Kerry aides: McCain, Schmcain!.

Kerry aides: McCain, Schmcain!.

Kerry aides: McCain, Schmcain!.

A mostly political Weblog.
May 28 2004 6:33 AM

Back in the Straddle Again

Berger busted for bogus boast.

Back in the Straddle: A response to Matthew Yglesias  on the issue of Kerry's "amazing consistency" has been added below. 3:34 P.M.

kausfiles Gets Results, Unexpectedly! ABC News appears to have actually taken kf's advice and rejiggered its valuable "Evening News Wrap" feature to provide a complete story-by-story rundown. I like the change, of course. It reads quickly and you feel like you've covered all three broadcasts. ... A little heavier on the knowing Note-style characterizations at the beginning (i.e. whether a story twists knife against Bush, or Kerry, with quotes as proof) and they'll be there, I think. ['there' is...?-ed Where they should be!]... 1:50 A.M.

Friday, May 28, 2004


Juan Cole has an explanation for why the U.S. and U.N. might have picked an ex-exile without much domestic support to be the caretaker Iraqi P.M.:

[U.N. special envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi does not want the PM to come from a party with grass roots, lest he use the advantages of incumbency to stay in power.

His unpopularity's not a bug, it's a feature! ... P.S.: Aside from that, I know I'm not alone in failing to completely understand the  odd, decidedly un-transparent procedure by which Dr. Allawi was named. Wasn't the idea to ditch the unpopular U.S. appointed Governing Council and have the non-American U.N. choose the caretaker government? Instead, it at least looks as if the Governing Council has forced the U.N. to perpetuate its influence. (But if Sistani's happy, I guess we should be happy. ... Update: The BBC describes the selection as a revolt against Brahimi by the Governing Council. The NYT agrees. This is not necessarily incompatible with Cole's perverse logic, since a) Allawi was apparently on Brahimi's short list and b) Allawi seems to have been a compromise acceptable (i.e. unthreatening) to two Shiite parties that actually have grassroots support. ....  5:27 P.M.

Today's Papers for the Tube: According to ABC's The Note

Despite sweeping changes in the political media landscape over the last several decades, some rules have remained the same since time began. ...[snip]

TV news coverage drives the rhythms and outcomes of elections, and TV news decision makers (executives, executive producers, anchors, reporters, producers, and, now, Googling monkeys) have their days shaped by reading the morning papers and listening to the radio (which also keys off of the morning papers).


I have some doubts whether this Standard Model of the News Cycle still holds--how many of your friends still get their main political info from the evening news? (That means you in the Heartland too!) ... But even if the mass of the citizenry doesn't get its info from the evening news, the evening news is still important if the commentariat thinks it's important (and gears its commentary to what the evening news shows show). ... In other words, if people that matter still think people that matter watch it, I better try to watch it too. But often I miss it--and I've always thought that one valuable, easy-to-produce Web resource would be a page that simply told you, every day, what stories Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather did. .... It turns out such a page exists. It's produced by ABC, it's called "Evening News Wrap," and though they don't do a very good job of advertising it, you can find it here. ... ABC's page would be better, I think, if its opinionated "Today's Papers"-like summary were supplemented by a rudimentary shorthand list of every story run by the nets and the order in which they ran. (There can't be more than 15 stories on every newscast.) .... Sample: "NBC: 1. Iraq (Najaf); 2. Iraq (Ambush--Mitchell); 3. Kerry (Patriot Act--O'Donnell) ....  CBS: 1. U.S. Terror Threat (Orr); 2. Iraq (Najaf)... etc. ... If the ABC people ever perfect "Evening Newscast Wrap," there'll be no more need for anyone to actually watch the evening news shows at all. Of course, that won't make them any less important. ... 2:13 A.M.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Another Kerry Surrogate Embarrassed: Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger says, "John Kerry has been amazingly consistent from the beginning on Iraq and he has been consistently right on the need for troops ..."  MSNBC's Tom Curryimmediately busts Berger:

In an April 30 Fulton, Mo., speech Kerry said that if U.S. commanders in Iraq need more troops then "they should get them."

