Monday, August 28, 2006

Who do you trust on the war on terror?

I had the opportunity to meet with the Standard Examiner’s editorial board on August 25th, and that resulted in a nice little write up in the paper the next day. Reporter Scott Schwebke did a pretty good job with the difficult task of condensing a forty minute conversation into a few columns in the newspaper. There was one significant error, however. Although I supported President Bush in getting tough with Saddam, sufficient to get the UN inspectors back in, I did not and do not feel sending the troops was a good idea. Here’s why.

The question in wartime that is always most crucial is understanding of the enemy’s objective. In this case, that fundamental question is: What was bin Laden’s objective in launching the 9/11 attacks? And no, the correct answer is not, “because he hates us and our way of life”. Thinking our enemy is stupid is a dangerous error we cannot afford, and only an idiot would launch something of that magnitude only to express hatred. Al-Qaeda had a strategic objective. To understand what that might be you have to understand their long term goals. Osama bin Laden’s long term objective is to establish an Islamic theocracy in the Middle East. To accomplish this goal, they have a few key strategies.

First, it is accurate to portray bin Laden as a fascist. Like all fascists, an important key to gaining power is to create a scapegoat, a people who the target population can be convinced to hate and blame for all their problems. Then the fascist can come in and “save” the population from the “bad guys”. It’s clear that bin Laden intends the scapegoats to be America and Israel.

Second, al-Qaeda’s long term objective requires the overthrow of the secular governments in the Middle East. This is a crucial point. Osama bin Laden hates America only through association; his real enemies have always been Saddam Hussein, the Saudi royal family, the king of Jordan, President Mubarak of Egypt etc. This is why it has always been patently ridiculous to suggest that Saddam was in league with al-Qaeda. The two are mortal enemies. It would be suicide for either to help the other.

Finally, bin Laden seeks to create chaos and instability in the Middle East. These ingredients are crucial to revolutionaries.

These facts clarify bin Laden’s strategic objective for 9/11. Although it was a huge gamble that the brutal nature of the attacks would galvanize the world to seek out and destroy his organization, bin Laden was counting on America reacting in a way that would do the opposite; galvanize hatred towards America in the Islamic world, creating an environment where the secular governments of the Middle East could be overthrown and his vision of a modern Islamic empire based on the model of the Taliban could be brought to pass.

With this understanding, it’s very clear why bin Laden must have offered up a fervent prayer of thanksgiving to Allah for his munificence when the Republicans sent the troops into Iraq. To al-Qaeda, our actions would have been seen as a miracle. Not only did the Iraq War fan the flames of intense hatred toward America in the Islamic world that bin Laden’s plan so desperately relies on, it also took out one of his worst enemies, caused America to divert crucial resources away from the war on al-Qaeda, seriously wounded the world coalition that will be required to bring international terrorists like bin Laden to justice, and created tremendous instability in the region.

This is an uncomfortable theory; that the Iraq War actually played into Osama bin Laden’s hands and has strengthened his cause. It would be much more comforting to believe Orrin Hatch’s story: that the Iraq War has dealt a mortal blow to the terrorists and that all we have to do to keep safe is prevent those pesky Democrats from taking over.

Facts are often uncomfortable, however. Ron Suskind reported in his book, The One Percent Solution, that the release of bin Laden’s video tape just before the 2004 election was deemed by CIA officials to be an attempt by al-Qaeda to aid Republican re-election. And an al-Qaeda Web site published a cyberbook just before the Iraq invasion entitled The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Bagdad that claimed an American invasion of Iraq would be the best possible outcome for al Qaeda, stoking extremism throughout the Muslim world and involving America in a radicalizing quagmire. Bin Laden is a homicidal maniac, but he is not stupid. President Bush is the perfect scapegoat for him, and the actions of the Republican party, especially the Iraq invasion, were exactly what he had been hoping for.

Unlike many Democrats, I don’t think it is useful or accurate to portray Republicans as mean-spirited liars. I think they honestly believed that taking out Saddam was in America’s best interest. The problem here is with the “resolute” thing the Republicans love to brag about. The simple truth is that they were so convinced that removing Saddam was the right thing to do, their minds refused to assimilate or consider evidence to the contrary. Because of this, we came to a fork in the road, took the wrong turn, and have traveled an agonizingly long distance down that road.

