Monthly Archives: September 2006

Building Democracies…Where We See Fit

Ideals and Realities Clash In Bush ‘Freedom Agenda’

The timing of Bush’s address on democracy to the U.N. General Assembly and the overthrow of a democratically elected government underlined the complexities and contradictions in his “freedom agenda.” With the president’s attention focused on the Middle East, the state of democracy elsewhere in the world does not rate as high on his priority list. In the case of Thailand, the situation is complicated by growing U.S. unease with the ousted prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra.

“The president’s freedom agenda is inherently selective,” said Thomas Carothers, head of the democracy project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “We care very much about democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, but . . . Thailand’s just not part of the story, so this falls off the map a bit.”

Thailand is hardly the only example. Bush strongly supports Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president who took power in a military coup, and plans to meet with him at the White House twice in the next week. Bush will also host Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, at the end of next week despite the suppression of opposition parties, newspapers and human rights groups in the oil-rich Central Asian republic.

The administration has likewise embraced autocratic leaders in such disparate places as Azerbaijan and Ethiopia while generally tempering criticism of anti-democratic policies in Russia and China. Even in the Middle East, Bush has treaded lightly in nudging allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia to reform.

On the other hand, the White House ratcheted up its pressure this month on the repressive government in Burma. After meeting with a dissident, Bush personally lobbied to get the U.N. Security Council to put Burma on the agenda last week for possible sanctions. And first lady Laura Bush hosted a roundtable at the United Nations on democracy in that country.

When the president talks about promoting democracy, as he did in New York on Tuesday, he focuses mainly on Iraq and Afghanistan. Some other countries that he once highlighted as success stories have been dropped from his speeches, most notably Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

In Ukraine, the popular coalition that led the “Orange Revolution” of December 2004 has splintered and the new prime minister is the same one the street protests targeted. In Kyrgyzstan, the brother of the president who took office after the revolution of March 2005 has been accused of trying to frame an opposition leader by planting a heroin-filled wooden doll in his luggage.

The coup in Thailand poses the latest challenge to Bush’s commitment to “ending tyranny in our world,” as he vowed in his second inaugural address. Aides said yesterday that he did not mention the coup in his U.N. speech because they were still gathering information, but they did not explain why he said nothing later in the day as it became clear that the military had ousted Thaksin.

Webb on ‘Hardball’

Having read a number of posts on neo-radical blogs suggesting that Jim Webb blew his appearance on Hardball last night, I expected to hear him stumble over the question of whether he has paid bloggers. (He has at least one, Lowell Feld of Raising Kaine.) He didn’t answer the question. You could criticize him for that, but if we slammed every politician for dodging questions, we’d have time to write about nothing else.

But thanks to those Allen sycophants. Look at the clip. Webb does a great job of talking about the right issues. And he puts Matthews in his place to boot. I’ve been critical of Webb’s style. But more and more his taciturn style his beginning to look like a serious politician talking about serious issues in a no-nonsense way. He’s showing guts taking on interviewers when they ask stupid questions and looking more and more like a guy who can take on Republicans in the Senate.

Mixed Up

Amazing how often the Bush administration lies, er, I mean, gets “mixed up.”

In an embarrassing turnabout, the Department of Justice backed away Wednesday from a denial by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales of responsibility for the treatment of a Canadian who was seized by American authorities in 2002. The man was deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and beaten.

Asked at a news conference on Tuesday about a Canadian commission’s finding that the man, Maher Arar, was wrongly sent to Syria and tortured there, Mr. Gonzales replied, “Well, we were not responsible for his removal to Syria.” He added, “I’m not aware that he was tortured.”

The attorney general’s comments caused puzzlement because they followed front-page news articles of the findings of the Canadian commission. It reported that based on inaccurate information from Canada about Mr. Arar’s supposed terrorist ties, American officials ordered him taken to Syria, an action documented in public records.

On Wednesday, a Justice Department spokesman said Mr. Gonzales had intended to make only a narrow point: that deportations are now handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice.

The spokesman, Charles Miller, said the attorney general forgot that at the time of Mr. Arar’s deportation, such matters were still handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was part of the Department of Justice.

“He had his timeline mixed up,” Mr. Miller said.

Allen’s A-Team: The New McCarthyites

Shaun Kenney has an extraordinary screed posted on the A-Team blog that is George Allen’s mouthpiece. Kenney resorts to the tactics of former Sen. Joe McCarthy.

In essence, he asks not just Jim Webb but all progressives, “Are you, or have you ever been, an anti-Semite?” I might respond, “Have you no sense of decency?” But clearly conservative activists such as Kenney have rarely had any.

The Allen team is desperate. Their candidate lied and denigrated Jews at the debate Monday in Fairfax. The Washington Post reports today that Allen knew his mother was Jewish when he refused to confirm it at the debate. He then went on to slur Jews by suggesting the question cast “aspersions” on him and his mother. It’s clear now the reporter who asked the question was on to something: Allen was apparently worried that his Jewish heritage would hurt him politically. So he lied about it. He’s now enlisted his mother to defend him. Why couldn’t he say, “Yes, my mother’s family is Jewish, and I’m proud of it”? But he sees being Jewish as a derogatory criticism, a damaging imputation.

So to defend Allen, Kenney calls Jim Webb — and indeed all progressives — anti-Semitic, with the same twisted logic that generations of bigots from Joe McCarthy to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove would love.

Thus former-Republican war hero James Webb morphs from Reagan appointee to Progressive Standardbearer, and the parallels between Charles Lindbergh in 1940 and James Webb in 2006 could not be more stark:

·Both advocate an isolationist foreign policy,
·Both wed themselves to progressive ideals and policy
·Once again, anti-Semitism plays a role in the approach
·Frighteningly enough, just as Lindbergh’s reputation was used as cover in 1940, so Webb’s war hero status is used as cover in 2006.

Now is all of this a bit conspiratorial? Given the themes of the progressive movement from 60 years past to today, I don’t think it’s a terrible stretch to argue that the anti-Israeli, pro-Palestine sentiment among the radical left extends into progressive approaches to policy that have existed for a century.

Kenney offers no proof, of course. He just makes the accusation that Webb must be anti-Semitic, along with the rest of progressives. And like many folks, alas some Jewish leaders among them, when they want to end arguments with those who argue that there are some legitimate concerns of the Palestinian people, they simply call them anti-Semitic.

Webb’s emphasis on anti-Semitic remarks may or may not be deliberate, but it is a thematic trend progressives have been beating for years. Ascendent [sic] in the Democratic Party, these people need to be stopped. Yesterday they were fighting FDR’s attempt to break Nazi Germany, today they take a laissez faire approach to Israel and terrorism in the name of isolationsm [sic] and “peace.” All the while, the progressive preoccupation with Jews in power remains a disgusting undercurrent in the progressive movement that deserves scrutiny — and when it surfaces, unmitigated scorn.

What “emphasis” or “pre-occupation” is he talking about? There is none, of course. But neo-radicals have learned that you simply make the charge and soon enough reporters will be asking Jim Webb, “Are you anti-Semitic? And by the way, do you still beat your wife?” If you want to shut down debate, call those who object to some of Israel’s policies or defend some of Palestinians’ objectives “anti-Semitic.” Cong. Jim Moran knows that tactic well.

If there is one thing neo-radicals like Kenney prove once again, it is their own hypocrisy. When a Democrats gets angry about the reality-challenged logic of their idiot leader, they mock Democrats’ anger. Yet, when they feel their advantage slipping away, they resort to angry libels like the Kenney post. When they are directly confronted on their twisted policies, they denigrate what they call Democrats’ dirty politics, but when their backs are up against the wall, they resort the kind of slime Kenney smears.

Have Kenney and his ilk any sense of decency? No, they apparently don’t. They also have no principles, no shame, and no agenda other than to call their opposition the ugliest epithets to save their candidate’s hide.

I recorded the HBO special on Barry Goldwater but haven’t had a chance to watch it all, though I saw the last 15 minutes as it was repeated last night. It concluded that Goldwater today would be a liberal, a progressive, and I’m sure he is turning over in his grave because of where merchants of malice like George Allen and Shaun Kenney are leading the Republican party.


Go elsewhere if you want blow by blow analysis of who won the two debates between Jim Webb and Sen. George Allen. But the bottom line is this: Neither had a major gaff, and Jim Webb, the guy many voters are just getting to know, came off as a credible alternative. You can imagine him as a U.S. senator.

That’s all he had to do in these early debates. Money will now be easier to raise, though he still has to ask at least for some of it.

Let’s face it: 90% of voters have already made up their minds. If they haven’t, then Allen is toast. The independent voters will begin to pay attention and see if Webb, whose early opposition to the Iraq War makes him prescient at best — and a helluva lot of smarter than the Bush administration idiots at worst, has the total package to unseat Allen. In fact, on foreign policy and military issues he came across as more informed than Allen.

The biggest challenge Webb has in the near term is to hold moderate women, who may be turned off by his views on women in the military. Someone needs to tell him to stop smirking when he answers that question and to simply say (assuming I can divine his position from his parsed answer), “In hindsight, I was wrong to be so dismissive of women in combat. I remain concerned about women on the front lines, but there are important roles for women in the military” and then conclude with what he did as Sec. of the Navy and remind voters of Allen’s opposition to women at VMI.

But in the end, the debates made Webb more credible than ever.

Scarborough Country: Where Truth Takes a Holiday

Joe Scarborough was comical last night. He misstated facts and whined so unabashedly hypocritically. His target was Jon Stewart. Envious at the popularity of “The Daily Show,” he blamed Stewart for turning off young voters.

Is Jon Stewart corrupting American youth and driving voters to become cynical? That‘s what the “USA Today” asked in a feature [Ed. Note: It was an op-ed column] dubbed, “The Daily Show Generation.” You know, I didn‘t even feel it, but yes, friends, we‘re all part of “The Daily Show generation” now, which questions whether Jon Stewart actually encourages young people to get involved in politics or keeps them away from the polls. Now, a recent East Carolina University study that we talked about a few months back says “The Daily Show” isn‘t so funny, after all, finding that young people who watch the show develop cynical views about government that could keep them from voting.

First of all, Scarborough misrepresents the thesis of the article. You’ve got to wonder if he even read it.

One was part of the [Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania] 2004 Election Survey under the direction of Kathleen Hall Jamieson… disclosed that late-night comedy viewers were more likely than the early-to-bed general public to be knowledgeable about the issue positions and backgrounds of the presidential candidates — and viewers of The Daily Show were, as a group, better informed than those of David Letterman or Jay Leno.

…A second Annenberg report, released in May, studied media use among people ages 14-22 and found that for the majority of them (almost 60%), the Web is the primary source of news. Newspapers ranked a distant second, and the national evening news on TV (including cable networks) came in last. I’d say that over the years, the current-event reports in my classes have mirrored this pattern, bearing in mind that many people read newspapers online now.

A second set of facts emerged from this study: Reading newspapers (presumably, on- or off-line) increases political awareness, but searching the Internet increases both political awareness and civic engagement. The Daily Show generation, in other words, is not only apt to be more concerned about politics but also more likely to be spurred to do something with that concern.

The apparent sharp upsurge in the past several years of political activism — both liberal and conservative — on college campuses nationwide would seem to bear this out.

So what does Joe say later on?

[W]hy is this guy having universities conduct studies on whether he‘s damaging American democracy?

… [I]f Jon Stewart is actually getting younger people watching a show about politics, my point is, it couldn‘t get any worse with young voter turnout, so maybe this is a good thing, isn‘t it?

…I mean, the voting age got moved down to 18. And you know, I remember last—in 2004, had a huge debate… with other people on my panel, election night, 2004. They kept saying, Oh, the young people are going to come out and vote for John Kerry. They‘re going to put him over the top. I said, No, young people do not vote, they never have. Unfortunately, they never will.

Problem is Scarborough is dead wrong.

Voter turnout increased sharply in 2004, reaching its highest level since the 1968 presidential election. Young adults contributed to the surge. Although news reports initially claimed that young adults had failed once again to show up at the polls, the reports proved wrong. Nearly five million more young adults voted in 2004 than had done so in 2000.

… Initial assessments of voter turnout in 2004 were badly off the mark, missing both the surge in turnout overall and among young adults. Reporters erred in part because they overlooked the large number of absentee ballots, many of which (more than 7 million) were not included in the early unofficial vote totals. The reporting also erred because journalists got trapped in their story line, having predicted that Kerry would win if young adults showed up in huge numbers. When he lost and when exit polls indicated that young adults were roughly the same percentage of the voting electorate as they had been in 2000, reporters concluded that young adults had not responded.

In fact, turnout among eligible adults under 30 years old rose by 9 percentage points, pushing their voting rate to over 50 percent (see Figure 1). Their turnout rate in battleground states—such as Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—exceeded 60 percent.

Best line of the night? Actually, there were two.

SCARBOROUGH: But there is a spin, though, is there not, in Jon Stewart‘s message? And the spin is that George Bush specifically, and Republicans generally, are idiots.
[Media editor for Rachel] SKLAR: Do you need to spin that?

The other was Scarborough’s telling of his own son’s reaction to Scarborough being a guest on “The Daily Show.”

I thought this guy was supposed to have a sense of humor. He certainly didn‘t. In fact, he called me a dirty name. But that‘s OK. My 18-year-old son said, Hey, Dad, that was cool. I said, What—he called me a blank-bag. My son said, yes, that was cool, wasn‘t it.

Then, after he mocked Stewart and lamented that young folks weren’t getting exposed to the right kind of political news, Scarborough plugged the next segments of his show.

Anyway, coming up: Anna Nicole Smith‘s young son dies right in front of her. Find out why investigators still aren‘t ruling out foul play. Plus: To catch a predator is back. “Dateline” takes its investigation to small-town America with some disturbing results. Are sex offenders hiding in your back yard? And later: The Dixie Chicks‘s stunning new attack on George W. Bush, stunning only because it is such bad PR! Shut up and sing, baby! Shut up and sing!

Hey Joe, I’d settle if you’d just shut up.

Can We Talk?

Syria defended the U.S. embassy in Damascus yesterday against an attack by suspected Al-Qaeda operatives but was quick to blame the U.S. for it.

“It is regrettable that U.S. policies in the Middle East have fueled extremism, terrorism and anti-U.S. sentiment,” the Syrian Embassy in Washington said in a statement. “The U.S. should … start looking at the root causes of terrorism and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

“Root causes of terrorism”? Why, they hate us, of course. They hate democracy and freedom loving people.

Maybe Condoleezza Rice can talk this administration into talking with Syria and Iran.

Sunni Muslim extremists such as al-Qaida fiercely despise Assad’s regime because of its secular ideology and because his father, the late President Hafez Assad, led a crackdown on Muslim fundamentalists that killed thousands in the city of Hama in 1982. They also reject Assad’s rule because he belongs to the Shiite Alawite sect of Islam.

Assad has warned of an increasing Islamic threat against his country, saying al-Qaida militants are taking refuge in neighboring Lebanon.

But some opponents of his regime have claimed he is hyping the threat to score support with the United States, defuse international pressure and provide a pretext for Syrian meddling in Lebanon.

And George Bush seems to do everything he can to hype the threat of “Islamic fascists” whenever he can, as he did in his pathetic 9/11 Oval Office address. It’s no surprise why the GOP wants to foster this notion that our “War Against Terror” will go on a long time. They see it as a ticket to be punched every two years in November. They see it not as a long-term struggle for freedom but as the long-term ticket to their political dominance. So they encourage terrorists.

[Former CIA case analyst in Pakistan Marc] Sageman argues in his book, “Understanding Terror Networks,” that we are facing something closer to a cult network than an organized global adversary. Like many cults through history, the Muslim terrorists thrive by channeling and perverting the idealism of young people. As a forensic psychiatrist, he analyzed data on about 400 jihadists. He found that they weren’t poor, desperate sociopaths but restless young men who found identity by joining the terrorist underground. Ninety percent came from intact families; 63 percent had gone to college; 75 percent were professionals or semi-professionals; 73 percent were married.

What transformed these young Sunni Muslim men was the fellowship of the jihad and the militant role models they found in people such as Osama bin Laden. The terrorist training camps in Afghanistan were a kind of elite finishing school —

Sageman likened it to getting into Harvard. The Sept. 11 hijackers weren’t psychotic killers; none of the 19 had criminal records. In terms of their psychological profiles, says Sageman, they were as healthy as the general population.

The implication of Sageman’s analysis is that the Sunni jihadism of al-Qaeda and its spinoff groups is a generational phenomenon. Unless new grievances spawn new recruits, it will gradually ebb over time. In other words, this is a fire that will gradually burn itself out unless we keep pumping in more oxygen. Nothing in Sageman’s analysis implies that America should be any less aggressive in defending itself against terrorism. But he does argue that we should choose our offensive battles wisely and avoid glamorizing the jihadist network further through our rhetoric or actions.

Yet, Bush and his minions continue to demonize terrorists and those who would question his policy.

“I wonder if they are more interested in protecting the terrorists than protecting the American people,” said House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio. “They certainly do not want to take the terrorists on and defeat them.”

Fortunately, Democrats seem more willing to fight back this election cycle. And while the Dems and the GOP yell at each other, no one is talking to Syria and Iran that might help defuse the terrorist fervor.

Iran’s confidential response three weeks ago to an international proposal over its nuclear program offered extensive negotiations to resolve the standoff, but only if proceedings against Iran in the U.N. Security Council were stopped.

In a detailed and sometimes rambling document given to foreign governments, Iran stopped short of rejecting demands to halt its nuclear enrichment program, saying the issue could be resolved in talks. The response, closely held for weeks, was made public on a Web site Monday.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran does not intend to reject the whole issue unilaterally, and is ready to provide an opportunity for both sides to share their viewpoints on this issue and try to convince each other and reach a mutual understanding,” the document says.

I’m sure Bush will find a way to blow this opportunity as well.

On 9/11

As we watched Ted Koppel’s “The Price of Security” last night I had a thought just as my wife reached for the dictionary. “What are you looking up?” I asked. “The definition of war,” she said. Almost simultaneously, she had the same thought: We have mischaracterized the struggle with which we find ourselves consumed.

