Ed Morrissey has blogged at Captain's Quarters since 2003, and has a daily radio show at BlogTalkRadio, where he serves as Political Director. Called "Captain Ed" by his readers, Ed is a father and grandfather living in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, a native Californian who moved to the North Star State because of the weather.
CQ Radio From The Nation's Capital
I've landed in Washington DC for the CPAC conference tomorrow. I'm not staying at the Omni Shoreham, where the conference is being held; I got my reservations too late to get a room there. I'm nearby, in a hotel where the accommodations can best be described as "prison chic". The bed appears to be the Mahatma Gandhi model offered at finer hotels everywhere, but it'll do. I don't plan to spend much time here anyway.
The Internet show tomorrow will feature at least one interview, with Arkansas Governor and Presidential contender Mike Huckabee. Describing himself as the one true conservative in the race, and one of the few Republicans running with extensive executive experience in public office, Huckabee wants to re-enact 1992 when another Arkansas Governor came out of nowhere to win the nomination. I'll also update listeners on the events at CPAC, and take your calls at 646-652-4889.
Early Polling Shows Obama Gaining On Hillary
Keep in mind that polling this early in a presidential cycle has the same level of predictive value as Uncle Earl's trick knee has in alerting you to bad weather. With that in mind, if not in knee, the front-page article at the Washington Post on their latest polling does show some developing storms for the presumed frontrunner in the Democratic Party nomination race:
The latest poll put Clinton at 36 percent, Obama at 24 percent, Gore at 14 percent and Edwards at 12 percent. None of the other Democrats running received more than 3 percent. With Gore removed from the field, Clinton would gain ground on Obama, leading the Illinois senator 43 percent to 27 percent. Edwards ran third at 14 percent. The poll was completed the night Gore's documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Academy Award.
Clinton's and Obama's support among white voters changed little since December, but the shifts among black Democrats were dramatic. In December and January Post-ABC News polls, Clinton led Obama among African Americans by 60 percent to 20 percent. In the new poll, Obama held a narrow advantage among blacks, 44 percent to 33 percent. The shift came despite four in five blacks having a favorable impression of the New York senator.
African Americans view Clinton even more positively than they see Obama, but in the time since he began his campaign, his favorability rating rose significantly among blacks. In the latest poll, 70 percent of African Americans said they had a favorable impression of Obama, compared with 54 percent in December and January.
That contrasts with a poll taken by CNN, which shows black voters giving Obama a "cool reception" and favoring Hillary by 15-20 points. However, as poorly predictive as a February 2007 poll is to the 2008 primary races might be, it still has more credibility than a poll conducted in the first week of December. That's when CNN took the poll that for some reason they released last night:
The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted December 5-7, 2006, found that 65 percent of whites thought America was ready, compared with 54 percent of blacks. The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 5 percentage points.
I'd say it was plus-or-minus 12 weeks.
The Washington Post poll has more interesting data in its internals. Hillary has now dropped below 50% in favorability, with a thin +1 differential and only a 3-point undecided margin. Obama has a 53% approval rating and a +23 differential. It shows two candidates going in opposite directions, and with Obama scoring better among black voters, both trends will probably continue.
Over on the GOP side, Giuliani continues to outstrip the competition. He's extended his lead over the #2 man, John McCain, from 7 points in January to 23 points now. Newt Gingrich scores a third-place position without having made any moves to join the race, garnering 15%. If he is removed from the equation, most of his support goes to Giuliani, a dynamic that seems very strange on policy, but very predictable based on leadership. Mitt Romney continues to trail in the polling, coming in a distant fourth at 4%.
These numbers will get plenty of discussion -- and plenty of criticism -- at CPAC, which starts tomorrow. I'll be traveling after work tonight to DC to attend the conference and look forward to seeing all of the Republican candidates make their cases for nomination to the gathered conservatives. (Well, almost all.) Keep checking back during CPAC for interviews and assessments during the day.
Citadel Of Capitalism Demands Government Subsidy
When relatives come to the Twin Cities for a visit, natives usually have to endure at least one trip to the Mall of America. The largest shopping mall in the US sports three levels of retail stores and restauarants, and a walk around each level will put three-quarters of a mile on the pedometer. With the revenue that the mall generates, one could feed a small nation -- and yet, when the owners want to add more parking as part of an expansion project that will generate even more revenue, where to they go to cover the cost?
This year, the megamall wants $181 million from state taxpayers to build an 8,000-space parking garage. That's the centerpiece of a package of state and local subsidies worth about $234 million, money the Mall of America says it needs for a $1.9 billion expansion that would double its size.
Last year, state legislators didn't vote on a measure that would have redirected more than $200 million of its future property tax bill toward construction. This time, the mall wants city and state taxpayers to share the burden.
