Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"Partisan Bickering" and Getting Out of Iraq

David Ignatius has a column in today's WaPo titled "The Hard Way Out", outlining what he sees as the two "promising paths" for exiting Iraq. The column is worth reading, if only because it vividly illustrates the inability of many "elite" pundits to think clearly about America's options in Iraq.

Here is the first promising exit path indentified by Ignatius:
The first path is a more federal Iraq -- with power devolved to the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. But this presupposes a national government strong enough to formulate rules for, say, the sharing of oil revenue. If such a national framework existed, Iraq wouldn't be such a mess in the first place. Another tricky problem is stabilizing the Sunni areas that would be a potential safe haven for terrorists. If the Iraqi army can't control these areas, the only alternative may be, in effect, a Sunni militia drawn from the ranks of the insurgency. U.S. officials have been meeting secretly outside Iraq with insurgent leaders in an effort to draw them into such a framework. (Emphasis added)
Why does Ignatius find this path "promising," given his acknowledgment that it presupposes an Iraqi "national framework" that does not exist? What are the prospects for creating such a framework, which Ignatius recognizes is a necessary condition for the success of promising path number one? He doesn't say.

Promising path number two:
The second exit ramp passes through Iran and Syria. Talking with Tehran and Damascus could be helpful in stabilizing Iraq, but we should recognize at the outset that their influence is limited -- and that it may carry an unacceptable price. Iran's goal in Iraq is a decisive Shiite victory and Sunni submission, but that's a formula for continuing civil war -- and in any event, it's not an agenda the United States should endorse. Syria could be helpful in curbing al-Qaeda in Iraq, but there are limits and drawbacks to Syrian power -- as was clear during its long and brutal occupation of Lebanon.(Emphasis added)
So the second promising path passes through Tehran, which Ignatius says has as it central goal in Iraq a "decisive Shiite victory" that America should not endorse and that amounts to a "formula for endless civil war." And in any case we need to acknowledge at the outset that its influence is limited. How does that remotely constitute a "promising path?" Plainly, it doesn't.

Now consider Ignatius's conclusion:
The real opportunity presented by the Baker-Hamilton process is that it's bipartisan. To get most American troops out of Iraq over the next year will require more patience at home, and a lot less partisan bickering. And our politicians will need strong stomachs: They must manage an orderly retreat under fire. There is a path out of this mess, but we will be lying if we call it victory.
So, to summarize: there are two "promising paths" for getting U.S. troops out of Iraq, both of which Ignatius acknowledges are unrealistic, and what's required in order to accelerate the progress of U.S. troops along one or both of these unrealistic promising paths out of Iraq is "more patience at home" and "less partisan bickering." This is pretty incredible stuff.

Ignatius skates right by the core reality determining America's options in Iraq at this point: the United States does not have the ability to control the political outcome in Iraq, and is losing its remaining influence at an accelerating rate. The U.S. can begin redeploying troops (along the lines of the Levin-Reed or Murtha plans, or the substantially similar plan I assume Baker-Hamilton will propose after the November election) sooner or later. The main reason for beginning redeployment later rather than sooner is to give political cover to the White House and its Republican "stay the course" backers. That isn't a legitimate reason to postpone redeployment, and it isn't a consideration worthy of "patience at home". If pointing this out is "partisan," fine. Let's have more partisanship. Phony "bipartisanship" is one of the factors that made Bush's Iraq fiasco possible in the first place.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Richard Cohen: Vacuous and Contemptible

I haven't done any research on this, but to my knowledge nobody has ever accused WaPo columnist Richard Cohen of being well-informed, intellectually curious, talented, insightful or interesting. But his latest column, a piece on why Barack Obama should run for President titled, "Why Not Obama?", manages to be both vacuous and contemptible. The highlights:
Life itself -- its hard lessons -- cautions me to look with consummate cynicism on the Obama trial balloon. After all, the man has been in the United States Senate for a mere two years, and before that he served -- with distinction, we are told -- in the Illinois legislature, where, it seems, just staying out of jail is distinction enough. We know little about Obama's political performance, since he has performed so little. He is only 45, which is about the age of some of my suits. On the world stage, he would be a child.
Shorter Richard Cohen: I haven't bothered to do any research on Obama's record in the Senate or in the Illinois legislature, but I'll join everybody else in noting that he doesn't have much experience. But in Cohen's case, it's "consummate cynicism" based on "hard lessons" learned from "Life itself" talking, so you'd better pay attention. Never mind that this consummate cynicism only kicks in when it happens to agree with the conventional wisdom du jour. For starters, where was all that world-weary cynicism when Cohen was working himself into a bellicose frenzy in support of the Iraq war?

