Friday, December 4, 2009

This week in Liberal pushback...

There's a been a fair bit of Liberal pushback over the last couple of days, as in pushback against Liberals who are bashing the living hell out of the Obama Administration. Today's latest comes from Ezra Klein:

(Of course, I'm going to cut right to good stuff. Click on the above link if you want to read the three paragraphs worth on the Public Option analysis.)

It might have been a necessary thing from an activism point of view, but convincing liberals that this bill was worthless in the absence of the public option was a terrible decision, wrong on the merits and unfair to the base. The achievement of this bill is $900 billion to help people purchase health-care coverage, a new market that begins to equalize the conditions of the unemployed and the employed, and a regulatory structure in which this country can build, for the first time, a universal health-care system. Thousands and thousands of lives will be saved by this bill. Bankruptcies will be averted. Rescission letters won't be sent. Parents won't have to fret because they can't take their child, or themselves, to the emergency room. This bill will, without doubt, do more good than any single piece of legislation passed during my (admittedly brief) lifetime. If it passes, the party that fought for it for decades deserves to feel a sense of accomplishment.

But bills like this one have failed before, even in my (admittedly brief) lifetime. Indeed, pretty much the only thing that bills like this one have ever done is fail. But somewhere along the way, a fair swath of people convinced themselves either that this legislation was pretty much a done deal, and the argument could move toward its margins, or that the legislation wasn't worth passing without the public option. Neither was true, and a lot of the difference between me and some of my progressive friends came because I placed a higher probability on, and had more of an aversion to, the failure of the underlying bill.

Basic passage here is a liberal win, and evidence that liberals are running the country. Channeling $900 billion towards the un- and underinsured is Jay Rockefeller's addition to the agenda, not Ben Nelson's. But structurally, liberals only have what power and influence they actually have. And that's not 60 votes' worth. The incredible organizing that's been done on the public option was, on some level, an effort to suspend that reality, and it worked a whole lot better than I thought it would. But it wasn't enough -- couldn't have been enough, really -- to overcome the math of the Senate.

Some will take that as a criticism of the folks organizing on the public option. It's not. There's no chance to win if you don't play the game. But constructing liberal influence and power is a project with a longer time horizon than health-care reform. It's not going to happen before this bill is passed, and I disagree, strongly, with those who think it will profit from this bill's failure. This was something of a test case. Democrats had their 60 votes. They had a majority unknown in modern times. A majority that isn't going to get bigger. And what we learned is that, in this game, that majority simply is not big enough.

The U.S. Congress is hostile not only to liberal power, but also to conservative power, and for that matter, to majority governance. The rules trump the election, trump the organizing, trump the 50-plus senators in support of the public option, trump all of it. Liberals will never have 70 votes in the Senate, and, in a useful symmetry for the purposes of coalition building, nor will conservatives, and nor, it seems, will people who want to make hard decisions to solve pressing problems. The story of the public option -- and of the preservation of employer-based health care, and the insufficient cost controls, and the protection of providers, and all the rest -- isn't just a story for liberals. It's a story about our system of governance and its inability to respond to problems even when you stack the deck in change's favor.

That's why the focus of this blog has shifted somewhat. The first problem for people who care about policy outcomes -- regardless of which direction they care about those outcomes from -- is that the Congress has developed an overwhelming bias toward inaction and the status quo. It is much stronger now than it has been in the past, and it's exacerbated because we are much more divided now than we have been in the past. The answer to the systemic dysfunction on display in the health-care reform debate does not lie elsewhere in the health-care reform debate. For now, you get the best bill you can given the constraints we have. But seeing those constraints clearly is, I think, a step forward, because it's a useful guide to where we need to go next.

Let me put an exclamation point on this posting by saying, categorically, that my personal preference is for a Medicare for all System. There are people who oppose this. Those people, frankly, are idiots.

Failing that (because, I know how to count), my next level of preference is for the Current Health Care Reform Package with a robust Public Option.

There are people who say that it is better to tank the whole bill, rather than let the Public Option slide away. As before, those people, frankly, are idiots.

Losing the Public Option will be a tragedy. Losing Health Care Reform itself will be criminal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Struggling to hold together what works...

All I can say is wow. I was just going to quote part of this to continue a raging discussion I had on FB, but I literally could pick out what pargraph I wanted to I quoted them all.

Mr. Avishai's piece was first published on TPM.

