Monday, September 17, 2007

The Way Out: First steps.

Republicans talk of political stability in Iraq created by a calmer security environment, which is facilitated by American military presence. Democrats want to force Iraqi political reconciliation by signaling to the Iraqi government that American forces won't be around forever by threatening a withdrawal of troops.

At this point, the basic aim of both parties is to convince Iraqi political parties that it is within their national interest to work together. The thinking goes that once all sides are locked into their positions within the government, the fighting will cease because militia bosses and their political patrons will be content with their place in the pecking order.

This logic fails to accept that the various warring parties do not want to resolve their centuries of religious, political, and ethnic differences, unless their sect is on top. Furthermore, this logic fails to accept that we are no longer in a "war". Instead, we should be simultaneously conducting a long-term police action along with deft diplomatic maneuvering designed to get a foreign government to act in American interests.

Let's then admit that diplomacy should take precedence over security, because political stability is the only condition under which we'll ever leave. And, by definition, diplomacy is using reward and punishment (or, "carrots and sticks" to use diplomatic vernacular) in order to get someone to act in your self interest.

What, then, is the carrot and stick that the US proposes to the Iraqis?

From the Republican perspective, there is neither: The Bush administration is obviously advocating that the sides reconcile, but without tangible motivation to do so either in terms of political or financial reward, without obvious punishment if they don't. No carrot, no stick, no progress.

From the Democrat perspective, at least there's a (proposed) stick: if the sides don't reconcile, they propose we leave. In other words, failure to make political progress will be punished by even greater levels of insecurity. Where is the Democrat carrot? If the Democrats are serious about a different course in Iraq, then there has to be a motivating factor for the Iraqis to work together.


One guaranteed carrot is exactly the opposite of what the Democrats have proposed: Turn our withdrawal from a stick into a carrot. If the sides take steps to pass legislation, then guarantee that each milestone achieved will be guaranteed to be met by a predetermined withdrawal of troops. It's unquestionable that the political parties' constituents want the US to go home. Make that promise, but attach it to progress.

Here's where the refocused stick comes in: taking the fight to them. Promise complete destruction without progress, and then show them by attaching punishment to lack of progress.

But also, solutions start by talking to the people who matter: the extremist warlords, not the government. Find out what they want, then work on a way to give it to them within an acceptable American framework. Peace in Northern Ireland finally looks like it's about to work because the erstwhile extremists -- Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley -- sat down and agreed to terms to live together. On the other hand, 2000's near Israel-Palestine Camp David Summit failed because Arafat couldn't placate the extremists back home.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Post-Patraeus Testamony

When General David Patraeus is finally done testifying infront of the various House committees, what will we have learned?

-- It is fair to examine any witnesses credentials, whether they be civilian or military, Republican or Democrat, Superman or Lex Luthor. Every man, woman, and child is born with biases which are difficult to completely repress, particularly if you are testifying on how well you're doing in your own job.

-- Some of the numbers General Patraeus has already provided in his testimony are misleading. At one point, he claimed that violence has decreased in the past TWO WEEKS, and that that number is a sign that the "surge" is working. Two weeks is a data-point, not a trend.
-- Al-Qa'ida in Iraq is going to have a field day with this testamony. Look for increased operations and attacks in the next few months, just to prove the man wrong.

-- General Patraeus will not convince anyone of anything. In such a politically charged environment with an election looming, this is a sad thing.

-- "Christina's Court", a daytime courtroom reality show somewhat akin to Judge Judy and currently showing in DeTocque's office, may provide more high-brow exchanges on the law. At least Judge Christina is a little more attractive than Petraeus. But just a little.

-- General Petraeus says that his testamony was not prepared with the help of the White House. Interesting that he suggested a significant withdrawl of troops in summer 2008, right before the election.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Security Offensive

The Dems fear of being painted "soft on terrorism" will be their albatross through this election cycle, and probably the next. Read about it here in the Washington Post.

(Pelosi scared of taking the security offensive?)

Even though they're in the majority in Congress, the article fails to point out that they have to play to the Administration's tune on this because, well, the Administration has long-since seized the alleged security high ground. Every Dem from Maine to Hawaii can picture the 30-second adverts come July '08 saying, "Do you really want to vote for 'Dem Candidate X' who voted against the following national security bills???? (cue scary music)". This makes them do silly things like talking a tough game on civil liberties then blindly reauthorizing the FISA bill.

Why not turn the tide on the administration? It seems like the Dems are caught in the spot of having to constantly debate Republican-proposed national security bills. Where are their Democratic-sponsored alternatives? Instead of opposing a FISA bill, why don't they PROpose an alternate version. This is what the majority does -- control the agenda, right? Is the issue that these Patriot Act-esque laws need consistent reauthorizing, and therefore must be debated? Could be... So why not simultaneously vote the Republican version down, and approve your own?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Which is Worse?

Well, it's been a great break over the summer, but DeTocque should probably get back in action.
Read this piece in the FT, on Bush's speech regaring the future of the Middle East.

Frankly, and disappointingly, on the finer technical points of the US abandoning Iraq, it's rather hard to completely disagree with this doomsday scenario (though his choice of prose and delivery-style continue to induce fits of wretching):

His point is this: on a macro-level, a US withdrawl would very likely strengthen (nay, do I hear an "embolden"?) the influence of Iran, Syria et al, and could, in theory, lead to a some sort of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Fair enough. You can cobble together his logic from the article. It might be the worse-case, but hey, that's probably where this thing is headed, right?

So, DeTocque submits this, gentle readers:

The Bushies are talking themselves in circles (again). Since 2003, the public has heard, "Okay, even though we didn't technically find WsMD, the world is a better place because Saddam is gone." So, if we begrudgingly accept that the some group will remained threatened or repressed no matter which course on the space-time continuum we take, which is worse -- to leave Saddam in power, free to reign despotically but isolatedly over the Shi'a and Kurds, OR TO PERMIT AN ENTIRE REGION TO GAIN NUCLEAR WEAPONS?

How ironic, then: by trying to rid Iraq of it's WsMD, the Bush administration has given them to the rest of the reigon.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

McCain in Trouble

Check out this article on John McCain's staggering campaign effort, from the NYT. This is a pointed validation of the danger of getting into the campaign too early. Just think about where McCain would be today if people were begging him to get in the race because they were unhappy with the rest of the field. Instead, the faithful are dying to have a Fred Thompson or a Newt get in to spice things up.

Perhaps this bodes well for future races as candidates realize the downsides of a two-year campaign.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

First blog ever?

Was here: Okay, so maybe not this EXACT one... But think about it -- what other format allowed, nay PERMITTED, free flowing prose, poetry, art, and other forms of both intellectual and unintelligible exchanges than your friendly bathroom wall? DeTocque's favorite "early blog" would have to be at The Raven in DC's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood.

Romney swings and misses again

Someone please tell Mitt to Quit. He's embarrassing himself again, with this video. (And believe me, DeTocque hates giving the man's website the extra clicks, but the entertainment value is probably worth it...) Here's the corresponding article on Slate.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Politics immitates life... how delicious

One cannot but pause and consider the flabbergasting parallels between French ex-Socialist presidential Segolene Royal's separation from here longtime partner (and current Socialist Party chief) Francois Hollande. For those who do not follow French politics, their relationship was much more than schoolkids playing kissy-face behind the playground: they were, in the best and worst of French time-honored traditions, married. With four children. (And for the announcement, see Le Monde's article. Or in English from the likely-jubilant Times of London.)

While denying that the split had nothing to do with politics, it safely had very much to do with politics, and probably a bit to do with Hollande's bit (see Times article). But the point holds: A domestic dispute has now come to symbolize the near-term evolution of the French Socialist Party, as the two ex-loves wrestle for control.

