Kevin Drum - August 2008

Conservative Insta-Reaction

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 1:14 PM PDT

CONSERVATIVE INSTA-REACTION....I consider The Corner to be a peek into the conservative id, so I was curious to see what they had to say about Joe Biden before the message machine kicks in. Here it is in a nutshell:

The 3 am text message announcement was a subtle dig at Hillary; Biden's a blowhard; he thinks he's smarter than you; it's "the most self-loving ticket ever"; he's a plagiarist; he's a pro-choice Catholic, just like John Kerry; he doesn't represent change; he's unpopular in Iraq.

That's pretty weak brew. I'm sure it'll get better and nastier over time, though, as they get over the fact that, as near as I can tell, some of them actually have sort of a grudging admiration for the guy. Still, the golden rule in attack politics is that you need something new: the blowhard/plagiarism/he-said-Obama-wasn't-ready-to-be-president stuff is old news, and the media almost certainly won't give it more than a little bit of play. The question is, can the wingers take this stuff and somehow roll it up into something that seems fresh, the way the Swift Boaters did with John Kerry's Vietnam service? If they can, then the media will start to play along.

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The Biden Effect

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 10:37 AM PDT

THE BIDEN EFFECT....I think this poll result from the Washington Post pretty much summarizes what non-obsessives think about Obama's choice of Joe Biden for vice president: they don't care. Asked if it would affect their vote, only a quarter said it would, and that quarter was split almost down the middle. There's just no effect at all.

Which is not to say that there won't be an effect eventually, of course. If Biden says something dumb, or if McCain's attack dogs are able to dream up an effective smear campaign against him, it could turn into a mistake. But like nearly any other choice Obama could have made (Hillary Clinton is the obvious exception), he starts off as a big fat null. People just don't care that much about who the vice president is.

Veepstakes Update

| Sat Aug. 23, 2008 12:25 AM PDT

VEEPSTAKES UPDATE....Biden is it. Pretty good choice, I think, but I sure hope I don't hear anyone talking about Joementum when October rolls around.

Anyway, David Brooks should be happy, and that's what really counts, isn't it?

Six Years O' Blogging

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 9:11 PM PDT

SIX YEARS O' BLOGGING....In all the excitement of moving to a new home, I forgot to mention that today is my sixth blogoversary. Or is it blogiversary? In any case, I've been doing this for six years now. Let that be a lesson to you all.

Friday Cat Blogging - 22 August 2008

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 1:00 PM PDT

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING.... So, how about if we see if Friday Catblogging works here at the new digs? Let's see: (1) take cute picture of cats, (2) upload to MoJo site, (3) click Preview.

Hey, how about that! It works just like it used to. What a relief. That new kid Benen over at the Monthly does have a cat — cute little thing, too — but I don't know if he's going to let himself get badgered into catblogging every week. I guess the regulars are going to have to work on him about that. Over here, though, the tradition continues.

Today we have a rare picture with both cats in the same frame. A couple of early Christmas presents arrived the other day, and for Domino, the box full of peanuts was an early Christmas present too. Inkblot, bless his tiny little feline brain, seemed pretty sure something was up but never quite worked up the energy to actually look in the box and confirm his suspicions. Instead he just rolled around beside it while Domino waited for the worst. Never happened though, and eventually he just fell asleep.

Obama on Withdrawal

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:57 PM PDT

OBAMA ON WITHDRAWAL....Here is Obama's official statement on the news that we've reached a tentative agreement with the Iraqi government on a timetable to withdraw American combat troops:

I am glad that the Administration has finally shifted to accepting a timetable for the removal of our combat troops from Iraq. Success in Iraq depends on an Iraqi government that is reconciling its differences and taking responsibility for its future, and a timetable is the best way to press the Iraqis to do just that. I welcome the growing convergence around this pragmatic and responsible position.

....Senator McCain has stubbornly focused on maintaining an indefinite U.S presence in Iraq, but events have made his bluster and record increasingly out of touch with reality. While Senator McCain continues to offer unconditional military and economic support for Iraq, I strongly believe that we need to use our leverage with the Iraqi government to ensure a political settlement. In addition to a timetable, we should only train Iraqi Security Forces if Iraq's leaders reconcile their differences, and we must insist that Iraq invests its $79 billion surplus on rebuilding its own country.

That's a good tone to take. Also interesting is that despite the 2011 date we've apparently badgered the Iraqis into accepting, Obama is sticking to his 16-month/2010 guns.

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Fundraising Woes

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 12:35 PM PDT

FUNDRAISING WOES....Over in GOP-land, it looks like fundraising pleas are falling on deaf ears:

"It has become clear that my call has gone largely unanswered," Sen. John Ensign of Nevada fumed in a statement. "I have no control over the timing or content of (independent) ads, but I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget for our (independent expenditures) unit."

Republican lawmakers contributed $1.1 million to the NRSC through June, while Democrats chipped in nearly $5 million [to the DSCC, presumably, unless Dems are feeling unusually generous this year –ed.], according to FEC reports.

....Ensign had challenged his colleagues to step up back in July by increasing their fundraising efforts or by providing more of their own direct contributions. His statement amounted to a renewed call to arms.

That's a mighty sad state of affairs, isn't it? I wonder why no one wants to give Republicans any money this year?