Cohen continues:
And yet I cheer his announcement that he might announce he is going to announce -- something like that. I say this not just because I have been following his career out of the corner of my eye -- my, my, ain't he a natural! -- but because I've actually been reading his speeches. The one he gave on the role of religion in politics was as smart a speech as I've ever read. It's the sort of thing John F. Kennedy could have given, only his would have been written by someone else, probably Ted Sorensen.
I wasn't crazy about Obama's religion speech. It struck me as a fairly maudlin embrace of public religiosity for the purpose of currying favor with the religious right. But that's neither here nor there. Cohen liked the speech, fair enough. But it's the sort of thing John F. Kennedy could have given? Except Ted Sorensen ("Ask not what your country can do for you...") would have written it? Meaning what exactly? I guess it means that Cohen really liked Obama's speech, and he's pimping the idea of Obama as a charismatic Democratic savior, so there's a natural tie-in with another speech he really liked by an established charismatic Democratic savior. But the comparison is ridiculous, and not just because religiosity was totally foreign to Kennedy's style. Kennedy was calling on people in the United States and throughout the world to transcend self-interest and work together to make the world a better place. Obama was saying "Vote for me, I'm not like those other Democrats who don't appreciate the legitimate role of religion in public life." Here's a link to the JFK speech. Here's a link to the Obama speech. JFK's inaugural address is to Obama's speech what The Brothers Karamazov is to The Pelican Brief.

But it gets better:
I cheer also because Obama is an African American -- an African father, an American mother. For someone like him to be a presidential candidate -- maybe even president -- says oodles about this country. After eight years of George W. Bush and his narcissistic foreign policy -- me, me, us, us -- it would be great to have a president who presents a different message just by his complexion and who compensates, if anything can, for how Iraq has tarnished America's reputation, particularly in the Third World.(Emphasis mine)
Cohen's crude and moronic tokenism pretty much speaks for itself, so I'll move on.

Here is the best part:
But mostly I want Obama to run because he would come into the race with no baggage on Iraq. Not from him would we hear excuses about how he was misled by the Bush administration into thinking there were weapons of mass destruction there. Obama not only was against the war when he ran for the Senate but he can claim -- as could the 21 Democratic senators who voted against the war resolution -- that it was possible to accept the "facts" at the time and still see that the war was unnecessary, if not downright stupid. It just makes me wince every time I hear John Kerry or John Edwards or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd or Hillary Clinton say they were misled, fooled, lied to or some other version of seduced and abandoned -- otherwise they would have voted the right way. This is disingenuous.
So it makes Cohen "wince" to hear this, does it? He thinks it is disingenuous for these politicians to claim they were had by the Bush Administration? Now see if you don't find it a bit disingenuous for Cohen to level this criticism at Kerry, Edwards, Biden, Dodd and Clinton given that he himself wrote this on February 6, 2003, on the eve of war, in the wake of Colin Powell's over-the-top performance at the U.N.:
The evidence he presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise. [...]

North Korea probably already has nuclear bombs. Iran may have a nuclear weapons program. Pakistan has the bomb, India and China too. All kinds of states -- stable, unstable and just plain nutty -- are making weapons of mass destruction. Pretty soon, any collection of fanatics with a chemistry set will pose a horrific threat. The world is steadily becoming less and less secure. Now is not the time for the United Nations to flinch.

As with Tevye, there is no "other hand" when it comes to Iraq. If anyone had any doubt, Powell proved that it has defied international law -- not to mention international norms concerning human rights -- and virtually dared the United Nations to put up or shut up. There is no other hand. There is no choice.
Did you get that? "Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude" that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. What did Cohen say at the time about the prospect of war on Iraq? "There is no choice."

[Minor edits after initial posting.]

Monday, October 23, 2006

Security Council Iran Politics and the New World Order After 9/11, Part II

On Saturday, I wrote:
U.S. media sources generally report on the politics of Iran's nuclear program at the Security Council as if the definition of the problem were uncontroversial -- U.S. press accounts generally assume that the issue before the Security Council is how the world ought to respond to the prospect of nukes in the hands of a menacing Iranian regime.

In reality, China, Russia and France (i.e. the permanent members of the Security Council other than the U.S. and the U.K.) may well perceive the central problem facing the Security Council in the following way: How to keep the United States engaged in the Security Council process and prevent it from operating as a rogue superpower outside of the institutional framework of the United Nations, while at the same time being careful to avoid any Security Council action that could be used by the United States as a justification or pretext for executing its fundamentally unilateral plans (especially military plans).
An editorial in today's USA Today, titled "As China pressures N. Korea, will Putin face down Iran?" illustrates the point I was making. According to the USA Today editorial board, if Putin isn't gung-ho to enlist in American efforts to "face down" Iran, it's because he's too focused on regaining superpower status for Russia to pay attention to other issues, no matter how important:

On Saturday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Moscow hoping to turn the "momentum" of sanctions against North Korea into similar action against Iran. Russia was having none of it. "We won't be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran" to promote regime change, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