The problem is that neither one seems to have a viable plan for the shake-up the Socialists desperately need to become "electable" again: If Sego's presidential campaign is a good barometer, she's set to increase social spending without a coherent plan to pay for it, and Hollande, party chief since 1997 is an old voice who hasn't really done anything more than stifle the right-leaning Presidents since he took power. Hollande is due to step down in 2008, but we'll see if he goes earlier.

In the meantime, the PS should really be searching high and low for that dynamic Blairite modernizer: the one who will reign in the unions (assuming Sarko doesn't do it for them!), and openly adopt capitalism and globalization as the undeniable trends of the future. It's unbelievable to have to write that in 2007, but such statements reflect current PS thinking.

Oh, yeah: And Sarko did okay yesterday in round two, as well. While not kicking down any doors (and apparently losing Alan Juppe along the way), the UMP has enough deputies to do as it pleases. It's probably a good thing that the Socialist's capitalized on the UMP's gaffe of announcing a 24%ish VAT target and the "please don't let Sarko do as he pleases" vote. Strong opposition is always a positive thing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Short term currency worries

The recent Sino-American dispute over the undervalued renminbi has caught DeTocque's wandering eye for the moment... Its domestic implications in US politics have not gone unnoticed. (See FT article here.)

The issue boils down to the fact the Senators, Congressmen, and Hank Paulson all want the Chinese currency to be worth a bit more (say about 10% more according to recently published reports) on the open market. Politicians may claim bipartisan support for a new Senate bill, but really anyone would support a bill that increases your constituents' exports...

By (admittingly) keeping the renminbi undervalued, the Chinese government has fueled a record trade surplus with the US in recent years (meaning the Chinese have exported about $233bn more to the US than they have imported from the US). So, the US is seeking to rectify that imbalance by legalizing US interference in the currency market -- the Americans would buy renminbi with dollars, thereby increasing the value of the renminbi and allowing newly, more wealthy Chinese consumers to more cheaply purchase US goods. Net result: Chinese buy more Fords, US bonds, Big Macs and iPods because their currency is worth more. Good for Joe Schmoe in Iowa, and good for his Congressman.

However, the Chinese government actually has a very good reason to keep the renminbi undervalued -- though their economy is going like gangbusters, per capita GDP is still tiny compared to the US. Now pretend for a second that all these Fords and iPods started flooding into China because Chinese purchasers opt for a relatively cheaper US car (of higher quality) over an absolutely cheaper Chinese-produced version (of still lower quality)... In other words, you average Chinese citizen could have never dreamed of a top-of-the-line US product and had always opted for the cheap-o domestic version. Suddenly, with the stronger renminbi, the US product is more within reach, so they go for it.

Two things result: 1. the Chinese inflation rate increases at a hurried pace for domestic AND imported goods, and many people are suddenly priced out of the market (read: disaster). Prices have gone up so fast and wages haven't kept pace... 2. No one but a local would ever want a Chinese company's computer. If their sales go down as consumers opt for American versions, Chinese computer company's profits shrink, and the economy slows.

With that, the Chinese just can't raise the value for practically humanitarian reasons -- the local level of the Chinese economy would be severely and catastrophically effected. The renminbi will gain value through nature market forces as the Chinese economy continues to get up to speed. American politicians should let it do so.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Bush and Putin repeating history?

If you were filling out an SAT exam, and one of those ever-so-occasionally difficult "A is to B... as C is to _" questions came up, how would you answer the following:

BUSH > PUTIN as TRUMAN > __________

Well, perhaps this isn't so difficult because, well, STALIN was in power round about when Harry was, so you do have limited choices. Why the comparison?

DeTocque was struck by this article in today's FT. Basically, we have Putin reading Bush the riot act over this missile defense nonsense, while Bush's response is, in typical black-and-white Bushish, "Russia is not hostile. Russia is our friend." (DeTocque will avoid the probably necessary dissertation on W's simplistic language, but beg someone out there to write it, just for comedy's sake.)

Digressions aside, the Angry, Stubborn Ruskie and Pliant President sound eerily similar to character traits as explained in an excellent book DeTocque is finally finishing: "From Roosevelt to Truman" by Fr. Wilson Miscamble. The point here is that Stalin, despite having a weaker hand post-WWII (no A-bomb, little involvement in the Japanese theater, among other things) basically bullies Truman, SecState Byrnes, et al into accepting proportionally greater Soviet influence in the post-war make up of Europe (the greatest example of this would be the US abandoning Poland), just by being cantankerous.

Why would the comparatively stronger Truman accept such great Soviet influence? Because, Miscamble argues convincingly, he made the strategic decision to continue FDR's approach of emphasizing cooperation, even when it was against US-strategic interest, with the Soviets above all else.

The parallels are, of course, by no means exact, but they do merit mention.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Second Wave Coming Soon

So guess where DeTocque is? Shrimps on the barbie anyone?
We're now hitting a much-welcomed lull in the "I'm-running-for-President-and-I-will-raise-more-cash-than-you" sweepstakes. Now is the time for a collective sigh of relief.

But what lies ahead? Yup, it's the second wave of announcements!

If you're in your party's contest already, chances are you're a newbie (Obama), have never done this before (Rudy), an insufferable media-hog (Hilary), or dumb (McCain). Look for the Al Gores, the Newts, the Fred Thomsons to start jumping in.

Frankly, the second wavers look brilliant at this point. Here's why:

1. They've allowed the country to listen to the initial field from each party, and can assess where the early birds fall short. It's no secret that the Republicans do not have a super-star candidate that the hard-core faithful can get behind, so Newt and Fred may start looking to fill that void. Ditto for Al Gore: he's said a million times that's he's not running, until he realizes that Hillary is unelectable, and people are still gun-shy on Barrack.

2. The first rounders have raised tons of cash, true enough. But they're going to spend it all, and soon, to beat each other up. Look for the second wave to get in once everyone's coffers start to dwindle and the field thins a bit. This is particular precarious for the Republicans -- if anyone actually starts listening to a Mike Huckabee type (ie, a candidate with a mainstream message who just hasn't caught-on yet), the spending will go into overdrive to thwart him. And then, Enter His Newtness into a taxed out field.

3. The media cycle will give the second rounders much, much more coverage than the firsters. The reality-TV-channel that is FOXNews is probably so sick of giving Tom Tancredo and Ron Paul (whose name is perfect for the adult-film industry, by-the-by) legit air-time that they're dying to burn thousands of feet of film on the Newt.

4. And finally, let's face it -- you don't get burned out so much if you only spend 14 months running for Prez instead of 24...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Sarko effectively sinking the PS?

Sarkozy's appointment of Bernard Koucher is striking for many reasons.

For one, it means Sarko may actually be seeking to forward traditionally FRENCH (not Gaullist) issues in foreign affairs: Koucher seems reasonably tolerant of the US, is actively involved in humanitarian prospects, and shares many of his boss's pro-EU opinions. This likely signals that Sarko is dead serious about rising above the partisan fray. Interesting. Sarko even went as far as to include seven women in the cabinet... Well done indeed.

As a subset of Koucher's appointment as FM, it's notable that Sarko would give that post to a member of the opposition -- foreign relations are traditionally the role of the President, while the PM controls more of the domestic agenda. In effect, Koucher position, by design, is kept on a short lease to the Elysee and therefore Sarko effectively retains a direct veto over anything Koucher might do that wouldn't be 100% kosher with the big boss.

Two, look what it's doing to the Socialists -- they've since ousted Koucher, and are practically conceding any hope of a majority in next month's elections to the Assemble Nationale. Ladies and gents, start your engines, because we may be in for an entertaining power struggle when the dust settles. The PS has one very important question it must answer: does it truly embrace the market economy? Where is its Tony Blair, great capitalist modernizer of Labour? Blair made Labour electable, and the PS is clearly not. It might not be too far of a stretch to see the PS fracture into a "Social Democratic" party and some harder lefties...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gingrich makes his appeal to the disenfranchised right

Newt Gingrich's appearance on Meet the Press was aimed at one audience: Hard core Republicans who view the Bush administration as both incompetent and traitorous to key Republican values. Gingrich talked tough on Iraq, used a plethora of references to Ronald Reagan (a sure sign you're talking to misty-eyed conservative ideologists), and had, well, pretty much all the answers.