In meetings with legislators, lobbyists representing the mall have insisted that taxpayers will more than earn back these subsidies through higher sales tax revenues, more jobs and extra tourism generated by an even larger megamall. The proposed expansion is known as Phase II.
It will include four hotels, an National Hockey League-size skating arena and a 6,000-seat performing arts center.
"As the biggest beneficiary of this economic development project, the state of Minnesota has the most to gain or lose if this project does not go forward," Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead and Bloomington Port Authority President Robert Erickson wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to lawmakers.
One part of me almost shrugs at this request. After all, the state will build and then give away at least one stadium to a professional sports team over the next few years, and almost certainly two of them. Legislators gave all sorts of strange reasons to give away hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money to the Minnesota Twins, a private enterprise owned by a billionaire who employs millionaires to play 83 games a year here in Minnesota. Why not give hundreds of millions to a multi-billion-dollar developer whose property employs thousands of ordinary Minnesotans?
Well, one reason would be that the government shouldn't use tax money to subsidize private enterprise, unless the government owns a stake in the enterprise itself. Minnesotans will "subsidize" the mall as they see fit by shopping there, if they desire; if they do not, then the government doesn't need to bail out the developer. All of the citizens of the state would have to see their tax money go to expand the already-massive MOA, regardless of whether they like the mall -- and regardless if the mall competes with their own business.
Proponents of the subsidy justify it as an investment in future tax earnings by the state. Perhaps that might even be true -- I'd like my friend and super-economist King Banaian to judge that -- but that's true of every significant private commercial construction project in the state. If the state should foot the bill for MOA's new parking structure, why shouldn't taxpayers pay the bill for every single new build or remodel of commercial property?
Government should use taxes for public projects: roads, schools, security, and the like. If we have enough money in the budget for subsidizing stadiums and parking garages for private enterprises, then we have collected too much money in taxes. Let the Mall of America pay for its own expansion, and then lower the taxes all of us have to pay. Let the individuals choose which enterprises they want to "subsidize" through a free market and normal competition. That makes much more sense and will have a much better effect on the state economy in the long run.
Sadr City Showdown
Combined US and Iraqi forces swept through Sadr City yesterday, arresting more than a dozen suspected militia members and making a statement about the lack of limitation on the new surge operation. The US characterized their targets as "rogue" elements of the Mahdi Army and the captured could include as many as ten Iraqi policemen:
American and Iraqi troops on Tuesday stormed several buildings in Sadr City, Baghdad’s main bastion of Shiite militancy, and detained at least 16 people suspected of participating in militia violence including killings, kidnappings and torture, the American military and local officials said.
The early morning raids appeared to be the largest military operation in Sadr City since the new American-led crackdown began this month, intended to wrest control of Baghdad, the capital, from sectarian militias.
American and Iraqi forces have conducted aggressive sweeps through neighborhoods abutting Sadr City, but Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has resisted a large-scale push into that teeming, working-class district itself for fear of antagonizing the Mahdi Army, the militia loyal to the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr that is entrenched there.
Conflicting reports of attacks arose yesterday. News agencies reported that a bomb had exploded in a playground, killing at least eighteen, most of them children playing soccer. However, Centcom insisted that no attack had taken place at the location cited in the reports, which is adjacent to an American military position. The only explosion Centcom knew about on Tuesday was the one they caused themselves when they blew up an ammunition cache. They miscalculated the force of the blast, and it blew out nearby windows and created a scare for the neighborhood's residents.
Even better news came from Ghamas, in the southern part of the Diwaniya province. Security forces arrested over a hundred followers of the Shi'ite splinter group that attempted an attack on the Shi'ites in Najaf. The aim of the Soldiers of Heaven cult group was to eliminate the traditional Shi'ite religious leadership there and take over the town. Instead, hundreds of them died fighting the Iraqi Army, supported by US forces.
The latest push shows that the Maliki government meant what it said when it gave the green light to the new rules of engagement in Baghdad and around the country. Shi'ite militias have been confronted and shut down, including "rogue" Mahdi elements. Sadr City is no longer a sanctuary for death squads. If the Mahdis continue to stand down, the pacification of Sadr City may come sooner than expected -- and the surge will have proven itself successful.
How Discovery Channel Lost Its Groove
The news that the Discovery Channel, a leading organization in the attempt to make science and education more attractive and entertaining, would broadcast a documentary by James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici claiming to have found the bones of Jesus and evidence of his marriage has begun to backfire. Archeologists have condemned the conclusions drawn from the evidence by Cameron and Jacobovici, including one who ran the site from which the ossuaries come:
Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.
Scorn for the Discovery Channel's claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and -- most explosively -- their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy.
"I'm not a Christian. I'm not a believer. I don't have a dog in this fight," said William G. Dever, who has been excavating ancient sites in Israel for 50 years and is widely considered the dean of biblical archaeology among U.S. scholars. "I just think it's a shame the way this story is being hyped and manipulated." ...
