Front Page Magazine has a not-to-be-missed interview with Christopher Hitchens. He is promoting his new book, Love, Poverty and War, and makes pointed and thought-provoking observations on all three topics.
Writing in The Nation, David Sirota looks askance at the "centrism" of the Democratic Leadership Council. As you may recall, the DLC and its emphasis on getting the economy right was a major factor in the election of a little-known red-state governor named Clinton as a popular two term president. This would seem to be a lost cause from the get-go, but Sirota asks the right questions, particularly when it comes to the economy:
Let's start with economic policy. The DLC and the press claim Democrats who attack President Bush and the Republicans for siding with the superwealthy are waging "class warfare," which they claim will hurt Democrats at the ballot box. Yet almost every major poll shows Americans already essentially believe Republicans are waging a class war on behalf of the rich--they are simply waiting for a national party to give voice to the issue. In March 2004, for example, a Washington Post poll found a whopping 67 percent of Americans believe the Bush Administration favors large corporations over the middle class.
The "centrists" tell Democrats not to hammer corporations for their misbehavior and not to push for a serious crackdown on corporate excess, for fear the party will be hurt by an "anti-business" image. Yet such a posture, pioneered by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, is mainstream: A 2002 Washington Post poll taken during the height of the corporate accounting scandals found that 88 percent of Americans distrust corporate executives, 90 percent want new corporate regulations/tougher enforcement of existing laws and more than half think the Bush Administration is "not tough enough" in fighting corporate crime.
On taxes, self-described "centrists" like Senator Joe Lieberman, a senior DLC leader, attacked proposals to repeal the Bush tax cuts to pay down the deficit. Yet even the DLC's pollster found in 2001 that a majority of Americans support such a policy, and that a strong plurality of voters would actually be more likely to vote for a Democrat who endorsed this proposal. Lieberman caricatured those in favor of repeal as extreme, claiming a repeal would alienate millions of voters who supposedly feel the tax cut helped them. Yet a September 2004 CBS News poll found that 72 percent of Americans say they have either not been affected by the Bush tax cuts or that their taxes have actually gone up.
Sirota similarly examines assumptions policy perceptions on health care, the environment and trade, and in each case finds broad public support leaning much further left than the positions staked out by the DLC, whom Sirota tars as corporate shills. He bases his arguments on a variety of mainstream media polls, and one could certainly look more closely to determine whether the wording and order of the questions biases the results (a CBS poll biased? No way!).
But I will leave that for others because Sirota's read on the public is similar to my own, at least insofar as the issues he presents. Even though we just put George W. Bush back in office for four more years, the American Center tends to agree with the Democrats on many domestic issues: it would forego tax cuts in favor of reducing the deficit or paying down the debt; it would like to see some form of portable, universal health coverage because a large pool efficiently spreads the risk and keeps costs down; it is bullish on economic growth but doesn't want to sacrifice the environment to achieve it; it favors free trade in theory, but is skeptical at weakening the domestic industrial base and losing good-paying jobs to offshore workers if the only outcome is to fatten corporate profit margins.
I am of the opinion that none of the above positions are in any way controversial for a Democratic candidate, centrist or otherwise. Where the Democrats had a problem in this election was on issues of national security, a subject that Sirota sidesteps altogether but will of necessity be key to winning any election in the coming decades. The mantra of the Clinton years was, "It's the economy, stupid." The mantra post-9/11 is, "It's the jihad, stupid."
Simply put, Americans need to be convinced that the Democratic leadership is serious about confronting the the threat posed by radical Islam. It is not enough to pay lip service to "hunting down the terrorists" as Kerry did: voters want to be assured that our elected leaders have a plan for taking the fight to the enemy. Bush does and makes no bones about it. You can disagree about how effective it has been, and question whether it's in fact creating new enemies through our military presence in Iraq. But Bush at least champions the spread of democracy, and with it classic liberal values such as religious tolerance, racial and gender equality, and freedom of speech. Where is the Democratic left on this most important struggle of our era? Mostly sitting on the sidelines taking shots at Bush, but offering no plan of its own other than a vaguely-defined multilateralism that is overly reliant on the bureaucratic and corrupt UN.
