Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Good Doctor's Cure for Iraq

Michael O'Hanlon puts forth an exemplary analysis of Howard Dean's Iraq policy in the Wall Street Journal. He highlights two major problems, the second of which should be familiar to loyal P&F readers:
Worst of all is the new Dean television ad in Iowa. In that spot, he chastises Dick Gephardt for supporting President Bush's Iraq policy, and then concludes, "I opposed the war in Iraq. And I'm against spending another $87 billion there." Mr. Dean does not say he opposed the specifics of the administration's supplemental appropriation, which would be a partially defensible position held by several other Democratic candidates. Rather, he categorically opposes an expense of that magnitude in ads running right now in the Hawkeye State. Unfortunately for the country and for the soundness of Mr. Dean's argument, there is no way to stabilize Iraq and protect U.S. security interests in the region without an expenditure in that ballpark.
It bears repeating that Dean really does himself no justice on this point. See if you can decipher the key paragraphs of his official statement on the appropriation, because I certainly have a hard time doing so:
Let me be clear, I strongly support our troops and hope, with all Americans, for their safe return home. And the responsible action for our troops is to demand that the President immediately submit a new plan for supporting our troops and rebuilding Iraq. The results of the last hastily-made Iraq policy decision are all too evident today. Congress owes it to our troops, the American people and the people in Iraq to make the right decision this time.

I would oppose President Bush's latest request for a blank check unless the President submits a new plan that is paid for out of the tax cut. The new plan must give our troops what they need and bring them home safely, share this burden with other nations, ensure the stabilization and rebuilding of Iraq, and make sure that the billions of dollars we are spending are not wasted and used to pay off big corporations. Congress must demand that the President submit this new plan immediately. [Emphasis added.]
Clearly, Dean opposes the President's request. But why, exactly? Is it simply because it comes without rolling back the tax cuts? No. Dean mentions "stabilization," rebuilding," and other noble ideas.

In fact, the idea that stands out prominently is the one about the troops. But what is he saying? The italicized phrases show him expressing "support," but his definition is muddled. In some points, he wants them to return safely. In other points, he urges the reconstruction. The last italicized part emphasizes the importance of "giv[ing] our troops what they need." By this time, however, you're not quite sure whether Dean believes that "what they need" relates to mission accomplishment or whether it relates to premature withdrawal, since the very next words are "bring them home safely."

It's very easy to get the sense that he's kowtowing to different audiences, as O'Hanlon observes. Moreover, Dean seems to be doing so to try to stand out: he ends, for example, by contrasting his consistent opposition to administration policy against the shaky positions of his Democratic rivals. Thus his own stance smacks of political opportunism.

The Plame Affair in Vanity Fair

Glenn Reynolds is understandably troubled by the latest news, as reported by Howard Kurtz:
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson has been quite protective of his wife, Valerie Plame, in the weeks since her cover as a CIA operative was blown.

"My wife has made it very clear that -- she has authorized me to say this -- she would rather chop off her right arm than say anything to the press and she will not allow herself to be photographed," he declared in October on "Meet the Press."

But that was before Vanity Fair came calling.

The January issue features a two-page photo of Wilson and the woman the magazine calls "the most famous female spy in America," a "slim 40-year-old with white-blond hair and a big, bright smile." They are sitting in their Jaguar.


Plame is wearing a scarf and big glasses, which just adds to the aura of mystery. In a second shot on their terrace at the couple's home near Georgetown, she holds a newspaper in front of her face.

"The pictures should not be able to identify her, or are not supposed to," Wilson said yesterday. "She's still not going to answer any questions and there will not be any pictures that compromise her." The reason, said Wilson, is that "she's still employed" by the CIA "and has obligations to her employer."


Ron Beinner, a contributing photography producer at Vanity Fair, said Plame was not originally scheduled to participate in the Nov. 8 shoot, but agreed to join her husband once "she felt suitably disguised."
When the Plame story first broke, I focused on the national security dimension. I'm still concerned about this issue and want the investigation to proceed. Intelligence, covert operations, and other related matters are very important, especially with the War on Terror still ongoing, and I want the Bush administration to be fully committed.

Glenn proclaims the scandal "bogus." Though I hesitate to sign on to the proclamation just yet, I frankly wouldn't be surprised to learn down the line that the matter was overblown, given the Wilson couple's act.

Here's what irks me the most: Wilson claims that the White House leaked his wife's identity for political reasons. Yet he's using the scandal for similarly ignoble reasons, including book deals. To be sure, the leak is far more serious. But there's something very unsettling about how Wilson criticizes the administration for inappropriately using intelligence when he himself fails to treat the matter with the delicacy it deserves.

I can understand if he's railing against the Bush inner circle in the interest of exposing its alleged thuggery. I can also understand if Plame's out in public and photographers just happen to snap a shot. But posing for a magazine, even if "disguised," indicates a slimy agenda.

P&F Gets Results from Robert Samuelson!

A half-year after I questioned the notion of partisan polarization, we find this Washington Post column, which makes the same argument. Note the conclusion:
As for media and intellectual elites -- commentators, academics, columnists, professional advocates -- they're in an attention-grabbing competition. They need to establish themselves as brand names. For many, stridency is a strategy. The right feeds off the left and the left feeds off the right, and although their mutual criticisms constitute legitimate debate, they're also economic commodities. To be regarded by one side as a lunatic is to be regarded by the other as a hero -- and that can usually be taken to the bank through more TV appearances, higher lecture fees, fatter book sales and larger audiences and group memberships. Polarization serves their interests. Principle and self-promotion blend.