Middle America probably loved it.

Two problems jumped out, however:

1. He was long on proposed solutions, but didn't account for any sort of political opposition. DeTocque will happily throw out 20 proposed changes to "Win in Iraq", but it's the EXECUTION of those things which seems to get everyone in trouble.

2. If he does decide to run for President (which will probably be determined by poll numbers based on appearances like this), he WILL fill a void amongst Republican candidates, but he WON'T get very far: when push comes to shove, he'll lose out when his opponents keep bringing up that nasty affair he had while leading the impeachment charge. He might talk the talk, but the evangelicals will have their say...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

USS ALBERTO GONZALES takes on more water.

Former Deputy Attorney General James Comey's testimony today on the Hill was nothing short of jaw droppingly flabberghasting. Insane. The stuff Hollywood courtroom dramas are made of. We'll save the details, and just let you read them here.

Here are the salient points:

1. It's astounding that John Ashcroft comes out of the situation looking like a saint by respecting th Comey's authority in a situation where he had delegated power.

2. Alberto Gonzales gets yet another strike against him. If the man survives in this job, DeTocque has a horse he wants Alberto to sell you. No matter what else he has done behind closed doors at the DoJ, good or bad, the US attorneys' affair and this should be able to sink anyone, even if your best buddy is the most powerful man in the world.

3. Why is this story just hitting the papers now? It's over four years old. In examining the US attorneys' scandal, did someone tell someone that Comey had something else negative to say about all this?

4. Congrats to Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller, et al. for having the decency to prepare their resignations on this and stand up for their beliefs.

5. Andy Card sure looks like a slime ball.

6. Bush, despite compromising in the end and allowing the eavesdropping authorization to be modified, actually deserves no credit for bending on this -- if a rash of high profile resignations hit the press three years ago, the political mess would have been far worse. He did what any politician would do.

7. DeTocque's $20 is on James Comey to be the next AG. It's the perfect face-saving situation in all this: Alberto, scarred multiple times, resigns, and Comey, with plenty of experience and now the darling of the Democrat-controlled Senate judiciary committee, sails through his confirmation hearing.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bush's poodle?

Tony Blair announced that he would step down on 27 June and finally transfer power to, presumably, the rather anxious Gordon Brown, who has been jumping up and down like an eight year old needing the bathroom for about the last four years as Tony clings to power.

Much of the commentary (for an example, see here) makes reference to Blair being "Bush's poodle". But perhaps he's not, or at least, not out of the ordinary. Post WWII history has shown that, when on the world stage since the disaster of the Suez Crisis, British PM's have traditionally chosen to influence American foreign policy by using their position as a trusted ally to nuance the Superpower's action in the direction of Britain's national interest: Two of the most "special relationships" include Harold Macmillan leaning on JFK to get nuclear missile defense of the UK and Europe, and Margaret Thatcher's heavy influence on Ronald Reagan.

Using this historical precedent, if Blair had independently concluded that invading Iraq was also in the UK's national interest, then he had every reason to support the invasion in 2003. And, more importantly, his influence was heavily present through the entire process, right up to the last days before the invasion when he forced Bush to take his case for war back to the UN for a second resolution.

Let's not jump to conclusions because Blair chose to commit troops to Iraq -- he did so because he thought it was in the UK's national interest, used Britain's historically most successful foreign policy mechanism to achieve his aims, and steered Bush in the direction of multilateralism (even though it was a relatively futile effort).


Getting into musical recommendations, check out Wilco's new release Sky Blue Sky... Half way through the first listen, it's a different, more straightforward record, but still up to the high standards of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" and "A Ghost is Born."

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

French election rehash

Congrats to the 47% of the French populace who have proven DeTocque to be mostly wrong... While there were sporadic riots following Nicolas Sarkozy's triumph on Sunday, by-and-large, the masses have just eaten their cake and laid low. Since the election had a huge turnout, was fair, and not contested by Sego, the 47% probably just felt exhausted. Sego is actually lucky that the center-right fielded such a personally unlikeable candidate as Sarko, otherwise you could probably add about 2-3% to his total: far too many Sego voters were in the "anyone but Sarko" camp.

(an unflattering mock-up of Sego)

Where does this leave the French Socialist Party?

Frankly, it's in a tight spot, and has some serious contemplating to do in order to reemerge as a truly viable political force in France. While Segolene certainly had her draw-backs as a candidate, it was the image of France's future that the Socialists have to rework: the world is a global economy, and nothing will change that. Nothing. Multinational corporations will merge and manual labor jobs will be lost as the industrial sector continues to shift towards the developing world. So, instead of grasping to the hope that France fights to relatively low-paying jobs in protected "national champion" industries, the French Socialists simply must go the Clintonian-Blairite "Third Way" and be a modern Socialist party which espouses social justice and embraces globalization. For starters, they should encourage social justice by providing the mechanisms necessary for citizens to advance along with globalization, rather than fight against it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

French election drawing to a close

DeTocque is back and in fine form after a lovely ten-day repose on the beaches of Central America.

But on to the French elections... We won't get into the nasty electoral politics at this juncture, as both Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royale have turned it into a vote into a nasty character referendum (surprised? when was the last time anyone heard of a civil election with so much at stake?), but DeTocque will make one rather not-so-bold prediction if Sarko wins: there'll be protests, and tons of them, and for weeks on end.

While everyone and their dog knows that France is a nation of protesters, the protesting-prone portion of the population is over-represented in those who would traditionally vote for Sego -- the unions, the lower middle class, the students. If they don't get what they want, it's second nature to take to the streets.

Two aspects about this are of significance:

1. If a Sarko victoire causes demonstrations en masse, this should pose profound questions to French philosophers about whether the French psyche is really accepting of representative democracy. (Since a) a Sarko vicotory and b) demonstrations have not happened yet, DeTocque will only expound on this point should a) and b) actually come to pass).

2. How would Sarko react? His authoritarian style would default to heavy police presence and strong-armed strike-breaking mentality, but DeTocque guesses the new president would want to win over his new subjects and let them paralyze the country for a week or two. Only if the pagaille drags on would the batons come out.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Snarlin' Arlen et al.

Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) did an excellent job of remaining objective in their questioning of AG Alberto Gonzales. While it's easy to argue that these politicians are using Gonzales' testamony as a vehicle to distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular White House, the bottom line is that something funny is going on at the Department of Justice, and the answers are not adding up. They should be commended for doing the right thing and not giving Gonzales a free pass.

Doolittle gets Done

The hits keep on coming for those with connections to the Jack Abramoff to-do. The latest to tiptoe to the edge of the high-dive is northern California Republican Congressman John Doolittle.

The story goes like this:

1. Doolittle's wife creates company as a fundraiser
2. Doolittle hires wife's company to raise funds for Doolittle's 2006 re-election campaign
3. Doolittle's wife charges said re-election campaign 15% of value of donations, nicely funding Doolittle's personal, as well as political, coffers.
4. Doolittle's wife company, and Doolittle himself, have a lot to do with Jack Ambramoff, who has contributed to Doolittle's re-election campaign AND hired wife's company
5. Feds get wise, start investigation
6. Doolittle resigns leadership post on House committee.

For a current resume of events, click here. For background articles, try here and here.