A resurgent centrist Democratic movement would take its cue from publications like The New Republic, and speak candidly about the necessity of standing united and resolute against jihadist ideology. It would emphasize the role of the US over the years as a force for good, that in the last century was instrumental in defeating both fascism and communism. It would echo the rhetoric of Tony Blair, who as a Labour Prime Minister is on the surface a very unlikely ally for the likes of George W. Bush, but who champions liberal democratic values as the counterweight to despotic regimes that offer no hope for their people and the religious totalitarian movements that flourish in such places.
Moving to the center doesn't necessarily mean adopting the domestic platform of the GOP, as the article seems to suggest. In fact, as Sirota points out, on domestic issues Democrats may be more in sync with the mainstream than is generally believed. It is in the crucial arena of foreign policy that we need to lead the battle of ideas if we ever hope to defeat the forces of global jihad. It's high time the Democrats got back in touch with the values of the nation they want to govern.
The IEC [Independent Electoral Commission] had approved a total of 96 lists up until December 15 (3 of which were later withdrawn so the actual number is 93). The lists include 7200 candidates from over 220 political parties and organisations. A list should have a minimum of 12 candidates and the maximum numer is 275.
One out of every three candidates in sequence on all lists should be a woman to ensure a minimum percentage of 30% female members on the National Assembly. Several political parties had complained earlier that their slates were limited because of the difficulties in finding female candidates.
Recent polls by the IEC indicate that some 80% of eligible voters (all Iraqis over 18 who can prove their Iraqi identity) in the country have registered. Registration forms for each family were compiled from their existing ration cards since there was no national census following the war. The forms were not without errors so the IEC provided details on the back of the forms on how to fix them, the deadline was December 15.
Iraq is regarded as a single constituency since this is a nationwide ballot. 7000 voting centers (most of them in schools) across the country have been prepared to receive voters. Iraqis shall also vote to elect members of their local Governorate Councils and voters in the north shall elect members of the Kurdish Parliament
Iraqi exiles abroad (estimated to be about 3 million) with proof of their Iraqi nationality can vote at Iraqi embassies and consulates. About ten voting centers will be available worldwide in the UK, Sweden, USA, Jordan, Iran, Australia, and the UAE. Germany, Syria and Canada, all of which contain sizeable Iraqi communities, have refused to allow Iraqis to vote inside their borders.
A registered voter will cast his vote for ONE of the 93 lists. The National Assembly will consist of 275 members. A candidate would need (total number of voters/275) votes to get a seat in the assembly. For example, if 10 million people vote, divide 10,000,000 by 275 and you get 36,363 votes required for a candidate to be on the assembly (actually it's 36363.6 votes but I'm not quite sure how they are going to deal with fractional numbers).
So, for a list that gets 11% of the votes (1,100,000 votes), they are allocated 11% of the 275 seats which is [275/11=]25 members. If that particular list has 200 candidates, only the top 25 members on the list get the seats. Therefore it's easy to conclude that the higher a candidate's name is on the list, the more likely they would get a seat. I hope I haven't confused anyone!
I should add that the majority of Iraqi voters are in fact confused and unfamiliar with these details and I have a feeling that the major players intend to keep it this way. The IEC has promised to distribute pamphlets and handbills explaining the above process in simple terms to Iraqi voters.
And you thought the US electoral college was confusing!
