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Friday, April 11, 2003  

How many terrorists does it take to break out of a Yemeni prison?
posted by Amanda

3:13 PM/

Thursday, April 10, 2003  

The funny thing about polling is that it almost always raises more questions than it answers--do all those people think the UN would be better at rebuilding Iraq, or that the UN should pay for it? Interesting, nonetheless.

Following on Josh's and Adam's points, I've had a growing conviction lately that we are, for the first time in a while, entering a period where being against the status quo is actually tantamout to being for something. This piece by Jeff Madrick from last week's NY Times magazine, which discusses the variety of factors likely to play into a genuine economic crisis over the next decade, contains a sort of reverse blueprint for Democrats to create a focussed, overarching plan and message based on both social and fiscal responsibility. Not surprisingly, the article identifies big-time tax cuts for the wealthy, big-time military spending, and cock-eyed economic ideology as the biggest bad factors; perhaps its most disturbing suggestion is that Bush & Co. may in fact view deficits as a means of curtailing spending on social programs. Needless to say, a bottoming-out economy stripped of social programs is no good for either domestic tranquility or national security, and the White House appears to be clearing the field for Democrats to make arguments that simultaneously oppose its positions and propose solutions. Let's hope some of them notice.
posted by Amanda

2:13 PM/  

As a short postscript to the discussion about New vs. Old Democrats, Norah Vincent's column in the LA Times today is well worth a read.
posted by Joshua

1:47 PM/  

Thinking about Amanda's question, I wondered, "Are there any polls out on this?"

Polls get a bad rap. They're shallow, inaccurate, biased, temporary, callous, etc. Cell phones may be making them obsolete. However, a good poll can provide insight into public opinion which cannot be obtained any other way. One can't swear by them, but there is a bit of science to them. They can be invaluable in answer a question like, "Is there any political momentum in the idea of rebuilding Iraq the right way?" So, let's go to the videotape:

ABC News/Washington Post Poll. Latest: April 9, 2003. N=509 adults nationwide. MoE ± 4.5.
"Do you support or oppose the United States having gone to war with Iraq?"

Support: 80%
Oppose: 17%
No Opinion: 3%

The Los Angeles Times Poll. Latest: April 2-3, 2003. N=745 adults nationwide. MoE ± 4 (total sample).

"Do you think that U.S. military action against Iraq will make the world a safer place, or not?"

Safer: 62%
Not Safer: 33%
Don't Know: 5%

"Who do you think should lead the reconstruction effort in Iraq: the United States, or the United Nations, or should it be some other country that takes the lead?"

United States: 29%
United Nations: 50%
Other country: 7%
U.S. & U.N. (vol.): 7%
Iraq (vol.): 3%
Don't know: 4%

There are some other polls out on this, and we can probably expect to see some more in the next week. My first take is that while the third question indicates that the Democrats can make some headway on this issue, the first two indicate that the room for movement is limited. Unless rebuilding Iraq the wrong way begins to cost lives, cause a direct drain on the economy, or causes terrorist strikes in the United States, I just don't see how the public's interest in what happens in Iraq will rise to a level where a majority will want to replace George W. Bush because of it. "National security" in a broad sense matters greatly, and is likely to be the predominate issue in 2004, but my guess is that the details of the rebuilding of Iraq are not going to become part of the electoral equation as much as maybe we'd like.

posted by Adam

12:28 PM/

Wednesday, April 09, 2003  

Is there any political momentum in the idea of rebuilding Iraq the right way? Interesting ideas for what the right way might be here, here and here. Thoughts on the un-ignorable issue of cost here and here (note this second link is a republished NY Times article on the website of an entity called the Iraq Foundation, which doubtless has its own agenda; I found the article listed in the Times archives but you'll have to pay for it there).
posted by Amanda

10:26 AM/

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  

This isn't going to win us any more friends in the international community.
posted by Amanda

6:03 PM/  

Gag Order

Good for Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, for resisting pressure from Congressional Republicans, spearheaded by Rep. J.D. Hayworth, to fire a faculty member who made really stupid comments about the war in Iraq. Now the Congressmen are free to focus on real national security threats, like Geraldo Rivera.