DeTocque wonders if this is the tipping point or just the wake of political corruption. Kudos to Republican House leader John Boehner for forcing Doolittle off the committee. But the larger questions remains: is Doolittle off the committee only because he got caught? Does this merely force the corrupt ones further underground? Will party leaders be forthright in admitting all cases of corruption and removing the guilty (or at least the ones with Virginia farm boys poking around their back yards)? Will the public stand for it?

We know that politicians generally act in concert with their level of nervousness about their chances for re-election. If the Republicans weren't facing such an uphill climb in 2008, would Boehner even care?


DeTocque is off for some loverly RnR to Central America as of tomorrow. Back on April 30.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fundraising Alert on Romney

Regular readers of American DeTocqueville will recall this site's general distaste for the Mitt Romney campaign. And it's not because he's a Mormon. It's because he's a CEO who is more determined to win the presidency than to stand for his true convictions (and we don't know what those would be, because the Mitt is too busy changing his stance to appeal to the conservative base or the his state's population, depending on in which election he's currently running). Insert perfect hair joke here.

But wait! News from this week brings a whisper of potency from Camp Mitt in the form of $21 mil in campaign contributions, which surpassed John McCain's paltry $12 big ones. And that will get you a lot of funny underware. Apologies for cheap-shot Mormon joke.

At this time, DeTocque would like to make a bold prediction: this cold, hard, cash will get Mitt nowhere unless he uses it to take the bus. Based on the article linked above from the, a good chunk of Mitt's funding comes from a Political Action Committee called Eagle PAC. While avoiding direct statements or obvious linkages to the Church of Later-Day Saints, Eagle PAC is essentially a fundraising bully to support Mormon candidates. Problem is, there really aren't that many Mormons, and DeTocque surmises that the politically active ones have already donated large sums. That's all they're willing to turn out their pockets for (and thus risk exposing their funny underware. Sorry again, can't help it).

Compare this with Barack Obama's cash haul, and Mitt is really in trouble. Barack is beginning to cultive a 100,000-strong base, small-donation, fundraising army, which is already giving him tons of cash. Mitt has a small base, large-donation, one-trick pony. Obama's people are nationwide and probably willing to put signs in their front yard. No one will see a Romney sign this side of the Great Salt Lake.

Romney might stick around through a primary or two because he can continue to pay his staff, but his donations might not have much staying power if all that cash doesn't produce a slow, steady uptick in his poll numbers.

Monday, April 9, 2007

GWOT no more

An article from last week's Military Times points out that Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee will no longer be using the term "Global War on Terrorism." In contrast to many of the reader comments at the end of the piece (which make for wonderful reading if you're in the mood to get first-hand evidence of Republican's knack for brainwashing constituents), DeTocqueville heartily applauds this effort, for one simple reason:

It's time we moved on.

The term "Global War on Terrorism" is a political catch-phrase designed to maintain terrorism's omnipresence in today's 24-hour news cycle. It is meaninglessly tossed around by undereducated elected government officials to strike fear into the hearts of those who cannot independently vet today's threat from Islamic extremism.

What's worse, you can't fight a war against something that can't sign a peace treaty.

When Von Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of politics by other means, this isn't what he meant. He was not referring to electoral politics, as is the case with the "War on Terror". He was addressing the failure of international diplomacy. We've had plenty of failure in diplomatic circles, and the time is right for our governments to stop using this generic term to perpetuate fear of imminent, mass casualty attacks amongst the general populace.

Ditching this term is but the first step in the American government owning up to its plethora of mistakes in what begain as a limited conflict against a small group of nomadic Islamic extremists. It is the adminstration's fault for taking UBL's bait in turning the issue into a global cause celebre. Hopefully this is an indication of a radical strategic overhaul, but no one hold their breath just yet...

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Nancy's Greater Middle East Initiative

Nancy Pelosi is in the Middle East this week for one reason: to show American voters that the Democratic party favors dialogue with, rather than isolation of, one's diplomatic adversaries. As George Bush has been slow to take up the recommendations of the Iraq study group, Pelosi and her Dem counterparts have seized the opportunity to engage the Syrian government and elements of the Palestinian Authority. She's scheduled to stop in Saudi Arabia, too, but that's most likely because she was just in the neighborhood.

And let's face it, this is solid strategy. Suddenly, every farmer in South Dakota has become an expert on US foreign policy. At least they're starting to pay attention to it, anyway. When talking heads throw around "engage" vs. "isolate" strategies on meaningless, yet highly rated, political talk shows, the US voting public is more educated on these issues now than ever before. Pelosi knows W has awful approval ratings, particularly in the foreign policy arena, and she knows that W favors isolating one's "enemies." She's hoping that voters realize W's diplomatic strategy is poor, and her tour to Syria just might pay dividends at the polls come 2008.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pelosi in Damascus; Bush Cranky

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi lead a congressional delegation to Damascus, and was hailed in one local article as almost an Eva Peron type figure. Her visit with Syrian President Assad ruffled some feathers back home, as Bush blurts out continually insightful passages:

From the treasonous NYT: President George W. Bush criticized Ms. Pelosi’s visit today during a news conference at the White House. He said the visit sent “mixed signals” that “lead the Assad government to believe they are part of the mainstream of the international community, when in fact they are a state sponsor of terror”.

But why didn't he make the same fuss when a congressional delegation of three Republicans (Congressmen Robert Aderholt, Joe Pitts, and Frank Wolf) visited Syria met separately with Assad on Sunday ?

This is probably a case of Bush trying to get the publicity associated with attacking Pelosi's ad hoc diplomacy (or just attacking Pelosi ad hoc) and hoping no one would notice the members of his own party sneaking into the country the day before (oops). The White House may have figured that it could claim in hindsight that the "mixed signals" to which it was referring were the multiple congressional delegations. That is, "shoot, we sent over a bunch of Republicans just the day before to deliver our message, so Nancy's just getting in the way and clouding the picture."

Of course, that gets messy when you realize that the administration has gone out of its way in the recent past to say that there's no message to deliver...

In the end, it's clear that the White House now values at least some engagement with its "enemies" but is likely slamming Pelosi's visit to appease the hard-line faction of its base. Hardly seems like a productive strategy.

Monday, April 2, 2007

New DeTocqueville Bio

DeTocque must take pause for a moment to engage in the wonderful world of home renovation, but in the meantime, please note the new bio on our hero, reviewed here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Cost of Winning

If you get a few minutes, DeTocque highly recommends the following article at on Democrats' "real enemy" in winning elections -- their own consultants.

Holding the Dems back are: the excessive cost and payment structure of their consultants/pollsters vis-a-vis the Republicans' aides, the lack of new blood amongst Demcrat strategists (save Bill Clinton's staff), and the overreliance on shot-gun style network advertising.

Assuming the article's research is sound (lots of fudge-able finances are included), such assertions are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Though the article alludes to the answer, none of the candidates are interviewed to defend their repeated choices of, frankly, expensive losers. Which candidate will go out of his/her way to find that up-and-coming strategist without the losing record? How much of an effect does this really have on the democratic process? Why do candidates need thousands of ineffective stratgists? Do these advisers actually care who wins as long as they get paid?

A successful Democratic candidate must:
1. Ditch his current team. Most of the current candidates are recycling old hacks.
2. Restructure the compensation contract to avoid a high percentage commission on the media-buy (which, the article states, is slowly happening)
3. Have the courage to ignore the strategists' advice from time-to-time.

It's been clear for quite some time that Republicans are just plain better at winning elections (look at the recent presidential election record -- R wins in 04, 00, 88, 84, and 80; and whether they're better at actually governing is a different story altogether...), and maybe now we know why.

Hopefully this article turns a head or two within the Democrat establishment, it might just save their bacon.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Conviction is Power, Right or Wrong.

There's one aspect of Alberto Gonzales case that intreagues: George Bush's demeanor. (And in the interest of full disclosure, John Stewart made mention of this on The Daily Show the other night.)

