Mojo - June 2005

Oh, a Political Solution...

| Mon Jun. 13, 2005 1:13 PM EDT

"A growing number of senior American military officers in Iraq have concluded that there is no long-term military solution to" the Iraqi insurgency. That was Tom Lasseter's lede to his Knight-Ridder story yesterday. That leaves, of course, a political solution to the insurgency, in which the Shiites try to lure mainstream Sunnis into the constitutional process and draw support away from the insurgents. That sounds like a brilliant idea, of course, but the problem here is that it's also completely and utterly obvious, and not just completely and utterly obvious to me and other latte-swilling liberals safe behind our computers here at home, but obvious to the White House, the Defense Department, the State Department, and just about everyone in Iraq for months now. It's not like no one's thought of this before. The idea that the Sunnis need to be drawn into the political process has become something of a truth universally acknowledged—as with the idea that we need to train the Iraqi security force—and yet no one has been able to make it happen. Today's New York Times brings word of more stalemate between the Sunnis and Shiites on the issue.

Again, safe behind our computers here at home, it's difficult to figure out just how intractable the disagreements here really are, but let's take a look. The Shiites recently tried to offer the Sunnis 15 seats on the 55-seat committee charged with drafting a new constitution, and that number roughly reflects the Sunni share of the Iraqi population (actually, it is overly generous). The Sunnis, for their part, want 25 seats, indicating that they are only willing to drop so far from their previously ruling roost. And so long as Sunni-related elements seem to be winning the battle of guns, knives, and IEDs on the ground—insofar as "winning" for them means disrupting the peace, fomenting sectarian tensions, and simply not being defeated—they're in a position to hold out for more concessions. After all, a while back no one was even considering handing the Sunnis anything more than scraps. But a few thousand dead Iraqi civilians later, suddenly the new government is willing to offer a group that boycotted the election a disproportionately high number of seats on the constitutional drafting committee. Guess who holds the cards here.

Now it's true that both the Sunni insurgency and the Sunni political "leadership" is highly fragmented, but surely there are enough groups here that see the potential gains from holding out, letting the killing continue, and reaping greater political power down the road. On the other hand, it's also extremely unlikely that the long-oppressed Shiite majority is ever going to let the Sunnis have anything even approaching a dominant role in Iraq. It's true that recently the Shiite governing majority backed off its demand for a strong role for Islam in the constitution, which, though not a terribly important issue in and of itself, does signal a willingness by the Shiites to try to be as accommodating as possible. But the important thing here is that they weren't giving up anything substantive. Meanwhile, Shiite militias, like the radical Badr Brigade, are wreaking havoc across the country, attacking Sunnis and enforcing their brand of Wild West-style law and order, making it clear that many hard-line Shiites don't intend to do any sort of appeasing anytime soon.

At some point, the only way out of this stalemate may be, as praktike notes, getting the Sunnis to see the Americans as their guardians and protectors against the roving hordes of fanatical Shiites. But enough Sunni negotiators would have to believe that they can't get any more leverage out of the looming threat of the insurgency. Surely some politicians might believe that, and deals can be struck with or without popular support, but the logic of the situation very much militates against compromise at the moment.

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More British Memos

| Mon Jun. 13, 2005 12:53 PM EDT

ThinkProgress has the complete roundup of British documents related to the decision to go to war. One brief correction, though, to the New York Times reporting on these memos:

"A memorandum written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet office in late July 2002 explicitly states that the Bush administration had made 'no political decisions' to invade Iraq, but that American military planning for the possibility was advanced."

That's not true, or at best misleading. The memos clearly state that the Bush administration had already decided to go to war by July 2002, but it simply had yet to make the decision politically palatable, had yet to find legal justification for war, and had yet to scrounge up the sort of intelligence that could sell the war to the broader public. As one of the memos describes it, by July of 2002 the Bush administration had not yet figured out how to "creat[e] the political conditions for military action." But the decision for war itself had certainly been made.

Fixing the Pension System

| Fri Jun. 10, 2005 4:53 PM EDT

Will the new GOP bill to reform the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures employer pensions, create more problems than it solves? Jon Lackow reports.

What Corner?

| Fri Jun. 10, 2005 4:50 PM EDT

This front-page report on Iraq in the Washington Post—which notes that it's proving exceedingly difficult to train Iraqi forces, a task which may take years and years—is today's big splash of cold water on the idea that we're somehow turning the corner and getting blinded by all that end-of-tunnel light. A few conservative blogs have suggested that the Post's report was biased and chose to focus on training failures. But how is that? U.S. military commanders chose the Iraqi unit the Post could accompany. Presumably, we're getting a picture of one of the better functioning Iraqi units around. Anyway, to show that bad news from Iraq isn't just a liberal media thing, read this report on Basra from the National Review's Stephen Vincent. Or this report that insurgents in Iraq are making "bigger and better bombs." Or this report that the Sunni minority is rejecting political compromise. As Juan Cole pointed out in Salon yesterday, at some point endless optimism about Iraq, when unwarranted, ends up becoming a security concern in and of itself.

