Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cut and Paste: What I'm Reading

Fareed Zakaria in the June 11 Newsweek:

More troubling than any of Bush's rhetoric is that of the Republicans who wish to succeed him. "They hate you!" says Rudy Giuliani in his new role as fearmonger in chief, relentlessly reminding audiences of all the nasty people out there. "They don't want you to be in this college!" he recently warned an audience at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. "Or you, or you, or you," he said, reportedly jabbing his finger at students. In the first Republican debate he warned, "We are facing an enemy that is planning all over this world, and it turns out planning inside our country, to come here and kill us." On the campaign trail, Giuliani plays a man exasperated by the inability of Americans to see the danger staring them in the face. "This is reality, ma'am," he told a startled woman at Oglethorpe. "You've got to clear your head."

The notion that the United States today is in grave danger of sitting back and going on the defensive is bizarre. In the last five and a half years, with bipartisan support, Washington has invaded two countries and sent troops around the world from Somalia to the Philippines to fight Islamic militants. It has ramped up defense spending by $187 billion—more than the combined military budgets of China, Russia, India and Britain. It has created a Department of Homeland Security that now spends more than $40 billion a year. It has set up secret prisons in Europe and a legal black hole in Guantánamo, to hold, interrogate and—by some definitions—torture prisoners. How would Giuliani really go on the offensive? Invade a couple of more countries?

The presidential campaign could have provided the opportunity for a national discussion of the new world we live in. So far, on the Republican side, it has turned into an exercise in chest-thumping. Whipping up hysteria requires magnifying the foe. The enemy is vast, global and relentless. Giuliani casually lumps together Iran and Al Qaeda. Mitt Romney goes further, banding together all the supposed bad guys. "This is about Shia and Sunni. This is about Hizbullah and Hamas and Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood," he recently declared.

But Iran is a Shiite power and actually helped the United States topple the Qaeda-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Qaeda-affiliated radical Sunnis are currently slaughtering Shiites in Iraq, and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are responding by executing and displacing Iraq's Sunnis. We are repeating one of the central errors of the early cold war—putting together all our potential adversaries rather than dividing them. Mao and Stalin were both nasty. But they were nasties who disliked one another, a fact that could be exploited to the great benefit of the free world. To miss this is not strength. It's stupidity.

Joe Justice: Isn't that Bush's legacy to the GOP? "It's the stupidity, stupid."

Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta, Jr. in New York Times Magazine article, "Hillary's War":

Late in the afternoon of June 14, 2006, a group of Democratic senators and their aides headed to Room 224, a small sitting room in the Capitol belonging to the Democratic minority leader, Harry Reid. The room had held a series of private conferences over the previous days at which a small group of Democrats discussed Iraq policy. The secluded location meant that the senators could plot the party’s strategy and discuss their differences away from their Republican colleagues and the press.

That day, the usual attendees were surprised to discover a newcomer in attendance: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. She was one of the first to arrive and took a place on a love seat, one of the two couches in the room. Sitting next to her was Carl Levin. As the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, Levin was the de facto leader of the session, since the meeting involved amendments to the pending defense authorization bill. Clinton draped one arm around the back of the couch and chewed gum, a participant recalled.

Reid began by recalling Senator John Kerry’s recent proposal to withdraw American troops by the end of the year. After making some dismissive remarks about Kerry’s amendment, Clinton largely remained quiet over the course of the next 20 to 30 minutes. Senator Reid, the meeting’s host, then turned to Clinton and asked to hear her thoughts. There was a long pause.

“It was odd to give her the stage on this,” said another participant in the meeting, noting that Clinton had not attended any of the previous strategy sessions. However, the participant added, Clinton was the “big enchilada,” so “all eyes turned to her to hear what she thinks.”

Clinton spoke for five or six minutes.

“I don’t support a fixed date for getting out, and I don’t support an open-ended commitment,” Clinton told her colleagues. Then she picked up on ideas put forth in an alternative amendment then being proposed by Senators Levin and Jack Reed. Their amendment, which had no force of law, called for the president to “begin the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq” before the end of the year.

Clinton caustically reminded her colleagues why she was supporting a less confrontational posture toward the White House than the Kerry measure.

“In case you haven’t noticed,” she said, “we don’t control anything.” Clinton went on to lecture her colleagues about the political acumen of administration officials. “Karl Rove and George Bush are no fools,” she warned.

Joe Justice: Are Democratic primary voters?

Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker, "Party Unfaithful":

When I asked Rove if the persistence of bad news, along with criticism from conservatives, has made the White House a moody place, he let loose an apparently authentic laugh. “This is a great place to work,” he said. “It’s inspiring to work here. It’s neat, particularly when you’ve got a boss whose attitude is ‘What can we do today to advance our goals? What are the big things we could be doing?’ ” Such statements fail to acknowledge that the President has been spending much of his time fighting congressional attempts to limit his mobility in Iraq and to force the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. For Rove, the future is still Republican. “I don’t think by any means it’s a sure thing, but I do think there are these big societal changes driving us, and I think that the conservative movement and the Party through which it operates are going to benefit,” he said. “That’s not to say that it’s going to be an ever-upward line. And it also doesn’t mean that smart Democrats can’t do something about it.”

Rove thinks that more voters now are being influenced by technology and religion. “There are two or three societal trends that are driving us in an increasingly deep center-right posture,” he said. “One of them is the power of the computer chip. Do you know how many people’s principal source of income is eBay? Seven hundred thousand.” He went on, “So the power of the computer has made it possible for people to gain greater control over their lives. It’s given people a greater chance to run their own business, become a sole proprietor or an entrepreneur. As a result, it has made us more market-oriented, and that equals making you more center-right in your politics.” As for spirituality, Rove said, “As baby boomers age and as they’re succeeded by the post-baby-boom generation, within both of those generations there’s something going on spiritually—people saying it’s not all about materialism, it’s not all about the pursuit of material things. If you look at the traditional mainstream denominations, they’re flat, but what’s growing inside those denominations, and what’s growing outside those denominations, is churches that are filling this spiritual need, that are replacing sterility with something vibrant, something that speaks to the heart of the individual, that gives a sense of purpose.” Rove believes what he has always believed: that the Christian right and, to a lesser extent, tax- and regulation-averse businessmen will continue to assure Republican victories.

Early G.O.P. Presidential polls, though, don’t seem to confirm this analysis. Rudolph Giuliani stands more firmly than any of his rivals for abortion rights and civil unions for gays, and at this point appears to be in the lead. Bush, polls suggest, has also lost the support of some self-described conservatives. (Thirty-three per cent of voters in 2004 identified themselves that way.) But Rove cautioned against reading too much into polls, or the results of the 2006 midterm elections. “It’s important to keep in perspective how close the election actually was,” he said. “Three thousand five hundred and sixty-two votes and we would have had a Republican Senate. That’s the gap in the Montana Senate race. And eighty-five thousand votes are the difference in the fifteen closest House races. There’s no doubt we’ve taken a short-term hit in the face of a very contentious war, but to have the Republicans suffer an average defeat for the midterm says something about the underlying strength of conservative attitudes in the country.” Rove’s arithmetic was correct, but he sounded like John Kerry, who, shortly after his defeat in the 2004 election, told me, “I received the second-highest number of votes in American history.”

Joe Justice: Enter, the vibrant, substance-free Fred Thompson.

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