War with Iran: The Worst Option

Via Matt Yglesias of TPM Cafe, we find this short but sweet article in The Atlantic, by James Fallows. It describes a War Game session The Atlantic held two years ago to explore the possible outcomes of an escalating conflict between Iran and the United States.

The article is worth a full read, and it is brief. The group concluded back then that a military strike on Iran was the worst option. As Fallows describes, all the factors that make this so have increased over the intervening years.

How did we get to this point? Fallows tells it like it is:

The inconvenient truth of American foreign policy is that the last five years have left us with a series of choices, and all of them are bad. The United States can’t keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, for obvious reasons. It can’t withdraw them, because of the chaos that would ensue. The United States can’t keep prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (and other overseas facilities) indefinitely, because of international and domestic challenges. But it can’t hastily release them, since many were and more have become terrorists. And it can’t even bring them to trial, because of procedural abuses that have already occurred. Similarly, the United States can’t accept Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power, but it cannot prevent this through military means, unless it is willing to commit itself to all-out war.

President Bush and the failure of both his vision and his execution have brought us to a point where we have no good options. I hope people will remember that in November.

President Bush Calls Talk of War with Iran Speculation

We learn from the Washington Post that President Bush is miffed. Miffed that news sources would print articles about his administration’s plans for dealing with Iran. From the article (quoting the President):

“I know here in Washington prevention means force,” he said in response to an audience question after a speech at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “It doesn’t mean force, necessarily. In this case, it means diplomacy. And by the way, I read the articles in the newspapers this weekend. It was just wild speculation, by the way. What you’re reading is wild speculation, which . . . happens quite frequently here in the nation’s capital.”

Why would he say this? The fact is, his military planners are indeed constructing plans should an invasion of Iran become “necessary.” He has already invaded one nation, Iraq, which he said belonged to the “axis of evil,” because he was convinced they might have weapons of mass destruction. I don’t think the news articles could properly be called “wild speculation” given these facts. The President has so far failed to explain why it was so urgent to invade Iraq, who were complying with weapons inspectors, and who had no nuclear technology, and yet it is not so urgent to invade Iran, who have stated clearly that they believe they have a right to nuclear weapons, and are within at most years of developing them.

At the same event, the President demonstrated that he doesn’t understand how a Democracy works:

With some students inside the small hall wearing red signs protesting his policies, Bush said he welcomes dissent. “I get protested all the time,” Bush said to laughter, then called it a “great thing” in a democracy. “The protests really don’t bother me. I hope that’s not viewed as cavalier, but it’s just the way I feel.”

Those students are his constituents. This President is using his citizens’ heartfelt attempts to tell him their disagreements as window dressing. The arrogance.

Another Day Without DeLay

It is a good feeling. Oh, and remember that “War on Christians” conference I blogged a few days ago? Well, The Nation’s Robert Scheer heard about it too, and his take is spot on:

Let’s leave aside for a moment the absurdity of right-wing Christians’ persecution complex at a time when their adherents effectively control all three branches of the federal government. What’s even more confusing is how so many enemies of virtue seem to have had a field day operating under poor DeLay’s auspices, including the latest member of his staff to plead guilty to a felony. That would be Tony Rudy, DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff, who has now pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge for accepting payments from fellow criminal Jack Abramoff while serving in DeLay’s office, and later working to corrupt public officials and defraud clients.

Exactly. It’s getting to the point where, if a high level Republican operative says something, it is generally the case that the opposite is true.

The End of DeLay

What to say about Tom DeLay? His zeal, arrogance, determination, and power reached incredible heights in his time. It seemed he would do anything to further the creation of a Republican majority in Congress. His success lives on, though he will not be a part of it any longer. It is tempting to bask in the DeLay-free political future, but now is not the time to relax.

DeLay’s exit, in a strange way, could help Republicans. Democrats have focussed on DeLay’s crimes, because he was the House Majority leader, and because they were so numerous, but now we risk having wasted all of that effort because he will not be there to vote against. This would be a shame, because DeLay, though he is not running, remains emblematic of the current GOP approach to campaigning and governance. We must remind the voters that this is so.

John Nichols at The Nation concludes that, strategy be damned, it’s just good to know that DeLay is not going to have any power any more:

While it is surely the case that the Texas Congressman’s career was in steep decline following his indictment on campaign-corruption charges and his forced resignation from the majority leader position, for so long as Tom DeLay remained within grasping reach of the levers of power in Washington, the prospect of a further dismantling of democracy remained all too real.