After six years style over substance, Bush's act may be falling apart. With everyone and their dog believing that the AG won't last more than a few weeks (just look at the future contract on him), it's a pretty decent bet that you could win a few bucks by placing a wager on his near-term ouster.

But you'd never know that by what's written on Bush's defiant smirk at the press conference. It's been a well-known tactict of the administration to speak with assertive conviction on issues where it may lack the moral high ground, but the fact of the matter is that no one buys it any more. Even the highest ranking Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are casting long doubts on 'Berto, and we see no change in character from the White House.

What's next? So much of the voting public is dying for some Executive Humility, but it is difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. Why maintain the act? We're all pretty sure that 'Berto is hasta la pasta, so the public is collectively begging you, Mr. President, to admit this is a sketchy deal and just fire the guy.

The public wants to have confidence in its President. Bush's hardnosed approach to this doesn't inspire it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Testify Under Oath.

Despite the assertions of a few talking political heads, it is not a brilliant strategy for the White House to offer to allow Karl Rove and Hariet Miers to "testify", but not under oath or with a transcript. Pundits think this somehow puts the Judicial Committee in an awkward bind. Quite simply, the Judicial Committee is well within its rights to subpoena Rove et al.

For arguement's sake, let's dive in a little deeper. Bush justifies his refusal by saying it sets a dangerous precedent for future White House aides to give honest advice to the President if their words are under constant scrutiny. Maybe so -- one tends to keep one's mouth shut if running one's mouth gets one in trouble. On the other hand, if one provides clear, upstanding advice devoid of petty partisanship or nefarious intentions, then one should not worry about telling the public about it. Therefore, if we use the transitive property DeTocq learned in 8th grade, in this situation we must conclude that Rove, Miers, Gonzales and the lot were involved in some conversations that would professionally embarrass them.

Too bad. These aides are public officials working by an administration elected by the people, for the people. We should be allowed to hear them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dirty Appropriations Tricks

The new funding bill put to Congress this week is a ghastly representation of politics' nastiness. There are so many problems with this legislation that it's difficult to know where to begin. Read an excellent Washington Post piece here.

It includes enough war funding only to keep the Iraq war up and running through next year (at $124 billion of your hard-earned tax payments). That's fine and well, and at least proves that the Democrats are really, really serious about ending this thing.

The bill gets ugly when the Democrats start enticing Congressional members who would otherwise oppose this appropriation and vote for more funding, with home-district earmarks. The inclusion of extraneous earmarks is contemptable in and of itself, but this tactic goes immorally further by compromising Congressmen's integrity. For example, if Johnny Representative favors continued Iraq engagement, he still might vote for the current fund-cutting bill because a Democrat slipped in an earmark worth several million bucks in economic assistance for his district. It becomes a choice between war ideology and easy cash to buy votes.

There are many differing options as to how much, and for how long, Congress should fund this conflict, but the addition of juicy home-district earmarks may compromise members of Congress who ideologically support continued military presence in Iraq to vote their conscience. In a time when ideology on the war is so important to American voters, votes on war funding should be separate appropriations bills where Representatives express their feelings on the war with no strings attached. This is politics at its worst.

We're not sure how, but opposing the war with such dramatic tactics could still dangerously backfire.

Confidence in Alberto?

President Bush today stated he had confidence in Alberto Gonzales, the embattled Attorney General.

In addtion to everything else that has completely sunk this White House, even Presidential support doesn't count for much any more. Just ask Donald Rumsfeld, who also received public administration support after his removal was already a done deal behind closed doors.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Managing war expectations

Today's news brings us the quarterly report on progress in Iraq... This is a Pentagon-produced, Congressionally-mandated report on the state of the war, and is often considered "propaganda," to use one law-makers phrase of choice. In the past, the report has painted a more glowing picture of the country than the ground truth would dictate.

Why, then, would the report issued today (and covering the last quarter of 2006) finally say, after so much semantic-related wrangling, that Iraq really is in a "civil war", and openly state that the last part of 2006 was the most violent in Iraq since 2003? The change in tone is striking.

The simple answer involves "managing expectations." It would not be too tough to believe that US military commanders (and the adminstration, for that matter), who just launched a controversial "surge" of some 30,000 troops, are hoping to set the bar as low as possible for the end of 2006 (conveniently in the "pre-surge" timeframe). Then, with even the remotest calming in Iraq, or the most modest calming of the situation during the first part of 2007, look for subsequent reports to point to improved conditions.

The Commander-in-Chief can then claim that the surge was the right strategy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Democats on Iraq...

Are the Democrats opposing the Iraq war in the right way? How much can actually get accomplished by threating to cut off funding, either to US forces in Iraq, or those that are part of the "surge"?

If the Dems continue on their current trajectory, one wonders if they're tap dancing on that political mine field at little too heavily: The $20 in DeTocq's pocket says that there's no incentive to actually cutting cash to forces in the Iraq, because such a nix on appropriations would give the Republicans political cover. Think about it -- the Democrats vote to cut off funding, the US begins to bring forces home, Iraq slides further into all out chaos, and the Republican nominee in 2008 just hammers those vicious Congressional Democrats who killed the administration's plan to finally fix the whole thing.

On the other hand, there's no real effective way to oppose the war other than to cut off funding. The Dems can scream at the top of their lungs about what a misguided, mismanaged debacle this is, but Joe Voter wants to see something tangible from them... Given the country's mood and the type of historical precendent associated with a funding cut in Vietnam (where funds were actually cut to the South Vietnamese, not US soldiers), that probably resonates with people.

So where does that leave us? DeTocq bets on this: Exactly the same place where we were with the infamous "non-binding" resolution of a month or so ago. Dems will get really fired up and create tons of publicity about it, Republicans will pay lip service to opposing the idea, but secretly pray that the vote comes to pass. Then both sides will get embroiled in a drawn out debate on the "rules of the debate" which leads to exactly ZERO legislative action.

Yup, you heard it hear first -- the funding rhetoric just may be just that, rhetoric. Dems love the idea and would probably do it, but they will look for some sort of reason to not actually raise the issue on a technicality and then blame the Republicans, who would love nothing more than to have Democrats pass the bill.

Fun as usual, my friends.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Feeding the world? Or just St. Paul?

DeTocque hasn't heard much more on this besides an NPR piece this afternoon, but the subject bears mention: American food relief to the world's poorest nations.

The way the system currently works, USAID buys wheat, corn, and other agricultural goods from American farmers and then ships them around the globe. This system is relatively inefficient because of the higher costs and time delays involved in the purchase and transportation. The nasty little kicker is that this system provides millions, if not billions, of dollars in subsidies to America's farmers, who like to brag that they're "feeding the world."

Recently, USAID tabled a funding request to allow it to purchase one quarter of its food from local farmers in the respective poor countries. It's obvious that this would reduce the inefficiencies in cost and lag time by buying cheaper local products and quickly redistributing them to the local market, as well as give a direct income boost to third-world farmers. In short, by using some of USAID's food-assistance budget to buy local products, the American government could be feeding more people, doing it faster, and providing desperately-needed cash into third world economies. The NPR report even mentioned a wheat field in Africa that was left unharvested one year despite a bumper crop because no one could afford the goods. It wouldn't have if this proposal gets through.

If nothing else, what a wonderful P.R. opportunity for the U.S. -- after nearly 5 years of negative press, this is something the U.S. could hang its hat on. It is therefore astonishing that it's the Democrats who want to derail this extremely reasonable proposal. House Agricultural Committee chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) literally laughed into the microphone when asked about this issue and essentially called it a non-starter. Why? Well, his Minnesota farmers and truckers would lose a lot of income to those obviously evil, nasty, poor, starving third world wheat growers.

