Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Farewell Post

This is the final post at Burkean Reflections. I've been thinking about retiring from blogging for a couple of months now. Sometime toward the end of 2006 writing my daily entries became less exciting. I started to notice the opportunity costs of blogging more acutely -- perhaps I might make better use of my time by reading more, or spending more time with my wife and sons.

I was influenced in my decision to retire
by this post by Michael Berube, who's the author of the recent book, What's So Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Berube asked himself: "Why not just cut down a bit," posting less frequently:

I’ve tried that, actually, but it doesn’t work. Blog maintenance on this scale is a daily, sometimes hourly thing, regardless of whether there’s a new post up.
Berube mentions the problem of "invisible blogging," which is the constant mental occupation of thinking about and planning for the next post, or the next couple of posts. This process is actually quite healthy in that I found myself reading more widely in journalism and the commentary press than had been the case for me in recent years. Yet, after awhile the limitations of this medium became more apparent. It's become harder to find new and interesting things to say. On most of the topics on which I can claim some modest expertise -- black politics and civil rights, international security and the balance of power, or perhaps voting and elections -- I've commented upon regularly, and said probably all that I can, at least from my knowledge and perspective.

This week, for example, I thought about posting on
Joseph Lieberman's essay on Iraq from Monday's Wall Street Journal. Lieberman's something of a political hero to me right now. I have a deep affinity for his political persuasions, and he's got one of the most fascinating stories of political accomplishment and survival on the contempory American scene. But I've posted a few times already on the Connecticut Senator and I don't have much more to add. I thought as well about putting up a post this week on Heather MacDonald's penetrating new essay at City Journal on the University of California's decade-long campaign to evade the state's restrictions on affirmative action, codified by the voter-approved initiative Proposition 209 from 1996. Yet, I've written many times about affirmative action -- see this post for example, which was recently cited on the pro-affirmative action website Diversity, Inc. -- and I realized once again that there's not much new I can add on that topic

In any case, I've written almost daily for exactly ten months. I've put my heart and soul into this medium and I've worked hard at it. I've posted close to 500 entries since I started, and it's with a little sadness and ambivalence that I hang up the keyboard. Perhaps I'll pick up blogging again at a later date, if the bug gets me once again. Until then, I want to thank the handful of readers who have checked in now and then to read and comment. I've enjoyed immensely meeting some new blogging friends, and I've learned tremendously from my blogging experience all around. In my inaugural post I wrote:

My hope is that this blog allows me to share my knowledge, as well as vent my concerns and frustrations, and in so doing I might contribute to positive and pragmatic political stability and moderately progressive change.
Blogging has indeed allowed me to share my knowledge and frustrations, and I might have, by chance, even enlightened a few interested readers. I can't know, however, to what degree I've contributed to political stability or progressive change. I can say that the effort has been fun and engaging, and I wish the best to all of those who happen upon the blog long after this farewell entry is recorded.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Victory Elusive for United States in Iraq's Civil War

James Fearon, a professor of political science at Stanford University, has a penetrating essay on the sectarian violence in Iraq in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs. Fearon picks up his discussion by noting the media's semantic debate late in 2006 over whether civil war had indeed broken out in Iraq. Participants on both sides of the issue have serious stakes in how the war is defined, for if Iraq's civil war is in full swing, Americans might ask "why are we waging someone's else's fight?" Fearon goes beyond semantics, and examines what the existence of civil war means for American strategic success in the war:

In fact, there is a civil war in progress in Iraq, one comparable in important respects to other civil wars that have occurred in postcolonial states with weak political institutions. Those cases suggest that the Bush administration's political objective in Iraq -- creating a stable, peaceful, somewhat democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops -- is unrealistic. Given this unrealistic political objective, military strategy of any sort is doomed to fail almost regardless of whether the administration goes with the "surge" option, as President George W. Bush has proposed, or shifts toward a pure training mission, as advised by the Iraq Study Group.

Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power. Neither condition is satisfied by Iraq at present. Factionalism among the Sunnis and the Shiites approaches levels seen in Somalia, and multiple armed groups on both sides appear to believe that they could wrest control of the government if U.S. forces left. Such beliefs will not change quickly while large numbers of U.S. troops remain.

Fearon goes on to examine why Iraq's ethnic fault lines make victory there unlikely. He says the Bush administration's current attempt to create a system of power sharing faces an uphill climb. Both Sunni and Shiite forces see themselves prevailing in civil war after a U.S. withdrawal, and the intense factionalization within each ethnic grouping -- at the national level, and down to neighborhood militias and gangs -- prevents the definitive cohesion of one group necessary to consolidate power. The implication, Fearon argues, is that U.S. forces could end up providing security in Iraq for decades. Plus, by backing the Shiite government of Nouri al-Maliki, the U.S. could be bolstering a "dirty war," since there's some evidence that Shiite-sponsored ethnic cleansing enjoys the tacit support of the Dawa Party regime in Baghdad. Support for the Shiite forces in Iraq would likely cause a regional alignment among Iraq's Sunnis, Sunni-dominated Middle Eastern regimes, and the forces of al Qeada.

Fearon does not completely dismiss the eventual possibility of a U.S. victory. To be successful, argues Fearon, the U.S. needs to begin a movement away from unconditional support for Shiite power in Iraq, which would place deep pressures on all sides to consolidate the existing process of governmental sharing. Partition of the country's not likely to work, notes Fearon, so the best bet is for the U.S. to become an offshore power, intervening in Iraq politically and militarily to promote long-term power sharing.

I find Fearon's essay compelling, for the most part. If this were a longer, academic article, I'd expect to see an analysis of the administration's current troop surge and its likelihood of success. Fearon largely dismisses the idea of military victory, so long as the current constellation of ethic rivalries continues.
However, in an earlier post I cited the analysis of Donald Stoker of the U.S. Naval War College, who noted that in fact the Bush troop surge could work. Insurgencies rarely win, say Stoker. The problem is that the U.S. may be past the critical stage for success. If that's so, then perhaps Fearon's piece will provide realistic analytical foundations on Iraq's ethnic dynamics for moving forward. As I have noted before, time constraints on the deployment, accelerated by declining public support, may make it necessary for the U.S. to drawdown the commitment over the next couple of years. See my post on "The Drawdown Option" for more information.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hillary Clinton Seems Less Inevitable

I commented on the feud between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in yesterday's post. In that entry, E. J. Dionne noted how the tension between the two top Democrats hightlighted the triumph of personal ambition over the interests of the Democratic Party and the policy concerns of its voters.

Other commentators have noted, however, how Clinton's response showcased her vulnerability as the putative frontrunner. Peggy Noonan, for example, in this weekend's Wall Street Journal, argued that the episode demonstrated the questionable inevitability of Clinton's nomination in 2008:
Mrs. Clinton has never gone after a fellow Democrat quite the way she's going after Mr. Obama, and it's an indication of how threatened she is not only by his candidacy but, one suspects, his freshness. He makes her look like yesterday. He makes her look like the old slash-and-burn. I doubted he could do her serious damage. Now I wonder.

What Mrs. Clinton is trying to establish is this: to criticize her--to speak of her critically as a human being, as a person with a record and a history and a style and attitudes--is, ipso facto, to be dirty, and low, and destructive. To air and raise questions about who she is, how she operates, and what can be inferred from her past actions is by definition an unjust act.

