Archives for October 2008


Moving beyond opposition

In any presidential contest between two candidates there are essentially six ways in which each ballot can be cast. In the current election, this means you can vote in one of the following ways.

  • Vote for Obama because of who he is and what you hope he will do.
  • Vote for McCain because of who he is and what you hope he will do.
  • Vote for Obama because of who he is and what you hope he will do and because of who McCain is and what you fear he will do.
  • Vote for McCain because of who he is and what you hope he will do and because of who Obama is and what you fear he will do.
  • Vote for Obama for the simple reason that you do not want McCain to become president.
  • Vote for McCain for the simple reason that you do not want Obama to become president.

Just suppose that having received their party’s nomination, each candidate had declared: “If you genuinely want me to become president, I want your vote, but if you have any other reason for voting for me, don’t vote.”

Under such terms, John McCain might as well have withdrawn from the race in early September.

On the other side, the idea that support for Obama has been driven above all by antipathy for George Bush has been greatly overstated. Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul each made as strong a claim as did Obama for having opposed Bush, yet neither won a fraction of the support.

When 100,000 people have showed up for an Obama rally, they have been drawn by attraction, not reaction. This is what distinguishes the strength of Obama’s candidacy in 2008 from the weakness of John Kerry’s in 2004.

Whereas a McCain victory hinges on the McCain-Palin campaign’s ability to fuel and harness fear of and opposition to Obama, an Obama victory will reflect the depth of his support more than the breadth of opposition to John McCain or Sarah Palin.

This then is what will mark the end of the Bush era: the end of the notion that victory depends on destroying ones opponents; that we can move beyond defining who we are in terms of what we oppose.

The next president and the Global War on Terror

A week ago, I had a long conversation with a four-star U.S. military officer who, until his recent retirement, had played a central role in directing the global war on terror. I asked him: what exactly is the strategy that guides the Bush administration’s conduct of this war? His dismaying, if not exactly surprising, answer: there is none.

President Bush will bequeath to his successor the ultimate self-licking ice cream cone. To defense contractors, lobbyists, think-tankers, ambitious military officers, the hosts of Sunday morning talk shows, and the Douglas Feith-like creatures who maneuver to become players in the ultimate power game, the Global War on Terror is a boon, an enterprise redolent with opportunity and promising to extend decades into the future.

Yet, to a considerable extent, that very enterprise has become a fiction, a gimmicky phrase employed to lend an appearance of cohesion to a panoply of activities that, in reality, are contradictory, counterproductive, or at the very least beside the point. In this sense, the global war on terror relates to terrorism precisely as the war on drugs relates to drug abuse and dependence: declaring a state of permanent “war” sustains the pretense of actually dealing with a serious problem, even as policymakers pay lip-service to the problem’s actual sources. The war on drugs is a very expensive fraud. So, too, is the Global War on Terror. [continued…]

Petraeus wants to go to Syria; Bush administration says no

A pparently Gen. David Petraeus does not agree with the Bush administration that the road to Damascus is a dead end.

ABC News has learned, Petraeus proposed visiting Syria shortly after taking over as the top U.S. commander for the Middle East.

The idea was swiftly rejected by Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department and the Pentagon.

Petraeus, who becomes the commander of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) Friday, had hoped to meet in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Petraeus proposed the trip, and senior officials objected, before the covert U.S. strike earlier this week on a target inside Syria’s border with Iraq.

Officials familiar with Petraeus’ thinking on the subject say he wants to engage Syria in part because he believes that U.S. diplomacy can be used to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. He plans to continue pushing the idea. [continued…]

High risk, limited payoff

The Oct. 26 air raid in which U.S. special-operations pilots flew two dozen Black Hawk helicopters across Iraq’s border and killed eight people on Syrian territory marks a new phase in the Bush administration’s war on terror—a phase rife with limited payoffs and astonishingly high risks.

U.S. officials say the cross-border attack was aimed at, and killed, a high-level al-Qaida agent known as Abu Ghadiyah, who has long been smuggling jihadists and arms into western Iraq.

However, Syrian officials say the strikes killed civilians, including a woman and children. They filed a complaint with the U. N. Security Council, closed down the American School in Damascus, and canceled their participation in the upcoming regional conference on Iraqi security.

Even the Iraqi government has joined the Syrians in condemning the airstrikes and is now insisting that a new Status of Forces Agreement—the treaty that permits U.S. troops to remain in Iraq—must include a clause forbidding those troops from using Iraq as a base for attacking other countries. [continued…]

A last push to deregulate

The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining. [continued…]

Scandal of six held in Guantanamo even after Bush plot claim is dropped

In the dying days of the Bush administration, yet another presidential claim in the “war on terror” has been proved false by the withdrawal of the main charge against six Algerians held without trial for nearly seven years at Guantanamo prison camp.

George Bush’s assertion in his 2002 State of the Union address – the same speech in which he wrongly claimed that Saddam Hussein had tried to import aluminium tubes from Niger – was that “our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy [in Sarajevo].” Not only has the US government withdrawn that charge against the six Algerians, all of whom had taken citizenship or residence in Bosnia, but lawyers defending the Arabs – who had already been acquitted of such a plot in a Sarajevo court – have found that the US threatened to pull its troops out of the Nato peacekeeping force in Bosnia if the men were not handed over. According to testimony presented by the Bosnian Prime Minister, Alija Behman, the deputy US ambassador to Bosnia in 2001, Christopher Hoh, told him that if he did not hand the men to the Americans, “then let God protect Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

That such a threat should be made – and the international High Representative to Bosnia at the time, Wolfgang Petritsch, has also told lawyers it was – shows for the first time just how ruthless and unprincipled US foreign policy had become in Mr Bush’s “war on terror”. By withdrawing their military and diplomatic support for the Bosnian peace process, the Americans would have backed out of the Dayton accord which they themselves had negotiated. Then the Bosnian government would have lost its legitimacy and the country might have collapsed back into a civil war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians and involved mass rape as well as massacre. The people of Bosnia might then have endured “terror” on a scale far greater than the attacks of al-Qa’ida against the United States. [continued…]

The co-president at work

When George W. Bush testified before the 9/11 Commission, Dick Cheney was with him in the Oval Office. What was said there remains a secret, but throughout the double session, it appears, Cheney deferred to Bush. Aides to the President afterward explained that the two men had to sit together for people to see how fully Bush was in control. A likelier motive was the obvious one: they had long exercised joint command but neither knew exactly how much the other knew, or what the other would say in response to particular questions. Bush also brought Cheney for the reason that a witness under oath before a congressional committee may bring along his lawyer. He could not risk an answer that his adviser might prefer to correct. Yet Bush would scarcely have changed the public understanding of their relationship had he sent in Cheney alone. “When you’re talking to Dick Cheney,” the President said in 2003, “you’re talking to me.”

The shallowest charge against Cheney is that he somehow inserted himself into the vice-presidency by heading the team that examined other candidates for the job. He used the position deviously, so the story goes, to sell himself to the susceptible younger Bush. The truth is both simpler and more strange. Since 1999, Cheney had been one of a group of political tutors of Bush, including Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz; in this company, Bush found Cheney especially congenial—not least his way of asserting his influence without ever stealing a scene. Bush, too, resembled Cheney in preferring to let others speak, but he lacked the mind and patience for discussions: virtues that Cheney possessed in abundance.
New York Review Books Children

As early as March 2000, Bush asked him whether he would consider taking the second slot. Cheney at first said no. Later, he agreed to serve as Bush’s inspector of the qualifications of others; his lieutenants were David Addington and his daughter Liz. Some way into that work, Bush asked Cheney again, and this time he said yes. The understanding was concluded before any of the lesser candidates were interviewed. It was perhaps the first public deception that they worked at together: a lie of omission—and a trespass against probity—to give an air of legitimacy to the search for a nominee. But their concurrence in the stratagem, and the way each saw the other hold to its terms, signaled an equality in manipulation as no formal contract could have done. It is hardly likely that an exchange of words was necessary. [continued…]



A change of tone

Barack Obama’s interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson last night can be viewed as standard fare in what we’ve come to know of the Obama candidacy. But what might now seem familiar is something that should neither be taken for granted nor simply labeled as the well-polished performance of a seasoned candidate.

Obama is pitch-perfect and knows how to set exactly the right tone. This level of poise is no small feat when for months and months, your opponents have been flinging the wildest accusations in your direction.

More importantly, it sets the Obama presidency on a clear trajectory upon which if we might not now know many of the policy details or the circumstances in which they will get fleshed out, we do at least know the style with which Obama will handle executive power.

His will be measured, respectful, open and pragmatic. That’s an all-important contrast from a presidency that has been forceful, condescending, secretive and ideological.

This is a change in tone that truly matters.

In an era during which style has come to be regarded as a form of deceit — we invariably expect not to get what we see — Obama’s performance is viewed by skeptics as simply that: performance.

Well, if the polls are any indication, the performance worked. The postulation of an Obama presidency is likely to soon become the practice of President Obama.

We all get to find out: Did the majority of voters get hoodwinked by a slick performance? Or, was a secret fear behind the opposition one that none dare speak: that if Obama turned out to be the real deal, then his ability to function as an agent of change might be impossible to thwart?

From Great Game to Grand Bargain

U.S. diplomacy has been paralyzed by the rhetoric of “the war on terror” — a struggle against “evil,” in which other actors are “with us or with the terrorists.” Such rhetoric thwarts sound strategic thinking by assimilating opponents into a homogenous “terrorist” enemy. Only a political and diplomatic initiative that distinguishes political opponents of the United States — including violent ones — from global terrorists such as al Qaeda can reduce the threat faced by the Afghan and Pakistani states and secure the rest of the international community from the international terrorist groups based there. Such an initiative would have two elements. It would seek a political solution with as much of the Afghan and Pakistani insurgencies as possible, offering political inclusion, the integration of Pakistan’s indirectly ruled Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the mainstream political and administrative institutions of Pakistan, and an end to hostile action by international troops in return for cooperation against al Qaeda. And it would include a major diplomatic and development initiative addressing the vast array of regional and global issues that have become intertwined with the crisis — and that serve to stimulate, intensify, and prolong conflict in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Afghanistan has been at war for three decades — a period longer than the one that started with World War I and ended with the Normandy landings on D-day in World War II — and now that war is spreading to Pakistan and beyond. This war and the attendant terrorism could well continue and spread, even to other continents — as on 9/11 — or lead to the collapse of a nuclear-armed state. The regional crisis is of that magnitude, and yet so far there is no international framework to address it other than the underresourced and poorly coordinated operations in Afghanistan and some attacks in the FATA. The next U.S. administration should launch an effort, initially based on a contact group authorized by the UN Security Council, to put an end to the increasingly destructive dynamics of the Great Game in the region. The game has become too deadly and has attracted too many players; it now resembles less a chess match than the Afghan game of buzkashi, with Afghanistan playing the role of the goat carcass fought over by innumerable teams. Washington must seize the opportunity now to replace this Great Game with a new grand bargain for the region. [continued…]

World is facing a natural resources crisis worse than financial crunch

The world is heading for an “ecological credit crunch” far worse than the current financial crisis because humans are over-using the natural resources of the planet, an international study warns today.

The Living Planet report calculates that humans are using 30% more resources than the Earth can replenish each year, which is leading to deforestation, degraded soils, polluted air and water, and dramatic declines in numbers of fish and other species. As a result, we are running up an ecological debt of $4tr (£2.5tr) to $4.5tr every year – double the estimated losses made by the world’s financial institutions as a result of the credit crisis – say the report’s authors, led by the conservation group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund. The figure is based on a UN report which calculated the economic value of services provided by ecosystems destroyed annually, such as diminished rainfall for crops or reduced flood protection.

The problem is also getting worse as populations and consumption keep growing faster than technology finds new ways of expanding what can be produced from the natural world. This had led the report to predict that by 2030, if nothing changes, mankind would need two planets to sustain its lifestyle. “The recent downturn in the global economy is a stark reminder of the consequences of living beyond our means,” says James Leape, WWF International’s director general. “But the possibility of financial recession pales in comparison to the looming ecological credit crunch.” [continued…]

Get ready for ‘stag-deflation’

Back in January, I argued that four major forces would lead to a risk of deflation– or “stag-deflation,” where a recession would be associated with deflationary forces–rather than the inflation that mainstream analysts have worried about.

They were: (1) a slack in goods markets, (2) a re-coupling of the rest of the world with the U.S. recession, (3) a slack in labor markets, and (4) a sharp fall in commodity prices following such U.S. and global contraction, which would reduce inflationary forces and lead to deflationary forces in the global economy.

How has such argument fared over time? And will the U.S. and global economies soon face sharp deflationary pressures? The answer: Deflation and stag-deflation will, in six months, become the main concern of policy authorities. [continued…]

America must lead a rescue of emerging economies

The global financial system as it is currently constituted is characterised by a pernicious asymmetry. The financial authorities of the developed countries are in charge and they will do whatever it takes to prevent the system from collapsing. They are, however, less concerned with the fate of countries at the periphery. As a result, the system provides less stability and protection for those countries than for the countries at the centre. This asymmetry – which is enshrined in the veto rights the US enjoys in the International Monetary Fund, explains why the US has been able to run up an ever-increasing current account deficit over the past quarter of a century. The so-called Washington consensus imposed strict market discipline on other countries but the US was exempt from it. [continued…]

Preventing a global slump must be the priority

The view is widely held, particularly in the US, that the world needs a big purge of past excesses. Recessions, on this line of argument, are good. People who hold this view also argue that governments caused all the mistakes. The market would, they insist, be incapable of the errors we have seen. To them, Alan Greenspan’s confession last week that “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interest of organisations, specifically banks and others, was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders” was about as welcome as Brutus’s knife was to Caesar.

Intriguingly, the Bank’s Financial Stability Report provides some support for this view: back in 1900, US banks had four times as much capital, relative to assets, as they do today. Similarly, the liquidity of the assets held by UK banks has collapsed over the past half-century. Implicit and explicit guarantees from governments have indeed made the financial system more dangerous than before. The combination of such guarantees with deregulation has proved lethal. Moral hazard is far from meaningless.

Yet the idea that a quick recession would purge the world of past excesses is ludicrous. The danger is, instead, of a slump, as a mountain of private debt – in the US, equal to three times GDP – topples over into mass bankruptcy. The downward spiral would begin with further decay of financial systems and proceed via pervasive mistrust, the vanishing of credit, closure of vast numbers of businesses, soaring unemployment, tumbling commodity prices, cascading declines in asset prices and soaring repossessions. Globalisation would spread the catastrophe everywhere.

Many of the victims would be innocent of past excesses, while many of the most guilty would retain their ill-gotten gains. This would be a recipe not for a revival of 19th-century laisser faire, but for xenophobia, nationalism and revolution. As it is, such outcomes are conceivable. Choosing to risk such an outcome would be like deciding to let a city burn in order to punish someone who smoked in bed. Risking huge damage now in the hope of lowering moral hazard later is mad. [continued…]

McCain camp trying to scapegoat Palin

John McCain’s campaign is looking for a scapegoat. It is looking for someone to blame if McCain loses on Tuesday.

And it has decided on Sarah Palin.

In recent days, a McCain “adviser” told Dana Bash of CNN: “She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone.”

Imagine not taking advice from the geniuses at the McCain campaign. What could Palin be thinking?

Also, a “top McCain adviser” told Mike Allen of Politico that Palin is “a whack job.”

Maybe she is. But who chose to put this “whack job” on the ticket? Wasn’t it John McCain? And wasn’t it his first presidential-level decision? [continued…]



Win or lose, many see Palin as future of party

Whether the Republican presidential ticket wins or loses on Tuesday, a group of prominent conservatives are planning to meet the next day to discuss the way forward, and whatever the outcome, Gov. Sarah Palin will be high on the agenda.

Ms. Palin, of Alaska, has had a rocky time since being named as Senator John McCain’s running mate, but to many conservatives her future remains bright. If Mr. McCain wins, she will give the social conservative movement a seat inside the White House. If he loses, she could emerge as a standard bearer for the movement and a potential presidential candidate in 2012, albeit one who will need to address her considerable political damage.

Her prospects, in or out of government, are the subject of intensive conversations among conservative leaders, including the group that will meet next Wednesday in rural Virginia to weigh social, foreign policy and economic issues, as well as the political landscape and the next presidential election. [continued…]

Editor’s CommentRichard Cohen nailed it in his description of how Palin had the National Review and Weekly Standard editors drooling over her:

    Palin is a down-the-line rightie, so her inexperience, her lack of interest in foreign affairs, her numbing provincialism and her gifts for fabrication (Can we go over that “bridge to nowhere” routine again?) do not trouble her ideological handlers. Let her get into office. They will govern.

Accuracy of polls a question in itself

Could the polls be wrong?

Sen. John McCain and his allies say that they are. The country, they say, could be headed to a 2008 version of the famous 1948 upset election, with McCain in the role of Harry S. Truman and Sen. Barack Obama as Thomas E. Dewey, lulled into overconfidence by inaccurate polls.

“We believe it is a very close race, and something that is frankly very winnable,” Sarah Simmons, director of strategy for the McCain campaign, said yesterday.

Few analysts outside the McCain campaign appear to share this view. And pollsters this time around will not make the mistake that the Gallup organization made 60 years ago — ending their polling more than a week before the election and missing a last-minute surge in support for Truman. Every day brings dozens of new state and national presidential polls, a trend that is expected to continue up to Election Day. [continued…]

Prospect of peace talks rises in Afghanistan

The Afghan war is at its highest pitch since it began seven years ago, growing daily in scope and savagery. Yet on both sides of the conflict, the possibility of peace negotiations has gained sudden prominence.

Among Western and Afghan officials, analysts and tribal elders, field commanders and foot soldiers, the notion of talks with the Taliban, once dismissed out of hand, has recently become the subject of serious debate.

Both sides acknowledge that there are enormous impediments. Each camp has staked out negotiating positions that are anathema to the other. Neither side professes the slightest trust in the other’s word. Each side claims not only a battlefield edge, but insists that it is winning the war for public support.

But whether they are willing to admit it publicly, both sides have powerful incentives for turning to negotiations rather than pushing ahead with a grinding war of attrition. Would-be mediators have emerged, preliminary contacts have taken place, and more indirect talks are likely soon. [continued…]

U.S. mulls talks with Taliban in bid to quell Afghan unrest

The U.S. is actively considering talks with elements of the Taliban, the armed Islamist group that once ruled Afghanistan and sheltered al Qaeda, in a major policy shift that would have been unthinkable a few months ago.

Senior White House and military officials believe that engaging some levels of the Taliban — while excluding top leaders — could help reverse a pronounced downward spiral in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan. Both countries have been destabilized by a recent wave of violence.

The outreach is a draft recommendation in a classified White House assessment of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, according to senior Bush administration officials. The officials said that the recommendation calls for the talks to be led by the Afghan central government, but with the active participation of the U.S.

The idea is supported by Gen. David Petraeus, who will assume responsibility this week for U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. Petraeus used a similar approach in Iraq, where a U.S. push to enlist Sunni tribes in the fight against al Qaeda in Iraq helped sharply reduce the country’s violence. Gen. Petraeus earlier this month publicly endorsed talks with less extreme Taliban elements.

The final White House recommendations, which could differ from the draft, are not expected until after next month’s elections. The next administration wouldn’t be compelled to implement them. But the support of Gen. Petraeus, the highly regarded incoming head of the U.S. Central Command, could help ensure that the policy is put in place regardless of who wins next month’s elections.

