Bush at the Wheel

July 30, 2007

Bush and Brown in golf cart

It sounds like Gordon Brown is not such a change of pace from Tony Blair after all, as he largely took his speaking cues from Bush in their public remarks Monday. Dan Froomkin asks whether Brown will be “Bush’s new poodle.”


The McCain Staff Mutiny

July 10, 2007

Aides are departing John McCain’s struggling presidential campaign. For a while I believed McCain would be the eventual nominee on a last-man standing theory: Rudy would lose because he’s pro-choice, and Mitt would lose because he’s Mormon. But that seems to have been stupid of me.

(Who the hell can the Republicans actually nominate? I have no idea as they all seem terribly flawed. A Giuliani-Romney primary showdown will be too hilarious.)

Iraq is obviously a disaster and that has hurt McCain terribly (nice of the aides to depart today just in time to steal McCain’s thunder for his big Iraq speech from the Senate floor). I find the theory that Bush called McCain’s bluff on saying we needed the 20,000 additional troops rather interesting. This one was floating around the internets a while back, and I think I remember reading about it on Daily Kos. In any case, the idea is that McCain was calling for more troops last year in the expectation that the administration wouldn’t actually do that that and instead would go along with the Iraq Study Group. Then when Iraq inevitably continued to be a hellhole, McCain could blame others for not putting in the troops he said were necessary to fix things. He could use that criticism to springboard his campaign and set himself up rather well for the primaries — a Who Lost Iraq? strategy, if you will.

McCain hugs Bush

Of course, Bush called McCain’s bluff, the surge isn’t working out, and McCain’s campaign is being dragged down by the whole thing.

There’s also immigration, the political ramifications of which I probably haven’t adequately considered all along. The Republican base really, really hates them some illegal Mexicans. It’s the kind of thing northeastern liberals like me might never fully grasp, much like I can’t understand why red state people are so damn protective of their gun ownership rights.

Anyway, I started writing this post intending to conclude that my prediction — oft-repeated to family and friends in the last year or so — that McCain would be the Republican nominee looks pretty wrong right now. I’ve been in denial about this for a little while, often invoking the Kerry campaign’s back-from-the-dead nature in 2004; remember that Kerry fired his campaign manager in November 2003 . Hell, Howard Dean was looking strong for a time, so figuring out how things will happen this far in advance isn’t an exact science. And who knows, with Rick Davis back as campaign manager maybe McCain can rekindle some of his 2000 momentum yet. As long as he can scrape by financially, McCain may yet come out of this because, as I said, the GOP field doesn’t have a clear winner in it.

So I guess I will stubbornly cling to those previous claims, albeit with less certainty.

Is Bush Even Trying Any More?

July 10, 2007

Fred Kaplan on today’s Bush speech in Cleveland:

Unlike earlier talks of this sort, in which Bush’s speechwriters at least assembled some stray facts and passed them off as evidence of progress, this speech—which seemed entirely improvised—was founded on nothing but faith.

“We can accomplish and win this fight in Iraq,” Bush said at one point in the speech. “I strongly believe we will prevail … that democracy will trump totalitarianism every time,” he said later, as if the war in Iraq is somehow about democracy and totalitarianism.

I caught a portion of the speech on TV this afternoon, and I felt like I was in a time warp from a year or two ago. The rhetoric is all the same about Al Qaeda having no regard for human life, that’s how they differ from us, fight them there instead of over here, on down the line. Can he really keep going to the same old rhetorical well for another 18 months and pass the mess on to a successor?

I also wonder if Chertoff’s remarks were coordinated.

On Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune that he had a “gut feeling” about a new period of increased risk.

Is there any point to issuing these vague warnings about possible terrorist strikes without any specific information at all? Other than stirring up the media and getting people scared? It’s like Groundhog Day with these people.

What were Pelosi and Reid supposed to do?

May 23, 2007

While I’m as sick over the Democrats caving to Bush on the Iraq war funding bill as the next sentient being, I think Keith Olbermann went a little too far in his Special Comment by suggesting that war opponents should, “if need be, unseat Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi.” The full Special Comment, video and text, is here.

Olbermann knows full well that there aren’t the votes in either the House or Senate to cut off funding completely for the war at this point. Any bill with timetables will be vetoed by the president. The leadership could take the step of refusing to pass any bill whatsoever, but that’s extremely risky politically because it would give the impression of congressional dithering harming the war effort. Olbermann may be right that the framing of the war funding issue by Bush and many in the press is ludicrous, but he’s wrong to criticize the leadership so harshly for taking the least bad of the bad options available to them.

“It’s Game Time”

May 9, 2007

That’s what Big Time is telling the Iraqis on the umpteenth “surprise” visit by an administration official.