But Americans have always--always--looked at and judged the character and personality of their candidates for president. And they have been right to do so. It mattered that Lincoln was Honest Abe, Washington had no personal lust for power, that FDR was an optimist and a manipulator, that Adams was a man of rectitude and no small amount of stubbornness. These facts, these aspects of their nature, had policy implications and leadership implications. They couldn't be more pertinent. They still are.
Betsy Newmark, over at Betsy's Page, was tickled over the brouhaha, and she cites as an update some additional comments from The Anchoress on the meaning of Hillary's response to the Geffen rebuke for her fitness to serve in the nation's highest office:

She wants to lead the nation, and the free world. And our troops. But let someone with a little disposable cash cast a disagreeable eye her way, and Hillary thrusts out her lip, plays the victim, calls them “mean” and demands that they pull back and let her win!
Hey - there is a tactic we haven’t tried! I wonder if we can defeat Islamofascism by labeling them "meanies" and making a moue.

Can you imagine if this woman had to endure one fiftieth of the personal and political nastiness and criticism heaped upon President Bush every day? If she can’t take a few shots from Geffen, she’s demonstrating just how weak she is. Indeed, no lion-heart is Hillary. There is no clanking when she walks.
In an earlier post I covered the emerging conservative swiftboat campaign against Clinton. The Democrats' internal fights will no doubt assist those GOP activists seeking to derail the inevitability of Clinton's campaign machine.

The New Realism of Black Politics

A new generation of black Americans is dramatically seizing economic and political opportunity across the country today. This trend is the topic of an outstanding essay by Kay Hymowitz on what she labels "the new black realism" in the Winter 2007 issue of City Journal. Here's the introduction:

What if someone gave a convention called “Black America Today” and Barack Obama, Harold Ford, Cory Booker, Bill Cosby, and Juan Williams starred as the marquee names? Right now, these are some of the black “It” guys (along with Diddy, of course)—yet they don’t fit the typical idea of “Black America,” do they? In his new book Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—And What We Can Do About It, NPR and Fox News commentator Williams plays Boswell for Cosby’s straighten-up-and-fly-right message that the comic has delivered to cheering crowds in cities across the land. Obama, Ford, and Booker are political stars who are touting old-fashioned American self-reliance and ingenuity, with nary a hint of racial resentment. Remember Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention speech, when he told the audience that people don’t want government to solve all their problems, that they expect to work hard to get ahead? “There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America, . . . a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America,” he urged. “There’s the United States of America.” Take that, Jesse Jackson!

This may not seem the best time to make the case for the End of the Jackson Era. After all, Harold Ford, not to mention Republicans Michael Steele of Maryland and Ken Blackwell of Ohio, lost their statewide elections. In fact, you might well argue that, if anything, we are seeing a revival of Kabuki race theater, with the actors of yesteryear appearing in a return engagement. As I write, Al Sharpton is going “a-shopping for justice” (and photo ops), calling for demonstrations and the resignation of a police chief after the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man on the eve of his wedding. (See “
No, the Cops Didn’t Murder Sean Bell,” page 84.) Jackson himself is doing his part to bring back racial politics as we knew it by seizing on actor Michael Richards’s bizarre racist breakdown at a Los Angeles comedy club to demand that entertainment executives meet with him to discuss the use of the n-word (and, doubtless, the financial needs of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition). As if that weren’t enough déjà vu all over again, John Conyers, the congressional point man on slavery reparations, is about to step into the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee, and Charlie “George-Bush-is-our-Bull-Connor” Rangel, who has been on the Hill since 1971, when he replaced Adam Clayton Powell, is set to helm the Ways and Means Committee. So many veteran African-American congressmen are now in leadership positions that Rangel chuckled recently: “I don’t want to scare the hell out of people, that blacks are now in charge of the committees and so, therefore, watch out.”

Still, if you read the tea leaves carefully, you’d have to conclude that Rangel’s kind of comment—with its pitting of us against them, its air of gloating (if jocular) menace, its assumption of racial homogeneity—is growing as obsolete as its speaker. Though blacks still lag behind whites educationally and economically, and though a predominantly African-American underclass continues to languish in the inner city, there’s a tidal shift away from the black grievance and identity politics of yesterday. No, police brutality, racial profiling, welfare spending, and affirmative action are not going to vanish soon from the nation’s political discourse. And no, blacks are not about to flood into the Republican Party; Obama, after all, has a Senate record that only Americans for Democratic Action could love. But with a surging, confident, and varied black middle class, blacks are talking a more positive American language of self-empowerment and middle-class virtue and marking a significant turning point in America’s ongoing race story.
Check out the whole essay. Hymowitz also discusses the impact of Hispanic immigration on race politics. She notes that the historic color line of American politics has gotten a little blurry -- Hispanic Americans are now the nation's largest ethnic minority -- and events like last year's massive pro-immigration rallies did little to shift the traditional black civil rights agenda toward broader, multicultural goals. There's been a lot of talk of a broader alliance of people of color, notes Hymowitz:

But right now, no one could reasonably argue that blacks and Hispanics are singing “Kumbaya” together or that “people of color” isn’t sounding more and more like an empty phrase. Many blacks worry, with reason, that Hispanics are taking low-wage service-sector jobs that low-skilled African-Americans want—and that they are further suppressing wages in those jobs. With a black anti-immigration group, Choose Black America, demonstrating in the streets, Hispanics hardly seem ready to join a black-brown Poor People’s Campaign.
Hymowitz also discusses the debate on black authenticity, citing books by Debra Dickerson (The End of Blackness) and John McWhorter (Authentically Black). (I've addressed the "keeping it real" debate on black authenticity in some recent posts on Barack Obama's presidential campaign.) Hymowitz is also careful not to discount the continuing crisis of the lower third of black America. She notes, regarding black American progress: "None of this means that the country should ignore continuing black-white inequality....But without question, our narrative about black America—and our politics—is changing."

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Democrats and the Clinton-Obama Tussle

E. J. Dionne, over at the Washington Post, has an interesting analysis of this week's intra-party dust up between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Dionne notes that the Clinton-Obama feud is good for the other Democratic presidential aspirants (since both candidates showed they care more about their own interests than those of their party) and it's good for the Republicans (because it's taking media attention away from the GOP's own internal battles). Dionne also provides some nice historical context, with some political implications:

The petty feud was started by big-time producer Geffen's brutal remarks about the Clintons, which appeared after he helped raise a ton of Hollywood money for Obama. The grudge match revived those depressing cliches about the Democrats: their affection for circular firing squads and their habit of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

You wonder what Clinton and Obama will learn from this. Both might study the long Democratic nomination fight that began in 1987, well in advance of the 1988 election.

There was an obvious front-runner named Gary Hart, a smart, young former Colorado senator who promised to lead his party out of the 1930s into the 1990s. There was a young Delaware senator named Joe Biden, the same guy who's running this time. Biden wasn't the clear No. 2 that Obama is now, but he got some good early reviews.

Before election year dawned, Hart and Biden were knocked out of the race, because of their own mistakes for sure, but also because of whispering campaigns and subterranean attacks by their opponents.

By the fall of 1987, the Democrats looked like ineffectual dwarfs, to use the word popular back then. A Republican operative named Haley Barbour -- now Mississippi's governor -- happily declared: "At the beginning of this year, the American people questioned whether the Democrats had the first team on the field. I think everything that's happened has confirmed that it's a real amateur hour. It's been a confirmation of people's idea that these aren't the big boys."

Obama and Clinton lieutenants and their full-of-themselves fundraisers: Read Barbour a few times and remember that the Democrats blew the 1988 election. Today, the party has its most talented collection of candidates since 1960. That could change fast.

Political junkies know the week's story line, but in brief: Geffen, a Hollywood mogul who co-hosted a $1.3 million fundraiser for Obama, trashed Bill and Hillary Clinton to New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who gets the powerful to say the darnedest things. The Clinton and Obama camps went to war, rocking computers all over the country with incendiary e-mails.

The Clinton side insisted that Obama -- the let's-end-negative-politics candidate -- disown Geffen. The Obama forces trashed Clinton for accepting support from a South Carolina Democrat who suggested that Obama would doom the ticket because he's black.