Things Fall Apart
By Bernard Avishai - December 3, 2009, 2:00PM

Barack Obama is losing friends. Gary Wills' post at the New York Review blog might as well stand in for the others (though its patronizing tone--"I was deeply invested in the success of our first African-American president"--is Wills' own). Obama, so goes the argument, is fighting a war that will not defeat enemies but will only produce more. This is his Vietnam, which is the more galling since he knows very well what happened in Vietnam. He has "betrayed" the people who supported him.

Others, well, huff that he is nothing but a conciliator, hugging the "center" at every opportunity. Just look at his unwillingness to nationalize the banks, or willingness to entertain alternatives to a Medicare style public option. He must be hanging out too much with Wall Street swells. The New York Times narcissism police (which has no internal investigation unit, apparently) told us he is a "cold shower" even to his close friends; during the campaign, the same investigator charged that the child of black and white parents simply cannot stop himself from trying to please everybody. You get the idea.

For my part, I confess my admiration for Obama is only growing as I watch him navigate the extraordinary tangle of decisions he confronts. And for what it's worth, I think the (bi-)racial profiling of Obama misses the point, too. I do not see a child who is trying to please everybody. I see a man who understands that we mainly inherit what happened before we come into responsibility (and I don't just mean his administration inheriting the mistakes of the Bush presidency); that things fall apart much as Achebe, like Conrad before him, warned us they do; that if we struggle to improve things, we must simultaneously struggle to hold together whatever institutions are more or less working, or we are going to create something much, much worse.

I DON'T KNOW any more about Afghanistan than Wills does, which is impressionistic (impressions reinforced, or distorted, I confess, by many drives to the South Hebron hills, where some of the my hosts still live in caves). I am willing to believe that Afghanistan is, at best, a chaotic and backward and ruined place; that people in the war zone there (as reported in this poignant report) shoot at chickens to test life preserving amulets. Let us say that, inevitably, Afghanistan will be ruled by a kleptocracy during our lifetimes; that the best we could ever hope for is to shore up an area around Kabul, which gives a certain freedom to women and a leg up to a narco-mafia over the more traditional warlords. You listen to journalist Rory Stewart, certainly, and you conclude that building a modern, democratic Afghanistan is a fantasy.

The point is, what in Obama's speech or policy would lead one to believe he thinks any differently? He did not get us into this mess. So far as I can see, his strategy is contrived to keep the place from falling apart in the event of a too-rapid withdrawal, a prospect that horrifies Stewart himself: think of Cambodia, not just Vietnam. Besides, the real danger to the region would be chaos in Pakistan, not only Afghanistan. Is the Pakistani government asking for a wholesale American withdrawal now? If there is not a wholesale withdrawal, then how to make America's troops not become sitting ducks?

Is there anything in Obama's speech that would preclude trying to reach an accommodation with local warlords, as in Iraq, so that American and NATO troops can be drawn down at the end of next year? Is there any fear of a "wider war" with another superpower? If this is Obama's Vietnam, or even his Iraq, where is the domino theory, or the hollow call for "freedom," or the Kissingerian claim that withdrawal would damage American "credibility," or the cavalier attitude toward allies, or the attempt to have butter without paying for the guns?

And while I'm getting warmed up, would we really have been better off nationalizing the banks, bonuses or no bonuses, wiping out the shareholders (including our pension funds) and rebuilding their management from scratch? Were we right to assume a recovery that was years away, so that toxic assets would remain toxic for years? Let's assume, which is certainly arguable, that a Medicare-like public option is really the best way to contain costs; lets' assume that private insurance companies and non-profit cooperatives (which for all their perverse incentives work, after all) cannot be regulated to serve the commonwealth as well as a government program. Has Obama been failing to stake his presidency on this option because he's lacked courage since childhood or because he's simply been able to count to 41 since March?

Look, this is a man who organized his Chicago community backed by the Catholic church. When he refused to denounce governments working through faith-based services, progressives denounced him as pandering to the right. He refused to denounce the Supreme Court for valorizing the Second Amendment, but tried to come up with new ways to control guns and apply their ruling. As president, he might let GM fold--that would serve them right!--but he took the time to see the company's potential and, by next fall, he will have made us all majority stakeholders in the world's most advanced electric car and supplier ecosystem. He invested the stimulus in things that will matter in the years ahead, though he could have sent us shopping to gin up unemployment numbers: "cash for what-not." And is his call for bi-partisanship really just playing into the hands of them. He said on "Sixty Minutes" a while back that it was his responsibility to make decency to adversaries "interesting." I could have kissed him for that.