How ridiculous. Congressman Peterson has just proven that he is in no way interested in providing food aid to starving Africans, but is more interested in providing production subsidies to his inefficient farmers. Minnesota's farmers may be doing a little to feed the world, but a 25% reduction in their income could save many, many lives. Aid to America's farmers is being cloaked as aid to Africa. If Congressman Peterson really cared about the world's poor, he would encourage his farmers to leave their highly bloated, subsidized jobs that are a drag on the American economy by setting up retraining programs so that workers could learn new skills. The labor force would then be more sensibly reallocated to higher-paying more technical jobs.

Then we'd have a winning situation in both St. Paul and Lusaka. Instead, Congressman Peterson is taking the easy way out. Shame on him.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Quick review of the French election

It appears Francois Bayrou, candidate from the centrist UDF (Union for French Democracy) Party, is making a bit of a run in the polls. Figures from yesterday put him at some 19%, which is well withing striking distance of the Socialist candidate Segolene Royale (25%) and Nicolas Sarkozy (29%), from the rightist UMP (Union for the Presidential Majority).

In an election system where only the two leading candidates advance from the first to the second (and final) round, Bayrou still falls short. There are a few wild cards in play which may skew the numbers -- most prominently Jean Marie Le Pen, the extreme right candidate. Voters typically have a tough time admitting to pollsters that they are about to vote for an immigrant-hating, Euro-phobic, ultra conservative whack job like Le Pen, but about 12% of them actually do in any given election (2002's election would be the exception to the rule, where Le Pen miraculously received 18,5% of the vote and snuck into the second round ahead of Lionel Jospin, the Socialist). While Le Pen may only poll at ~10%, these numbers are usually a bit lower.

The second (and related) issue, is the "heart vs. head" argument. With the two-round election, voters typically feel freer to vote their true feelings ("heart") in the first round (which leads to such a wide dispersal), but with only two candidates in the second, the masses are then shoe-horned into the more "logical" choice. Bayrou, as the centrist, probably doesn't stir the emotions enough to get voters enough to be the "heart" choice and get into the second round on that ticket.

But, hold the show for a minute -- there's a third consideration which may serve Bayrou well: With Sego embracing Mitterand's tactic in the 80s of running "hard left" during the first round -- to shore up the party base and avoid a Jospin-esque disaster from '02, and Sarko trying to pluck a few of Le Pen's supporters, there might just be a chance. If enough "center-center left" and "center-center right" voters decide that Sego and Sarko are pandering to their bases too much, there might be enough space in the political center for Bayrou to garner enough support to slip through. He has mentioned favoring a Socialist Prime Minister (whom he appoints), which helps his cause to steal from Sego...

It will be close, but, using Le Pen's '02 example, anything is possible.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Ted Turner for budget responsibility!

Congratulations to CBS's 60 Minutes for airing an excellent piece on the current state of the American budget. Read the online version of the story here. In short, it focuses on David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States, who is doing his best to raise public awareness of the gross inadequacies of the projected US government revenue and expenditure. Walker is on a tour of states scheduled to hold early presidential primaries in the hopes of getting somebody to pay attention.

DeTocq doesn't have the level of off-handed expertise to delve into the nitty-gritty on numbers, but suffice it to say that this issue deserves to be on par with the recent surge in public notarity for global warming. The difficulties faced by proponents of budget unsustainability roughly match up with those faced by the global warming crowd as recently as a few months ago: both problems are long-range issues which current politicians have little incentive to care about before their next general election, and the issues were very valid within the confines of their smallish wonky circles but faced problems of widespread public acceptance. The global warming problem has only received widespread public support since Al Gore's remarkable transformation into a genuine "cool" A-list celeb. (And who would have bet $100 that Gore would have had this cult superstar status in 2000? Can you say "landslide"?)

Who will be the budget's celebrity champion? Any politician who espouses lowering taxes but increasing spending is plainly lying to their constituency, so most of them are out. But somehow, somewhere, this issue needs its Al Gore -- a recognized leader with public credibility educate the masses. Though Walker, the comptroller, is doing an "enormous public service", as stated by Sen. Conrad (D-ND), the Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, he is, quite frankly, a boring accounant who doesn't command much attention. How about a figure like Ted Turner? He's a respected businessman with history of public credibility through massive charity support.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Dictators' three piece suits

If we were at a fashion show in Milan and espousing on the virtues of miltary olive drab for this fashion season, which world leader would pop into your head? The answer, of course, is quite obvious -- Fidel Castro.

Think about other authoritarian regimes of today and yesteryear -- in many, if not all, cases, one can probably discern a mainstay vestment category.

Consider the selections --
Hitler = khaki military uniform, schwaztika armband;
Kim Il Song/Kim Jong Il = grayish "workman's uniform" (plus spikey hair and fabulously outrageous sunglasses in the case of the son);
Mao = button up version of the same;
Hugo Chavez = red shirt and hat combo;
Amadinejad = "man of liesure" top-button-open dress shirt/casual jacket.

The list could go on to be sure.

The question then passes to why: Are these heads of state trying to "brand" their "revolutions"? Are they trying to encourage their cult-of-personality? Are they seeking to project an air of stability through attire? Is it to inspire confidence through visual identification?

DeTocque's guess is probably a combination of all of the above, plus a few more. If anyone decides to do a PhD dissertation on the topic, please pass on your conclusions...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Market economies don't fight each other

News broke around 4pm that the Dow had lost some 400 points on the day, the worst single-day loss since September 2001. Explanations for the drop generally point to a single starting point: China. Specifically, the market in Shanghai seems to be the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings, and its crash has largely been attributable to a standard "correction." Simply put, the Shanghai market (which DeTocque knows absolutely nothing about), had been going so strong, so fast that it was just time to bring things down to earth (9 percent today). Year of the pig, indeed.

The News Hour with Jim Lehrer explains that the disasterous effect on the NYSE is because so many American companies are doing such booming business in China and are tied so heavily to its market. China has a cold, and America's starting to sneeze.

This bears a larger world-view: If a relatively minor stock market shock in China could produce such an adverse effect half-a-world-away in New York, what would happen in an American-Sino war? Would all trade just stop? How many trillions of dollars would disappear over night? How many lives would be distroyed?

Perhaps the old international relations adage needs to be revised -- instead of "democracies don't fight wars against each other," maybe it should be "market economies don't fight wars against each other"? But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. China has a long way to go before being truly considered a free market economy, but one could hardly argue that millions of Americans aren't getting rich off Mao's present incarnation.

And could this situation give China an upper hand? What if it decided to retake Tawain? Would Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, William Ford, and Donald Trump suddenly show up at the White House begging the White House to let bygones be bygones?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Cheney, Musharraf and many mixed signals

Dick Cheney's surprise visit to Pakistan today sends mixed signals about how the White House is handling its quasi-ally.

The issue first began last month when Democrat-lead House passed a bill which would restrict US aid to Pakistan if the Bush administration could not verify that Pakistan was making all possible efforts to thwart the Taliban operating the country (read the bill here). Today, Cheney tried to use this threat as leverage when full-court pressing Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to, well, actually fight the Taliban (see an article on US spending in Pakistan here). But finally, White House Press Secretary oddly refused to outright support the VP, and even distanced himself from Cheney, saying, "President Musharraf is committed to winning this, and we are committed to working with him in this war on terror." (here)

The discord could simply be related to a lack of communication between Cheney's people and the White House or, due to the secrecy involved in the VP's trip, perhaps a leak of the meeting's talking points. Either way, it's an odd way to handle things (especially because it's not even clear that the Senate would choose to take up the resolution for debate).

The strangest aspect is that Cheney would actually threaten Musharraf that "the Democrats might cut off funding." Why use the threat if Cheney wouldn't support it? Would the administration personally not cut off funding if it had the choice? Are the Democrats some unstoppable, crazy force that the Pakistanis better get on board or who knows what those new nut jobs in the majority might do?!?! Cheney's looking for a way to force Musharraf into being more aggressive while trying to maintain the administration's personal relationship with Pervez. So they want to put the screws to him... but not too much. Push Musharraf too hard, and you might lose him altogether, so the best solution is to blame the Democrats.