Similar assessments came yesterday from two Israeli scholars, Amos Kloner, who originally excavated the tomb, and Joe Zias, former curator of archaeology at the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Kloner told the Jerusalem Post that the documentary is "nonsense." Zias described it in an e-mail to The Washington Post as a "hyped up film which is intellectually and scientifically dishonest."
Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, expressed irritation that the claims were made at a news conference rather than in a peer-reviewed scientific article. By going directly to the media, she said, the filmmakers "have set it up as if it's a legitimate academic debate, when the vast majority of scholars who specialize in archaeology of this period have flatly rejected this," she said.
The Cameron/Jacobovici hypothesis fails on a number of points. First, Jacobovici claims that having the names of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Judah (noted as Jesus' son) defies odds in a range between 600:1 and 2 million:1. That's a very wide range, and completely inaccurate. Other archeologists note that the names listed by the documentarians were the most common names in use at the time for Jerusalem. They also dispute that the name 'Jesus' on the ossuary is confirmed; some believe it is an early version of the name Hanoun.
Magness has more objections about this than the media hype. She also finds the names interesting, but for a different reason. Recall that the Bible refers to Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth, not Jesus ben-Joseph. The patronymics on the ossuary would have been appropriate for Judeans, not Nazareans, which indicates that the family uncovered in the Talpiot tomb were native to Jerusalem or its environs. The use of stone ossuaries rather than graves also indicates a middle-class status or above for the family, rather than the poor and/or ascetic life of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.
All of these are facts that archeologists like to take into consideration before leaping to conclusions. They especially tread with caution when trying to determine whether the evidence they have contradicts written history from the period in question. Archeology involves a level of speculation, but the true scientists make sure to minimize it as much as possible -- and this documentary amounts to nothing but speculation.
Who will bear the brunt of this fiasco? James Cameron will go on to make more big-budget Hollywood movies, unless he's dumb enough to make another Terminator sequel. Simcha Jacobovici will continue with his "Naked Archeology" series on History International, an entertaining but usually unconvincing half-hour of pop archeology that presaged this disaster. Discovery Channel, however, will take a hit to its reputation for serious science.
Quid Pro Qu'Iran
The Bush administration has reversed its position on engaging with the two terror-sponsoring nations in the Middle East to help stabilize Iraq. After rejecting the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group to start conducting diplomatic talks with Iran and Syria, Condoleezza Rice announced that she would be doing just that -- but only after the White House forced Iraq to forge an agreement on its toughest internal issue:
American officials said Tuesday they had agreed to hold the highest-level contact with the Iranian authorities in more than two years as part of an international meeting on Iraq.
The discussions, scheduled for the next two months, are expected to include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts.
The announcement, first made in Baghdad and confirmed by Ms. Rice, that the United States would take part in two sets of meetings between Iraq and its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, is a shift in President Bush’s avoidance of high-level contacts with the governments in Damascus and, especially, Tehran.
Critics of the administration have long said that it should do more to engage its regional rivals on a host of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Lebanon. That was the position of the Iraq Study Group, the high level commission that last year urged direct, unconditional talks that would include Iran and Syria.
It's no secret that the government of Nouri al-Maliki wanted the US to open talks with Iran. They haven't been quiet about it, and they have insisted that Iraq will have diplomatic relations with Teheran regardless of what the US says. The Bush administration used this as leverage to get the Iraqis to move on the oil revenue plan, a longstanding issue that created political tension and mistrust between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites and Kurds that control the oil.
So perhaps the Bush rejection of the ISG recommendation could be seen as tactical rather than strategic, but just the same, this is a reversal of their position on Iran at the least. The US and Syria have diplomatic relations -- strained, but they exist -- and so opening a dialogue with Damascus doesn't represent as much of a climbdown as including Iran in regional talks does. The White House, especially Dick Cheney, had insisted that Iran could not be a viable partner for Iraqi security while it sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East.
Somehow, that view has changed, and it could mean something significant in the balance of power in the Bush administration. It seems like Condoleezza Rice may have prevailed over the Vice President, whose influence appears to be waning in the last two years of the Bush presidency. The abrupt replacement of Donald Rumsfeld and the questionable resolution of the Korean crisis indicates a softening of the approach taken by the administration, at least in tone.
The State Department disagrees with this analysis. Philip Zelikow, who recently departed from Rice's senior staff, told the New York Times that the intent of the rhetoric was to get the Iranians to take us seriously. We saw the result of that effort this week in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's loss of face over his own careless rhetoric. Now that the Iranians understand that we mean business, Zelikow says, we can do business.