Just lovely. Because Clinton pulled her saintly opponent off his pedestal and made her new enemy Geffen into an Obama problem, she might be seen as the net winner. In truth, both campaigns showed they care a lot more about themselves than the causes (and the party) to which they claim to be devoted.

That's why every other Democratic presidential candidate was smiling, and why Republicans were gleeful, too. Absent the explosions set off by Geffen's therapy session with Dowd, the big news would have been Dick Cheney's mean jab at John McCain.

McCain, ensnared in Bush's Iraq disaster, tried to disentangle himself by going after Cheney and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney's devastating pushback in an interview with ABC News made McCain look wimpy and less than straight-talking: "John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld."

But the Hollywood news pushed the Republican eye-scratching over Iraq onto the back pages. It also shrank coverage of the first big Democratic forum in Nevada (only Obama skipped it), where the candidates sparred about serious issues, notably over how to achieve universal health coverage.

Oh, but health care is so boring compared with a Hollywood big shot who drops hints about Bill Clinton's love life. Yeah? Tell that to the family of someone who died of cancer because she had no insurance and couldn't afford a screening test.

Clinton, Obama and their brilliant staffs don't own the Democratic Party, no matter how much money they raise in Hollywood. If they think this is all about their personal drama, they should quit politics and go into the movies. Geffen can put up the money.

Dionne could have given many more examples of pre-primary, intra-party fights, which are elemental to the parties' nomination process. We'll be seeing a lot more of this stuff as the race continues. It's great theater, though it's not so great for public deliberation of the candidates' policy positions.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

U.S.-Russian Relations Descending Into Cold Peace

Sunday's Week in Review at the New York Times ran an interesting story on Russian President Vladimir Putin's outburst against American power at the security conference last week in Munich, Germany. Here's a snippet:

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN’S acerbic assault on American unilateralism last weekend in Munich might not have heralded a return to the bad old days of global ideological confrontation — of blocs and proxy wars, dissidents and spies, arms races and mutually assured destruction — even if some were quick to say it did.

The problem is, Cold War II could in its own way be just as messy and unpredictable. For all the talk of strategic partnership and even personal friendship between Mr. Putin and President Bush, the relationship between
Russia and the United States has reached what is probably its lowest point since the Soviet Union collapsed a decade and a half ago.

This is now “the world of one master, one sovereign,” Mr. Putin said in Munich, and he was in no way pleased. “The United States,” he said, “has overstepped its national borders, and in every area.”

The countries seem headed into a period of tensions when every step is met with distrust and some counterstep, putting them on opposite sides of hotspots around the world, from Iran to Georgia to Kosovo.

And with presidential elections in both countries coming in 2008, it is unlikely to get better, since candidates rarely score points at home by being conciliatory abroad.
The article goes on to discuss areas of disagreement, for example, Russia's resistance to U.S. plans for the establishment of ballistic missile defenses in Poland and Czechoslovakia. The article notes further: "The areas in which Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush have cooperated closely — against terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons — suddenly seem like sources of confrontation as much as collaboration."

What struck me as particularly interesting about all this is Putin's language of resistance to American unilateralism, as well as the article's theme that bilateral relations are descending into a "cold peace," something reminiscent of the epochal U.S.-Soviet Cold War rivalry. It's hard to imagine U.S-Russian relations deteriorating into such grim territory. For one thing, in terms of the distribution of capabilities, Russia's nowhere near as powerful as the old Soviet Union. It was just seven years ago when the Russian submarine Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents sea, in a catastrophe that analysts said highlighted the deep collapse of Russian military might since the disintegration of the Soviet Union (see
here and here). Currently, Russia's GDP per capital is just a fraction to that of the United States, at $2,140 in 2004. The Russian population, furthermore, is declining at a strikingly fast rate, which has some demographers speculating that without a turnaround, Russia may disintegrate entirely, or at least the state, based on the model of great Russian nationalism, will cease to exist.

Niall Ferguson in last week's Time also remarked about the similarities between Putin's tough talk and the Cold War environment. Ferguson argues, though, that Putin's tough talk is based on a resurgence of Russian power in the realm of petroleum politics:

Since then he has ruthlessly reasserted Kremlin control over the energy sector and the media. The economy has bounced back, with growth averaging 6.8% and inflation coming down into single digits. Putin's most impressive achievement, however, has been to restore Russia's global clout. While his predecessor acted the clown on the international stage, Putin has relished playing the tough guy. Indeed, when I saw him speak at the recent international Conference on Security Policy in Munich, the Russian President gave a striking impersonation of Michael Corleone in The Godfather--the embodiment of implicit menace. An American delegation that included Defense Secretary Robert Gates and presidential contender John McCain heard Putin warn that a "unipolar world" -- meaning one dominated by the U.S. -- would prove "pernicious not only for all those within this system but also for the sovereign itself." America's "hyper use of force," Putin said, was "plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts."
The consequences of these developments, for Ferguson, is not in the creation of a new superpower conflict to rival that of the Cold War-era, but in the emerging renewal of Russian influence on sensitive regions around the globe: Russia's power is bolstered by conflicts in the Middle East, for example, which contribute to increasing petroleum profits for the Russian state:

That is why Russia poses America's biggest problem when it comes to stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. True, at Munich, Putin declared his commitment to nonproliferation. But the fact remains that it is the Russians who are building the Iranian nuclear reactor at Bushehr and the Russians who have just won the contract to build an additional six such plants. Putin may have spoken at Munich of the "risk of global destabilization" emanating from the Middle East. In reality, nothing would suit him better. For it is the destabilization of the Middle East that guarantees the high energy prices on which Russian power has come to depend. Putin may have led Russia out of its Time of Troubles. Could this be the start of a new Time of Troublemaking?
Whatever the case, so far recent Russian moves to resist American international preponderance have not amounted to a full blown example of counterbalancing in great power relations. Putin showed his moxie last week, based on increasing petro-receipts, but Russia is a long way off from the restoration of power capabilities to rival those of the United States. Still, Ferguson's warning of an increasingly troubled U.S.-Russian partnership bears consideration.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Hard Left Bloggers Going After Rep. Ellen Tauscher

This morning's Washington Post has an interesting piece on the attack campaign being mounted by radical left bloggers against Bay Area Democratic Representative Ellen O. Tauscher. Here's the introduction:

The Democratic majority was only three weeks old, but by Jan. 26, the grass-roots and Net-roots activists of the party's left wing had already settled on their new enemy: Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher (D-Calif.), the outspoken chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

Progressive blogs -- including two new ones, Ellen Tauscher Weekly and Dump Ellen Tauscher -- were bashing her as a traitor to her party. A new liberal political action committee had just named her its "Worst Offender." And in Tauscher's East Bay district office that day in January, eight activists were accusing her of helping President Bush send more troops to Iraq.

Helping? Jennifer Barton, the lawmaker's district director, played them a DVD of Tauscher blasting the increase as an awful idea in a floor speech eight days earlier.
"The words are fine and good, but we are looking for leadership," scoffed Susan Schaller, one of the activists.

Leadership? Barton showed them the eight golden shovels Tauscher had received for bringing transportation projects to her suburban district, along with numerous awards she had won for her work protecting children, wetlands, affordable housing and abortion rights.
"That's fine and good," Schaller repeated, "but this is about Iraq."

The anti-Tauscher backlash illustrates how the Democratic takeover has energized and emboldened the party's liberal base, ratcheting up the pressure on the party's moderates. That pressure is also reaching House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a San Francisco liberal who recognizes that moderate voters helped sweep Democrats into the majority. Pelosi has clashed with Tauscher in the past, but she's now eager to hold together her diverse caucus and to avoid the mistakes of GOP leaders who routinely ignored their moderates....

