Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 5, 2008

Mavericks Who Run, Mavericks Who Lead

If yesterday we all agreed that McCain is the true maverick of the two Presidential candidates, today we can ask: is it really better for a candidate to be a maverick or is it better for a president to be a maverick?

Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal reminds his readers that the maverick sometimes has the political edge, but only before he gets elected:

Cheers have greeted every mention of McCain’s willingness to work with Democrats, his capacity to disagree with leaders from his own party and his determination to steer his own course. None of that won much applause from conservatives and many party regulars last year when they were resisting McCain in the GOP presidential nomination race. And it’s not clear that most Republicans would find those same qualities nearly as admirable next year if McCain wins in November.

But Brownstein predicts that

the only way he could fulfill his pledge to break gridlock would be to reach agreements with Democrats. Inevitably that would require concessions resisted by many Republicans.

Prof. Coleman, in the Pollster.com post  I mentioned yesterday, makes a similar assertion–and offers some advice:

[being the maverick] is of course one of the chief aspects of McCain’s legislative life that has historically created problems for him within his own party and among party activists. It is one of the tasks of the Republican convention to convince Republicans of the virtue of that independent streak as a matter of character, even if they disagree with McCain on policy particulars.

I think today one thing can be said with confidence: as far as the convention goes, the mission was indeed accomplished. That is–as Brownstein writes–at least up until McCain gets elected.

If yesterday we all agreed that McCain is the true maverick of the two Presidential candidates, today we can ask: is it really better for a candidate to be a maverick or is it better for a president to be a maverick?

Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal reminds his readers that the maverick sometimes has the political edge, but only before he gets elected:

Cheers have greeted every mention of McCain’s willingness to work with Democrats, his capacity to disagree with leaders from his own party and his determination to steer his own course. None of that won much applause from conservatives and many party regulars last year when they were resisting McCain in the GOP presidential nomination race. And it’s not clear that most Republicans would find those same qualities nearly as admirable next year if McCain wins in November.

But Brownstein predicts that

the only way he could fulfill his pledge to break gridlock would be to reach agreements with Democrats. Inevitably that would require concessions resisted by many Republicans.

Prof. Coleman, in the Pollster.com post  I mentioned yesterday, makes a similar assertion–and offers some advice:

[being the maverick] is of course one of the chief aspects of McCain’s legislative life that has historically created problems for him within his own party and among party activists. It is one of the tasks of the Republican convention to convince Republicans of the virtue of that independent streak as a matter of character, even if they disagree with McCain on policy particulars.

I think today one thing can be said with confidence: as far as the convention goes, the mission was indeed accomplished. That is–as Brownstein writes–at least up until McCain gets elected.

Read Less

Some Thoughts on Last Night

1. I am clueless as to whether the speech will be viewed by most of those who saw it as successful or not. My instinct is that it was okay but not outstanding, weak in some parts and quite strong in others, but ultimately it will have little lasting impact, for reasons I will get to in a moment.

2. The speech started slowly and the policy section, while fine, was fairly typical and uncreative. It had no unifying thread, no real explication of a governing philosophy, and no sense of priority in terms of the issues. This created a check-the-box quality to the address. I’m therefore doubtful that Senator McCain advanced the ball much in terms of appealing to the American people on what is commonly referred to as the “kitchen table” issues. If that’s the case–and I’m not sure it is–it’s a problem.

3. Senator McCain’s paragraph on the waywardness of the GOP over the last several years was necessary. In the current political environment, McCain needs to demonstrate that he is as disappointed in the Republican Party’s missteps and acts of corruption as much of the public is. If McCain did this in a believable way, as I think he did, voters might have some confidence that he will revivify the Grand Old Party.

4. The thematics of the speech were more interesting than the policy prescriptions and, in their conceit, politically shrewd. The McCain campaign has clearly decided, and in my judgment wisely decided, that it has played the experience card about as well as it could. Senator McCain and his senior advisers knew they had to pivot to a new narrative; they have chosen to portray McCain, by virtue of his record and his temperament, as the authentic agent of change in this race. That is in large measure why he chose Governor Palin as his vice presidential pick.

To put it another way: McCain was willing to weaken what had been his best argument to date–Obama’s inexperience and unreadiness to be commander-in-chief–in order to try to hijack what had been Obama’s greatest strength: the promise of change. It’s highly unlikely that McCain can win outright the claim of who best represents change in this election–but if McCain can narrow the gap, it might be enough for him to win the election.

The other thematic that was (relentlessly) advanced in last night’s address was that McCain will be a fighter for average Americans. This frame comes straight out of the Hillary Clinton playbook, and it’s smart. It was, it’s worth recalling, the best case Hillary Clinton made in the primary campaign; her problem was that she settled on it too late. But it helped fuel Clinton’s impressive close in the primaries, when she often beat Obama and, significantly, simply wiped him out in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The McCain campaign clearly learned from the Clinton campaign, and they’re not too proud to borrow a good idea. The question is whether, in concrete and practical terms, it’s clear to most people what McCain will fight for. Has he penetrated the public imagination on domestic policy and his governing “vision”? I think the answer is still unclear.