Oh, and he said what he was going to do in Afghanistan. He said it to a million people in Berlin, for God's sake. Look at the way he's engaged China and Russia on a deeply important trip he's got not credit for, except from Jim Fallows, who thankfully is paying attention.

I DO NOT have Obama's temperament, so let me say to my progressive friends that we are courting disaster. There is betrayal here, but it is not Obama's betrayal of us. I saw this kind of thing before with Jimmy Carter, where the president suffered death by a thousand cuts from the people on his left, Kennedy included; people who couldn't deliver the Congress, but could deliver endless polemics against his fear of budget busting or his more pragmatic health care proposals--and they wound up clearing the path for Ronald Reagan. Just listen to Rick Hertzberg, who like Fallows was in Carter's White House, to learn what a cold shower losing was.

We like to think that "independents," where Obama's ratings are slipping, are the really judicious types. In fact, people who remained undecided the longest during the last election were people who could not easily think for themselves; people who were waiting to see what other people were going to do; people who never want to be thought suckers. A big part of Obama's slippage is coming because the most conspicuously progressive people in the Democratic tent think nothing of "going negative" the way Hilary did, and over things Obama either cannot control or may yet prove right about.

We are fanning public anger against Obama about pain Obama did not cause; refusing to see how many in our benighted public are just looking to see if he continues to inspire loyalty and electricity among the people they had flocked to last year. We are sickened by the right but seem not to see how those waiting in the wings are counting on the Democratic Party falling apart, too.

"If we had wanted Bush's wars, and contractors, and corruption, we could have voted for John McCain. At least we would have seen our foe facing us, not felt him at our back, as now we do," Wills writes. Really. You'd rather have McCain and Palin in the White House, facing you squarely. Then you'd know who your enemy is. Then the world would make sense.


You gotta love the Mainstream Press.

On Thanskgiving, the New York Times called Joe Biden the second most powerful Vice-President in History (behind only Darth Cheney, after nine months in Office).

Today, exactly two weeks later the Huffington Post (albeit a different media source) says Joe Biden's standing in the White House is "in question" after the Afghanistan decision.


Gee, if I didn't know any better, I'd swear the mainstream press was bored, or cynical, and/or desperate enough make themselves a process story out of thin air in order to push a number or sell papers...

Oh yeah, that's right...they do do that...

The President's address kicking off the Job's 's Summit (VIDEO)

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Erza sez Howard Dean is wrong.

Started an argument over at Facebook today. What the hell, let's start another.

From Erza Klein:

Howard Dean: Health-care reform 'worthless' without the public option

Dylan Matthews beats me to the punch with some well-deserved shots at Howard Dean's contention that absent the public option, "this bill is worthless and should be defeated."

No, it isn't, and it shouldn't.

Organizer friends have patiently explained to me that the public option only has a chance if its supporters take a hard line on its inclusion. That may be right, but the problem is that that strategy relies on people such as Dean actually convincing their base that the public option is central to health-care reform's success and desirability.

That's not true. Indeed, it's not even clear how it could be true. The strongest public option on the table -- the House's version -- would serve a couple million folks and cost a bit more than private insurance. It's worth having, for reasons I've argued over and over again. But a lot of things are worth having. It isn't decisive, or even obviously relevant, to the bill's success or failure. If the bill is "worthless," then it's worthless in the presence of the public option. And if it's not worthless, it's not worthless in the absence of the public option.

Which leaves us arguing over the meaning of the word "worthless," I guess. This is a bill that cuts premiums costs. That extends insurance coverage to more than 30 million Americans. That cuts the deficit. That establishes an expectation for near-universal health-care coverage. That really digs into delivery-system reforms. That takes the first, halting steps away from the fee-for-service system. That makes better insurance cheaper for the poorest Americans. If passed, it will be, without doubt or competition, the largest piece of progressive social policy since Lyndon Johnson established Medicare and Medicaid. If this isn't worthwhile, then progressives should pack up and go home, because nothing Congress passes in the foreseeable future will even come close.

I'm not among those who think the public option should be dropped. The bill would be better for the public option's presence, and all the arguments against its centrality also apply to those demanding its removal. If the bill's managers have to compromise on it, then they better get something serious in return for their concession. But it should be kept in perspective, and people shouldn't be misled about its importance, or about the worth of the underlying bill.

It's too bad that you can't see the stuff I boldfaced on FB, but you can on Fort McHenry.