Yet last September in a debate with other Democratic contenders in Albuquerque, N.M, Kerry emphatically opposed sending more American troops to Iraq. "We should not send more American troops," he said on Sept 4. "That would be the worst thing. We do not want to have more Americanization, we do not want a greater sense of American occupation." [Emphasis added]


Maybe Berger meant "amazingly consistent for John Kerry." ...Note to pro-withdrawal left: You'll always have Albuquerque! ...

Update: Matthew Yglesias attempts to make sense of Kerry's statements, arguing that Kerry's position last September was that we needed more foreign troops, not American troops. "Back then, [it] looked like it would be possible to secure significant contributions of foreign troops to the operation if the United States was willing to cede control of the political process to the United Nations," Yglesias says. " Kerry's full Albquerque statement suggests Yglesias is right about Kerry's desire for foreign troops. After the bit quoted above about halting "Americanization," Kerry went on:

And the way to do that is do everything possible, including sharing the power, to bring other countries in to take the burden.

A couple of points, however:


1) Like many alleged Kerry flip-flops, this one appears to really be a straddle presented in a dissembling fashion. Kerry may have had a consistent underlying position--'I'll go for foreign troops first, and if that fails I guess I may have to send more U.S. troops'--somewhere between the competing camps. The problem is that he shows each camp the half of his position that he wants it to see, keeping the other half hidden. So he tells Democratic primary voters "we should not send more American troops" without telling them that he in fact would send more American troops if no foreign troops are forthcoming. Then when the second, hidden half of the policy comes out, it looks like Kerry's flip-flopping, when in fact he's just been hiding the ball. I don't know if that's better or worse than flip-flopping. Flip-flopping reflects indecision. Dissembling and straddling reflects a calculated , dishonest opportunism that isn't even smart in the long run (when both halves of the position are bound to come out--as they did in Florida when Kerry boasted of his support for the anti-Castro Helms-Burton bill while absurdly hiding the fact that he ultimately voted against it).

2) It's not clear to me that getting more foreign troops for Iraq (in exchange for power-sharing) really was a lively possibility last September. Keep in mind that the U.N. had just fled the country after its headquarters had been blown up. Were the U.N. and NATO (and France) really going to rush back in to take responsibility for cleaning up Bush's mess? In retrospect, Kerry's "foreign troops" position may have been a convenient mirage--it gave him something to say that wouldn't annoy the anti-escalation left, but it wasn't a realistic possibility. Backfill:NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof was skeptical of the "foreign troops" solution at the time. ("I've asked two Democratic presidential candidates, Richard Gephardt and another who spoke off the record, if it's really credible to offer the U.N. and NATO as a solution to Iraq. They harrumph a bit in a way that I interpret to mean: 'Maybe not, but it works in front of television cameras.'")

3) Of course the situation on the ground was different back in September--there was a battle going on! Specifically, Kerry was in a primary battle against Howard Dean. If Kerry'd been honest--saying "We need more troops. If I can't get foreign troops I'll have to send more American troops as my buddy John McCain wants to do"--he might have lost some votes! So he pandered and said that sending American troops was "the worst thing"--logically implying it was a step he'd never take. Today, what he said was the "worst thing" is the thing he wants to do. I suggest that this is not being "amazingly consistent from the beginning on Iraq." 

4) Berger's "amazingly consistent" quote reflects the natural tension that always exists with campaign surrogates who want to simultaneously a) sell the candidate to voters and b) suck up to the candidate so they'll get jobs in his administration. Imperative (b) often leads surrogates to gild the lily and exaggerate. But the perils of surrogate suckupmanship are particularly acute when the candidate is basically guilty of the charges (i.e. public inconsistency) you are defending him against--and when reporters like Tom Curry are ready to pounce on any evidence of this. .... Hey, at least Berger doesn't have to worry that Kerry's the sort to blame staffers and surrogates for his own mistakes! ...


Update Update: Clinton gave you the Whole Stradde! It turns out Weisberg and Saletan have addressed the flip-flop vs. straddle issue in the context of the Patriot Act and No Child Left Behind Act. They, too, decide that the correct answer is "straddle." Saletan:

Kerry isn't a flipper; he's a leaner. He's got a "yes" foot and a "but" foot. He leans on one foot, then the other, depending on which way the wind blows. But he keeps both feet on the ground.