5. The coda of the speech was powerful, moving, and in parts profound; McCain told his POW story in a more effective way than I’ve ever heard him tell it before. And his meditation on love of country was extraordinary. It’s hard to believe that anyone who doesn’t work at MSNBC could hear McCain’s account and not be deeply moved by it, or recognize that McCain is, in many respects, a truly great man.

For those of us who believe character and courage are important things to take into account in selecting a president–both as an example to his countrymen but also as important governing traits–McCain’s biography matters. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that Bob Dole had a compelling personal story, too, and he was soundly defeated by Bill Clinton–a man whose character was, to be charitable, less than admirable.

6. To return to an earlier point I made: Senator McCain’s speech, apart from its close, will soon be forgotten, largely because Sarah Palin’s speech was so memorable. She was unquestionably the star of this convention. Her speech, unlike his, had a backdrop of drama. She was largely unknown to most of America, and clearly some reporters, newspapers, and cable networks were out to belittle her and, as evidenced by their near obsession with Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, to cross certain lines in order to destroy her candidacy.

Governor Palin responded to all this with self-possession, confidence, a sense of joy and eagerness for the battle ahead, and an outstanding speech–well-crafted, tough-minded, and devastatingly effective against Senator Obama. She may be the only person in America who could have sent a jolt of electricity and excitement through the GOP and the conservative movement. She also turned out to be a one-woman answer to the intensity gap. Many Republicans and conservative believe her selection reflects well on Senator McCain.

7. The most important thing to take away from this last week, I think, is that the GOP is positioned much better than virtually anyone could have imagined two months ago. The frame is not so much a Democrat v. a Republican or change v. a Bush third term; rather, it is a choice between John McCain and Sarah Palin v. Barack Obama and Joe Biden. That’s about as much as Republicans could have hoped for.

The other thing that should not be overlooked is that Barack Obama has pretty much completed his transformation from an exciting, unifying, post-partisan figure to a completely orthodox candidate. The excitement, hope, and sense of high calling many people felt for Obama earlier this year has faded and, for many people, evaporated. Iowa and all Iowa represented in the rise of Obama seems long ago and far away.

At this point, then, the race is quite close and McCain, while still the underdog, not only has a chance to win the election, but his odds of winning are creeping up to close to even. In this environment that achievement is, all by itself, extremely impressive.

This entire political year has been one of the most memorable in our lifetime, and at various times it has been gripping. It looks as if the final two months of the campaign will be as interesting, intense, and unpredictable as what has come before it. Perhaps that’s only fitting.

1. I am clueless as to whether the speech will be viewed by most of those who saw it as successful or not. My instinct is that it was okay but not outstanding, weak in some parts and quite strong in others, but ultimately it will have little lasting impact, for reasons I will get to in a moment.

2. The speech started slowly and the policy section, while fine, was fairly typical and uncreative. It had no unifying thread, no real explication of a governing philosophy, and no sense of priority in terms of the issues. This created a check-the-box quality to the address. I’m therefore doubtful that Senator McCain advanced the ball much in terms of appealing to the American people on what is commonly referred to as the “kitchen table” issues. If that’s the case–and I’m not sure it is–it’s a problem.

3. Senator McCain’s paragraph on the waywardness of the GOP over the last several years was necessary. In the current political environment, McCain needs to demonstrate that he is as disappointed in the Republican Party’s missteps and acts of corruption as much of the public is. If McCain did this in a believable way, as I think he did, voters might have some confidence that he will revivify the Grand Old Party.

4. The thematics of the speech were more interesting than the policy prescriptions and, in their conceit, politically shrewd. The McCain campaign has clearly decided, and in my judgment wisely decided, that it has played the experience card about as well as it could. Senator McCain and his senior advisers knew they had to pivot to a new narrative; they have chosen to portray McCain, by virtue of his record and his temperament, as the authentic agent of change in this race. That is in large measure why he chose Governor Palin as his vice presidential pick.

To put it another way: McCain was willing to weaken what had been his best argument to date–Obama’s inexperience and unreadiness to be commander-in-chief–in order to try to hijack what had been Obama’s greatest strength: the promise of change. It’s highly unlikely that McCain can win outright the claim of who best represents change in this election–but if McCain can narrow the gap, it might be enough for him to win the election.

The other thematic that was (relentlessly) advanced in last night’s address was that McCain will be a fighter for average Americans. This frame comes straight out of the Hillary Clinton playbook, and it’s smart. It was, it’s worth recalling, the best case Hillary Clinton made in the primary campaign; her problem was that she settled on it too late. But it helped fuel Clinton’s impressive close in the primaries, when she often beat Obama and, significantly, simply wiped him out in states like Kentucky and West Virginia. The McCain campaign clearly learned from the Clinton campaign, and they’re not too proud to borrow a good idea. The question is whether, in concrete and practical terms, it’s clear to most people what McCain will fight for. Has he penetrated the public imagination on domestic policy and his governing “vision”? I think the answer is still unclear.