The proposed policy appears to strike rare common ground with both presidential candidates. Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama has said he thinks talks with the Taliban should be considered and has advocated shifting more military forces to Afghanistan. Republican contender Sen. John McCain supports, as part of his strategy, reaching out to tribal leaders in an effort to separate “the reconcilable elements of the insurgency from the irreconcilable elements of the insurgency,” Randy Scheunemann, the campaign’s top foreign-policy adviser, said Monday. [continued…]



Like, socialism

Back when the polls were nip and tuck and the leaves had not yet begun to turn, Barack Obama had already been accused of betraying the troops, wanting to teach kindergartners all about sex, favoring infanticide, and being a friend of terrorists and terrorism. What was left? The anticlimactic answer came as the long Presidential march of 2008 staggered toward its final week: Senator Obama is a socialist.

“This campaign in the next couple of weeks is about one thing,” Todd Akin, a Republican congressman from Missouri, told a McCain rally outside St. Louis. “It’s a referendum on socialism.” “With all due respect,” Senator George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, said, “the man is a socialist.” At an airport rally in Roswell, New Mexico, a well-known landing spot for space aliens, Governor Palin warned against Obama’s tax proposals. “Friends,” she said, “now is no time to experiment with socialism.” And McCain, discussing those proposals, agreed that they sounded “a lot like socialism.” There hasn’t been so much talk of socialism in an American election since 1920, when Eugene Victor Debs, candidate of the Socialist Party, made his fifth run for President from a cell in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was serving a ten-year sentence for opposing the First World War. (Debs got a million votes and was freed the following year by the new Republican President, Warren G. Harding, who immediately invited him to the White House for a friendly visit.)

As a buzzword, “socialism” had mostly good connotations in most of the world for most of the twentieth century. That’s why the Nazis called themselves national socialists. That’s why the Bolsheviks called their regime the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, obliging the socialist and social democratic parties of Europe (and America, for what it was worth) to make rescuing the “good name” of socialism one of their central missions. Socialists—one thinks of men like George Orwell, Willy Brandt, and Aneurin Bevan—were among Communism’s most passionate and effective enemies.

The United States is a special case. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — In America, even though socialism is afforded about as much respect as cannibalism, it’s not quite as damaged a brand as the Right would have us believe.

Secretly, everyone knows that there are limits to how hard socialism can be knocked. For good reason, there is not and never will be an anti-socialist movement. Anyone dumb enough to call themselves an anti-socialist might as well just declare that they are in their heart of hearts a mean, selfish bastard.

We do in fact all subscribe to some form of socialism even if it’s a word that some find strangely unpalatable.

No one in their right mind would want a road system that exists and is maintained on the basis of charitable donations. No one in their right mind would want an exclusively private education system that would result in large sections of society receiving no education whatsoever — a modern economy with a mass of minimum-wage workers who were illiterate would struggle to survive. No one in their right mind would prefer to have private security services replace publicly employed police forces — unless of course they think it’s preferable to be living somewhere like Beirut.

To serve common needs we need common wealth — we need to spread the wealth around. Our social needs have to be addressed collectively because we live in a society whose collective strength demands a broader perspective than individual profit and loss.

To say, “I am an American,” is to say, “I am not one — I am many.” And that’s why we are now participating in the grandest of collectivist enterprises of all: a democratic election.

Why Obama has to stay above 50 percent

As his campaign manager has described it, John McCain is now looking at a “narrow-victory scenario.” “The fact that we’re in the race at all,” added Steve Schmidt, “is a miracle. Because the environment is so bad and the head wind is so strong.”

But talk of miracles and head winds aside, I think John McCain really does have a decent shot at winning, and that’s not just because I’m a longtime Republican political operative. Despite what the polls seem to be saying, a closer look at the numbers shows that a Democratic victory is not a foregone conclusion. Why? Because if history is any guide, Barack Obama, as an African-American candidate for political office, needs to be polling consistently above 50 percent to win. And in crucial battleground states, he isn’t. [continued…]

Call it ‘The Obama Effect’

As Election Day draws near, people are wondering if the presidential race will tighten. Will the undecideds swing to McCain, or will Obama continue to maintain his 4 to 11 point lead?

Some point to a “Bradley effect” suggesting that voters are hiding their true feelings from pollsters because of Obama’s race, while others say the Bradley effect either never existed or no longer exists. People who think there is a Bradley effect believe that the substantial majority of undecideds are likely to vote for McCain, enabling him to close some of the gap.

McCain should win a larger share of undecided voters than Obama, but it has little to do with race.

With Obama outspending McCain by upwards of 4 to 1, getting enormous traction with newspaper editorial boards, generating the enthusiasm to bring out crowds measured in the tens of thousands, and with Palin treated as more of a punch line than a candidate by the press–it seems likely that if voters are not ready to tell a pollster that they are with Obama, they are unlikely to get there. [continued…]

Fourteen Words that spell racism

Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, the two Tennessee neo-Nazis arrested for plotting to kill 102 African-American schoolchildren and then assassinate Barack Obama, clearly drew inspiration from a violent white nationalist group called the Order. In the 1980s, members of the Order carried out a crime spree that included several high-profile murders.

The connection to the Order is evident in the numbers the two men scrawled on their car on Saturday shortly before they were arrested: 14 and 88. The so-called Fourteen Words is a slogan – “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” – coined by Order member David Lane, who also wrote an essay called 88 Precepts. In white supremacist circles, 14-88 is a shorthand expression of allegiance to the beliefs put forth by Lane and the Order, who wanted to found a white homeland where they could preserve the “Aryan race” from being polluted by non-whites and enslaved by the “Zionist-occupied government” of the US. Lane also advocated polygamy and a kind of European paganism he called Wotanism.

The plot by the two Tennessee men, grotesque as it may be, seems not to have got beyond the half-baked stage. But in the early 1980s, the Order – also known as the Brüder Schweigen or Silent Brotherhood – was active, violent, and deadly. [continued…]

The Jewish extremists behind “Obsession”

I‘ve only watched the 12-minute version of “Obsession,” the film sent to more than 28 million people in various swing states, apparently by associates and partisans of the Jewish movement known as Aish HaTorah, or “Fire of the Torah,” but it was enough for to understand that it is the work of hysterics. One of my favorite hysterics, the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, is featured prominently, pieces of the sky falling about her head as she rants about the End of Days.

Aish HaTorah denies any direct connection to the film, which is designed to make naive Americans believe that B-52s filled with radical jihadists are about to carpet-bomb their churches, and are only awaiting Barack Obama’s ascension to launch the attack. But the manifold connections, as laid out in this article, among others, make it clear that high-level officials of Aish are up to their chins in this project. The most disreputable flack in New York, Ronn Torossian, who represents Aish, makes an appearance in this story, which was to be expected: Torossian last made the news when he employed sock-puppetry in defense of one of his many indefensible clients, Agriprocessors, Inc., the Luvavitch-owned kosher slaughterhouse that treats its employees nearly as badly as it treats its animals, which is saying something, because Agriprocessor slaughterers have been filmed ripping out the tracheas of living cattle. [continued…]

An Israeli looks at Obama

A neighbor in Jerusalem asked me to write to his American father-in-law, who has been showering him with emails attacking Barack Obama. At a local bakery, the owner suggested in a whisper that I might talk sense to the tourist proclaiming in a New York accent, between sips of strong Israeli latte, that she was voting for John McCain. Old friends in California worry to me that elderly Jews in Miami think that McCain is better for Israel. “Remember 2000,” they tell me darkly. Every vote counts.

I suspect that something even more emotionally powerful than electoral math is at stake. My friends are frightened of the shame of a mother or uncle staining the family, or the tribe, with the wrong vote — a vote purportedly cast out of concern for Israel. From where I sit, this would be a shame, because the reasons Obama is better for Israel’s security are the same reasons he is better for American security.

Start with McCain’s claim to greater foreign-policy experience. Despite that experience, he supported invading Iraq. Obama, of course, opposed it. Conventional wisdom notwithstanding, the war has had strongly negative consequences for Israel. [continued…]

Sarah Palin’s war on science

In an election that has been fought on an astoundingly low cultural and intellectual level, with both candidates pretending that tax cuts can go like peaches and cream with the staggering new levels of federal deficit, and paltry charges being traded in petty ways, and with Joe the Plumber becoming the emblematic stupidity of the campaign, it didn’t seem possible that things could go any lower or get any dumber. But they did last Friday, when, at a speech in Pittsburgh, Gov. Sarah Palin denounced wasteful expenditure on fruit-fly research, adding for good xenophobic and anti-elitist measure that some of this research took place “in Paris, France” and winding up with a folksy “I kid you not.”

It was in 1933 that Thomas Hunt Morgan won a Nobel Prize for showing that genes are passed on by way of chromosomes. The experimental creature that he employed in the making of this great discovery was the Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit fly. Scientists of various sorts continue to find it a very useful resource, since it can be easily and plentifully “cultured” in a laboratory, has a very short generation time, and displays a great variety of mutation. This makes it useful in studying disease, and since Gov. Palin was in Pittsburgh to talk about her signature “issue” of disability and special needs, she might even have had some researcher tell her that there is a Drosophila-based center for research into autism at the University of North Carolina. The fruit fly can also be a menace to American agriculture, so any financing of research into its habits and mutations is money well-spent. It’s especially ridiculous and unfortunate that the governor chose to make such a fool of herself in Pittsburgh, a great city that remade itself after the decline of coal and steel into a center of high-tech medical research. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — I don’t know whether Christopher Hitchens is someone who is more pro-science than interested in science, but he should have mentioned that beyond its reproductive virtues, the main reason why the fruit fly is so useful for research is that we and this humble organism have so much in common.

Perhaps the most glaring contradiction between the articles of faith subscribed to by the science skeptics and the worldview that seemingly everyone in this country accepts is that virtually no one is a DNA skeptic. In other words, there’s no anti-DNA movement. It’s use in criminal proceedings is universally accepted. You hear people say that God created the world in six days, that humans have a divine origin and that evolution is an unproven theory, but you don’t hear people say there’s no such thing as DNA.

But since the science skeptics seem to accept the reality of DNA more than that of the causes of global warming, the issue they need to address is to explain what DNA is. Understand what DNA is and the stack of creationist cards comes tumbling down. If you say you don’t understand what DNA is, then instead of posturing as a science skeptic you should have the humility to acknowledge your ignorance. It’s not a sin and there is a remedy.

The next New Deal

On a bright, brisk, fat-pumpkin morning in mid-October—the kind of morning you would call glorious were the economy not cratering, the financial system not imploding, the Dow not tumbling at this very moment to its lowest depths in more than five years—Barack Obama is on the courthouse steps in Chillicothe, Ohio, calmly and coolly enlisting the past in the service of claiming the future. “The American story has never been about things coming easy,” Obama declares. “It’s been about rising to the moment when the moment is hard … about rejecting panicked division for purposeful unity; about seeing a mountaintop from the deepest valley. That’s why we remember that some of the most famous words ever spoken by an American came from a president who took office in a time of turmoil: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ ”

Obama had been toying with vague FDR allusions for the past three days, but now he’s decided to lay his cards on the table and seize the mantle explicitly. With the specter of a full-blown depression looming, the Age of Roosevelt—the campaign he ran in 1932, the challenges he faced upon assuming office, the “bold, persistent experimentation” he called for and the New Deal edifice he erected in response—is much on the minds of the nominee and his inner circle. “A lot of people around Barack are reading books about FDR’s first hundred days,” says a member of Obama’s kitchen cabinet. “It’s a sign of the shift that’s going on emotionally: from being on this improbable mission to believing, Hey, we’re going to win.”

Until recently, talk like that would have brought forth invocations of unhatched chickens from countless Democrats. From the moment it became clear last spring that Obama would be the party’s standard-bearer, the excitement over what he represented has been twinned with a gnawing dread that his astonishing ride would somehow come to a crashing end a few yards short of the White House. That America would prove unready to elect a black president. That the Republicans would once again work their voodoo on the electorate. Or that Obama would choke in the clutch—that, far from being the next FDR or JFK, he would turn out to be the reincarnation of George McGovern or Mike Dukakis or John Kerry.

But as the outcome of the race has begun to seem more certain with each passing day—with Obama’s lead in the polls healthy and showing few signs of diminishing, with John McCain’s campaign listing aimlessly and lapsing into rank self-parody, with Sarah Palin devolving into a human punch line—Democrats are slowly, haltingly allowing themselves to believe that victory is truly within their grasp, and hence to contemplate what comes next. [continued…]

The Age of Triumphalism is over

All but lost amid the hullabaloo of the presidential campaign, the State Department recently dropped North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Kim Jong Il pocketed a concession that even a year ago would have seemed unimaginable. The American people — feeling more threatened by Wall Street than by Pyongyang — managed barely a shrug.

Seldom has a historic turning point received such little notice. By cutting a deal with a charter member of the “axis of evil,” President Bush has definitively abandoned the principles that he staked out in the wake of 9/11. The president who once defined America’s purpose as “ending tyranny” is now accommodating the world’s last authentically Stalinist regime. Although Bush still inhabits the White House, the Bush era has effectively ended.

Of greater significance, so too has the latest in a series of American psychodramas. In the last year or so, the nation’s collective mind-set has shifted, and with that shift have come dramatic changes in the way we see ourselves and the world beyond our borders.

The American preference for packaging history as a sequence of great events directed by great men tends to overlook the role played by mass psychology and by the powerful impulses contained within what we commonly call public opinion. The reality is that when it comes to statecraft, policies devised in Washington frequently express not so much the carefully calculated intentions of the nation’s leaders as the people’s frame of mind. [continued…]

We should talk to our enemies

One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment … that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials.

Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela? [continued…]

Are theological tensions distancing Taliban from Al-Qaeda?

The Taliban and Al-Qaeda have enjoyed a long alliance in Afghanistan. Their relationship, based on a seemingly shared brand of severe and militant Islam, even survived the U.S.-led toppling of the Taliban in 2001, which came after leader Mullah Omar famously refused to turn over to the Americans his Al-Qaeda ally, Osama bin Laden.

To this day, that relationship endures. But will it last? Rifts and tensions between the Taliban and Arab Al-Qaeda, as well as vastly different Islamic traditions, suggest that a basis for separation exists. Whether it occurs could determine whether peace negotiations between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Taliban foes ever get off the ground.

Afghan Muslim traditions, including the Taliban, are culturally and historically distinct from Al-Qaeda’s Saudi-rooted Salafist Islam, says Francesco Zannini, an expert on modern Islam. In that sense, the two Sunni movements have always been awkward bedfellows. [continued…]

Tea with the Taliban?

As U.S. and European officials ponder what to do about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, they are coming to a perhaps surprising conclusion: The simplest way to stabilize the country may be to negotiate a truce with the Taliban fundamentalists who were driven from power by the United States in 2001.

The question policymakers are pondering, in fact, isn’t whether to negotiate with the Taliban but when. There’s a widespread view among Bush administration officials and U.S. military commanders that it’s too soon for serious talks, because any negotiation now would be from a position of weakness. Some argue for a U.S. troop buildup and an aggressive military campaign next year to secure Afghan population centers, followed by negotiations. [continued…]

The endorsement from hell

During the cold war, the American ideological fear of communism led us to mistake every muddle-headed leftist for a Soviet pawn. Our myopia helped lead to catastrophe in Vietnam.

In the same way today, an exaggerated fear of “Islamofascism” elides a complex reality and leads us to overreact and damage our own interests. Perhaps the best example is one of the least-known failures in Bush administration foreign policy: Somalia.

Today, Somalia is the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster, worse even than Darfur or Congo. The crisis has complex roots, and Somali warlords bear primary blame. But Bush administration paranoia about Islamic radicals contributed to the disaster. [continued…]

CIA led mystery Syria raid that killed terrorist leader

A CIA-led raid on a compound in eastern Syria killed an al Qaida in Iraq commander who oversaw the smuggling into Iraq of foreign fighters whose attacks claimed thousands of Iraqi and American lives, three U.S. officials said Monday.

The body of Badran Turki Hishan al Mazidih, an Iraqi national who used the nom de guerre Abu Ghadiya, was flown out of Syria on a U.S. helicopter at the end of the operation Sunday by CIA paramilitary officers and special forces, one U.S. official said.

“It was a successful operation,” a second U.S. official told McClatchy. “The bottom line: This was a significant blow to the foreign fighter pipeline between Syria and Iraq.”

A senior U.S. military officer said the raid was launched after human and technical intelligence confirmed that al Mazidih was present at the compound close to Syria’s border with Iraq. “The situation finally presented itself,” he said….

It wasn’t immediately clear whether an order that President Bush signed in July allowing U.S. commandos from Afghanistan to attack a suspected terrorist base in Pakistan also authorized cross-border operations in other countries. [continued…]


CAMPAIGN 08: Why I won’t vote for John McCain and why I believe you shouldn’t

Why I won’t vote for John McCain and why I believe you shouldn’t

The economy has become the priority issue for voters. But my principal reason for refusing to vote for John McCain has nothing to do with his admitted lack of knowledge of economics, although I did not realize the extent of his ignorance prior to his comments regarding the re-distribution of income. Since presidents encounter considerable constraints on their freedom to control economic programs and policies, this shortcoming is not critical.

It is, rather, the fields of foreign and national security policies, generally regarded as Senator McCain’s strengths, that in my view are his disqualifying weaknesses; and a president has considerable leeway to operate in these areas to the detriment, or benefit, of the United States.

I deeply respect John McCain’s service to our country; and I admire his bravery as a prisoner of war, described by a fellow prisoner as similar to that demonstrated by hundreds of other U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam who also obeyed the code of declining release before those captured earlier.

Unfortunately, however, Senator McCain has demonstrated clearly that he is a dedicated ideologue in the foreign/security policy area, unwilling to consider opinions or even credible evidence contrary to his preconceived notions. In addition, his temperament, marked not only by impatience but also by rude and sometimes hostile behavior, would discourage advisers from bringing to his attention views that might not be consistent with his preconceptions. A president with this combination of significant shortcomings would be a dangerous commander-in-chief, posing an unacceptable risk to the security of the nation.

Senator McCain has adopted, promoted and sustained the position of the so-called neo-conservatives and ultra-nationalists who believed that the United States should capitalize on American military superiority to spread democracy abroad. Overthrowing the Iraqi government was seen as the first step in transforming the politics of the Middle East by converting governments in the region to democracies friendly to the United States and its interests. Senator McCain reportedly has bragged in private conversations that he was the first neocon.

Since Senator McCain has made his positions on U.S. policy and military operations in Iraq a central theme in his campaign, it is useful illustratively to examine his stated views on this central national security issue.