Why are they going after Ellen Tauscher?

She has annoyed the left by supporting legislation to scale back the estate tax, tighten bankruptcy rules and promote free-trade agreements. She served as vice chair of the pro-business Democratic Leadership Council, which many liberal activists dismiss as a quasi-Republican K Street front group. And she voted to authorize the Iraq war, although she did so with caveats, and she was quick to express her displeasure with its execution.
This last passage says it all. Liberal activists oppose Tauscher even though she's received perfect ratings from liberal interests groups such as the Children's Defense Fund and the League of Conservation Voters (not to mention that she's earned the scorn of conservative groups -- the National Rifle Association gave her an "F" on her voting record). The way things are going with the Democratic Party's base (now more and more equated with the Netroots), there'll be no more room for moderate members of the party as time goes by. Joseph Lieberman's troubles in his Senate primary last year foretell the dangers facing middle-of-the-road Democrats in 2008. Lieberman had the option of running statwide as an independent, allowing him to be returned easily to the Senate. House members face smaller constituencies, however, and Tauscher's district's apparently more liberal today than when she was first elected in 1996. It'll be interesting to see how well things turn out for her.

See also my earlier post on this topic, "
Hard Left activists Pressuring Democratic Majority."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

U.S. Should Use Military Force on Behalf of Justice

William Kristol has an interesting piece in this week's Time on the periodic necessity to apply military force in pursuit of justice. The historical record shows, according to Kristol -- despite recent suggestions to the contrary -- that Americans have been reluctant to apply military power when international circumstances call for it.

Kristol is responding to the February 10th statement by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said "Many in the U.S. are now learning that democracy cannot be imposed by military force." On the same day, Kristol notes, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, speaking about Iraq, argued that it was time "to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war." Kristol notes that Obama's hope of getting U.S. forces out of Iraq without any consequences is a "pipe dream," and members of Congress are getting so worried about the application of military power that they're considering legislation prohibiting military strikes against Iran:

So it's worth asking straightforwardly, Is a propensity to rely on military force a vice to which we Americans are prone? And doesn't the Bush Administration need to learn a lesson about the danger of using military force in pursuit of foreign policy goals?


The problem of U.S. foreign policy for the past century hasn't been too great a willingness to use military force--or too great a confidence about its efficacy. If anything, it's been the opposite. An earlier American intervention in World War I could have averted countless deaths and various political calamities. American intervention against Nazi Germany in the 1930s, or American support for intervention by our allies, could have averted World War II. Are we proud that it took the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and a German declaration of war against the U.S., for us finally to enter the war against Hitler? Then, even with the lessons of Munich fresh in mind, we were slower than we might have been to react to Stalin's aggression in Central and Eastern Europe. We foolishly (if inadvertently) suggested early in 1950 that we might not take action to protect South Korea, inviting aggression from the North. We pursued a policy of gradual escalation in Vietnam. Still, our performance during the cold war was, on the whole, robust--in our willingness to build up our military and to use, and threaten to use, force.

So the Berlin Wall fell. Soon after, we intervened to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. But that was apparently it....We were slow to act in the Balkans, we pulled out of Somalia, we stayed out of Rwanda, and we were uninterested in what was going on in Afghanistan.

Then came Sept. 11, and everything changed--for a while. We intervened in Afghanistan and went to war to remove Saddam....We are still engaged in this difficult task, and we have made mistakes in its pursuit.

Now many Americans want to give up--and many of them agree with the German Foreign Minister that the lesson of Iraq is that we need to be more wary of using military force. This would be the wrong lesson to take away. For if we revert to timidity in the face of threats and passivity in the face of dictators, we could present to the world the sorry spectacle of a great nation unwilling or unable to draw the sword on behalf of justice.
Kristol actually hits, to some degree, on a well-developed problem in the literature on international relations. Why are nations slow to react to clear dangers to their security? What explains why states respond only hesitantly to international threats? One recent work in this strand of work is Randall Schweller's Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power (2006). Schweller argues, in part, that state leaders are constrained in their actions by domestic opposition -- both at the societal and government levels of interaction -- and that the outcomes of such political conflicts can result in inadequate responses to external pressures or threats. The slow response of the Western democracies to the Nazi threat in the 1930s is a common example.

In Kristol's case, he's absolutely right that growing antiwar opinion poses problems for the application of U.S. military force going forward. He can't, however, in his short essay, evaluate the wide variety of influences that are contributing to this trend in public resistance to military action. In the U.S. today, antiwar war opinion is now representative of the majority viewpoint, and opposition to the war in Iraq has filtered up to the top levels of governmental authority, creating considerable elite fragmentation on the question of responses to emerging threats. One such threat is the developing danger of Iranian nuclear capability. Let's hope Kristol and others of his persuasian -- both inside and outside the halls of government -- are able to beat back American timidity and passivity, for history shows that it's better to respond to imminent threats sooner rather than later.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Conservative Activists Will Swiftboat Hillary Clinton

An article in today's New York Times argues that some of Hillary Clinton's top foes from the earlier days of the alleged "vast right wing conspiracy" have relaxed their opposition and are planning no major media campaigns against Clinton's White House bid:

To judge by conservative talk radio, Mrs. Clinton appears to be the most reviled politician in the country. But others in the conservative movement say it is easy to be deceived by what is on the airwaves and by the marketing of anti-Clinton paraphernalia, books and movies. (Among items on sale at conservative Web sites: “No Way in Hellary” barbecue aprons; “Hillary Scares Me” baby onesies; and buttons that say simply “Hillary Hater.”)

For every conservative who says Mrs. Clinton will feel the wrath of the movement’s grass-roots organizers later in the campaign, particularly if she becomes her party’s nominee, another expresses doubt that Clinton foes can ever be revved up as they once were.

Some of her former antagonists say that terrorism and war have made the political battles of her husband’s administration — gay men and lesbians in the military, the White House travel office, Monica Lewinsky — seem remote, if not trivial....

In contrast, Sunday's Los Angeles Times ran an article arguing that long-time conservative enemies of Clinton will indeed mount an aggressive "swiftboat" style media blitz against her campaign, with the hope of derailing her candidacy:

Old enemies of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton are out in force. Just weeks after she joined the Democratic Party's flock of presidential contenders, Clinton is being targeted by conservative and Republican-allied activists intent on derailing her campaign before the start of next year's primaries.

They have surfaced with a flurry of planned projects: a Michael Moore-style documentary film, book-length exposes, and websites such as and

Conservative admirers of the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth media blitz that helped torpedo Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential candidacy in 2004 are now agitating to "Swift-boat" Clinton....

Every presidential candidate is scrutinized by opponents. But conservative antipathy toward Clinton is especially deep and long-standing — inflamed in part by her husband's two terms in the White House, her steady rise from first lady to senator, and the widespread belief on the right that the Clintons evaded justice during the nonstop investigations of the 1990s.

Clinton's foes on the right openly tell their supporters she is a ripe target for a campaign reminiscent of the challenge to Kerry's Vietnam War record.

"Those Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were the real heroes of the 2004 election," one online exhortation reads. "We at the StopHillaryPAC want to do the same thing to Hillary."
Take a look at both articles. It's an interesting question as to why the New York Times put a much less dramatic spin on the emerging GOP opposition to the Clinton campaign than did the Los Angeles Times. Both are liberal papers, but the New York Times has been particulary tough on the Bush administration and will likely put on kid gloves in its treatment of the Democratic presidential candidates throughout 2007 and 2008.