5. The coda of the speech was powerful, moving, and in parts profound; McCain told his POW story in a more effective way than I’ve ever heard him tell it before. And his meditation on love of country was extraordinary. It’s hard to believe that anyone who doesn’t work at MSNBC could hear McCain’s account and not be deeply moved by it, or recognize that McCain is, in many respects, a truly great man.

For those of us who believe character and courage are important things to take into account in selecting a president–both as an example to his countrymen but also as important governing traits–McCain’s biography matters. But it’s also worth bearing in mind that Bob Dole had a compelling personal story, too, and he was soundly defeated by Bill Clinton–a man whose character was, to be charitable, less than admirable.

6. To return to an earlier point I made: Senator McCain’s speech, apart from its close, will soon be forgotten, largely because Sarah Palin’s speech was so memorable. She was unquestionably the star of this convention. Her speech, unlike his, had a backdrop of drama. She was largely unknown to most of America, and clearly some reporters, newspapers, and cable networks were out to belittle her and, as evidenced by their near obsession with Bristol Palin’s pregnancy, to cross certain lines in order to destroy her candidacy.

Governor Palin responded to all this with self-possession, confidence, a sense of joy and eagerness for the battle ahead, and an outstanding speech–well-crafted, tough-minded, and devastatingly effective against Senator Obama. She may be the only person in America who could have sent a jolt of electricity and excitement through the GOP and the conservative movement. She also turned out to be a one-woman answer to the intensity gap. Many Republicans and conservative believe her selection reflects well on Senator McCain.

7. The most important thing to take away from this last week, I think, is that the GOP is positioned much better than virtually anyone could have imagined two months ago. The frame is not so much a Democrat v. a Republican or change v. a Bush third term; rather, it is a choice between John McCain and Sarah Palin v. Barack Obama and Joe Biden. That’s about as much as Republicans could have hoped for.

The other thing that should not be overlooked is that Barack Obama has pretty much completed his transformation from an exciting, unifying, post-partisan figure to a completely orthodox candidate. The excitement, hope, and sense of high calling many people felt for Obama earlier this year has faded and, for many people, evaporated. Iowa and all Iowa represented in the rise of Obama seems long ago and far away.

At this point, then, the race is quite close and McCain, while still the underdog, not only has a chance to win the election, but his odds of winning are creeping up to close to even. In this environment that achievement is, all by itself, extremely impressive.

This entire political year has been one of the most memorable in our lifetime, and at various times it has been gripping. It looks as if the final two months of the campaign will be as interesting, intense, and unpredictable as what has come before it. Perhaps that’s only fitting.

Read Less

Obama Tightens, McCain Broadens

There have been several unexpected political developments in the presidential race over the past 13 days, following the selection of Joseph Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate.

First was the way the opening two days, and even part of the third, of the Democratic convention were overrun by the Clinton melodrama. That was resolved, to the satisfaction of all, with an energetic speech by Hillary and a stemwinder by Bill — but even so, it was not predictable that they were going to get away with turning Obama’s coronation into yet another Arkansas soap opera.

But perhaps nothing has been more surprising than the fact that Obama’s own speech was far more personally and ideologically negative toward John McCain and the GOP than Biden’s was. Standard general-election politics has it that the vice presidential candidate is to dispense with the cordiality and go directly at the opposition, while the presidential candidate — whose central goal is usually to broaden his appeal, move to the center, and try to bring new voters into his camp — is to elevate himself into the realm of World Leadership. He wants people to be able to imagine him in the Oval Office, and to like what they imagine; leaders, it was once presumed, had to remain above the partisan fray.

Even if the idea of a leader too august to mix it up is more spin than substance, there is still something to the notion that the comportment of the leader of the Free World is important, and that we expect such a leader to focus his attention on higher matters. It was therefore even more stunning that Obama, who made such a point of running as a change agent sick of the same old Washington bickering during his ascension in late 2007 and early 2008, chose the moment of his greatest visibility to muddy his own message and to blur that image. After all, more people saw Obama’s speech a week ago than have ever seen him speak before, by a factor of four. I don’t know whether those potential initiates will now think of him as someone new and different in American politics for reasons other than his race, since his speech smacked of the partisan rancor he has suggested he was put on this earth to overcome.

Obama’s decision to go at McCain rather than ride a higher horse left McCain with a colossal opening, and he took it last night. His speech was the most non-partisan address I think any of us has ever heard at a political convention, and it was explicitly directed toward the people who were seeing him for the first time. He told anew the story of his captivity and his life of service, so they would know what kind of man he is outside of politics.