While I agree wholeheartedly, at the same time we must not let the GOP get away with claiming, like they did with their sham lobbying reform package, that everything is fine now. Everything is not fine now. Republicans still control both houses of Congress with the total discipline DeLay imposed. Debate is limitied, and bills are massaged behind closed doors. The culture of corruption remains, though its Dear Leader may be gone.

From the Washington Post:

DeLay’s decision to resign from the chamber he once ruled with a clenched fist gave some Republicans hope that the party can move beyond a burgeoning corruption scandal as the congressional election season heats up. That scandal so far has led to guilty pleas to corruption charges by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, once a close ally of DeLay’s, and former DeLay aides Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy, who worked with Abramoff after leaving their Capitol Hill jobs.

It is vital that we not allow this debate to become personal. DeLay may or may not be guilty of the offences with which he is charged, but he is certainly guilty of changing the atmosphere in Washington for the worse, and all the voters in the nation must remember that we have the power to change that in November.

When Balance Creates Incoherence

The Washington Post’s Jeffrey Birnbaum has written a column titled, “Looks Like It Will Be A Lost Year In Legislation.” While I agree with his main premise, that Congress ought to be working harder to enact laws that will serve the nation, his explanation for the status quo is instructive:

One word characterizes the situation: gridlock.

That’s right, Birnbaum blames . . . everyone. Equally. He somehow failed to mention such relevant details as which political party controlled both houses of Congress. He listed some legislation that he thought was frivolous, but did not say who had proposed it. This vagueness, I assume for the purpose of appearing balanced, makes it possible for the author to criticize Congress generally for not getting things done, but it does not offer any insight into why things are this way, or how to fix them. Take this example:

The urge to play it safe would explain the rush of largely rhetorical issues that are about to clog the Senate’s legislative docket: Constitutional amendments that would ban flag-burning and same-sex marriages, and a resolution that would censure President Bush for warrantless wiretapping.

Not that these things don’t matter. They are likely to rile up voters, perhaps enough to compel them to go to the polls in November. That is their greatest value — at least for the pols who plan to shout about them.

Anyone who takes these issues seriously should be either amazed or offended at the silliness of Birnbaum’s argument. If legislation energizes voters, isn’t that what it is supposed to do? Isn’t that why we vote for representatives in the first place? To make laws we like? Not to mention the short shrift given to issues some people take quite seriously. I don’t see how censuring the President for violating a clear law is a “rhetorical issue,” and I’m sure there are some out there who feel the same about his other examples.

This is strange enough, but later on in the piece there occurs such a strange omission that I can’t figure it out:

What lawmakers crave more than a lobbying bill with teeth is a lobbying bill, period. They want the ability to say they voted for “reform” if and when indictments are brought against members of Congress. That, they hope, will be enough to insulate them from voter outrage.

Not lawmakers, Jeffrey: Republicans. Say it with me now, Republicans. Republicans have the lobbying scandal problem. To refuse to say it plainly, for the sake of balance, is to reduce your column to insanity. Are there any Democrats currently facing indictment? You know the answer. (No.)

I have trouble understanding what the column is supposed to be about in the first place. Maybe the conclusion will help:

This situation is not helped by the president’s dismal job-approval ratings, which are making the Republican majority nervous and the Democratic minority eager to capitalize on anything that might give them political advantage.

“The two political parties are in what seems to be a perpetual war for political power, making it even harder to forge a compromise,” Josten said.

Which is a formula for a lost legislative year.

Hmm. Well, that certainly is too bad. Those parties should stop being so power hungry and monolithic so there can be real compromise. How can they both be equally blind?

Oh, wait. That’s not how it is. The Republican, Rovian machine, has made things this way. Birnbaum’s refusal to tell it like it is has made his column empty and unconvincing.

Authenticity and Certainty

It seems like the conventional wisdom has coalesced around two metrics that determine electability: authenticity and certainty. Certainly, that’s one idea I get from this Washington Post article, which analyzes the President’s recent use of less-scripted, more off-the-cuff public appearances to improve his poll numbers. Apparently, Bush makes little jokes, and “plays the rube,” and people come away impressed because he seems so authentic.

The President’s certainty is well known. For example, he was unable to think of a single mistake he had made during a press appearance a few years ago. One of the things that he has said is that, even if you don’t agree with him, you know where he stands.

