Mojo - August 2008

Norm Coleman: Aw Shucks, I Have to Attend?

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 12:45 PM EDT

At least eight GOP senators have said they will not be attending the Republican convention in Minneapolis, and congressional challengers have officially been told by Republican leadership to stay away. But one man has to be there. Norm Coleman, the Republican senator from Minnesota locked in a reelection fight with Al Franken, can't ignore the party going on his backyard.

Oh, but how he wishes he could.

"So I think those who come here will have an extraordinary time. But the colleagues who don't come are staying at home only because they have tough races. If the convention wasn't in St. Paul, I wouldn't be at the convention," Coleman said.

H/T Ben Smith.

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"War on Terror" Going Better, Despite Pakistan Instability, Survey Finds

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 11:51 AM EDT

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Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the main US ally in the war on terror, resigned today under threat of impeachment. The news has Washington's nerves on end for a number of reasons, not least of which is that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country in a volatile neighborhood, plagued by Islamic militants, and which has in the wings no obvious successor to Musharraf to help keep everything from unraveling.

Pakistan has long been the center of US attention when it comes to fighting Al Qaeda. Now, with Musharraf gone, the strategic alliance between the two will become all the more delicate and uncertain. It's one that Washington must not allow to go sour. According to a survey released today by Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress, 69 percent of foreign policy experts polled now believe that Pakistan is the nation most likely to transfer nuclear weapons technology to terrorists; just 35 percent thought so last year. (Thanks to A.Q. Khan, it's already the world's leading distributor of the stuff to states seeking nuclear weapons, like Iran and North Korea.)

McCain: As a Former Prisoner of War, I Like ABBA

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 11:03 AM EDT

Okay, so I know I'm treading in dangerous waters. But I found a great example of how John McCain's claim that he would never exploit his prisoner of war experience is more than a little bit phony.

McCain recently said that Dancing Queen, by ABBA, was his favorite song. Questioned by an incredulous reporter after making the selection, McCain pointed to his war service as the explanation:

Walter Isaacson: "What were you thinking?"
John McCain: "If there is anything I am lacking in, I've got to tell you, it is taste in music and art and other great things in life. I've got to say that a lot of my taste in music stopped about the time I impacted a surface-to-air missile with my own airplane and never caught up again."

Yes, I realized he's joking around. But McCain "impacted a surface-to-air missile" in 1967.

Dancing Queen was recorded in 1976.

The claim that McCain is a stoic war hero, too scarred to talk about his time overseas and too principled to exploit it for political gain, is a media narrative that has gone unquestioned for too long.

PS — Want to make clear that McCain has the right to talk about his war service all he wants, just as John Kerry did in 2004. But we collectively have to put to rest this myth that McCain chooses not to in an admirable and principled act of self-denial.

Pakistan's Musharraf Resigns

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 11:00 AM EDT

Facing prospective impeachment proceedings and under pressure from Pakistan's new ruling political coalition, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has resigned. "Whether I win or lose the impeachment, the nation will lose," Musharraf said in an emotional hour long speech carried on Pakistani national television. "They don't realize they can succeed against me but the country will undergo irreparable damage." As army chief, Musharraf toppled Pakistan's president Nawaz Sharif in a coup in 1999, and ruled as head of Pakistan's powerful military and as the nation's president for eight years. Under mounting political pressure, he agreed to step down as military chief late last year. It's not clear who the new president will be. "We will continue to work with the Pakistani government and political leaders and urge them to redouble their focus on Pakistan's future and its most urgent needs, including stemming the growth of extremism, addressing food and energy shortages, and improving economic stability," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.


And John McCain, Former Prisoner of War, Had Oatmeal for Breakfast

| Mon Aug. 18, 2008 10:28 AM EDT

Okay, so expect some action on the blogs about this today. At Saturday's presidential forum at Saddleback Church — the one I said wouldn't seep into Monday's news cycle unless there was a controversy — the moderator, Pastor Rick Warren, assured the audience that while he was questioning Obama, "we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence." The idea was that McCain, who was to be asked the same questions after Obama was finished, couldn't hear what was going on.

When McCain's portion of the event started, Warren began, "Now, my first question: Was the cone of silence comfortable that you were in just now?"

McCain responded, "I was trying to hear through the wall."

In actuality, McCain was in his motorcade when Obama was being questioned, meaning he could have heard the first part of the event over the radio or gotten information via Blackberry.

But the fact that McCain may have had a slight advantage isn't what caught my eye. What did was how sanctimonious his campaign got when asked about the situation by the press. Here's the New York Times:

Kerry on the VP Shortlist? Really?

| Sat Aug. 16, 2008 2:28 PM EDT

Reportedly, John Kerry is being considered as Obama's VP.

I'm not buying it. This has to be a series of headfakes from the Obama campaign, right? Creating media speculation on different options — one week of Bayh, one week of Biden, one week of Kerry — keeps people talking about the choice for almost month. And ultimately, they can find a better choice than any of those three, meaning that even if the actual choice is flawed, people will still say, "Whew. Better than the other options, anyway."

But pretty soon they're going to be the campaign that cried wolf.

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Veep Pick Sneak Peaks Sunday?

| Sat Aug. 16, 2008 3:29 AM EDT

Check out this line up. Among other interesting match ups on the Sunday talk shows, Virginia governor Tim Kaine and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal are slated to appear on "Meet the Press." Kaine tells the Washington Post that he was asked to appear by the Obama campaign.