And then, because he could, because it is part of his own political story, he told them that he had spent a lifetime in politics trying to change Washington, and that because he knew the fight down to his marrow, he could succeed at it.

He said he had been fighting the status quo for 25 years, that he knew why his party had fallen into disrepute, that it deserved the disrepute into which it had fallen, and that he didn’t care whether Democrats or Republicans got the credit for good ideas he might implement in office.

Claiming this turf in the non-ideological center was the sole purpose of this speech, and succeeding at this task was made far easier by the fact that Obama strangely chose not to stake his claim to it. Now, obviously, Obama has a better partisan hand to play than McCain. Ask voters whether they prefer Democrats to Republicans and Obama’s party prevails by a dozen points.

Still, Obama will not win with a coalition made up entirely of partisan Democrats and independents who are Democratic fellow travelers. Many of those independents may indeed dislike George W. Bush, but the very fact that they remain undecided demonstrates that their negative feelings may not have the intensity Obama believes or wishes to believe they do.

Obama tightened and focused his message in his speech. McCain broadened his. As always, the only judges of these strategies will be time and results. But there is strong reason to think that the golden-tongued Obama tripped himself up a bit last week, while his rival, who tripped over his own tongue more than a few times last night, laid out for himelf a path to victory last night.

There have been several unexpected political developments in the presidential race over the past 13 days, following the selection of Joseph Biden as Barack Obama’s running mate.

First was the way the opening two days, and even part of the third, of the Democratic convention were overrun by the Clinton melodrama. That was resolved, to the satisfaction of all, with an energetic speech by Hillary and a stemwinder by Bill — but even so, it was not predictable that they were going to get away with turning Obama’s coronation into yet another Arkansas soap opera.

But perhaps nothing has been more surprising than the fact that Obama’s own speech was far more personally and ideologically negative toward John McCain and the GOP than Biden’s was. Standard general-election politics has it that the vice presidential candidate is to dispense with the cordiality and go directly at the opposition, while the presidential candidate — whose central goal is usually to broaden his appeal, move to the center, and try to bring new voters into his camp — is to elevate himself into the realm of World Leadership. He wants people to be able to imagine him in the Oval Office, and to like what they imagine; leaders, it was once presumed, had to remain above the partisan fray.

Even if the idea of a leader too august to mix it up is more spin than substance, there is still something to the notion that the comportment of the leader of the Free World is important, and that we expect such a leader to focus his attention on higher matters. It was therefore even more stunning that Obama, who made such a point of running as a change agent sick of the same old Washington bickering during his ascension in late 2007 and early 2008, chose the moment of his greatest visibility to muddy his own message and to blur that image. After all, more people saw Obama’s speech a week ago than have ever seen him speak before, by a factor of four. I don’t know whether those potential initiates will now think of him as someone new and different in American politics for reasons other than his race, since his speech smacked of the partisan rancor he has suggested he was put on this earth to overcome.

Obama’s decision to go at McCain rather than ride a higher horse left McCain with a colossal opening, and he took it last night. His speech was the most non-partisan address I think any of us has ever heard at a political convention, and it was explicitly directed toward the people who were seeing him for the first time. He told anew the story of his captivity and his life of service, so they would know what kind of man he is outside of politics.

And then, because he could, because it is part of his own political story, he told them that he had spent a lifetime in politics trying to change Washington, and that because he knew the fight down to his marrow, he could succeed at it.

He said he had been fighting the status quo for 25 years, that he knew why his party had fallen into disrepute, that it deserved the disrepute into which it had fallen, and that he didn’t care whether Democrats or Republicans got the credit for good ideas he might implement in office.

Claiming this turf in the non-ideological center was the sole purpose of this speech, and succeeding at this task was made far easier by the fact that Obama strangely chose not to stake his claim to it. Now, obviously, Obama has a better partisan hand to play than McCain. Ask voters whether they prefer Democrats to Republicans and Obama’s party prevails by a dozen points.

Still, Obama will not win with a coalition made up entirely of partisan Democrats and independents who are Democratic fellow travelers. Many of those independents may indeed dislike George W. Bush, but the very fact that they remain undecided demonstrates that their negative feelings may not have the intensity Obama believes or wishes to believe they do.

Obama tightened and focused his message in his speech. McCain broadened his. As always, the only judges of these strategies will be time and results. But there is strong reason to think that the golden-tongued Obama tripped himself up a bit last week, while his rival, who tripped over his own tongue more than a few times last night, laid out for himelf a path to victory last night.

Read Less

Obama’s Palin Problem

Barack Obama is launching a proxy war against Sarah Palin, employing Hillary Clinton, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to spread out and tell women why they should vote for the Democratic nominee. This, according to the AP, is a short-term approach to a lasting problem that the Obama camp does not know how to tackle:

Obama’s senior advisers say they cannot allow Palin to paint herself as the come-from-nowhere insurgent–a role that once belonged to Obama.