What's happening is that Russian President Vladimir Putin's agenda is driven by a single obsession: to regain as much of the former Soviet Union's superpower status (and territory) as possible. Iran holds a key to restoring Russia's once-considerable influence in the Middle East. The two have strong trade ties, and Moscow is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant. So other priorities have shrunk to invisibility, including Russia's once-intense interest in deterring the spread of nuclear weapons.
The USA Today editorial goes on to assert that Putin's conduct is "unconscionable," in view of the dire consequences of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons:
His actions with regard to Iran are particularly unconscionable because Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons could easily set off a regional arms race that would threaten everyone. Israel, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad routinely threatens with annihilation, already has a nuclear stockpile. Other nations in the region, most of them Sunni Arab states distrustful of Iran's Shia version of Islam, would feel the pressure to build their own weapons in what is already the most unstable region on earth. The potential for terrorists to get nukes would rise dramatically.
Conspicuously absent from the editorial is any mention of the Bush Administration's central role in creating this mess. Simply put, the U.S.-led Iraq war did more to aggravate the instability of the "most unstable region on earth" than any other action in recent history. The Iraq war, combined with the Bush Administration's decision to publish an official enemies list (in the form of its "Axis of Evil") created an incentive for Axis of Evil states to develop a nuclear deterrent capability on an urgent basis. Pre-invasion, Iraq was a secular dictatorship without any nuclear weapons capability whatsoever, whose ability threaten its neighbors through conventional military means had been eliminated in the first Gulf War. In the wake of the Bush Administration's Iraq war, Iraq is or is on the way to becoming a failed state, a training ground and recruiting opportunity for terrorists determined to strike at the U.S. and its allies.

Also conspicuously absent from the USA Today editorial is any acknowledgment or discussion of Russia's concern -- explicitly cited by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and quoted in the USA Today editorial itself-- that the United States might use a Security Council resolution as a pretext or justification for embarking on yet another regime change adventure, this time with Iran. In addition to any concern it may have about Iranian nukes, Russia is also worried that the U.S. could be gearing up for another wild man act in the Middle East. Incredibly, the USA Today editorial board misses that concern -- or ignores it -- completely.

With this in mind, consider the sanctimonious obliviousness and unintended irony of the editorial's conclusion:
Either way, the world is likely to get a lot more dangerous unless Putin can be persuaded to act in the way that the leader of a responsible world power should.
Today's USA Today editorial needs to go into the October 2006 time capsule, to give historians a few hundred years from now a sense of what public discourse about international relations was like in the United States in the George W. Bush era.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New York Weather vs. Montreal Weather

The Weather Channel website has a neat feature that lets you generate graphs comparing average temperatures for different locations. After careful consideration of the data, I have concluded that Montreal is colder than New York. I plan to submit my findings to The Lancet. In case you can't wait for the full academic paper, here are some of the salient data points, with all temperatures expressed in degrees Fahrenheit:

1) The average high temperature in Montreal in November is 41 degrees -- which is below the average high temperature in New York in November (54) and December (44).

2) The lowest monthly average high temperature in New York is 39 degrees, in January. In Montreal, four months have an average high temperature below that mark: December (26), January (21), February (24) and March (35).

3) Montreal has five months with average high temperatures below 45 degrees -- November (41), December (26), January (21), February (24) and March (35). In New York, there are just three: December (44), January (39) and February (42).

4) Montreal has three months with average high temperatures below 30 degrees -- December (26), January (21) and February (24). New York has none.

5) The lowest monthly average low temperature in New York is 26 degrees, in January. In Montreal, four months have an average low temperature below that mark: December (12), January (5), February (7) and March (19).

6) New York has two months with an average low temperature below 32 degrees -- January (26) and February (29). Montreal has five -- November (28), December (12), January (5), February (7) and March (19).

In conclusion: Montreal is way colder than New York.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Security Council Iran Politics and the New World Order After 9/11

The online edition of the Washington Post is running an Associated Press report by Anne Gearan with the headline "Rice Confident of U.N. Action on Iran". Gearan writes:
The swift decision to impose international sanctions on North Korea for its rogue nuclear test could grease the skids for sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

"It really does help to create a momentum," Rice said after leaving four days of crisis talks in Asia in response to the North's test.
Contrast that with another Associated Press report, this one by AP writer Vladimir Isachenkov, running on the Yahoo! News site under the headline "Russia minister: No punishment for Iran". Isachenkov writes:
Russia will not allow the U.N. Security Council to be used to punish Iran over its nuclear program, the foreign minister said. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia was ready to discuss ways to pressure Iran into accepting a broader international oversight of its nuclear program, but added that "any measures of influence should encourage creating conditions for talks."