Unfortunately, this sort of "you're with us or you're a traitor" attitude has been popping up all over the place lately, most obviously in attacks aimed at Sen. John Kerry and Peter Arnett. Surely traitor still means more than someone who disagrees with President Bush's foreign policy--Webster's helpfully defines it as someone who commits treason, which in turn is "the offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign's family." Not even in the same ballpark, really--unless our President became the sovereign while I wasn't looking...
posted by Amanda

3:43 PM/

Monday, April 07, 2003  

Since I recommended The Agonist to everyone, it is only fair that I direct everyone here as well. Apparently, he cited one source repeatedly without attribution. As for how that impacts his credibility and reputation, I think each individual must draw his or her own conclusion.

posted by Adam

3:36 PM/  

In order to run successfully on a national security platform, the Democrats will have to master a skill that the Republicans have, at least recently, been much better at: crafting their plan in a way that appeals to those who are not normally inclined to agree with them. Personally, I think there are little-D democratic ethics problems with the encrypted message approach to religious/ultra-conservative groups; it's too much like tricking people into voting for you. But if Democrats won't use that approach, then they have to do what is much harder (and what Clinton did so well that it was frequently a weakness), and take a something-for-everyone, I-feel-your-pain approach. Unfortunately, that method doesn't work very well in the black and white world of national security, especially given how easy it is to inspire mass panic at the moment (and how ineffective the I Feel Your Pain approach is--the last thing people want to hear from their leaders is "I'm scared too"). One highly energized area that seems to be under-utilized so far is the strong desire that people seem to have to be personally involved in the anti-terror effort, which has popped up in interesting ways ranging from mass duct tape purchase to WTC donations to pro- and anti-war rallies. Other than deputizing the entire population as sleeper cell hunters, any ideas on how to incorporate a good grass roots role into a national security platform?
posted by Amanda

3:26 PM/  

Building a National Security Message

Kevin Drum, aka the Calpundit has suggested that national security is likely to be the most important issue of the 2004 campaign. He has sketched out six points relating to an effective national security message. Since I think he's right, I think more discussion would be fruitful. His points are in italics, my thoughts follow each one:

1. Any sensible policy needs to have both short term and long term components, and in the short term we need to accept the fact that the military sometimes has a role to play. As unpalatable as this is to some liberals, there are trouble spots in the world that are simply not amenable to friendly persuasion.

This seems right to me. Even if you think the war in Iraq is a mistake, the war in Afghanistan was necessary (Ted Rall notwithstanding). It would be a better world if it weren't true, but sometimes America needs to use its military. A candidate would do well to reach out to the anti-war community (through surrogates) on other issues important to them (i.e. the environment). A candidate who voted for the war in Iraq (and I know that's not what the Oct. 2002 resolution said, but that's what it means), cannot afford to have Ralph Nader carry 3-4% of the vote in 2004. He must build bridges to the Nader voters. Since he will likely be at odds with them over the war, he must find other issues to use. Further, as Bush uses religious language in his speechs which acts almost as a "code" to certain voters, so too can a Democrat speak to certain voters without agreeing with them or being identifed with them.

2. Terrorism is a global problem and it calls for global solutions: we need allies to provide intelligence information, police assistance, forward bases for our military, overflight rights, and an endless array of other help. We are far safer and more effective acting with friends than we are acting on our own, and our next president needs to be someone who understands this and has the grit and persistence to forge the alliances that George Bush is either unable or unwilling to. In the end, just as we won the Cold War by banding together with likeminded democracies, we will win this war the same way.

This may be right as a matter of international relations. It may be right in theory. It is not clear, however, whether multilateralism makes good politics. Patriotism (or, if you like, jingoism) sells. It taps into some pretty deep psychological tendencies. The silliness of "freedom fries" is just one example. Kevin's point, as I read it, is that multilateralism makes the United States more safe. I think that's right, and I think that's the way to sell this point. I also think circumstances will strongly dictate the amount of emphasis a Democratic candidate should place on multilateralism. It is hard to predict how circumstances will cut, but different messages would be used depending on whether the U.S. is still at war, or whether it is working to rebuild/democratize Iraq.

