Sunday, March 11, 2012

Two Quick Points on Politics
Neither of these ideas strikes me as quite worth a full post, but together perhaps they just nose over the bar of being worth writing...

  • Dennis Kucinich lost a primary against another Ohio Democratic congressperson, Marcy Kaptur, last week following a Republican redistricting in the Buckeye State. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this prompted a good deal of schadenfreude not just among the right-leaning outlets you'd expect, but in Democrat-friendly outlets such as The American Prospect and The New Republic. Greenwald's point is that Kucinich attracted the disdain of these establishment publications in large part because he was the rare Democrat with the courage of his convictions: resolutely opposed both to corporate power and the imperial presidency, political calculations be damned. Since they can't frontally assault Kucinich on these positions, which they honor in the breach, they go after him for his veganism, his stated belief in UFOs, or--closest to relevancy--his unrealistic proposals to create a Department of Peace or impeach whichever president is currently abusing his powers.

    Intellectually I sympathize with Greenwald's point, but I think he's intentionally avoiding the question of whether Kucinich--who, full disclosure, I've long disliked--is an effective advocate for his laudable views. He's not the only principled progressive out there, after all: ten years ago the Senate featured two such Democrats in the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and his midwestern colleague Russ Feingold. Both were consistent and proud liberal Democrats who, unlike Kucinich, were able to avoid making themselves the story and at least on occasion found common cause with the less pure to advance the issues they cared about. I believe both current Minnesota Senators are in that vein as well, as is Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Patty Murray of Washington and Jeff Merkley of Oregon. There are dozens of such Democrats in the House, who lack the exposure of Kucinich's two (pathetic) presidential runs but actually, y'know, legislate. I would suggest to Greenwald that we are to win more converts to the laudable views Kucinich holds, it's important to put forward champions who, at the least, can avoid muddying the message with their own goofy antics. I'd add that the way Kucinich has responded to defeat--thinking out loud about moving to some community where he has no connection solely to run again--stands in stark and unfavorable contrast to how, say, Feingold, has adjusted to life after losing an election.

  • At the other end of the spectrum from Kucinich on both principle and looks is Mitt Romney, who continues to limp toward the Republican presidential nomination. At this point, we know with something close to certainty that none of his remaining opponents can win, but I'm still not totally sure that Romney can't lose. The Super Tuesday primaries were predictably inconclusive, though it's probably fair to say that Romney's narrow win in Ohio closed off any chance of Santorum winning the nomination. Still, other than his support among Mormons and a certain kind of one-percenter, Romney seems to do best among those groups that Obama will compete with him for in the general: moderates and the upper middle class.

    This reminds me of the old (pre-1972) model of presidential primaries, which were considered "tests of strength" that candidates would enter not so much to win delegates for the nomination--often those primaries weren't even binding--as to impress the guys who sat in the smoke-filled rooms at the convention that they could win in November. John F. Kennedy's win over Hubert Humphrey in West Virginia in 1960 is the classic example; by the time the convention began in Los Angeles, Kennedy was the prohibitive favorite over Adlai Stevenson and Lyndon Johnson because he'd shown broad appeal in addition to having shored up his inside game. Nominations don't work this way anymore, and it's an open question whether the "Republican establishment" could stop Romney even if they wanted to--which they don't, given the known alternatives of Santorum, whom they fear and dislike, and Gingrich, whom they positively loathe. But the smart ones must be looking at the inability of the front-runner to put away his terribly flawed rivals, and his struggles to be effective on the campaign trail after six years of effort, and feel some despair at the prospect of his carrying their standard this fall. This will continue unless and until Romney puts some big, convincing, maybe even surprising wins on the board.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Lose-Lose Scenario
I can't really take issue with how President Obama is handling the extremely delicate politics of the Iran-Israel standoff. He's walking a delicate line between keeping a real deterrent option on the table--one he's made credible, like it or not, by his track record of using force in that part of the world for operations large and small--and signaling to all parties that he'd really prefer not to start another war in that part of the world. He's handling the domestic politics responsibly as well, acting as a relative brake on the rush to war... in stark contrast to the Bush administration in Iraq, not quite ten years ago.

That said, I'm sadly in agreement with Sullivan that the Israeli government, a coalition of fairly run-of-the-mill hawks and religious absolutists who eerily if unsurprisingly mirror their enemies in Teheran, might push for war in part to hurt Obama in the presidential election. It's hard to believe any leadership group could be that reckless and cynical, but the paranoia of Netanyahu and the Likudniks plus the messianic impulses of the fundamentalists combine to make this all too plausible.

I'm not sure whether there's a material difference whether the attack is carried out by Israel or the U.S. (Israel surely would prefer the latter), assuming it's not a joint strike. This is an important question, because if Israel acts unilaterally and the U.S. doesn't back its action--the "Suez scenario"--everything I'm about to say might not hold up. But I find the idea that the U.S. wouldn't support Israel pretty far-fetched, particularly after Obama's statements at AIPAC today.

An attack on Iran might or might not have the desired effect of slowing down their nuclear program, assuming (as I do, for what it's worth; I see no reason to trust the Iranians) that there really is one. I am, however, pretty sure it will result in three things:

1) an indefinite reprieve for the despicable regime of the mullahs, as the Iranians rally 'round their flag;
2) the undoing of whatever goodwill Obama has managed to create in the Muslim world these last three years; and
3) sustained gas prices at levels easily high enough to wipe out our economic recovery, costing millions of jobs here at home.

Since an air strike alone wouldn't suffice to remove the threat and Iran surely would take retaliatory action directly or through surrogates, we also could reasonably expect, sooner or later--sooner, if the Republicans win or Obama concludes that inaction would guarantee same--a new ground war in Iran that, in addition to horrific human costs, would undo whatever budgetary savings are now projected from winding down the war in Iraq. Further, as Iran is more competent at this sort of thing than our last foes, an attack almost surely would prompt significant terror strikes inside the United States. This in turn would lead to new "security measures" that will erode our civil liberties, degrade our public spaces, and reduce our quality of life.

The effects of the Iraq War were generally quarantined to those fighting, their families, and the communities in which they concentrated, at least in real time. (The budgetary and geopolitical consequences are still unfolding, and affect all of us.) Given the likelihood of new acts of terrorism and the near certainty of a renewed economic downturn, we'd have no such luck this time. As people ask the question of how we could be so stupid as to start two wars in the Middle East in less than ten years, I strongly suspect the answers would prompt a surge in anti-Semitic sentiment to levels we haven't seen in a century, as "the Jews" are scapegoated for all the human and economic misery. Read some of the comments in the Times piece linked above if you doubt that possibility.

All told, it doesn't seem remotely worth it even if the mission succeeded in materially disrupting and delaying Iran's nukes program. No rational actor would make the decision to go forward. But the mix of bad history, bad religion and bad politics means that we're in a mode of multiple irrationalities.