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Post With Two Topics.

Friday, December 28, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Did I not tell you here? Daily Kos is slipping. You can find the facts at, um, DailyKos:

Traffic peaked in August of this year at 16.8 million visits (not to be confused with visitors) and has headed south from there. Looks like December will end up around 12.5 million visits. Here we are a week away from one of the biggest votes the Democrats have faced in a quite some time and this site is on a downward trend. Now this will be approximately the same number of visits as in Dec 2006 so its not a year over year decline (the data only goes back to 12/06). But last December we weren't about to "Pick a President" as Hillary is saying these days.

I find it interesting. Perhaps its because there isn't one common problem (e.g. Bush/Cheney). Perhaps people are buying into the myth that no Republican can win this year. Perhaps people have political fatigue (I do). Perhaps people have more blogging options? Candidate diary fatigue? Has Dkos peaked? Anyway, I thought it was interesting. But I like numbers.

As pointed to in my original post, Atrios and Americablog are heading the same direction. Why?

I still don't know. I suspect -- just a guess, clearly labeled -- it's that the heat has gone out of the Iraq war. The surge is seen as working.

I say "seen as working" for a reason. The surge combined with the Anbar Awakening have reduced casualties. The anti-war folks have been casualty-fixated from the start. It's a convenient metric, and as a rule they know dick-all about war, so they count casualties and that's it. But casualty rates have not a lot to do with the success or failure of American policy in Iraq. We weren't losing Iraq because we were taking casualties. We took a hell of a lot of casualties at Cold Harbor, at Okinawa, at Inchon, but we weren't losing.

Winning or losing is a question of whether we are attaining our strategic goals. In 1782 were we loosening Britain's hold or not? In 1847 were we separating California from Mexico or not? Casualties only matter strategically when they reduce your capacity to project power. In those terms -- only in those terms, not in human terms, obviously -- the number of casualties in Iraq was irrelevant.

We don't know yet whether we are appreciably closer to our goals in Iraq. We know we're losing fewer men. But are we closer to turning Iraq into a sort of "democracy virus" that can eventually cause a benign infection to transform the middle east? There is very little reason to believe that's the case.

There is no meaningful democracy in Iraq. There exists no system to define or protect human rights. If you're a non-political Iraqi woman who wanted an education, or maybe just a little sunshine, you were probably better off under Saddam than you are in much of Iraq today. The idea that a Saudi, an Iranian or a Syrian is gazing longingly at the life of an Iraqi is laughable. Jordanians thank Allah that they are not Iraqis.

On the other hand we may have hit a bit of a bank shot, discrediting Al Qaeda by the novel tactic of first creating the conditions for terrorism in Iraq, negligently allowing an Al Qaeda franchise to set up shop, and standing by helplessly while they revealed themselves to be such crude, despicable monsters that even other terrorists rejected them.

Strategically Iraq is at best a question mark. Right now, today, five years in, we are worse off strategically than we were with Saddam in power. That may change. Our military learns and adapts. Occasionally our civilian leadership also staggers uncertainly toward the light. I suppose it's even theoretically possible that the Iraqi leadership may learn. But right now? This minute? We're in a worse position than we were when we started.

I suspect the heat has gone out of the anti-war Left because they never understood the problem to begin with and now have the queasy feeling that they were wrong. They were not wrong that the war was a mess: they just never understood the nature of the mess. There's a slight bit of irony: the anti-war side during Vietnam knew enough to sneer at the irrelevance of the US military's ridiculous body count of Viet Cong and NVA. The current anti-war crowd let itself be defined by the US body count. I'd say they took their eyes off the ball, but they never saw the ball to begin with.

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Thursday, December 27, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Well, this isn't good.

Some quick review. Pakistan has a population of 175 million in round numbers. It has somewhere between a couple dozen and 120 nuclear weapons, probably in the low kiloton range. They have (not very accurate) missiles and a mixed bag of jets. Of course you can roll a nuke off the back of a C-130, so . . .