Taken together, the authenticity and certainty metrics represent a new way for candidates to campaign. Values and issues are becoming less important, I contend because they are becoming confusing and complex. Global climate change is complicated, foreign relations are complicated, and so are all the other jobs the President is supposed to do. Thus, for someone to establish that they know what to do and that they really believe in it makes all the difference. If their opponents have some nuanced vision of things, all the better for the President.

The problem is, as Kerry said in the first debate, you can be certain and wrong. The internal emotional state of one man is a terrible foundation for complex decisions. The solution here is to focus on results, with concrete, vivid examples, rather than personality contests. Republican candidates will always have the upper hand among confused people, because they seem so sure. We have to fight that with clear, precise examples of their failures. Don’t worry–there are lots to choose from.

Hypocrite Republicans

David Broder’s column today in the Washington Post opens tellingly:

Jim Nussle took a little time off from his campaign last week to handle a small chore in Washington: writing a budget for the U.S. government.

In the piece, Broder examines the offhandedness of the GOP’s handling of this huge task. I recommend the whole column, because it describes how this Congress is on track to meet the fewest hours since the Congress of 1948, and because it spears GOP hypocrites like this:

Democrats were trying to reimpose the budget rule known as “pay-go.” That requirement simply says any spending increase or tax cut is to be offset by a comparable saving. . .

Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Republican chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, led the effort to defeat it, arguing that it would inevitably force a tax increase . . .

Four years ago, Gregg said: “If we do not do this, if we do not put back in place caps and pay-go mechanisms, we will have no budget discipline in this Congress, and, as a result, we will dramatically aggravate the deficit . . .”

When [Sen. Kent] Conrad quoted those words, Gregg replied: “I was right then, and I am right now. Times change, and the dynamics of what is happening around here change substantively.”

Oh, GOP Congress, I am sad for you. It must have been so easy when Democrats were in charge, and they kept running the finances responsibly, so that it was easy to argue in favor of crazy things, like simultaneously increasing spending and decreasing revenue. Not so fun trying to keep all your campaign promises when there’s no adult around to make sure things work out.

What was that old campaign item you guys used to have? Fiscal responsibility? It looks nice. I think we’ll take it.

Predictable Failure of Lobbying Reform

When the Jack Abramoff scandal was the scandal du jour, and Tom DeLay’s money laundering indictment made headlines every day, Republicans knew they had to act quickly to clean up the reputation of the Congress. They replaced DeLay with John Boehner, who made it clear that he would get the job done. From a February 2nd Washington Post article:

Boehner . . . called for change to prove to voters that the Republican Party is taking the corruption scandal seriously.

By “the job,” of course, I do not mean cleaning up Congress’ act–I mean the convincing voters part. So the Republicans talked about reform, and plans were discussed and crafted, and in the end, a watered down reform bill that will improve things slightly passed the Senate. The House version, where Boehner is in charge, is even weaker than the senate version. From today’s Washington Post:

The Senate largely avoided curtailing the behavior of lawmakers. It decided to prohibit lawmakers from accepting meals and gifts from registered lobbyists, but shelved a plan offered by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) yesterday that would have applied that ban to companies and organizations that employ those lobbyists. The House measure would not bar meals or gifts from lobbyists or from anyone else.

The article describes both measures in summary, and they appear to dole out a few minor restrictions, require somewhat fuller disclosure, and . . . that’s it. It seems that Congress just doesn’t get it: we’re tired of corruption in American politics. I note with some shame that the Senate measure passed 90-8, which means many Democrats also voted for it. Come on, guys. Your constituents want stronger barriers between these shady dealings and our elected officials. I know it’s fun to fly on nice jets, but come on.

The editorial pages of two of my favorite newspapers were critical as well. From the New York Times:

Facing voters’ flagging confidence, the Senate chose to emphasize greater disclosure by lobbyists while rejecting such vital reforms as the creation of an independent office to investigate ethics abuses. The instinct to protect privileged clubbiness carried the day, most glaringly when the Senate spiked any idea of ending lawmakers’ shameless use of the executive jets so eagerly offered by corporate officials bent on insider access.

and the Washington Post:

If the Senate bill is disappointing, though, the House is poised to do even worse. A proposal unveiled last month by the Republican leadership would do nothing to restrict gifts from lobbyists. It would merely impose a temporary moratorium on privately funded travel while the ethics committee studies what to do — or, more cynically, while members wait for the storm over Jack Abramoff to blow over. It suffers from the same shortcomings as the Senate measure in terms of enforcement and corporate jets.