Saletan says "I don't think it's dishonest." I do. Kerry's not just adjusting his policy to fit changing circumstances. He's adjusting how much of his policy he reveals to fit changing audiences. (P.S.: It's also condescending--as if Kerry's audiences aren't smart enough to find out the rest. Bill Clinton respected his audiences enough to let them in on both sides of his straddles--e.g. abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare.") ...

More:Sandwichboard has actually looked up the definition of "straddle," which hardly seems fair. ... 1:32 P.M.

Wednesday, May 25, 2004

In addition, several of [Kerry's] aides argued that Mr. Bush's troubles made it more likely that Mr. Kerry would go for what is viewed as a safe if unexciting choice such as Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri or Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, rather than a riskier candidate, such as Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican.

Does Nagourney really think that if McCain would agree to be Kerry's running mate, Kerry wouldn't pick him? If Nagourney doesn't think it, why is he giving this implausible Kerry campaign BS--making it looks as if they don't really want McCain anyway--precious play in the NYT? ... P.S.: If it's true, Kerry's an even bigger political wuss than I think he is. But I think it's spin (i.e., not true). ... 10:52 P.M.

Faster Iraq Watch 13: Baseball Crank notes that Hussain Shahristani, the Shiite nuclear scientist said to be slated to head the Iraqi caretaker government after June 30, appears to be an advocate of quick elections. In February of this year he wrote, quite sensibly:

The most practical way to help Iraq now is to allow the U.N. to work with representatives of all constituents of the Iraqi society to develop a formula for early direct elections--an achievable task. Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later. The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established, the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost. [Emphasis added.]

Shahristani has now withdrawn his name--but it may still be significant that U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi wanted to pick a fast-election advocate. Maybe he'll find another. ... P.S.: It's also possible Shahristani was vetoed, either by the U.S. or by the Kurds or Sunnis for precisely this reason--fast elections may be seen as translating into too much power for the Shites. (See Jim Hoagland's unconvincingly gloomy piece charging that "King Abdullah of Jordan and other Sunni leaders poison [Bush's] view of what Shiite rule in Iraq would mean ....") 9:40 P.M.

Arianna and Ralph Reed ... together again! ... P.S. My beef with Arianna's "Go Big" petition-- calling on Kerry to "Campaign on a Bold Vision of Hope"--is its assumption that the only possible Bold Vision of Hope is a traditional left vision. The petition heaps scorn on the "Republican-lite swing voter strategy"--assumed to be the timid, narrow alternative to a BVOH. I think there's a centrist message--based on an appeal to social equality--that can be inspiring and rope in swing voters, even Republicans. But I'm not sure Kerry should hang his campaign strategy on that message either--or any other inspirational message. Kerry's just not cut out to be an inspiring figure, for characterological reasons familiar to readers of this blog. His best bet, it seems to me, is to lower the emotional demands he makes on voters by sticking with the nuts and bolts. He won't do that, of course. He thinks he's "JFK" and will want to be loved. That is a bridge too far. ...  9:39 P.M.

Kerry Fever Has America in its Grip! From Thursday's NYT:

... Mr. Kerry has arrived at big-dollar fundraising dinners to find empty chairs. In their eagerness to defeat Mr. Bush, donors have written large checks to purchase a seat, but have not bothered to turn up to hear Mr. Kerry speak.

One day we may look back and realize that not cancelling Kerry's Boston acceptance speech was the crucial mistake of his campaign. ... 8:58 P.M.

The end of Wonkette? "Mr. Wonkette" is about to get a job with New York magazine. Presumably his wife will move to New York with him, leaving a gaping void in the nation's capital. [Note to Ana: See what you can do with 'gaping void'--Denton] ... Update: Wonkette emails: "Two words--bimunicipal household." ... Right. I was just thinking that there was a distinct undercurrent of bimunicipalism in those photos. [This all you can do with that setup?--ed. Hey, I think I'm on the edge here.] ...1:58 A.M.

Kerry's Brilliant Scheme: Roger Simon (the U.S. News writer, not the novelist/blogger) thinks Kerry's idea of not accepting the Democratic nomination  at his party's convention--in order to accept it a month later--is "too dumb even for politics."