The senior administration official summarized Cheney’s message: “We’ve got to pull together. We’ve got to get this work done. It’s game time.”

An important topic on Cheney’s agenda is to persuade the Iraqi Parliament to forgo its planned two-month recess. The Bush administration is pushing for members to keep working on legislation, such as a measure on oil revenues.

Setting aside that using an idiomatic American expression may not be the best way to communicate with foreigners, the push to keep the Iraqi Parliament in session during July and August makes sense. Otherwise, the alleged September deadline that we’re hearing about will be hard to meet (not that many in the liberal blogosphere think it will be met anyway).

Maybe, though, setting a timetable for withdrawal of US troops is a better way to convince the Iraqi government that “it’s game time” and that they need to get things in order. It’s not like these people have never had meetings with Dick Cheney before.

What Does Paul Rieckhoff Want?

May 3, 2007

Bob Herbert’s column is a synopsis of an interview with the leader of an Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group.

There’s a gigantic and extremely disturbing disconnect, he says, between the experiences of the men and women in uniform and the perspective of people here at home. “We have a very diverse membership in I.A.V.A.,” he said. “We’ve got Republicans and Democrats and everything in between. But one of the key things we all have in common is this frustration with the detachment that we see all around us, this idea that we’re at war and everybody else is watching ‘American Idol.’

“It’s tough to have such a serious sense of commitment,” Mr. Rieckhoff said, “and then come home and see so many people focused on such frivolous things. So I think that frustration is serious and growing. And I’ll tell you the truth: I blame the president for that. One of the biggest criticisms of the president, and I hear this across the board, is that he hasn’t asked the American people to do anything.”

Although Bush has spoken over and over again about how important he thinks the war is to the U.S. national interest, I agree that he could have done more to promote a sense of shared sacrifice. He could have raised taxes to finance the war effort, called on young people to enlist in the armed forces (or as humanitarian workers), and promoted conservation and alternative energies at home (fat chance!) to limit the country’s dependence on Middle East oil.

But even if Americans had been drawn into these efforts in greater numbers, there is always going to be some amount of disconnect between those who were at war and the majority who stayed home. That is inevitably going to be the case when you have a group of people who have first-hand experience with something and a group that does not. There may be some ignorance of what troops go through, but there certainly isn’t a lack of sympathy and gratitude for members of the armed forces. That’s why the Walter Reed situation became such a big scandal. Anyone who challenges the “support the troops” consensus these days will be pretty loudly denounced.

What I don’t understand is why it bothers Rieckhoff that Americans are into “frivolous things” like “American Idol.” While I agree that American Idol is stupid, I’m not going to give up my evening leisure time watching the NBA playoffs so that I can hold a vigil for the troops and educate myself further about the progress of the surge in Baghdad.

Look, I hope the troops get home safely and that they aren’t unduly traumatized by the combat experience. I don’t think they should ever have been sent to war with Iraq, and I think their presence over there continues to be counterproductive today. I will continue to monitor the news from the war with the hope that somehow U.S. military involvement can be wound down without causing too much harm in the process. I will support candidates for office who share this goal. Beyond that, I don’t really know what Rieckhoff wants me to do, and I don’t see why he needs to snidely belittle the American public.

The Return of the “Democrat” Slur

May 2, 2007

Bush today:

The stakes are high, really high in Iraq. General Petraeus is beginning to carry out the strategy, yet the Democrat leaders in Congress have chosen this time to try to force a precipitous withdrawal. In other words, I was presented a bill last night that said, there’s a timetable, you had to leave — start leaving by July 1st and definitely be leaving by October 1st. That didn’t make any sense to me, to impose the will of politicians over the recommendations of our military commanders in the field. So I vetoed the bill. (Applause.)

I was expecting the White House’s written version of Bush’s remarks to use “Democratic” even though Bush said “Democrat” at the event, but it’s there in the text too. I guess he’s angry over the veto situation and resorting to name-calling again.

The repeated invocations of Petraeus and the charge that Democrats are tying the hands of the generals is really dumb too. First of all, plenty of great military minds opposed Bush’s Iraq plans, and they were shown the door. More fundamentally, though, I get the impression Bush has never heard the line that war is too important to be left to the generals. Deciding whether to make war or not is something that belongs in the control of civilian leaders, who are supposed to represent the public. The public wants out.

Another outrage in today’s speech is the “acceptable level of violence” standard.

Either we’ll succeed, or we won’t succeed. And the definition of success as I described is sectarian violence down. Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve.

Really? You mean there are parts of our country where there are suicide bombings, car bombs, sectarian killings, executions, torture, and the like that claim dozens or hundreds of lives in daily incidents? Remind me never to visit those places on vacation!