Terrorism expert Michael Ledeen explains who we're really fighting in Iraq and why:
The terror war in Iraq was not improvised, but carefully planned by the four great terror masters (Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia) during the infuriatingly long run-up to the liberation. They made no secret of it; you have only to go back to the public statements of the Iranian mullahs and the Syrian Baathists to see it, for top Iranian officials and Bashir Assad publicly announced it (the mullahs in their mosques, Bashir in a published interview). They had a simple and dramatic word for the strategy: Lebanon. Assad and the mullahs prepared to turn Iraq into a replay of the terror war they had jointly waged against us in Lebanon in the 1980s: suicide bombings, hostage-taking, and religious/political uprisings. It could not have been more explicit.
Some of our brighter journalists have recently written about Iraqi documents that show how Saddam instructed his cohorts to melt away when Coalition forces entered Iraq, and then wage the sort of guerilla campaign we now see. But neither they nor our buffoonish intelligence "community" have looked at the documents in the context of the combined planning among the four key regimes. Anyone who goes back to the pre-OIF period can see the remarkable tempo of airplanes flying back and forth between Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran, and even Pyongyang (remember the Axis of Evil?), as military and intelligence officials worked out their strategies. Some of those flights, as for example those between Saddam's Baghdad and the mullahs' Tehran, were a kind of man-bites-dog story, since in the past such flights carried armaments to be dropped on the destination, whereas in 2002 and early 2003 they carried government officials planning the terror war against us in Iraq.
The myth of the Baathist insurgency is actually just the latest version of the old error according to which Sunnis and Shiites can't work together. This myth dominated our "intelligence" on the Middle East for decades, even though it was known that the Iranian (Shiite) Revolutionary Guards were trained in (Syrian-dominated, hence secular Baathist) Lebanon by Arafat's (Sunni) Fatah, starting as early as 1972. The terror masters worked together for a long time, not just after the destruction of the Taliban. But we refused to see it, just as today we refuse to see that the assault against us is regional, not just Iraqi.
One of the things I find most frustrating about the discourse over the war in Iraq is the notion that former Ba'athists and Islamist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda or supported by Iran are merely patriots fighting to "free their country from imperialist occupiers". The people who bombed UN headquarters, kidnap and behead contractors, aid workers and journalists, and gun down election workers in cold blood are not Iraqi patriots. Even New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, no fan of the Bush administration and at best ambivalent about the Iraq war, stresses this point:
However this war started, however badly it has been managed, however much you wish we were not there, do not kid yourself that this is not what it is about: people who want to hold a free and fair election to determine their own future, opposed by a virulent nihilistic minority that wants to prevent that. That is all that the insurgents stand for.
Indeed, they haven't even bothered to tell us otherwise. They have counted on the fact that the Bush administration is so hated around the world that any opponents will be seen as having justice on their side. Well, they do not. They are murdering Iraqis every day for the sole purpose of preventing them from exercising that thing so many on the political left and so many Europeans have demanded for the Palestinians: "the right of self-determination."
Even if one accepts that some percentage of "insurgents" are indeed Iraqi nationals motivated by a desire to drive out the coalition forces, the leaders of the so-called insurgency (some of whom like Zarqawi are not even Iraqis) are playing for much larger stakes, with the goal of stifling the emergence of democratic institutions, fomenting sectarian civil war, keeping the country in a state of chaos and fear, and ultimately imposing totalitarian rule. It would indeed be disastrous if they were to take over in Iraq.
Their strategy - to turn Iraq into Lebanon writ large - will only succeed if we adopt the world view of those who refuse to see Iraq as a battle in the larger war on terror, instead seeing it as a war of Western imperialist aggression against the Iraqi people. It is only possible to have this point of view if you ignore the tactics and motives of those fighting us.
The majority of the Iraqi public wants elections to go forward as scheduled. Elections will not put an end to terrorist activity in Iraq (any more than they will in Palestine), but they will represent a step towards the people of Iraq controlling their own destiny. And elections will also demonstrate that the insurgency has no little or no grassroots support, just as they have in Afghanistan.