Iraq and Related Matters

  • Consistent with the Project for a New American Century’s open letter to the President, Senator McCain co-sponsored the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act that changed the policy of the U.S. government from containing Iraq to overthrowing its regime. The Act also provided funds to Iraqi exile groups seeking regime change in Iraq.
  • In September 2000, the Project for the New American Century published a manifesto entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses. It advocated expanding democracy in seven countries in a five-year period: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan. Randy Scheunemann, then a director of the Project, is Republican candidate McCain’s chief foreign/national security adviser.
  • Immediately following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack, well in advance of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the American public on the invasion of Iraq, Senator McCain began a repetitive drumbeat promoting that course of action.
  • On the day of the 9/11 attack, during an interview with Dan Rather of CBS, he said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt that there are other countries — Iraq, Iran, — who … involve themselves in state-sponsored terrorism.”
  • The next day, 12 September 2001, he said “It isn’t just Afghanistan; we’re talking about Syria, Iraq, Iran, … and others.” He added: “There’s a network [of states sponsoring terrorism] that is going to have to be attacked.”
  • Six days later, he said: “I think very obviously Iraq is the first country, but there are others – Syria, Iran, … who have continued to harbor terrorist organizations and actually assist them.”
  • On 20 September 2001, the Project for a New American Century sent a letter to the President, signed by Randy Scheunemann, urging expansion of the war on terrorism beyond Al Qaeda to Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries. It stated that failure to make a determined effort remove Saddam Hussein would be “the equivalent of decisive surrender.”
  • On 3 October ’01, less than a month after 9/11, while speaking of military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan on the Letterman Late Show, Senator McCain declared: “The second phase is Iraq.”
  • Senator McCain advanced misleading and even false assertions not only on Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction but also Iraqi ties to international terrorists, including those who committed the 9/11 attacks. On 29 October, he stated: “The evidence is very clear” that the claim made by “Curveball,” an exile discredited by U.S. intelligence, was valid: the alleged meeting of an Iraqi intelligence agent with Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attack.
  • In December 2001, Senator McCain joined five other senators in signing an open letter to the White House stating: “In the interest of our own national security, Saddam Hussein must be removed from power.”
  • Addressing the crew of a U.S. warship on 2 January 2002, he said: “Next up, Baghdad;” the following month, he warned: “A terrorist resides in Baghdad. A day of reckoning is approaching.”
  • Along with Senator Joseph Lieberman, he agreed to serve as honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying organization formed in 2002 by the chair of the Project for a New American Century to promote the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by military force. The president of the Committee was Randy Scheunemann.
  • Senator McCain actively supported Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress exile group, who had been exposed as a charlatan not only by the CIA but also the Defense Intelligence Agency.
  • In voting for the use of force against Iraq, he called Saddam Hussein “a threat of the first order.” He spoke in favor of removing all members of the Baath party from the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military, decisions generally recognized as disastrous errors. Demonstrating a simplistic misunderstanding of the profound differences, he went so far as to predict that the U.S. occupation of Iraq would be remembered in much the same way as the liberation and rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II.
  • Speaking of the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Senator McCain said: “There is no doubt in my mind … that we will be welcomed as liberators.” This despite dire warnings to the contrary from the National Intelligence Council and reports from the CIA, the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and even from organizations within the Department of Defense: the National Defense University and the Army War College, both having held conferences of experts on the likely results of an invasion. He had “no doubt,” because he was unwilling to give any weight to evidence that did not support his ideological commitment. He assured Wolf Blitzer during an interview on CNN: “We’re not going to get into house-to-house fighting;” a flat assertion, without any reservation or qualification of probability, despite authoritative opinions of the likelihood of an insurgency.
  • Underscoring his ideological commitment, Senator McCain said in retrospect that even had there been no claims of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction or of Iraqi connection to Al Qaeda, “there’s no question” that he would have voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq.

This nation cannot run the risk of electing a commander-in-chief who won’t listen and is unwilling to consider persuasive evidence that is contrary to his ideological preconceptions.

  • Senator McCain has highlighted his credentials to deal with national security in general, as well as the conflict in Iraq. Yet his public statements reveal that he does not understand the basic nature of counter-insurgency operations, that he lacks knowledge of critical elements of the conflict in Iraq, and that he does not comprehend the basic precept that military force has its own grammar but not its own logic.
  • He has said that we did not prevail in the Vietnam war because “we lost the will to fight.” Yet we had U.S. troops in South Vietnam from the late 1950’s until the early 1970’s, for some 15 years. He apparently does not understand that there are some conflicts that American military power cannot resolve.
  • As recently as 17 March 2007, Senator McCain walked through a Baghdad market while being guarded by some 100 American troops, with three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gunships overhead. He declared: “The neighborhood is safe. We walked down the streets with no body armor on.” He stated that General Petraeus went out every day “in an unarmed Humvee.” A television film showed that the Senator was wearing an armored vest during his tour, and General Petraeus’ staff responded that the general always rode in an especially armored Humvee vehicle.
  • On three occasions, Senator McCain asserted that members of Al Qaeda in Iraq were being trained in Iran. After being coached by Senator Lieberman, he finally corrected that basic misunderstanding of the political realities in the region.
  • In 2008, Senator McCain claimed that the surge of U.S. combat forces in the late winter and spring of 2007 “began the Anbar awakening” of Sunni tribesmen turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq. This, he said, is “a matter of history.” Yet in January 2007, he had referenced the awakening that had its beginnings in the summer of 2006 as a justification for the decision to surge.
  • The purpose of the surge, as announced by the President in January 2007, was to provide breathing space for political accommodation between and among contending Iraqi factions. There indeed has been a reduction in violence in Iraq due to a combination of factors, including the presence of U.S. troops in Baghdad. Yet military operations are not an end in themselves, but are conducted to achieve a political outcome. The purpose of the surge, political accommodation, has not been achieved; in fact, the surge has widened the split among political factions. The some 100,000 Sons of Iraq, mostly Sunnis, armed and paid by the U.S. to provide security, do not support the central government led by a Shiite consortium. Also, the surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad resulted in a substantial increase, estimated at 500,000, in the number of Iraqis displaced into segregated neighborhoods.
  • Yet on the 21st of July 2008, Senator McCain declared “We’ve succeeded” in Iraq, apparently failing to understand what all U.S. senior military commanders in Iraq have stated: there is no military solution to the conflict in the complicated and insecure situation in that devastated country. Without a government that earns the loyalty of the majority of Iraqis, and resultant public cohesion, the reduction in violence will continue to be “fragile and reversible,” in the words of Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus and even the President.
  • Senator McCain has expressed his determination to sustain the U.S. military presence in Iraq until we achieve “victory.” As recently as September 2008, President Bush repeated his ambitious current goal for Iraq as a unified, democratic and stable society that could defend, sustain and govern itself, while becoming a reliable ally in the global war on terrorism. Senator McCain has declined recently to define what he means by “victory;” but in the spring of 2008, he related victory to an Iraq that is “a peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state,” clearly decades away at best.
  • Senator McCain, along with others fixed on regime change in Iraq, did not object when the administration fought the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan without the commitment of U.S. ground troops, other than special forces, and turned its attention prematurely to the invasion of Iraq while allowing the majority of the Taliban and the Al Qaeda cadre to escape across the border into the tribal areas of Pakistan. Despite the deterioration of security in Afghanistan, on 2 March 2005 Senator McCain said on CNN: “So far it’s a remarkable success.” The following October, while speaking on Afghanistan, he stated on the Charlie Rose show: “It’s succeeded.”
  • Before mid-July 2008, there was no mention of Afghanistan on Senator McCain’s campaign web site. As late as 15 July 2008, however, after having argued that no additional forces were needed in Afghanistan because we had succeeded there, he finally recognized the deteriorating situation and advocated sending 15,000 more troops to Afghanistan. He did not specify how the additional troops might be generated, given his advocacy of maintaining current U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Not long before, he had stated: “Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.”
  • In April 2007, when asked by a voter at a town-hall meeting about U.S. policy toward Iran, Senator McCain responded by singing “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” which would place U.S. troops in Iraq in jeopardy as well as inciting attacks against U.S. interests in the region and probably elsewhere.

Senator McCain has been a consistent advocate of employing military force, as well as diplomatic and economic measures, to overthrow the governments of non-democratic states. In his 2000 presidential primary campaign, he promoted a strategy of “rogue state rollback.” He has served as a long-term chair of the Republican Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting democracy in closed societies, even though most experts agree that viable democratic reforms cannot be imposed but must be generated locally.

Consistent with his ideological predispositions, Senator McCain also has suggested establishing a League of Democracies to coordinate foreign policies. He has gone so far as to advocate expelling Russia from the G-8, an organization of leading industrial nations established to coordinate international economic policies, in order “to improve their behavior,” while adding Brazil and India to the organization but excluding China. This obviously would result in the alienation of China and Russia, resulting in a confrontational foreign policy rather than encouraging their cooperation on vital issues of international security and their integration into the international community.


  • The importance of Senator McCain’s temperament, should he become President, is apparently regarded as too politically incorrect to discuss. By his own admission, however, Senator McCain has “a temper, to state the obvious, which I have tried to control with varying degrees of success because it does not always serve my interest or the public’s.” Of greater significance, he also has written: “Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.”

In matters of national security and foreign policy, however, it is the nation that will have to live with the consequences of Senator McCain’s temper and haste should he be elected President of the United States.

The issue of a president’s temperament cannot be ignored because of its relevance to the national security of the United States. James A. Thurber, director for Congressional and Presidential Studies, has observed: “sometimes somebody’s temperament can get in the way of aides telling him the truth, which happened [during the Vietnam war] with LBJ. His temper scared some away, which was not good for anyone…. that’s part of the risk with a strong temper… and so it’s always relevant.”

For the purposes of credibility, the evidence below on Senator McCain’s temperament is from only fellow Republicans or other normally supportive sources, some of whom have endorsed Senator McCain for the presidency.

  • John Heintz, executive director of the Arizona Republican Party, reflected on Senator McCain’s outburst following arrangements for a broadcast in 1986, by asking: “What happens if he gets angry in crises” as president? “It’s the president’s job to negotiate and stay calm. I don’t see that he has that quality. That temper, the intolerance: it worries me.”
  • Senator McCain has admitted that during his first term as a senator in 1989, he strongly berated Senator Shelby for failing to vote for the confirmation of John Tower as Secretary of defense. He wrote that he brought “my nose within an inch of his as I screamed out my intense displeasure ….”
  • In 1992, during a subcommittee gathering, Senator McCain employed profanity to admonish Senator Grassley and refused to apologize. Some shouting and shoving resulted.
  • Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson has said that he thought Senator McCain was “in the area of being unstable.”
  • As recently as 2007, during a closed-door meeting on immigration, Senator McCain shouted a profanity at Senator John Cornyn (R- TX) in the presence of about 40 other people.
  • Karl Rove said of Senator McCain: “Things are personal with him. He sometimes lets his emotions overrule his judgment.”
  • Speaking of Senator McCain, Senator Domenici (R-NM) said he doesn’t “want this guy anywhere near a trigger.”
  • Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) has said: “The thought of McCain as president “sends a cold chill down my spine He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.”
  • Former Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire has observed: “I’ve witnessed a lot of his [Senator McCain’s] temper outbursts. It raises questions about stability…. It’s more than just temper – a sneering, condescending attitude. I’ve seen it up close. His temper would place this country at risk in international affairs, and the world perhaps in danger. In my mind, it should disqualify him” from the presidency.
  • On 23 September 2008, conservative columnist George F. Will wrote: “It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency.”

While it is even more politically incorrect to mention, there is also the question of Senator McCain’s age and health.

  • Should he be elected president, at age 72 he would be the oldest person to assume the office. At age 72, I was in at least as good health as Senator McCain is now. Now that I have passed my 80th birthday, Senator McCain’s age should he complete a second term as president, I can attest that one’s stamina recedes during this eight year period. Should Senator McCain as president have to pick up the phone at 3:00 am at the beginning of a prolonged crisis, there is a legitimate question as to whether he could remain sufficiently vigorous, alert and focused for a sustained period to deal effectively with it.
  • While Senator McCain currently appears healthy, the life expectancy of Vietnam era prisoners of war is below the national average. Moreover, he has suffered three invasions of melanoma cancer, and the possibility of a recurrence with swift and fatal consequences cannot be ignored.

As Senator McCain has warned us repeatedly, the nation is at war. Under these circumstances, one would expect that a candidate who professes to put the country first would select a vice presidential running mate already well qualified to step into the roles of commander- in-chief and leader in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Instead, Senator McCain selected Governor Palin, obviously for her appeal to the conservative base of voters and women disenchanted over Senator Clinton’s defeat as the nominee of the Democratic Party. Whatever her other attributes, it is evident that Governor Palin is not prepared to lead the foreign and security policies of the United States. So much for Senator McCain’s claim to put country ahead of politics.

No president can be conversant with all the problems and issues he or she will face. More important than a specific set of experiences are high intelligence, good judgment, a steady and even temperament, and a willingness to consider options presented by advisors who have been selected for their expertise.

A few months ago, I met in a small group with Senator Obama in his office to discuss a contentious security issue. People with different, even opposite, views had been invited to attend. Senator Obama listened carefully and asked penetrating questions, confirming my observations concerning his intelligence and temperament.

Despite his relative lack of experience in the field national security, I believe that Senator Obama possesses the requisite qualifications to serve far more effectively as President of the United States and commander-in-chief of the U.S. military than his opponent, Senator McCain.

– – –

* Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. is Chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation where his policy work focuses on nuclear nonproliferation, missile defense, Iraq, Iran, military policy, nuclear terrorism, and other national security issues.

During his military career, Gard saw combat in both the Korea and Vietnam wars, and served a three year tour in Germany. He also served as Executive Assistant to two secretaries of defense; the first Director of Human Resources Development for the U.S. Army; Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs; and President of National Defense University (NDU).

After retiring from the U.S. Army in 1981, after 31 years of distinguished service, Gard served for five years as director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Center in Bologna, Italy, and then as President of the Monterey Institute of International Studies from 1987 to 1998. Since 1998, he has been an active consultant in Washington, D.C., on national security issues, including the international campaign to ban anti-personnel land mines.



The Obama temptation

… my greatest concern is whether this election will show a majority of the voters susceptible to the appeal of a charismatic demagogue. This may seem a harsh term to some, and no doubt will to Obama supporters, but it is a perfectly appropriate characterization. Obama’s entire campaign is built on class warfare and human envy. The “change” he peddles is not new. We’ve seen it before. It is change that diminishes individual liberty for the soft authoritarianism of socialism. It is a populist appeal that disguises government mandated wealth redistribution as tax cuts for the middle class, falsely blames capitalism for the social policies and government corruption (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) that led to the current turmoil in our financial markets, fuels contempt for commerce and trade by stigmatizing those who run successful small and large businesses, and exploits human imperfection as a justification for a massive expansion of centralized government. Obama’s appeal to the middle class is an appeal to the “the proletariat,” as an infamous philosopher once described it, about which a mythology has been created. Rather than pursue the American Dream, he insists that the American Dream has arbitrary limits, limits Obama would set for the rest of us — today it’s $250,000 for businesses and even less for individuals. If the individual dares to succeed beyond the limits set by Obama, he is punished for he’s now officially “rich.” The value of his physical and intellectual labor must be confiscated in greater amounts for the good of the proletariat (the middle class). And so it is that the middle class, the birth-child of capitalism, is both celebrated and enslaved — for its own good and the greater good. The “hope” Obama represents, therefore, is not hope at all. It is the misery of his utopianism imposed on the individual. [continued…]

Editor’s Commentdemagogue (dĕm’ə-gôg’, -gŏg’): A leader who obtains power by means of impassioned appeals to the emotions and prejudices of the populace.

I’ve never heard Mark Levin’s radio show, but at least going by his pose in the photo above and given the nature of talk radio, it would hardly be surprising if Mr Levin knows a thing or two about the art of demagoguery*. Does he now fear that he himself will fall under the Obama spell and find his hand possessed when he enters the polling booth and in one terrifying moment as cold sweat drips off his brow betray his conservative soul and find himself voting for his nemesis?

Levin, like quite a few other conservatives, needs to get a grip on his hysteria. Be a mensch — like David Frum!

A little more than a month ago, this election hung in the balance. How could that possibly have happened if Obama had the messianic power that Levin attributes to him?

America has not subsequently become intoxicated by the irresistible power of a demagogue. We got whacked over the head by the reality of an economic crisis. The crisis presented a test of temperament, character, and judgment. How each candidate would respond to their 3am moment was no longer a matter of speculation. Obama passed the test and McCain failed.

– – –

*After writing this, I thought I should check out The Mark Levin Show.

He’s here. Now broadcasting from the underground command post in the bowels of a hidden bunker, somewhere under the brick and steel of a non-descript building, we’ve once again made contact with Our Leader, Mark Levin….

Yep, that’s his intro. Posing (with a bit of irony I assume) as a revolutionary leader, Levin’s got his demagogic shtick down pat.

Obama can’t take helm of the nation soon enough

When I first heard John McCain describing Barack Obama’s taxation plans as “a lot like socialism,” I made a bet with myself that in less than 48 hours some notable Republican would be describing Obama’s ideas as “communism.”

I won the bet with a day to spare. Florida Sen. Mel Martinez gets the booby prize. “Where I was raised, they tried wealth distribution,” the Cuban born Martinez declared at a Florida rally for big name McCain supporters. “We don’t need that here. That’s called socialism, communism, not Americanism.”

Time was that the Republicans could win an election by merely denouncing their opponent as a “liberal.” That was the epithet they used against Michael Dukakis with remarkable success. But being double digits down in the polls has evidently forced the McCain campaign into a major escalation of their taunts against Obama – from liberal, to socialist to anti-American to communist.

If it weren’t serious, it would be laughable. John McCain knows full well that the country has always had a progressive tax code: i.e. spreading the wealth around. (For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” according to the New Testament’s Book of St. Luke.)

In that spirit, McCain at one time opposed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. “I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle-class Americans,” he said in 2001. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — To witness the venom that some Republicans spew out at McCain-Palin gatherings where they accuse Obama and his supporters of being “communists” or “socialists” is a bit scary. But this is the hiss that comes out of the pressure valve of free speech. It’s safer to hear it let out loudly than have it whispered behind closed doors. Indeed, the use of these terms and the fact that they are incendiary should prompt us to consider what “American” and “un-American” really mean.

Ironically, “un-American” is an accusation that is invariably directed at Americans. It’s purpose is to disenfranchise and ostracism political opponents. And if freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and individual liberty in a society distinguished by its diversity and inclusiveness are the hallmarks of that which is American, then it is the use of “un-American” as a political weapon which is itself the epitome of un-Americanism.

How highly do we value the freedom of expression of those with whom we disagree — this more than anything else is the test of how much we value America.

Sorry, Senator. Let’s salvage what we can.

There are many ways to lose a presidential election. John McCain is losing in a way that threatens to take the entire Republican Party down with him.

A year ago, the Arizona senator’s team made a crucial strategic decision. McCain would run on his (impressive) personal biography. On policy, he’d hew mostly to conservative orthodoxy, with a few deviations — most notably, his support for legalization for illegal immigrants. But this strategy wasn’t yielding results in the general election. So in August, McCain tried a bold new gambit: He would reach out to independents and women with an exciting and unexpected vice presidential choice.

That didn’t work out so well either. Gov. Sarah Palin connected with neither independents nor women. She did, however, ignite the Republican base, which has come to support her passionately. And so, in this last month, the McCain campaign has

Palinized itself to make the most of its last asset. To fire up the Republican base, the McCain team has hit at Barack Obama as an alien, a radical and a socialist.

Sure enough, the base has responded. After months and months of wan enthusiasm among Republicans, these last weeks have at last energized the core of the party. But there’s a downside: The very same campaign strategy that has belatedly mobilized the Republican core has alienated and offended the great national middle, which was the only place where the 2008 election could have been won. [continued…]

‘A Green New Deal’

In rented offices on a quiet side street in Paris, not far from the Eiffel Tower, analysts for the International Energy Agency spend long days and nights crunching numbers about oil production and greenhouse gas emissions. They’re basically the staid, sober global accountants who watch over the power supply for the 30 rich countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and their many reports are dry and technical. But there is one term that has taken on ominous overtones in recent studies. The phrase “business as usual” has started to read like the end of the world.