"We won't be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran or use Iran's program in order to promote the ideas of regime change there," Lavrov said Friday in an interview with the Kuwaiti News Agency KUNA which was posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry Web site Saturday.
Juxtaposing these quotations throws into relief an interesting point about the politics of Iran's nuclear program at the Security Council.

Rice and Lavrov -- and their respective governments -- do not define the problem facing the Security Council in the same way. For Rice and the United States, the objective is to restrict Iran's nuclear program and prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. For Lavrov and Russia, restricting Iran's nuclear program may be an objective, but so is constraining U.S. power and restricting its ability to confront Iran militarily.

U.S. media sources generally report on the politics of Iran's nuclear program at the Security Council as if the definition of the problem were uncontroversial -- U.S. press accounts generally assume that the issue before the Security Council is how the world ought to respond to the prospect of nukes in the hands of a menacing Iranian regime.

In reality, China, Russia and France (i.e. the permanent members of the Security Council other than the U.S. and the U.K.) may well perceive the central problem facing the Security Council in the following way: How to keep the United States engaged in the Security Council process and prevent it from operating as a rogue superpower outside of the institutional framework of the United Nations, while at the same time being careful to avoid any Security Council action that could be used by the United States as a justification or pretext for executing its fundamentally unilateral plans (especially military plans).

This may well be the true achievement of the Bush Administration: bringing about a New World Order in which the central organizing principle in international relations is constraining U.S. power.

UPDATE, 5:35 PM: The WaPo link now takes you to a different story by Anne Gearan, filed later in the day. As of 5:35 PM, versions of the original story can be found on the websites of ABC News, Forbes, CBS News and others (except that "grease the skids" has been changed to "clear the way").

Monday, October 16, 2006

Katherine Harris, Etymologist

A tip of the hat to Zax Tracks reader Rick, who emailed me an Orlando Sentinel report on a hilarious lesson in etymology by U.S. Senate candidate Katherine Harris:
"I had always thought `poli' means `many,' and `tics' means `blood sucking insects,'" she said. "So I barely understood why the separation of church and state is so bad.
Quite the political philosopher, isn't she?

October Surprise Watch

Time is running out for the Cheney/Rove/Bush White House to pull a game-changing pre-election stunt. If they don't start amping up the Showown with Iran this week, we're pretty much out of the woods. Fingers crossed.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Serious Journalist Katie Couric Goes Apple-Picking (Really)

This is Katie Couric's job description, according to the CBS News website:
Katie Couric is anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric and also a 60 Minutes correspondent and the anchor of CBS News primetime specials.
As you may know, the anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News has a blog, Couric & Co, hosted on the CBS News website. Here are the first two paragraphs from her latest blog entry, on the joys of apple-picking in the Fall:
Hi everyone! Fall is definitely in the air (winter in Buffalo!) so I thought I’d tell you a fun family activity that I enjoy every year around this time with my girls. We go apple picking …(God, I am as American as apple pie!) It’s such a fun thing to do. It’s great to get outside and soak up the fall air, get back to nature and enjoy an apple as you pick bushels more! I always get weirdly hoardish (is that a word?) and carried away whenever I do this kind of thing. One time I picked enough strawberries to make jam for the entire island of Manhattan! Weird.

Oh well, anyway, as I was saying, it’s a wonderful activity…and the apple varieties that are available change ALL THE TIME! I was slightly bummed out when we went last weekend we missed my very favorite kind of apple: it’s called a Honeycrisp and it’s a fantastic eating apple. Mushy apples are the most disappointing, “un-a-peeling” (HA HA) culinary experience there is. My other favorite apples are the Macoun and Fuji.. Then there’s the MacIntosh…which borders on mushy but has enough tartness to make up for that fact. But I digress. (I think I need a real hobby!)
Katie Couric, anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News. 60 Minutes correspondent. Dimwit.

Monday, October 09, 2006

North Korean Nuclear Test Confirmed: Time to Attack Iran

[UPDATED below.]

North Korea announced today that it has tested a nuclear weapon, a claim verified by China and South Korea. And with this news, North Korea joins the increasingly less exclusive club of nuclear powers.

How will the Bush Administration react to this ominous development, which constitutes a monumental failure of its foreign policy? My prediction:

The Cheney/Rove/Bush White House will incorporate North Korea's nuclear test into its list of reasons for confronting Iran militarily.

UPDATE 7:52 am:

Haaretz is running a story titled "MK: N. Korean test shows West must act fast on Iran," featuring a statement by former IDF brigadier general and current senior Labor MK Ephraim Sneh that North Korea's nuclear test presents an opportunity to sell the international community on the importance of confronting Iran. Says MK Sneh:

Senior Labor lawmaker and former IDF brigadier general Ephraim Sneh said Monday that North Korea's test of an atomic weapon reflected the weakness of the international community and "its inability to address pariah states," in a direct reference to the Western world's response to the Iranian nuclear threat.