Well, perhaps. If so, then the brinksmanship was also tactical rather than strategic. However, the fact remains that Iran sponsors terrorism in and out of Iraq, and its interests in doing so exist in almost complete contradiction to our interests in the region. We can jaw jaw instead of war war, but unless Iran stops sponsoring Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other regional terror organizations, they will continue conducting war war whether we jaw jaw or not.
Meanwhile, Iran Has Its Own Problems
While the US chews over the change in policy regarding engagement with Iran, the Iranians have a burgeoning leadership crisis of their own. With Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini falling more seriously ill, the future leadership of the Islamic Republic seems up for grabs -- and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is not too shy to make his move before an abrupt departure creates chaos:
After Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent defiant announcement about installing 3,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz, signs of an emerging leadership crisis in Iran have appeared. They expose the power group of Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard supporters (usually backed by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei) and the more "pragmatic," though no less extreme in their final goals, clerical leadership.
In a speech on January 8 Khamenei warned against any withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear program by any person or Iranian official in the present or in the future. Recently there have been rumors that Khamenei is seriously ill, and may die soon. His speech seems to be the proclamation of a dying man's will.
Simultaneously, former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the recently elected chairman of the Experts Assembly, which has the authority to select the supreme leader, had an intensive two-day meeting with the top-level ayatollahs in the holy city of Qom. The most important issue discussed was the selection of a new supreme leader. Rafsanjani asserted in his speech in Qom that the Experts Assembly should choose the leader soon, in order to keep the regime safe and avoid a future power struggle after his death.
What happens if Khameini goes to his 72 virgins without having established a successor? The nation turns its lonely, veiled eyes to a triumvirate of officials to act in his stead until the Assembly of Experts can select the next true power of Iran. Right now, that triumvirate would consist of the head of Iran's Supreme Court, a representative of the Guardian Council, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President. All of these will be hard-liners and radicals, making the appointment of a radical most likely.
Rafsanjani wants to keep that from happening. Towards that end, he has done something rather unprecedented: he has started campaigning for Khameini's post while Khameini has the bad taste to still be alive. This sounds more dangerous than it is, mostly because Khameini's latest speech on the nuclear program -- which echoed Ahmadinejad's lunacy of late -- has rattled some within the regime. Rafsanjani is gambling that the mullahcracy will not allow Khameini to choose his successor now that he seems both close to death and less rational, although given Iranian mullahs, it must be hard to tell the difference on the latter score.
Rafsanjani has gone on Iranian television to speak about his qualifications for the role. Considered something of a clerical lightweight, he has engaged interviewers on the subject of Islam in order to improve his reputation. He even tells the story of how he convinced Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Iranian Islamic state, that mullahs should run the government and not just lead in spiritual matters, and Khomeini replaced Abulhassan Bani-Sadr as a result.
Why is that important? Bani-Sadr was not a mullah. Neither is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The internal dissent within the mullahcracy appears to have grown. The military pressure placed on Iran by the US and the British have had a dividing effect on the Iranian government, with the first official objection within Teheran to the nuclear program's continuance coming last week. Rafsanjani may use this dissension to press for an impeachment of Ahmadinejad and his ascension to the post, perhaps sooner than later. American attempts to open a dialogue on Iraq may be complicated by the lack of a clear contact within the Iranian government, if Rafsanjani continues his efforts.
Look Who's Coming -- And Not Coming -- To CPAC
The American Conservative Union must have its staff on call this week, because they keep getting last-minute RSVPs for the CPAC event that starts Thursday. No, I don't mean attendees, I mean speakers -- especially those who want the Republican nomination for the Presidential election next year.
In the past couple of days, almost every GOP candidate announced and presumed have been added to the CPAC agenda. Today both Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo announced their addition to the list of impressive speakers addressing conservative activists:
ALEXANDRIA, VA—The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) announced today that California Congressman Duncan Hunter will address the nation’s oldest and largest gathering of conservatives on Saturday, March 3, 2007 at 8:30 a.m. in the Omni Shoreham Hotel’s Regency Ballroom in Washington D.C.
“For more than a quarter of a century, Congressman Duncan Hunter has been a strong and reliable voice in the U.S. House for conservatives, fighting the good fight to keep our military up to speed, up to date, and up to the dangerous tasks our nation asks of them,” said J. William Lauderback, Executive Vice President of the American Conservative Union (ACU), CPAC’s lead sponsor. “What some conservatives may not know is that also during that quarter century Congressman Hunter has proved himself as a Member of solid conservative credentials on a host of other issues important to conservatives, as reflected by his ACU Lifetime Rating of 92. We look forward to hearing from our friend and ally,” concluded Lauderback. ...