If Kerry does not accept the nomination at his convention, how will he get anybody to watch it? The damn things are dull enough, but a convention without the presidential candidate accepting? Who would tune in to watch such a thing? And by giving up their audience, the Democrats will give up tons of free publicity. [Emphasis added]

I was initially skeptical of the delayed-acceptance idea myself, thinking it too clever by half. But that was before I realized its diabolical tactical brilliance. You see, Kerry's handlers have clearly been busy analyzing reams of scientific opinion research--and they've reached the same conclusion that pollster Scott Rasmussen reached a couple of weeks ago:

Senator Kerry loses a few points every time the spotlight focuses on him. Kerry's numbers bounce back when the focus returns to the President.

Indeed, Kerry has been virtually invisible on the national radar screen lately--and he's been slowly climbing in the polls.

But the Kerry camp faced what might seem to be an insurmountable challenge: the July Democratic convention in Boston, when the nation's press surely plans to focus on the Democratic nominee, beaming his every word into the nation's living rooms, allowing voters to get to know him and take the measure of his character and personality. Kerry's highly-paid strategists instantly recognized that this would be a disaster for their client. So they have crafted a cunning plan designed to get the TV networks to avoid covering the convention entirely, while the reporters who might otherwise be exposing Kerry to the world are convinced to stay at home. (Give up 'tons of free publicity'? Nothing's more threatening to Kerry than tons of free publicity.)

But there's more to the complex plan than just keeping Kerry off the air. By delaying acceptance of the nomination, Kerry can encourage speculation that he might just turn it down! Why, he may not be the nominee at all! This will result in wild journalistic scenarios about possible "Torricelli options," distracting public attention from Kerry's spirit-sapping persona much as chaff dropped from an airplane causes anti-aircraft missiles to veer off-target. Kerry's vice-presidential pick, in particular, will get star treatment from the press--another plus, since he or she will almost certainly be more appealing than Kerry himself. Perhaps Kerry's lawyers can even figure out a way for his vice-presidential choice to formally accept the #2 slot while Kerry delays--making the vice presidential candidate, in effect, the top standard-bearer and spokesman of the Democrats for a few precious weeks.

The "non-acceptance" gambit is not about campaign money. That's just the cover story! (As if money spent in August made that much difference--a point Simon makes rather forcefully.) Nor is Kerry's seemingly suicidal plan to draw attention to himself by giving a series of high-profile national security speeches over the next 11 days anything but another clever feint. The proof: Just see if he actually says anything memorable! According to ABC's The Note, Kerry plans "town-hall meetings and discussions with military families, veterans, and fire and police personnel." Heh, heh. No network news producer is going to bump Iraq off the air for those proven coma-inducers! If it seems like the Kerry planners are trying to put Mark Halperin to sleep, maybe that's because they are.

A convention without an acceptance speech. "Who would tune in to watch such a thing?" Exactly! The Democratic wizards have tipped their hand. Their secret is out.Their game plan has been revealed to the world! It's to keep the American public from realizing until the last possible moment the grim reality that Kerry really is the Democratic alternative.

If they could take Wonkette's advice and have Kerry delay accepting the nomination until, say, November 1, it might actually work. [She said Nov. 3, not Nov.1-ed. Right! Democrats could urge Americans to vote for a nominee to be chosen after the election by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi!} 

Final wrinkle:kf reader A.T. emails with an even more promising scenario for the Dems. The convention meets. Edwards is nominated for V.P. Kerry delays saying 'yes' to the presidential nod and then formally accepts the nomination ... never! While Edwards campaigns against Bush and governs a full four years from the V.P.'s house at the Naval Observatory, Kerry remains Presumed Nominee, an honorary title that allows him to travel the world meeting heads of state, etc. while his more electable underling handles the actual gritty work of running the country. It's win-win! The Democrats get a decent candidate without having to actually dump Kerry. Kerry gets a permanent office surrounded by pomp and portent befitting his manifest destiny. Democrats could even make Presumed Nominee a lifetime title so Kerry could [OK. That's enough.Kerry just  announced he'll accept the nomination in July after all--ed. See. I told you he has no imagination.]  12:47 A.M.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Dem Panic Watch Bonus: Kerry defenders (and numerous kf e-mailers) like to argue that by historical standards he is in relatively good shape against an incumbent. That's true in many comparisons (e.g. 1992). The template I carry around in my head is the 1988 race, in which a beatable, (semi-incumbent) Bush was challenged by somewhat unexciting, respectable, not widely-known Massachusetts politician. And at this point (May)  in the 1988 campaign, Michael Dukakis was ahead by 16 points, 54-38, according to this Gallup poll trend line. If Kerry can't top the charismatic Dukakis, I suggest "panic" is not a completely irrational response among Democrats. ... 11:30 A.M.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The three  most important words in Bush's Iraq speech? Obviously "No later than." As in

The fifth, and most important step is free national elections, to be held no later than next January.