Where does this leave us? In the words of Paul Waldman, “If you think the Iraq War has made us safer, then you don’t understand terrorism, you don’t understand al-Qaeda, you don’t understand what has happened over the last five years – and you can’t be trusted with America’s security.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My views on the Cindy Sheehan visit

One of the big news stories in August was the decision by Mayor Rocky Anderson to invite Cindy Sheehan to Salt Lake to participate in an anti-war rally during the American Legion convention. Much has been said about the importance of respecting free speech, which I agree with. Sympathy has been expressed towards Cindy’s loss of her son. Since my son is in the military, I perhaps empathize with her better than many of you. The horror of losing our wonderful son would be incomprehensible. Surely all Americans must respect her loss. I have also been a vocal supporter of the Mayor over the years. He’s controversial and relishes the role of maverick, but it’s hard to argue that he’s done an excellent job running Utah’s largest city.

My thoughts below are directed toward plain, practical politics. I think in terms of boring, practical stuff. When solving a problem, the first step is coming up with a clear problem statement. In this case, the problem statement might read as follows: Utah Democrats disagree with the conduct of the Iraq war by our President. But many of our fellow Utahns are looking at this issue with rose-colored glasses. They’ve bought the Sean Hannity line that disagreement with the President during wartime is unpatriotic (although the ever hypocritical Hannity was an unrelenting critic of President Clinton during the Kosovo conflict). So how do we get our fellow citizens to see the light?

I’m picturing a hypothetical brainstorming session where we’re all trying to come up with effective ways to help Utahns understand the truth about the Iraq war. Suddenly, somebody says, “Hey, I know! Let’s invite Cindy Sheehan to Salt Lake! Utahns will surely listen to her!” Now, one of the rules of brainstorming is you’re not allowed to call any idea stupid. But surely, wouldn’t this be one of the first ideas politely discarded?

Please note this is not about right versus wrong or good versus evil. This is about what works versus what doesn’t. How do we make the most effective argument that will change the hearts and minds of the greatest number of Utah voters?

I’m not sure what Mayor Anderson’s “problem statement” is. What problem will be solved by featuring Cindy Sheehan in a rally during President Bush’s visit? I obviously can’t answer that for him. Maybe he hasn’t thought about it himself. But it will certainly not help convince Utahns that the President is wrong about the war. It seems obvious that this visit will in fact cause us to lose ground in that effort.

One argument I’ve heard from rally supporters goes something like this: We want to convince the rest of America that not all Utahns support the President. I hate to keep coming back to that nasty practical stuff, but I have to ask: Who gives a rat’s behind what the rest of America thinks? If we could import voters from California or New York, breaking the Eagle Forum’s stranglehold on our state government would have already been done. The voters we need to care about and communicate with are Utah voters. Worrying about voters outside Utah is a deadly distraction we cannot afford.

In my tours around the state, I’ve been asked the following question innumerable times: How do we get through to these hard-headed Utahns? I know it’s frustrating, and I haven’t been at it nearly as long as most of you. But an example might prove enlightening. A few weeks ago at the Tooele County Fair, we gave a copy of our booklet to a nice young lady in the booth next to the wonderful display set up by the Tooele County Dems. When we met the next night, she was so full of enthusiasm about the message she almost couldn’t contain herself. We’d gained ourselves a convert. But here’s the interesting part. She admitted she and her husband had been Republicans since their marriage, but that her father-in-law was a Democrat. She said, “I’d tried to ask him several times about his political views, but all he ever did was growl about how Bush was an idiot. Your booklet was the first time anyone had really explained to me what Democratic values were all about.” I think you see the idea here.

Here’s an observation from the new guy on the block. It seems there are two types of Utah Democrats. One type seems to relish the role of the noisy minority. The second type believes Utah Democrats will best serve our citizens by governing. To govern, we need to get Democrats elected. To get Democrats elected, we need to communicate our message to Utahns in a way that will convince them to vote for us.

Personally, I’m with the second group. I fervently believe, with Rocky-esque passion, that the old-fashioned populist values of our Utah Democratic Party are the values of the average Utahn – and that our state and nation need elected Utah Democrats at all levels for our society to solve the significant problems we face. I’ve committed to Wayne Holland that whatever the outcome of my race, I’m with you guys forever, and will commit my time and treasure to the goal of Utah Democrats governing in this state.

I hate to be blunt, but it seems clear that a large, successful anti-Bush rally featuring Cindy Sheehan during the American Legion convention could result in a potentially significant loss of votes for Utah Democrats at the polls in November. Every Democrat needs to make his or her own choice in this matter. But now you know where I stand.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Who do you trust with your money?

One of the most significant books of the year was written by former Reagan economic adviser and author of the early Eighties book Reaganomics, Bruce Bartlett. The book is titled Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy (Doubleday 2006). This carefully researched and thoughtful book contains a scathing verdict on President Bush’s economic policies from a respected supply-side conservative economist. Although Democrats may disagree with Bartlett on some philosophical points, the book contains important information on how the borrow-and-spend policies of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress have hurt the country and will invariably result in huge future tax increases. I’d like to share a few important quotes from the book, with the hope that you will get it and read it. (The quotes are from Bartlett himself unless otherwise noted.)

