan Nasrallah was 22 years old he wondered, “if we are to expel the Israeli occupation from our country, how do we do this?”as Robin Wright reported in Outlook this week from a recent interview with the Hezbollah leader. In a weekend of continued violent volleys in Israel and Lebanon, many online read the Nasrallah interview as evidence that no apparent solution is on the horizon:
One reader’s take: “He talks about democracy one moment and then the necessity of suicide bombings to achieve that democracy…Most of all, it seems like many of these cases, he wants to be taken seriously and be legitimized.”
The childhood anecdotes--playing "cleric" at age 10--struck another reader as the most ominous part of the profile: "What a creepy little kid. If he were American, we would describe him as a bullying child who lacked the ability to form relationships with others, and compensated by ordering them around."
The portrait Wright painted of Nasrallah was troubling to Hampton Stephens not just for the complex portrait of the powerful man but because of the “immense popularity Nasrallah enjoys among many in the Arab world.”
Finally, Outlook featured political history this week:Thomas Mann’s look at how the Democrats might take the House, if history is a guide. A usual crew of political blogs take notice of his favorable predictions for Democrats this fall. On the liberal side, Dailykos disagrees with Mann on some points, but does agree that Mann “gets the central point right—if this election is about Bush and the Rubber Stamp Republican Congress, Democrats win.” Republican bloggers are less convinced that Mann gets the central point right. California Conservative quibbles with Mann’s assertion that because the numbers “indicate a wave building against Republicans,” Democrats will win. “What they should tell him is that conservatives plan on voting for more, not fewer, conservatives. There isn’t much chance that conservatives will stay home and let Democrats take power because we know that that’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Mann was also live online on Monday, making more specific predictions. He was asked about how Kos et. al. and the “distasteful and alienating” tone of some in the greater progressive netroot community might be “counterproductive” to Democrats. Mann notes that activists on both sides take extreme views, “cause elected officials discomfort” but also energize their parties. The outcome in the fall will depend on that energy. “Turnout will be key,” Mann wrote. “ Current evidence suggests Republicans are demoralized by a number of factors: high spending, big deficits, a bloody and costly war in Iraq, high energy prices.” Despite the conventional wisdom to the contrary, Mann says the demoralization could be enough to deliver the House. He’s never seen Democrats as unified in the House and Senate as they are today and “President Bush's political fortunes decline and his potential Republican successors begin to identify themselves as different from Bush.”
Posted at 4:08 PM ET, 07/10/2006
What Counts in Iraq
In Outlook this week, Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, wrote on civilian casualties in Iraq, touching on not just the high profile Haditha and Mahmudiyah, but also of the more common accidental killings at checkpoints, like one that took place earlier this year in Samarra. Many online seem eager for the conversation and note that while Bacevich catalogs some of the administration's missteps, he misses some key points (like, says one blogger, that the entire invasion was flawed to begin with) and doesn’t account for the need to prioritize the safety of American troops above all else.
Cori Dauber asks what the benefit would be if the military began to publicly count civilian deaths. Bacevich points out in his piece that the military was criticized for the Vietnam body counts and, as a result, hasn’t publicly counted civilian wartime deaths since then. Dauber notes that “the military stopped doing these counts in part because the accusation was that they ‘dehumanized’ the enemy, turning them into nothing more than numbers.” Dauber says she’s not sure that providing an accurate count would “resolve the accusations Bacevich makes about dehumanizing Iraqis or valuing them less.” Additionally, Dauber thinks Bacevich doesn’t sufficiently underscore the need to prioritize the lives of American soldiers. That necessary prioritization doesn’t mean, she says, that “we don’t value Iraqi lives, or that mistakes made in the way force protection was pursued imply a casualness regarding Iraqi lives.”
Vanity Fair contributor James Wolcott points to Bacevich’s piece as an “important piece…about the callow attitude towards civilian casualties that has helped make enemies of those we boast about having liberated.” He notes that the attitude, as described by Bacevich, is nothing new and “at least American policy is consistent, because we've been making the same mortal mistakes in Afghanistan, perhaps with even more roaring disregard.”
At Digby’s blog (which Wolcott calls “Digby the indispensable”) Bacevich inspired extensive commentary. The problem, Digby and his commenters agree, is that the invasion itself is a “bad decision from which everything else flows.” The lesson is clear to Digby: “an illegal, dishonest war of choice is doomed on its own terms. In the modern world outright conquest is impossible and anything else cannot be finessed with spin and wishful thinking.”
Bob Fertik at democrats.com takes up a different part of the discussion: Bacevich’s commentary that the failure to account for civilian casualties is part of the military’s characterization of Iraqis in “crass language, redolent with racist, ethnocentric connotations.” Fertik notes the Southern Poverty Law Center’s recent report on increasing numbers of white supremacists in the military. He notes that, taken together with Bacevich’s piece, the “incomprehensible un-American atrocities committed by some U.S. soldiers start to become comprehensible. And behind these atrocities lies a profound, hateful, and unquestioned racism that is no different from that of Nazi Germany.”
Some blogs note what was missing from Bacevich: an accounting of how many people died while Saddam Hussein was in power. Penraker says Saddam “was killing his own people at a very nice clip, perhaps 50-100,000 per year” and that the US-led invasion “should suggest to any rational person that a great number of lives are being saved today.” Penraker goes on to suggest that focusing on checkpoint killings disregards the “thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands or maybe millions of Iraqis” who have passed through the checkpoints safely. The blogger’s view on the war is that the United States has “taken it upon ourselves to try to bring a semblance of peace and democracy to a place where cutting heads off is a common occurrence….This is a hard, hard mission fraught with difficulty.”
Bacevich and the bloggers who take up his discussion online certainly do not dispute that the war in Iraq is a hard mission, fraught with difficulty. They think that if the United States has taken it upon itself to bring "a semblance of peace and democracy" to Iraq, it should also account for the human cost.
Elsewhere, Outlook adapted part of Steven H. Miles' book “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror (Random House). Miles was online earlier today, discussing the obligations of medical practitioners during war. Miles wrote candidly about how the incidents he describes in his book might affect military medicine as a whole. He was asked about how most medical personnel in the Army feel about the complicity in torture that he described in his book. Miles said: “One of the saddest and most infuriating things about this is that this event has tarnished the reputation and traditions of US military medicine. I have worked with our Armed Forces, most recently in tsunami wrecked Indonesia, also in the VA. Our soldiers are honorable and professional men and women. This policy framework was inherently corrupting, command accountability was wrecked, the damage to the abused, to the abusers, to our national reputation will be long lasting.”