All this is understandable and, in a democracy, perhaps unavoidable. But it distorts who we are and poses a latent danger: Someday we might become as hopelessly polarized as we're already supposed to be. [Emphasis added.]
I'm not quite prepared to embrace Samuelson's doomsday scenario, though his point is well-taken. But he ignores an alternative: isn't it possible for the less-polarized citizenry to become disillusioned with the more-polarized elites, thus exacerbating the disconnect between average Joes and Janes and party leaders, media honchos, and public intellectuals? This is David King's thesis. It's more plausible to me than Samuelson's, which seems to overestimate the influence of institutions and gatekeepers.

NB: Say, you think that Samuelson might have his own vested interests, do you?! After all, there's no better way for a columnist to get attention than to be contrarian. Hmmm....

Monday, September 29, 2003

Here We Go

Gird your loins, boys and girls, it's time for the California Election! The good news is that in 24 hours, it'll be over, unless someone manages to pull a Florida on us, which all things considered, would be the least surprising thing about this whole mess. But no matter what, Californians are about to get the government they deserve, and you can take that statement however you want to take it.

You ask: "John, if you were still in California, how would you vote?" Well, I'll tell you, since I'm not, so I can't. First, I'd vote against the recall, because, really, what a foolish idea, people. If some person with more money than sense can just spend a couple million to invalidate an election for no other reason than not liking the guy who is governor, you have to question the utility of elections in the first place. You might as well just punt to oligarchy. I don't have any special love for Gray Davis, but my personal threshold of recall involves undeniable criminal activity, which is not the case here.

But as I understand it, Californians also have to list their choice for governor even if they vote against the recall. And I have to say I'd probably vote for Schwarzenegger just to see what happens next. I realize, of course, that this is a terrifying reason to vote for anyone for anything. But if you're going to go screaming over the precipice of sanity, might as well do it in style. And who knows? Maybe he can pull it off. In any event, it saves us from that Conan movie that's loitering in pre-production.

The blog world is all over this. Here are some sources for commentary and such for today's election: PrestoPundit, CalBlog, The California Insider, Boomshock, and I'll be surprised if CalPundit doesn't have a few things to say by the end of the day.

Good luck, California! You're gonna need it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The mind behind Schwarzenegger's muscle

For the real scoop on Arnold Schwarzenegger, turn off the TV and head to the library. Although he'll announce his decision on a gubernatorial run on Wednesday's "Tonight Show," his best-selling books reveal the strategies that influence his decision-making -- and may give a better clue to his political intentions.

"The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" and "Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder" cover more than the physique. They also cover "the most powerful tool": the mind. Between discussions of dumbbells and biceps, Schwarzenegger explains his reliance on plans, analyses and psychological warfare, and he describes their application to business and acting.

They apply to politics, too. Schwarzenegger never mentions public office, but in advising Mr. Olympia contestants to accept that every judge has a bias, he demonstrates pragmatism: "Politics are simply the way human beings get together and regulate their behavior and the behavior of the institutions in which they are involved. . . . Politics are a fact of life." In California, it is a fact of life that a tax-cut message alone attracts insufficient support, so Schwarzenegger stresses compassion. At the Proposition 13 Silver Anniversary Gala, he criticized the budget not only because "taxpayers are facing an increase," but also because "teachers are getting pink slips [and] cops are getting laid off." Such pragmatism makes him electable.

On the other hand, it could make him reluctant to enter an unprecedented race. Though some analysts argue that a short campaign favors Schwarzenegger, a chaotic election might expose his political inexperience. If he wins, he must face the fallout from budget wrangling over the $38 billion deficit and a Democratic-led Legislature amid high expectations. These considerations suggest that he might wait until at least 2006.

But as his outline on effective training strategies shows, Schwarzenegger may have no problems taking a pass: "You need to choose the right time and place to do battle. . . . You need to be confident of your battle tactics, know when to attack, when to withdraw, and how to conserve ammunition."

With only the campaign for after-school programs (Proposition 49) under his belt, Schwarzenegger may consider himself a political lightweight and thus unprepared for the election. If so, he will pave the way for Richard Riordan: "At whatever level you're competing, realizing that certain contests may be over your head and choosing one that you have a better chance of winning is no disgrace -- just good sense."

Schwarzenegger may have other reasons to endorse Riordan, including the latter's 6 percent edge among likely voters. Either way, the alliance bears significant advantages. "I was a strong believer in training partners," says Schwarzenegger. "I needed someone not only to teach me but to inspire me. I trained better, harder, if I was around someone whose enthusiasm was as strong as mine and who would be impressed by my enthusiasm." Today, Schwarzenegger coordinates with -- and may even offer his consultants to -- Riordan.

Because he believes that a partnership "becomes a marriage," Schwarzenegger may rely even more on his wife, Maria Shriver, who has a unique understanding of media and politics. As a journalist, she has seen the scrutiny of politicians. As a member of the Kennedy family, she has witnessed both the glory and the tragedy of power. She has also helped Schwarzenegger plot his movie career, so she knows the kind of roles that suit him best.

Whether Schwarzenegger will run remains to be seen, but his decision will surely reflect his belief that "winning can become a habit if you handle your career properly." To doubters he has one thing to say: "I can use the information and discipline I learned in bodybuilding for perfecting other aspects of my life."