Michael Ledeen Leaves AEI

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 7:03 PM EDT

Neoconservative historian and writer Michael Ledeen has left the American Enterprise Institute, his intellectual base for almost two decades, Mother Jones has learned. The decision for Ledeen, a veteran of the Iran contra affair, and AEI to part ways "has been in the works for a while" an associate who confirmed the recent departure describes. (Ledeen is no longer listed among the think tank's scholars).

For those who follow foreign policy events at the think tank, one might have noticed that Ledeen has been absent for the most part from many of AEI's public events for the past several months. From afar, one sensed that Ledeen may be too controversial for AEI's other scholars to want him to be the public face of the think tank in particular on Iran issues, an observation the associate described as reasonable. (See this and this for background). Ledeen did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

And yet, while AEI's in house team of foreign policy hands (Frederick Kagan, Danielle Pletka, etc.) has noticeably restrained itself from as aggressively publicly promoting a military option on Iran as might be expected, still it is home to those such as former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton who says whatever he wants -- almost always predictably disparaging of a diplomatic solution to any crisis from North Korea to Iran. And as a longtime loyal home for many who were associated with the most hawkish positions of the Bush administration (Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Lynn Cheney and formerly her husband), it's hard to imagine that it was any extreme ideological position which would have prompted the departure. And Ledeen was described as always a good fundraiser for the think tank. So his departure is somewhat perplexing.

Ledeen is not alone in being scarcer at the influential think tank of late. Former Reagan administration Pentagon official Richard Perle is often in France and rarely makes public appearances at AEI any more; but there's no talk of Perle leaving AEI, although his role there is largely "emeritus" the associate described. Ledeen is now the Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a small Washington think tank headed by former Republican National Committee spokesman Cliff May.


Update: Turns out Ledeen already mentioned the move from AEI to FDD at his own blog, Faster, Please!:

... I always thought it was stupid to go to Alaska in August. I love August in Washington, I adore hot and humid and so Washington is a dream come true for me. Plus, no Congress, which means much less traffic, and you can get tables in restaurants. Plus, I moved my office from AEI after twenty happy years, to Cliff May's rising Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. It seems a good fit, it puts me in the same sandbox as Andy McCarthy and other terrific people, and I love the email address: michael(at)defenddemocracy.org I mean, that's what I'm all about.
So I've been packing and unpacking and cleaning out my files, throwing out two decades' worth of notes, urgent to-dos that ended up at the bottom of a pile, highlighted clips, you know. And finally it got done. Just in time to start a new book and sign up for a new parking lot. I'll be a better blogger for it.

In noting this post on Ledeen's move, Steve Clemons offers a priceless anecdote about how you can never really leave any of these think tanks.

The Rooskies Are Out to Get Us!

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 2:20 PM EDT

I noted in an AFP story about how Obama's vacation hasn't hurt his poll numbers that "59 percent of Americans regard Russia's actions in Georgia as a threat to US national security."

Seriously? I'm shocked by this. We have the strongest military in the world, albeit a bit overstretched at the moment, and the fanciest weapons in the world. We don't need to be afraid of a bunch of thugs performing a ritual chest-beating by pushing around their neighbors.

Here are my potential explanations.

(1) A wide swath of people will always have some degree of fear of an aggressive other and when egged on by a leading poll question will say answer in the affirmative to a query like this one. In this explanation, over 50 percent of people would have answered in the affirmative in regards to a similar situation 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

(2) America is spooked. Eight years of terror warnings, supposedly imminent threats, unchecked terrorist watch lists, draconian security measures, rouge rogue nations getting or pursuing nuclear bombs, and stuff like this has turned us into a bunch of pusillanimous ninnies. We're jumping at shadows.

(3) Everyone or most everyone in the 59 percent mentioned above was born before 1980 and thus has strong memories of the Cold War. These people, unlike their younger countrymen, will always be distrustful of the Russians and ascribe devious but nonsensical motives to them.

If you were liberal arts student in college, you know the answer is some combination of (1), (2), and (3).

Also, I should add that Americans think lots of bizarre things. A poll from the late '90s showed that 65% of Americans think an alien spaceship crashed at Roswell in 1947. Further, 80% think the government is hiding knowledge of space aliens.

The Return of Foreclosure Phil

| Fri Aug. 15, 2008 11:30 AM EDT

Phil Gramm, booted from the McCain campaign for calling struggling Americans a "nation of whiners" in a "mental recession," is back in the mix.

Reportedly, Gramm was seated in the front row of a McCain speech at the Aspen Institute. Gramm told the press, "I am a supporter of John McCain. I am helping him with fundraising. We have a fundraiser today and I will be with him today and tomorrow."

And John McCain responded, "Phil Gramm and I and Wendy (Gramm) and Cindy and I go back many, many years, and I'm always grateful to see my friend, Phil Gramm. Thank you, Phil, for all your friendship and support."

I think it's safe to say everyone has kissed and made up. That's only possible because the media, the McCain campaign, and the American public believed the problem with Gramm was a few intemperate remarks. But that's not true. Gramm believes in a radical form of economics that bulldozes the concerns, needs, and rights of everyday people in favor of corporate profits. He is, in large part, responsible for the foreclosure crisis facing America.

He doesn't need to be taking a few weeks off from the campaign. He needs to be taking a few years off from public life altogether.