The fact is she now owns that role, and this has left Obama without a popular identity. Obama has been running for president for a year and a half. There’s nothing fresh about his face or his rhetoric anymore. That he showed up so polished has led to a premature glibness that can now be gleaned in every interview and speech. Ever since Hillary dropped out, Obama has been doing superstardom by rote. He’s, frankly, an old pro. By contrast, Sarah Palin is an American Idol winner. Part of what’s giving her grand coming out legs is that she herself seems so genuinely excited by it.

And as far as the “come-from-nowhere” aspect goes, she’s got Obama licked. Her past is more geographically obscure, and therefore romantic. Bur her record of accomplishments is impressive and documented. Obama suffers from the inverse, and it’s a problem. He comes out of well-known Lefty circles and the unsavory political machines of Chicago, yet his accomplishments are virtually non-existent.

The old saying goes that a fraud fears nothing so much as the real thing. According to Drudge, a new Rassmussen poll will show Palin is more popular than Obama, and Oprah Winfrey’s staff is in a crisis over whether or not to have Palin on her show as a guest. It makes sense that if Obama can’t counter the genuine accomplishments and the “insurgent” persona of Sarah Palin, he’ll try to rebut her concretely where he can. She is a woman, so he’s sending prominent women supporters out to challenge her claim to the female electorate. But after that phase ends, he still needs a real Palin plan.

Barack Obama is launching a proxy war against Sarah Palin, employing Hillary Clinton, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to spread out and tell women why they should vote for the Democratic nominee. This, according to the AP, is a short-term approach to a lasting problem that the Obama camp does not know how to tackle:

Obama’s senior advisers say they cannot allow Palin to paint herself as the come-from-nowhere insurgent–a role that once belonged to Obama.

The fact is she now owns that role, and this has left Obama without a popular identity. Obama has been running for president for a year and a half. There’s nothing fresh about his face or his rhetoric anymore. That he showed up so polished has led to a premature glibness that can now be gleaned in every interview and speech. Ever since Hillary dropped out, Obama has been doing superstardom by rote. He’s, frankly, an old pro. By contrast, Sarah Palin is an American Idol winner. Part of what’s giving her grand coming out legs is that she herself seems so genuinely excited by it.

And as far as the “come-from-nowhere” aspect goes, she’s got Obama licked. Her past is more geographically obscure, and therefore romantic. Bur her record of accomplishments is impressive and documented. Obama suffers from the inverse, and it’s a problem. He comes out of well-known Lefty circles and the unsavory political machines of Chicago, yet his accomplishments are virtually non-existent.

The old saying goes that a fraud fears nothing so much as the real thing. According to Drudge, a new Rassmussen poll will show Palin is more popular than Obama, and Oprah Winfrey’s staff is in a crisis over whether or not to have Palin on her show as a guest. It makes sense that if Obama can’t counter the genuine accomplishments and the “insurgent” persona of Sarah Palin, he’ll try to rebut her concretely where he can. She is a woman, so he’s sending prominent women supporters out to challenge her claim to the female electorate. But after that phase ends, he still needs a real Palin plan.

Read Less

Where We Stand in Iraq

If these reports are accurate, General David Petraeus has recommended, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has adopted, a cautious approach toward troop draw-downs in Iraq. They apparently want to wait until early next year to cut the overall U.S. force from 15 brigades to 14, with one brigade initially scheduled for Iraq to be sent to Afghanistan instead. That they’re not calling for a more substantial reduction will disappoint opponents of the war effort and even some of its supporters but that strikes me as a prudent course to follow.

There is no disputing the remarkable gains of the past 18 months, with violence across Iraq down by some 80%. Just a few days ago, U.S. troops turned over Anbar Province to Iraqi control amid declarations by some stateside—but not by commanders on the ground—that “victory” has been achieved. There is no question that victory looks infinitely more achievable now than it did a couple of years ago, but we’re still not there yet. Lots of risks remain, with provincial elections probably coming at the end of the year and volatile situations such as the future of Kirkuk still unresolved.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has vastly improved his own reputation by taking on Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City but he now may be getting over-confident. There is a danger, as this Guardian article points out, that he may return to his sectarian roots. U.S. officials are especially worried, and rightly so, by indications that Maliki may be targeting the Sons of Iraq, the mostly Sunni force which has done so much to contribute to the growing sense of security. Meanwhile, the hard-line Shiite Special Groups have been put on the defensive but, as this report notes, they can stage a comeback with Iranian support.

Keeping a sizable U.S. force in Iraq for as long as American and Iraqi politics allows it is an essential hedge against a multitude of dangerous scenarios and the best way to preserve the hard-won gains of the surge.

If these reports are accurate, General David Petraeus has recommended, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has adopted, a cautious approach toward troop draw-downs in Iraq. They apparently want to wait until early next year to cut the overall U.S. force from 15 brigades to 14, with one brigade initially scheduled for Iraq to be sent to Afghanistan instead. That they’re not calling for a more substantial reduction will disappoint opponents of the war effort and even some of its supporters but that strikes me as a prudent course to follow.