With a sense of urgency bordering on desperation, the IEA has been calling for radical changes in the way the world drives its cars, its factories and, indeed, the global economy. In November the agency will issue a collection of comprehensive reports that declare in no uncertain terms, “a global revolution is needed in ways that energy is supplied and used.”

But the financial crisis plunging the world into recession right now has caused a wave of doubts, second-guessing and backsliding among many political and business leaders. Italy and several Eastern European states have threatened to sink previously agreed upon European Union initiatives. With bank collapses, home foreclosures and unemployment on the rise, and the public coffers drained by bailout packages, even America’s vaunted venture capitalists are getting cautious. A few months ago, many were ready to invest in huge green-technology projects. Now they say they’re scaling back if, indeed, they can get the money together at all. China’s leaders, after what seemed a crisis of environmental conscience during the Beijing Olympics, may be inclined to dispense with their qualms as they see their economic growth drop from double digits to single ones.

But there are also powerful voices being raised amid the din of despair, saying that now is precisely the time to seize the initiative and launch that “global revolution” the IEA is calling for. And not just because it will stave off disasters two or three decades away, but because it can provide the impetus to pull the global economy out of the slump it’s in now and put it on a more solid foundation than it’s had in at least a generation. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and American presidential candidate Barack Obama have taken up the cause of what United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last week called a “green New Deal” that would rebuild and reshape the economy of planet Earth in ways reminiscent of the programs that President Franklin Roosevelt used to revitalize the economy of the United States during the Great Depression. [continued…]

Iraq: why the end is in sight

Don’t take this to the bank (hell, what can you take to the bank these days?) but Rootless Cosmopolitan suspects that the war in Iraq is drawing to a close — and it will hardly end on the terms of those who initiated it. And it’s the confluence of two factors that will hasten its close on terms less than favorable to the U.S. no matter how robust the commitment of any in Washington to continue it. The first factor hastening the war’s closure, quite ironically, is the very democracy that the U.S. invasion brought into being; the second is the retrenchment of U.S. power globally, which has been visibly underway since the U.S. mired itself in Iraq, and will now be accelerated by the sharp downturn of the U.S. economy. [continued…]



¡Viva! Obama 2008

To the candidate who is Barack Obama
I sing this corrido with all my soul
He was born humble without pretension
He began in the streets of Chicago
Working to achieve a vision
To protect the working people
And bring us all together in this great nation
¡Viva! Obama ¡Viva! Obama
Families united and safe and even with a health care plan
¡Viva! Obama ¡Viva! Obama
A candidate fighting for our nation
It doesn’t matter if you’re from San Antonio
It doesn’t matter if you’re from Corpus Christi
From Dallas, from the Valley, from Houston or from El Paso
What matters is that we vote for Obama
Because his struggle is also our struggle, and today we urgently need a change
Lets unite with our great friend
¡Viva! Obama ¡Viva! Obama
Families united and safe and even with a health care plan
¡Viva! Obama ¡Viva! Obama
A candidate fighting for our nation

Editor’s Comment — Here’s how to improve the tenor of political campaigning: all campaign ads must be set to music with lyrics. I have little doubt the McCain campaign just couldn’t muster as fine a mariachi band.

Of course there will be those who argue that an all-musical campaign would diminish the seriousness of a presidential election, but please, don’t tell me that what we have now is serious.

So, if it’s not serious, at least it can be uplifting. ¡Viva! Obama.

Christian right intensifies attacks on Obama

Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts. All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America,” produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.

The imagined look into the future is part of an escalation in rhetoric from Christian right activists who are trying to paint Obama in the worst possible terms as the campaign heads into the final stretch and polls show the Democrat ahead.

Although hard-edge attacks are common late in campaigns, the tenor of the strikes against Obama illustrate just how worried conservative Christian activists are about what should happen to their causes and influence if Democrats seize control of both Congress and the White House. [continued…]

Building a White House team before the election is decided

With the economy in tatters at home and two wars still raging abroad, Senator Barack Obama’s team is preparing for a fast start, should he win the election, to what could be the most challenging and volatile transition between presidents in 75 years.

Mr. Obama’s advisers are sifting résumés, compiling policy options and discussing where to hold his first news conference as president-elect. Democrats say Mr. Obama hopes to name key members of his White House, economic and security teams soon after the election. His transition chief has even drafted a sample Inaugural Address.

Presidential nominees typically start preparing for transitions before the election, but Mr. Obama’s plans appear more extensive than in the past and more advanced than those of Senator John McCain, his Republican opponent. Mr. McCain has also assigned confidants to prepare for a transition but instructed them to limit their activities as he tries to rescue his foundering campaign, Republicans said.

Already the capital is buzzing with discussion about who would fill top positions. Obama advisers mention Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, as a possible White House chief of staff, and Timothy F. Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, as Treasury secretary. To demonstrate bipartisanship, advisers said Mr. Obama might ask two members of President Bush’s cabinet to stay, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. [continued…]

Guantanamo tribunals overseer under investigation

A Pentagon official overseeing the Guantanamo war crimes tribunals is the subject of two investigations into his conduct, including one wide-ranging ethics examination into whether he abused his power and improperly influenced the prosecutions of enemy combatants.

An internal Air Force investigation into the activities of Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann appears to be the more significant of the two probes because it was launched only after a preliminary inquiry found sufficient grounds to move forward, military officials said.

The Air Force is reviewing allegations that Hartmann bullied prosecutors, logistics officials and others at Guantanamo — resulting in cases going to trial that were not ready and the prosecution of at least one individual on charges that were unwarranted — and assertions that he advocated using coerced evidence despite prosecutors’ objections.

It also is looking into allegations that Hartmann made intentionally misleading statements, both in public and during the Guantanamo tribunal proceedings, in an effort to downplay the direct role that he played in the overall prosecution effort and in several cases, according to interviews with military lawyers. [continued…]

The making (and remaking) of McCain

The smartest bit of political wisdom [McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt] ever heard was dispensed by George W. Bush one spring day at the White House residence in 2004, at a time when his re-election effort was not going especially well. The strategists at the meeting — including Schmidt, who was directing the Bush campaign’s rapid-response unit — fretted over their candidate’s sagging approval ratings and the grim headlines about the war in Iraq. Only Bush appeared thoroughly unworried. He explained to them why, polls notwithstanding, voters would ultimately prefer him over his opponent, John Kerry.

There’s an accidental genius to the way Americans pick a president, Schmidt remembers Bush saying that day. By the end of it all, a candidate’s true character is revealed to the American people.

Had Schmidt been working for his present client back in 2000, he might have disputed Bush’s premise. After all, in McCain’s first run for the presidency, “true character” was the one thing the Vietnam hero and campaign-finance-reform crusader seemed to have going for him eight years ago in the Republican primaries. Bush had everything else, and he buried McCain. What campaigns peddle is not simply character but character as defined by story — a tale of opposing forces that in its telling will memorably establish what a given election is about. In 2000, the McCain effort played like that of a smart and plucky independent film that ultimately could not compete for audiences against the Bush campaign’s summer blockbuster. Four years later, in the race against John Kerry, Schmidt and the other Bush strategists had perfected their trade craft. With a major studio’s brutal efficiency, they distilled the campaign into a megabudget melodrama pitting an unwavering commander in chief against a flip-flopper, set in a post-9/11 world where there could be no room for error or equivocation.

Schmidt has been in charge of strategy for the McCain campaign since early this summer, and his effort to prevail in the battle of competing story lines has been considerably more problematic. The selling of a presidential “narrative” the reigning buzz word of this election cycle has taken on outsize significance in an age in which a rush of visuals and catch words can cripple public images overnight. Mitt Romney, it is said, lost because he could not get his story straight. Hillary Clinton found her I’m-a-fighter leitmotif too late to save her candidacy. By contrast, the narrative of Barack Obama has seemed to converge harmonically with the shifting demographics and surging discontent of the electorate. It may well be, as his detractors suggest, that Obama is among the least-experienced presidential nominees in our nation’s history. But to voters starved for change, the 47-year-old biracial first-term Democratic senator clearly qualifies. That, in any event, is his story, and he has stuck to it.

John McCain’s biography has been the stuff of legend for nearly a decade. And yet Schmidt and his fellow strategists have had difficulty explaining how America will be better off for electing (as opposed to simply admiring) a stubborn patriot. In seeking to do so, the McCain campaign has changed its narrative over and over. Sometimes with McCain’s initial resistance but always with his eventual approval, Schmidt has proffered a candidate who is variously a fighter, a conciliator, an experienced leader and a shake-’em-up rebel. “The trick is that all of these are McCain,” Matt McDonald, a senior adviser, told me. But in constantly alternating among story lines in order to respond to changing events and to gain traction with voters, the “true character” of a once-crisply-defined political figure has become increasingly murky.

Schmidt evidently saw the financial crisis as a “true character” moment that would advance his candidate’s narrative. But the story line did not go as scripted. “This has to be solved by Monday,” Schmidt told reporters that Wednesday afternoon in late September, just after McCain concluded his lengthy meeting with his advisers and subsequently announced his decision to suspend his campaign and go to Washington. Belying a crisis situation, however, McCain didn’t leave New York immediately. He spent Thursday morning at an event for the Clinton Global Initiative, the nonprofit foundation run by former President Bill Clinton. As McCain headed for Washington later that morning, he was sufficiently concerned about the situation that Schmidt felt compelled to reassure him. “Remember what President Clinton told you,” Schmidt said, referring to advice Clinton had dispensed that morning: “If you do the right thing, it might be painful for a few days. But in the long run it will work out in your favor.”

After arriving on Capitol Hill nearly 24 hours after his announcement, McCain huddled with three of his closest political allies: fellow senators Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and Jon Kyl. Later that day at a White House meeting convened by Bush and also attended by Congressional leaders of both parties as well as both candidates, McCain said almost nothing, even when House Republicans declared that they were not yet willing to sign onto the administration’s $700 billion proposal. Despite the fact that the deal maker had produced no deal, McCain announced the next day that his campaign would resume — “optimistic that there has been significant progress towards a bipartisan agreement,” as a campaign statement put it — and traveled to Mississippi that Friday afternoon to debate Obama. On Sunday morning, Schmidt went on “Meet the Press” to insist that his boss’s foray had been crucial in bringing “all of the parties to the table,” with the result that “there appears to be a framework completed.” The next day — Monday, Sept. 29, the day by which Schmidt had earlier warned the crisis “has to be solved” — the House Republicans played the key role in defeating the bailout legislation.

Scene by scene, McCain failed to deliver the performance that had been promised. Of course, this was no mere movie. America was in crisis. Perhaps with the Bush theory in mind, Steve Schmidt had advised McCain to “go in all the way” on the financial crisis so as to reveal his candidate’s true character. But given a chance to show what kind of president he might be, McCain came off more like a stymied bystander than a leader who could make a difference. Judging by the polls, the McCain campaign has yet to recover. [continued…]

Reaching out to Iran

Few countries were as helpful to the United States in its early involvement in Afghanistan as Iran. Yet after the fall of the Taliban, the U.S. failed to capitalize on the possibilities of that strategic relationship. Now coalition and Afghan troops are losing ground against the same insurgents they confronted in 2001, in a war that the United States is unlikely to win unless it rethinks its relationship with Iran.

Even before the terrorist acts on Sept. 11, 2001, Iran opposed the Taliban and strongly backed the Afghan Northern Alliance. After the attacks, Tehran stepped forward to help topple Afghanistan’s extremist Sunni government and pledged $560 million for reconstruction efforts.

Furthermore, Iran demonstrated an impressive ability to work with and guide the nascent Afghan government. James Dobbins, the Bush administration’s first special envoy to Afghanistan, recognized Iran’s substantial contributions in training and equipping the Afghan Army. He also praised their contributions at the Bonn Conference in 2001. [continued…]

Pakistan uses tribal militias in Taliban war

Two tribal elders lay stretched out in an orthopedic ward here last week, their plastered limbs and winces of pain grim evidence of the slaughter they survived when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of their tribal gathering.

These wounded men, and many others in the hospital, were supposed to be the backbone of a Pakistani government effort to take on the Taliban, and its backers, Al Qaeda, with armies of traditional tribesmen working in consultation with the Pakistani military.

The tribal militias, known as lashkars, have quickly become a crucial tool of Pakistan’s strategy in the tribal belt, where the army has been fighting the Taliban for more than two months in what army generals acknowledge is a tougher and more protracted slog than they had anticipated. And, indeed, the lashkars’ early efforts have been far from promising.

As the strength of the militants in the tribal areas grows, and as the war across the border in Afghanistan worsens, the Pakistanis are casting about for new tactics. The emergence of the lashkars is a sign of the tribesmen’s rising frustration with the ruthlessness of the Taliban, but also of their traditional desire to run their own affairs and keep the Pakistani Army at bay, Pakistani officers and law enforcement officials say. [continued…] (Blogspot) is banned in Turkey

There is still no information about the cause of the ban but everybody suspects religious fundamentalist Adnan Oktar who is responsible for most of the Internet bans in Turkey.

He recently made a name for himself by having the site of British biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins banned for Turkish Internet users.

Oktar is taking any content on the net which supports Darwinism to the Turkish court system and mentions his title as a “Creationist.”

But whether he is involved or not in this recent ban is still not confirmed. [continued…]



How John McCain brought down terrorism

Barack Obama’s election will confirm in a multitude of ways that we have entered a new Zeitgeist. But even though the passage of an era can most clearly be discerned with historical perspective, in this case as soon as the election returns are in we should be able to deduce something right away. We will know whether America has learned how to view terrorism with a critical eye instead of a fearful heart.

For the last eight years, Bush-Cheney and the GOP have played the terrorism card in a very conventional way. They have presented terrorism as a national security issue and then presented voters with a choice between Republican strength and Democratic weakness.

The McCain campaign, in an act of sheer desperation, has done something different. Instead of presenting their opponent as weak on terrorism they have insinuated that he is in league with terrorists. By making a ludicrous claim, they have exposed their political charade to all but the most gullible of voters.

The game is up. Instead of being led like suckers down an associative path that turns Obama into a dark and sinister force, Americans are now getting wise to the fact that “terrorist” is a political word. It manipulates more than it describes.

The McCain campaign shouts: “Watch out for the terrorist!” And the indignant response is: “Say what? Don’t treat me like I’m an idiot.”

There remains no shortage of idiots, but more and more people are inclined to look askance when the t-word gets tossed around. They see that instead of signaling a danger it just as likely signals an agenda.

Might Palin or McCain risk inciting a rightwing lunatic to commit some hideous act of violence? Will someone view the Palin doctrine — we make no distinction between the terrorists and those who pal around with them — as a command?

Possibly, but major risks are inherent to this job. Obama like any president or presidential candidate can become a magnet for hatred. That’s why there’s a Secret Service.

Timothy Garton Ash frets and writes:

Where were you when Obama was shot? The line we pray we will never have to say. A line that I have hesitated even to write, as if the mere inscribing of the words could invite calamity. Yet the fear preys on the back of our minds, as we see Barack Obama plunging into those crowds. I have now watched weeks of election coverage on the 24/7 television news channels in the United States, in the course of which every tiniest feature of the campaign has been examined to exhaustion, but not once have I heard this mentioned. Yet almost every day I have a private conversation in which the subject comes up, especially when talking to journalists.

The fear is real, yet its basis at this juncture has I suspect less to do with the risks inherent in Palin and McCain’s reckless rhetoric than it has to do with the fact that we are tantalizingly close to the reality of an Obama presidency.

By the end of the primaries the inspirational candidate had lost much of his glow. Then Palin came along and knocked the campaign further off balance. And then miraculously it got rescued by an economic catastrophe.

Now as the final day approaches all of that is behind us and we see the makings of breathtaking transition.

An intellectually impoverished president, reviled by much of the nation, prepares to leave office, while one of extraordinary talent and in whom a mountain of expectations has been invested gets ready to take his place. Hope and dread interfuse as we ask ourselves, is this really about to happen? Simultaneously we hold our breath, fearing that some calamity might intervene. 12 days left!

Why Barack Obama is winning

General David Petraeus deployed overwhelming force when he briefed Barack Obama and two other Senators in Baghdad last July. He knew Obama favored a 16-month timetable for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq, and he wanted to make the strongest possible case against it. And so, after he had presented an array of maps and charts and PowerPoint slides describing the current situation on the ground in great detail, Petraeus closed with a vigorous plea for “maximum flexibility” going forward.

Obama had a choice at that moment. He could thank Petraeus for the briefing and promise to take his views “under advisement.” Or he could tell Petraeus what he really thought, a potentially contentious course of action — especially with a general not used to being confronted. Obama chose to speak his mind. “You know, if I were in your shoes, I would be making the exact same argument,” he began. “Your job is to succeed in Iraq on as favorable terms as we can get. But my job as a potential Commander in Chief is to view your counsel and interests through the prism of our overall national security.” Obama talked about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the financial costs of the occupation of Iraq, the stress it was putting on the military.

A “spirited” conversation ensued, one person who was in the room told me. “It wasn’t a perfunctory recitation of talking points. They were arguing their respective positions, in a respectful way.” The other two Senators — Chuck Hagel and Jack Reed — told Petraeus they agreed with Obama. According to both Obama and Petraeus, the meeting — which lasted twice as long as the usual congressional briefing — ended agreeably. Petraeus said he understood that Obama’s perspective was, necessarily, going to be more strategic. Obama said that the timetable obviously would have to be flexible. But the Senator from Illinois had laid down his marker: if elected President, he would be in charge. Unlike George W. Bush, who had given Petraeus complete authority over the war — an unprecedented abdication of presidential responsibility (and unlike John McCain, whose hero worship of Petraeus bordered on the unseemly) — Obama would insist on a rigorous chain of command. [continued…]

October rural poll shows break for Obama

A new survey, taken over three tumultuous weeks in October, shows Barack Obama catching up with John McCain among rural voters in battleground states.

Rural voters put George W. Bush over the top and into the White House in 2000 and 2004, but according to a new survey, they may not confer the presidency on this year’s Republican candidate, Sen. John McCain.

An October poll in thirteen battleground states shows Democrat Barack Obama slightly ahead of McCain among likely rural voters. Obama led McCain 46% to 45% in the survey, commissioned by the Center for Rural Strategies and the National Rural Assembly. In September, a poll of likely rural voters in these same competitive states showed McCain leading by 10%. [continued…]

Rebranding the U.S. with Obama

We’re beginning to get a sense of how Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality. This change in perceptions would help rebuild American political capital in the way that the Marshall Plan did in the 1950s or that John Kennedy’s presidency did in the early 1960s.

In his endorsement of Mr. Obama, Colin Powell noted that “the new president is going to have to fix the reputation that we’ve left with the rest of the world.” That’s not because we crave admiration, but because cooperation is essential to address 21st-century challenges; you can’t fire cruise missiles at the global financial crisis.

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell added that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States.

Europe is particularly intoxicated by the possibility of restoring amity with America in an Obama presidency. As The Economist put it: “Across the Continent, Bush hatred has been replaced by Obama-mania.” [continued…]

In Sadr City, a repressed but growing rage

Outside the tan, high-walled house, Shiite militiamen stood guard. Inside, men sat on a red carpet, their backs against a wall adorned with images of Shiite saints, their anger rising with each sentence. Hashim Naseer, a tribal leader, remembered how Iraqi soldiers arrested his brother early this month at a nearby park along with other Shiite fighters of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

“We thought this government was for Shiites, but now they have become worse than Saddam Hussein’s regime,” said Naseer, 40. “We placed much faith in the Iraqi security forces, but they are taking advantage of us.”