Bush didn't endorse Faster Elections, but he left the door wide open. Maybe he does have "an ability to adapt" after all. ...Update:Slate's Eric Umansky points out that the NYT got this point completely backwards, referring to Bush's plan to "move toward a national Iraqi election as early as next January"--as if that were the soonest elections could conceivably be held, as if Bush hadn't actually said something completely different in his address. Is Elisabeth Bumiller reporting the actual speech or her own preconception? ... (The rest of Bush's speech seemed like the same one we've heard before--not the no-B.S. acknowledgement of the occupation's problems that the occasion required. You get the impression Bush is pitching his talk at a level of rhetorical generality that seems presidential--maybe he's been over the wartime speeches of FDR. But FDR wasn't talking to a public that had just seen cell phone shots of the war's horrors or updated polls on what people in the countries we occupied thought of us or daily pessimistic TV interviews about how badly and unexpectedly everything was going. Update: Michael Barone  made this point yesterday. Via Instapundit.) ... 11:33 P.M.

Dem Panic Watch, Revived! The ABC/WaPo Poll has Bush still tied with Kerry, despite falling approval numbers. "Kerry's having trouble with traction," the polltakers say. You think? ...P.S.: Don't worry Dems! That extra month of funding (caused by delaying the nomination) will save us. Yeah. That's the ticket. ... Update: But the WSJ Zogby poll has Kerry up in big swing states (Ohio, Penn., Mich.). Go here  and click on the "Battleground" link under the ad on the right. (Don't ask me what this feature gains by being "interactive," other than cumbersomeness.). ... Update 2: Several e-mailers, including the recently reclusive Mystery Pollster, point out that the Zogby survey is an online poll, which I hadn't noticed. Sample comment: "Wasn't Zogby unreliable enough using the telephone (in New Hampshire and Georgia)?" Good point. I smell self-selection bias. You may go back to panicking now. .... See also note the somewhat distancing note on the WSJ's  "Overview" page: "the results are weighted, Zogby says, to make them representative of what a poll of the overall U.S. voting population would find." Why "Zogby says"?...Update 3: The new CBS poll  does show Kerry with the kind of lead (8 points) you might expect him to have given the news from Iraq. Gallup, though, like ABC, has the race virtually tied. And Rasmussen's Robots have it as tied as they could possibly have it. ...2:17 P.M.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Faster Iraq Watch 12: Steyn, Bayh, Gingrich on Board! Mark Steyn pretends he's not endorsing "faster elections" but really, if you read his latest piece, you realize he's gone further and endorsed the full Bob Wright plan for piecemeal faster elections. (We can hold them faster if we don't have to wait for all of Iraq to be ballot-ready):

In the Shia province of Dhi Qar, a couple hundred miles southeast of Baghdad, 16 of the biggest 20 cities plus many smaller towns will have elected councils by June. These were the first free elections in Dhi Qar's history and ''in almost every case, secular independents and representatives of nonreligious parties did better than the Islamists.'' ...[snip] ...

That policy of ad hoc, incremental, rolling devolution needs to be accelerated. Towns and provinces should have as much sovereignty as they can handle, on on the obvious principle that the constituent parts of ramshackle federations rarely progress at the same pace.

Steyn covers his change-the-course plea with some tough talk about fixed bayonet charges and the need for resolve, which is fine. .... When smart anti-war people like Wright and smart pro-war people like Steyn say it's time for Bush to drop the idea of holding out for a single, nationwide election way off in January, then maybe it's time for Bush to drop the idea of holding out for a single nationwide election way off in January! ... P.S.: On ABC's This Week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed moving elections up to September--and Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh endorsed faster piecemeal elections. Here's Bayh:

Sooner elections rather than later I think is the right course. Particularly in those parts of country that are stable today and can have them. It might inspire the Sunnis to get their act together and follow course. [Emphasis added.]