“Few Members of Congress consistently display the brand of conservative leadership Tom Tancredo exhibits,” said J. William Lauderback, Executive Vice President of the American Conservative Union (ACU), CPAC’s lead sponsor. “He is a man of principle, honesty, and distinct courage. While Tom’s Lifetime ACU Rating of 99 makes him an obvious friend of ACU and CPAC, it is his willingness to stand up and fight for what he believes in that makes him a hero to so many of our 5,000 grassroots activists. We look forward to hearing his views on the state of the border enforcement debate in Congress and other important issues of our day,” concluded Lauderback.
They join other late arrivals, such as Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee, Jim Gilmore, and frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. As this is the last CPAC conference before the primaries begin, it makes sense for the presidential hopefuls to make their case to the activists they hope to engage in the primaries. For Rudy and Mitt, it makes the most sense; they have some work to do in building bridges to the conservatives in the party, and they will never have a better chance to win them over than at CPAC.
All of which makes the absence of John McCain even more curious. McCain has argued that he has the most solid conservative record of all the major contenders, and with some cause. Yet it is hardly a secret that the Senator has a rocky relationship with conservatives in the Republican Party. After the McCain-Feingold assault on political speech, his work with Ted Kennedy on immigration, the Gang of 14 rebellion that allowed the Democrats to filibuster judicial nominees for appellate assignments for the first time in American history, and a generally hostile attitude until just recently towards social conservatives, McCain has more work than most to convince conservatives to support him.
That's why his absence makes little sense. If he wants to win conservatives, he needs to make an effort to meet them -- literally. CPAC provides a golden opportunity to do so. It's one of the oldest conservative forums in existence, and it gathers opinionmakers on the Right from across the country. If he can't be bothered to go out of his way to face conservatives there, where exactly does he plan on addressing them?
A pass on CPAC would be a bad mistake for McCain, especially since all of his competitors have already committed to being there. I'm guessing that the Senator will see that by tomorrow and make the necessary efforts to join the conference and engage with those he claims he best represents. Otherwise, it will be hard to see how conservatives will take his refusal as anything but a badly-timed snub -- and whatever one thinks of John McCain, he's smarter than that.
Addendum: I'll be traveling tomorrow night to DC for the CPAC conference. I'm one of the credentialed bloggers and will be reporting constantly during the event. Here's a list of the other terrific bloggers I'll meet there.
Democrats Hit Reverse On Hitting Reverse
Democrats have delayed further consideration to restrict or cripple the Iraq war deployments, apparently stunned by the lack of cohesion among their own caucuses and fearful of the backlash their efforts might produce. Harry Reid has delayed the progress of a Joe Biden bill to revoke the 2002 AUMF, and Nancy Pelosi has started to distance herself from John Murtha (via Memeorandum):
Democratic leaders backed away from aggressive plans to limit President Bush's war authority, the latest sign of divisions within their ranks over how to proceed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday he wanted to delay votes on a measure that would repeal the 2002 war authorization and narrow the mission in Iraq.
Senior Democrats who drafted the proposal, including Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan, had sought swift action on it as early as this week, when the Senate takes up a measure to enact the recommendations of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission. ...
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meanwhile, said she doesn't support tying war funding to strict training and readiness targets for U.S. troops.
The comments distanced her from Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who has said he wants to use Congress' spending power to force a change in policy in Iraq, by setting strict conditions on war funding.
Pelosi said she supports holding the administration to training and readiness targets, but added: "I don't see them as conditions to our funding. Let me be very clear: Congress will fund our troops."
It appears that the Democrats may have misinterpreted their mandate, and that they have finally discovered that they're on the brink of demanding surrender while at war. While a majority of Americans have serious doubts about the management of the war, most understand that pulling troops out of a fight means surrender and retreat, and they don't see how that makes America any more secure. In fact, a surrender to terrorists in Iraq will make this country a good deal less secure and embolden the terrorists to continue attacking our interests, and the Democrats seem to be the last to that realization -- or the realization that Americans understand these stakes.
Now the Democratic leadership has to backpedal from their enthusiasm for defeat. John Murtha made the mistake of talking too much about the purposes of the Democrats to force an end to the Iraq deployment by starving Centcom of supplies and fresh troops. Now Pelosi has to assure angry voters that she will not defund the troops fighting in the field. She won't even publicly support putting conditions on the pending $100 billion supplemental that Congress must approve in the coming weeks.
This is a major step backwards for the Democrats, and it doesn't come a moment too soon. They have earned the reputation as defeatists already, but they came close to owning responsibility for that defeat, and even members of their own ranks pointed that out. The attempt to double down after the failure of the non-binding resolutions has backfired, helped in large part because the new efforts would have had an actual impact on operations, crossing a line at which some supporters of the non-binding resolutions balked.
Make no mistake, though; as Harry Reid told his caucus, "Iraq is going to be there — it's just a question of when we get back to it." They're going to redeploy over their political event horizon to find some other strategy to appease their anti-war activists while avoiding responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Perhaps the third time will be the charm, but it seems more likely that they will experience a slow bleed of their credibility across the political spectrum.