3. At the same time, we can't fall prey to the idea that terrorism can be defeated primarily via intimidation and military force. Israel and the surrounding Arab states have been trying out this theory for the past 50 years and the results are plain: countries can be defeated in war and subjugated, but terrorists can't be. Oppression simply makes them even more furious and desperate, and unless you think you can kill all the terrorists in the world — and experience says that you can't — you need a long-term plan that involves more than just endless war.<br>

Again, I think the underlying point here is that President Bush is not doing all he can to make America as safe as possible. 21st century terrorism is a new threat that we have ignored for some time. We can't "win" a war on terrorism. All we can do is minimize the things that cause terrorism, and arrest or kill the terrorists we know about. Part of the plan has to be force, but using force exclusively will not make us as safe as possible.

4. Rich countries rarely go to war against each other, and while there are occasional exceptions, rich societies rarely breed large and persistent terrorist movements. Therefore, if we truly want to be safe from terrorism in the long term, we need a foreign policy aimed at making poor countries rich. Tolerance and democracy will follow. This is an enormously sensitive and difficult problem, and I don't pretend to know how to attack it, but it's imperative that it be our goal. Nothing else will work.

This sounds right to me. I don't know enough about, well, anything relevant to comment further. Politically, however, there seems to be good milage here. Part of the Democrats' problem in modern politics is that the Republicans consistently raise and spend more money. Republicans raise and spend more corporate money in particular. Clinton, Lieberman and other Democrats have worked hard to have corporations give money to the Democrats, and they have been lambasted by the base for it. Practically, I think their efforts have produced mixed results. I'm not sure the Democrats could have won in 1992, 1996, or 1998 without corporate money, but there's no denying that corporate money has weakened the party's ability to truly represent its constituents. Lieberman's dive regarding Enron, Andersen, et al. is the best example of this. Regardless of where you come out on this issue, it should be undisputed that if there are situations where the Democrats can uncompromisingly align themselves with the business community, they should jump on them like a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Foreign investment could be such a situation. The Democrats should work with the business community to encourage positive foreign investment as a stablizer. Which is, by the way, quite different from the "New Iraq! Brought to you by Halliburton." plan of the current adminstration.

5. On the domestic front, we need to spend money more wisely. Missile defense is an expensive boondoggle, a holdover from an era in which Soviet ICBMs were the biggest threat to our country. Threats today are far more likely to arrive on a container ship than on the tip of a missile, and this is where we should be spending our resources. George Bush has been spectacularly negligent in attending to the real risks of homeland security — Jonathan Chait's New Republic article is a good place to start for details on this — and the successful Democratic candidate needs to propose an expansive and toughminded plan for domestic security to replace the quickie coat of paint that the Bush Administration has gotten away with so far.

We've blogged about this one quite a bit already. Are you safer now than you were four years ago?

6. Finally, we need to accomplish all this without feeling like we have become a country under siege. John Ashcroft's assault on the constitution and Tom Ridge's endless orange alerts need to be exposed for the scaremongering that they are, and the INS' hamhanded assault on Arab Americans as a way of covering up their own incompetence needs to be halted. We need to stop scaring our own people, and instead get down to the serious and difficult work ahead.

This is a great issue for the base, and happens to be right as a matter of fact, but I don't know how far it will get a candidate in the general election. I think the Democrats' ability to make homeland security an issue in 2004 depends almost entirely on whether there are additional terrorist acts in the United States before the election. I don't mean to sound callous: obviously I would rather that there be no terrorism, and giving up an "issue" isn't even on a comperable enough level to call it a "trade." Nevertheless, if there are no terrorist attacks, I just don't see how the civil rights/Ashcroft/fear issue works beyond the primary.

Lastly, while I like "safety" as an overall theme, there is a real risk in having it be the centerpiece of a Democratic campaign. Bush has done well for himself by playing the gambler, the risk-taker. While many on the left have scoffed at the cowboy image, it has worked for him politically. A Democratic opponent preaching "safety" may seem passive versus Bush's "bold" activism. So, maybe the next thing to talk through is how a "safety" messge can be remade to be strong, active, and bold rather than passive. Further, it would be nice to flip the paradigm, as John Kerry tried to do last week. Anyone?

posted by Adam

12:00 PM/  

Oh yes/Oh yes/Oh yes/Oh yes they both
Reached for
The gun/the gun/the gun/the gun...

Now you're getting it!

You can almost see the strings rising out of Charles Krauthammer's back.
posted by Adam

10:11 AM/
Mission Statement