Steyn, Bayh, Gingrich, Will, Abramowitz, Sullivan, Wright, Instapundit, Brooks, Kagan, Kristol, Lieberman, McCain... Do we have to get Ann Coulter and Al Franken to issue a joint communique? ... OK, forget McCain, Mr. President. Pretend McCain opposes the idea. ... Bonus buried  lede!kf hears that there is a possibility that Bush will actually include the Faster Elections idea in his speech Monday. He's being lobbied. ... But note that WaPo's Robin Wright quotes an unnamed White House official saying Bush will stress the importance "of adhering to our commitment to the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, and of an election in a January time frame."  [Emphasis added.]   ...7:46 P.M.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Zinni Fever! Catch it over at Talking Points Memo--and in this excellent long interview about Iraq in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He sounds a little too plain-spoken and articulate not to show up Kerry, though. ... Note that Zinni is not an advocate of withdrawing from Iraq:

"We can't leave. ...  I think it would be disastrous. ... Our only hope is to stay there a few years and try to solve it."

He appears to have given some thought to how that might be accomplished. ... KF-4ZBNH:kf was f or Zinni Before New Hampshire--as the running mate for ... Howard Dean! That was back in the good old days when choosing a Democratic VP candidate meant finding someone who would balance the top of the ticket as opposed to finding someone who would erase all conscious memory of the top of the ticket. ... P.S.: Don't sell that Dem Panic stock yet! Didn't Kerry just dump tens of millions of dollars worth of ads into "battleground" states? Shouldn't he be doing better than losing 43-37 in those states, even in a Fox poll, given the decline in Bush's standing? ... 2:44 A.M.

Bad Hed Day:

Abuse Inflicted to Punish Prisoners, Amuse Jailers
Documents indicate treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was not an interrogation strategy.

That's the encouraging WaPo Web headline for Saturday's excellent Higham and Stephens story on Abu Ghraib. ... Maybe the abuse really was the work of a few out-of-line sadists after all, you think.  ... Unfortunately, the bulk of the story is 180 degrees off from the headline, reporting numerous instances where abuse--though perhaps not the photos of naked human pyramids--clearly was an interrogation strategy. For example:

Davis said Graner and Frederick encouraged him to participate in the incidents.

"The MI staffs, to my understanding, have been giving Graner compliments on the way he has been handling the MI holds," Davis said. "Example being statements like 'Good job, they're breaking down real fast'; 'They answer every question'; 'They're giving out good information, finally'; and 'Keep up the good work' -- stuff like that."

Investigators asked if he had heard military intelligence officers directing the guards to abuse detainees.

"Yes," he said.

Davis said the intelligence officers told Graner and Frederick: "Loosen this guy up for us. Make sure he has a bad night. Make sure he gets the treatment."

2:09 A.M.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Always float the lead balloons on Friday: "I accept your nomination but I actually don't accept your nomination before I accept it."--John Kerry at the Democratic convention in Boston, July 29, 2004. ... 2:30 P.M.

Battle of Jeers: Byron York finally points out that, according to Seymour Hersh (and contrary to the convenient goo-goo win-win CW on interrogation techniques) Rumsfeld's secret torture plan worked--it produced good intelligence. That doesn't mean it was a) moral or b) smart--in the medium term it may also cause us to lose the war in Iraq (and we might have beaten back the insurgent attacks without the extra intelligence). In the long run it may create much, much more terrorism than even a successful Iraq war will prevent. But it's not nuthin'. ... 4:30 A.M.

Faster Iraq Watch 11: "June 30 can't come quickly enough for the good of Iraq" says a headline in the U.K. Telegraph. But what, exactly, will change on June 30? Not that much, it turns out. The Iraqi government to which we will transfer sovereignty will still be regarded by many Iraqis as illegitimate. It will still be attacked by the collection of Baathists, terrorists, extremists and Sunnis that is attacking the current U.S.-installed Governing Council. American troops will still be need to provide security, and there still won't be enough of them, and they'll still take casualties. The "sovereign" government could, indeed, collapse. Yet June 30 has been pronounced so important by the Bush administration that the President will give a weekly address every week until the great day arrives.

This has all the makings of "Mission Accomplished II." The June 30 transfer will be "accomplished," but none of the essentials will change. Indeed, we're told by our commanding generals, the violence will probably get worse.