“George W. Bush has seriously hurt the country and set up conditions that will almost certainly lead to consequences that conservatives will find abhorrent. For example, his unwillingness to control spending and willingness to add significantly to it guarantees that there will be a massive tax increase at some point in the near future. I believe that the fiscal hole is so large that only a huge new revenue source like the value added tax can fill it.
“I think it is telling that Bush’s Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, was far better on the budget than he has been. Clinton vetoed bills because they spent too much. Bush never does. Clinton not only reduced the deficit, but he actually cut spending. Bush has increased both. Clinton abolished an entitlement program. Bush created an extremely expensive new one. One can still argue whether Clinton was a better president or a better man than Bush, but on the budget there is no ambiguity. Clinton was much better.”

“I think Clinton meant it when, in his 1996 State of the Union Address, he said, ‘The era of big government is over’. How else to explain that civilian employment in the executive branch fell by 237,000 workers between 1992 and 2000? That’s an impressive performance that any conservative Republican would love to take credit for. Clinton even presided over one of the most significant reductions in government regulation in history. All of Al Gore’s efforts to reinvent government apparently had some impact after all.”

“I believe that the tax cuts – Bush’s signature domestic issue – have been far less effective than they could have been, owing in large part to his unwillingness to properly utilize the traditional policy development process. I believe this is also at the heart of the failure of his Social Security proposal and possibly the Iraq operation as well. It bothers me a great deal that Bush has driven away and even humiliated the few intellectuals in his midst, preferring instead the company of overrated political hacks whose main skill seem to be an ability to say ‘yes’ to whatever he says and ignore the obvious.”

“According to the Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, there has been more pork-barrel spending during the Bush years than at any time in American history. By their calculations, the Clinton years were fairly typical, with the amount of identifiable pork barrel spending varying between $10 billion and $17.7 billion in 2000. The number of projects went from a low of 958 to a high of 4326 in 2000. But the Bush years are in a class by themselves. Both the amount of money and the number of pork barrel projects have risen every year, from $18.5 billion and 6333 projects in 2001 to $27.3 billion and an amazing 13,999 projects in 2005.”

“(Bush is) the biggest spending president we’ve had in a generation.”
Steven Moore, Club for Growth

“(Bush’s) fiscal record is appalling.”
Ed Crane, Cato Institute

“The final tallies show that overall spending grew by almost 9 percent for the 2003 fiscal year ending September 30, and by 21 percent over the past two years. This is before the $400 billion (yeah, right) Medicare prescription drug benefit and this year’s energy and omnibus spending bills. If Bill Clinton had tolerated this, Republicans would be shouting from the rooftops…..This is astonishing when you recall that only a few years ago ‘revolutionary’ Republicans were proposing to eliminate actual federal programs. Instead, the GOP is now slowly restoring or adding to programs that it once took the political heat for killing or shrinking.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Bush has few peers among American Presidents in his willingness to let Congress spend as freely as it always wants to do. And the Republican Congress has few peers in history in its willingness to take advantage of the president’s generosity.”
George Melloan, The Wall Street Journal

“Bring back the Clinton Administration! Well, maybe not all of it, but at least its spending habits.”
Kevin Hassett, American Enterprise Institute

“Republicans don’t even pretend to be fiscally conservative anymore.”
Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

“Once released from gridlock by the election of a Republican president who refuses to veto any spending bill, no matter how pork-laden, the truth becomes clear – Republicans aren’t opposed to spending, only spending money on things Democrats want to spend money on. But when the money is being spent on Republican pork or to buy re-election for Republicans, it is okay, or so it seems.”

“Another problem is the creeping corruption inherent in ‘big government conservatism”, which the New Republic’s Jonathan Chait defines as “initiatives that benefit economic elites without using free-market mechanisms.’ Since it is devoid of principle, it too easily becomes an excuse to lavish gifts on those with Republican connections.”

“Journalist Jacob Weisberg correctly noted that Republicans had simply taken the liberal spoils system and converted it to their own purposes. The result, he said, is ‘the curious governing philosophy of interest-group conservatism: the expansion and exploitation of government by people who profess to dislike it.’”

“American University historian Allan Lichtman saw this as a ‘political revolution in the United States, creating a form of conservative big government that promotes not the general interests of ordinary Americans but the special interests of big corporations.’”

So, my fellow Utahns: Who do you trust with your money? We need to shout these facts from the rooftops. The young people in our society should be furious: about the time Congressman Bishop and others of his generation start to retire, our children and grandchildren will be paying tax rates that would make a Swede groan – unless we put an immediate stop to the reckless borrow-and-spend policies of the current Republican controlled Congress.