There is no disputing the remarkable gains of the past 18 months, with violence across Iraq down by some 80%. Just a few days ago, U.S. troops turned over Anbar Province to Iraqi control amid declarations by some stateside—but not by commanders on the ground—that “victory” has been achieved. There is no question that victory looks infinitely more achievable now than it did a couple of years ago, but we’re still not there yet. Lots of risks remain, with provincial elections probably coming at the end of the year and volatile situations such as the future of Kirkuk still unresolved.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has vastly improved his own reputation by taking on Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City but he now may be getting over-confident. There is a danger, as this Guardian article points out, that he may return to his sectarian roots. U.S. officials are especially worried, and rightly so, by indications that Maliki may be targeting the Sons of Iraq, the mostly Sunni force which has done so much to contribute to the growing sense of security. Meanwhile, the hard-line Shiite Special Groups have been put on the defensive but, as this report notes, they can stage a comeback with Iranian support.

Keeping a sizable U.S. force in Iraq for as long as American and Iraqi politics allows it is an essential hedge against a multitude of dangerous scenarios and the best way to preserve the hard-won gains of the surge.

Read Less

China’s Nukes

Thanks to the reliable Secrecy News I’ve leaned about the emergence of a “detailed new portrait of China’s nuclear weapons program.”The plan is revealed in an article published in Physics Today “following years of pre-publication conflict between author Danny B. Stillman and the Central Intelligence Agency”.

Secrecy News has some of the the background:

Mr. Stillman, a former Los Alamos intelligence officer, was able to learn more about China’s nuclear weapons infrastructure than any other American, particularly since the Chinese, for their own reasons, welcomed his attention. Over the course of numerous visits in the 1990s, he was able to inspect secret nuclear facilities that had been completely off limits to foreigners. But when he proposed to publish his findings, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped in to block publication.

Physics Today has the details – some not quite new, some controversial and under dispute, but some very interesting. Here’s a sample:

During his time in China and during subsequent discussions with Chinese scientists visiting the US, Stillman was given a complete rundown on the Chinese nuclear test program: the date of every event, the purpose of each test, its yield, and the lessons learned. A tabulated summary of those tests can be seen here. Those test results, along with other insights into the Chinese nuclear program, were confirmed to me by leaders of the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics during their visits to the US in 2005. Here are some additional developments and conclusions:

  • In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966.
  • A Pakistani derivative of CHIC-4 apparently was tested in China on 26 May 1990.
  • After four failed experiments, Chinese researchers fired a successful enhanced radiation weapon, a neutron bomb, on 19 December 1984.
  • The Chinese bid farewell to atmospheric nuclear testing on 16 October 1980 with a 700-kiloton airburst. It was the last such atmospheric test by any nuclear power. They continued to test underground until 29 July 1996.
  • During the 1990s China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments-though not full-scale device tests-for France at Lop Nur.

Thanks to the reliable Secrecy News I’ve leaned about the emergence of a “detailed new portrait of China’s nuclear weapons program.”The plan is revealed in an article published in Physics Today “following years of pre-publication conflict between author Danny B. Stillman and the Central Intelligence Agency”.

Secrecy News has some of the the background:

Mr. Stillman, a former Los Alamos intelligence officer, was able to learn more about China’s nuclear weapons infrastructure than any other American, particularly since the Chinese, for their own reasons, welcomed his attention. Over the course of numerous visits in the 1990s, he was able to inspect secret nuclear facilities that had been completely off limits to foreigners. But when he proposed to publish his findings, the Central Intelligence Agency stepped in to block publication.

Physics Today has the details – some not quite new, some controversial and under dispute, but some very interesting. Here’s a sample:

During his time in China and during subsequent discussions with Chinese scientists visiting the US, Stillman was given a complete rundown on the Chinese nuclear test program: the date of every event, the purpose of each test, its yield, and the lessons learned. A tabulated summary of those tests can be seen here. Those test results, along with other insights into the Chinese nuclear program, were confirmed to me by leaders of the Chinese Academy of Engineering Physics during their visits to the US in 2005. Here are some additional developments and conclusions:

  • In 1982 China’s premier Deng Xiaoping began the transfer of nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan and, in time, to other third world countries. Those transfers included blueprints for the ultrasimple CHIC-4 design using highly enriched uranium, first tested by China in 1966.
  • A Pakistani derivative of CHIC-4 apparently was tested in China on 26 May 1990.
  • After four failed experiments, Chinese researchers fired a successful enhanced radiation weapon, a neutron bomb, on 19 December 1984.
  • The Chinese bid farewell to atmospheric nuclear testing on 16 October 1980 with a 700-kiloton airburst. It was the last such atmospheric test by any nuclear power. They continued to test underground until 29 July 1996.
  • During the 1990s China conducted underground hydronuclear experiments-though not full-scale device tests-for France at Lop Nur.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Money isn’t a problem for John McCain.

