Iraq Study Group

There's plenty to find disturbing in this NY Times report that the Iraq Study Group will recommend a gradual pullback of U.S. troops  in place of a timeline for withdrawal.  Cliff May and Rich Lowry make some key points, but I want to focus on another aspect of the article I found alarming:

A person who participated in the commission’s debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, “there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached.”

This has been the argument of many advocates of a pullback or withdrawal, but there's a severe flaw with it. Yes, you could argue that the prospect of an American withdrawal will force Maliki to reach a political settlement, however,  it will make him far less likely to forge a settlement that  would be in  American interests and more likely to  accept  a settlement favorable to Iran,  insurgent groups, and militias–all of whom will still be there after Americans leave.  Evidence of this can already be seen by  the  contrast between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani crawling to Iran this week and  Maliki's snubbing of President Bush  at yesterday's summit. From a pure political standpoint, Maliki's moves make perfect sense. The stronger the signals  that  America is  on  its way out of Iraq, the more aggressively Maliki will seek out help from our enemies.

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RE: Surprise, Surprise

I think there’s another element to the Democrats’ flip-flop on fully implementing the recomendations of the 9/11 Commission. Pretty soon, the recomendations of the Baker-Hamilton group will be made public, and the Democrats will be pressuring the White House to accept the group’s recommendations as if they were gospel. If the Democrats have decided that they can pick and chose among the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, it makes it more difficult for them to argue that President Bush has to embrace all of the Iraq Study Group’s suggestions.

Warm and Fuzzy in 2008

Margaret Carlson writes about how Hillary Clinton could overcome her "likeability" deficit in 2008, as evidenced by the recent Quinnipiac Poll, in which she ranked poorly. In my estimation, this is the biggest impediment to her candidacy, and a prime reason why she could fall to Barack Obama in a primary, despite his lack of experience, and despite her current strong advantage in polls. While Hillary Clinton may cerebrally understand politics as well as Bill Clinton, people tended to like Bill, but they have the absolute opposite reaction to Hillary. I've even spoken to many Democrats who have told me "there's just something I don't like about her," or "she just rubs me the wrong way." Whereas Bill was able to smoothly shift his positions when politically necessity demanded it, everything Hillary does is so transparent and comes off as completely telegraphed.

In her piece, Carlson talks about how presidents are often elected based on being more "warm and fuzzy," for example, while Gore bored people:

"Bush put himself out as the candidate you would want to have over for a backyard barbecueâ€_.When each candidate had his moment before the biggest daytime TV audience of the 2000 campaign, Bush planted a kiss on Oprah Winfrey and spoke about finding religion and losing booze. Gore extended his hand and talked Kyoto protocols."

Carlson contrasts Hillary's likeability with Rudy Giuliani's (who topped the Quinnipiac Poll):

"By 2008, if the world is in the same perilous condition as today, warm and fuzzy should matter less. Rudy 9/11 will give way to Rudy 9/10 in a New York minute. Clinton's accomplishments in the Senate, not her demeanor or record as the most-challenged spouse in political history since Eleanor Roosevelt, will count."

But Carlson errs by differentiating between a pre-9/11 and post 9/11 Rudy and also by conflating the public's warm feelings toward Rudy with him being "warm and fuzzy" in an Oprah-like way. Rudy did not change on 9/11 as much as America did. Although the public got to see a more compassionate side of Rudy on 9/11, he became popular with America not primarily for being consoler-in-chief, but for being a tough, resolute leader in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. The same characteristics that prompted critics to accuse him of being stubborn and egomaniacal before 9/11, became appreciated as strong leadership when the nation was confronted with an unprecedented crisis.

A perfect example to demonstrate how the world, not Rudy, changed on 9/11 is one Carlson herself uses. In indicting the pre-9/11 Rudy, she criticizes "petty gestures like ejecting Yasser Arafat from Lincoln Center." Yes, when Giuliani kicked Arafat out of a United Nations' concert in 1995 on the heels of Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize, the Clinton White House, the State Department, two former mayors (including Ed Koch) and most of the media condemned the move. But Giuliani refused to apologize (in fact, he insisted that he was proud of his decision). At the time, this was viewed as intransigence. However, a few weeks following Sept. 11, Giuliani famously refused a $10 million relief check from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal after Talal blamed the attacks on U.S. policy in the Middle East. This time, his action wasn't seen as a cheap publicity stunt, but as principled leadership. Same Rudy. Different America.

