During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama earned the G.O.P.'s mockery. Now he has earned their fear. It is an ambiguous feat, accomplished by going to the dark side, by walking the G.O.P.'s talk, by becoming the man Dick Cheney fashioned himself to be.
Tom again: But if Obama truly possessed the killer instinct, why is VP Biden still on the ticket? I think dumping him likely would have added one point to Obama's vote in November. And that could mean a lot.
The defeat of Richard Lugar in the Indiana Republican Party primary for Senate last night tells me two things. First, it says that the national security centrist position continues to erode. Losing Lugar reminds me of the defeat a few years back of Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the patron saint of professional military education. Second, it makes me wonder if the great Midwest is turning away from internationalism and back to its pre-World War II isolationism.
I remember someone trying to sell to me the materialistic view that the Midwest only turned away from isolationism when grain exports became a big deal after World War II, especially as we elbowed Argentina out of the European market. At the time I didn't buy it. But I wonder -- now that grain is a corporate enterprise, employing far fewer individuals, maybe Midwesterners don't see any reason to engage in the world.
Here's another, harsher take.
My wife’s favorite Republican candidate for amusement is Newt, but myself, I enjoy watching old Rick Perry. The man strikes me as a fool in a suit, almost a cartoon version of a Texas governor. Here is his comment the other night on the government of Turkey: “When you have a country [Turkey] that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes, not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it. [Cheers, applause]” (To fully appreciate this, read it aloud in a Foghorn Leghorn voice.)
As the estimable Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post put it, Perry’s characterization of Turkey is an off-the-charts jaw dropper. In fact, observes Kessler, a veteran diplomatic correspondent, “The ruling party of Turkey is moderately Islamic, but it generally has not interfered with the country’s secular traditions. . . . As for foreign aid, Turkey is a wealthy country that already gets virtually no foreign aid from the United States.”
In addition, notes Juan Cole, “Turkey has peace-keeping troops serving alongside US ones in Afghanistan, and in danger of being killed by Taliban, and it is a profound insult to reward their friendship with the US by this kind of trash talk.”
Our nation's two most wrongheaded wars were launched by Texans. This is not a partisan crack -- LBJ was a Democrat, and George W. Bush a Republican. But it is a regionalist crack--the more I listen to Rick "Lynch Mob" Perry, the more I think we may need the following constitutional amendment:
"No citizen of the state of Texas may be eligible to serve as president of the United States until five decades have passed since the end of the last war waged by a president from Texas."
More here from Abu "Multilateralists R Us" Muqawama.
In 1974, the military became all volunteer. In the 1980s, the Reagan tax cuts began a huge transfer of wealth to the already wealthy, top 1 percent of American society. Normally we don't connect these two events, but with the passage of time, I suspect we may come to see them together as the moment when the wealthy checked out of America and moved into physical and mental gated communities.
I've already talked about how over the last 30 years, the proportion of wealth going to the top 1 percent has gone from 10 percent of annual national income to almost 25 percent, a greater share than in the Roaring '20s. And many of the readers of this blog have contributed thoughts about the All-Volunteer Force, especially how many American parents no longer have a sense of skin in the game.
In a nutshell:
(The chart shows inflation-adjusted percentage increase in after-tax household income for the top 1 percent and the four quintiles, between 1979 and 2005.)
I bring all this up again because when I think about the Tea Party and the broader national mood of anti-incumbency, I suspect it all is part of a growing national distrust and dislike of elites. If Washington is getting whupped today, Wall Street can't be far behind on the hit parade. While I have problems with the Tea Party, I do think it is correct to suspect that the elites are not doing their part. So where I think this winds up is probably a sharp populist backlash, in five or 10 years, when all the national bills really start coming due. Ireland today may be America soon. Get ready for increase in income tax rates. But, as the wealthy will tell you after a few drinks, occupational income is really for the little people. The real game is capital gains taxes, and the rate there is just 15 percent. I suspect it will double sometime down the road.
And while we are at it, let's have a parallel debate about national service, OK?