"Perhaps this case, that of North Korea, will teach them a lesson regarding the Iran issue," Sneh told Israel Radio, referring to the West. "Israeli policy should take advantage of what happened, in order to explain and persuade the international community, saying to it, 'Do something, before it's too late.'"
My guess is we'll be seeing lots of quotes like this from GOP lawmakers in U.S. newspapers pretty soon.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Showdown With Iran: Views from the UK

What was the purpose of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's Middle East tour last week? Why is the U.S. now purporting to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

Brian Whitaker, the Guardian's Middle East editor, thinks it was about the U.S. trying to build a coalition against Iran. In a column in Friday's Guardian titled "Condi's top priority," Whitaker writes:

The purpose of Condoleezza Rice's visit to the Middle East is becoming clear - to encourage Arab states to form an alliance against Iran. […] The idea is to form a "moderate" alliance in which Israel and some of the Arab countries (principally Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states) would join forces to combat Iranian influence, and Shia influence more generally.
And how does the U.S. propose to sell this plan to moderate Arab regimes?

The bones of the emerging package are that Arab support for the US and Israel against Iran would be rewarded by progress - or at least the prospect of progress - on the Israeli-Palestinian front. So now, for example, we have the Israeli justice minister, Meir Sheetrit, testing the water with a hint that Israel might finally be prepared to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative after ignoring it for the last four years.

"We are talking about a full peace," he said encouragingly. "We want a full peace. We do not necessarily have to accept every detail of the initiative - withdrawal to the 1967 borders. But let's talk."
Whitaker is understandably skeptical of the U.S.’s ability to sell this package to Arab leaders. He quotes Michael Hudson, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University, for the proposition that the U.S. is short on credibility on the Palestinian-Israeli file:

There's no doubt that there are people in the Gulf, especially, who are very worried about Iran, but the idea that they would be enlisted in an alliance with the US and Israel is just not a politically inviting prospect.

Until the US starts getting actively and even-handedly involved in bringing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to an end, it's really politically impossible for the so-called moderate Arab leaders to sign on to the [anti-Iran] project.

The BBC’s John Leyne also sees Condi’s Middle East tour as part of a U.S. anti-Iran strategy. In a piece on the BBC’s website titled, “Iran behind Rice's Mid-East tour,” Leyne writes that:

By all accounts, the US secretary of state had no fresh ideas to offer to revive what used to be called the Middle East peace process. Both the Palestinian and Israeli sides have governments too weak to handle any major initiative. Aides on all sides played down the prospects of any progress. It seems they were right. So why come at all? Many Arab and Israeli commentators have found the same answer: Iran.

As the columnist Saul Singer wrote in the Jerusalem Post on Friday: "Every time the White House decides to confront a rogue regime, the state department decides it's time to build a coalition."

Another writer, Abdallah Iskandar, put it this way in Al Hayat newspaper on Monday: "Condoleezza Rice arrives in the region today. Her announced aim is to revive the Middle East peace process and stiffen the Arab position against Iran. In other words, the US administration is linking the Middle Eastern conflict to the Iranian file." (paragraph breaks and headings omitted)

Now, here’s where Leyne’s piece gets really interesting. Why is Rice trying to sell Arab allies of the U.S. on joining an anti-Iran coalition now? And what does all this tell us about what the U.S. is planning? Here is Leyne's answer:

If Iran was the real reason behind this visit, there is another implication. If the US wants to pursue the diplomatic route in the dispute with Iran, Arab support is not exactly critical. The only Arab country on the Security Council is Qatar, hardly a crucial vote to be lobbied for. No, the logic of this line of reasoning is that military action against Iran is now being very seriously considered in Washington.

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has now been unmasked, by Bob Woodward in his book State of Denial, as someone to whom President George W Bush turns for advice. So his words should be taken very seriously. In an article in the Washington Post two months ago, Dr Kissinger argued for taking a tough line against Iran's nuclear programme. Otherwise, he warned, "every country... will face growing threats, be they increased domestic pressure from radical Islamic groups, terrorist acts or the nearly inevitable conflagrations sparked by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction".

It sounds almost identical to the argument put forward by Vice-President Dick Cheney on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. Only tough action will make us safe. The implication of that theory is already being played out in Iraq. There is growing evidence Iran may be its next test. (paragraph breaks and headings omitted)

So far, I've been considering the likelihood of a pre-election Showdown with Iran as a Rovian political stunt. I continue to think the odds are on an October Surprise, and that a Showdown with Iran is the form it would be likely to take. But there may be a different calculation favoring a pre-election confrontation with Iran as well.

