Monday, January 25, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
The crux of what I'm saying is: Healthcare reform is not unpopular; the healthcare reform process is unpopular. The two are difficult to disaggregate which is part of the reason why I discount the polls that say Healthcare reform is unpopular. Given the wide agreement that the healthcare system in this country is too expensive and broken to a greater or lesser degree, I think that the passing the bill and putting some reform in place may ex post facto render Healthcare reform popular. I may be wrong and, whether it becomes popular will depend on the ability of its proponents to present it convincingly in a popular light, but three things are true today: 1. The healthcare reform process is unpopular; 2. the duration of the healthcare reform process has hurt the Democrats politically; and 3. healthcare reform is necessary. If the Democrats are going to pay a political price regardless of its passage—and they will—then passing something, giving them the opportunity to change the conversation and demonstrate an ability to govern, is the better tactic.
UPDATE: David Plouffe writes in today's Washington Post:
[P]olitically speaking, if we do not pass [healthcare reform], the GOP will continue attacking the plan as if we did anyway, and voters will have no ability to measure its upside. If we do pass it, dozens of protections and benefits take effect this year. Parents won't have to worry their children will be denied coverage just because they have a preexisting condition. Workers won't have to worry that their coverage will be dropped because they get sick. Seniors will feel relief from prescription costs. Only if the plan becomes law will the American people see that all the scary things Sarah Palin and others have predicted -- such as the so-called death panels -- were baseless. We own the bill and the health-care votes. We need to get some of the upside.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Win or lose, Coakley’s campaign—like Deed’s campaign in Virginia last year—offers important lessons for the Democrats going into the midterm election. Unfortunately, without exit polls, it will be difficult to construct an extensive post-mortem on the campaign. However, it seems that we can already draw two lessons: 1) don’t take elections for granted; 2) Congress must get something done.
As to the first point, lest we forget Coakley is running to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat. In Massachusetts. And there is a very real possibility that she will lose. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of this point. The lack of intensity, the lack of campaigning, and the lack of focus on this race has let Scott Brown become the favorite to win. Clearly, if Democrats are vulnerable in Massachusetts, they are vulnerable anywhere. Were I the RNC, I would throw money at every Congressional race in the country coming out of today.
As to the second point, Democrats, it’s clear that we are going to sink or swim together. The last year has been a terrible example of our party’s inability to control the message. The American people appear to be frustrated with Congress’s performance and its seeming inability to get anything done. Stop playing to the Republican’s message that Democrats can’t be trusted to govern: put a healthcare bill on President Obama’s desk; confirm the outstanding administration appointees; speak in consonance as a caucus about the issues confronting the nation. Without both tangible results and a coherent defense of Congressional action for the next 10 months, the midterm election will be a disaster. We may be nostalgic for 1994 at the end of this cycle.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
But other militants allied with the Afghan Taliban factions and Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, too, leading to another troubling possibility: that all those militant groups are cooperating more closely than ever.
Cooperation between militant groups is certainly a possibility. Indeed, there are many disparate groups that are embroiled in the AfPak conflict who routinely take on Afghan or NATO forces—the Uzbek Islamist Movement is a good example of a non-Taliban, non-Al-Qaeda organization with its own goals but that cooperates with the Afghan and presumably the Pakistani Taliban.
And, while competing claims of responsibility may indicate cooperation, it seems more likely that the bombing of the CIA’s operating base in Afghanistan—given the coverage it has received and the nature of the target—is high profile success for which ever militant group that can lay claim to it. Such successes would likely raise the standing of the group responsible for it and may improve its ability to recruit fighters and garner support. Thus, the competing claims of responsibility are less indicative of cooperation than of the desirability to have owned the operation in question. Further, the ebullient praise that the suicide bomber levels on Baitullah Mehsud in the video in question buttresses the notion that the Pakistani Taliban is solely responsible for the bombing.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Aside from being the hiding place for the now infamous American-born Imam al-Alawi, Yemen was the sight of one of the earliest US predator strikes after 9/11. Yemen is also where the USS Cole was bombed in 2000.
More troubling, though, is that Yemen is fundamentally unstable. Just twenty years ago Yemen was still two separate states. Shortly after unification in 1990, civil war broke out and Yemen has remained—to greater or lesser extent—at war with itself since.
Despite significant US aid to Yemen over the last decade, the country has only become less stable. Despite covert US action against Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the country has only seen growth of that organization. The government of Yemen is waging a war against Houthi rebels in the north of the country, while Al-Qaeda is camped in the southern part of the country. Saudi Arabia has reportedly bombed Houthi rebel positions inside Yemen and there are unconfirmed reports that Saudi soldiers have crossed the border. Yemen is in a bad way and it’s getting worse.