Rudy Going Reaganesque
Rudy Giuliani, out to an early and somewhat surprising lead in the Republican presidential primary race, has begun addressing conservative groups to make his case for the nomination. The New York Sun reports that Giuliani has adopted a vision-style approach while retaining his strengths in policy, painting a future for the GOP as the party of freedom:
Mayor Giuliani is calling on the Republican Party to redefine itself as "the party of freedom," focusing on lower taxes, school choice, and a health care system rooted in free market principles.
Delivering a policy-driven overview of his presidential platform yesterday, Mr. Giuliani outlined the agenda in a Washington speech before a conservative think tank that sought to make clear distinctions between his vision and that of the Democrats, if not his rivals for the Republican nomination in 2008. The former New York mayor's proposed redefinition of the Republican platform would signal a shift away from any focus on social issues, on which Mr. Giuliani is much less ideologically aligned with the party.
Mr. Giuliani reserved his strongest criticism yesterday for Democrats, but he also said the government's handling of the war on terrorism had done "damage" to America's reputation abroad.
"We have to say to the rest of the world, ‘America doesn't like war,'" Mr. Giuliani said. "America is not a military country. We've never been a militaristic country," he added, saying national leaders have fallen into an "analytical warp" by defining the battle as a war on terrorism and not, as he deemed it, a "war of the terrorists against us."
Sounds a bit like "Morning in America" again, an approach that will help garner support for Giuliani among conservatives -- at least on vision. On policy, they will likely continue to challenge Giuliani, as the attendees at the Hoover Institution did yesterday. Giuliani apparently included a Q&A session as part of his presentation yesterday, and the Sun reported that some of the questions were "pointed" -- not surprising, given Rudy's policy differences on abortion and guns.
Russell Berman did not include the content of the questions except for one on Giuliani's foreign-policy experience. Opposition and Democratic activists have questioned the amount of experience the former Mayor could have, considering the local nature of his only public office. He gave a pretty good answer. As Mayor of New York, the position has responsibilities that outstrip some governors, especially in terms of population; Rudy had more citizens in his executive responsibility than does Tim Pawlenty now as our governor. Giuliani also talked about his dozens of international trips and meetings with heads of state or their senior staffs. He also runs an international consultancy, giving him free-market experience in foreign policy as well.
That fits well with his emerging campaign theme. He wants to emphasize a more libertarian approach for the Republican Party -- free markets and smaller government. School vouchers fit into this vision, as well as continuing support for public education. Health care reform is important, but the solutions must use free-market principles rather than top-down government control. It's a moderate policy that fits within a conservative vision, which could be a winning combination, especially in attracting moderates and independents.
Giuliani will have an opportunity to test this approach at CPAC, especially if he follows his Hoover appearance with a Q&A. He needs to engage conservatives directly in order to gain their trust, and it looks like he's made the decision to do so. This should make for an interesting appearance, one among several for Presidential candidates. Those who have not yet committed to CPAC had better not let Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Mike Huckabee steal a march on their campaign.
This Is Draining The Swamp?
I have a new opinion piece in today's Examiner, part of the Blog Board series that Mark Tapscott has pioneered at the newspaper chain. Today's essay looks at the efforts by Democrats to meet their campaign rhetoric, drain the swamp and end the "culture of corruption", efforts that appear almost non-existent at this point:
Democrats won control of Congress by emphasizing Republican scandals and corruption and promising clean government. The start of the 110th Congress has not demonstrated much of a commitment to making that a reality, and the start of the 2008 primary campaign leaves even less hope that the Democrats will address corruption. ...
National Review highlighted a new effort by recently ascendant progressives that has more than a ring of familiarity. The well-connected Campaign for America’s Future announced that it will take back K Street from conservatives, and that the new Democratic majority has helped lead the way ...
The list of founders and advisers to CAF reads like a who’s who of Democratic Party activists. Jesse Jackson, former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio, former California state Sen. Tom Hayden, Jim Hightower of Texas, and Clinton-era Secretary of Labor Robert Reich lead a host of union leaders and academics who have all stumped for Democrats.
These activists have set CAF up as the middleman to do exactly what Democrats excoriated DeLay for doing directly.
I also discuss the recent efforts by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to buy endorsements from South Carolina politicians, a development that has received little attention from any news organization outside CNN and AP. Barack Obama loses a bit of his outsider/reformist glow here, as the only reason he didn't buy Darrell Jackson and a handful of South Carolina legislators is because he wouldn't bid high enough to make the sale. Perhaps Obama can run as a fiscal conservative instead.
We're less than eight weeks into the Democratic majority in Congress, and already lobbyists have been rehabilitated and Democratic politicians have put themselves on the auction block for endorsements. That swamp keeps getting higher and higher ...