According to the Los Angeles Times piece, Hillary's fundraisers have used the specter of aggressively negative John Kerry-style ads against the Clinton campaign as a selling point for donations. Hillary's particularly vulnerable, of course. She remains the embodiment of 1960s-era liberalism the GOP activists loathe. Perhaps more significantly, her vote in favor of the Iraq War -- which she's now trying to finesse -- will serve as a major point of ire for the hard left base of the Democratic Party. Clinton runs the risk of being attacked as a "flip-flopper" just as hard as was John Kerry, whose campaign was fatally injured by his changing issue positions on the war.

The Democrats' Irreconcilable Positions on Iraq

Jeff Jacoby's Sunday commentary over at the Boston Globe dissects the Democrats' internal contradictions in their non-binding resolution this week on Iraq:

WHAT DOES IT mean to support the troops but oppose the cause they fight for?

No loyal Colts fan rooted for Indianapolis to lose the Super Bowl. No investor buys 100 shares of Google in the hope that Google's stock will tank. No one who applauds firefighters for their courage and education wants a four-alarm blaze to burn out of control.

Yet there is no end of Americans who insist they "support" US troops in Iraq but want the war those troops are fighting to end in defeat. The two positions are irreconcilable. You cannot logically or honorably curse the war as an immoral neocon disaster or a Halliburton oil grab or "a fraud . . . cooked up in Texas," yet bless the troops who are waging it.

But logic and honor haven't stopped members of Congress from trying to square that circle. The nonbinding resolution they debated last week was a flagrant attempt to have it both ways. One of its two clauses professed to "support and protect" the forces serving "bravely and honorably" in Iraq. The other declared that Congress "disapproves" the surge in troops now underway -- a surge that General David Petraeus , the new military commander in Iraq, considers essential.

It was a disgraceful and dishonest resolution, and it must have done wonders for the insurgents' morale. Democrats hardly bothered to disguise that when they say they "support and protect" the troops, what they really intend is to undermine and endanger their mission. The Politico, a new Washington news site, reported Thursday that the strategy of "top House Democrats, working in concert with anti war groups," is to "pursue a slow-bleed strategy designed to gradually limit the administration's options." If they had the courage of their convictions, they would forthrightly defund the war, bring the troops home, and brave the political consequences. Instead they plan a more agonizing and drawn-out defeat -- slowly choking off the war by denying reinforcements, eventually leaving no alternative but retreat.
Read the rest of Jacoby's essay. He suggests that:

America is a free country, but it is not the Michael Moores or the ROTC-banners or the senatorial loudmouths who keep it free. They merely enjoy the freedom that others are prepared to defend with their lives. It is the men and women who volunteer to wear the uniform to whom we owe our liberty. Surely they deserve better than pious claims of "support" from those who are working for their defeat.
Check out as well Robert Caldwell's Sunday piece over at the San Diego Union Tribune. Calling the Democrats "the party of defeat," Caldwell notes:

Democrats have struggled for a generation to escape the crippling public perception that they are soft on national security. Majority Democrats in the House of Representatives have now revived their party's electoral curse....

[If the party succeeds] in crippling the U.S. military effort in Iraq...Democrats would spend another generation rightly deemed weak and feckless on national security.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mark Daily's Military Service Reflects Higher Duty

Army 2nd Lieutenant Mark Daily was killed in Iraq on January 15, 2007. Daily had reservations about the Iraq War early on, but he read widely about politics, and his contemplations about the meaning of freedom and duty led him to put aside his doubts. He eventually decided on a military career, with the ultimate goal of serving in Iraq. Friday's Los Angeles Times ran a Column One article on Daily's story. His reasons for joining -- outlined in an essay he wrote on his personal web page -- have become widely circulated on the Internet and in the halls of government. Here's the background:

Oct. 29, 2006. On the night before he deployed to Iraq, Army 2nd Lt. Mark Jennings Daily sat down at his laptop in his Texas apartment and began tapping out an essay for his MySpace Web page. Daily, a 23-year-old Irvine native who considered himself a liberal humanist, had decided to join the fight despite initial doubts about the war.

Before shipping out, he wanted to explain why.

The decision had befuddled some. After all, Daily was a UCLA political science graduate with a wide circle of friends and dreams of becoming a senator, or a history professor, or a foreign correspondent. Why join the Army?

His essay would turn out to be a last testament to one soldier's courage and convictions.
Read the whole article. Daily's story resonates with me in a special way. He grew up near my home in Orange County and his academic training was in political science. It's his words and erudition that are so particulary compelling, however (Daily's essay's available on the Times website and remains posted on his MySpace page). His essay shows a tremendous level of moral clarity and the need for sacrifice in furthering the ideals of justice:

I joined the fight because it occurred to me that many modern day "humanists" who claim to possess a genuine concern for human beings throughout the world are in fact quite content to allow their fellow "global citizens" to suffer under the most hideous state apparatuses and conditions. Their excuses used to be my excuses. When asked why we shouldn't confront the Ba'ath party, the Taliban or the various other tyrannies throughout this world, my answers would allude to vague notions of cultural tolerance (forcing women to wear a veil and stay indoors is such a quaint cultural tradition), the sanctity of national sovereignty (how eager we internationalists are to throw up borders to defend dictatorships!) or even a creeping suspicion of America's intentions. When all else failed, I would retreat to my fragile moral ecosystem that years of living in peace and liberty had provided me. I would write off war because civilian casualties were guaranteed, or temporary alliances with illiberal forces would be made, or tank fuel was toxic for the environment. My fellow "humanists" and I would relish contently in our self righteous declaration of opposition against all military campaigns against dictatorships, congratulating one another for refusing to taint that aforementioned fragile moral ecosystem that many still cradle with all the revolutionary tenacity of the members of Rage Against the Machine and Greenday.
Be sure to read the whole essay. As the Times piece notes, Daily's words will live on as a testament to courage, selflessness, and human goodness.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sino-Japanese Diplomacy Grows With Increasing Economic Interdependence

Today's Los Angeles Times reports that China and Japan have seen improved relations in recent months. China has recently agreed to resume Japanese rice imports, ending a four-year ban that was seen as symbolizing the stark political differences between the two nations:

Yet all the while, new ties were binding them. The booming Chinese economy was lifting Japan out of a recession it hadn't been able to shake for 15 years. The Chinese were realizing that their best hope for cleaning up their foul air and toxic waters lay with Japanese technology.

And while the politicians were refusing to meet, Chinese and Japanese consumers were discovering a fondness for each other's books and movies, electronic games and pop songs.

Now, faced with awareness that they govern countries that have forged a mutual dependency, Japanese and Chinese politicians are talking again. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing was in Tokyo this week to lay the groundwork for an April visit by Premier Wen Jiabao, repayment for the courtesy call paid last October by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shortly after he took office. Wen's visit will be the highest-level Chinese mission to Tokyo since 2000.

The Sino-Japanese diplomatic thaw is good news for the region, which is facing dynamic challenges from China's growth, North Korea's proliferation agenda, and Japan's slow renunciation of its wartime past:

The improved mood has been made possible by September's retirement of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, on whose watch relations sank so low that Chinese leaders refused to meet with him even on the sidelines of international conferences. Koizumi had angered Beijing's leaders with his visits to Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial Shinto memorial to Japan's war dead, including its World War II criminals.

The Chinese saw the pilgrimages as an attempt to recant responsibility for Japan's imperial history, which included the invasion and occupation of parts of China. In April 2005, anger at a new Japanese history textbook that glossed over war atrocities sparked riots and attacks on Japanese properties in Shanghai and Beijing.

In turn, Japanese politicians accused Beijing of stoking populist anger to deflect attention from China's problems. Yet even as Koizumi was shrugging off Chinese demands to stop visiting Yasukuni, Japanese business leaders were quietly warning Tokyo that the hard-line diplomacy was threatening their ability to do business in the hot Chinese market. Many Japanese textile and manufacturing firms have relocated to China to take advantage of lower labor costs, and China has surpassed the United States as Japan's largest trading partner.