Couldn’t they find a less politically-extreme U.S. Senator to call Sarah Palin an extremist?

One bit of evidence of voter backlash against the mainstream media.

David Brooks finds McCain has the “heart of the insurgent” and  Sarah Palin the benefit of “freshness.”

Charles Krauthammer, no friend of the Palin selection, figures it out: Ah, maybe she can succeed through “sheer elegance, intelligence and power.”  But that was really the point wasn’t it? If you are going to pooh-pooh popular appeal it seems inconsistent to say “Well it will be okay if she does it really well.”

Rich Lowry is right: a reformer with basically conservative tendencies is the only model for McCain that might work. It also happens to be who he is.

Nothing like having your moronic talking points released to the media after the premise of the points is exploded before 40 million people.

Money isn’t a problem for John McCain.

Couldn’t they find a less politically-extreme U.S. Senator to call Sarah Palin an extremist?

One bit of evidence of voter backlash against the mainstream media.

David Brooks finds McCain has the “heart of the insurgent” and  Sarah Palin the benefit of “freshness.”

Charles Krauthammer, no friend of the Palin selection, figures it out: Ah, maybe she can succeed through “sheer elegance, intelligence and power.”  But that was really the point wasn’t it? If you are going to pooh-pooh popular appeal it seems inconsistent to say “Well it will be okay if she does it really well.”

Rich Lowry is right: a reformer with basically conservative tendencies is the only model for McCain that might work. It also happens to be who he is.

Nothing like having your moronic talking points released to the media after the premise of the points is exploded before 40 million people.

Read Less

Bipartisanship

The very strong appeal to bipartisanship by John McCain made in a very partisan setting is attributable to several factors. First, it plays to his strengths and his record. Second, it signals a departure from the Bush Administration. Third, it highlights an Obama weakness. Fourth, independents apparently love this stuff. Finally, it impinges on Obama’s change theme by offering a more concrete incarnation of the same theme.

Did it work? The media generally liked it. And my ridiculously small sample of Democratic opinion (including sampling some observations of press people in the hall) suggest it may have. But I’m the last person to argue that media coverage is predictive of anything.

The very strong appeal to bipartisanship by John McCain made in a very partisan setting is attributable to several factors. First, it plays to his strengths and his record. Second, it signals a departure from the Bush Administration. Third, it highlights an Obama weakness. Fourth, independents apparently love this stuff. Finally, it impinges on Obama’s change theme by offering a more concrete incarnation of the same theme.

Did it work? The media generally liked it. And my ridiculously small sample of Democratic opinion (including sampling some observations of press people in the hall) suggest it may have. But I’m the last person to argue that media coverage is predictive of anything.

Read Less

Luck

John McCain often says he has been lucky in his life. I think this is not false gratitude or modesty. One doesn’t survive physical and political death without luck. John McCain has had a ton of it. Let’s review:

1. Conservatives couldn’t decide on a single alternative to McCain in the GOP primary.

2. Mike Huckabee peaked at just the right time to upend Mitt Romney in New Hampshire.

3. The Democratic primary race went on endlessly, leaving a long trail of handy Hillary Clinton YouTube clips.

4. While the American people are suffering with $5 a gallon gas, Barack Obama goes on a Magical Mystery tour, giving credibility to the notion he is frivolous and muddled in foreign policy thinking.

5. The MSM (following the hateful and malicious gossip-mongering by the netroots and the Beagle Blogger) – in a fit of pique and plain meanness – attack Sarah Palin for two days, creating a test of fitness and a huge audience to watch her hit her acceptance speech out of the park.

6.  Hurricane Gustav removes President Bush and Dick Cheney from the premises of the convention.

7. Two obnoxious Code Pink demonstrators are tossed during the “can’t we all listen to one another” part of McCain’s speech.

8. The Democrats both in Congress and on the Presidential ticket decide to oppose wildly popular domestic drilling while energy becomes the number one domestic policy issue.

9. The economy hits a rebound and logs in a 3.3.% growth bump.

None of this is to say McCain and his team haven’t capitalized on these opportunities, but it seems no politican in recent memory really has been this fortunate.

John McCain often says he has been lucky in his life. I think this is not false gratitude or modesty. One doesn’t survive physical and political death without luck. John McCain has had a ton of it. Let’s review:

1. Conservatives couldn’t decide on a single alternative to McCain in the GOP primary.

2. Mike Huckabee peaked at just the right time to upend Mitt Romney in New Hampshire.

3. The Democratic primary race went on endlessly, leaving a long trail of handy Hillary Clinton YouTube clips.

4. While the American people are suffering with $5 a gallon gas, Barack Obama goes on a Magical Mystery tour, giving credibility to the notion he is frivolous and muddled in foreign policy thinking.