What will make the violence get better? It seems obvious to me: Elections! Elections and the legitimacy that only they can bring--even in a region that has known no democracy--because they will pick leaders who reflect the actual wishes of Iraqis. Elections currently scheduled for January, giving the terrorists and Baathists six long, hot months to head them off with a campaign of chaos and  violence. The way to forestall this nightmare seems obvious too: If elections are the real "transfer" date after which we'll be able to breathe easier, bring them on! Or, rather, move them up. That Telegraph hed should have read "Elections can't come quickly enough for the good of Iraq."

Leslie Gelb and Jim Hoagland--who've written basically the same provocative change-the-course argument (in Thursday's WSJ  and WaPo, respectively)--have a different answer. They argue the key to stability is a semi-partition that gives Iraq's three basic ethnic groups autonomy in their various regions, within a loose national federation--and that will protect the rights of minorities inside those ethnic regions. When it comes to securing stability and U.S. interests, elections, in this Gelb/Hoagland view, appear to be secondary to regional autonomy. Neither man calls for speeding up elections in any of the three regions. Hoagland doesn't seem to put much of a premium on democracy within the Shiite or Sunni areas--and you get the feeling that Gelb, although he calls for sticking with the elections "procedures already agreed upon by the U.S. and U.N.," also thinks that democracy may be one of the "Utopian" goals to which Bush needs to stop clinging.

I suppose it's possible that giving each etnnic group its own autonomous region would in itself produce stability, even without democracy. I'm no expert on Iraq, and I'm not a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, much less its president emeritus. But I have questions:

1) Would there be no internal violence over who is to lead each region? Is the leader of the Shiites, and especially the Sunnis, so obvious that elections wouldn't serve a necessary purpose of avoiding a violent jockeying for power? Would it bring peace to Southern Iraq, for example, if we said "Here. You'll have your own autonomous region"--or would that set off a more intense battle between Sistani, Sadr, and others? (Keep in mind that even if we cannot establishing an ongoing democracy with regular elections in these regions--even if we are installing authoriarian regimes--elections are handy way to let Iraqis in each region pick which authoritarian regime to install! "One man, one vote, one time" is a lot better than "power grows out of the barrel of a gun.")

2) Gelb says he'd protect minority rights within each of these regions--focusing "almost all American leverage" on this goal. But would that really be possible? ythe Kurds have done a bit of ethnic cleansing, we're told. Gelb himself says it takes "decades" to develop a culture in which the losers of elections have confidence they will be treated fairly. But hated ethnic minorities are going to have that confidence overnight? Hello? If any U.S.war goal sets off your Utopianometer, it should be this one--what might be called Gelb's National Ethnic Bill of Rights. Holding a one-time fair election in each minority-abusing region, in comparison, looks like a piece of cake. (And if we are going to be able to guarantee minority rights throughout Iraq, why not go ahead and create an ongoing national democracy, with its salutary demonstration effect for the Middle East?)

These factors suggest that the real key to stopping the violence, and the rising hostility to the U.S., is still elections, not partition. Partition itself, while achievable, will not stop violence or the need for a resentment-producing U.S. troop presence. (Protection of minority rights, while desirable, may not even be achievable.)

What partition--or, rather, "a loose federation with three largely self-governing regions"--does do is enable the elections solution to work. First, it allows elections in each region to be held on different dates, as soon as the security situation in each region allows it. No need for the Shiites to wait until the Sunni triangle calms down. (And, as Bob Wright points out, a successful Shiite election will give Sunnis a big incentive to calm down.)

Second, "autonomy/federation" will allow elections within each region to bring relative peace in that region, even if the conflicts between these various regional ethnic groups over the shape of the (weak) national government remain unresolved. We don't have to decide how Sunnis will be protected against Shia domination in order to stop the fighting in Karbala,. We just have to have an elected, legitimate Shiite government that can then pursue Shiite interests on the national Iraqi stage. (U.S. troops would still have to be ready if Sunnis stage an invasion of the South, or vice-versa, but that seems unlikely.)

The Gelb/Hoagland semi-partition plan, then, seems like a great first step toward holding faster elections, which remain the key to succeeding in Iraq before we completely wear out our welcome. Too bad Gelb and Hoagland leave out Step #2.

But what do I know!