Pakistan has just a few problems. There's an ongoing eyeball-to-eyeball stare-down with India over Kashmir. (India and Pakistan have fought three wars.) And a spot of bother over the unmanageable tribal areas on the Afghan border, where the Taliban and Al Qaeda are driving the bus. Plus there's the fact that there's no real civil society and the only competent institution is the army.

Great country. Great prospects.

There are two likely culprits in this assassination: Al Qaeda and the Musharraf government. Or some unholy melding of AQ and the Pakistani intelligence service. None of the answers is encouraging.

What does the United States do about this? Not much, most likely. The Pakistani military is the closest thing we have to a rational actor in Pakistan. So for the time being we do nothing to rattle their cage.

Beyond that we can call for a credible outside investigation of this assassination. Which might calm the waters. Or not. And we can make the point to the Pakistani military that there will be no stability until a credible civilian government is formed, and the tribal areas are brought forcibly under control.

But given that the Pakistani army has no interest in the former, and probably no capacity to effect the latter, none of that's going to mean much in the near-term. So, in the near term we hope that we aren't looking at a failing state. Hope, and pray, if that works for you. A miracle would be really helpful right about now.

Pakistan has long been the largest danger to which we paid the least attention. Iran may some day have nukes. Pakistan has them right now, today. Iran's neighborhood, bad as it is, is nowhere near as dangerous as Pakistan's little corner of the world. India won't tolerate a failed Pakistani state, and China won't tolerate a militant India. The United States, likewise, cannot tolerate the sort of disorder that might result in Pakistani nukes falling into terrorist hands, and the Chinese aren't going to much like us doing anything about it.

Almost a side note: it's a bad time to be Afghanistan. Or in charge of defending Afghanistan.

The blogs and the talking heads will no doubt begin to churn out some blame and some suggestions. None of it will amount to much. We are riding the tiger. Options are rather limited.

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Christmas Miracle?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

Back to the kitchen with you.

Close enough. Chef Grant Achatz -- with Charlie Trotter and Rick Tramonto, one of Chicago's Holy Trinity of Haute Cuisine -- announces that his tongue cancer is in remission.

It is with a tremendous sense of gratitude and relief that I have successfully completed my course of therapy at the University of Chicago. It was incredibly important to me to remain as engaged as possible at Alinea while receiving treatment, and during that time I only missed 14 services. I continue to stand committed to innovating fine dining long into the future.

I wrote about this here. Being the negative, pessimistic creature I am I never expected this outcome. For selfless as well as selfish reasons I am incredibly relieved.

Next time I'm in Chicago, Chef. I'll wear out my Amex.

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Money, Bombs and Jesus.

Sunday, December 23, 2007 by Michael Reynolds

For three decades, the Republican presidential nominating contest has served to unify the national party's coalition of social, economic and foreign policy conservatives in advance of a general election fight with Democrats.

This year, it is ripping that coalition apart.

Since the time of Saint Ronald of Reagan, the GOP has been a three-winged bird.

First, and foremost, there was the Money! wing of the party. Their political philosophy was quite sophisticated and subtle, but to give you the short version it was, Money: More!

Actually, that's the long version, too.

Next came the faction of the party primarily concerned with foreign policy. Originally the foreign policy in question was anti-communism. Then the wall fell and for a few years this wing of the GOP could be found curled up in a corner, shivering and nursing a Stoli. Then, thank God, Islamic terrorism reared its nasty head and gave the former cold warriors a new lease on life.

This is the Bombs! faction of the GOP. They do a lot of heavy thinking, write lots of white papers, and practice their chin-jutting pilates moves. Their core belief is, Bombs: Good.

Finally, there were the hillbillies. Sorry, I mean the evangelicals. By which I mean stupid people. No, wait, that was unkind. I shouldn't have said stupid people. I should have explained that we're talking about people who think a mating pair of T. Rex's climbed on some old Hebrew's boat alongside sheep, cows and goats. And later disembarked. And that the sheep, cows and goats who had bunked with the lovely Tyrannosaurus couple likewise disembarked. So, stupid people.