Simply put, key White House and neo-con players may view the next month or so as their last chance to confront Iran military. If they become convinced (as now increasingly seems to be the case) that the Democrats are likely to take back either the House, the Senate, or both, and if they believe that confronting Iran militarily would become significantly more difficult or impossible to achieve with a Democratic-controlled Congress, they may be under tremendous pressure to act quickly, before their window of opportunity closes.

So here we are. The White House may be planning a Showdown with Iran as a last-gasp election stunt to avert an electoral disaster in November. And the White House may be planning a Showdown with Iran because it faces the prospect of an electoral disaster in November.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Showdown with Iran Watch

Going into the weekend, these are the two key potential developments to watch for by way of indications that the White House is gearing up for an election-season Showdown with Iran:

1) Having returned from her Middle East tour, Condi Rice reports that the take-away from her meetings with Arab leaders is that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the key to achieving a lasting Peace in the Middle East, but that Iran's nuclear program and its support for Hezbollah make solving that conflict impossible, so Red Alert Urgent Priority #1 for the White House is staring Iran down.

2) Rice and other U.S. officials indicate that the U.S. is done negotiating with Iran, and if the Security Council "fails to act," i.e., fails to ratify the White House's list of robust sanctions first thing next week, the U.S. is prepared to act on its own. In order to stage the Showdown with Iran, the White House needs to take the Iran file away from the Security Council.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Denny Hastert: Designated GOP Foley Scandal Shit-Magnet

How long will Denny Hastert manage to hang on as Speaker of the House before Rove has him thrown overboard?

My guess is the White House will make Hastert hold on as Speaker to serve as a Foley scandal shit-magnet until they're ready to launch a subject-changing pre-election stunt, at which point they'll flush him down the toilet and hope he takes as much of the Foley scandal with him as possible. I've been speculating that the stunt is going to be a Showdown With Nuclear Iran to Stand With Israel against Hezbollah and Pave the Way for Lasting Peace in the Middle East, which I bet they'll roll out early next week. On that schedule, Hastert probably gets thrown overboard tomorrow, though they could make him stick around until as late as Monday.

Broder Watch: Still Substance-Free, but Interesting Development

David Broder's got a new column up at the WaPo today, titled "New Star Among the Democrats," about rising Dem star Deval Patrick, who seems poised to win the governorship of Massachusetts.

In one respect, it's a typical Broder column: there's absolutely no reasoning in it. But today's op-ed marks a departure from textbook Broderism in that it doesn't contain any conclusory statements by Broder about what ails the republic (Democratic incivility) or What Must be Done (restore bi-partisanship by handing the reins of government over to independent-minded "moderate" pro-war right wingers like Maverick Saint John McCain and Joe Lieberman).

This is the essence of Broderism: a series of statements by Broder of his political preferences, for which he gives no reasons or supporting arguments, combined with quotations and descriptions that purport to document whether his preferences are on the way to being realized or not. By contrast, in his latest column, he doesn't state any political preferences, so readers are left with quotations and descriptions of Deval Patrick. Fair enough, but what's this doing on the op-ed page?

I'll say it again: it really says something about contemporary journalism and punditry that a guy as vacuous as David Broder can achieve near-universal recognition as the "Dean" of Washington journalists.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Imminent October Surprise: Iran Showdown Quotes

Long story short: it looks like the GOP is going to get creamed in November. So I'm betting the Cheney/Rove/ Bush White House is going to pull a pre-election Showdown with Iran October Surprise stunt. See my posts on this here, here, here and here. We'll know very soon whether my speculation is on the money or (as I hope) not.

Here are some America is Heading for a Showdown With Iran quotes from recent news articles. If my prediction is correct, we'll be seeing way more of these articles in the coming days, with increasingly ominous headlines and increasingly hysterical official quotes. And the wingnuts will start typing up feverish op-ed pieces about the importance of invading Iran immediately.

1) Iran’s Proposal to End Nuclear Standoff Is Rejected by the West, by Elaine Sciolino, NYT, October 4.

The United States, meanwhile, is giving Iran until the end of the week to declare whether it will agree to fully stop making enriched uranium or face sanctions. Enriched uranium can be used to make energy or to fuel weapons, and Washington has consistently taken the position that any uranium enrichment on Iranian soil is out of the question because it could give Iran the ability to master the nuclear fuel cycle.

2) PM: Iranian nukes threaten our existence, by Aluf Benn, Yoav Stern and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, October 4.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told visiting members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that "for the first time in my life I feel that there is an existential threat against the state of Israel." Olmert will reiterate this message when he meets Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Wednesday. Rice is due to arrive Wednesday for a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Olmert is expected to stress in talks with Rice that the United States must play a central role in countering the threat posed by Iran and its nuclear ambitions.
3) Rice says time running out over Iran nuclear programme, Reuters, October 3.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday the international community is running out of time to act on Iran's nuclear ambitions and risks losing credibility.