If Carlson really thinks that "By 2008, if the world is in the same perilous condition as today, warm and fuzzy should matter less," it's hard to see how that would favor Hillary over Rudy in a hypothetical matchup.

r r

Re: Wal-Mart Losing Focus

The problem Wal-Mart is facing isn’t a result of pressure from Wal-Mart opponents (although that may be a small factor), but as a result of competitors using effective strategies to counter Wal-Mart. Many consumers, for instance, would be more comfortable buying their electronics at Best Buy. K-Mart went bankrupt because it tried to compete with Wal-Mart on price. Target, realizing that it couldn’t compete with Wal-Mart on price, has done a good job marketing itself as a trendier, higher quality alternative to Wal-Mart. The gaffe that you point to, Paul, of Wal-Mart entering designer women’s clothing, could be attributed to Wal-Mart trying to close the “trendiness gap” with Target. Another issue for Wal-Mart is saturation–they now have nearly 4,000 stores in the U.S., so, urban areas are one of the few areas left to grow. To the extent that they try to appeal to urban consumers, they risk alienating their suburban and rural “base” by introducing things like designer jeans.

Selling Out Israel

The NY Sun reports:

WASHINGTON – An expert adviser to the Baker-Hamilton commission expects the 10-person panel to recommend that the Bush administration pressure Israel to make concessions in a gambit to entice Syria and Iran to a regional conference on Iraq.

Via Mark Levin.

Time will tell whether this report is accurate, but to anybody who is familiar with the career of James Baker, who famously said, "F— the Jews, they didn't vote for us anyway," it shouldn't come as a surprise that he would be willing to sell out our staunch ally Israel to curry favor with our enemies Syria and Iran.

The United States wants to see a free and  stable Iraq, rid of militants and terrorists, and friendly to America. While achieving all of those goals does not seem likely at this point and we may have to recalibrate our expectations, we still must keep in mind that Iran and Syria have interests in Iraq that are antithetical to our own. Engaging in such diplomacy would have no purpose other than to satisfy some journalists, intellectuals and State Department careerists. But while engaging in empty diplomacy is bad enough, actually forcing our ally to make concessions to hostile regimes would be far worse. There's no amount of concessions Israel could make to satisfy Iran and Syria–both countries  support Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist groups that are dedicated to Israel's destruction. Iran's president  has repeatedly called for  Israel to be wiped off the map within  the context of seeking  nuclear weapons.  


Even if I take off my pro-Israel hat for a moment and put on a "realist" hat, it's hard to see such an approach as having a reasonable chance of success. Does anyone think that Israel is capable of offering concessions significant enough to convince Iran and Syria to take actions in Iraq diametrically opposed to their own interests? Is the politically feeble Ehud Olmert in a position to give up more than what Arafat rejected in 2000? (i.e., a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital). Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad likely to accept less as a reward for cracking down on militias and insurgent groups that Iran has been financing?

The one thing that should be said is that President Bush has proved himself an unabashed supporter of Israel, probably the most pro-Israel president in the nation's history. So, until we know more about what's in the Baker-Hamilton report and receive White House reaction, Bush has earned the benefit of the doubt.  

r r

Iran and Iraq

Make no mistake, this news that the Iraqi government is crawling to Iran to help stabalize the country is disasterous–indicative that the government has virtually given up on the United States’ ability to control violence. Coupled with a U.S. policy of engaging Iran and Syria and phased withdrawal, Iran-Iraq “cooperation” would virtually ensure domination of Iraq by the Islamic Republic. This comment was especially disheartening:

Talabani told reporters as he arrived in Tehran: “We need Iran’s comprehensive help to fight terrorism, restore security and stabilize Iraq.”

Iran fighting terrorism? That’s kind of like Oedipus hunting down the man who killed his father.

Republican Moderation

E.J. Dionne is out today with a predictable column arguing that the GOP needs to find its center. He opens with this:

“The center does not try to read anybody out of the party,” the experienced Republican politician declared. “But the farther you go in either direction, the greater the inclination to read others out.” He deplored party purges as “political cannibalism” and insisted: “The center must lead.”

That was Richard M. Nixon, about a week after Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat at the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

Yes, Nixon did back off from Goldwater-type conservatism, and he won two elections–but his presidency also ended in failure and it was only until Reagan returned the GOP to Goldwater’s limited government Republicanism that the party regained power–and Reagan ended up being one of the most successful presidents in American history (even a liberal who scoffs at such a comment would at least grant that he was more successful than Nixon). The point is that Reagan didn’t just win elections, he left a legacy that inspired a generation of conservatives.