In any event, the Money! wing of the GOP and the Bombs! wing of the GOP knew they couldn't win national elections so they forged an alliance with the Jesus! wing, on the understanding that Money! and Bombs! would pretend to give a shit about whatever nutbar fixation the Jesus! wing had up its ass that cycle. And then Money! and Bombs! would have a cruel laugh at the expense of the Jesus! wing, and get on about the important business of lining their pockets and blowing shit up.

Well. It worked great until George W. Bush. Mr. Bush was the living embodiment of the Money! Bombs! Jesus! trinity. He loved the money, he loved the bombs, he loved the baby Jesus, all three with equal sincerity. And, lo! Under his leadership the people came
together as one to answer the question of our age: "Is this jackass the worst president of modern times, or only the second worst?" He flew like a three-winged bird.

Won't you shed a tear with me as we mourn the passing of this coalition?
Among members of Congress, the lobbying shops on K Street and the local GOP committees in Iowa and New Hampshire, Republicans are divided, confused and sometimes demoralized about their choices for president. With less than two weeks left before voting begins, the party's rank and file are being asked to ratify a new direction for the GOP amid the clash of a chaotic and wide-open campaign.

And the party's soul-searching is unfolding in a sour environment: two states where the GOP was walloped by Democrats in 2006, leaving the surviving Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire grappling with an identity crisis of their own. In dozens of interviews last week, many Republicans said they are frustrated.

Scott Weiser, who lobbies the Iowa statehouse for the Iowa Motor Truck Association, said he attended a Republican fundraiser recently where all but one of the lobbyists and business executives were still undecided about who they will support in the presidential contest.
Giuliani tends to win them on economic issues, but they cannot get by his stand on social issues. They like Huckabee on the social agenda, but do not trust his economic stands. They like the Romney they see now, but they cannot forget the positions he once embraced in Massachusetts. And they dislike McCain's opposition to Bush's first-term tax cuts and his crusade to overhaul campaign finance laws.
Well, boys, you had the guy who was right on all your positions. You had the perfect candidate. He was president from . . . oh, wait, he still is. Although his name never seems to come up during Republican debates.

What do you do when you find your perfect man, the man who is absolutely everything you ever wanted, who seamlessly embodies your party . . . and he turns out to be a baboon? I guess you whine:

The chairman of one of the presidential campaigns, a longtime party activist, said, after soliciting a promise of anonymity: "There is no party here anymore. It's just a shell."
Money! Bombs! Jesus! It was never a party. It worked only so long as no one took the Jesusites (Really, Michael? Jesusites?) too seriously. Reagan knew how to use the Jesusites without ever letting them past the foyer. Poor, dim George never understood the game. He gave them actual power, actual political credibility, he was one with them, and now they've gotten uppity and are refusing to sit down, shut up and take what the Money! and Bombs! guys hand them.

The Jesus! wing is screwing up the plan by nominating the one candidate so thoroughly stupid that he may actually be dumber than George W. Bush: Mike "What Cross?" Huckabee. The Huckabuffoon.

And the GOP -- you know, the real GOP, not the hillbillies -- cannot stand it. Can. Not. Stand. It.

Rick Moran of Right Wing Nuthouse:

I’m running out of ways to make a play on words of Governor Goober. Pretty soon, I’ll be forced to simply call him stupid.

It was one thing when the hillbillies were delivering their hillbilly votes for the profit of the Money! and Bombs! crowds. It's a whole different thing actually expecting a vice president of Merrill, Lynch, or a visiting fellow at the AEI, or a senior partner at Hogan and Hartson to vote for a practicing idiot. (I mean, a practicing idiot who doesn't bow and scrape to the Money! boys.) The Money! guys would be humiliated to be seen sharing a power table at the Capital Grille with Mike "Goober" Huckabee. The Bombs! guys are horrified at the prospect of having to defend President Huckabee at conferences in Paris, Davos or Shanghai.

Compromise, you see, that was for the Jesusites. They were supposed to compromise and swallow a Giuliani or a Romney. They were supposed to trade their votes for lip service on their trailer trash agenda. Why? Because as much as the Left sneers at the hillbillies, the Money! and Bombs! wings, sneer even more.

Blowback, my GOP friends. Blowback. Suddenly your hillbilly foot soldiers are driving the tank. Boo hoo.

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