So both sides swiftly seized upon the opportunity presented by Koizumi's retirement to at least put a better public face on their diplomacy. China has made a strategic decision that foreign policy stability, or something close to it, is vital over the next few decades so it can concentrate on domestic development and its many social problems.

Read the whole thing. The article notes that Beijing is deeply wary of normalizing diplomatic relations with Tokyo. Japan is widely considered not to have done as much to heal World War II-era scars as has Germany in its relations with its continental neighbors. (See my earlier posts on the Yasukuni Shrine controversy and signs of reemerging Japanese militarism.)

While the Times piece points to the effects of increasing interdependence on improving ties, East Asia has far less mutlilateral institutionalism than is true for Europe, and the region more closely approximates classical balance-of-power politics than the European case.

There is vigorous debate in the literature on the implications of East Asia's relative institutionalism for the future of international security. Richard Betts, for example, argued at the end of the Cold War that Asia was likely to become a difficult security environment as states in the region increased in wealth and power. Aaron Friedberg said Asia was "Ripe for Rivalry," though he stressed a range a variables that might work to temper regional conflict, including liberal institutionalist factors. Japan's economy is still much larger than China's, but there's a relative gains problem for Tokyo in China's rise. Past historical experience shows that uneven economic change can bring about wars of hegemonic rivalry and replacement. It remains to be seen how significant the current patch-up in Sino-Japanese ties will be in muting traditional patterns of great power competition in Asia. The implications of this dynamic will stretch across the globe.

Edwards' Blogger Debacle Shows Left's Immaturity

The Democrats' recent political blogger controversy, which concluded with the resignations of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan from the John Edwards presidential campaign, says much about the far left wing of the Democratic Party. Dan Gerstein, a former communications director for Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman, in an essay at The Politico, denounced the actions of the liberal bloggers as juvenile, and called on senior members of the party to provide some "adult supervision":

If the liberal blogs want to understand why so few people outside their narrow echo chamber take them seriously, and what it will take to gain the broader credibility they crave, they should look no further than their handling of the recent flap over John Edwards’ foul-mouthed blogger hires.

This ugly morality tale - which mercifully concluded Tuesday with the second of the two offending online staffers resigning from the Edwards campaign - revealed the Kossacks in all their angry adolescent glory: impudent, impotent, unreflective and unaccountable.

Gerstein notes that the Edwards campaign is at fault for not carefully vetting the online bigotry of the bloggers before hiring them. He goes to note further, though, that the debacle -- particularly the response of the bloggers -- has deeper significance in demonstrating the callow, polarizing attack politics of the activist left:

Now, if this were an isolated incident, one could argue that the left-wing bloggers were just following one of the cardinal rules of modern hardball politics – when you can’t defend your position, go on offense and attack your critics.

But the reality is, as I experienced over and over again in the Lamont-Lieberman race, this is the liberal blogosphere’s standard-less operating procedure. They have decided that the best way to fight the “right-wing smear machine” that they so despise is to create an even more venomous, boundary-less, and destructive counterpart and fight ire with more ire.

It also goes to show just how deeply most liberal bloggers believe that Republicans and conservative are morally illegitimate, and as such, any criticism or argument made by the other side is on its face corrupt and dismissible. If it is said by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who has a history of controversial statements himself, it automatically becomes invalid, no matter the inherent integrity of the underlying proposition.

What these liberal bloggers fail to appreciate is that this petty, polarizing approach is not how you ultimately win in politics – especially in an era when most average voters outside the ideological extremes are fed up with the shrill, reflexive partisanship that dominates Washington, and when the fastest growing party in America is no party.

Marcotte apparently learned little from the episode, at least as far as one can tell from her entry up yesterday at the Huffington Post, where she denounced the "right wing noise machine" that "hounded me and the Edwards campaign with false accusations of anti-Catholic bigotry" (via Memeorandum).

According to Mary Eberstadt,
writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Marcotte's Christian-bashing is far more representative of the far left than is recognized:

For what the blogger tempest really illuminates is a fact that could come to haunt the Democrats as they vie for national office: namely, that their past few wilderness years have also been boom years for the church-loathing liberal/left punditry. As a result, anti-Christian invective now graces (or disgraces) many of the books, magazines, Web sites and blogs to which liberals, including the Democratic elite, habitually look for ideas. One motto of this cottage industry is that the most serious threat to the American republic can be found in, no, not those religious fundamentalists, the ones that first leap to mind after 9/11; but, incredibly, certain other believers--our nation's Christians.
Eberstadt concludes:

Sophisticates and secularists have always titillated themselves by despising the Bible Belt. But professional Christian-bashers have never been as "embedded" in the liberal mainstream as they are today. And therein lies a problem for Democrats. More Amanda Marcottes are not what the party needs as it scrambles to re-establish its religious bona fides with wary red-staters. No wonder so many Democratic candidates [like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who made campaign appearances with religious leaders this week] are in church. Now they really have something to pray about.
For additional analysis of the controversy, check the entry at Chris Cillizza's politics blog at the Washington Post.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Rudy Giuliani and the New Social Conservatism

Jennifer Rubin, at the American Spectator (via Memeorandum), dispels the myth that Rudy Giuliani's a "social liberal." Religious conservatives have concerns about Giuliani's position on key bedrock issues, but as Rubin points out, those worries are misplaced:

If the definition of "social conservative" is merely a checklist of several hot button issues, specifically abortion and gay rights, Giuliani is certainly to the left of his principal rivals. He might give assurances to appoint strict constructionist judges and might stipulate that his support of civil unions is not the same as support for gay marriage. However, on these issues he is unlikely to win the hearts of single-issue voters who care passionately about a candidate's beliefs and not just the likely outcomes of a candidate's policies.

But the commentators and consultants may have gotten the questions wrong. The better, at least the more interesting, question is whether Giuliani can establish a new description of what it means to be "socially conservative." Perhaps to be socially conservative means something more than just fidelity to pro-life and anti-gay marriage positions. Giuliani has a convincing argument that he is an ethical or cultural conservative who in the end will protect the values that most conservative Republicans hold dear. What does this mean? It means that he sees the world as a battle between good and evil, and politics as a struggle between decent hard working people and elites who have too little respect for their values -- public safety, respect for religion and public virtue.

It must be news indeed to liberal New York elites -- the ACLU, the teachers' unions, the New York Times, the upper West Side art crowd -- to hear that the former mayor is a "social liberal." Whether inspired by his Catholic education or by his often-quoted parents, Giuliani never seemed "liberal" in any sense to them. This was the mayor who scrubbed Times Square of the porn shops, railed against the ACLU for challenging aggressive police tactics, and routinely insulted proponents of racial and special interest politics. Defending his crusade against petty crimes he took the side of ordinary people over "squeegee men shaking down the motorist waiting at a light." Certainly Chris Matthews has figured out his crusade for social order belied the term "liberal," going so far as to suggest (outrageously) the mayor might be "a little bit of a fascist." Far from accepting all family arrangements as equal, Giuliani enraged welfare advocates by requiring that deadbeat dads find a job or participate in the city's workfare program to help support their children. He succinctly described the best social program for ending poverty: "fatherhood."

Rank-and-file Republicans don't seem to be too concerned about Rudy's issue positions,
as indicated by his double-digit lead over Senator John McCain in a Gallup/USA Today survey out this week.

