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At War in Pakistan

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 12:06 PM EDT

AT WAR IN PAKISTAN....This has been a subject of discussion so long that it's hardly even news anymore, but apparently the Bush administration has officially decided to endorse ongoing ground operations against Taliban and al-Qaeda camps in Pakistan:

President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

...."The situation in the tribal areas is not tolerable," said a senior American official who, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the missions. "We have to be more assertive. Orders have been issued."

....The Central Intelligence Agency has for several years fired missiles at militants inside Pakistan from remotely piloted Predator aircraft. But the new orders for the military's Special Operations forces relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without its permission.

Earlier in the year John McCain criticized Barack Obama for suggesting that he supported these kinds of operations, so purely for point-scoring reasons it would be nice to ask him whether he approves of Bush doing it instead. (First, though, McCain would have to come out of hiding long enough for a reporter ask him. That doesn't seem likely to happen anytime soon since, with good reason, he's afraid of what else they might ask him about at the time.)

But what should we think about this on a non-point-scoring basis? At the risk of being thought a huge wuss, I have to confess to extremely mixed feelings. The situation in Pakistan has surely been tactically intolerable for some time, but this is the hardly the first time we've faced a situation like this. Vietnam analogies may be out of fashion, but it's worth remembering that this is exactly how we got mired down in Laos and Cambodia too: Viet Cong troops were using those countries as bases during the Vietnam War, and tactically this was every bit as intolerable as the Pakistan situation is today. But U.S. raids on those bases turned into U.S. bombing missions, and U.S. bombing missions eventually turned into full scale war. And we all know how that turned out.

In Pakistan, we've now gone from trying to work with the Pakistani government to occasional Predator attacks and now to periodic ground assaults. How likely is it that we can keep things from escalating further? What happens the first time the Taliban wins a firefight and takes some prisoners? What happens when civilian casualties rise to a level where the Pakistani government, under pressure domestically, can no longer pretend not to notice the raids? What happens when a raid goes bad, reinforcements are called in, and before long we have a couple of companies on the ground in some godforsaken corner of the tribal areas?

Needless to say, this is exactly the kind of liberal hand wringing that hawkish conservatives would normally pounce on. I suppose, however, that for now the pouncing has to be kept fairly low key since their own hawkish conservative presidential candidate seems to have the same qualms that I do. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that McCain's qualms were little more than a chance to take a shot at Barack Obama back when that seemed like a good idea, and would almost certainly disappear instantly once he took office. What then?

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McCain Wants To Spend 1/3rd of a Trillion Dollars on Nuclear Plants

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 11:17 AM EDT


From Bloomberg

John McCain's plan to revive the U.S. nuclear power industry with 45 new reactors may cost $315 billion, with taxpayers bearing much of the financial risk.
...Taxpayers are on the hook only if borrowers default. A 2003 Congressional Budget Office report said the default rate on nuclear construction debts might be as high as 50 percent, in part because of the projects' high costs.

So much for Mr. I-Watch-Out-for-the-Taxpayers. Read the rest here.

Knowledge != Power

| Thu Sep. 11, 2008 11:01 AM EDT

KNOWLEDGE != POWER....Robert Kagan says it's OK — maybe even better! — for national politicians to lack experience or knowledge of foreign policy. Matt Yglesias thinks he's expressing his honest opinion:

Kagan, like most neoconservatives, thinks that in-depth knowledge of foreign countries and the politics and culture of foreign societies isn't helpful in thinking about foreign policy questions. Similarly, they believe that in-depth knowledge of theoretical and empirical work in the field of international relations isn't helpful. Indeed, they think that this kind of in-depth knowledge is actually harmful. They prefer the judgment of people who have little knowledge of the outside world but do possess a degree of gut-level nationalism.

Sure. Conservatives never trusted either Nixon or Bush 41 on foreign policy, even though both of them were knowledgable and sophisticated students of foreign affairs. They thought that knowledge slowed them down and made them wimps, always worrying about what world opinion might think. Conversely, they loved Reagan and Bush 43, both of whom had a couple of basic instincts about foreign affairs and not much else.

So John McCain? He's great! And Sarah Palin? Even greater! You, elitist that you are, may think that knowledge is power, but that's decidedly not the position of most modern Republicans.

The "Enough" Club

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 11:30 PM EDT

THE "ENOUGH" CLUB....Michael Kinsley is a liberal, but he's about as moderate and contrarian a liberal as you're likely to find. After a lie or five too many from the McCain campaign, however, he's finally had enough:

Maybe when this is over, one way or another, McCain will swear off corrupt lying the way he has sworn off corrupt money.

But it shouldn't be necessary to wait for one of McCain's conveniently delayed conversions to righteousness. In a democracy, obvious lies and obvious liars should be self-defeating. Why aren't they?

One reason is that the media have trouble calling a lie a lie, or asserting that one side is lying more than the other — even when that is objectively the case. They lean over backwards to give liars the benefit of the doubt, even when there is no doubt.

....But that shouldn't let John McCain off the hook. He says he'd rather lose the election than lose the war. But it seems he'd rather lose that honor he's always going on about than lose the election.