Venezuela Seizes Oil Projects From Foreign Firms
Venezuelan president-cum-dictator Hugo Chavez continued his confiscation of private property and foreign investment yesterday by seizing oil projects and assimilating them into the state-owned petroleum organization. Delivering on his pledge to create a socialist state along the same lines as Fidel Castro's Cuba, Chavez told foreign-owned firms that they now had to accept a minority stake in their own properties:
President Hugo Chavez ordered by decree on Monday the takeover of oil projects run by foreign oil companies in Venezuela's Orinoco River region.
Chavez had previously announced the government's intention to take a majority stake by May 1 in four heavy oil-upgrading projects run by British Petroleum PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips Co., Total SA and Statoil ASA.
He said Monday that has decreed a law to proceed with the nationalizations that will see state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, taking at least a 60 percent stake in the projects.
"The privatization of oil in Venezuela has come to an end," he said on his weekday radio show, "Hello, President." "This marks the true nationalization of oil in Venezuela."
Interestingly and not surprisingly, the Venezuelan strongman didn't mention how he planned to compensate these companies for 60% shares of their projects. Instead, he told them that he didn't want them to leave, and take all of their expertise and technology with them. Chavez wants them to accept the fact that they would do all the work while he gets most of the profits.
These projects were the only privately-financed oil production facilities in Venezuela, and their worth is estimated at $17 billion. Will Chavez send them a check for the $10.5 billion he owes for his share of their operations? Don't bet on it. Chavez has offered compensation for other business assets that he has nationalized, but he has tried nothing on this scale so far.
Chavez's diktat will take legal effect in four months, although Chavez says he'll seize the projects by May 1. The companies have that long to negotiate terms with Chavez, who has an army to occupy the oil fields, making negotiations somewhat one-sided. The oil producers will likely try to strike a bargain with Chavez, but it makes little sense to do so. They will only be delaying the inevitable; Chavez will eventually steal it all from them. They should dismantle their operations and leave forthwith, taking the losses now and leaving Chavez to explain why the workers have lost their jobs as well as the expertise necessary to produce their primary export.
The Assassination Attempt Misses
Dick Cheney made an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan after a stop in Pakistan to tell Pervez Musharraf that the US needs him to fight the al-Qaeda and Taliban forces organizing in Pakistani territory. As if to underscore that message, a suicide bomber attacked Bagram while Cheney visited, killing 10 people outside the base but leaving Cheney unharmed:
A suicide bomber killed up to 10 people outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan in an attack aimed at visiting Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday, but Cheney was not hurt in the blast.
An American soldier and a South Korean who was part of the U.S.-led coalition were killed, as was a U.S. government contractor whose nationality was unknown, officials said. NATO put the toll at four, including the bomber, and 27 wounded. Local police said 10 people died.
The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the bomber knew Cheney was visiting the sprawling Bagram Airbase, about 60 km (40 miles) from Kabul. "We wanted to target ... Cheney," Taliban spokesman Mullah Hayat Khan told Reuters by phone from an undisclosed location.
Soon after the blast, Cheney went ahead with planned talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the capital, Kabul.
The Taliban could not have done more to prove the US case to Pervez Musharraf. Cheney's presence during the attack will put even more pressure on the beleaguered Pakistani leader.
The Bush administration sent Cheney along with high-level intelligence officers in order to conduct a presentation of the evidence we have collected of terrorist activity in Waziristan. Reportedly, we identified locations and support networks for al-Qaeda and the Taliban forces that will conduct their spring offensive in the coming weeks. Identification of these sites makes it very difficult for Musharraf to shrug off our warning, as does the high level of the visit. It's the final warning to get something done, or suffer us getting it done for him.
In fact, that point may already have been crossed. With the Taliban taking responsibility for the attack and with Cheney as its target, the US may determine that those camps present a clear and present danger to the US. That would allow President Bush to launch an attack on the camps even though they are in Pakistani territory. That move would be constitutional and necessarily limited, and since it targets al-Qaeda, would likely generate little dissent from Congress. I'd expect some members of the new Congressional leadership to ask why we hadn't attacked them before this assassination attempt.
Cheney remained in Afghanistan after the attack to meet with Hamid Karzai, who was likely to have emphasized the continuing and growing threat in Waziristan, and the lack of Pakistani cooperation in reducing it. Karzai can scratch that issue from the agenda at this point. Cheney and the US understand it clearly now, if they didn't before, and we have made it clear to Musharraf that the clock is ticking faster than ever.
Iraqi Cabinet Approves Oil Revenue Sharing
The plan recently approved by the Kurds to split the oil revenue of Iraq with the Sunnis won approval from the Iraqi cabinet. It now faces debate in the National Assembly, whose final approval will resolve one of the toughest issues in post-war Iraq and one that has helped fan the flames of the insurgencies:
The Iraqi cabinet approved a draft of a law on Monday that would set guidelines for nationwide distribution of oil revenues and foreign investment in the immense oil industry. The endorsement reflected a major agreement among the country’s ethnic and sectarian political blocs on one of Iraq’s most divisive issues.