Seven months after intense clashes with U.S. and Iraqi government forces rocked Baghdad’s Sadr City enclave, a sense of betrayal and frustration flows through its sprawling expanse. Iraqi army units, backed by U.S. forces, are launching pre-dawn raids and arresting dozens of suspected militiamen, despite a deal between Sadr and Iraq’s government. Residents, once fearful of the Mahdi Army militia, have become informants, and senior Sadrist leaders have been assassinated.

Yet the enclave, Sadr’s largest popular base in the capital, has remained relatively calm. In interviews, Mahdi Army fighters insist they are shackling their rage and complying with Sadr’s cease-fire, issued last year.

“Sayyid Moqtada al-Sadr told us: ‘If they arrest you, do not do anything. If someone does bad things to you, don’t retaliate,’ ” said Ahmed Abu Zahara, 37, a Mahdi Army commander, using an honorific for Sadr. “We are still obeying the Sayyid.”

American and Iraqi officials have described Sadr’s cease-fire as a key reason for Iraq’s sharp drop in violence. They also cite the “surge” of 30,000 U.S. troops and the rise of the Awakening forces, made up mostly of Sunni former insurgents, who allied with U.S. forces for money and position.

Now, the surge troops have left. And concerns are growing that many Awakening fighters could rejoin the insurgency, as the Shiite-led government, long suspicious of the former fighters, takes control of the movement.

In places like Sadr City, Sadr’s cease-fire is the main difference between war and peace, reflecting the tenuousness of the decrease in violence. [continued…]


CAMPAIGN 08 EDITORIAL: The McCain-Qaeda connection

The McCain-Qaeda connection

With less than two weeks until election day, if you still haven’t decided how to vote, the McCain campaign has some advice: base your choice on al Qaeda’s choice.

If you’re convinced al Qa’eda wants McCain to win, vote Obama. If you think they want Obama, vote McCain.

That, it would seem, is the thinking that forced Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s top foreign-policy adviser, and James Woolsey to push back so vigorously against a Washington Post report that al Qaeda supports McCain.

No, no, no! Scheunemann and Woolsey protest. Muhammad Haafid (who the Post quoted) is a jihadist maverick who should not be regarded as a spokesman for al Qaeda. Indeed, if al Qaeda really wanted to see McCain elected, they would surely have the good sense to keep quiet about it. Clearly, this faux declaration of support is an attempt to undermine McCain and if al Qaeda wants to undermine McCain, it must favor Obama — except of course, as the McCain campaign points out, there’s no reason to think that Haafid speaks for al Qaeda. Is that clear? Maybe not.

The question Scheunemann and Woolsey failed to address is this: Is there any reason why American voters should be influenced by al Qaeda’s presidential preferences?

We already know that al Qaeda sees elections as opportunities for grabbing headlines, but whether we let al Qaeda steer our political judgments is up to us — unless we prefer to surrender to terrorism.

Who cares who bin Laden is rooting for? Apparently the McCain campaign cares. Otherwise they would not protest too much.



Joe the Plumber and GOP ‘authenticity’

The conservative movement made its name battling moral relativists on campus, bellowing for a “strict construction” of our nation’s founding documents, and pandering to people who believe that the Book of Genesis literally records the origins of human existence.

And yet here are the words of Ronald Reagan’s pollster, Richard Wirthlin, as recorded in one of the main Reagan strategy documents from 1980: “People act on the basis of their perception of reality; there is, in fact, no political reality beyond what is perceived by the voters.”

The context of Wirthlin’s reality-denial, according to the historian Kim Phillips-Fein, who unearths his statement in her forthcoming book, “Invisible Hands,” was the larger Republican plan to woo blue-collar voters.

The mission was a success. It worked because Republicans wholeheartedly adopted Wirthlin’s dictum. Reality is a terrible impediment when you’re reaching out to workers while simultaneously cracking down on unions and scheming to privatize Social Security. Leave that reality to the “reality-based community,” to use the put-down coined by an aide to George W. Bush. [continued…]

The worst of the worst?

When a federal judge ordered the release of 17 Guantánamo Bay detainees earlier this month, it was the first real chance in the seven-year history of the prison camp that any of the prisoners might be transferred to the United States. In making his ruling, the judge categorically rejected the Bush administration’s claim that any of the released prisoners, who are all Chinese Muslims, were “enemy combatants” or posed a risk to U.S. security. The decision was temporarily suspended by the appeals court, but the judge was on solid ground.

Controversy over the Bush administration’s policy to detain enemy combatants at Guantánamo has raged since the facility opened in 2002—fueled primarily by the lack of legal protections afforded the detainees and allegations of their mistreatment. Often overlooked, however, is the fact that most of these detainees have never posed any real risk to America, for the simple reason that the vast majority of them were never “enemy combatants” in the first place. Indeed, striking new data we have obtained show that, if anything, the 17 innocent Chinese men are far from exceptional.

Before we get to the new statistics corroborating this startling fact, a quick review of how the detainees got to Guantánamo in the first place is helpful. Given the fog of propaganda surrounding the Guantánamo prisoners—whom former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once famously described as “the worst of the worst”—you might be surprised to learn that, according to the Pentagon itself, only 5 percent of detainees at the prison were ever apprehended by U.S. forces to begin with. And only another 4 percent were ever alleged to have actually been fighting at all.

Why is that? Almost all of the detainees were turned over to U.S. forces by foreigners, either with an ax to grind or, more often, for a hefty bounty or reward. After U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan in late 2001, they doled out rewards of about $5,000 or more to Pakistanis and Afghans for each detainee turned over. Contrary to standard law enforcement practice, the U.S. military accepted the uncorroborated allegations of the award claimants with little independent investigation. [continued…]

Iraq’s cabinet rejects current draft of U.S. troop accord

Shiite Muslim government ministers raised objections Tuesday to a “final draft” of an agreement to authorize U.S. troops to remain in Iraq, and after a four-and-a-half-hour cabinet meeting Iraq’s government spokesman said that the agreement wouldn’t be finalized in its current form.

The clock is ticking: The United Nations mandate under which U.S. troops are in Iraq expires on Dec. 31.

The agreement, which has been the subject of negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq for more than seven months, sets the end of 2011 as when U.S. troops are to be gone from Iraq.

However, Humam Hamoudi, the Shiite lawmaker who chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that Shiite representatives found the wording on the U.S. troop departure too vague and subject to unacceptable conditions. Lawmakers also want to strike a clause that would give the Iraqi government the right to extend the agreement without parliamentary approval if it felt that was advisable. [continued…]



Muslim McCain fans confront intolerance at rally

At a John McCain rally in Woodbridge, Virginia, three people handed out “Obama for Change” bumper stickers with the Communist sickle and hammer and the Islamic crescent, saying Obama was a socialist with ties to radical Islam. Several moderate McCain supporters, Muslim and Christian alike, struck back – relentlessly bombarding the group distributing the flyers until they left the premises. [continued…]


Editor’s Comment — It might come as news to a few McCain supporters but socialism (as in the God-denying Soviet type) and Islam mix like oil and water. Why can’t they just stick to a coherent form of bigotry? Obama is the anti-Christ, or Obama is a terrorist, or the simplest line of all: we don’t want a black president.

There’s an interesting giveaway phrase in the dialogue above from the guy who describes himself as a Christian conservative: “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to question Barack Obama’s type… ”

Hmmm… And what “type” would that be?

Bush decides to keep Guantánamo open

Despite his stated desire to close the American prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, President Bush has decided not to do so, and never considered proposals drafted in the State Department and the Pentagon that outlined options for transferring the detainees elsewhere, according to senior administration officials.

Mr. Bush’s top advisers held a series of meetings at the White House this summer after a Supreme Court ruling in June cast doubt on the future of the American detention center. But Mr. Bush adopted the view of his most hawkish advisers that closing Guantánamo would involve too many legal and political risks to be acceptable, now or any time soon, the officials said.

The administration is proceeding on the assumption that Guantánamo will remain open not only for the rest of Mr. Bush’s presidency but also well beyond, the officials said, as the site for military tribunals of those facing terrorism-related charges and for the long prison sentences that could follow convictions.

The effect of Mr. Bush’s stance is to leave in place a prison that has become a reviled symbol of the administration’s fight against terrorism, and to leave another contentious foreign policy decision for the next president. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — If in his final months in office, Bush was to have announced that Guantanamo was being closed, his decision would have been totally out of character. He would in effect have been acknowledging that he had a responsibility to resolve a problem that he had created. Instead, as a deadbeat president, he’d rather just walk away.

Having already decided that the judgment of history won’t come until after his death, Bush has freeze-wrapped his conscience by refusing to question himself. We can only hope that history moves faster than he would hope and the questions he won’t address now are posed later by others while he is under oath. It might not happen for a decade or two, but meanwhile, the prospect of life as a social and political pariah is just around the corner.

If an hour is a long time in politics, we must start thinking in centuries

The problem is simply stated. As Gordon Brown – discussing what he perceives to be an improvement in his political fortunes – says, “an hour is a long time in politics”. It used to be a week, but everything is speeding up. To remain in office or to remain in business, decision-makers must privilege the present over the future. Discount rates ensure that investments made today are worth nothing in 10 years’ time; the political cycle demands that no one looks beyond the next election.

The financial crisis is just one consequence of a system which demands that governments sacrifice long-term survival for short-term gains. In this case, political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic – from Reagan to Brown – decided to appease business lobbyists and boost short-term growth by allowing the banks to use new financial instruments, many of which were as dodgy as a three-pound coin. It made perfect political sense, as long as the inevitable crash took place after they left office.

For similar reasons we are likely to be ambushed by other nasty surprises: runaway climate change, resource depletion, foreign policy blowback, new surveillance and genetic technologies, skills shortages, demographic change, a declining tax base, private and public debt. Politics is the art of shifting trouble from the living to the unborn. [continued…]

As fuel prices fall, will push for alternatives lose steam?

Just four months ago, a conference here on electric cars drew four times as many people as expected. District fire marshals ordered some of the crowd to leave, and the atmosphere was more like that of a rock concert than an energy conference. A brief film depicted an electric car owner driving off with a beautiful woman to the strains of “The Power of Love” while her original companion struggles to pay for gasoline. The audience cheered.

One discordant note in the series of enthusiastic speeches came from Bill Reinert, one of the Toyota Prius designers. He cautioned that designing and ramping up production of a new car takes five years.

“If oil goes down to $60 or $70 a barrel and gasoline gets back to $2.50 a gallon, and that very possibly could happen,” he said, “will that demand stay the same or will we shift back up?”

It didn’t take five years to hit those numbers. One type of oil shock has given way to another. Even more swiftly than the price of oil rose, it has tumbled to the range that seemed far-fetched when Reinert spoke and oil was more than $130 a barrel. Now that drop threatens a wide variety of game-changing plans to find alternatives to oil or ways to drastically reduce U.S. consumption. [continued…]

Decades of eroded trust and democracy did the damage

Economic remedies for the fiscal crisis continue to frustrate their political backers. On that black Monday when the US Congress refused to pass the $700bn bail-out, the market plummeted 477 points. A few days later, after Congress reversed itself and passed the $700bn bail-out, the market dropped nearly 800 points. Since then it has gyrated wildly, drawing markets in Britain, continental Europe and Asia into the maelstrom. What’s going on – a crisis in economic capital or in fiscal confidence?

Neither exactly. As the global hysteria makes evident, trust is at stake, but not purely fiscal or economic trust. De-leveraging banks, insuring deposit accounts, penalising CEOs and socialising risk can’t do the trick because trust is ultimately political – more specifically, democratic. Trust is a crucial form of social capital, a recognition of the common ground on which we stand as citizens. It is the glue that holds rival producers and consumers together and lets them do the business that would otherwise do them in. Whereas the whole point of the market is competition – selfishness and narcissism as instruments of market calculation.

The dirty little secret is, however, that market capitalism works only when it can feed parasitically off active democratic social capital. When too many mortgages fail and too many banks come under pressure and too much bad paper gets sold and too many hedge funds don’t realise what they’ve bought, and credit freezes up and stocks tumble, the trust deficit appears. And no amount of fiscal tinkering, government pushing, banking reform, resolute de-leveraging or presidential and ministerial rhetoric can make up for this democratic deficit. [continued…]

A new breed grabs reins in Anbar

As the day crossed into dusk, Jassim Muhammed al-Sweidawi sat on brown floor cushions, chain-smoking, calmly watching the tribesmen argue over blood money.

A man from the Dulaimi tribe had killed a man from the Jenabi tribe. The elders of both tribes could have sought justice in a provincial court. They could have conferred with traditional sheiks versed in centuries-old ways of resolving disputes. But they didn’t. They came to Sweidawi, a sunburned, American-backed chieftain who in less than two years had become the most powerful man in this patch of eastern Ramadi.

He asked the men if they trusted his authority. They nodded. Within minutes, he worked out a settlement. The men were not happy, but they also feared Sweidawi and needed his protection. “Your appreciation for me will not be forgotten,” the chieftain, 52, said after both men had kissed his cheeks.

“Sheik Jassim,” as his tribesmen call Sweidawi, is among a new generation of tribal leaders asserting influence across Sunni areas. They have won their respect by fighting Sunni insurgents of the al-Qaeda in Iraq group. With American money and support, they have brought a fragile order to Anbar province, once Iraq’s most violent theater, accomplishing in months what the U.S. military could not do in years.

But the rise of these sheiks, collectively called the Awakening, is already touching off new conflicts that could deepen without U.S. military backing for the movement. They have stripped traditional tribal leaders of influence. They have carved up Sunni areas into fiefdoms, imposing their views on law and society and weakening the authority of the Shiite-led central government. Divisions are emerging among the new breed of tribal leaders, even as they are challenging established Sunni religious parties for political dominance. [continued…]

Afghanistan’s emerging antiwar movement

In a musty room near the edge of town, a group of bearded men sit on the floor and heatedly discuss strategy. The men are in the planning stages of an event that they hope will impact Afghan politics – a peace jirga, or assembly, that will agitate for the end of the war between the Taliban and Afghan government by asking the two sides to come to a settlement.

“People are growing tired of the fighting,” says Bakhtar Aminzai of the National Peace Jirga of Afghanistan, an association of students, professors, lawyers, clerics, and others. “We need to pressure the Afghan government and the international community to find a solution without using guns.”

Mr. Aminzai is not alone in his sentiments. As violence and insecurity grow in this war-ravaged nation, a broad network of peace activists have been quietly pushing for negotiations and reconciliation with the Taliban.

This push coincides with recent preliminary talks in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government hosted a secret high-level meeting in September with former Taliban officials and members of the Afghan government. The event was intended to ultimately open the door to direct talks with the Taliban.

Analysts interviewed say that the majority of Afghans favor some sort of negotiated settlement between the warring sides, but many peace activists are critical of the Saudi talks. “We want reconciliation with the Taliban through a loya jirga,” or grand assembly of Afghans, says Fatana Gilani, head of the Afghanistan Women’s Council (AWC), a leading nongovernmental organization (NGO) here. “We don’t want interference from foreign countries or negotiations behind closed doors,” she says. [continued…]

Pakistani legislators show little appetite for a fight

An unusual parliamentary debate organized to forge a national policy on how to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda has exposed deep ambivalence about the militants, even as their reach extends to suicide attacks in the capital.

In one of his first initiatives as president, Asif Ali Zardari called the session in an effort to mobilize Pakistan’s political parties and its public to support the fight against the militants, which he has now called Pakistan’s war.

But instead, the nearly two weeks of closed sessions have been dominated by calls for dialogue with the Taliban and peppered with opposition to what lawmakers condemned as a war foisted on Pakistan by the United States, according to participants.

The tenor of the debate has highlighted the difficulties facing Mr. Zardari and Washington as they urgently try to focus Pakistan’s full attention on the militant threat at a time when the Pakistani military is locked in heavy fighting in the tribal areas. [continued…]



Deafening silence on Islamophobia

Predictably, Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama has received a massive amount of media coverage. What is striking though is that the single issue that Powell chose to highlight above all others has been received so little comment. Out of a 1250-word endorsement, Powell devoted 325 words to his revulsion for the vilification of Muslims that has been fueled, sustained and tolerated by the McCain campaign and the GOP.

Here’s a typical response to what Powell identified as the particular point about which he feels so strongly. Josh Marshall writes:

…[Powell] said he was “disappointed” in McCain’s sleazy campaign tactics. Yes, ‘sleazy’ is my word. But Powell’s own words were pretty clear — he was talking about McCain’s campaign of distortion and innuendo aimed at painting Obama as a crypto-Muslim and terrorist. It “goes too far”, said Powell, in something of an understatement.

No comment on Powell’s central point that no one should be insinuating that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim in America.

Or this from Matthew Yglesias:

We can’t allow ourselves to become a society where “Muslim” or “Arab” is a dirty word.

But the blatantly obvious truth is that we do live in a society where “Muslim” and “Arab” are dirty words.

The near universal response to claims that Obama is a Muslim has been to vigorously deny it and point out that he is a Christian. Peripheral to those denials have been the occasional and rather tepid denunciations of the use of this term as a slur.

If Obama was “accused” of being a Jew, his accusers would without hesitation be denounced as anti-Semites — no need to identify Obama’s actual religious affiliations. The issue that would be confronted unequivocally would be the use of the label “Jew” as a slur.

When a highly respected public figure highlights a social issue and fails to provoke debate, it is clear that what he has touched upon something that is insidious and crosses political and demographic lines.

The war on terrorism is widely perceived in the Middle East as a war on Islam. But that should hardly be surprising since in the minds of most Americans, the words “terrorism” and “Islam” have become deeply intertwined.

In this country, for every foul-mouthed Islamophobe there are a thousand others who might not share his or her hatred, do not see themselves nor are seen by others as bigots, but who nevertheless facilitate the expression of that hatred by failing to stand up for Muslims.

We have become to Muslims what so many million Germans were to the Jews.

The Obama campaign, unwilling to risk sacrificing itself on this point of principle, has sadly been among the passive facilitators of Islamophobia.

How John McCain came to pick Sarah Palin

Palin’s sudden rise to prominence, however, owes more to members of the Washington élite than her rhetoric has suggested. Paulette Simpson, the head of the Alaska Federation of Republican Women, who has known Palin since 2002, said, “From the beginning, she’s been underestimated. She’s very smart. She’s ambitious.” John Bitney, a top policy adviser on Palin’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign, said, “Sarah’s very conscientious about crafting the story of Sarah. She’s all about the hockey mom and Mrs. Palin Goes to Washington—the anti-politician politician.” Bitney is from Wasilla, Palin’s home town, and has known her since junior high school, where they both played in the band. He considers Palin a friend, even though after becoming governor, in December, 2006, she dismissed him. He is now the chief of staff to the speaker of the Alaska House.

Upon being elected governor, Palin began developing relationships with Washington insiders, who later championed the idea of putting her on the 2008 ticket. “There’s some political opportunism on her part,” Bitney said. For years, “she’s had D.C. in mind.” He added, “She’s not interested in being on the junior-varsity team.”