Attracting Teachers: Two Ideas

| Fri Jun. 10, 2005 3:47 PM EDT

Now here's a program every college ought to have. Tom Friedman explains:

Every year, in addition to granting honorary degrees, Williams also honors four high school teachers. But not just any high school teachers. Williams asks the 500 or so members of its senior class to nominate the high school teachers who had a profound impact on their lives. Then each year a committee goes through the roughly 50 student nominations, does its own research with the high schools involved and chooses the four most inspiring teachers.

Each of the four teachers is given $2,000, plus a $1,000 donation to his or her high school. The winners and their families are then flown to Williams, located in the lush Berkshires, and honored as part of the graduation weekend.

Meanwhile, Britain is taking it's own, um, unique approach to convince people to become teachers.

Around the Internet

| Fri Jun. 10, 2005 1:53 PM EDT

This post at Bitch PhD on abortion, along with all the related links, is very much worth reading. Especially her point that different women arrive at a pro-choice position from different premises, a fact that doesn't often get much attention, it seems.

Also, this post by Astarte at Utopian Hell, on advertising that condones violence, is a good one.

Columbia Journalism Review, two interesting media pieces on Life After Rupert Murdoch and the future of canned news and conservative commentary.

And finally, Salon is holding a round-table debate over whether the Downing Street Memo is grounds for impeaching Bush or not.

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New at Mother Jones

| Fri Jun. 10, 2005 1:31 PM EDT

The Scourge of Militarism
By Chalmers Johnson
Imperial dreams are undermining our political institutions. Is America going the way of the Roman Republic?

Why the Democrats Will Keep Losing
By Steven Hill
Biases built in to our electoral institutions hurt the Democratic Party every time.

All about ANWR

| Thu Jun. 9, 2005 6:58 PM EDT

The ever-useful Moving Ideas Network has just posted Oil Drilling in the Arctic: Wildlife Refuge at Risk, a report explaining the importance of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and detailing recent congressional attempts (via a two-track approach using the budget process and the energy bill) to open the preserve to oil drilling. This is still very much a live issue, and we'll have more to say about it in a forthcoming article on the Mother Jones site.

Play Back America

| Thu Jun. 9, 2005 5:38 PM EDT

Last week thousands of progressives (including a few from Mother Jones) converged on Washington D.C. for three days of strategizing, networking, motivating, and in some cases (possibly involving representatives from Mother Jones) drinking. This was the Take Back America conference, devised and laid on by the Campaign for America's Future and the Institute for America's Future (we liberals are forward-looking, you can't deny it!) and dedicated to the proposition that progressives can and must get their act together already! If you missed the event, don't worry -- as of today you can check out the major speeches, behind-the-scenes footage, and radio interviews online. Go see -- and let's make sure that what happens in Washington doesn't stay in Washington.

Oppression! Oppresion Everywhere!

| Thu Jun. 9, 2005 4:36 PM EDT

Uh-oh, did you know that elementary school teachers—who get their orders, mind you, beamed directly via radio wave from Democratic party headquarters—could be in the business of teaching our nation's five- and six-year-olds radical and subversive thoughts? Um, no, me neither. But David Horowitz apparently seems very worried. Apparently not satisfied with his lunatic censorship crusade at the college level, he's now gunning for younger kids:

Concerned that public schools are becoming sites of liberal indoctrination, activists have generated a wave of efforts to limit what teachers may discuss and to bring more conservative views into the classroom.

"The last six months [have] been kind of a watershed for the academic-freedom movement," says Bradley Shipp, national field director for Students for Academic Freedom, a group founded by conservative activist David Horowitz in 2003. "It is going to filter itself down to the K-12 level."

It's an important battle front, proponents say, because younger students are more impressionable. They are concerned about multicultural lesson plans that go into detail about the Muslim faith, and cite incidents such as a young child being reprimanded by a teacher for writing about wanting to become a soldier.

Now I think we can all understand the grave danger in teaching anyone in America anything at all about the Muslim faith—after all, our stark ignorance has served us so well up until now—but admittedly, the soldier story seems odd. Of course, given the actual track record of the Students for Academic Freedom, and given how many stories about left-wing "bias" in the academy they tend to just make up out of thin air, forgive me for being just a wee bit skeptical.

Nevertheless, the broader attack here is ridiculous. Are the Students for Academic Freedom really worried that too many high-school and elementary-school teachers are Democrats? Hey, here are two quick and easy solutions. One, they could all stop their whining and sniveling about "conservative oppression" and go sign up to be a teacher—that's one surefire way to get more conservatives in the classroom. Alternatively, they could try to convince Republicans across the country to stop under-funding our schools and trying to dismantle public education. Just a wild guess, but maybe if that ever happened more public-school teachers would become Republicans. But this crybaby stuff really needs to stop.