The main US objection in all this is Musharraf's "truce" with the tribal elders in the Northwest Pakistani provinces, an area essentially still run by the Taliban. The unspoken deal is that Musharraf calls off the dogs and lets remaining Taliban elements survive relatively autonomously, and the Taliban won't bother the government.

How does this relate to Cheney (and House Dems) pushing Musharraf on terrorism? If you were Osama Bin Laden, where would you be hiding?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Carl Levin on Meet The Press.

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mi) is on Meet The Press as DeTocq types, and he's taking about a new Senate resolution which would "modify" US troops' mission in Iraq. Two things from the interview jump out: 1. The new resolution offered by the Democrats will have absolutely no effect on the functions of US forces; but 2. Senator Levin was willing to explain some of the behind-the-scenes political strategy.

1. Senator Levin explained that the resolution would state that US forces' mission would be "reduced" to:
-- only supporting counter-terrorism mission
-- training Iraqi troops
-- logistics operations.

DeTocq has news: That's exactly what US forces do now! Should that resolution pass, it might score some points with the public, but in reality it would have no effect on how the military operates. Every single function soldiers perform could easily be shoehorned into one of those broad topics -- every raid they conduct or security operation they run could fall under "counterterrorism"; every time they accompany the Iraqis on an operation, it would be "training"; and everything else would fall into the logistics category.

Furthrmore, the President could potentially exploit that language to say the Democrats passed a do-nothing resolution which is only playing politics.

2. When Tim Russert pressed Levin about remarks made by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) which practically dared Democrats to cut off funding for the troops, Levin responded with aplomb. He simply said that, first, Democrats don't want to further endanger American soldiers by not properly funding them -- he rightly said that Democrats wanted to avoid a Vietnam-type mistake; second, Levin frankly explained that Democrats didn't want to pursue a funding resolution because it would play right into the President's hand. Specifically, Levin said that such a bill would probably lose (because no Senator wants to be seen as "not supporting the troops"), and that the President would exploit such an attempt to protray the Democrats in a negative light.

Good for Levin for acknowledging that Senators and Presidents often play politics. All too often, public officials engage in haughty rhetoric to mask the underlying issues.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Iraq War Spin Machine, take 367million

When Tony Blair announced that British troops were being pulled out of Iraq, on the surface it would seem like this would be a bad thing for the Bush administration. You would think...

Clearly not the case, however. According to some of your finer White House PR folks, this is apparently a good thing because it means that the security situation is good enough around Basra that the British forces had completed their mission and could return home. Perhaps if we let the British commanders, rather than Tony Snow, address the actual security situation around Basra, we might find a more realistic assessment... It might be quieter than Baghdad, but that's like saying a Rolling Stones show is quieter than The Who's. And we won't get fooled again, oh no.

Digressions aside, there's one aspect of the story that doesn't click in this spin machine, one significant question that remains unanswered:

If Tony Blair is bringing his forces home because the mission is complete, and not because he is trying to avoid a legacy as the lapdog PM who lead his country into its worst foreign policy 'misstep' since Suez (deep breath), then why can't the US ask Blair to redeploy some of his forces to Baghdad and al Anbar where, ahem, they could probably pitch in and help keep things quiet?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On to 08 (again? yes, already)

In the ever hastening race to start American presidential elections even earlier (who thinks George P. Bush will be throwing his hat in the ring in '12? Chelsea, anyone? DeTocq is busy scouting his friends' kids' pre-school classes for '36 candidates, by the way), it's no stretch to say that the American voting public has already been subjected to an onslaught of Presidential media attention.

How's this for the WHY: Everyone, save a few hardcore Evangelicals in Mobile, are dying for this term to be over. Just dying for it. The media might have finally run out of goofy Bushisms and is so sick of Iraq that they're out looking for the next story.

The benefit (silver lining?) is that it just might bounce a few of the jokesters out early. Take this guy with the perfect hair and goofy boxershorts -- Mitt Romney. Ruth Marcus does a nice piece in the Post (here) , where she paints a picture of a man who seems more concerned with winning the Presidency than actually standing for a conviction or two. Abortion is a tricky subject, but Romney walks the tightrope so carefully that it's transparent. What's wrong with standing to be judged?

When politicians, as the Mittster does in this article, are over 50 years old and use terms like "evolved" on a core issue relating to their moral character, 95% of the time it means "changed to make me more electable." With the obnoxiously early start of the election, journalists have just that much more time to pour over records and transcripts and bounce some of the hair-and-smile-but-no-substance guys BEFORE they raise enough money to be serious contenders.

UPDATE: On 27 February, does a good article which supports the post above and and explains why Romney's so easily willing to flip flop: he's the consumate CEO who will alter his position at the drop of a hat to push his product. But there's the rub: people vote for Presidents because they want count on their officials to maintain the same point of view both before and after an election, not because said official is deft at altering his opinion to please the constituent, donor, or policy maker of the day. Good thing Romney is polling at 7 percent right now, let's stick a fork in him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

FT does Chinese "soft power"

In an article in today's FT (here, subscription required), Gideon Rachman argues that China's "soft power policy is working." It takes three or four paragraphs of anecdotal examples (Mandarin commentary on British football being broadcast in Beijing and the like), but the article's subtext soon becomes apparent: China, according to Rachman, is quickly catching up to the US in its use of soft power.

DeTocq is left scratching his head on this one: why the comparison? Why is Chinese and American soft power framed in this zero-sum-game mentality by which, Rachman argues, for one country to ascend, the other must decline? Here's a good quote that cuts to the meat of Rachman's point: "For a rich, free powerful country to lost a soft power contest to the US seems all but impossible... But in the global battle for hearts and minds, China does have one advantage. It hasn't started any wars lately."

True enough.

But who cares?

DeTocq is hardly a China expert, but the distinction doesn't seem necessary. Soft power is used as a diplomatic means to serve a country's political and economic ends. Assuming third party governments and companies are relatively rational actors, DeTocq can't think of any situation where China's soft power ascention has a severly negative outcome for the US:

Is the point that this battle royale will somehow effect US or Chinese investment in a third country? Perhaps it might on the margins, but most free market businesses take profit over image, and most dictator-run markets (some of which are being coddled by China without much competition. Just ask Robbie Mugabe) aren't worth the Western investment anyway.

Would China's soft power ascention cause the US to lose a vote in the UN Security Council? No, China can wave that veto flag strongly enough all by its lonesome, thank you.

Would it cause governments to chose sides in a US-China war? Nevermind the overall unlikelihood of that, but generally speaking, China's not likely to face down NATO (even with the likes of Iran or big, bad Zimbabwe in its corner).

Point being that, sure, China's soft power/image/charm offensive might be clicking right now, but DeTocq can't see too many instances where that would directly cost significant American dollars, or (any) lives. Over the last few years, the world has experienced so much black-and-white/us-vs.-them framing of international politics that perhaps it's time we stopped looking at these issues in directly competitive terms. If China gets a little bit stronger, good for them -- there's not much anyone can do to stop them now. Instead, the international community should look to accomodate their growth (economically and diplomatically) and profit it from it (again, economically and diplomatically) instead of fearing it.

Monday, February 19, 2007


If you get a few minutes, go check out Unity08. Normally skeptical of these types of groups, DeTocqueville must admit that the flaw isn't obvious. And proceding skeptically, that would be a hesitant endorsement...

The concept is intreaguing, even: Select one ticket (of a field of contenders) for the 08 race with a centrist Republican and a centrist Democrat. Who you could find to shun their party is another question altogether, but bear with them... This crowd, lead by the always-dashing Sam Waterston of "Law and Order" fame, doesn't exactly have the star-power of Bono-pitching-DATA, but it's a start.