P.S.: Elections are the key to international legitimacy as well as to legitimacy among Iraqis. Surely assistance from non-coalition countries will be more forthcoming if it goes to help a federation of elected regional ethnic governments than a federation of self-promoted regional ethnic strongmen--or a federation of autonomous regions in which embattled appointed officials are planning to have elections some time next year.

P.P.S.: I know this is farfetched, but if someone somewhere in the Bush administration is pondering the domestic political upside and downside of having quicker elections over in Iraq, they might focus on this passage in Hoagland's piece:

A sham [June 30] transfer of power that allows Washington to continue to make the important political, economic and security decisions is an awful outcome for Iraq, and for Bush. A fig-leaf cabinet in Baghdad would be vulnerable to disruption or even being forced from office by violence and popular demonstrations at any point during the U.S. presidential campaign. It could become an albatross around Bush's reelection neck. [Emphasis added.]

Bumper sticker version of this Bush 2004 strategy: "Elect Sistani First." 3:51 A.M.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Faster Iraq Watch 10: Another reason to accelerate the date of elections in Iraq is that it might throw the terrorists' timing off. Assume that it may take several months to plan a really destructive attack. If Zarqawi is planning a series of big bombings in late December to prevent Iraqis from democratically expressing themselves in January, it might really screw him up if elections are moved up to September. ... Of course, if disrupting his plans were our goal, it would be smart to delay announcing any speed-up of elections for a couple of months--the better to lull him into thinking he has lots of time. I hope this is what Bush and Brahimi are actually planning. ... 2:33 A.M.

Is Sadr Wiser? Juan Cole's blog again offers much better coverage of developments in Najaf and Karbala  than either the NYT or WaPo, although the latter has some information. What happened? The dueling Sistani vs. Sadr demonstrations appear to have been inconclusive, although Sadr's hardly sounds impressive. Meanwhile the Sistani camp is accusing the Sadr forces of spraying Sistani's house with machine gun fire. ... Cole also endeavors to explain his differences with Amir Taheri, arguing that their two accounts are not that contradictory and clarifying what he means when he says that "Muqtada [Sadr] has now won politically and morally."

When I say Muqtada has won politically, I mean that he has stood up to the US for a month and a half, has survived, is continuing to defy it, and his forces still occasionally show an ability to surprise the coalition (as when they briefly tossed the Italians off their base near Nasiriyah earlier this week). I mean that he has enhanced his popularity nationally. I mean that he has made the US look like an oppressive tyrant. Paul Wolfowitz kept crowing last summer about how the US saved the Marsh Arabs from Saddam, but now that many of them have joined the Sadrists in Kut and Amara, Wolfowitz is having the Marsh Arabs killed just as Saddam did, and for the same reasons. Muqtada may well be doomed, but his movement is not going to go away, and his doom will just make him a national martyr and cause all sorts of new problems for the US. [Emphasis added.]

If that's what 'winning' means, then yes, there is less of a contradiction than I thought. ... I still think there's a contradiction: Taheri doesn't simply say that Sistani "has more authority." He's saying Sadr's challenge has been a miscalculation. ... Still, I now have a better picture of the range of possibilities in this tense situation, which could yet produce a disaster for the U.S. (e.g. the destruction of the Shiite's sacred shrines and subsequent turning of Southern Iraq firmly against us). I am grateful to Cole for his serious response--though his equating of Wolfowitz and Saddam suggests why he's still too shrill to be completely trustworthy in my book. ... P.S.: Why isn't the mainstream press doing a better job covering the Sadr rebellion? The obvious reason is that it's extremely dangerous for reporters, especially American reporters, to go to the Najaf/Karbala area. One journalist was killed there yesterday. It's presumably much less risky to stay in Baghdad and report on Abu Ghraib court martials. But that doesn't make the latter story more important than the former. ... Update: Cole responds--you make the call!--and the NYT posts a more informative report  on the U.S. pullback in Karbala (plus renewed negotiations regarding Sadr that Cole referred to yesterday). ... P.P.S.: It would be cheap and immature to note that in the course of asserting his complete reliability Cole misquotes me twice. I wrote that he was too shrill to be "completely trustworthy" (Cole puts "completely reliable" in quotes) and I certainly didn't call him "unreliable." Cole also lumps me in with the bellicose Andrew Sullivan as part of "the Right," and calls the mildly critical comments above "character assassination." I rest my case. 2:13 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--Busting the education "blob." Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk