Monday, January 29, 2007

Hillary in 2008

There is all sorts of mindless chatter going around that basically insists that Hillary is damaged goods and unsuitable as the Democratic candidate for president in 2008. It really is mostly mindless chatter, driven either by the supporters of other candidates or simply to get attention. My feeling is that she will weather all of the chatter just fine and eventually will be chosen as the Democratic nominee. Whether she actually gets elected will depend on the whim of the American voters.

The key factor in her favor is also the key argument being used against her: she has been around the block in Washington, D.C. She knows how the system works and knows how to work the system. Lately, she has been a very effective senator for the people of New York. Sure, she failed with her health care proposal back in the 1990's, but she did learn a lot from it, and it demonstrates a sense of vision and willingness to reach for that vision that none of the other candidates have even remotely demonstrated.

Quite a number of old-time liberal Democrats chafe at the notion of centrism and long for some good old-fashioned liberal ideas and want a fresh face, not somebody who has been there and done that and is unwilling to tilt at windmills that they can never defeat. Edwards and Obama appeal to these people, but these people can hardly claim that they worry even the slightest about "electibility" beyond who they personally would like to see as leading the charge for the Democrats.

My call is that 2008 will be a battle between Hillary and McCain. All the other contenders (with the possible exception of "Rudy") are a bunch of lightweights who will garner a lot of attention, but otherwise at best be stars that burn too brightly but burn out too quickly as well.

All of the criticisms of Hillary will actually result in her becoming a stronger candidate. People really underestimate her, by a country mile.

She was criticized for suggesting that President Bush should "extricate our country from this before he leaves office", but what percentage of American voters (myself included) don't subscribe to precisely those sentiments? If the "surge" doesn't work over the next year, don't you expect that we have no sane choice but to withdraw? Give the Bush plan a year to work and then a year to withdraw. That's actually overly generous of Hillary. For those who criticize this view that she expressed in Iowa, what options do you think U.S. forces will have at their disposal in January 2009 (when Persident Bush leaves office) other than to pack up and leave?

Here's the relevant quote from The New York Times article by Patrick Healy entitled "Clinton Calls on Bush to ‘Extricate’ U.S. From Iraq":

I think it’s the height of irresponsibility and I really resent it — this was his decision to go to war, he went with an ill-conceived plan, an incompetently executed strategy, and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office.

She is basically simply stating the obvious sentiment shared by a lot of people: President Bush created this mess, so he is responsible for fixing what he broke.

In theory, the focus of the Iowa campaign visit was to try to put a human face on Hillary's reputation for hard-nosed politics. The critics complained that she doesn't have a soft enough human touch, so she goes to Iowa and does that and the critics turn around and say she isn't being serious enough. Really, the bottom line is that the critics do not like the fact that she is a pragmatic Centrist.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Iraq circling for awhile

With U.S. forces in Iraq struggling to figure out how to do their surge and politicians in Washington, D.C. chasing each other's tails in endless circles over Iraq, the future of Iraq is looping slowly in similarly endless circles. Sure, chaos continues, but so far nothing seems to be "hitting the fan" with enough momentum to change the overall situation. I suspect this state of affair will continue for at least another month or maybe two before somebody in Iraq makes a move, a big move.

Maybe the militias will see the light and decide to go back to huding in the woodwork until the U.S. leaves. Maybe, but I doubt it. Sure, they might talk about it and even do it for short periods of times, but not with a deep enough level of commitment to permit a full-scale political settlement sufficient to satisfy the Neoconservatives who pull the administration's strings.

I suspect that we might have to wait for some major confrontations among the political players in Iraq and possibly some significant casualties before the political players in Iraq wake up and decide that their best path to a satisfying political compromise is to join forces against a common enemy, namely the U.S. and its heavyhanded attempts to micromanage the Iraqi political system.

I suspect that four important pieces of the puzzle will be Iraqi political accommodations with their principle powerful neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. And those accommodations are likely to be of a form that is not very appealing at all to the administration or the Neoconservative puppetmasters.

Turkey could well be the dark horse in this process. The last thing Turkey wants is an independent Kurdish state since that would inspire the Kurds in Turkey to want to split off and join that state. It is in Turkey's best interests for Iraq to be a semi-loose federation, but with a still relatively strong central government. On the other hand Turkey doesn't want the central government of Iraq to be too strong since a strong Iraq could rise to challenge Turkish interests in the region.

"Accommodations" are the only political path away from chaos for Iraq.

Meanwhile, there will be plenty of circling.

Besides, the U.S. will be funneling plenty of money and goods, including military material, that will find their way into Iraq's black market economy in the coming months. Where there is money, there is a will.

-- Jack Krupansky

Was 9/11 really that bad?

There is an interesting Op-Ed piece by Prof. David A. Bell in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Was 9/11 really that bad? - The attacks were a horrible act of mass murder, but history says we're overreacting." He has a lot of interesting points to make, but concludes by saying that "we also need to overcome long habit and remind ourselves that not every enemy is in fact a threat to our existence." I don't think the Neoconservatives agree with that perspective.

My own view, since 9/11 itself has always been that yes we have grossly overreacted to the events of 9/11.

I remember the first time I heard the words "America is under attack" and "This changes everything" feeling that the sentiment of those words was completely out of proportion to the actual events of 9/11. I was in Washington, D.C. at the time and had just walked back from staring at the burning Pentagon and had been sitting in a Senate hearing room at 10:00 a.m. Yes, I knew and believed that there should be a significant response to the attacks, and I even knew then on that very day (morning) that the Neoconservatives would likely use the attacks as an excuse to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, but I also knew that all of this would likely be a gross overreaction to the actual events themselves.

I feel that the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby were in fact the worst hijackers on that day, hijacking U.S. foreign policy and putting the lives at many, many American citizens at risk for their own political agenda. Face it, more U.S. troops have already died, not to mention the many thousands more who have been maimed for life, as a direct result of the incredibly misguided invasion of Iraq that was improperly linked to both the events of 9/11 and the whole, overall, equally misguided "War on Terror" than the total deaths and injuries on 9/11 itself. The war in Iraq and the whole so-called "War on Terror" is a truly gross overreaction to the actual attacks of 9/11.

Yes, the attacks of 9/11 were in fact quite bad, but the response has been far worse.

-- Jack Krupansky

Antiwar activists protest footdragging by Democrats in Congress

I read some of the stories about the antiwar protests this weekend, but it seems that the antiwar activists are protesting the Democrats as much as the Republicans and President Bush. Absolutely none of the major Democratic candidates for president in 2008 showed up at any of the rallies. That's amazing, especially given the fact that the Democratic landslide in November was attributed to antiwar sentiment.

But, if you know anything about the kind of people who attend these protests (I've observed a few in Washington, D.C. personally), you can understand why "mainstream" candidates, even liberal Democrats would keep their distance. The typical antiwar activist is so far left of center that most Democrats are politiclly closer to the average Republican.

Oddly, it is okay and admirable to be against the war (in Iraq or the overall so-called "War on Terror"), provided you are not too against it. Most politicians are trying to play it safe, playing on both sides of the fence. Only a relatively small minority of congressional Democrats are willing to support and vote for prompt withdrawal of U.S. forces even as late as the end of 2007.

-- Jack Krupansky

Democrats and Iraq: Still plenty of barking and no sign of any real biting

The Democrats are struggling simply to get a worthless piece of paper that protests the Bush administration plan to escalate the war in Iraq, but there is still absolutely no significant sign that they will actively seek to stop the escalation let alone withdraw U.S. forces in a prompt manner. Put simply, the Democrats are all bark and no bite.

Not even one representative or senator is even hinting at seriously pushing for the impeachment of President Bush. Look, either the escalation is so bad that impeachment should be on the table as a tool to stop it, or if escalation is not that bad then why even bother with anything more than a simply worded resolution that says that people are unhappy with the escalation and then move on? Of course, the answer is that a lot of politicians are posturing and positioning themselves for the elections in 2008.

If the Democrats want to be practical, they would simply give President Bush precisely what he asked for: time for his plan to work. Give him eight months, until the end of September, and only that long if real progress is made within four months, and put him on notice that a solid resolution for immediate and full withdrawal (at least from populated areas) will likely be forthcoming in five months if a mandated oral and written report from the President at the end of May cannot persuade Congress that sufficient progress has been made.

Unless the Democrats are really, truly, and sincerely going to take action to actually prevent (or reverse) the escalation, a bark-without-bite resolution would be completely useless other than simply to score some political points and to feel good about themselves.

I suggest that the Democrats should take the high road and push a bipartisan resolution that clearly and simply states their reservations about the plan but "approves" the plan for a minor escalation for the limited duration of four months with an optional extension of another four months (total of eight months) if sufficient demonstrable progress can be reported in four months. After eight months, or after four months if sufficient progress cannot be reported, support (moral and budgetary)  for military operations in populated areas of Iraq willl be withdrawn. That has plenty of bark, a healthy dose of pragmatism, and at least some bite as well.

I believe that such a resolution would have enough toothiness to show that the Democrats have some spine, would show that the Democrats are being thoughtful and practical, and send everyone a message that although the end of our presence in Iraq (populated areas) is coming real soon, "our enemies" should not for one moment feel that they now have a free pass since U.S. forces would have a ticking clock as a strong motivator for them to get real results and get them real fast.

By disengaging U.S. forces from populated areas in Iraq we preserves many options for future military operations while removing the presence of our forces as an excuse for all manner of delay, misdirection, and misbehavior in the cities of Iraq.

So, come on Democrats in Congress, do something useful, and do it quickly.

-- Jack Krupansky

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Democrats: Bark but don't bite

After reading the New York Times article by Jim Rutenberg and Patrick Healy entitled "Democrats Are Unified in Opposition to Troop Increase, but Split Over What to Do About It", I can only conclude that the Democrats have settled on a strategy towards the Iraq "surge" that might as well be named "Bark but don't bite."

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense after their stunning victory in November where Iraq and "staying the course" was a huge factor in the upset... unless a lot of these Democrats are beholdin' to the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby. Actually, that is quite likely. Money is a power motivator of politicians.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Playing out soon in a war theater near you (Iraq)

Even though the administration's "surge" plan is now all but a fait accompli, how it all plays out on the ground in Iraq is a completely open question. There are simply too many potential scenarios to judge which will be the likely scenario. For example, the sectarian militias could choose to temporarily recede into the woodwork and allow the surge to "succeed" and then wait for the American troops to go home before reverting to the sectarian struggle. That is possible, but I suspect it is not so likely. Alternatively, the miitias way be emboldened and feel challenged by the gauntlet of increased American troops as targets and stage dramatic confrontations with U.S. forces in an effort to stun the U.S. into backing off in the face of dramatic U.S. casualties coupled with negligible political support in the U.S. for a high-casualty escalation. Sure, that might simply cause the administration to escalate despite congressional resistance, but the militias and insurgents would only welcome such escalation. The problem is that the militias and insurgents are not massed targtes on a well-defined battlefield, but completely embedded in the local populace, making U.S. kinetic escalation quite problematic.

Although there is big talk about the surged U.S. forces going after the militias, that it truly a lost cause since the militias are actually a key part of the political landscape, are embedded in the local populace, and have broad popular support. The politicians actually need the militias and count on them as a source of power.

My suspicion is that for the next month or two the current Iraqi political leadership will play along with the ruse of a U.S. surge while the insurgents will exploit the opportunities presented by the increased availability of U.S. "targets".

Meanwhile, the Iraqi political landscape will evolve dramatically behind the scenes. If Maliki does thrive, it will be to the extent that he can talk a good story to the U.S. while distancing himself from the U.S. behind the scenes among Iraqis as well as with Syria, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. If Maliki fails to increase the perceived distance between himself and the U.S., he will be pushed aside and politicians and militia leaders and religious leaders with less inclination to toe the U.S. line will rise up to replace him. Either way, the surge is actually likely to give the Iraqi political leadership a stiffened spline, which is a good thing.

Again, exactly how this plays out will be a real crap shoot.

What if the initial surge effort fails? Most politicians in the U.S. are ready to pack up and leave Iraq, especially if this last-ditch surge effort fails, but the Neoconservatives and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby have far too much invested in their agenda of "rollback" and pre-emptive war to simply accept a surge failure and say "Oops, sorry, we were wrong, never mind." When faced with failure they will blame everybody else (including Iran and Syria and the Democrats), find some new scapegoats (or some old ones), and simply insist on incrementally changing the strategy and tactics in Iraq and insist that "this time we have it right." With a toothless Congress, they will be able to get away with this for quite some time.

My suspicion is rather than Congress acting, it is the Iraqi politicians and religious leaders who will finally pull the plug and demand that the U.S. leave ASAP. I suspect that this could happen by June or July, if not sooner. Bad news on the surge will force it to be sooner. It may take a month or two before we get some clarity on the actual impact of the surge, but events will begin playing out quite rapidly by the April and May timeframe.

It is quite likely that the quagmire will be over (mostly) a year from now. If the adminstration does somehow drag the quagmire out into 2008, it will only ensure a massive landslide defeat of the Neoconservative agenda and most Republicans in the 2008 election. There are too many hack politicans in Congress who are absolutely unwilling to martyr themselves for the Neoconservative agenda. They may have been willing to exploit the Neoconservative agenda to gain personal power, but most of them will be all too willing to abandon the Neoconservative agenda to keep the personal power that they now enjoy.

-- Jack Krupansky

The Big Snooze in Congress over Iraq

Despite all the fanfare about the Democrats being a new broom to sweep through the Iraq quagmire in Congress, it appears that the net-net result will be more of the same. Sure, there is a lot of big talk and a sense of outrage at the administration's unwillingness to do anything reasonable about Iraq, but the most that the Democrats seem willing to do is debate and maybe pass some symbolic resolutions which put their outrage on paper, but otherwise give the administration a free pass to do whatever it wants for as long as it wants. Sure, there is some talk about preventing funding for a troop surge, but there doesn't appear to even much consensus on that limited a measure among the Democrats. I could characterize this new Congress as a toothless old dog whose bark is far worse than its bite, but that would be an unecessary disparagement of toothless old dogs. This Democratic Congress is for all intents and purposes asleep at the wheel.