Perhaps that support will help Giuliani in the money game. Candidates for 2008 are expected to need at least $100 million to run a competitive presidential campaign. This Washington Post article on Giuliani's presidential announcement indicates that the Giuliani organization is preparing for that type of effort. Giuliani's a popular GOP fundraiser, as this USA Today report indicates, and his strategy is to focus on large contributors, who are likely to push him past the $100 million mark.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Barack Obama is an Authentic African-American

Barack Obama's presidential aspirations have apparently thrown the black community into a tizzy. I suggest this upon reading yet another article on the controversy surrounding Obama's credentials as authentically African-American. Roland Martin, writing in today's Detroit News, adds his views on what he calls the "insidious ritual" of high profile blacks having to prove their credibility by being "down with the brothers and the sisters":

See, you can't just be a Fortune 500 CEO, politician, civil rights activist or journalist who happens to be African American. In order to be fully accepted and embraced, you are required to show your "ghetto card" at the entrance of the black gates of Black America. Otherwise, you are forced to stand outside, proving your worthiness to the masses as if you are a sinner trying to convince Saint Peter that you are good enough to get to heaven.

This may be surprising to many of my white readers, and my black readers may get offended and accuse me of airing our dirty laundry, but this type of silliness has been seen time and time again. And as it relates to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's decision to run for president, some are already demanding that he prove himself to the peeps.
Martin points out that because Obama's father was Kenyan and his mother a white, and because he grew up in Hawaii, his blackness is somehow of questionable pedigree. Martin also raises an interesting point in noting that should Obama win the White House, how many of those currently questioning his race would flock to his side in seeking access in a black presidential administration?

These are likely the same people who screamed with joy when that talented and fine sister, Halle Berry, won the Academy Award. Was she questioned, considering her mom is white and her dad is black...?

We have reached the day when black folks are going to have to quit forcing others to pass a black test to establish their worthiness.

Every black person in America doesn't have a "hood" experience. They all don't have the same story of their father leaving them as a child, having to grow up in a single-parent home in a public housing complex, their brother on welfare and sister twice pregnant by the age of 18. We all didn't belong to the Crips or Bloods and didn't have to fight our way out of the gang in order to go to college. No, we all didn't grow up in the black church, singing "Precious Lord" and memorizing the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We shouldn't assume that every black person had to work three jobs to pay their way through college.

Segregation no longer limits where we live, work and play. So if Jim Crow is dead, why do we allow the system to continue to pervade our minds?

The day has come when we judge a black man or woman for who they are, where they stand on issues and what they believe in. If Obama offers a political agenda that speaks to the needs of African Americans, good. If he chooses to offer one that is broad and more universal, that doesn't make him any less of an African American (truth be told, Obama is more African American than most of us can claim. At least his father hails from the Motherland, while his mom is an American).

There is too much work to be done to raise the collective black community in the areas of education, economics and healthcare. And worrying about whether Obama or anyone else is black enough to do so should not be a part of the dialogue.
This is an excellent commentary. I've blogged previously to the same effect. See my earlier posts, "Black Voters May Not Support Barack Obama" and "Barack Obama Brings Out New Black Nativism." See also my post on Senator Joseph Biden's (politically incorrect) presidential campaign announcement, "The Racial Politics of Articulate Speaking," where he commented on Obama's verbal articulation.

Lobbyists Come Calling in New Democratic Congress

This morning's Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece on the formation and access of pro-Democratic interest group lobbies amid the new political era on Capitol Hill. Here's the background:

After Democrats took over Congress earlier this year, they set new limits on lobbyists, aiming to reduce their influence on Capitol Hill.

But the launch of a new firm, Heather Podesta+Partners, shows that, rather than diminishing the clout of Democratic lobbyists, the new Congress has led to the creation of a fresh crop, whose sway could grow even more as the 2008 presidential campaign heats up.

Ms. Podesta's tale illustrates how hard it is to cut the link between lobbyists and politicians. These relationships often forged at the start of careers, when working together on Capitol Hill as low-level staff or while knocking on doors along the campaign trail.

During the first week of the new Congress, freshly sworn-in House leader Nancy Pelosi was in the Capitol's speaker's lobby one evening greeting Ms. Podesta with a kiss on the cheek. Ms. Podesta was there to pose in the official swearing-in photo for California Democratic Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a long-time friend who had advised Ms. Podesta on setting up her firm -- an enterprise she launched based on her confidence in maneuvering the reshaped corridors of power.

After Democrats' victory in November, Ms. Podesta's friends on Capitol Hill suddenly were more powerful -- and her links to them more valuable to clients seeking to influence Congress. That helped Ms. Podesta to build a roster of clients -- such as software provider SAP Americas, which has an interest in new patent legislation, as well as HealthSouth Corp. and health-care provider Cigna Corp., which are concerned by talk of cuts in Medicare payments.

"There will never be a better time to do this," Ms. Podesta said, about launching her firm.
Read the whole thing. Ms. Podesta's the wife of Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton. She's therefore extremely well-connected and her firm's experienced an auspicious launching. Ms. Podesta's lobbying is perfectly fine, of course. We have a pluralist political system that is open to and thrives on the participation of the multiplicity of special interest lobbies. It's just that stories like this paint a picture of more of the same insider access up there in Washington, which is especially noteworthy with Nancy Pelosi, in the aftermath of the 2006 midterms, proclaiming that she'd lead the new Democratic majority in "the most ethical Congress ever?"

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Harvard Presidential Pick Marks Rise of Feminism

The selection of Drew Faust as the next president of Harvard University marks a triumph of gender equality at the height of American academe. This Los Angeles Times story has the background:

Drew Gilpin Faust, a Civil War historian and dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, on Sunday was named the 28th president of Harvard University, becoming the first woman to hold the post....

As a scholar, Faust focused on the history of the Civil War and the South, teaching at the University of Pennsylvania for more than two decades before becoming dean of the Radcliffe Institute.

"I am a historian," Faust said Sunday. "I've spent a lot of time thinking about the past, and about how it shapes the future…. Our shared enterprise is to make Harvard's future even more remarkable than its past. That will mean recognizing and building on what we already do well. It will also mean recognizing what we don't do as well as we should, and not being content until we find ways to do better."

Faust succeeds Lawrence H. Summers, the former U.S. Treasury secretary who aroused controversy two years ago by suggesting that the paucity of female science and engineering professors at Harvard stemmed from women's lack of "intrinsic aptitude" for science. Summers announced his resignation nearly a year ago.

"I hope my appointment can be one symbol of an opportunity that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago," Faust said at a news conference at Harvard after her appointment was announced at the Cambridge, Mass., campus. "I'm not the woman president of Harvard. I'm the president of Harvard."
In a Newsweek interview, Richard Bradley, the author of Harvard Rules, had this to say about Faust's selection:

It’s hard not to look at Faust in the context of the Summers presidency. Summers got in trouble for his remarks about women in science and mathematics; Faust is, of course, a woman. Summers was never considered a great booster of the humanities; Faust is a historian. Summer’s governing style was-how can I put it nicely?—aggressive; Faust is said to be much more of a consensus builder. Even though Summers had taught at Harvard, he’d been gone for about a decade and was effectively a Harvard outsider; Faust was an internal candidate. So in almost every instance, if Summers was X, Faust is Y.
Bradley was also asked "What else does her selection say about the Harvard presidency?"

That it’s very hard to find someone who fits all or even most of the criteria Harvard wants. Drew Faust has a lot going for her but there are also some real question marks. Every one of the final candidates mentioned also had some pretty large question marks. That’s a testament to the fact that this is a very tough job and that the number of people qualified for all its responsibilities is minuscule. The corollary is that a number of people who seemed qualified—perhaps better qualified on paper than the final choice-wanted to nothing to do with it.
Over at City Journal, Heather MacDonald argues that the selection of Faust reflects the "feminist takeover of Harvard":

[As the Director of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study] Faust runs one of the most powerful incubators of feminist complaint and nonsensical academic theory in the country. You can count on the Radcliffe Institute’s fellows and invited lecturers to proclaim the “constructed” nature of knowledge, gender, and race, and to decry endemic American sexism and racism. Typical guest speakers include left-wing journalists Susan Faludi and Barbara Ehrenreich. At Radcliffe, Faludi argued that 9/11 had triggered yet another “backlash against feminism,” while Ehrenreich lectured on “Weird Science: Challenging Sexist Ideology Since the 1970s.” It is received truth among Radcliffe Institute lecturers that obstacles throughout American society block women’s progress.