UPDATE: 5:25pm Pacific:

Might as well show you what Dylan Matthews said in the American Prospect:

First, as TAP founder Paul Starr noted in the New York Times the other day, less than 2 percent of the population will likely be enrolled in a public option in the form in which it is currently being proposed. It will also likely have higher premiums than private plans, meaning that it will not be able to pressure private insurance prices downward, as was the proposal's original intention. Why providing this very weak public option to a very small slice of the public is a make-or-break aspect of the health-care bill for Dean is beyond me.

More important, here Dean is actively undermining some of the most positive aspects of the health-care bill. This statement effectively argues that the 25 percent cut in the cost of individual health insurance for families that would result from the bill is "worthless." So too are its community rating and guaranteed issue provisions, which will finally prevent insurers from discriminating against patients based on pre-existing conditions. And, of course, providing insurance to 31 million more people is "worthless" to Dean as well.

Promoting the public option is all well and good, but the other components of the House and Senate bills will have a far greater impact in reducing the cost and increasing the accessibility of health insurance. It is insulting to those who have worked for these reforms for decades for Dean to minimize these reforms as a means of promoting another.

Sullivan: One more try, guys...

Bear in mind that the first words out of Andrew Sullivan's mouth this morning were that this plan sucks and is doomed to failure...


What Obama was saying last night is that he is determined to return America to normal, to unplug this vast attempt at global control in Muslim countries that Bush and Cheney unleashed. He is trying to unwind the empire, not expand it.

How best to unwind the empire? By giving McChrystal what he wants and giving him a couple of years to deliver tangible results. If McChrystal delivers, fantastic. I will do a ritual self-flagellation and bow down to the man with no body-fat and a close relationship with 33 Kagans of various generations and genders. If McChrystal does his best and we still get nowhere, Obama will have demonstrated - not argued, demonstrated - that withdrawal is the least worst option.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

President Obama's Speech on Afghanistan (VIDEO)

The first half of the speech was almost boilerplate, a basic grocery list of aims, goals and troop numbers. The speech came alive in the second half. It was clear-eyed and honest. He addressed the corruption in the Afghani Government, and the President’s interest in nation-building here at home.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

The complete text:

Good evening. To the United States Corps of Cadets, to the men and women of our armed services, and to my fellow Americans: I want to speak to you tonight about our effort in Afghanistan - the nature of our commitment there, the scope of our interests, and the strategy that my Administration will pursue to bring this war to a successful conclusion. It is an honor for me to do so here - at West Point - where so many men and women have prepared to stand up for our security, and to represent what is finest about our country.

To address these issues, it is important to recall why America and our allies were compelled to fight a war in Afghanistan in the first place. We did not ask for this fight. On September 11, 2001, nineteen men hijacked four airplanes and used them to murder nearly 3,000 people. They struck at our military and economic nerve centers. They took the lives of innocent men, women, and children without regard to their faith or race or station. Were it not for the heroic actions of the passengers on board one of those flights, they could have also struck at one of the great symbols of our democracy in Washington, and killed many more.

As we know, these men belonged to al Qaeda - a group of extremists who have distorted and defiled Islam, one of the world's great religions, to justify the slaughter of innocents. Al Qaeda's base of operations was in Afghanistan, where they were harbored by the Taliban - a ruthless, repressive and radical movement that seized control of that country after it was ravaged by years of Soviet occupation and civil war, and after the attention of America and our friends had turned elsewhere.

Just days after 9/11, Congress authorized the use of force against al Qaeda and those who harbored them - an authorization that continues to this day. The vote in the Senate was 98 to 0. The vote in the House was 420 to 1. For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked Article 5 - the commitment that says an attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And the United Nations Security Council endorsed the use of all necessary steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks. America, our allies and the world were acting as one to destroy al Qaeda's terrorist network, and to protect our common security.

Under the banner of this domestic unity and international legitimacy - and only after the Taliban refused to turn over Osama bin Laden - we sent our troops into Afghanistan. Within a matter of months, al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope. At a conference convened by the UN, a provisional government was established under President Hamid Karzai. And an International Security Assistance Force was established to help bring a lasting peace to a war-torn country.

Then, in early 2003, the decision was made to wage a second war in Iraq. The wrenching debate over the Iraq War is well-known and need not be repeated here. It is enough to say that for the next six years, the Iraq War drew the dominant share of our troops, our resources, our diplomacy, and our national attention - and that the decision to go into Iraq caused substantial rifts between America and much of the world.

Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end. We will remove our combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next summer, and all of our troops by the end of 2011. That we are doing so is a testament to the character of our men and women in uniform. Thanks to their courage, grit and perseverance , we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people.