"I hope that there is still room to resolve this, but the international community is running out of time because soon its own credibility ... will be a matter of question," Rice said at a joint news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
4) US: Iran Could Have Nuclear Bomb in Four Years, by Gary Thomas, Voice of America News, October 3.

The top U.S. intelligence official says Iran could have a nuclear weapon within four to nine years, but that it still has time to turn away from that path.

Speaking in his top floor office overlooking the Potomac River, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte says Iran is determined to get nuclear weapons and will have them soon if not deterred from its current course.
5) Arabs Pressure Rice On U.S. Peace Efforts, By Robin Wright, WaPo, October 4.
Arab officials also expressed frustration that the United States seems far more focused on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Although Arab states share concern about Iran's nuclear potential, Rice and her Arab interlocutors sometimes seemed to be talking at cross-purposes, according to Arab officials involved in the talks in Cairo. One senior Arab official described the talks as warm but unproductive.

UPDATED 8:32 am

6) Peres: Iran also has a human bomb, by Ronny Sofer, Ynet News, October 4.
Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Wednesday morning during a press conference in Berlin that "Iran constitutes a danger due to two bombs, one nuclear and the other human – Ahmadinejad."

According to Peres, Iran's strength is a consequence of the international weakness.

"If the countries of the international community countries would have acted, we could have cancelled the Iranian danger. The great fear is that the Iranian nuclear capabilities would be used for terror. All world leaders should unite in order to stop Iran," he said.

Deer Sighting

This isn't some kind of tortured political metaphor, but a report of an actual deer sighting. It was pretty neat. Mrs. Zax Tracks and I went hiking in Cold Spring, NY last Sunday, on Bull Mountain (which I think is also sometimes called Mount Taurus). We came within about fifty yards of a couple of deer. One was a bit bigger than the other, but they were both pretty small. I'd say the biggest one was about three and a half feet tall.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

October Surprise Watch: Iran Material

I've speculated about the likelihood of an October Surprise and the form it could take here, here and here.

While I'm confident that the Cheney/Rove/ Bush White House will try to pull some kind of Wag the Dog October Surprise stunt, I don't have a great deal of confidence as to the specific form it will take. That said, I think the likeliest candidate for an October Surprise is a Showdown With Iran (and maybe Syria too) to Stand With Israel against Hezbollah and Pave the Way for Lasting Peace in the Middle East. For better or worse, we'll know pretty soon what they're up to, given that we're into the first week of October.

This morning, while scanning the front page of the on-line edition of Haaretz, I came across an article by Ze'ev Schiff titled "Syria, Iran intelligence services aided Hezbollah during war". One thing to watch in the next couple of weeks will be the extent to which this theme is emphasized by U.S. officials and highlighted by U.S. media.

Another thing to watch is what Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice says when she wraps up her Middle East tour. Specifically, will she link resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with "solving" the Iran problem?

Today in Saudi Arabia, Rice got an earful from Saudi Foreign Minister prince Saud al-Faisal about the importance to the region of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I imagine she'll hear this from every Arab official she meets.

Today in Saudi Arabia, Rice also "warned" Iran about its nuclear program:

"We are continuing to hope that Iran will suspend its enrichment activities but we have no evidence that it is (going) to do so,'' U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a news conference during a visit to Saudi Arabia.

"Should it not, then the only choice for the international community is to live up to the terms of resolution 1696 ... and that means to bring sanctions.''
If Condi Rice returns from her Middle East trip, and (1) announces that the U.S. and all its Arab allies agree that the most important thing in the world is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but (2) Iran's support for Hezbollah and its crazy nuclear program make it impossible to solve that conflict, well then there's the subject matter of your October Surprise right there.

A couple more notes on this:

1) The person to watch is Condi Rice, not Rumsfeld or Cheney. Neither Rumsfeld nor Cheney has enough credibility to front a Wag the Dog operation.

2) I don't take much comfort from the fact that Condi Rice is defining the consequence for Iran of defying the international community on its nuclear program in terms of "sanctions". It's true that this appears on its face to rule out a military response. But it doesn't speak to the issue of whether the U.S. could purport to impose sanctions of its own, or whether the U.S. could appoint itself as the enforcer of those sanctions, including by way of a naval blockade.

3) If I were Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, I would meet with each and every Democrat serving on any national security committee that has access to classified information and briefings. It's important for people like Jane Harman to get the following message: Jane, I understand that you can't discuss the super secret information they're giving you right now, but make no mistake: if they pull some kind of October Surprise stunt, they're going to point to you and say, "See, we told Jane Harman all about this at the time, and she was ok with it."

