Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Joe Biden: Insert Foot in Mouth and Other Stories

[I'm so flippin' busy, and there are so many freakin' candidates, I can't stay on top of 'em . . .]

Tonight while cooking dinner and listening to National Public Radio, I heard that Joe Biden had declared himself officially a candidate for the the Democratic ticket.

Right. Got it. Add him to the "in" column. No surprise.

So, tonight, while taking a break from writing, I read through the headlines on the New York Times website. Seems that Biden's coming out party didn't turn out so well.

Apparently, the New York Observer printed a quote from Biden today that has him describing Barak Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." Ummm, is that meant to be a compliment?

Jesse Jackson, who ran against Biden in 1988, said that he didn't find the comments "off color" but that they were "highly suggestive." Of what, exactly? He didn't say. Racism, perhaps?

This is not the way any candidate wishes to have their candidacy's first day go. He lost the message, and the good press he should have gotten has all gone bad. Indeed, CNN and the NyTimes are reporting other gaffes of the Senator's including inappropriate statements against Indians: "You cannot go into a 7-11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." Geez.

Unscripted moments like these really let voters in, and of course journalist LOVE this stuff. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, though (I think he's a bombastic ass).

He's going to be on the Daily Show tonight. I look forward to this one.

Others who have recently announced he's setting up an exploratory committee: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is thinking of seeking the Republican nomination. He of the same political stripe as Senator Brownback of Kansas: Christian Conservative. He announced on Meet the Press Sunday morning.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dirty Politics Already

I ran across an article on CNN tonight with a headline that stopped me in my tracks: "CNN debunks false report about Obama." Of course, I had to know what the "false report was."

It appears that staff from Hillary Clinton's campaign released to Insight Magazine information that Obama had attended a madrassa when he was a child living for a time in Indonesia. (A madrassa is a Islamic-fundamentalist school). This "fact" was reported on CNN, Fox News, and other outlets late last week.

CNN, it seems, traveled to the alleged madrassa and found it to be, yes a Muslim school, but not of the fundamentalist sort.

When a Clinton staffer was queried about this, he said it was "an obvious right-wing hit job."

My question is: If so, then why did it come from the Clinton campaign? And, why are other news outlets reporting something that came from Insight Magazine?

Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church (i.e. the moonies) own Insight Magazine. According to the Center for Media and Democracy, it tends to promote right-wing views.

If only cable "news" actually did its job of investigating facts instead of reporting rumors. Bah!

Oh, and Bill Richardson

I need to note that New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson announced he will seek the Democratic nomination. He set up an exploratory committee this week.

If he runs, this will make for one of the most diverse Democratic fields in U.S. history. Richardson has Hispanic roots. His mother is Mexican.

He also is making the right moves with regard to making himself appear presidential. A few months back, he traveled to Darfur, Sudan to help negotiate a cease-fire between rebel leaders and the government. That's definately something we'll see him touting in speeches and advertisements down the line.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Oh, and Sam Brownback, too

Kansas Senator Sam Brownback announced today on his Website (I detect a theme here) and in a speech in Topeka, Kansas that he will seek the Republican nomination. Brownback is a socially conservative Republican, with strong anti-abortion and anti-gay rights positions. Of all the Republican candidates who have announced so far, he is the most clearly in the "Christian conservative" camp. He mentioned on his Web video God, prayer, "and the wisdom to know the difference" (a reference to "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . . .".

I've been signing up to all the candidates email lists (it's always fun to see what the candidates are saying in their email). Brownback's sign-up is very confusing. There's a "join" link, but it's not clear what one is "joining." The "join" link takes a visitor to a page that requires your name and email address. But there are also two additional fields, one for "display name" and one for "user name" and it's not clear what those are or what that means. There are also little red arrows underneath each form field, and they are quite confusing. They don't seem to do anything. After filling in the fields, it just takes me back to the home page - no "thank you" for signing up. Not professional. Unlike the other websites so far, there is no blog.

Yeah Yeah, Clinton Set up a Committee

I know I should be all excited that it finally happened - that Hillary Clinton finally announced the creation of an exploratory committee for a run at the Democratic nomination. It's not that I'm unexcited. Whenever a new candidate announces, it makes me happy (I know, I'm sick), but you know you'd have to be pretty clueless to have not seen this one coming.

If anything, it's noteworthy that she waited until after Obama. It's also noteworthy that she announced only a few days after Obama. Clinton does not want too much time to elapse after Obama's announcement. She needs to make sure that the fundraising advantage that an exploratory committee generates isn't lost. Both Obama and Clinton are going to compete for many of the same big (and small) donors.

Like Obama, Clinton announced on her website. She also is inviting people to sign up to join her for a live web chat. I'm curious to see how that will work. Like Obama's site, a large "contribute" button is featured prominently next to the video screen for watching her announcement.

Her announcement theme is about starting a conversation with the American people, which will happen through the live chats.

From an interactivity perspective, this is, so far, the most interactive move by a candidate that I've seen. If the interactive chats are really interactive, it will mark yet another milestone in the use by candidates of the Internet to connect and converse directly with people.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Candidates for President and Other Items

I've been meaning to post since Tuesday when Barak Obama announced on his website that he's establishing an exploratory committee. The three minute statement was a classic direct-address statement of why he is thinking of running for president.