Bringing back a draft does not mean bringing back the draft we saw in the 1960s. Rather, I think we design a new deal that offer a three-part set of options:
The military option. You do 18 months of military service. The leaders of the armed forces will kick and moan, but these new conscripts could do a lot of work that currently is outsourced: cutting the grass, cooking the food, taking out the trash, painting the barracks. They would receive minimal pay during their terms of service, but good post-service benefits, such as free tuition at any university in America. If the draftees like the military life, and some will, they could at the end of their terms transfer to the professional force, which would continue to receive higher pay and good benefits. (But we'd also raise the retirement age for the professional force to 30 years of service, rather than 20 as it is now. There is no reason to kick healthy 40-year-olds out of the military and then pay them 40 years of retirement pay.)
The civilian service option.Don't want to go military? Not a problem. We have lots of other jobs at hand. You do two years of them -- be a teacher's aide at a troubled inner-city school, clean up the cities, bring meals to elderly shut-ins. We might even think about how this force could help rebuild the American infrastructure, crumbling after 30 years of neglect. These national service people would receive post-service benefits essentially similar to what military types get now, with tuition aid.
The libertarian opt-out. There is a great tradition of libertarianism in this country, and we honor it. Here, you opt out of the military and civilian service options. You do nothing for Uncle Sam. In return, you ask for nothing from him. For the rest of your life, no tuition aid, no federal guarantees on your mortgage, no Medicare. Anything we can take you out of, we will. But the door remains open -- if you decide at age 50 that you were wrong, fine, come in and drive a general around for a couple of years.
I noticed the other day that Gen. David Petraeus has been speaking all over the place and I figured if the Provo, Utah, newspaper could get an interview, so might I. So I did. This is what he had to say. His responses are given here in full and unedited.
If I were writing this as a news story, I'd probably hype the "review of concept" meeting he mentions on Afghanistan. But it isn't.
Best Defense: What do you think Americans aren't noticing about your Area of Responsibility right now that you think they should?
General Petraeus: Americans are, I think, up to speed on the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq and, to a lesser degree perhaps, with respect to Iran. Areas that I think have been less noticed include: Pakistani operations to combat the Pakistani Taliban (though, to be fair, they have received more attention recently); efforts by the United States and countries in the region to help Yemen deal with AQAP and a variety of political, economic, and social challenges; efforts to establish the Regional Security Architecture in the CENTCOM AOR; initiatives by U.S. forces, together with NATO, EU, and other partners to combat piracy; and the regional effort to counter Al Qaeda and other trans-national extremists.
BD: Why is the U.S. Navy leaving most of the heavy lifting with the Somali pirates to other NATO navies? Are you comfortable with that, or would you like to see the 5th Fleet doing more?
GP: See answer above, please. Actually, the 5th Fleet, together with a number of maritime coalition partners, is doing a great deal to combat piracy in coordination with NATO and EU elements, as well as with ships from other countries not part of a formal unit. Clearly, we need to publicize more of what is being done.
BD: In Afghanistan, is it time for something like a "night of the long knives" where we simply give President Karzai a list of his officials with whom we no longer will deal or fund in any form?
GP: I'll avoid that minefield; however, I would observe that situations in places like Afghanistan and Iraq are seldom as straight forward or as black and white as they sometimes appear to be in news stories. Rather, they tend to be very complex and in varying shades of gray...
BD: Or are we unable to deliver that sort of ultimatum until we have the U.S. military, State and CIA on the same page about Afghan officials?
GP: I'll go around this minefield, too. However, I will note that, as I know you recognize, unity of effort is an important component of any comprehensive, civil-military counterinsurgency campaign. And it is, needless to say, an objective sought by all the military, diplomatic, and intelligence community leaders in Afghanistan. To further achievement of that objective, Ambassador Holbrooke and I will fly together to the region in the weeks ahead to conduct a civil-military "review of concept" drill with Ambassador Eikenberry, General McChrystal and a variety of other interagency, international, and host nation partners.