But while we have achieved hard-earned milestones in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. After escaping across the border into Pakistan in 2001 and 2002, al Qaeda's leadership established a safe-haven there. Although a legitimate government was elected by the Afghan people, it has been hampered by corruption, the drug trade, an under-developed economy, and insufficient Security Forces. Over the last several years, the Taliban has maintained common cause with al Qaeda, as they both seek an overthrow of the Afghan government. Gradually, the Taliban has begun to take control over swaths of Afghanistan, while engaging in increasingly brazen and devastating acts of terrorism against the Pakistani people.

Throughout this period, our troop levels in Afghanistan remained a fraction of what they were in Iraq. When I took office, we had just over 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, compared to 160,000 in Iraq at the peak of the war. Commanders in Afghanistan repeatedly asked for support to deal with the reemergence of the Taliban, but these reinforcements did not arrive. That's why, shortly after taking office, I approved a long-standing request for more troops. After consultations with our allies, I then announced a strategy recognizing the fundamental connection between our war effort in Afghanistan, and the extremist safe-havens in Pakistan. I set a goal that was narrowly defined as disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and pledged to better coordinate our military and civilian effort.

Since then, we have made progress on some important objectives. High-ranking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been killed, and we have stepped up the pressure on al Qaeda world-wide. In Pakistan, that nation's Army has gone on its largest offensive in years. In Afghanistan, we and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election, and - although it was marred by fraud - that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and Constitution.

Yet huge challenges remain. Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe-havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan Security Forces and better secure the population. Our new Commander in Afghanistan - General McChrystal - has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.

As cadets, you volunteered for service during this time of danger. Some of you have fought in Afghanistan. Many will deploy there. As your Commander-in-Chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service. That is why, after the Afghan voting was completed, I insisted on a thorough review of our strategy. Let me be clear: there has never been an option before me that called for troop deployments before 2010, so there has been no delay or denial of resources necessary for the conduct of the war. Instead, the review has allowed me ask the hard questions, and to explore all of the different options along with my national security team, our military and civilian leadership in Afghanistan, and with our key partners. Given the stakes involved, I owed the American people - and our troops - no less.

This review is now complete. And as Commander-in-Chief, I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. After 18 months, our troops will begin to come home. These are the resources that we need to seize the initiative, while building the Afghan capacity that can allow for a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan.

I do not make this decision lightly. I opposed the war in Iraq precisely because I believe that we must exercise restraint in the use of military force, and always consider the long-term consequences of our actions. We have been at war for eight years, at enormous cost in lives and resources. Years of debate over Iraq and terrorism have left our unity on national security issues in tatters, and created a highly polarized and partisan backdrop for this effort. And having just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the American people are understandably focused on rebuilding our economy and putting people to work here at home.

Most of all, I know that this decision asks even more of you - a military that, along with your families, has already borne the heaviest of all burdens. As President, I have signed a letter of condolence to the family of each American who gives their life in these wars. I have read the letters from the parents and spouses of those who deployed. I have visited our courageous wounded warriors at Walter Reed. I have travelled to Dover to meet the flag-draped caskets of 18 Americans returning home to their final resting place. I see firsthand the terrible wages of war. If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people were at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow.

So no - I do not make this decision lightly. I make this decision because I am convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak. This is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region.

Of course, this burden is not ours alone to bear. This is not just America's war. Since 9/11, al Qaeda's safe-havens have been the source of attacks against London and Amman and Bali. The people and governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan are endangered. And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them.

These facts compel us to act along with our friends and allies. Our overarching goal remains the same: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.

To meet that goal, we will pursue the following objectives within Afghanistan. We must deny al Qaeda a safe-haven. We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government. And we must strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's Security Forces and government, so that they can take lead responsibility for Afghanistan's future.

We will meet these objectives in three ways. First, we will pursue a military strategy that will break the Taliban's momentum and increase Afghanistan's capacity over the next 18 months.

The 30,000 additional troops that I am announcing tonight will deploy in the first part of 2010 - the fastest pace possible - so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers. They will increase our ability to train competent Afghan Security Forces, and to partner with them so that more Afghans can get into the fight. And they will help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans.

Because this is an international effort, I have asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we are confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead. Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. Now, we must come together to end this war successfully. For what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility - what's at stake is the security of our Allies, and the common security of the world.

Taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We will continue to advise and assist Afghanistan's Security Forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government - and, more importantly, to the Afghan people - that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.