Democrats like Jane Harman need to take steps now, consistent with their obligations to keep secret info secret, to ensure that they aren't being coopted or played by the White House. One way to do this is to write secret letters to the White House and to their Republican counterparts that clearly and unambiguously establish their opposition to any election season military adventures. Harry Reid should tell Joe Lieberman in no uncertain terms that if he enables a Bush stunt, he will be forever banned from serving on any Senate committee as a Democrat, in any capacity and for any purpose, full stop.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Even More October Surprise Speculation

I've been arguing that the White House is likely to pull an October Surprise stunt. Here is some more concrete speculation about the form it could take. My earlier speculative posts on the subject, as well as a statement of the strategic and tactical "rules" for a successful October Surprise, are here and here .

1) The White House lets it "leak" that the Preznit has been having super secret high level crisis meetings with Israeli officials. Select reporters are warned that they aren't allowed to write about these meetings. Even better: the White House brings in senior management of the WaPo and the NYT and begs them not to let the public know about any of this for national security reasons. Ambassadors are seen to be summoned from far away. You get the idea: for a couple of days, the White House acts mysterious and shows all-purpose national security-style "resolve".

2) In a Prime Time address, the Preznit categorically demands that Iran and Syria cut off all arms shipments, financial support and other material assistance to Hezbollah, full stop. He allows that some politicians hate Israel and may try to make a partisan fuss about this, but for his part, he's standing with Freedom and Democracy and Israel against the Evildoers.

3) The White House imposes a one week deadline for Iran and Syria to establish conclusively that they have fully and completely complied with #1. The onus is on them to prove they've dismantled all the supply networks, turned over all the Evildoers to the appropriate Israeli authorities, etc.

4) The Preznit orders half the U.S. fleet to steam full-speed for the Persian Gulf to put in place a naval blockade of Iran and generally look for trouble. He orders every other boat that floats to steam full-speed for the Mediterranean to monitor the Lebanese coast.

Yeah, I think that works ok as an opening gambit.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

More October Surprise Speculation

[UPDATED below.]

As I've said before, I think it's extremely likely that the White House will try to put the country on Red Alert before election day. I stand by the following prediction:

If it looks like they're going to lose the mid-term elections, these guys will try to sweep the pieces off the chessboard, whatever it takes. Bombing Iran? Yes, absolutely. Bombing, blockade, whatever it takes. Mounting some sort of fantasy land special forces commando raid snipe hunt to capture Bin Laden based on "new actionable" evidence? Yes, absolutely. Foiling a trumped up domestic terror plot? Yes, they would do it. Using tactical nuclear weapons? If they thought it would help, Yes, they would do it.

So, where are we now? Well, let's see. Gas prices have been coming down. Score 1 for the GOP. The Republicans succeeded in passing the Preznit's torture legislation, which counts as a political victory in this election cycle, even if history and the popular culture will ultimately record it as an abject betrayal of American values. Score another point for the GOP.

On the other side of the ledger, the murderous civil war in Iraq has blasted its way back into the headlines, courtesy of the latest semi-suppressed NIE and Bob Woodward's latest book (in which Woodward apparently re-acquaints himself with the practice of journalism, having served as a hagiographer for the Bush Administration in his previous two books.) Anything else going on that might affect the Cheney/Rove/Bush calculus?

Well, yes. It turns out that the House Republican leadership has been complicit in six-term Republican sexual predator and Congressman Mark Foley's sexual abuse of underage boys under their care. Republican Speaker of the House Denny Hastert and Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner each had specific information that Foley was engaged in the sexual abuse of boys under their care, and they covered it up and allowed it to continue. The scandal is widening. This is an absolute disaster for the GOP.

I think it's pretty much a sure thing the White House is going to try to sweep the pieces off the chess board somehow. But what are their options? How can they push Iraq and the Foley/Hastert/Boehner scandal off the front pages?

They need to do something that isn't transparent show business and that can't be shrugged off by Democrats. The success of a stunt like this depends in part on its effectiveness in dividing the opposition. Cheney/Rove/Bush need to do something that (i) a substantial Democratic constituency already supports, or is disposed to support; (ii) can't just be "undone", i.e. changes the political landscape so that the mere doing of it automatically constrains the remaining options, so the debate can be structured as being about "what America does next" rather than "was it a good idea for Bush to do this?"; (iii) provides the media with an easy-to-understand GOP-friendly frame and story-line, preferably one they're already familiar with; and (iv) can be presented as a response to one or more problems the existence and urgency of which Democrats have already acknowledged.

UPDATE: I'm thinking through manufactured crisis scenarios in which the White House would try to position itself as standing with Israel against Iran. There are at least three necessary elements for this kind of stunt: (1) the White House needs to make an urgent, categorical, non-negotiable demand that Iran (or some other sufficiently menacing Enemy) obey the White House on some point or other; (2) the demand has to be structured so that there is zero risk that Iran (or the other Enemy) could accede to the demand without utterly humiliating itself and handing Bush a massive victory; and (3) the urgency of the demand has to be evidence-proof, i.e. there can't be any way to discredit the legitimacy of the demand through objective evidence.