I would like to thank Senators Obama, Feingold, and Kerry for correctly voting against this garbage. In the United States, the people should have the power, not the lobbyists. The addiction to luxury and easy money is one that Congress, both parties, should break, and the sooner the better.

There is No War on Christians

I do not understand the persistent, vocal assertions from some groups of people that there is some War on Christians going on in this country. It just isn’t true. These groups ordinarily claim that some pervasive culture of licentiousness is being actively promoted purposely to undermine Christian values, but in reality, whatever license flourishes in our society does so because the market wishes it. Liberalism merely recognizes that one ought not legislate a citizen’s private choices with which others might disagree.

Which is, at heart, the problem. The groups who claim there is a War do not want state neutrality on religion–they want active promotion and enforcement of their personal religion. From that standpoint, it might indeed appear there was a War on Christians in this country, because this country was never meant to have an enforced state religion.

Dana Milbank writes, in a column on the Washington Post website,

There are those who would say Tom DeLay lost his job as House majority leader because he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on charges of money laundering and conspiracy, or because of his extensive ties to lawbreaking lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But they would be wrong.

In fact, the Texas Republican fell from power because he is a Christian.

That, at least, is the view of Rick Scarborough, convener of a conference this week called “The War on Christians.”

Now this is a new development. Scarborough apparently claims that “the most damaging thing that Tom DeLay has done in his life is take his faith seriously into public office, which made him a target for all those who despise the cause of Christ.” How can this possibly be taken seriously? DeLay was indicted for money laundering, which is illegal, and that’s what made him a target. Before that, he was a target for being arrogant and, you know, the House majority leader of a party with whom half the country disagrees.

In fact, let’s examine a snippet of DeLay’s speech from the conference (via Milbank’s column):

But this was not the time for a DeLay confessional. Instead, he gave his view on the War on Christians. “Sides are being chosen, and the future of man hangs in the balance!” he warned. “The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will. . . . It is for us then to do as our heroes have always done and put our faith in the perfect redeeming love of Jesus Christ.”

You know, maybe money laundering isn’t the most damaging thing DeLay’s ever done after all. Maybe being crazy is.

Conferences like this show the real purpose of the War on Christians claim: to manipulate religion for political gain. By pretending Christian zeal, and victimization by anti-religious culture, DeLay hopes to convince voters to like him, and vote for him, and to ignore his possibly unethical behavior. It is a shameless tactic that debases both the belief and the believer alike.

Republicans: Party of Fiction

There is so much data out there now that confirms the climate models of human caused global warming, it is sometimes hard to believe that many Americans believe the issue is still not settled. Of course, we must remember that some of our elected leaders choose to ignore the evidence and pretend that everything is fine.

Bryan Farrell writes in The Nation about one example of Republicans embracing fiction over fact—literally:

President Bush invited [Michael] Crichton to speak to a private audience at the White House last year about his techno-thriller State of Fear, in which a group of eco-terrorists undertake a phony global warming scheme to earn government grants. Someone who attended the event said President Bush and his guest “talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement.”

. . . the American Association of Petroleum Geologists saw fit to give Crichton its 2006 Journalism Award, despite the book’s appearance on the New York Times list of best fiction sellers.

The Republicans have become the party of fiction. Turning the corner in Iraq, everything fine with global climate, just keeping on until the Rapture comes. Unfortunately, as is so often the case when you choose to base your ideas on falsehoods, there are real world consequences to deal with:

The Winds of Change includes in its appendices a chronology that tracks the accelerating pace of climate change, culminating with the record-breaking number of hurricanes. Linden said he could fill a few more pages with events like: 2005 was the warmest year in history; January 2006 was the warmest in US history; a winter hurricane in the North Atlantic; fierce wind storms in the Northeast; the wasting of Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets; and an emerging La Nina that could cause catastrophic droughts.

I’ve already blogged the Time cover story on climate change, as well as the stories of homeless Inuits, threatened Canadian forests, and unexpectedly fast glacial melting in Greenland. The consequences are all around us, and it is no time to be embracing fiction when we ought to be dealing with the facts.

So as we head towards November, make sure to remind everyone that they have a choice, between the party of fiction, and the party of truth.