During her gubernatorial campaign, Bitney said, he began predicting to Palin that she would make the short list of Republican Vice-Presidential prospects. “She had the biography, I told her, to be a contender,” he recalled. At first, Palin only laughed. But within a few months of being sworn in she and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President. Palin also learned that a number of prominent conservative pundits would soon be passing through Juneau, on cruises sponsored by right-leaning political magazines. She invited these insiders to the governor’s mansion, and even led some of them on a helicopter tour. [continued…]

Power’s shifting, but not in the way you expect

Historians identify changes in eras in terms of decades, even centuries. Commentators are a much more impatient bunch: A few weeks of turmoil on Wall Street, a year of the credit crunch, and they’ve formed an instant consensus that a new era has begun, that points have turned or tipped or gushed over a watershed.

This consensus, on both sides of the Atlantic, has formed around four themes. One is the idea that the dividing line between the market and the state, between conservative economic thinking and progressive intervention, will now shift decisively away from the market. A second is that America’s status as a free-market beacon and provider of the dollar standard will decline sharply. A third idea is that this Western economic crisis is going to confirm, and probably accelerate, the shift in economic power to Asia, and in particular to China. And when you put those three themes together, you get a fourth: that authoritarian nations, where the state runs the economy and where the political leaders are instinctively hostile to America, are going to become stronger, both internally and as role models.

The haste with which this agreement has been reached should make us suspicious. It’s time to wonder whether all four of these themes may be wrong. In fact, it’s time to wonder whether the ultimate consequence of this economic turmoil could be the precise opposite of what’s expected. [continued…]

Barak: Israel considering Saudi peace plan

Israeli leaders are seriously considering a dormant Saudi plan offering a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world in exchange for lands captured during the 1967 war, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday.

Barak said it may be time to pursue an overall peace deal for the region since individual negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians have made little progress.

Barak said he has discussed the Saudi plan with Prime Minister-designate Tzipi Livni, who is in the process of forming a new Israeli government, and that Israel is considering a response.

Saudi Arabia first proposed the peace initiative in 2002, offering pan-Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Arab lands captured in 1967 — the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. [continued…]

Five million people face starvation in troubled Zimbabwe

Aid experts are warning that millions of Zimbabwe’s people face starvation as the country’s political leaders remain deadlocked over a power-sharing deal and the economy heads for total collapse.

While officials of the Southern African Development Community prepare for a meeting tomorrow in Swaziland, where they will try to persuade President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders to resume negotiations, the United Nations World Food Programme has warned that the number of Zimbabweans needing food aid is expected to double by early next year, to just over five million. The UN has appealed for an extra $140m (£81m) to deal with the crisis.

Richard Lee, a WFP spokesman in Johannesburg, said the organisation was already giving emergency food aid to 2.5 million people in Zimbabwe after the failure of this year’s maize harvest. On top of erratic weather, which resulted in droughts in some areas and flooding in others, there were shortages of seed and fertilisers. The government, which buys all grain production, had also failed to set a price that would encourage farmers to grow more than they needed for their own families. [continued…]

Shiite bloc’s demands stall U.S.-Iraq pact

Key members of the Iraqi parliament’s largest political bloc have called for all American troops to leave this country in 2011 as a condition for allowing the U.S. military to stay here beyond year’s end, officials said Sunday.

The change sought by the influential United Iraqi Alliance would harden the withdrawal date for U.S. troops. A draft bilateral agreement completed this week would require American forces to leave by December 2011 but would allow for an extension by mutual agreement.

The Shiite bloc, which includes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawa party, also insists that Iraqi officials have a bigger role in determining whether U.S. soldiers accused of wrongdoing are subject to prosecution in Iraqi courts, said Sami al-Askeri, a political adviser to Maliki. That proposal has been resisted by the Pentagon.

If the Iraqi alliance’s conditions are not met, “I cannot see that this agreement will see the light,” said Askeri, who is also a lawmaker from Maliki’s party. [continued…]



The GOP’s American apartheid vs. socialism we can believe in

“Socialism we can believe in”?

OK. It’s not going to be a slogan the Obama campaign will ever want to use, but were it not the fact that fifty years after Sen Joe McCarthy’s death we still live in the shadow of the McCarthy era, there’s no reason why in a liberal democracy “socialism” should be a dirty word. (And must we remind ourselves that democracy is inherently liberal rather than authoritarian?)

How could the spirit of socialism more eloquently be expressed than in a question Barack posed yesterday in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people in St. Louis, Missouri:

In America, do we simply value wealth — or do we value the work that creates it?

Karl couldn’t have put it better, yet for so many Americans who’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of the myth of free enterprise, the freedom of wealth creation has been abstracted from the context within which it occurs. Work is turned into a gift for those who most desperately need it, bestowed by those claim the largest portion of its rewards. But that isn’t really the work we believe in.


The GOP could learn a thing or two from the South Africans and the Israelis: If you believe in and want to sustain a divided society, you should only cling on to such a position for as long as you can deprive your opponents of political rights.

As the McCain campaign to cruises around slicing and dicing America into its “real” and “pro-American” components, it seems to have forgotten that the other camp — those less than real, half-hearted Americans — have the right to vote. Telling an uncommitted voter that he or she is not a patriotic America unless they vote McCain-Palin, seems like the best way of pushing them off the fence — into the Obama camp.

As so often happens, once the dominant power loses its dominance, it clings on to the tactics of domination — even when they have become self defeating.

The torture time bomb

As the US presidential election reaches a climax against the background of the financial crisis, another silent, dark, time bomb of an issue hangs over the two candidates: torture. For now, there seems to be a shared desire not to delve too deeply into the circumstances in which the Bush administration allowed the US military and the CIA to embrace abusive techniques of interrogation – including waterboarding, in the case of the CIA – which violate the Geneva conventions and the 1984 UN torture convention.

The torture issue’s cancerous consequences go deep, and will cause headaches for the next president. New evidence has emerged in Congressional inquiries that throw more light on the extent to which early knowledge and approval of the abuse went to the highest levels. What does a country do when compelling evidence shows its leaders have authorised international crimes?

For three years I have followed a trail which leads unambiguously to the conclusion that the real bad eggs were not Lyndie England or others on the ground in Abu Ghraib, but the most senior officials in the White House, the Pentagon and the department of justice. Over recent months, Congress has been looking into the role of senior officials involved in the development of interrogation rules. These have attracted relatively scant attention; little by little, however, senators and congressmen have uncovered the outlines of a potentially far-reaching criminal conspiracy. [continued…]

McCain’s radical pal

One of the ways I got to know John McCain a decade or so ago was through a mutual friend—a fellow by the name of David Ifshin. I knew David through Democratic Party politics. He was a stalwart moderate, a member of the Democratic Leadership Council and an occasional adviser to Bill Clinton. Our wives were, and are, close friends. But McCain’s relationship with David was far more interesting.

Ifshin, you see, had been a vehement anti-Vietnam radical. He had even gone to Hanoi at the height at the war and given a speech denouncing the American pilots dropping bombs on North Vietnamese civilians as “war criminals.” The speech was broadcast repeatedly in the Hanoi Hilton, where McCain was being held captive. More than a few people thought Ifshin was guilty of treason.

After McCain was tortured and broken by the North Vietnamese and signed a confession of “criminality,” he was so ashamed that he attempted suicide—and later made a vow that he wouldn’t question the decisions or statements made by anybody else about the war. And so, when he arrived in the U.S. after his released and was asked about the antiwar protesters by Life magazine, he refused to condemn them. He kept to this policy, more or less, until 1984 when, as an ambitious young politician, he was asked by the Reagan campaign to deliver a speech slamming one of Walter Mondale’s top advisors—his campaign counsel, David Ifshin—for going to Hanoi, and giving aid and comfort to the enemy during wartime.

McCain gave the speech but, he later told me, felt great remorse about it. “I didn’t know the guy. I’d never met him,” he told me.

McCain and Ifshin met the following year at the annual AIPAC convention in Washington—and there is some disagreement what happened next: Both men later told me that the other initiated the conversation by apologizing. “McCain said, ‘I’m sorry I gave that speech. I didn’t even know you’” Ifshin told me. “And I said to him, ‘You’re apologizing to me?’ I’ve been wanting to apologize to you for years. I feel so terrible about that speech I gave in Hanoi.”

The two became fast friends. They did charitable work together in Vietnam and elsewhere. When Bill Clinton went to the Vietnam Memorial for Memorial Day 1993, both Ifshin and McCain were there, too. And when McCain saw a sign in the crowd—“Clinton: Tell Us About Ifshin”—McCain went to the floor of the Senate the next day and said, “Let me tell you about David Ifshin…David is a friend of mine.” [continued…]

Turns out there’s good news on Main St.

As the financial crisis takes down Wall Street, the regular folks on Main Street are biting their nails, watching the toxic tsunami head their way. But for all our nightmares of drowning in a sea of bad mortgages, foreclosed homes and shrunken retirement plans, the truth is that the effects of this meltdown won’t be all bad in the long run. In one regard, it could offer our society a net positive: Forced into belt-tightening, Americans are likely to strengthen our family and community ties and to center our lives more closely on the places where we live.

This trend toward what I call “the new localism” has been underway for some years, driven by changing demographics, new technologies and rising energy prices. But the economic downturn will probably accelerate it as individuals and corporations look not to the global stage but closer to home, concentrating and congregating on the Main Streets where we choose to live — in the suburbs, in urban neighborhoods or in small towns.

In his 1972 bestseller, “A Nation of Strangers,” social critic Vance Packard depicted the United States as “a society coming apart at the seams.” He was only one in a long cavalcade of futurists who have envisioned an America of ever-increasing “spatial mobility” that would give rise to weaker families, childlessness and anonymous communities.

Packard and others may not have been far off for their time: In 1970, nearly 20 percent of Americans changed their place of residence every year. But by 2004, that figure had dropped to 14 percent, the lowest level since 1950. Americans born today are actually more likely to reside near their place of birth than those who lived in the 19th century. Part of this is due to our aging population, because older people are far less likely to move than those under 30. But more limited economic options may intensify this phenomenon while bringing a host of social, economic and environmental benefits in their wake. [continued…]

Going global

The era of small government is over. Regulation is back. Governments now control finance.

Amid all the mind-boggling developments of the past two weeks, however, perhaps the greatest is this: government is going global.

Initially, the financial crisis that followed the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers appeared confined to the United States. Within days, however, it had spread to Europe. Haltingly, governments on both sides of the Atlantic began to develop national plans to shore up their banks and unfreeze their lending. Ten years ago, such national solutions would probably have sufficed. But when they were rolled out ten days ago, they fizzled almost instantly, partly because they failed to inject enough capital into a tottering financial system, but also because their scope was merely national, while the economy they sought to save had grown so global that national solutions no longer sufficed. [continued…]

We forgot everything Keynes taught us

No one can complain of a shortage of information about the Great Financial Meltdown. The biggest growth industry today is words: A whole new vocabulary has spread from board tables to kitchen tables. Superannuated whiz kids planting cabbages to offset their newly straitened means can blame their troubles on collateralized debt obligations, special investment vehicles, credit default swaps. Subprime mortgage holders find themselves censured for a new and virulent disease called toxic debt.

But what is in even shorter supply than credit is an economic theory to explain why this financial tsunami occurred, and what its consequences might be. Over the past 30 years, economists have devoted great intellectual energy to proving that such disasters cannot happen. The market system accurately prices all trades at each moment in time. Greed, ignorance, euphoria, panic, herd behavior, predation, financial skulduggery and politics — the forces that drive boom-bust cycles — only exist offstage in their models.

The Great Financial Meltdown would not have surprised the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who died in 1946, for he thought that this was exactly how unregulated markets would behave. The New Economics, as Keynesian economics was known in the United States until it became the Obsolete Economics, was designed to prevent such turbulence. It held that governments should vary taxes and spending to offset any tendency for inflation to rise or output to fall. [continued…]

How we lost the war we won

The highway that leads south out of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, passes through a craggy range of arid, sand-colored mountains with sharp, stony peaks. Poplar trees and green fields line the road. Nomadic Kuchi women draped in colorful scarves tend to camels as small boys herd sheep. The hillsides are dotted with cemeteries: rough-hewn tombstones tilting at haphazard angles, multicolored flags flying above them. There is nothing to indicate that the terrain we are about to enter is one of the world’s deadliest war zones. On the outskirts of the capital we are stopped at a routine checkpoint manned by the Afghan National Army. The wary soldiers single me out, suspicious of my foreign accent. My companions, two Afghan men named Shafiq and Ibrahim, convince the soldiers that I am only a journalist. Ibrahim, a thin man with a wispy beard tapered beneath his chin, comes across like an Afghan version of Bob Marley, easygoing and quick to smile. He jokes with the soldiers in Dari, the Farsi dialect spoken throughout Afghanistan, assuring them that everything is OK.

As we drive away, Ibrahim laughs. The soldiers, he explains, thought I was a suicide bomber. Ibrahim did not bother to tell them that he and Shafiq are midlevel Taliban commanders, escorting me deep into Ghazni, a province largely controlled by the spreading insurgency that now dominates much of the country.

Until recently, Ghazni, like much of central Afghanistan, was considered reasonably safe. But now the province, located 100 miles south of the capital, has fallen to the Taliban. Foreigners who venture to Ghazni often wind up kidnapped or killed. In defiance of the central government, the Taliban governor in the province issues separate ID cards and passports for the Taliban regime, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Farmers increasingly turn to the Taliban, not the American-backed authorities, for adjudication of land disputes.

By the time we reach the town of Salar, only 50 miles south of Kabul, we have already passed five tractor-trailers from military convoys that have been destroyed by the Taliban. The highway, newly rebuilt courtesy of $250 million, most of it from U.S. taxpayers, is pocked by immense craters, most of them caused by roadside bombs planted by Taliban fighters. As in Iraq, these improvised explosive devices are a key to the battle against the American invaders and their allies in the Afghan security forces, part of a haphazard but lethal campaign against coalition troops and the long, snaking convoys that provide logistical support. [continued…]

20bn barrel oil discovery puts Cuba in the big league

Friends and foes have called Cuba many things – a progressive beacon, a quixotic underdog, an oppressive tyranny – but no one has called it lucky, until now .

Mother nature, it emerged this week, appears to have blessed the island with enough oil reserves to vault it into the ranks of energy powers. The government announced there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba’s share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba’s reserves on par with those of the US and into the world’s top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba’s state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet. [continued…]



Could the recession end the Iraq war?

John McCain has made a point throughout his campaign of pooh-poohing Barack Obama’s promise to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months of assuming office. McCain has steadfastly refused to set a withdrawal date, suggesting that to do so would be defeatist and vowing instead to bring the troops back when they’ve won. During Wednesday’s debate, McCain saw progress in the fact that U.S. and Iraqi negotiators are close to reaching a Status of Forces agreement governing the future presence of U.S. troops there. But the agreement they’re reportedly close to concluding does, in fact, set a withdrawal date: At the insistence of the Iraqis, it requires that all U.S. forces leave Iraq by the end of 2011. The schedule may be longer than Obama’s, but the Iraqis appear to have walked the Bush Administration back to accept the principle of setting a departure date. The plan reportedly also requires U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq’s cities by next summer, and removes their right to continue the practice of open-ended detention of Iraqi citizens.

The agreement is not yet complete, of course. There are still points of contention over immunity for U.S. forces, and over the Iraqis’ demand for the right to inspect weapons and military equipment being brought into the country “to ensure they are suitable for the security mission”, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki put it in an interview with The Times — i.e. to ensure that Iraq’s territory is not being used as a staging ground for any U.S. action against Iran. The pact will have to be approved by Iraq’s cabinet and parliament, where it could still encounter opposition. Iraqi government officials have also suggested that a new agreement could be negotiated in 2011 if conditions required it.

Still, the deal leaves little doubt that the Iraq war is being drawn to a close —and not necessarily because the U.S. has achieved its benchmarks on the ground. A new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, intended to guide the next U.S. president on the situation there, is reportedly near completion. Reflecting the consensus among the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, the new NIE will reportedly warn that, contrary to the rosy picture of progress stressed by McCain on the campaign trail, the situation in Iraq remains precarious. Although violence has been reduced to its lowest levels since early 2004, U.S. intelligence officials believe that the surge involving an extra 30,000 U.S. combat troops was only one contributing factor. Other key factors in tamping down violence may yet be the cause of further violence and instability; these include the truce declared by the radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and the anti-Qaeda alliance the U.S. forged with the Sunni insurgents of the Awakening Movement. Deep distrust remains between the Awakening Movement, many of whose members were aligned with the Saddam regime, and the Shi’ite dominated Maliki government. The recent move by the U.S. to transfer control, and responsibility for paying the wages, of the Awakening militias to Maliki’s central government is likely to exacerbate those tensions. [continued…]

Israel gets real on Iran

On the eve of his departure from political life, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert delivered a stinging parting shot – putting under question not only the wisdom of holding on to Palestinian land, but also the feasibility of an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“We have to make a decision, one that goes against all our instincts, against our collective memory,” he told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. Recognizing that no other Israeli leader ever had uttered these words publicly, Olmert went on to declare that “Israel must withdraw from almost all, if not all” of the West Bank to achieve peace.

On Iran, Olmert argued that Israel had lost its “sense of proportion” when stating that it would deal with Iran militarily. “What we can do with the Palestinians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, we cannot do with the Iranians,” Olmert said, in stark contradiction to his own earlier warnings on Iran as well as the rhetoric of many of his hawkish cabinet members. “Let’s be more modest, and act within the bounds of our realistic capabilities,” he cautioned.

Olmert’s interview dashed the hopes of neoconservatives in Washington hoping for an Israeli post-November surprise through the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities. With the U.S. facing a financial crisis and Israel’s lacking the “proportions” to take on Iran, the risk for military confrontation with Iran in the last months of the Bush Administration has decreased significantly, according to most analysts. [continued…]

U.S. policies may have contributed to Iran revolution, study says

A new report based on previously classified documents suggests that the Nixon and Ford administrations created conditions that helped destabilize Iran in the late 1970s and contributed to the country’s Islamic Revolution.

A trove of transcripts, memos and other correspondence show sharp differences over rising oil prices developing between the Republican administrations and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in the mid-1970s, says a report to be published today in the fall issue of Middle East Journal, an academic journal published by the Washington-based Middle East Institute, a think tank.

The report, after two years of research by scholar Andrew Scott Cooper, zeros in on the role of White House policymakers — including Donald H. Rumsfeld, then a top aide to President Ford — hoping to roll back oil prices and curb the shah’s ambitions, despite warnings by then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that such a move might precipitate the rise of a “radical regime” in Iran.

“The shah is a tough, mean guy. But he is our real friend,” Kissinger warned Ford, who was considering options to press the monarch into lowering oil prices, in an August 1974 conversation cited by the report. “We can’t tackle him without breaking him.” [continued…]

Pakistani politicians divided over action on terror

A deep rift over anti-terror policy has opened up within Pakistan’s political class, as extremist violence and an economic crisis push the country to the verge of collapse. A special session of parliament called by the government to forge a political consensus on the “war on terror” has backfired spectacularly as parties, including some in the ruling coalition, denounced the alliance with Washington and Nato rather than backing the army to take on the Pakistani Taliban.

A party in the coalition government, the religious Jamiat-Ulama-I-Islam party, has even demanded that, as parliamentarians had received a presentation from the army, Pakistan’s Taliban movement should also be allowed to address them. It comes as the political and economic situation worsens, with intensified suicide bomb attacks and an alarming depletion in Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves. The country is seeking an emergency $10bn bailout from the international community, while a severe shortage of electricity is crippling business and punishing households.