5. The MSM (following the hateful and malicious gossip-mongering by the netroots and the Beagle Blogger) – in a fit of pique and plain meanness – attack Sarah Palin for two days, creating a test of fitness and a huge audience to watch her hit her acceptance speech out of the park.

6.  Hurricane Gustav removes President Bush and Dick Cheney from the premises of the convention.

7. Two obnoxious Code Pink demonstrators are tossed during the “can’t we all listen to one another” part of McCain’s speech.

8. The Democrats both in Congress and on the Presidential ticket decide to oppose wildly popular domestic drilling while energy becomes the number one domestic policy issue.

9. The economy hits a rebound and logs in a 3.3.% growth bump.

None of this is to say McCain and his team haven’t capitalized on these opportunities, but it seems no politican in recent memory really has been this fortunate.

Read Less

Going Against Type

Remember how aggressive Barack Obama was in his Denver speech? Some thought his barbs against John McCain were so pointed as to evidence an effort to goad McCain into lashing out or making his own speech ultra-nasty. McCain resisted that urge.

That tells me that, unlike Obama, he knows that swing voters don’t like angry people and that he knows he needs to debunk the notion he is quick to lose his cool. It also tells me that, unlike Obama, who has adopted a Rovian policy of pumping his base, McCain is going to bank on Demorats and Independents rallying to his cause as they did in the primaries.

So, it shouldn’t come as a shock then that McCain’s speech was unusally lighth on direct criticism of and magnanimous toward his opponent. Once again,  we see that a more deliberate and mature McCain seems intent on actually winning the Presidency.

Remember how aggressive Barack Obama was in his Denver speech? Some thought his barbs against John McCain were so pointed as to evidence an effort to goad McCain into lashing out or making his own speech ultra-nasty. McCain resisted that urge.

That tells me that, unlike Obama, he knows that swing voters don’t like angry people and that he knows he needs to debunk the notion he is quick to lose his cool. It also tells me that, unlike Obama, who has adopted a Rovian policy of pumping his base, McCain is going to bank on Demorats and Independents rallying to his cause as they did in the primaries.

So, it shouldn’t come as a shock then that McCain’s speech was unusally lighth on direct criticism of and magnanimous toward his opponent. Once again,  we see that a more deliberate and mature McCain seems intent on actually winning the Presidency.

Read Less

Churchillian

That’s the best way to describe these last lines from last night:

Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.

From Winston Churchill’s June 4, 1940 speech to the House of Commons:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

That’s the best way to describe these last lines from last night:

Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We’re Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history.

From Winston Churchill’s June 4, 1940 speech to the House of Commons:

We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Read Less

Palin Tops Obama

She actually got 40 million voters viewers.

She actually got 40 million voters viewers.

Read Less

Sometimes Things Break Your Way

Leaks from Bob Woodward’s new book include this:

Woodward also quotes McCain expressing frustration with the Bush White House, clenching his fists in the West Wing and exclaiming to Woodward: “Everything is f—ing spin.”

That’s a very helpful anecdote for McCain.

Leaks from Bob Woodward’s new book include this:

Woodward also quotes McCain expressing frustration with the Bush White House, clenching his fists in the West Wing and exclaiming to Woodward: “Everything is f—ing spin.”

That’s a very helpful anecdote for McCain.

Read Less

The Right Choice

Aside from the merits of Sarah Palin as a VP choice, I’ll be frank. All the other potential VP picks with the exception of Joe Lieberman were bores here. If the task of Convention is to pump up the troops I don’t see how any of them could have come close to doing that. Maybe one of them could have been spruced up for the task, but really. . .  I can imagine that McCain rightly concluded that none of the others was going to do much for him politically.

Aside from the merits of Sarah Palin as a VP choice, I’ll be frank. All the other potential VP picks with the exception of Joe Lieberman were bores here. If the task of Convention is to pump up the troops I don’t see how any of them could have come close to doing that. Maybe one of them could have been spruced up for the task, but really. . .  I can imagine that McCain rightly concluded that none of the others was going to do much for him politically.

Read Less

John McCain — Reshrumlican?

Richard Starr notes a delicious reversal:

Bob Shrum, the Democratic campaign strategist, is known for two things mainly–his long losing streak in presidential races, including such highlights as McGovern ’72, Kennedy ’80, and Kerry ’04–and the trademark themes of almost every one of these races, “I’ll fight for you” and “I’m on your side.” We heard a lot of that from McCain tonight.

It would be hilariously ironic if the presidential election Shrum finally “wins” is McCain over Obama.

Richard Starr notes a delicious reversal:

Bob Shrum, the Democratic campaign strategist, is known for two things mainly–his long losing streak in presidential races, including such highlights as McGovern ’72, Kennedy ’80, and Kerry ’04–and the trademark themes of almost every one of these races, “I’ll fight for you” and “I’m on your side.” We heard a lot of that from McCain tonight.

It would be hilariously ironic if the presidential election Shrum finally “wins” is McCain over Obama.

Read Less