NDN Blog

The Iraq Anniversary: not much to celebrate

The new issue of Foreign Affairs has an excellent piece on the future of of our policy in Iraq.  Written by James Fearon, a Stanford professor, the article takes a look at the history of Civil Wars since WWII, and asseses the likelihood of the success of our current policy.   He is not optimistic. 

Suppose that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad continues and Sunni insurgent groups and Shiite militias continue to fight one another, U.S. troops, and civilians. If the Bush administration sticks to its "stay the course toward victory" approach, of which the surge option is the latest incarnation, it will become increasingly apparent that this policy amounts to siding with the Shiites in an extremely vicious Sunni-Shiite war. U.S. troops may play some positive role in preventing human rights abuses by Iraqi army units and slowing down violence and ethnic cleansing. But as long as the United States remains committed to trying to make this Iraqi government "succeed" on the terms President Bush has laid out, there is no escaping the fact that the central function of U.S. troops will be to backstop Maliki's government or its successor. That security gives Maliki and his coalition the ability to tacitly pursue (or acquiesce in) a dirty war against actual and imagined Sunni antagonists while publicly supporting "national reconciliation."

This policy is hard to defend on the grounds of either morality or national interest. Even if Shiite thugs and their facilitators in the government could succeed in ridding Baghdad of Sunnis, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to suppress the insurgency in the Sunni-majority provinces in western Iraq or to prevent attacks in Baghdad and other places where Shiites live. In other words, the current U.S. policy probably will not lead to a decisive military victory anytime soon, if ever. And even if it did, would Washington want it to? The rise of a brutal, ethnically exclusivist, Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad would further the perception of Iran as the ascendant regional power. Moreover, U.S. backing for such a government would give Iraqi Sunnis and the Sunni-dominated countries in the Middle East no reason not to support al Qaeda as an ally in Iraq. By spurring these states to support Sunni forces fighting the Shiite government, such backing would ultimately pit the United States against those states in a proxy war.

To avail itself of more attractive policy options, the Bush administration (or its successor) must break off its unconditional military support for the Shiite-dominated government that it helped bring to power in Baghdad. Washington's commitment to Maliki's government undermines U.S. diplomatic and military leverage with almost every relevant party in the country and the region. Starting to move away from this commitment by shifting combat troops out of the central theaters could, accordingly, increase U.S. leverage with almost all parties. The current Shiite political leadership would then have incentives to try to gain back U.S. military support by, for example, making more genuine efforts to incorporate Sunnis into the government or reining in Shiite militias. (Admittedly, whether it has the capacity to do either is unclear.) As U.S. troops departed, Sunni insurgent groups would begin to see the United States less as a committed ally of the "Persians" and more as a potential source of financial or even military backing. Washington would also have more leverage with Iran and Syria, because the U.S. military would not be completely bogged down in Baghdad and Anbar Province -- and because both of those countries have a direct interest in avoiding increased chaos in Iraq..

As I've been writing for months, I think it is now clear that the Administration did not understand the fundamentally new regional dynamic creating the first Shiite-led Arab government in history would create.  In hindsight there was almost no chance we could have ended up in Iraq in any other place than where we are today.  The frustration of 1300 years of Shiite oppression by the region's Sunnis was never going to lend itself to a quick and stable outcome.  Or for Iran, the region's most powerful Shiite regime, to do anything than work to consolidate their position with their extraordinary new ally, run, with America's help, by political parties closely aligned with the their own government. 

What this means is that we have very little to celebrate on this 4th Anniversary of the Iraq War, and must marvel at the incredible stupidity of the man who got us into this mess without a plan, and had the audicity to declare in front of the world "Mission Accomplished."

The Times looks at social networking and politics

The Times takes an indepth look at one of the "new tools."   For more on our take on the new tools for politics and how to best use them visit our New Politics Institute website and come back regularly to this blog.  There is little doubt that we are seeing a vastly different way to campaign, advocate and run our politics this year, and the change, if anything, seems to be increasing in velocity.