Critics of the government, which is led by controversial president Asif Ali Zardari, complain that there is a paralysis of decision-making and policy. A leaked US top secret National Intelligence Estimate on Pakistan concludes that the country is “on the edge”. A US official was quoted summing up the assessment as “no money, no energy, no government”. [continued…]



The $55 trillion question

Before this – thankfully – last United States presidential debate, Republican candidate Senator John McCain had promised “I’ll whip [Barack] Obama’s you-know-what”. Well, he whipped nothing. He told Americans he was not President George W Bush. And then he presented himself as Joe the Plumber – a new working class heir to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Joe Six-Pack. And then he got “hurting and angry”. And then he lost the plot. Independent voters duly took note – and awarded one more debate to Obama. Three to none. Game virtually over.

Obama – always cool and calculating, carefully hedging his bets – still refuses to stare America in the face and admit that the real economy will tank, and the resulting mass unemployment will be proportionally as devastating as during the 1930s.

Both McCain and Obama remain prisoners of the neo-liberal Washington Consensus. Obama’s top economic advisor is Austan Goolsbee, a Friedmanite from the University of Chicago, not exactly someone capable of reasoning outside of the golden Goldman Sachs box.

But the whole scenario gets more dangerous. As McCain inexorably implodes, an extremely angry Republican party in most of its strands rears its ugly head – the extraordinary levels of hate at recent McCain-Palin rallies are just the tip of the iceberg. This correspondent has seen the mob become really brown-shirt scary, brandishing “Obama bin Lyin” placards or yelling “Kill him!” In the official Republican website in Sacramento, California, there was even a direct link between Obama and Osama bin Laden – with an explicit call to “Waterboard Barack Obama” (it was finally pulled out by Republican leaders). [continued…]

Undecideds laughing at, not with, McCain

In politics it is generally not considered a good sign when voters are laughing at you, not with you. And by the end of the third and last presidential debate, the undecided voters who had gathered in Denver for Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg’s focus group were “audibly snickering” at John McCain’s grimaces, eye-bulging, and repeated references to “Joe the Plumber.”

The group of 50 uncommitted voters should have at least been receptive to McCain—Republicans and Independents outnumbered Democrats in the group by almost 4 to 1, and they started the evening with much warmer responses to McCain than to his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama. But by the time it was all over, so few of them had declared their support for McCain that there weren’t enough for Greenberg to separate them into a post-debate focus group. Meanwhile, the Obama supporters had to assemble in two different rooms to keep their discussion groups manageable. [continued…]

On presidential blindness and economic catastrophe

Let me begin, very obliquely, with the Grand Canyon and the paradox of trying to see beyond cultural or historical precedent.

The first European to look into the depths of the great gorge was the conquistador Garcia Lopez de Cardenas in 1540. He was horrified by the sight and quickly retreated from the South Rim. More than three centuries passed before Lieutenant Joseph Christmas Ives of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers led the second major expedition to the rim. Like Garcia Lopez, he recorded an “awe that was almost painful to behold.” Ives’s expedition included a well-known German artist, but his sketch of the Canyon was wildly distorted, almost hysterical.

Neither the conquistadors nor the Army engineers, in other words, could make sense of what they saw; they were simply overwhelmed by unexpected revelation. In a fundamental sense, they were blind because they lacked the concepts necessary to organize a coherent vision of an utterly new landscape.

Accurate portrayal of the Canyon only arrived a generation later when the Colorado River became the obsession of the one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell and his celebrated teams of geologists and artists. They were like Victorian astronauts reconnoitering another planet. It took years of brilliant fieldwork to construct a conceptual framework for taking in the canyon. With “deep time” added as the critical dimension, it was finally possible for raw perception to be transformed into consistent vision.

The result of their work, The Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District, published in 1882, is illustrated by masterpieces of draftsmanship that, as Powell’s biographer Wallace Stegner once pointed out, “are more accurate than any photograph.” That is because they reproduce details of stratigraphy usually obscured in camera images. When we visit one of the famous viewpoints today, most of us are oblivious to how profoundly our eyes have been trained by these iconic images or how much we have been influenced by the idea, popularized by Powell, of the Canyon as a museum of geological time.

But why am I talking about geology? Because, like the Grand Canyon’s first explorers, we are looking into an unprecedented abyss of economic and social turmoil that confounds our previous perceptions of historical risk. Our vertigo is intensified by our ignorance of the depth of the crisis or any sense of how far we might ultimately fall.


Let me confess that, as an aging socialist, I suddenly find myself like the Jehovah’s Witness who opens his window to see the stars actually falling out of the sky. Although I’ve been studying Marxist crisis theory for decades, I never believed I’d actually live to see financial capitalism commit suicide. Or hear the International Monetary Fund warn of imminent “systemic meltdown.”

Thus, my initial reaction to Wall Street’s infamous 777.7 point plunge a few weeks ago was a very sixties retro elation. “Right on, Karl!” I shouted. “Eat your derivatives and die, Wall Street swine!” Like the Grand Canyon, the fall of the banks can be a terrifying but sublime spectacle.

But the real culprits, of course, are not being trundled off to the guillotine; they’re gently floating to earth in golden parachutes. The rest of us may be trapped on the burning plane without a pilot, but the despicable Richard Fuld, who used Lehman Brothers to loot pension funds and retirement accounts, merely sulks on his yacht. [continued…]

The reality of war in Afghanistan

Despite their differences over how to pursue the US war in Iraq, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama both want to send more American troops to Afghanistan. Both are wrong. History cries out to them, but they are not listening.

Both candidates would do well to gaze for a moment on a painting by the British artist Elizabeth Butler called “Remnants of an Army.” It depicts the lone survivor of a 15,000-strong British column that sought to march through 150 kilometers of hostile Afghan territory in 1842. His gaunt, defeated figure is a timeless reminder of what happens to foreign armies that try to subdue Afghanistan.

The McCain-Obama approach to Afghanistan, like much of US policy toward the Middle East and Central Asia, is based on emotion rather than realism. Emotion leads many Americans to want to punish perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They see war against the Taliban as a way to do it. Suggesting that victory over the Taliban is impossible, and that the United States can only hope for peace in Afghanistan through compromise with Taliban leaders, has been taken as near-treason.

This knee-jerk response ignores the pattern of fluid loyalties that has been part of Afghan tribal life for centuries. Alliances shift as interests change. Warlords who support the Taliban are not necessarily enemies of the United States. If they are today, they need not be tomorrow. [continued…]

‘Muslim’ shouldn’t be a slur

Excuse me, but when did the words “Muslim” and “Arab” become acceptable epithets?

I’m not a Muslim, and perhaps I was slow to see this coming. Four months ago, I blithely advised a group at a local mosque not to obsess over the anti-Muslim undertones of the presidential campaign. At that point, Barack Obama was defending his Christian bona fides against “accusations” of “being a Muslim” (as if it had suddenly become a Class-D felony), but was doing so without condemning the implicit slurs against Islam, Muslims and Arabs.

In a “don’t worry, be happy” tone, I breezily noted that although the stoking of racial fear and xenophobia was a cherished tradition of American politics, I really didn’t think that this time around the candidates would permit the wholesale slander of Islam or Muslims.

Apparently, I was wrong. The undertones have become screaming overtones. And it is past time to object. [continued…]

Top NSA scribe takes us inside The Shadow Factory

No outsider has spent more time tracking the labyrinthine ways of the National Security Agency than James Bamford. But even he gets lost in the maze. Despite countless articles and three books on the U.S. government’s super-secret, signals-intelligence service — the latest of which, The Shadow Factory, is out today — Bamford tells Danger Room that he was caught off guard by revelations that the NSA was eavesdropping on Americans. He remains confused about how the country’s telecommunications firms were co-opted into the warrantless spying project. And he’s still only guessing, he admits, at the breadth and depth of those domestic surveillance efforts. In this exclusive interview, Bamford talks about how hard it is, after all these years, to fit together the pieces at the NSA’s “Puzzle Palace” headquarters. [continued…]



Russians venture into Sarah Palin’s backyard

Three weeks after Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska told an interviewer that it seemed, at times, that the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin, ‘rears his head’ over her state’s border, a delegation of Russian energy executives, including close associates of Putin were in the capital, Anchorage, for talks on Russian energy investment in her state,” The International Herald Tribune reported.

“The delegation of eight senior executives of Gazprom, the giant Russian natural gas company, met with Tom Erwin, the head of the state’s natural resources department and a Palin appointee, as well as the chief executive of the Texas oil company ConocoPhillips, Jim Mulva.

“Gazprom’s chief executive Aleksei Miller led the meetings on Monday, which were only announced in Moscow on Tuesday. Miller is a close and long-time political ally of Putin.

“While Gazprom has expressed interest, however improbable, of investing in Alaskan pipelines before, the timing of the high-level delegation three weeks before a presidential election was considered peculiar. A Gazprom spokesman said the company had been invited to the state by ConocoPhillips.

“It was not immediately clear whether the Republican candidate for vice president, Palin, was aware of the visit. Her statement that she gained foreign policy expertise from her state’s proximity to Russia has become a campaign issue.” [continued…]

Next victim of turmoil: your salary

It is possible, for the first time in weeks, to imagine that the credit crisis may be about to ease. But one of the big lessons of the last year has been not to underestimate the severity of the economy’s problems. Those problems are not just about housing or Wall Street.

What, then, will the next stage of the downturn be about? It is likely to revolve around the worst slump in worker pay since — you knew this was coming — the Great Depression. This slump won’t be anywhere near as bad as the one during the Depression, but it also won’t be like anything the country has experienced in a long time.

Income for the median household — the one in the dead middle of the income distribution — will probably be lower in 2010 than it was, amazingly enough, a full decade earlier. That hasn’t happened since the 1930s. Already, median pay today is slightly lower than it was in 2000, and by 2010, could end up more than 5 percent lower than its old peak.

If you look back at poll results over the last few decades, you will see that nothing predicts the public mood quite like income growth.

When incomes are growing at a good clip, as they were in the mid-1980s and late ’90s, Americans are upbeat. When incomes stagnate, as they did in the early ’80s, early ’90s and in the last several years, people get worried about the state of the country. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 89 percent of respondents said that the country had “pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” a record high.

So it’s reasonable to expect that the great pay slump of the early 21st century is going to have a big effect on the next several years. Falling pay will weigh on living standards, consumer spending and economic growth and will help set the political atmosphere that awaits the next president. [continued…]

Banks’ bailout unlikely to crimp executive pay

Under the bailout plan for the nation’s banks unveiled on Tuesday, no heads will roll, as they did in the United Kingdom. No banking executives are likely to go hungry, either. But their parting may not be quite as sweet.

The Treasury’s plan seeks to take aim at the eight-figure pay packages given to Wall Street executives that have enraged so many Americans in the wake of the country’s financial collapse.

Banks that get an equity infusion from the government will have to follow some general rules on paying their top five executives. They will be restricted from offering golden parachutes, as rich severance packages are called, and they will have to pay more taxes if an individual’s compensation exceeds $500,000.

“The key will be how they implement it,” said Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and has long sought to restrict executive pay.

He said he did not think the Treasury plan went far enough, but he praised it as attacking the “perverse incentives” that led to the crisis.

Compensation experts say that the provisions, though politically prudent to appease public anger, will probably have little real impact on how financial executives are paid in coming years. [continued…]

JPMorgan Chase chief attacks Washington for prolonging banking crisis

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, bitterly criticised Washington lawmakers yesterday, deriding their sluggish decision-making and describing the political system as suffering from “institutional sclerosis […] unable to make a decision to make this country healthy”.

His attack came hours after his bank had been forced to sell a stake in itself to the US Government, following the announcement of President Bush’s plans to partially nationalise America’s biggest financial institutions. [continued…]

CIA tactics endorsed in secret memos

The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public.

The classified memos, which have not been previously disclosed, were requested by then-CIA Director George J. Tenet more than a year after the start of the secret interrogations, according to four administration and intelligence officials familiar with the documents. Although Justice Department lawyers, beginning in 2002, had signed off on the agency’s interrogation methods, senior CIA officials were troubled that White House policymakers had never endorsed the program in writing.

The memos were the first — and, for years, the only — tangible expressions of the administration’s consent for the CIA’s use of harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders, the sources said. As early as the spring of 2002, several White House officials, including then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Cheney, were given individual briefings by Tenet and his deputies, the officials said. Rice, in a statement to congressional investigators last month, confirmed the briefings and acknowledged that the CIA director had pressed the White House for “policy approval.” [continued…]

Key allegations against terror suspect withdrawn

The U.S. Justice Department has withdrawn a series of allegations made in federal court that tie Binyam Mohammed, a British resident held at Guantanamo Bay, to a plot to explode a radioactive “dirty bomb” in the United States, blow up apartment buildings here and release cyanide gas in nightclubs.

Defense lawyers said the decision should force the Pentagon to drop charges of conspiracy and material support for terrorism against Mohammed, which were filed by military prosecutors in May. The charges, the lawyers said, are spurious and based on false confessions obtained through torture.

They said the Justice Department dropped key allegations to avoid having to turn over evidence of abuse. The agency did not respond to a request for comment. [continued…]

New intelligence report says Pakistan is ‘on the edge’

A growing al Qaida-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army’s reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America’s key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.

A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as “very bad.” Another official called the draft “very bleak,” and said it describes Pakistan as being “on the edge.”

The first official summarized the estimate’s conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: “no money, no energy, no government.” [continued…]

Some Afghans live under Taliban rule – and prefer it

After a gang of thieves had continually terrorized an Afghan neighborhood near here months ago, locals decided they’d had enough. “We complained several times to the government and even showed them where the thieves lived,” says Ahmad, who goes by one name.

But the bandits continued to operate freely. So the villagers turned to the Taliban.

The militants’ parallel government here in Logar Province – less than 40 miles from Kabul, the capital – tried and convicted the men, tarred their faces, paraded them around, and threatened to chop off their hands if they were caught stealing in the future. The thieves never bothered the locals again.

In several provinces close to Kabul, the government’s presence is vanishing or already nonexistent, residents say. In its place, a more effective – and brutal – Taliban shadow government is spreading and winning local support. [continued…]

As U.S. gains in Iraq, rebels go to Afghanistan

American military successes in Iraq have prompted growing numbers of well-trained “foreign fighters” to join the insurgency in Afghanistan instead, the Afghan defense minister said on Tuesday.

The minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, said at a news conference that the increased flow of insurgents from outside Afghanistan had contributed to the heightened intensity of the fighting here this year, which he described as the “worst” since the American-led forces toppled the Taliban government in 2001. American commanders have said that overall violence here has increased by 30 percent in the past year and have called for more troops.

The defense minister said that “the success of coalition forces in Iraq” had combined with developments in countries neighboring Afghanistan to cause “a major increase in the number of foreign fighters” coming to Afghanistan. [continued…]

My friend Bill Ayers

I am a friend of Mr. Ayers. In fact, I met him in the same way Mr. Obama says he did: 10 years ago, Mr. Ayers was a guy in my neighborhood in Chicago who knew something about fundraising. I knew nothing about it, I needed to learn, and a friend referred me to Bill.

Bill’s got lots of friends, and that’s because he is today a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself; because he is unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help; and because he is kind and affable and even humble. Moral qualities which, by the way, were celebrated boisterously on day one of the GOP convention in September.

Mr. Ayers is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), where his work is esteemed by colleagues of different political viewpoints. Herbert Walberg, an advocate of school vouchers who is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, told me he remembers Mr. Ayers as “a responsible colleague, in the professional sense of the word.” Bill Schubert, who served as the chairman of UIC’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction for many years, thinks so highly of Mr. Ayers that, in response to the current allegations, he compiled a lengthy résumé of the man’s books, journal articles, guest lectures and keynote speeches. Mr. Ayers has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything. He may once have been wanted by the FBI, but in the intervening years the man has become such a good citizen he ought to be an honorary Eagle Scout. [continued…]



It’s Wall Street’s turn to bolster confidence

In putting several trillion dollars in government funds on the line, the country has now done just about everything that Wall Street could have asked to address the financial crisis. The question now, as John Kennedy might have put it, is what Wall Street is ready to do for its country. So far, the answer is not much.

After getting their closed-door briefing yesterday from Paulson on the government’s latest initiatives, Wall Street’s finest literally ran from the Treasury to their waiting limousines, bypassing a media scrum eager to convey any scrap of wisdom or insight.

Court reporters will tell you they can always tell the innocent from the guilty on these kinds of perp walks, and the Wall Street crowd yesterday looked particularly guilty, unable even to conjure up a soothing word to a nation fretting over its shrunken 401(k)s, or a simple thank you to taxpayers for having saved their bacon. Their silence and invisibility throughout this crisis attests to the moral and political bankruptcy of a financial elite that is the perfect match for the financial bankruptcy they have now visited upon their investors, their creditors and their customers.

After yesterday’s “historic” meeting, we are told by industry apologists that we are supposed to be grateful to nine leading banks for having “volunteered” to accept additional capital from the Treasury, along with a government guarantee for newly issued bank debt, even if it means having to accept a dilution of existing shares and a few harmless restrictions on their operations.

Pardon me if I’m less than blown over by this munificent offer, but it hardly seems commensurate either with the severity of the current crisis or the depth of the banks’ culpability in fomenting it. [continued…]

Bank program reignites debate on executive pay

The decision to devote some of the $700 billion financial rescue for direct cash infusions into banks has reopened the rift over whether financial institutions that get federal help should abide by executive pay limits.

Treasury officials have argued privately that banks aided this way should be exempt from the toughest executive pay restrictions in the rescue legislation passed by Congress.

Some lawmakers disagree.

“Restrictions on executive compensation will ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted enriching the same people whose poor decision-making created this crisis,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote to Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. yesterday. “It is imperative that these restrictions, including limitations on the incentives for executives to take excessive risks and the elimination of golden parachutes, should apply to any capital injection program.” [continued…]

Reliance on the US will never be the same

Since the creation of the Bretton Woods monetary system in 1944 every global financial initiative of any significance has been devised, led and co-ordinated by the US Government. This US leadership did not mean that America always got its way in financial affairs — nor that US co-ordination always succeeded, as exemplified by the breakdown of Bretton Woods in 1971. But it did mean that international financial initiatives were never attempted until ideas and the leadership came from Washington. The sole exception to this rule in the past 30 years was the creation of the euro; but this was viewed in Washington as an intra-European affair with limited global consequences.

The present global banking crisis has been a very different matter, since it originates in the US itself. Even a few weeks ago a solution without US leadership would have been inconceivable. In the past few days, however, the failure of the Bush Administration to follow through in any concrete way on the $700 billion “Paulson package” that it rammed so painfully through the Congress, has focused attention on Washington’s vacuum of leadership and ideas. Aghast at the dithering incompetence of the US in handling this crisis, European politicians have realised that Henry Paulson, the supposedly brilliant US Treasury Secretary, was an emperor with no clothes. Instead of waiting for US leadership, they had to take responsibility for Europe’s problems. In trying to do this, they have found an unlikely intellectual guide and champion: the British Treasury and Gordon Brown. [continued…]

The crisis is redefining our leaders

If Monday’s market rally really does signal a turning point in the global financial crisis, the world will hail an improbable saviour. Step forward Gordon Brown, Britain’s gloomy prime minister.

Until the crisis struck, the conventional wisdom was that Mr Brown was a tragic-comic figure: a man who had desperately wanted to be prime minister, but had proved hopelessly unfitted to the task.