The draft law approved by the cabinet allows the central government to distribute oil revenues to the provinces or regions based on population, which could lessen the economic concerns of the rebellious Sunni Arabs, who fear being cut out of Iraq’s vast potential oil wealth by the dominant Shiites and Kurds. Most of Iraq’s crude oil reserves lie in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.
The law also grants regional oil companies or governments the power to sign contracts with foreign companies for exploration and development of fields, opening the door for investment by foreign companies in a country whose oil reserves rank among the world’s three largest.
Passage is critical for the future of Iraq, mainly because it gives the Sunnis a reason to invest in the central government. The Kurds and Shi'ites understand this, and conceded on critical points for that reason. By giving responsibility for revenue distribution to Baghdad, it creates a situation where the Sunnis need the central government for their compensation -- which means that insurgencies aimed at crippling the democratic government will take money out of their pockets.
It also establishes some momentum for representative government as a solution to seemingly intractable problems. During the post-war period, the last thing that the formerly oppressed factions wanted to do was to stick their oil money into the wallets of the Sunnis who oppressed them. The Kurds and Shi'ites had celebrated their economic liberty, thanks to the vast oil reserves on which they sit, while the Sunnis looked at starvation and subjugation as their only future.
That certainly fed the insurgencies, even if it didn't cause all of the problems that created the terrorism. Now, however, the Kurds and Shi'ites have given the Sunnis a stake in the success of a unified Iraq, and a substantial stake at that. Having a central government to enforce this agreement becomes a critical point for the Sunnis. Even if the government has more Shi'ites than any other faction thanks to proportional representation, the Sunnis will have better representation in Baghdad than in any of the provinces with significant oil revenue.
Insurgents could get put out of business with this agreement. The al-Qaeda nutcases will continue their mission to impose ultraconservative shari'a law on the Sunnis, but those terrorist networks getting support from native Sunnis will likely starve. The Sunnis want to start living again, and if they can rely on a solid oil income, they will take it.
Ahmadinejad Gets A Scolding
Remember when people started speculating that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have lost some political ground with his reckless rhetoric and nuclear brinksmanship? Many of us wondered whether it was for real or just a sop to international sensibilities. The veracity seems more clear now, as even the state-run newspapers have begun openly criticizing the Iranian president for his antagonistic approach to the West:
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, came under fire from domestic critics yesterday for his uncompromising stance on the nuclear issue as the US and Britain launched a new diplomatic effort to agree harsher UN sanctions they hope will force Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.
Mohammad Atrianfar, a respected political commentator, accused the president of using "the language of the bazaar" and said his comments had made it harder for Ali Larijani, the country's top nuclear negotiator, to reach a compromise with European diplomats.
The president made global headlines at the weekend by declaring that his country's quest for nuclear energy was an unstoppable train, adding to the sense of crisis as emergency talks got under way in London yesterday.
Critics from across the Iranian political spectrum took him to task for his "no brakes or reverse gear" remarks, bolstering claims in the west that his hardline position may be starting to backfire.
"This rhetoric is not suitable for a president and has no place in diplomatic circles," said Mr Atrianfar, a confidant of Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential regime insider and rival of Mr Ahmadinejad. "It is the language people in the
bazaar and alleyways use to address the simplest issues of life."
Want to know how bad the criticism has gotten? The head of the so-called reformist party compared Ahmadinejad to Hugo Chavez. Instead of taking lessons from Vaclav Havel, Fayaz Zahed noted, Ahmadinejad opted to pander to populist sentiments and completely missed the mark.
Even his own allies took an opportunity to score a few points off of the man who promised Iran a world without Israel. The fundamentalist Islamic newspaper Resalat, which normally would support the mullahcracy and its policies, wagged its editorial ringer at Ahmadinejad's lack of nuance in tone, if not in substance. "Neither weakness nor inexperience and unnecessary rhetorical aggression is acceptable in our foreign policy," the editors instructed Ahmadinejad, who has managed to hit just about every fault they listed.
It seems that the saber-rattling -- such as it is -- has hit the mark in Iran. The mullahs appear to have decided to let Ahmadinejad absorb the criticism for the tenor of the conflict, while maintaining the policies that prompted it. Most of the pushback has followed along those lines, reflecting on the rhetoric while avoiding any criticism of the Iranian nuclear program itself.
This shows that little leeway for significant movement away from the nuclear agenda exists. We may get better diplomacy if the mullahs completely abandon Ahmadinejad, but the room for actual progress looks very limited. It also shows that staying tough on the Iranians has kept at least that much room open.
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