UPDATE: Yet more confirmation of the true nature of the insurgency from the two French journalists recently released (via Jihad Watch):
Mr Malbrunot told French television: "One of the lessons we drew from our captivity was that we were immersed in Planet Bin Ladin, especially when we were in a cell of the Islamic Army in the north.
"We were very aware of the fact that it wasn't the Iraqi agenda that motivated our kidnappers, but the internationalist jihadist agenda. I think this is the real challenge for the next 10 years, the clash of cultures that these people are advocating, are seeking."...
Steven Den Beste is one of my all-time favorite bloggers, and his retirement saddened me (and I was all the more saddened when I learned why he retired and what contributed to it). Glenn Reynolds does tribute to Den Beste by pointing to a page linking his top essays. If you didn't follow him in his heyday, it's not too late to get acquainted with his thoughtful and perceptive essays.
Michael J. Totten has a spot-on post about the 21st century dilemma of trying to conduct a war according to cherished international laws and norms against an enemy who has no compunctions about attacking from hospitals and mosques and using children as human shields. It's too good to excerpt, so go read it at his site.
What a way to end the year: one of my favorite blogs (and Minnesota boys, no less), Power Line, is named "Blog of the Year" by Time Magazine. Due to their role in both RatherGate and the Swift Boat Vets controversy, bloggers have become part of the media landscape and its good to see that acknowledged by the mainstream press, which should view blogging as a complementary, not adversarial medium.
Scott Johnson ("The Big Trunk"), John Hinderaker ("Rocket Man") and Paul Mirengoff ("Deacon") run a first-class site, and for more than two years I have made Power Line a daily read for its insightful commentary from a conservative perspective. Even if you are a liberal (especially if you're a liberal!), you will want to make Power Line a regular stop to understand how the other side views the world and frames its arguments - you might even find yourself persuaded. I know I have been on more than one occasion.
Full disclosure: This writer knows the Power Line guys, and has a Web site of his own. Good thing, too; the Internet is going to make gigs like this obsolete, once enough people realize that some guy in his basement is capable of turning out commentary as insightful as a tenured eminence who was handed a column 30 years ago and has spent the last 10 coasting on a scoop from the Reagan years. It takes dynamite to get some writers out of the paper.
In the new media, however, a clever blog can spring up overnight and get 100,000 readers in a day. That number can quickly fall to zero if the blogger gets a terminal case of the stupids.
What's more, if the blog allows comments, the readers can grapple with the writer on the very blog itself, which is like a columnist standing outside the newspaper building 24/7, arguing with anyone with a gripe. This is new. Bloggers question authority, as the beloved college T-shirt slogan has it. Isn't that good?
This article, "How Iran is Winning Iraq", originally published in the Washington Post makes a compelling case that the upcoming elections in Iraq are being seriously gamed by the mullahs in Tehran, with the intent of producing a Shiite-controlled sister state:
Iran is about to hit the jackpot in Iraq, wagering the blood and treasure of the United States. Last week an alliance of Iraqi Shiite leaders announced that its list of candidates will be headed by Abdul Aziz Hakim, the clerical leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. This Shiite list, backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is likely to be the favorite of Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority and win the largest share of votes next month.
Wary of trusting Iraqi Shiites to manage the campaign, the Iranian intelligence service has been pumping millions of dollars and hundreds of operatives into the country. The Iranians have also recruited assassination squads to kill potential Iraqi rivals, according to several Iraqi officials. One Iraqi Shiite tells me the Iranians view the hit teams as a kind of "insurance policy" to make sure they prevail, even if the U.S.-backed election process should fail.
Iraqis who aren't part of the Shiite religious juggernaut are frightened by what's happening. The Iraqi interim defense minister, Hazim Shalan, this week described the Shiite political alliance as an "Iranian list" created by those who wanted "turbaned clerics to rule" in Iraq. Shalan is no saint himself -- like interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, he was once part of Saddam Hussein's Baathist network. But he and Allawi speak for many millions of Iraqis who don't want to see an Iran-leaning clerical government but are powerless to stop it.