So how many people have joined the "Enough" club? It only counts if they sort of liked McCain in the first place, so folks like Krugman and Harold Meyerson don't count. Off the top of my head I count eight and a half: Kinsley. Friedman. Mallaby. Joe Klein. Dionne. Marcus. Halperin. Herbert. Brooks seems like he might be getting there. Who else?

Lipstick-Gate

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 10:03 PM EDT

LIPSTICK-GATE....As the entire world knows, yesterday Barack Obama made the following comment about John McCain's claim to be an agent of change: "You can put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. You can wrap up an old fish in a piece of paper and call it change. It's still going to stink after eight years. We've had enough."

Now, I've been aware of this remark, along with the idiotic Republican attempts to pretend that Obama was calling Sarah Palin a pig, since the words were first uttered. But only vaguely. The whole thing was so stupid that I just didn't bother clicking on the various links to see what everyone was saying.

Just now, however, I happened to surf over to The Corner for the first time in a day and it was....instructive. The very first mention of lipstick-gate was a brief link at 6:53 pm. This was followed by a couple of straight reax posts and then this from Yuval Levin:

Does anybody really think Obama meant to call Sarah Palin a pig? Come on. Can this really be worth anyone's time?

Of course not! That's just dumb! This was then followed by an avalanche of 31 separate posts on the subject in less than 24 hours. Turns out it was worth NR's time after all. And make no mistake: after a couple of hours of momentary confusion about whether they could get away with it, they decided that Obama had indeed meant to call Sarah Palin a pig. By early this morning everyone was obediently on board, the chum was in the water, and the moral dudgeon was so thick you could stir it with a stick. In fact, their only real argument was over how Palin should handle things: attack back or play it cool? (For the most part, they decided cool was the way to go.)

And that, my friends, is how it's done in the big leagues. It's the noise machine at work.

It's the Coal, Stupid

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 7:51 PM EDT

443px-Coal_power_plant_Datteln_2.jpg Burning fossil fuels accounts for 80 percent of the rise of atmospheric CO2 in industrial times. Now NASA researchers Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen show that CO2 can be kept below harmful levels as long as emissions from coal are phased out within the next few decades. In other words, we can burn all the oil and gas that's left on Earth and still avoid really dangerous climate change.

Previous research shows the super dangerous level of global warming will occur if CO2 in the atmosphere exceeds a concentration of 450 parts per million. It's currently at about 385 ppm, up from a pre-industrial 280 ppm.

The research revolved around five emissions scenarios spanning the years 1850-2100. Each reflects a different estimate for peak of fossil fuel production—an important yet unknown variable. On one end was the "business-as-usual" scenario. The other scenarios included reducing emissions from coal. First by developed countries starting in 2013. Then by developing countries a decade later. Finally leading to a global phase out by 2050. The last three scenarios consider different dates for peak oil.

The bottom line is clear. . .

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Lies Etc.

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 5:39 PM EDT

LIES ETC....Good for Mark Halperin for calling John McCain on the relentless BS his campaign is spewing. Still, as long as they continue to call this stuff "amazing and outrageous" and "demonstrably false," instead of using the blunt Anglo-Saxon term we'd normally use in a case like this, it's not going to get through. If the press knows he's lying, they should say so.

20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress, Freshly Revealed

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 5:29 PM EDT

CREW's list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress is out for 2008, and constituents of Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY), and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) should be very pleased. Their congressional representatives are new additions to the list!

Here is the 2008 list; here are the previous three years'.

McCain's Style

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 5:09 PM EDT

McCAIN'S STYLE....John Judis on John McCain's increasingly slimy campaign style:

McCain himself has clearly demonstrated that he'll do anything to win. In 2000, he ran an honorable campaign. Leave aside what he advocated — he tried to win on the merits. This year, he has been willing to distort and lie about his opponents. It really started with the way he dealt with Mitt Romney's positions on the Iraq war.

Indeed it did, and it's something worth keeping in mind. Steve Schmidt has obviously been responsible for some of the recent change in tone of the McCain campaign, but it didn't start with him. It started with McCain himself, who, in the days leading up to Super Tuesday, cheerfully and repeatedly smeared Mitt Romney as a guy who wanted to surrender to the terrorists in Iraq. It was a plainly bogus charge, but it was one that McCain peddled without compunction for an entire week — and it was one of the things that put a final nail in Romney's coffin.

McCain's revolting campaign style isn't something he had to be talked into by a cabal of ruthless advisors. He genuinely likes this stuff.

It's Not Just Palin Who Is Hiding From the Press

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 4:57 PM EDT

From Fox News, of all places:

For a candidate who once railed against "stale soundbites, staged rallies and over-managed messages," John McCain seems to have turned over a new leaf.
Today marks the four-week anniversary since McCain held his last press conference (8/13 in Birmingham, MI) and three weeks since his last public town hall meeting (8/20 in Las Cruces, NM).
McCain's new campaign strategy: staged rallies with thousands of supporters.

Obama held a press conference yesterday.