But the Brown bail-out plan has been seized upon, not just in Britain – but around the world. Last Friday Paul Krugman, the new Nobel laureate for economics, praised the British government for “showing the kind of clear thinking that has been all too scarce in America”. He wrote: “The United States and Europe should just say: ‘Yes, prime minister.’ The British plan isn’t perfect, but … it offers by far the best available template for a broader rescue effort.”

And so it came to pass. The emergency European summit in Paris over the weekend saw the 15 members of the European single currency area adopt bank rescue plans that look strikingly like the British initiative. British officials, who have often been told that in a big economic crisis they would be tugged along hopelessly in the wake of the eurozone, are enjoying their moment of vindication.

Crises define politicians. The contrasting fortunes of Mr Brown and President George W. Bush illustrate the point. In normal times, Mr Brown often seems indecisive, gloomy and robotic. In normal times, Mr Bush seems chipper, decisive and a regular guy. But, in a crisis, both men’s manners are transformed – one for the better and one for the worse. Mr Brown suddenly looks calm, determined and in control. Mr Bush has an unfortunate tendency to look panicky and out of his depth.

The current financial crisis seems to have actually cheered Mr Brown up. When a mobile phone rang during a speech he was giving late last week, the prime minister made a rare spontaneous joke, speculating about whether this was news of yet another collapsing bank. This kind of joke sounds like the height of bad taste. But somehow it worked. Gallows humour becomes Mr Brown. And besides, his audience had some confidence that he had a handle on the situation.

Mr Bush’s presidency may also be defined by his reaction to crises – but in a bad way. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, he disappeared, albeit on secret service advice. He later recovered and gave some fine speeches. But Mr Bush’s hopelessly out-of-touch performance during hurricane Katrina cemented his reputation for incompetence. “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” – the remark he directed to the hapless head of the federal government’s disaster relief effort – looked like it might be the defining remark of his time in office.

But it now has a close competitor. The president’s reported comment that “this sucker could go down” was the only memorable thing he has said throughout the entire financial crisis. Unfortunately, it made him sound like a Texan on the bridge of the Titanic. Compare and contrast with Roosevelt’s: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” [continued…]

This stock collapse is petty when compared to the nature crunch

This is nothing. Well, nothing by comparison to what’s coming. The financial crisis for which we must now pay so heavily prefigures the real collapse, when humanity bumps against its ecological limits.

As we goggle at the fluttering financial figures, a different set of numbers passes us by. On Friday, Pavan Sukhdev, the Deutsche Bank economist leading a European study on ecosystems, reported that we are losing natural capital worth between $2 trillion and $5 trillion every year as a result of deforestation alone. The losses incurred so far by the financial sector amount to between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion. Sukhdev arrived at his figure by estimating the value of the services – such as locking up carbon and providing fresh water – that forests perform, and calculating the cost of either replacing them or living without them. The credit crunch is petty when compared to the nature crunch.

The two crises have the same cause. In both cases, those who exploit the resource have demanded impossible rates of return and invoked debts that can never be repaid. In both cases we denied the likely consequences. I used to believe that collective denial was peculiar to climate change. Now I know that it’s the first response to every impending dislocation. [continued…]

Who’s in control of McCain’s campaign?

John McCain’s campaign is pretty much a shambles right now.

If you don’t believe me, just listen to John McCain. His chief goal these days is calming down his crowds, not firing them up.

And that is an honorable thing to do. It may not be a winning thing to do. But it is honorable.

Sarah Palin, once seen as a huge plus to the ticket, is now increasingly emerging as a liability.

Forget that an independent legislative panel found Friday that she had abused her power and violated ethics laws as governor of Alaska. Forget that with the possibility of Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency, McCain gives up the argument that his ticket represents experience and a steady hand on the tiller.

The real problem for McCain is that Palin is running a separate — and scary — campaign that does not seem to be under anybody’s control. [continued…]

McCain and the raging right

Are we witnessing the reemergence of the far right as a power in American politics? Has John McCain, inadvertently perhaps, become the midwife of a new movement built around fear, xenophobia, racism and anger?

McCain has clearly become uneasy with some of the forces that have gathered around him. He has begun to insist, against the sometimes loud protests from his crowds, that Barack Obama is, among things, a “decent person.”

Yet McCain’s own campaign is playing with powerful extremist themes to denigrate Obama. When his running mate, Sarah Palin, first brought up Obama’s association with 1960s radical Bill Ayers, who has become a centerpiece of McCain’s attacks, she accused Obama of “palling around with terrorists.” What other “terrorists” was she thinking about?

Since Obama was a child when Ayers was part of the Weather Underground, and since even Republicans have served on boards with Ayers, this is classic guilt by association.

Ayers has been dragged into this campaign because there is a deep frustration on the right with Obama’s enthusiasm for shutting down the culture wars of the 1960s. [continued…]

Palin vindicated?

Sarah Palin’s reaction to the Legislature’s Troopergate report is an embarrassment to Alaskans and the nation.

She claims the report “vindicates” her. She said that the investigation found “no unlawful or unethical activity on my part.”

Her response is either astoundingly ignorant or downright Orwellian.

Page 8, Finding Number One of the report says: “I find that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power by violating Alaska Statute 39.52.110(a) of the Alaska Executive Branch Ethics Act.”

In plain English, she did something “unlawful.” She broke the state ethics law.

Perhaps Gov. Palin has been too busy to actually read the Troopergate report. Perhaps she is relying on briefings from McCain campaign spinmeisters.

That’s the charitable interpretation.

Because if she had actually read it, she couldn’t claim “vindication” with a straight face. [continued…]

The Grand Bargain

In the rhetoric of many American politicians and commentators, the Islamic Republic of Iran is portrayed as an immature, ideologically driven regime that does not think of its foreign policy in terms of national interests. Apocalyptic scenarios have been advanced about a millennially inclined Iranian leadership using nuclear weapons against Israeli targets, with no regard for the consequences, effectively suggesting that the Islamic Republic aspires to become history’s first “suicide nation.”

Even in less extreme foreign policy circles, the debate about America’s Iran policy is reminiscent of a debate over how to discipline badly behaved children. On one side, a hard-line “spare the rod and spoil the child” school argues that this immature polity must be coerced into more appropriate behavior. On the other side, a pro-engagement “build a problem child’s self-esteem” camp argues that it is more productive to cajole Iran into better behavior through various material inducements.

This type of discussion is profoundly flawed, for it overlooks an important new reality: Iran’s growing strategic importance and confidence in its role in the region mean it is no longer just a threat to be managed. More than ever, it is now an international actor that can profoundly undermine, or help advance, many of the United States’s most vital strategic objectives.

That is why the next U.S. president, whether it is John McCain or Barack Obama, should reorient American policy toward Iran as fundamentally as President Nixon reoriented American policy toward the People’s Republic of China in the early 1970s. Nearly three decades of U.S. policy toward Iran emphasizing diplomatic isolation, escalating economic pressure, and thinly veiled support for regime change have damaged the interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East. U.S.-Iranian tensions have been a constant source of regional instability and are increasingly dangerous for global energy security. Our dysfunctional Iran policy, among other foreign policy blunders, has placed the American position in the region under greater strain than at any point since the end of the Cold War. It is clearly time for a fundamental change of course in the U.S. approach to the Islamic Republic. [continued…]

Iraqi government fuels ‘war for oil’ theories by putting reserves up for biggest ever sale

The biggest ever sale of oil assets will take place today, when the Iraqi government puts 40bn barrels of recoverable reserves up for offer in London.

BP, Shell and ExxonMobil are all expected to attend a meeting at the Park Lane Hotel in Mayfair with the Iraqi oil minister, Hussein al-Shahristani.

Access is being given to eight fields, representing about 40% of the Middle Eastern nation’s reserves, at a time when the country remains under occupation by US and British forces.

Two smaller agreements have already been signed with Shell and the China National Petroleum Corporation, but today’s sale will ignite arguments over whether the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a “war for oil” that is now to be consummated by western multinationals seizing control of strategic Iraqi reserves. [continued…]

Pakistanis worry they’re at risk in global crisis

Take a restive, nuclear-armed nation with an untested new government, an escalating Islamic insurgency, long-standing tensions with its neighbors and an economy in free fall for months.

Then add in a global financial crisis. Some analysts and diplomats fear Pakistan could come to exemplify a perilous new phenomenon: a strategic but unstable state at risk of being pushed to the breaking point by external economic factors.

Government officials insist that Pakistan’s economic fundamentals, while weakened, are holding steady. But this politically volatile country of 165 million people, a crucial U.S. ally in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, can ill afford more upheaval.

Pakistan’s creditworthiness rating is the second worst among nations ranked by Standard & Poor’s, superior only to that of the Seychelles. Last week, the country’s new president, Asif Ali Zardari, felt compelled to offer assurances that “Pakistan is not going bankrupt.”

On Monday, armed police surrounded the Karachi stock exchange to prevent a recurrence of the stone-throwing rioting by investors that occurred in July. [continued…]



Brave new world

The deleveraging and shifting of capital flows occurring globally at this moment are not reversible trends. The economic changes happening now are structural, not cyclical, and therefore truly transformative.

I believe this transformation will, over time, reveal the following.

First, crises in a global world economy require numerous institutions and governments to respond, because any major crisis will have multiple dimensions to it that are beyond the comprehension or mandate of any single institution or government. Complexity and interdependency are characteristics inherent to globalization. In fact, there is growing grassroots awareness that global challenges are interlinked, but current governance institutions appear unable to pursue the measures needed to address them holistically.

For example, the connection between climate change, food scarcity and energy security is evident, yet an integrated solution to the three is not. There is a mismatch between the global challenges of the 21st century and the global governance institutions of the 20th century. Putting aside the current financial crisis, the failure to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the failure to conclude the Doha Round of trade negotiations and the struggle to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol all point toward this conclusion.

Second, calls for greater global or regional collaboration will not be easily answered. Shortcomings in strategic foresight, global cooperation and managing complexity are together what landed us in the current predicament. Leaders in policy and in industry must first develop a more systematic and strategic view of global issues if any future collaboration is to be effective and sustainable.

Again, decision-making in a complex global environment requires identifying the multiple dimensions of a challenge and establishing the relationship between those dimensions. Plotting issues, interests and institutions, and understanding how they are connected, are necessary first steps in solving complex international problems. Yet this function is largely absent from our existing compartmentalized global governance architecture and in many corporate boardrooms. [continued…]

Gordon does good

Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?

O.K., the question is premature — we still don’t know the exact shape of the planned financial rescues in Europe or for that matter the United States, let alone whether they’ll really work. What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.

This is an unexpected turn of events. The British government is, after all, very much a junior partner when it comes to world economic affairs. It’s true that London is one of the world’s great financial centers, but the British economy is far smaller than the U.S. economy, and the Bank of England doesn’t have anything like the influence either of the Federal Reserve or of the European Central Bank. So you don’t expect to see Britain playing a leadership role.

But the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own. [continued…]

Economic woes chill effort to stop global warming

Attempts to tackle global warming are being made more difficult by the spreading economic crisis even as Democratic congressional leaders say it’s still a top goal for next year.

At the very least, fear of a prolonged economic downturn is expected to delay attempts by the United States to cap greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate as well as both presidential candidates say addressing climate change by imposing mandatory restrictions on heat-trapping pollution — especially carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels — remains a priority. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — If Obama wants to be the new FDR, this is how he should help America spend its way out of the coming economic slump: massive investment in green technology. An obvious place to start is with an auto industry that is on the brink of collapse. Chrysler, Ford, and GM should be offered a bailout contingent on them placing themselves on a fast track to becoming the global leaders in non-polluting transportation.

If they can’t totally reinvent themselves, they (and this country) will meet the fate they deserve.

Fire the campaign

It’s time for John McCain to fire his campaign.

He has nothing to lose. His campaign is totally overmatched by Obama’s. The Obama team is well organized, flush with resources, and the candidate and the campaign are in sync. The McCain campaign, once merely problematic, is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional. Its combination of strategic incoherence and operational incompetence has become toxic. If the race continues over the next three weeks to be a conventional one, McCain is doomed.

He may be anyway. Bush is unpopular. The media is hostile. The financial meltdown has made things tougher. Maybe the situation is hopeless — and if it is, then nothing McCain or his campaign does matters.

But I’m not convinced by such claims of inevitability. McCain isn’t Bush. The media isn’t all-powerful. And the economic crisis still presents an opportunity to show leadership.

The 2008 campaign is now about something very big — both our future prosperity and our national security. Yet the McCain campaign has become smaller. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — As the neocons stare political oblivion in the face it’s easy to see why Bill Kristol isn’t ready to dump McCain, but the idea that three weeks away from election day McCain could dump his campaign is laughable. Not only that — it glosses over the fact that a campaign does and always should tell us a great deal about the candidate. Anyone ill-served by their own campaign thereby demonstrates their lack of leadership.

If John McCain is a decent man who has allowed himself to become tarnished by being ill-advised his own handlers, he’s not cut out to become president. Indeed, hard as he has tried, it’s far from clear whether he has ever truly and unequivocally believed in his own candidacy.

Afghanistan: A country locked in a spiral of doom

Until recently I used to argue confidently that we needed more troops – and more helicopters – in Afghanistan. As a novice reporter based in the Pakistan border town of Peshawar in the late 1980s, I had grown to love this harsh but beautiful country and felt personally betrayed at witnessing how we abandoned Afghanistan after backing its mujaheddin to oust the Soviet Union.

We paid for it with 9/11 and shouldn’t make the same mistake again, I declared to anyone who would listen. And, unlike the Iraqis, the Afghan people wanted us there.

When British troops arrived in force, in what we all described as “the lawless province of Helmand” in 2006, I was one of the first reporters out here. Embedded with the paras, I felt it was a worthy mission and a great adventure, until one afternoon we were ambushed by Taliban in a muddy field. I realised then that politicians back home might be talking of reconstruction and not firing a single shot, but this was war. Two and a half years, a doubling of troops to more than 8,000, and several million bullets later, British forces may hold five small districts in Helmand but the local governor himself says the Taliban control at least half the province.

As for the rest of the country, in all but the north the picture is unrelentingly grim. An aid worker smuggled me security maps compiled by the United Nations (no longer made public because they reveal just how bad things are). These show the relentless sweep from Helmand and the south across the country of pink, which represents “uncontrolled hostile environment” – no-go areas. In 2005, when the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), which included British military personnel, was active in the country, there was not a single pink patch; today more than half the country is pink. [continued…]

Taliban leader killed by SAS was Pakistan officer

British officials covered up evidence that a Taliban commander killed by special forces in Helmand last year was in fact a Pakistani military officer, according to highly placed Afghan officials.

The commander, targeted in a compound in the Sangin valley, was one of six killed in the past year by SAS and SBS forces. When the British soldiers entered the compound they discovered a Pakistani military ID on the body.

It was the first physical evidence of covert Pakistani military operations against British forces in Afghanistan even though Islamabad insists it is a close ally in the war against terror. [continued…]

Obama is right about talking to Iran

These days in Washington and on the campaign trail Russia and Iran compete for the title of the greatest foreign policy challenge facing America.

Many have assumed that Russia can help solve the Iran problem, but few have considered that the reverse is also true. Iran is important to Russia’s game plan and how Moscow weighs its options going forward. That makes talking to Iran an essential part of America’s plans for containing Russia.

For Russia, an isolated Iran in conflict with the West is a boon. With Iran’s rich gas reserves off limits, Russia can hold Europe hostage and divide NATO while also creating linkage between its support for international pressure on Iran and Western response to its aggression in the Caucasus.

Washington cannot resist a Russian sphere of influence stretching from the Black Sea to Aral Mountains unless it plays the Iran card to its advantage. That means dropping its objection to the flow of Iranian gas to Europe, and engaging Iran in talks on security and stability of the Caucasus. [continued…]

Time to go home, Nouri al-Maliki tells Britain

British combat forces are no longer needed to maintain security in southern Iraq and should leave the country, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has told The Times.

In an exclusive interview in Baghdad, Mr al-Maliki also criticised a secret deal made last year by Britain with the al-Mahdi Army, Iraq’s largest Shia militia. He said that Basra had been left at the mercy of militiamen who “cut the throats of women and children” after the British withdrawal from the city.

The Iraqi leader emphasised, however, that the “page had been turned” and he looked forward to a friendly, productive relationship with London. “The Iraqi arena is open for British companies and British friendship, for economic exchange and positive cooperation in science and education.” [continued…]

Police pour into Mosul to protect Christians from sectarian killings

The Iraqi government was yesterday rushing 1,000 police to Mosul to try to stop a murderous campaign against Christians which has forced thousands to flee the northern city.

Officials say about 4,000 people have taken flight in the past week to escape the killings being carried out by Islamic extremists intent on wiping out one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. “The violence is the fiercest campaign against the Christians since 2003,” said the provincial governor of Mosul, Duraid Kashmula. “Among those killed over the last 11 days were a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person.” At least three houses belonging to Christians were blown up in the Sukkar district of Mosul, regarded as a bastion of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, on Saturday night. [continued…]

Bringing Guantanamo home

What happens at Gitmo stays at Gitmo. That was always the hope. When the Bush administration fenced off a dusty little patch of lawlessness in Cuba, the idea was that breaking the law abroad would somehow preclude us from breaking it at home. But last week revealed, yet again, that the worst of Guantanamo was always destined to spill over into the United States. Gitmo’s lawlessness is now our own.

The prison camp was created to construct a “legal black hole,” a place where U.S. and international human rights law would go to die. The case of 17 Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs)—Chinese Muslims from western China’s Xinjiang region—is one of the blackest chapters of the story. The Uighurs fled Chinese persecution (including forced abortion and banishment) and settled in Afghanistan, then moved on to Pakistan in 2001 to escape bombing raids. There they were turned over by local villagers to American authorities for bounty. They were transferred to Guantanamo more than six years ago but cleared for release in 2004. The U.S. government credibly fears they will be tortured if returned to China, and since no other country will take them, they have remained for all this time at Gitmo. Indeed, reports have it that some still remain in solitary confinement there. [continued…]

Guantanamo prosecutor who quit had ‘grave misgivings’ about fairness

Darrel J. Vandeveld was in despair. The hard-nosed lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, a self-described conformist praised by his superiors for his bravery in Iraq, had lost faith in the Guantanamo Bay war crimes tribunals in which he was a prosecutor.

His work was top secret, making it impossible to talk to family or friends. So the devout Catholic — working away from home — contacted a priest online.

Even if he had no doubt about the guilt of the accused, he wrote in an August e-mail, “I am beginning to have grave misgivings about what I am doing, and what we are doing as a country. . . .

“I no longer want to participate in the system, but I lack the courage to quit. I am married, with children, and not only will they suffer, I’ll lose a lot of friends.”

Two days later, he took the unusual step of reaching out for advice from his opposing counsel, a military defense lawyer.

“How do I get myself out of this office?” Vandeveld asked Major David J.R. Frakt of the Air Force Reserve, who represented the young Afghan Vandeveld was prosecuting for an attack on U.S. soldiers — despite Vandeveld’s doubts about whether Mohammed Jawad would get a fair trial. Vandeveld said he was seeking a “practical way of extricating myself from this mess.”

Last month, Vandeveld did just that, resigning from the Jawad case, the military commissions overall and, ultimately, active military duty. In doing so, he has become even more of a central figure in the “mess” he considers Guantanamo to be. [continued…]