It's a clever move to have created this announcement on his website. Right next to the video is a huge "Contribute" button. Money is the key to viability. And, if he is going to be viable, he's going to have to match the Clinton money machine. The media coverage of Obama's announcement was complete, giving Obama ooodles of free media and driving traffic to his website (and, I am sure his staff hopes, drive up donations).

There are a few others who have announced a run for the Democratic ticket: Chris Dodd and Joe Biden. Both are senior Senators. Senator Dodd announced on the "Don Imus in the Morning" show. I'm still not sure what to think about that move. If anyone has any insights, I'd gladly hear them.

Senator Biden announced his run on "Meet the Press." Biden chairs the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, and will get much free media by virtue of serving in that highly visible position (especially as Democrats vow to hold various and sundry hearings on the war in Iraq, etc.).

I should also mention that on the Republican side Newt Gingrigh announced on "Meet the Press" that he is seriously considering a run. He said he'd decide "after the new year." A Gingrigh run would be an interesting thing to see, especially alongside John McCain. I'd love to hear those two debate.

Also, just a brief aside, in my post about "20,000 troops is not the answer" I mentioned two things that have since changed. First, the "Iraqi" troops that will be going in to Baghdad as part of the "surge" are going to be primarily comprised of Kurdish forces (not Shia). This changes the dynamics somewhat. The Kurdish fighters are ready for battle. I don't know as well how they Sunnis or the Shia view them. I also read the al Maliki's government has detained 400 "Shiite militia." It's not clear what this means or who they are, but if they are part of the militia that's been rounding of Sunnis, torturing and killing them, then that's a good sign.

Second, Secretary of Defense Gates has just completed a tour of Afghanistan, and it appears he is likely to call for an increase of upwards of 3,000 U.S. troops in that country and 1,000 additional NATO troops. That's a good move in my book. Although, I still wonder how the Army will find these soldiers. (Does anyone else besides me have any interest in seeing a draft? or at least having a real discussion about it?)

Alright, back to preparing to teach and finalizing a research paper that should have been done weeks ago . . . .

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Long Road Home

One of my graduate students, Rachel Brune, served in Iraq with the sustainment brigade. Over the winter break, with her fiance she put together a You Tube video with photographs and video of their time in Iraq. It's a moving depiction of our armed forces. Recommended viewing. (It's Rachel singing, BTW).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Why 20,000 Troops is not the Answer

I listened tonight to our President announce his new plan for Iraq.

The current situation in Iraq is unacceptable to me, and so on that he and I agree. But, I am not convinced that 20,000 troops is the answer. Here's why:

1) President Bush referred to "the Iraqi people" several times in his address. This is problematic. Those who live within the borders established during British Imperialism do not see themselves as "Iraqis". They see themselves as ethnic and religious clans and groups: Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds. There is no "Iraqi people" and there never has been. It is a mistake to think that we can get Shiites and Sunnis to reconcile, as the President has suggested. Sending in 20,000 more troops to Baghdad won't force a reconciliation.

2) President Bush proposed that "Iraqi military and police" would serve in Baghdad to help secure the 9 regions in the city backed by American troops. Sunnis already deeply mistrust the Iraqi military and Iraqi police. Shiite extremists hell bent on exterminating Sunnis have infiltrated the Iraqi police (Side note: The Iraqi police have been run through the Interior department, which is headed by a "radical" Shiite, and has been heavily infiltrated by Muqtada al Sadr's army as well as other militant Shiite factions that want nothing more than to terrorize Sunnis). As such, Sunnis will see this new move as a further effort to destroy them, which will only further radicalize them, and push them even further from the negotiation table.

It's also worth noting that as there is no "Iraqi people" there is no "Iraqi army." Only a few units have integrated Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite. Nearly all units are homogenous. Shiites don't want to fight alongside Sunnis and vice versa. So, the units that likely will go into Baghdad will be Shiite (since they have been more likely to join the military and police than the Sunnis who are mistrustful of those entities). This will further reinforce the fear in Sunnis that they are meant to be exterminated. Which, I fear, will lead to more insurgency and a stronger effort on the part of Sunnis to attack American soldiers and Shiites.

Moreover, Shiites don't exactly want to see more U.S. troops. The Shiites do not trust us, and believe that the U.S. knew about the bombing of the Shiite golden temple in Samarrah, the holiest place for Shiites, but chose to do nothing. Moreover, President Maliki is in Moqtada al Sadr's back pocket, and I don't believe for a second, that al Sadr will allow Maliki to let the U.S. military into predominantly Shiite areas of Baghdad to "quell the insurgency." President Bush tonight said he has Maliki's cooperation, but that is something I would need to see to believe.

3) The Army and Marines are already stretched very thin. The "trigger pullers" are but a fraction of the 1 million strong U.S. military, and many of them have already served 2, 3, or 4 tours of duty. How much more can we ask of our regular Army and Marines?