The main problem Unity08 faces is probably from the Dems -- the party muscle is so desparate to get the White House in 2008 that they'd stop at nothing (including walking all over this little 527) to get there. The other potentially mitigating factor is Candidate Obama -- the case could be made that he's as centrist and "outsider" as you could get, so the "need" for a Unity08 style group wouldn't be that large.

However, if the race ended up with Dick Cheney squaring off against Hillary, look for the Unity08 crowd to pick up tons and tons of cash.

Edit: Unity 08 got a good mention in the Washington Post today, Feb 25 by columnist David Broder (here).

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What's all this about Iran?

A few brief points about the recent ascertion that "Iran" is supplying weapons to Shi'a groups in Iraq for use against US servicemen, and why the US is starting to make a big deal about it:

1. Is the "evidence" real?
-- Most likely. In light of the WsMD scandal of faulty intel pre-Iraq, the press has been correct to question the Bush administration's assertions about this. However, it's also in light of the Iraq justification that the Americans are making damn-well sure that they have such a serious accusation is right this time. Or, probably more correctly, they're making damn-well sure that they THINK they have it right. After all, Iran is going to deny it either way, right? Wait, we've been here before...

2. So is this weaponry coming all the way from the Iranian top?
-- Could be, but DeToc guesses it's unlikely. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and Grand Ayatollahs generally like to maintain a degree of plausible deniability between themselves and some of the more nefarious elements of their govenment. Maybe it was done with a wink and a nod and a say-no-more, but such weaponry is just as likely coming from a few Qods Force commanders with solid ties into Iraq Shi'a community. The Iranians probably won't ask too many questions, so everyone goes home happy.

3. Is the US making these charges now as a prelude to an Iran invasion?
-- ARE YOU KIDDING? Conspiracy theorists will all point in this direction, but, frankly, even beginning to contemplate an invasion of Iran is so insane that even Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and a four drugged-up monkeys throwing darts at a world map wouldn't advocate it. Think about it -- an extremely overstretched military fighting two wars, staunch opposition to the war at home, and ongoing diplomatic efforts with Tehran all collectively shout: NO WAY on this one.

4. Is the US doing this to keep Iran on its toes?
-- Ah ha. Here's where DeToc puts his $20. North Korea just eeked out a sweet energy deal when it shut down its nuke program, the Europeans might be going soft in the Iran nuke negotiations, and the US is pretty frustrated in Iraq, so DeToc surmises that this is a case of making relatively sound, if "unprovable", accusations against the Iranians to send a message that a) "we know you're in Iraq," so stop it, and b) you're not getting as cushy a nuclear deal as Pyongyang. Furthermore, it might be an attempt to rally the Euros to take a tougher line at the negotiating table with Tehran later this year.

Stay tuned, 'cause this one's just starting to get fun!

Separated At Birth?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Boehner's Boner

Rep John Boehner (R-OH) is either extremely loyal or extremely stupid.

Either way, he remains a primary cog in a systemic problem within the Republican Party: The inability to either understand or admit that the several wars in Iraq are not a primary front in the "war on terror." But there Boehner was, on the floor of the US House of Represenatives today, making that very assertion. DeToc wishes he had one of those clicker-counters that amusment park employees use to count how many riders jump on the roller coaster, because it would be interesting to watch how many either uneducated or un-free-thinking Republican Members of Congress continue this line of rhetoric during the House's debate this week.

DeToc just doesn't understand the tactical political advantage the Republicans are attempting to cling to by continuing this assertion. Do they continue to believe that the average American voter hasn't read at least the minimum amount of news to educate themselves on what's going on there? While Bill from Lincoln, Nebraska might not be able to differentiate between "Sunni" and "Shi'a", he probably knows that even Fox News says those two words much more in relation to Iraq than they say "al-Qa'ida". That might be an oversimplification, but Rep. Boehner's the expert there...

Monday, February 12, 2007


Ah, on to the French Presidential elections of April.

If I were French, I would still be in the "undecided" category.

However, I've always been turned off by the way the left-of-center parties in Europe (particularly Britain and France) appear to try to "buy" the election with some relatively small financial incentives. It seems like every time there's a general election in the UK, the Labor party starts talking about a pensions increase by 30p a week...

This morning's FT runs down "the real" start to Segolene Royal's campaign. Among her platform ideas are:

1. a 10K euro interest-free loan for "young people" to start their own companies
2. the state would create 500,000 subsidised jobs for the "young."
3. first-time homebuyers would get an interest-free loans for their mortgage deposit
4. the minimum wage would rise to 1,500 euros per month

DeToc mentions this not because he is a hard-core rightist (or Gaullist for that matter; either way, your DeTocqueville is much more of a centrist), but because the ol' DeToc is rational free-marketist. An interest-free home loan is a great thing to have, but who's going to fund that? Certainly you'd be hard-pressed to find a bank, building society, or even the local circus to put up such free cash. The state, then? Doesn't the state have better things to do than managing free home and business loans? DeToc hopes that his does (though by judging the recent state of affairs, most of the US populace would have rather had W managing loans than a war. At least we'd have only lost a few thousand...).

Let's not even begin to address France's "need" for another half-a-mil civil servants. In a country where some 20% of the workforce is already employed by the state, 500K would add another whopping 3ish% to that realtively inefficient mass.

But there's the word I'm striving for: Inefficient. These parts of Ms. Royal's platform just scream market inefficiencies: if you really want a homeloan, a bank will give it to you at a reasonable rate, and you'll probably make money by the time you sell the house; ditto with a business. Or, if really want to get ahead in life, you won't take the easy way out with quasi-state-sponsered welfare.

While DeToc truly values care for those to whom the market has failed, he doesn't have much pity for those who have failed the market.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Maliki's blame, Hill's squeal.

I think I figured it out.

I'm watching Meet The Press this morning, and Steny Hoyer and John Boehner debated the debate on the Congressional non-binding resolution on Iraq. The "discussion" degraded as you might expect, but then I became interested when Boehner kept talking about Maliki's responsibility in "the surge."

This isn't rocket science, but it hit me: the Republicans are trying to pin responsibility on the Iraqis so that when the plan fails, the Republicans pin the blame on them -- "oh, we had this great plan, I mean it was awesome. Like, really, really awesome. It's just too bad that darn Maliki couldn't implement the dang thing. "

My other great revelation from this morning's talk shows: say what you want about Hillary Clinton, but I think there's one fundamental reason when she won't win in 2008. Have you listened to the woman? She has the most shrill, piercing squeal of a voice. Nails on a chalkboard would be a kind comparison.

The other interesting aspect of this is her mid-westerness really comes through. She might as well drop a "da Bears" in there every once-in-a-while. In all of her travels, I can't believe that hasn't been ironed out...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Take me to your leader

We blog for the same reason that people form rock bands: Attention and girls.

Blogging serves a deep-seeded narcissistic purpose to expose oneself to the public and proudly exclaim, "I am here! Look at what I've done!". This is done in the hope that someone else will validate "what you've done" by adding to the conversation. Then, just maybe, more comments will flow in, and a whole community of people will begin to think you're really smart. Then you'll be so cool that girls will throw their underwear on stage and want to go home with you...

Oops, gotten ahead of myself there.

Come to think of it, blogging is like being a member of KISS -- you get to throw yourself out to the world with a hope of self-actualization, but with the comfort of anonymity. Equate "blogging" to "spitting fire onstage" and "the anonymity of the web" to "six pounds of Space Ace's makeup" and I hope you'll see where I'm going with this.

Alright, onto why we're here. Simple, really: I dig on international poltics and hope to start a conversation. If you want to join in, just toss your proverbial women's underwear at me, and let's go!