Second, we will work with our partners, the UN, and the Afghan people to pursue a more effective civilian strategy, so that the government can take advantage of improved security.

This effort must be based on performance. The days of providing a blank check are over. President Karzai's inauguration speech sent the right message about moving in a new direction. And going forward, we will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance. We will support Afghan Ministries, Governors, and local leaders that combat corruption and deliver for the people. We expect those who are ineffective or corrupt to be held accountable. And we will also focus our assistance in areas - such as agriculture - that can make an immediate impact in the lives of the Afghan people.

The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They have been confronted with occupation - by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes. So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand - America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. We have no interest in occupying your country. We will support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect the human rights of their fellow citizens. And we will seek a partnership with Afghanistan grounded in mutual respect - to isolate those who destroy; to strengthen those who build; to hasten the day when our troops will leave; and to forge a lasting friendship in which America is your partner, and never your patron.

Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.

We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But this same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan. That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border.

In the past, there have been those in Pakistan who have argued that the struggle against extremism is not their fight, and that Pakistan is better off doing little or seeking accommodation with those who use violence. But in recent years, as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy.

In the past, we too often defined our relationship with Pakistan narrowly. Those days are over. Moving forward, we are committed to a partnership with Pakistan that is built on a foundation of mutual interests, mutual respect, and mutual trust. We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe-haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear. America is also providing substantial resources to support Pakistan's democracy and development. We are the largest international supporter for those Pakistanis displaced by the fighting. And going forward, the Pakistani people must know: America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed.

These are the three core elements of our strategy: a military effort to create the conditions for a transition; a civilian surge that reinforces positive action; and an effective partnership with Pakistan.

I recognize that there are a range of concerns about our approach. So let me briefly address a few of the prominent arguments that I have heard, and which I take very seriously.

First, there are those who suggest that Afghanistan is another Vietnam. They argue that it cannot be stabilized, and we are better off cutting our losses and rapidly withdrawing. Yet this argument depends upon a false reading of history. Unlike Vietnam, we are joined by a broad coalition of 43 nations that recognizes the legitimacy of our action. Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency. And most importantly, unlike Vietnam, the American people were viciously attacked from Afghanistan, and remain a target for those same extremists who are plotting along its border. To abandon this area now - and to rely only on efforts against al Qaeda from a distance - would significantly hamper our ability to keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and create an unacceptable risk of additional attacks on our homeland and our allies.

Second, there are those who acknowledge that we cannot leave Afghanistan in its current state, but suggest that we go forward with the troops that we have. But this would simply maintain a status quo in which we muddle through, and permit a slow deterioration of conditions there. It would ultimately prove more costly and prolong our stay in Afghanistan, because we would never be able to generate the conditions needed to train Afghan Security Forces and give them the space to take over.

Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort - one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.

As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, our or interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces. I do not have the luxury of committing to just one. Indeed, I am mindful of the words of President Eisenhower, who - in discussing our national security - said, "Each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs."

Over the past several years, we have lost that balance, and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our friends and neighbors are out of work and struggle to pay the bills, and too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars.

All told, by the time I took office the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I am committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly 30 billion dollars for the military this year, and I will work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.

But as we end the war in Iraq and transition to Afghan responsibility, we must rebuild our strength here at home. Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry. And it will allow us to compete in this century as successfully as we did in the last. That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended - because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own.

Let me be clear: none of this will be easy. The struggle against violent extremism will not be finished quickly, and it extends well beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will be an enduring test of our free society, and our leadership in the world. And unlike the great power conflicts and clear lines of division that defined the 20th century, our effort will involve disorderly regions and diffuse enemies.

So as a result, America will have to show our strength in the way that we end wars and prevent conflict. We will have to be nimble and precise in our use of military power. Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold - whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere - they must be confronted by growing pressure and strong partnerships.

And we cannot count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security, because we cannot capture or kill every violent extremist abroad. We have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence, so that we stay one step ahead of shadowy networks.

We will have to take away the tools of mass destruction. That is why I have made it a central pillar of my foreign policy to secure loose nuclear materials from terrorists; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to pursue the goal of a world without them. Because every nation must understand that true security will never come from an endless race for ever-more destructive weapons - true security will come for those who reject them.

We will have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone. I have spent this year renewing our alliances and forging new partnerships. And we have forged a new beginning between America and the Muslim World - one that recognizes our mutual interest in breaking a cycle of conflict, and that promises a future in which those who kill innocents are isolated by those who stand up for peace and prosperity and human dignity.