So, what’s to be done? Clearly, Yemen is not a place to deploy US troops. Putting more US soldiers on the Arabian peninsula would only outrage the Muslim world. Further, it is unclear that US soldiers supporting President Saleh, an autocrat, would actually improve his position (and thereby our security)—to say nothing of American standing and moral authority. Nor is it clear that greater expenditures in foreign aid will improve
What is clear, though, is that instability remains a threat to US national security. Weak governments, unable to control their territory, and vulnerable, impoverished populations, provide ample opportunity for transnational organization to gestate. Al-Qaeda has demonstrated its willingness to take advantage of these opportunities: in Taliban-era Afghanistan, in the tribal region of Pakistan, and in Yemen. It is quite likely that even if the United States manages to oust or severely weaken Al-Qaeda in Yemen, that additional affiliates will grow and strengthen in the other nether-reaches of the planet—a likely environment sits just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen in Somalia. US national security must focus both on confronting Al-Qaeda—through military or law enforcement means, as the situation dictates—and on confronting the ungoverned portions of the Earth. The United States should support those indigenous entities that manage to develop into putative States and governments—entities whose writ and legitimacy are frequently stronger than the recognized governments they stand in contradistinction to. US decision maker must become savvier and more sophisticated; they should not be easily convinced by regional powers that some putative State is really a front for Al-Qaeda when that regional power is pursuing its own ends.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
And the Republicans have not discarded this line of attack with the demise of the Soviet Union. No, Democrats are no longer Soft on Communism, now they are Soft on Terrorism. Democrats do not take seriously the threat posed by Al Qaeda. Democrats do not consider the danger of terror attacks. Democrats want the terrorists to win. Democrats hate America.
The theme of these sorts of attacks emerged immediately in the aftermath of 9/11. The 2002 midterm elections were characterized by sweeping, unfounded attacks on Democrats along these lines. Despite becoming the object of ridicule by the middle of the decade, the line of attack has not yet died.
Since the failed Christmas Day underwear bombing, a panoply of Republicans have come reprised the Soft on Terrorism attack, directing it at the President. To characterize these attacks as cynical and inaccurate would be an understatement. In fact, a number of strong, independent rebuttals have appeared in places like the editorial page of today’s Washington Post.
But, while the Republican attacks in this vain are obscene and offensive, what concerns me is not their reemergence—sadly, this is just the nature of the modern, dishonest Republican party—but that the Pres. Obama walked into them. Like it or not, despite the horrendous mishandling of Afghanistan and US foreign policy under the previous administration, the Democratic party is still playing from a position of weakness when it comes to national security issues, including terrorism. As the leader of the Democratic party, President Obama and his administration should be aware that any misstep—real or perceived—will come back to haunt the Democratic party in 2010, 2012, and going forward so long as terrorism is a live issue. Thus, while I have all sorts of other problems with Pres. Obama taking a 10 day Hawaiian vacation for Christmas, his failure to cut short his vacation to return to Washington, DC is unforgivable—while true, it is clearly no effective political answer to point out that Pres. Obama’s reaction was similar (arguably more lively) than Pres. Bush’s reaction in the nearly identical Richard Reid incident in 2001.
While I generally applaud the job that Pres. Obama and his administration have done with foreign policy and national security, Pres. Obama cannot forget that the opposition party will cynically exploit any opportunity presented. Though it may be distasteful, it is their nature. What’s more, the Republicans have not played their cards close to their vest—it was clear from the outset of Pres. Obama’s administration that the Republican party would do their very best to undermine the President and capitalize on any opportunity presented. Here, the President’s reaction—or lack of reaction—to the Christmas Day underwear bombing has given the Republican Party plenty of ammunition to label Democrats as Soft on Terrorism.
Now, President Obama, fix the holes in the system, prosecute the would-be bomber, and get out in front of the next story.
Monday, December 28, 2009
First, we do not know enough about internal dynamics in Iran to intervene intelligently, and trying to reinforce or support the Green Movement is as likely to hurt them as to help them. So our official position needs to measured and temperate, and to scrupulously avoid any suggestion that we are egging the Greens on or actively backing them with material aid.
Second, this is an especially foolish time to be rattling sabers and threatening military action. Threatening or using force is precisely the sort of external interference that might give the current regime a new lease on life. If you’d like to see a new government in Tehran, in short, we should say relatively little and do almost nothing. I don’t object to making it clear how much the U.S. government deplores the regime’s repressive measures, but this is one of those moment where we ought to say less than we feel.
. . . In fact, the velvet revolutions were a triumph of slow and patient engagement from a position of strength. The upheavals in Eastern Europe were an indigenous phenomenon and the product of containment, diplomatic engagement, and the slow-but-steady spread of democratic ideals through the Helsinki process and other mechanisms. And the first Bush administration was smart enough to keep its hands off until the demise of communism was irreversible, which is precisely the approach we ought to take toward Iran today.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Marking the seventh day since Grand Ayatollah Montazeri's death and Ashura, opposition protesters have taken to the streets of Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Qom, among other cities. The protests have been large and endured some violence with 12 protesters reportedly killed already--including, importantly, Mir Hussein Mousavi's nephew. Protests have been marked by chants of Marg Bar Dictator--down with the dictator--and Allahu Akbar.
For updates on what is happening in Iran, check out Iran News Now, Andrew Sullivan, Tehran Live, or Tehran Bureau. The LA Times, NY Times, and the BBC have done a pretty good job reporting, as well.