BD: Who do you predict will become prime minister of Iraq?
GP: I wouldn't hazard a guess; however, I do share the hopes of the Iraqi people that their new government will be representative of, and responsive to, all the ethno-sectarian elements of the Iraqi population and also that their new government will keep the best interests of Iraq and the Iraqis foremost in all that the new government's leaders seek to do.
BD: On Iraq: My sense of what Americans are thinking about it, from my own recent speaking tour around the country, is that they regret we invaded it, are sorry they ever heard of it, but blame President Bush for the mess, and so are giving President Obama a lot of leeway to handle it as he goes forward. What is your sense?
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
"I do not want to go over all the successes of the last eight years." Yeah, let's not -- that would take soooo long.
Speaking of Afghanistan, I see where old Steve Coll responds to comments posted on this blog. Having the author of one of the best books ever on Afghanistan (and one who is also an expert on bin Laden) wade in here is a real tribute to the quality of the debate you guys are maintaining. Thank you. Kudos especially to "smci60652," whoever you are.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Someone killed 13 people in al Anbar province, many of them relatives of a leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Is this more pre-election jockeying, or what? The Baghdad government is calling it a tribal dispute. That may be true -- but it certainly is what I would say if I wanted to just chalk it up to those rowdy Anbaris.
Anybody got a clue as to what is happening in Anbar?
KHALIL AL-MURSHIDI/AFP/Getty Images
The Kirkuk primary begins -- with the assassination of a Sadrist leader.
In other Iraq news, two guys planting a bomb in Mosul blew themselves up.
Poetic justice, right? Sort of. But it reminds me of a day in Baghdad when some guys who had been firing mortar shells to near where I was were killed when a shell detonated in their tube. I was surprised and a bit taken aback at the glee I felt at this turn of events. An Iraqi I worked with warned me against taking pleasure in such events, saying that by giving way to such feelings we give up some of our humanity. He told me about his brother, a policeman, who had gotten so accustomed to violent death that one day, after collecting body parts at bombed market, swung his official pickup truck by his home for lunch -- only to have his young son, pleased to unexpectedly see his father at midday, jump up into the bed of the police pickup, and land in the parts.
In the new issue of the New York Review of Books, Joost Hilterman of the International Crisis Group offers a good summary of why he thinks the coming year will be a turbulent one in Iraq. I think he is right -- and that 2010 will stand alongside 2003 and 2007 as a turning point. In short,
...just as Odierno will be pulling out his first combat brigades, starting in March, Iraq will be entering into a period of fractious wrangling over the formation of a new government. If Iraqi national forces fail to impose their control, an absence of political leadership could thus coincide with a collapse in security; if politicians and their allied militias resort to violence, the state, including its intelligence apparatus so critical for maintaining internal stability, could fracture along political, ethnic, and sectarian lines."
Fasten your seat belts. Meanwhile, here is a bunch of headlines from this morning:
I am not going to comment on yesterday's round of off-year elections. Why? Mainly because I've seen domestic political columnists and other such experts venture into foreign policy and military issues, and it ain't pretty. I always wonder if I would look as muddled as they do if I wandered over to their turf. So I am not gonna.
SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images
And that means you start chewing on your fingernails, too:
... the U.S. strategy rests on an undemocratic, corrupt and weak central government, a president who cheated his way into office in an election held under American supervision, an election that even the government of Afghanistan concedes was stolen. The script couldn't have been improved if Taliban chieftain Mullah Omar had put himself to the task.
Can this get any worse?
What I'm hearing today from some of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan is: uh-oh. . . . For the Taliban, Karzai's assumption of a second presidential term validates their argument that the U.S.-backed government in Kabul is terminally corrupt and must be overthrown; re-energized, they will recruit and fight harder."
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
One of the most interesting sub-genres of journalism is the article reporters write as they leave a country or beat. Often, they vent feelings and views they've kept pent-up for year.