Finally, we must draw on the strength of our values - for the challenges that we face may have changed, but the things that we believe in must not. That is why we must promote our values by living them at home - which is why I have prohibited torture and will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And we must make it clear to every man, woman and child around the world who lives under the dark cloud of tyranny that America will speak out on behalf of their human rights, and tend to the light of freedom, and justice, and opportunity, and respect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are. That is the moral source of America's authority.

Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, and the service and sacrifice of our grandparents, our country has borne a special burden in global affairs. We have spilled American blood in many countries on multiple continents. We have spent our revenue to help others rebuild from rubble and develop their own economies. We have joined with others to develop an architecture of institutions - from the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank - that provide for the common security and prosperity of human beings.

We have not always been thanked for these efforts, and we have at times made mistakes. But more than any other nation, the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades - a time that, for all its problems, has seen walls come down, markets open, billions lifted from poverty, unparalleled scientific progress, and advancing frontiers of human liberty.

For unlike the great powers of old, we have not sought world domination. Our union was founded in resistance to oppression. We do not seek to occupy other nations. We will not claim another nation's resources or target other peoples because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours. What we have fought for - and what we continue to fight for - is a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if other peoples' children and grandchildren can live in freedom and access opportunity.

As a country, we are not as young - and perhaps not as innocent - as we were when Roosevelt was President. Yet we are still heirs to a noble struggle for freedom. Now we must summon all of our might and moral suasion to meet the challenges of a new age.

In the end, our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms. It derives from our people - from the workers and businesses who will rebuild our economy; from the entrepreneurs and researchers who will pioneer new industries; from the teachers that will educate our children, and the service of those who work in our communities at home; from the diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad; and from the men and women in uniform who are part of an unbroken line of sacrifice that has made government of the people, by the people, and for the people a reality on this Earth.

This vast and diverse citizenry will not always agree on every issue - nor should we. But I also know that we, as a country, cannot sustain our leadership nor navigate the momentous challenges of our time if we allow ourselves to be split asunder by the same rancor and cynicism and partisanship that has in recent times poisoned our national discourse.

It is easy to forget that when this war began, we were united - bound together by the fresh memory of a horrific attack, and by the determination to defend our homeland and the values we hold dear. I refuse to accept the notion that we cannot summon that unity again. I believe with every fiber of my being that we - as Americans - can still come together behind a common purpose. For our values are not simply words written into parchment - they are a creed that calls us together, and that has carried us through the darkest of storms as one nation, one people.

America - we are passing through a time of great trial. And the message that we send in the midst of these storms must be clear: that our cause is just, our resolve unwavering. We will go forward with the confidence that right makes might, and with the commitment to forge an America that is safer, a world that is more secure, and a future that represents not the deepest of fears but the highest of hopes. Thank you, God Bless you, God Bless our troops, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Even Crooks and Liars...

This is from Jon Perr of Crooks and Liars, echoing the same idea that Jeffrey Goldberg did:

As President Obama stands poised to escalate the war in Afghanistan while purportedly offering an exit strategy from it, Americans can and should debate whether his is the right course for U.S. national security interests. The list of contingencies which must go right for the U.S. to succeed - curbing corruption in the Karzai government, securing Pakistani cooperation and commitment in battling insurgents in its frontier regions and buying off Pashtun tribal warlords, just to name a few - is a very long one. But to claim, as Michael Moore now does, that candidate Barack Obama never told his supporters he would dramatically ratchet up the American effort there is just fantasy.

I got the Email from and did something I never thought I'd do, I promptly dropped his Email Newsletter.

Listen, I liked Bowling for Columbine, I loved Fahrenheit 9/11 and I loved, loved, loved Sicko. But I passed on Capitalism: A Love Story because I didn't think Moore has a good grip on Economics...

...but I didn't drop his newsletter. I just disagreed with the premise for Capitalism; that the Bailouts were unnecessary.

I'm sorry, but if you're going to burn down a Banking System or Capitalism, you damn well better have something to replace it with. Instead, Moore's solution for Capitalism was "Freedom".

Once he said that, I knew I was skipping the movie.

But this email about Afghanistan? Michael Moore was just making !@#$ up. If you're going to lie, I've got better things to do with my time.

Andrew Sullivan's Maniefesto

I've been reading more and more of Andrew Sullivan since the 2008 election, as he is a devoted Conservative who's a supporter of Barack Obama. He's found in print (and online) at both the Atlantic Monthly, where he blogs; and the Times of London where he has a column, and frequently writes about American issues for Englishmen.