Senior U.S. commanders in Iraq had hoped Allawi's slate would win in January, but they are beginning to assess the consequences of Shiite victory. Not only would it empower the mullahs, it would alienate Iraq's 20 percent Sunni Arab population, who mostly won't be able to vote next month because of the continuing wave of terrorism in Sunni areas. As sectarian tensions increase, post-election, so will the danger of a real civil war. What will become of the U.S. military mission in Iraq? Will we really arm one group of Iraqis in a sectarian conflict against another?
Given the stakes for the United States in these elections, you might think we would quietly be trying to influence the outcome. But I am told that congressional insistence that the Iraqi elections be "democratic" has blocked any covert efforts to help America's allies. That may make sense to ethicists in San Francisco, but how about to the U.S. troops on the ground?
I am not in favor of postponing the Iraqi elections scheduled for January 30, as it would hand a huge victory to those who are killing Iraqis wholesale to prevent elections from occurring at all. And despite the gloom and doom we read daily in the Western press, a recent poll of Iraqis shows overwhelming support for holding the elections as scheduled by a margin of 80%. No question that 60% of Iraq's population are majority Shiites, who would stand to rise to power over the formerly-dominant Sunnis, but this poll was taken in Baghdad, normally considered to be a Sunni stronghold. If there was apprehension among Sunnis about a Shiite-led power play, one would think the support number would skew more closely to the Shiite majority figure.
Treating the three main Shiite lists as one and assuming that, together, they win all the Shiite votes, the planned National Assembly of 275 seats would end up with no more than 122 Shiite members. This is because at least 30 of those likely to be elected on the Shiite lists are Arab Sunnis or Kurds. In other words, the three main Shiite lists would not have a majority without their Sunni and Kurdish members.
But even if the Shiites won a straight majority, it is hard to imagine Al-Allawi, Shahrestani and Hakim forming a single ethnic bloc and ignoring Sistani's well-established rejection of the Khomeinist system, all to sell Iraq to Iran.
There is another reason why fears of a Shiite takerover are misplaced: New Iraq will be a federation that grants a large measure of autonomy to the Kurds, some 20 percentof the population. Outside the Kurdish areas, provincial government assemblies, also to be elected on Jan. 30, will have a good share of power making to ensure that the central government does not degenerate into an authoritarian system.
Another claim made by the doomsters is that the Arab Sunnis, some 15 percent of the population, may boycott. This has not happened: All the main Arab Sunni parties have entered the race. In fact, Arab Sunnis make up a disproportionate share of the 7,200 candidates.
This is not to downplay the threat of Iran - it is real, and the Iranians are doing everything they can to inflitrate Iraqi society and influence the outcome of the upcoming elections to produce a more Tehran-friendly regime, including assasination of political rivals. Their plans must be thwarted. But the Iraqis seem determined to go ahead and elect a National Assembly, the first in a series of steps that will result in a legitimate, representative government and ultimate self-determination. Why do so many in the liberal West seem to think postponing those elections is in any way a good thing?
If the Palestinians can hold elections in the face of factional fighting among the ruling Fatah party and armed terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic jihad, why can't Iraq?
How did we get to this sudden moment of cautious optimism in the Middle East? How did we get to this moment when Egypt is signing free trade agreements with Israel, when Hosni Mubarak is touring Arab nations and urging them to open relations with the Jewish state? How did we get to this moment of democratic opportunity in the Palestinian territories, with three major elections taking place in the next several months, and with the leading candidate in the presidential election declaring that violence is counterproductive?
How did we get to this moment of odd unity in Israel, with Labor joining Likud to push a withdrawal from Gaza and some northern territories? How did we get to this moment when Ariel Sharon has record approval ratings, when it is common to run across Israelis who once reviled Sharon as a bully but who now find themselves supporting him as an agent of peace?