Dionne argues:

That’s one reason why the decline of the moderate Republicans hurts the party: The moderates were always looking for innovative ways to use government for practical ends….

The flight from a solution-oriented politics designed to deal with the pressures on working-class and middle-class families had the final effect of driving many of the one-time Reagan Democrats, the “security moms” and disaffected men over to the Democrats, who enjoyed strong gains in the large swath of households in the $30,000 to $100,000 annual income range.

This is preposterous. During the Bush administration, the Republican Party has gone out of its way to “use government for practical ends” and embrace “solution-oriented politics” while running away from its small government roots–as evidenced, most prominently, by the Medicare prescription drug plan and No Child Left Behind.

Dionne ends the piece by arguing that the GOP should learn from Bill Clinton, but the party has been triangulating for six years, and it has nothing to show for it. If anything, Dionne’s own column demonstrates that it’s futile for the GOP to embrace big government solutions to the nation’s problems–because no matter what the party does to “moderate,” liberals will never like them.

2008 Watch

In a recent piece, Congressional Quarterly‘s Craig Crawford wrote:

While former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was once thought to be a threat to McCain, his star has faded since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Romney now seems to be the early favorite for the anybody-but-McCain vote.

Quinnipiac is out today with a poll measuring Americans’ feelings about political figures on a scale from 0 to 100, and Rudy Giuliani came out as the most popular, with a 64.2 rating. Barack Obama’s 58.8 rating was the second highest and McCain was third at 57.7 (although Obama’s rating is less reliable because 41 percent of respondents couldn’t answer because they didn’t know how they felt about him). Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, has a rating of 49.

At the very least this should contradict Crawford’s unsupported claim that Giuliani’s “star has faded,” but it is also useful to look at a further breakdown of the numbers. Among self-described “white evangelical/born again Christians,” Giuliani has a 66.3 rating, also the highest in the survey. That puts him ahead of Condoleezza Rice (64.4), President Bush (58.1), John McCain (57.1) and Newt Gingrich (47.8). Mitt Romney’s rating among evangelicals/born again Christians was 46.4, but that figure is not reliable because 67 percent of respondents in this category didn’t know how they felt about him.

Yes, the New Hampshire primary is a long way off, and yes, even though evangelicals have positive feelings about Giuliani, that doesn’t mean they’d vote for him despite his social views. However, here we have yet another data point demonstrating Giuliani’s broad appeal even among those who are supposed to be the most antagonistic toward his candidacy. In spite of this, we are supposed to believe that McCain is the clear frontrunner for the nomination, and that his toughest rival is Romney, a one-term governor who is unknown to most of the country. Perhaps I’m mistaken in my belief that Giuliani will ultimately capture the Republican nomination, but it stuns me that so many pundits are still writing off his candidacy in the face of mounting empirical evidence that he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.

Bloomberg and NY Police Shooting

In the wake of a tragic NY police shooting over the weekend, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is going out of his way to condemn the cops, clearly seeking to avoid being attacked like Giuliani was when he stood behind police following the accidental shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. By way of background, early this past Saturday morning in Queens, a groom out with friends for his bachelor party was shot and killed by police after a series of events in which he ran into an undercover police officer with his car and hit an undercover police van, and then cops fired 50 shots. In 1999, when an unarmed immigrant, Diallo, was shot 41 times when police investigating a rape in his Bronx neighborhood confused his reaching for a wallet with reaching for a gun, Giuliani urged New Yorkers to avoid rushing to judgement and to wait until all the facts were in. Bloomberg, facing similar protests and pressure from the likes of Al Sharpton, has struck a different tone:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said this afternoon that “it sounds to me like excessive force was used” in a police shooting over the weekend in Queens in which one man was killed and two were wounded in a hail of 50 bullets.

Saying he did not want to jump to a conclusion in a case that is still under investigation, the mayor nonetheless used words like “unacceptable,” “inexplicable” and “deeply disturbing” to describe the shooting outside a nightclub early Saturday. Asked if he was referring to the number of shots fired by police, the mayor said he was.

For more background on the story, click here. The NY Post, meanwhile, citing anonymous sources, has more details of the police officers’ side of the story.