I can't say it's been easy reading him all the time, but there is a core in his writing that hooks me every time. He's speaking plain and honestly from the heart, even in the moments where I disagree with him, and it's always compelling stuff. Today he wrote a long piece about his divorce from the American Right (if he was ever really a part of them in the first place), and he used a term in this piece that I liked a lot: Political Conversation.

If nothing else, Andrew is devoted to the idea of pushing forward political conversation at the needed expense of political warfare. I wish I could say that his efforts were bearing fruit, but from the tone of today's political discourse, I think you can see it hasn't. (Not that it was on Mr. Sullivan to change the tone of American Political Conversation in the first place, but it's a good thing that he's trying.)

I have seen him lavishly praise President Obama and mercilessly rip him. In the end, as there are more pluses than minuses in the President's column, he remains a supporter, and will probably be one on to 2012 and beyond. This is all I ask of people. This is what I expect from Political Conversation. Not an expectation of perfection; but pushing what you like, ripping what you don't and at the end of the day calculating the scoreboard for yourself, and voting your best interests. At the end of the day (November 12), you're going to look at what President Obama's done and say: I liked X, Y, and Z; I didn't like P, Q, and R, and I can live with A, B, and C, and go from there.

That's not what I'm seeing from the extremes of both ideologies, where life is always simple and hard choices are easy to figure out; where I'm seeing a perpetual drawing of lines in sand, constant demands of the President to do "X" (whatever "X" may be), and if he doesn't, "then I'll never vote for him again". This is in addition to others calling him a traitor, a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi, a Communist, and a Terrorist.

It's like we've morphed into a nation of spoiled teenage "mean" girls, where everything that happens is just the worst thing ever.

In any respect, Andrew is going through much the same problem with the American right as I'm having with some on the left. He went so far as to write a short manifesto, cataloging his problems with the right.

If you look at them carefully, some of these ideas make him sound downright liberal.

Of course, he's not (and he says so in the piece):

I cannot support a movement that claims to believe in limited government but backed an unlimited domestic and foreign policy presidency that assumed illegal, extra-constitutional dictatorial powers until forced by the system to return to the rule of law.

I cannot support a movement that exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.

I cannot support a movement that so abandoned government's minimal and vital role to police markets and address natural disasters that it gave us Katrina and the financial meltdown of 2008.

I cannot support a movement that holds torture as a core value.

I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.

I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful.

I cannot support a movement which has no real respect for the institutions of government and is prepared to use any tactic and any means to fight political warfare rather than conduct a political conversation.

I cannot support a movement that sees permanent war as compatible with liberal democratic norms and limited government.

I cannot support a movement that criminalizes private behavior in the war on drugs.

I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism.

I cannot support a movement that regards gay people as threats to their own families.

I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.

I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy.

I cannot support a movement that refuses ever to raise taxes, while proposing no meaningful reductions in government spending.

I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.

I cannot support a movement that believes that the United States should be the sole global power, should sustain a permanent war machine to police the entire planet, and sees violence as the core tool for international relations.

Does this make me a "radical leftist" as Michelle Malkin would say? Emphatically not. But it sure disqualifies me from the current American right.

To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me.

And increasingly, I'm not alone.

Thank you, Jeffrey Goldberg...

No, not Jonah Goldberg...he's the douchebag author of Liberal Fascists. This is Jeffrey Goldberg over at the Atlantic Monthly. Who says something in print (with proof) that bears remembering, especially in you're like my fellow Liberals, and have created this "Obama promised to withdraw from Afghanistan" meme out of thin air...

Ending the war is essential to meeting our broader strategic goals, starting in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban is resurgent and Al Qaeda has a safe haven. Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been. As Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently pointed out, we won't have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq.

As president, I would pursue a new strategy, and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan. We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more nonmilitary assistance to accomplish the mission there. I would not hold our military, our resources and our foreign policy hostage to a misguided desire to maintain permanent bases in Iraq.

And in case you're wondering this is from a New York Times Op-Ed, the future President wrote on the Campaign Trail, June 14, 2008.

It's not like he didn't tell us in advance.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Blew it

I've got two threads on this site I am not proud of. One of them, involved an attack on Rep. Bobby Rush's niece that I was worried was anti-Black/anti-Obama backlash (it wasn't), and the so-called Sparkman murder, especially now that its been revealed that he committed suicide.

I know I can easily delete these threads, but at the same time, I don't want to play games like I think the stinkin' Mainstream Media does and pretend I've never been wrong. I have been. I will be again.