Senator Joe Biden knows full well how atrocious the administration's Iraq policy is, but other than a few unkind but still too charitable words, even this "powerful" chairman of the lofty Senate Foreign Relations Committee has for all intents and purposes signalled that his committee will stand idly by as the administration only adds to the disastrous nature of its foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle East.

The only advantage I can see to the approach of this new Democratic Congress is that in 2008 they will be able to point their finger and say "See, we told you so."

I'm not trying to suggest that the Democrats should seek to cooperate with the administration in its horrendous agenda and policies, but I am suggesting that they need to do a better job of standing up for the people they in theory represent and take a tougher line with the administration. A really tough line. A line that cannot be crossed.

And if they feel that there is "nothing we can do" to stop the administration, they have an obligation to pursue a route which is within their control: impeach the President. His disastrous policies certainly prove that he is all too willing to pursue policies which are harmful to Americans everywhere.

Wake up Congress, wake up, because if you don't, you will have to shoulder blame for complicity and idly standing by while the administration spiraled downwards into the abyss.

-- Jack Krupansky

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Will the execution of Saddam Hussein change anything in Iraq?

The speed with which the Iraqis moved to execute Saddam Hussein was somewhat surprising, but the inevitability of his execution was no surprise at all. Sure, there will be some short-term frenzy related to his execution, but since he has been out of the picture for quite a long time as far as fighting and politics, he has been irrelevant for quite some time. Politicians are politicians, and there is no question that the elimination of Saddam Hussein has opened up a lot of political opportunities for politicians who otherwise would be "riding in the back seat" as long as Saddam Hussein was considered the rightful leaders of the Sunnis and Baathists. His regular appearances in court were a distraction and sideshow that diverted attention from the need for politicians to focus on the hard political work in front of them.

Yes, the abrupt process of dubious legal quality is a real shame, but the Iraqis needed to move forward regardless of whether Saddam Hussein's shadow was still over them. Now the shadow is completely gone.

The situation in Iraq won't become magically better now that Saddam Hussein is gone, but it won't get much worse over the longer term either.

-- Jack Krupansky

Will there be a surge of U.S. troops in Iraq?

It is beginning to appear that a "surge" of some sort is the final option to be played out in Iraq before the U.S. begins to depart in earnest. It also appears that even most Republicans in Congress are reluctant to bet that a surge will work. Alas, the administration and Neconservatives (and the rest of the so-called Pro-Israel Lobby) are unwilling to immediately admit defeat and withdraw from Iraq, so I suspect that they will remain steadfastly committed to at least trying some sort of "mini" surge to save face and at least be able to say that they tried.

The administration does need congressional support, so the question is what degree of compromise will gain majority support in a divided congress. A full surge of 20,000 or more is simply out of the question. A surge lasting more than six or maybe nine months is also out of the question. An open-ended "until we win" surge is also out of the question.

I suspect that there are enough moderates in even the new Democratic Congress who will be willing to support a surge of no more that 3,500 to 4,500 troops for no more than six months and a commitment to withdraw them after six to nine months "no matter what". Sure, we will have all sorts of paper commitments as to what the troops should attempt to do and what the Iraqis will theoretically commit to do, but the key concession that the administration will need to make to a Democratic Congress will be that the surge will reverse by "a date certain" even if the Iraqis fail to uphold their side of the deal. Such a deal with Congress will put the final nail in the coffin of the concept of an open-ended war Iraq.

Will the surge be successful? In short: No. And I doubt that there is anybody in Washington who seriously thinks that a short-term mini surge will accomplish much at all. I doubt that Senator McCain believes in a short-term mini surge.

Will the failure of a surge result in complete chaos in Iraq? In short: Probably in the short-term, but within a year or so the political landscape will shift around as the U.S. "puppet" politicians are shoved aside as the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds gradually coalesce around a loose federation that protects their individual sectarian interests while also protected the federated group from meddling by Syria and Iran. Iraq will not split into three separate countries, but it won't be a tight single country either. In fact, it will be a bit like the U.S. where the states retain significant control over their own affairs. Looser, but still federated since the survival of the three sects depends on cooperation against external meddling.

It is simply a fact that everybody will have no choice but to accept that a fair amount of short-term chaos will be needed to unwind the effects of meddling by the U.S. The U.S. created a political mess which the Iraqis themselves will have to undo in their own way at their own pace.

I strongly suspect that two years from now we will see a new Iraq that will begin to thrive as a truly independent nation. Whether the U.S. will depart on friendly enough terms to be a partner with the new Iraq remains to be seen.

By September, the surge will be completely behind us and the debate will be about how quickly the remaining U.S. troops can be "redeployed" and gradually withdrawn.

-- Jack Krupansky