Biden's Experience

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:31 AM PDT

BIDEN'S EXPERIENCE....Over at the mother blog — a genuinely apt name at this magazine — Jonathan Stein comments on today's paean to Joe Biden from David Brooks:

So Biden is a liberal, not-evil Cheney. I'll agree that's a good thing. I'll further agree that having people like David Brooks on-board with the Obama VP pick is a good thing for Obama. But I won't agree that experience is the primary consideration when choosing a VP. Is Brooks not aware how that undercuts Obama's entire case for the presidency? If we value experience, why settle for a ticket with a VP who has 25+ years of experience in Washington? Why not pick the ticket with the nominee who has 25+ years of experience in Washington?

I imagine I'm probably more sympathetic to Biden than Jonathan is in the first place, but even aside from that I don't think this is right. By picking Biden, what Obama would show is that he's not afraid of experienced colleagues. Think of JFK picking Johnson or Carter picking Mondale as their running mates. It's basically a show of dominance.

And aside from that, there really is some value in Biden's experience. Maybe. All four of the most recent Democratic presidents have chosen their VPs from the ranks of the Senate, and I'll grant that the results have been fairly mixed. Still, the Senate is pretty clearly going to be ground zero for getting Obama's program passed into actual legislation, and Biden has a pretty decent track record of working the legislative process. So on that score it might be genuinely helpful. (Ditto, of course, for Jack Reed.)

My Brooks-related concern would be a little different. Remember how conservatives were singing hosannahs to Obama back before he actually won the nomination? That, um, didn't last long. So call me cynical, but I wonder if Brooks will continue to think so highly of Biden if he gets the nomination? Or will he suddenly discover a column or five's worth of reasons that he's actually a fatal albatross? I'm not saying he'd do that. I'm just saying.

Sunni Awakening Update

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 10:01 AM PDT

SUNNI AWAKENING UPDATE....A couple of days ago McClatchy's Leila Fadel reported "Key U.S. Iraq strategy in danger of collapse":

A key pillar of the U.S. strategy to pacify Iraq is in danger of collapsing because the Iraqi government is failing to absorb tens of thousands of former Sunni Muslim insurgents who'd joined U.S.-allied militia groups into the country's security forces.

...."We cannot stand them, and we detained many of them recently," said one senior Iraqi commander in Baghdad, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue. "Many of them were part of al Qaida despite the fact that many of them are helping us to fight al Qaida."

He said the army was considering setting a Nov. 1 deadline for those militia members who hadn't been absorbed into the security forces or given civilian jobs to give up their weapons. After that, they'd be arrested, he said.

This has always been the risk in the bottom-up strategy of arming the former Sunni insurgents in hopes of giving them enough ground-level influence that Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government wouldn't have any choice but to deal with them. After all, maybe Maliki would decide not to deal with them after all. What then? The New York Times picks up the story today:

West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.

"The state cannot accept the Awakening," said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. "Their days are numbered."

....The Shiite-dominated government has never been pleased with the continuing American plan to finance and organize Sunni insurgents into militia guards, charging that they will stop fighting only as long as it serves their interests.

"These people are like cancer, and we must remove them," said Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti, commander of the Iraqi Army's 5,000-strong Muthanna Brigade, which patrols west of Baghdad, said of the Awakening leaders on his list for arrest.

That doesn't sound very promising, does it? Gen. David Petraeus, however, says Maliki has promised to get with the program. "This is how you end these kinds of conflicts," he said. "That's why they call it reconciliation. It's not done with one's friends, it's done with former enemies."

This is absolutely something to keep a close eye on. If Maliki continues to believe his own PR and figures that he's strong enough on his own to renege on his promise to incorporate the Sunnis into Iraq's security forces, the tribal leaders are almost certain to start the insurgency right back up. And if they do, Muqtada al-Sadr might decide to rejoin the fight as well. And who knows? Maybe the Kurds would decide that chaos in the south was a perfect cover for retaking Kirkuk.

Surge supporters have long been eager to play down everything that's happened in Iraq other than the surge, and even Petraeus isn't immune to that. Yesterday he spoke about the Sunni tribal leaders who teamed up with American forces before the surge to kick al-Qaeda out of Iraq. "They have made an enormous contribution," he said, before catching himself: "or a very significant contribution, to improved security." If Maliki continues to stonewall and the Sunni leaders finally get tired of it, I suspect that "enormous" is going to turn out to have been the proper adjective after all.

Endless Smears

| Fri Aug. 22, 2008 8:57 AM PDT

ENDLESS SMEARS....When Daniel Kurtzer, an occasional advisor to the Obama campaign, said recently that he hoped Israel could make some progress in negotiations with Syria, the McCain campaign pounced. "If one of Senator Obama's advisers has been to Damascus," said Michael Goldfarb, in a show of classiness that's become his trademark, "we just wonder how many have been to Tehran."

Yuck yuck. Heather Hurlburt comments:

When the McCain campaign goes after an Orthodox Jew, former dean of Yeshiva U., career diplomat who was the Bush Administration's ambassador to Israel on 9-11, was caricatured in anti-Semitic cartoons in the Cairo press during his tenure as Ambassador to Egypt, where he bravely was a public face of Orthodoxy, and is the Commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League (you can't make this stuff up), for doing something the Israeli government is already doing (talking to Syrians), will someone please tell me exactly how this country is supposed to have a diplomatic establishment?

Goldfarb decided to smear the commissioner of the Israeli Baseball League? Nice work there. But I guess if it plays with the rubes, McCain's team figures it's all's fair.