Even more critical for me is that in order for the Army to deploy the increased number of troops, the Pentagon will need to change their current policy on reservists and National Guard. Presently military personnel in these serve one tour of duty (extended at the start of the war from 1 to a maximum of 2 years). The Pentagon would need to change that to two tours of duty. How much can we ask of our reservists and National Guard? The states have joint control over the National Guard. Will they be willing to sacrifice that many men and women who are necessary for states in times of, for example, natural disasters?

Finally on this, Army and Marine units are going to be pulled from other theatres, specifically Afghanistan. NATO and the Afghanistan government have been begging the Pentagon to increase troop levels in that country, because the Taliban is gaining in force, and is quickly moving to reclaim areas of Afghanistan. NATO anticipates an orchestrated attack by the Taliban on Afghan/NATO forces in the coming months, and there are not sufficient troops to hold them back. So, just at the time we risk losing portions of Afghanistan to the Taliban, the U.S. is going to pull a brigade of Marines out of there and into Iraq. How does that make the United States more secure at home and abroad?

4) If there were to be a "unified Iraq," it would most likely be controlled by the Shiites (since they now have the most power and the most people in the country). The Shiites, for the most part, do not want a secular, nationalist government (like what existed under Sunni control). They want a theocracy styled in Iranian fashion. Although the Iranians are Persian and the Shiites of Iraq are Arab, they both share a common faith, and increasingly a common vision on how the government should be run, which includes Sharia Law, which is a fundamental Islamic legal system based in religion. The U.S. is unlikely to see women's rights in Iraq and Western-style democracy under Shiite-controlled Iraq.

Here's what I think we should be doing instead:

Diplomacy - the "political" solution as they say. We need to work with the Sunnis and the Shiites to help them each establish their own regional government. The Constitution that the Kurds and Shiites created (the Sunnis boycotted this process) establishes a very weak federal government and strong regional governments. This opens the door for not a "unified Iraq" but three strong, but separate regional governments that each get a share of the oil that comes out of the ground primarily in the Shiite region of the country (although there are productive wells and the possibility for more in all three regions), and that each establish their own local laws and rules of government. The Kurds have already done that. Now, we must find a way to help the Sunnis and Shiites to do the same.

It is a mistake to think that we can "unify Iraq" and "quell the insurgency" by bringing in 20,000 more troops to Baghdad. What we need are many more diplomats and regional experts (the regional experts have been quite left out of this entire Iraq fiasco to this point) in that country who speak the language, forging ties with local leaders, and helping them to each craft governments and military/police, and infrastructure that is acceptable to each region.

Forcing "Iraqis" to reconcile will be a fruitless mission that will kill thousands more American soldiers and "Iraqi" civilians, and drain our treasury even further. Helping the Shiites and the Sunnis to develop regional governments, to help them each gain ownership of a region, to let them define for themselves how they wish to govern themselves, and to allow the weak national government do what it wants to do - govern, then we will have indeed allowed for a democracy to take place and helped the people of Iraq to help themselves.

[Side note: Much of my information on Iraq comes from Peter Galbraith's smart book, The End of Iraq. My solutions are really his, but he convinced me as no one else has that his is a real solution to the problems of "Iraq." Reading the newspaper also helps .]

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Vilsack on Daily Show and Poor Giuliani

Tom Vilsack, former Governor of Iowa, and one of the three officially announced Democratic nomination contenders was on The Daily Show on December 18 (yeah, I know, it's now January, but better late than never that I look at this).

The four plus minutes of time focused primarily on the War in Iraq, and Vilsack's tour of the country, which led him to his proposed policy that the United States needs to withdraw.

He described the relationship between Iraq and the United States as an addiction - that the Iraqis are addicted to a belief that the United States should save them. Vilsack said he believes the Iraqis need to save themselves.

Stewart used the "if you break it, you fix it" analogy that Colin Powell had offered some time ago as reason to stay in Iraq, and Vilsack responded with the proposal that the Europeans and others must step in and help stabilize as we step out.

He mentioned Bush at the beginning of the segment, noting that Bush is advocating a surge in troops in the months ahead. Vilsack then said that Bush now has McCain advocating this approach, and then Vilsack offered his plan for withdrawal, saying that a troop surge was a mistake. What's noteworthy is the explicit mention of McCain, which is a signal that that is who Vilsack thinks will be running on the Republican ticket in 2008.

There was, of course, at the end of the segment a plug for Vilsack's website - a now customary move for candidates to try to drive traffic to their website.

On a side note - I read in my local paper that the New York Daily News was reporting that Rudy Giuliani's entire campaign playbook was left (or stolen) from a hotel room (or airplane), and has been leaked. There's some speculation that the playbook was stolen by an aide to the new Florida Governor when Giuliani was campaigning for him last year, possibly someone who favored a different Republican candidate for the presidential nomination.

The playbook's details have not received much media coverage, except in the Daily News, which detailed the unvarnished assessment of Giuliani's weaknesses, which include his three marriages, his relationship to disgraced Bernard Kerik, and his private business dealings.

Such foibles are hard on a campaign, because they're distracting and cause candidates and their staffs to go off message. This will blow over, but I am curious whether or not this will be made more of when the campaign starts to heat up.