Making globalization work for all Americans

A new editorial from the Times echoes an argument NDN has been making for two years: that the Administration needs to take more aggressive steps to help all Americans benefit from the opportunities of globalization:

In a speech just before his recent Asia trip, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. cited a poll showing that only a third of Americans view free trade as an economic plus, while nearly half say it is bad for jobs and wages. Unless Mr. Paulson and the administration do a lot more to counter that public anxiety — and growing opposition on Capitol Hill — President Bush stands to lose his fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals, which will be up for renewal soon, and will find it increasingly hard to block protectionist laws.

So far Mr. Paulson has tried to explain away Americans’ fears by stressing that technology, not trade, is most to blame for lost jobs. But the opposition is not only about lost jobs. It’s also about the downward pressure on wages and the concentration of income at the top that have gone hand in hand with globalization. And it’s about the erosion of the social safety net — from inadequate unemployment compensation to subpar public schools — which makes many Americans view economic transitions like globalization as risks not worth taking.

As the nation’s top economic official, Mr. Paulson should be the person to push for policies to strengthen the political foundation for free trade. That would start with a significant upgrading of the Labor Department’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which helps workers who lose jobs because of trade. Congress expanded the program in 2002 in exchange for granting Mr. Bush fast-track negotiating authority on trade deals. But the administration has made little effort to publicize the program, and many eligible workers do not even know it exists.

Also long overdue is a plan to guarantee all Americans health care. Education is also important, although Mr. Paulson is overstating the case when he describes it as a silver bullet for making Americans more competitive. Unfortunately, the administration has let the funds decline for proven programs like Head Start and has even failed to secure full financing for its No Child Left Behind initiative.

In the wake of Mr. Paulson’s trip to China, Beijing made another comment about liberalizing its currency exchange rate, a move that would help make American exports more competitive. But the greatest threats to free trade are Americans’ fears about globalization and their doubts that the government will do anything to help them. It’s time for Mr. Paulson to use his powers of persuasion — starting with Mr. Bush — to solve the domestic side of the trade problem.

Glenn Greenwald dissects the FBI's mishandling of the National Security Letters

In Salon, the always insightful Glenn Greenwald goes deep into the newly uncovered abuse by the FBI of their already generous ability to issue National Security Letters, and of course, its connection to the about-to-be former Attorney General.

New issue of Democracy Journal online now

Our friends over at Democracy Journal have their new issue up.  Check it out.

Mr. President time to do more than talk about immigration reform

Throughout his tour of Latin America President Bush said, again and again, it was time to move forward on immigration reform here in the U.S.  It is long past time for the President to do more than say the words.  He has to get to work and bring his unwilling Party along.  As our recent event with Senators Reid, Kennedy, Menendez and Salazar, and House Members Zofgren, Gutierrez and Becerra showed, Democrats are ready to go.   The question is will the Republicans and the President show. 

As the Washington Post opines this morning, we are long past time for action:

THE HYPOCRISY of U.S. immigration law was on lurid display last week in a raid on a defense contractor in New England. Accompanied by dogs and a helicopter swooping overhead, hundreds of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents charged into Michael Bianco Inc., a leather-goods factory in New Bedford, Mass., that makes backpacks, ammunition pouches and other gear for GIs.

When the dust settled, the agents had arrested some 360 illegal immigrant employees at the plant, many of them women from Guatemala and other Central American nations. The workers had toiled in sweatshop conditions that allegedly included draconian restrictions on bathroom breaks, toilet paper supply, and snacking and talking at their workstations. They were seized, handcuffed, questioned and, in about 200 cases, whisked away to detention centers in New Mexico and Texas without regard to their roots in the community, their spouses or their children, including American-born children who are U.S. citizens.

Amid the pandemonium, families and communities were split, and children were left with babysitters, relatives, siblings or other families. Immigration and Customs Enforcement insisted it had released about 60 of the immigrants -- including nursing mothers and sole or primary caregivers for young children -- for "humanitarian" reasons. But reports of confusion and mistakes were common, and state officials said scores of children were separated from their parents. In one case, doctors treated an 8-month-old baby, Keylyn Zusana Lopez Ayala, for pneumonia and possible dehydration after her mother was detained and unable to breast-feed her. Keylyn is an American citizen. Three days after the raid, a federal judge was sufficiently concerned that he barred immigration officials from transporting any more detainees out of state. The raid, said Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D), "reflects, for me, not what this country is about."