With typical feminist hypocrisy, Faust has managed to wield massive power even as she rues female powerlessness. She headed the
Task Force on Women Faculty, created after the firestorm over Summers’s recklessly honest speculations about women in science, that strengthened the feminist hold on faculty hiring and promotions. The Task Force won a $50 million commitment to increase faculty “diversity efforts” at Harvard, notwithstanding that for decades the university has tied itself in knots trying to increase female and black faculty representation. Faust’s Task Force also muscled into existence a remarkable new bureaucratic sinecure: the Senior Vice Provost for Diversity and Faculty Development. This new official sits with the president, the provost, and the deans of faculties, in order to push “diversity” quotas in every corner of the university’s academic operations. Naturally, Harvard gave the new position to one of Faust’s two co-chairs on the Task Force: Evelyn Hammonds, a professor of the history of science, and of African and African-American studies, who specializes in discerning bias against minority women in science and medicine. (Please do not question how Hammonds’s unobstructed rise through the most elite American universities comports with her thesis of pervasive discrimination against black women.)

Should the Board of Overseers confirm Faust, the Senior Vice Provost for Diversity that she created will be even more redundant than before. Expect a constant push for ever greater female and minority representation throughout the university, backed up by academic “research” showing widespread discrimination against those favored beneficiaries—research unclouded by the fact that women now run many of the nation’s most prestigious universities. Asked whether her appointment showed that gender inequities were ending at Harvard, Faust responded: “Of course not. There is a lot of work still to be done, especially in the sciences,” reports the New York Times. Unbiased inquiry into why certain groups may not enjoy proportional representation in scientific and technical fields, of the sort that Summers engaged in to his demise, will be even more proscribed. This triumph of feminist ideology is a tragedy not just for Harvard, but for the American academic world, which will undoubtedly follow Harvard’s lead in elevating feminist politics to premier intellectual standing.

See also this Washington Post article on Faust's selection.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Iran Helping to Kill American Soldiers with Impunity

Today's lead editorial at the Wall Street Journal comments on the recent military intelligence implicating Iran in arming the insurgency in Iraq:

U.S. military officials finally laid out detailed evidence on Sunday that Iranian-supplied weapons are killing American soldiers in Iraq. The issue now is the lesson the Bush Administration and the American political establishment draw about dealing with Iran.

Our guess is that a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn't exist, or suggest the intelligence isn't proven, or claim that it's all the Bush Administration's fault for "bullying" Iran. This was the impulse behind the Baker-Hamilton Commission's recommendation late last year that the U.S. "engage" Tehran to help us find some honorable diplomatic or political solution in Iraq.

But the evidence about Iranian-style munitions shows how wishful such thinking is. The Iranians don't want a political solution that would allow a U.S.-backed moderate Shiite government to rule in Baghdad. Their goal is to make us bleed in order to drive us home and so allow their radical Shiite allies to hold sway and Iran to become the dominant regional power. They also figure that the bloodier the defeat they can impose, the less likely the U.S. will be to ever consider promoting regime change in Tehran or Damascus.
The editorial goes on to detail the particulary nastiness of recently supplied Iranian IEDs (which can be effective on more heavily armored vehicles, not just Humvees). The editorial also reports that Iranian officials captured in Iraq by U.S. forces were later released on diplomatic grounds, evidently indicating that the Iranians are able to kill U.S. forces -- through Shiite proxies inside Iraq -- with impunity. The editors warn of a larger lesson as well here, that should Iran develop nuclear weapons capability, it may become even more reckless in attacking the interests of the U.S. and its allies in the region.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Explaining Democratic Passivism on Iraq

Lynn Chu and John Yoo dissect the Democratic congressional leadership's surprisingly weak policy moves on Iraq in today's New York Times. "Why are the pacifists so passive," they ask? The question's important, because it's in congressional Democrats' power to end the war if they choose. Yet, so far, opposition to the Bush administration has been symbolic:

The fact is, Congress has every power to end the war — if it really wanted to.... In 1973, Congress affirmatively acted to cut off funds for Vietnam. It also cut off money for the Nicaraguan contras with the Boland Amendment in 1982.

Not only could Congress cut off money, it could require scheduled troop withdrawals, shrink or eliminate units, or freeze weapons supplies. It could even repeal or amend the authorization to use force it passed in 2002.

A pullout, however, would have no chance of success, because its supporters are likely to lack the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto. But to stop President Bush’s proposed troop surge, Congress doesn’t have to do anything. It can just sit back and fail to enact the periodic supplemental spending measures required to keep the war going....

The Constitution doesn’t pick winners. It leaves it to the three branches to use their unique powers to struggle for supremacy....

But with power comes responsibility. The truth is that this Congress is not sure what to do in Iraq. Its hesitation reflects America’s uncertainty and divisions. Antiwar bluster is high at the moment, echoing popular frustration and grim news from Baghdad.

Our elected representatives know, however, that policy can’t be made by poll. Most also understand that that leaving Iraq to a sectarian power struggle would break our word and lead to slaughter. A failed state in Iraq would breed more terrorism, not less, by becoming a haven for more radical training camps.

Most in Congress, in fact, are not eager to replay Vietnam. The United States has had far fewer casualties in this conflict. Our national security interests here are high. If we falter now, it would be read as a “defeat” and embolden more terrorist attacks on us. Once again the world would begin to doubt American strength. This would undermine our ability to conduct credible diplomacy, while electrifying Islamists to further jihad.

The truth is that the Democrats in Congress would rather sit back and let the president take the heat in war than do anything risky.

Democratic passivity demonstrates that President Bush is not as weakened as many had thought he'd be coming out of the November elections. In fact, as Richard Wolffe and Holley Bailey note in a Newsweek online exclusive this week, Bush's troop surge initiative, and the Democrats' failure to stop it, marks a substantial achievement for the White House, and helps the GOP at a critical point on the electoral calendar.

Sunni-Shiite Rift is Widening Across the Arab World

This morning's Washington Post reports that the increasingly tense divide between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East has become the region's most dangerous problem:

The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion....

Episodes of sectarian conflict litter the region's history: Shiites revolted in medieval Baghdad, and rival gangs ransacked one another's tombs and shrines. The conflict between the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shiite Safavid Empire in Persia was often cast as a sectarian struggle. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was portrayed in parts of the Arab world as a Shiite resurgence.

But rarely has the region witnessed so many events, in so brief a time, that have been so widely interpreted through a sectarian lens: the empowering of Iraq's Shiite-led government and the bloodletting that has devastated the country; the lack of support by America's Sunni Arab allies -- Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- for the Shiite movement Hezbollah in its fight with Israel last summer; and, most decisively, the perception among many Sunni Arabs that Saddam Hussein was lynched by Shiites bent on revenge. In the background is the growing assertiveness of Shiite Iran as the influence of other traditional regional powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia diminishes.
I blogged about Iran's increasing influence on the region last summer. In that post I discussed the work of political scientist Vali Nasr, who argues that the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq left a regional power vacuum that has allowed Iranian influence to prosper. Nasr has gained considerable prominence with the publication of his book, The Shia Revival. He was also the subject of a front-page Wall Street Journal article detailing his views, which includes the need for diplomatic overtures to Iran. Finally, Nasr's argument is also fleshed out in a July/August 2006 Foreign Affairs article, "When the Shiites Rise."