Here is a classic of the type. As she leaves Iraq, Alissa Rubin of the New York Times summarizes the harsh lessons she learned from years of living in Baghdad:
. . . Army checkpoints -- legal ones -- are the only ones that stop you, but huge posters of Imam Ali punctuate the streets, a signal that this is now Shiite-land. Imam Ali is revered as a founder of the Shiite branch of Islam, but a poster of him is also a silent rebuke to Sunnis, a way of marking territory, of reminding them that the Shiites run things now. It is a sign of victory as much as peace.
And victory in Iraq almost always begets revenge.
In my five years in Iraq, all that I wanted to believe in was gunned down. Sunnis and Shiites each committed horrific crimes, and the Kurds, whose modern-looking cities and Western ways seemed at first so familiar, turned out to be capable of their own brutality."
I think this is a good prism through which to view Iraq's upcoming national elections.
Photo: ALI YESSEF/AFP/Getty Images
As predicted (at the end of the post) in this blog on Friday, old Abdullah Abdullah is threatening to pull out of the Afghan run-up.
Here is a comment from my friend Mac McCallister, who has spent a lot of time on the ground in dangerous places recent years:
My prediction... He won't [pull out]... He is only maneuvering for a better deal... more access to spoils.
We have helped create this situation... and may actually still be manipulating the process. We have weakened Karzai by calling him out... (blood in the water). We have strengthened Abdullah Abdullah with hagiographic fawning in the popular press... Karzai needs us more than ever becasue we have explained in no uncertain terms that we can always change horses.
Abdullah Abdullah's faction is now taking advantage of the situation to gain at the expense of his rival... "Never let a good crisis go to waste"... Abdullah Abdulah can not allow this power play to get out of control... and he will therefore manage the "crisis" accordingly. He can't rule A-stan and he knows it.. Abdullah Abdullah now needs us more than ever..
Win-win for the U.S. My compliments to Sec of State Mrs Clinton and her strategists.
The Pashtun Karzai is still the front-man in this charade... In the meantime all will send delegates to Abdullah Abdullah to talk him off the ledge... The negotiations to keep Abdullah Abdullah in the game will be interpreted by all that Abdullah Abdullah has both credibility and legitimacy. In the end.. Abdullah Abdullah's faction will be offered a greater share of the spoils... Karzai will be President... and the government will continue to frustrate the hell out of us.Or maybe not...
My book researcher, Kyle Flynn, a two-tour vet of Afghanistan (with extra points for duty in Oruzgan, the Pashtun answer to Arkansas) and now a graduate student at Georgetown University, offers this interesting analysis of three reasons for the likely timing of the White House decision on how to proceed in Afghanistan:
Kyle concludes: "Let's bet the decision comes early next week after the domestic political issues are settled."
Mario Tama/Getty Images
I see where Sen. John Kerry (D-Eeyore) talked to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for almost 20 hours this week about agreeing to an election runoff. Twenty hours? Isn't there a provision of the Geneva Convention that bans that sort of treatment?
Here's a new sweepstakes: Who do you think is running away from the United States government faster, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki or Afghan President Karzai? Right now, Karzai is four lengths in front. But I think Maliki might catch up later this year or early next. He runs well on a muddy track.
(HT to Mr. S. Attackerman)
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Because I have nothing to add. Use the remainder of this space to think of something nice, like your favorite spot on a lake in the summertime when you were a teenager.
The Iranian election is getting interesting. Last week, Reuters reports, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani of corruption. Now old Rafsanjani comes swinging back, accusing the little guy of "misstatements and fabrications." He has a bunch of clerics from Qom over in his amen corner.
Old Juan Cole has a good roundup of events relating to the election, such as a massive rally against Ahmadinejad in Tehran that wasn't broken up by the police. Among the stories he cites is one carried by the official Iranian news agency in which presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi calls Ahmadinejad a dictator: "I say so because he does not abide by the laws, so why should we not call him a dictator?"
ALI RAFIEI/AFP/Getty Images
They're busting officials at the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. I think this is another form of Iraq primary -- a less violent version of the "sticky bombs" that have been used to blow up officials' cars in recent months.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.