Post has good piece on web video

Very much worth a read.

Drilling into political bedrock

Two weeks ago a CNN poll put the President's approval rating at 29%, the lowest of his Presidency, and one of the lowest in recorded Presidential history.  29% for a two term President means 40% of those who voted for him twice believe he is not doing a good job.  A remarkable feat by any measure. 

That 29% came before a two week period of truly terrible developments for the Administration - the mistreatment of our veterans at Walter Reed, the overzealous and perhaps illegal use of National Security Letters by the FBI, the conviction of Scooter Libby, the new Plame testimony, continued violence in Iraq, the scandal of the Rovian-led firing of 8 US Attorneys and the resignation of senior Army officials and the Chief of Staff at Justice.  Who and what is next? Rove, Gonzales, Nicholson? Is there a Bush Administration without these guys?

Wherever these next steps take us they will take us further into the inner of the inner core of the architects and enablers of the Bush era. The political chief, the chief counsel, the former RNC Chair.  Just as the President's support has drilled into his bedrock of support, these new scandals are drilling into personnel bedrock, a place where no one ever thought we could go.  But here we are, and the ending of Bushism and its leaders seems to much closer than ever before.

Good to be back

After what was a rather extraordinary set of technical problems, we are back.  Thanks to Michael Haggerty at Trellon for his spirited effort to get us back on line.  

Thanks for your patience.  Now, back to work.

Those fired prosecutors

From the Times this morning:

WASHINGTON, March 4 — Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, said Sunday that he had urged the Justice Department to dismiss the state’s top federal prosecutor, who in December was one of eight United States attorneys ousted from their jobs.

In addition, Mr. Domenici said in a statement that last year he called the prosecutor, David C. Iglesias, to ask about the status of a federal inquiry in New Mexico. The case centered on accusations of kickbacks in a courthouse construction project in which a former Democratic state official was said to be involved.

“I asked Mr. Iglesias if he could tell me what was going on in that investigation and give me an idea of what time frame we were looking at,” Mr. Domenici said. “It was a very brief conversation which concluded when I was told that the courthouse investigation would be continuing for a lengthy period.”

Mr. Domenici apologized in the statement and said he regretted making the call, but added that he had not urged any course of action in any investigation. “I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way,” he said.

A Justice Department spokesman said on Sunday that records at the agency showed that the senator complained about Mr. Iglesias in calls to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in September 2005 and again in January and April 2006. The senator made a brief call to Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general, in October 2006 when the deliberations over Mr. Iglesias’s dismissla began.

In each of these calls, said Brian Roehrkasse, a Justice Department spokesman, Mr. Domenici expressed general concerns about Mr. Iglesias and questioned whether he was “up to the job.” Mr. Roehrkasse added, “At no time did they discuss the public corruption case.”

A Justice Department official said Mr. Domenici’s criticism of Mr. Iglesias was a factor in the decision to remove the prosecutor, adding that the decision was also based on an internal evaluation at Justice Department headquarters regarding his handling of the job.

Why does all this matter so much? Because the people taking down the corrupt conservatives these last several years have not been the Democrats, but career prosecutors at the Office of Public Integrity at Justice and US Attorneys like the 8 just let go.   At some point the Administration had to do what it could, short of dismantling the Office of Public Integrity, to stop or slow the march of indictments and jail time being handed down to leaders of their movement and those that ran our government in recent years.  Since the 8 just fired included a San Diego US Attorney responsible for baging Duke Cunningham and the former #3 at the CIA, Dusty Faggo, this all just smelled of politics.  For why should we assume that this Administration, as political as it is, would be willing to stand by while their allies got taken down by a bunch of overzealous lawyers? Somehow I think there is going to be more to this story. 

I believe history will show that those running the country in the Bush era to be the single most corrupt set of leaders the nation has ever seen.  To make sure that justice is served, and all the many cases in front of the Office of Public Integrity are investigated fully, Congress should give this office and the hardworking career prosecutors there much more money, perhaps double their budget.  They need the resources necessary to ensure that any lead is followed, any corrupt official brought to trial.  After all they are dealing with the largest set of official corruption cases in modern times.

UPDATE: Oops, appears Congresswoman Heather Wilson also tired to get Iglesias fired.

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