Certainly war can be both a military conflict and an intense battle without killings. But by buying into the characterization that we are in a “War on Terror” we have allowed the neo-conservatives to frame this debate. And indeed it is a frame that those who would blow up babies want. War allows them to paint us as the other side who would, through shock and awe, destroy their culture and their religion.

But it is how we Americans view this struggle that concerns me. The “War on Terror” or the “War Against Terrorism,” while not only reducing the struggle to one consumed with tactics instead of ideas, frames it as something we’re against. We can claim it is radical fundamentalism or “Islamic fascism” we oppose, but by being against something, Osama bin Laden and his disciples can easily contort it, abetted by our inelegant leaders, to being a crusade against Islam, Muslim values and their way of life. Imagine if Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Okalahoma City FBI building had prompted Bill Clinton to declare a “War on Christian Fundamentalism.”

This war, as Koppel’s program suggests, also allows George W. Bush to assume powers that have no limit and, indeed, no end because we will never have a clear completion to the battle with those who, in the name of religion, will kill themselves. A war has always suggested that there will be a surrender and a treaty that will end the conflict. We will never see those already steeped in terror surrender or affix their signature to peace. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone describe how this War on Terror would end. How will we know we’ve won? If there is one suicide bombing a month? a year? a decade? By framing it as a war, this administration and its ideological successors will always demand we endow them with the sole discretion to wage their war on our enemies, our liberties and our privacy.

In the name of security, we will see our liberties curtailed as long as the administration deems necessary. As Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, put it last night, “It is impossible to harden all the targets.”

We prevent the terrorists from killing us to be sure. But it’s the hearts and minds of the children whose picture I saw at the end of the Lebanese War that we must win. They were waving the picture of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. We can’t lose these children or they will be the ones attacking ours.

Most important is the concern voiced by Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy in the Bush administration, who worries that in waging this battle, “We will cease to be Americans.”

Democrats need to reframe this struggle, not as a war against anything but as an effort for something. It may not fit on a bumper sticker or have the calamitous imperative of the “War on Terror,” but this is essentially the struggle for American ideals and our desire to spread them, not by force and not because we think everything American is morally superior, but because we are transparent and believe in the rule of law and the respect for the individual and the differences among us.

If our children will enjoy lives free from fear that any moment the shopping mall they are walking in, the restaurant they are eating in, or the school their children are leaning in will be bombed, then we need to see what we are engaged in as a struggle of ideas and for our ideals, neither of which are effectively delivered through the barrel of a gun.

That certainly doesn’t mean we don’t fight to defend American lives when attacked and even attack to prevent the loss of lives of others. We do. But we need to remember what makes us Americans. It is not how we wage war, but how we nurture the pursuit of happiness.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that the Bush administration is slowing eschewing 19th century methods of war.

A new Army manual bans torture and degrading treatment of prisoners, for the first time specifically mentioning forced nakedness, hooding and other procedures that have become infamous during the five-year-old war on terror.

Delayed more than a year amid criticism of the Defense Department’s treatment of prisoners, the new Army Field Manual was being released Wednesday, revising one from 1992.

It also explicitly bans beating prisoners, sexually humiliating them, threatening them with dogs, depriving them of food or water, performing mock executions, shocking them with electricity, burning them, causing other pain and a technique called “water boarding” that simulates drowning, said Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence .

The bad news is some prisoners don’t fall under the provisions of this manual.

President Bush on Wednesday acknowledged the existence of previously secret CIA prisons around the world and said 14 high-value terrorism suspects — including the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks — have been transferred from the system to Guantanamo Bay for trials.

He said the “small number” of detainees that have been kept in CIA custody include people responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 in Yemen and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in addition to the 2001 attacks.

…The president said the 14 key terrorist leaders, including Mohammed, Binalshibh, and Zubaydah, that have been transferred to the U.S. military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay would be afforded legal some protections consistent with the Geneva conventions.

That’s some assurance, isn’t it.

We Need to Talk

[In one country], instituted a nationwide needle-exchange program; they distribute condoms free at health clinics around the country, and they have methadone treatment centers in every province.

…[A doctor there] established what he called a “triangular” clinic, which eased the AIDS stigma by treating addiction and sexually transmitted diseases as well. The innovative program caught the eye of [ the country’s] health minister, and by 2003 [the doctor] had taken it nationwide. Today he has triangular clinics in 67… cities and 57 prisons.

What country might this be? Some amoral Scandinavian nation or perhaps the free loving France? No, it would be Iran.

As David Ignatius says, we need to talk.