Monday, April 30, 2007

Useful Facts to Inform the Immigration Debate

Like my last post, I'm offering little analysis or argument here - only the promotion of an article I found informative with respect to an important policy issue.

This article provides some useful facts on the positive economic impact of illegal immigrants and the small negative effect they have on U.S. tax bills. It also provides statistics that refute flawed assumptions about immigrant crime rates.

Unfortunately, the article does not discuss the essential national security aspect of immigration policy. Nevertheless, I thought it worth the time of any one interested in a summary of most of the implications (both positive and negative) of our current situation and the policy proposals on the table.

The author expresses some frustration that similar facts are not being used more often in the current national debate.

I agree with him.

After numerous discussions with opponents of comprehensive immigration reform I have concluded that there are dramatic and deeply held misperceptions of the common illegal immigrant.

These must be corrected if a pragmatic, moral and ultimately effective policy (from an economic AND security standpoint) is to be reached.

Hagel on Iraq - Another Must Read

For those of you that don't regularly look at Washington Post Op-Ed's, I'd like to draw your attention to yet another one.

Any time a member of a President's party disagrees with him publicly it is worth listening to what that person has to say. At times, such disagreement can be explained through unusual political circumstances (e.g. aRepublican nearing reelection in a relatively liberal state).

However, in Chuck Hagel's case, politics do not appear to be a major driver of his decision. He is from Nebraska, a solidly Republican state to this day. Although he is up for reelection in 2008, he is extremely popular at home. He won reelection in 2002 with 83% of the vote. As of now, his only visible challenger in 2008 is another Republican who is planning on hitting his right flank.

Despite this political landscape, Hagel has been the most vigorous and visibile Republican opponent of the President's Iraq policy since the surge was announced.

It is a stark contrast to John McCain's recent assessment of Iraq - particulary when you consider how incredibly similar the two men are politically and personally.

The article can be found here.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Campaign We Deserve

An interesting proposal from a writer at the American Enterprise Institute...

Apparently, in 1963, JFK and Barry Goldwater (the eventual Republican nominee in 1964) were close to agreeing on a 64 Presidential campaign that would have had the two traveling on the same plane, touring the country in a vast series of toe-to-toe debates and town hall Q&A meetings (The idea was scuttled after Kennedy's assassination).

It is almost impossible to imagine such an event today in a campaign culture that is nothing if not risk averse and a political culture that has seemingly forgotten the concept of respectful disagreement.

Nevertheless, it may be exactly what we need.

Such a format would require real plans and positions, a basic grasp of all major issues and above all else, it would demand candidates of true talent. Incidentally, it would also diminish the value of money in campaigns - making ideas relatively more important.

Clinton, McCain, Giuliani, Biden, Richardson, Romney and Edwards are experienced politicians with serious ideas. Obama doesn't quite fit the "experienced" categorization, but its hard to deny he would be intriguing to watch in such a process. Given these candidates, I think we have the talent in this election to see such a format... I'm not so sure if we have the courage though.

Some may say that this would not be the best way to pick a candidate. It might over-prioritize physical charisma and pure wit, as opposed to actual intelligence. These may be valid criticisms.

These factors are doubtlessly very important when debates are few and far between, but I wonder how important they would be over time and over a series of debates? I believe that substance would become more important - at least more than it is today in campaigns that are dominated by intensely scripted photo-ops and highly polished (and poll tested) rhetoric.

In any case, it would put genuine policy ideas on the table, force candidates to state and rationalize their beliefs and it would give the public something more to base their decision on than name recognition, television commercials, fundraising numbers, polls and media soundbites.

It is ironic and even tragic that campaigns have come to this. Almost nothing about a candidate's leadership ability is revealed in a commercial or a stump speech. Character is revealed when an unexpected question is asked or a strong counter-argument to the stump speech is put forward. But we never get to see that...

Even in debates today, the goal is not to present a more compelling vision or superior logic. The minimum goal is to not look bad. The holy grail is to deliver the zinging one-liner that makes the crowd laugh at your opponent's expense - one that the lazy media can embrace and play...over and over again (e.g. Reagan vs Mondale , Bentson vs Quayle).

With the problems we are facing today, we need solutions, not slogans. I believe that this format would be a step in that direction. A candidate would have to rely on a core of real substance to do well in a series of real debates - and certainly in town hall meetings.

I imagine that some of you reading think that this is an impossible wish - so why even discuss it?

I guess because I don't agree that it IS impossible this time. It is not hard at all for me to envision McCain or even Guiliani agreeing to such a format. They are both men that are comfortable with their beliefs. If they find themselves running against Hillary - a candidate that many actually dislike - they may conclude that the best tactic is to stand side by side with her as often as possible.

Similarly, if Obama and Edwards truly believe (in their own minds) that they are experienced enough to be President, then they should be the first ones to advocate multiple debates. They are the two most attractive, charismatic and articulate candidates. If they are comfortable with their leadership ability, then they should embrace such a format as it suits their natural gifts. (If they didn't, it would reveal a lack of essential personal confidence).

Clinton is the one I am the least sure about. In my opinion, I think she would do quite well in such a scheme. She is articulate, deeply experienced and is as intelligent (if not more so) than any of the other candidates. But I doubt her campaign advisers' willingness to take such a risk. I admit that I have little to base this on - I just have a general perception of her campaign being very conservative thus far given her front runner status. I would be happy to be proven wrong.

In any event, I pray that Americans demand a true demonstration of character in this election - in any manner that they can get it...

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Harmful Phrase, A Deplorable Tactic

I have come to believe that the phrase "Support our Troops" and its variants are among the most harmful pieces of rhetoric in American politics today.

More specifically, I am referring to the use of this phrase in any manner that trivially implies that another politician or political group is failing to do so.

Many advocates of continuing the war in Iraq have invoked this type of speech in the last few years. I believe it has had tragic effects.

The vast majority of Americans justifiably hold the members of our military in the highest regard. Consequently, it is very dangerous for any politician to appear unsupportive of them. The vaguest appearance of such a mindset can have catastrophic effects on a politician's next election.

For this reason, such accusations - whether they are direct or subtle, true or false - are a potent political weapon. Like every other disingenuous personal attack, unfounded allegations of this type are deplorable. However, in this case, the tactic has much larger and profound implications.

Specifically, these charges squash or divert debate on the most important topic government is trusted to handle - questions of war and peace. It is no wonder that it took almost four years for the President to make a significant strategic shift in Iraq.

My thoughts on this matter were sparked by a recent exchange between Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell.

Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, apparently now believes that the war in Iraq is unwinnable. Therefore, he advocates the withdrawal of our forces. If one honestly believes the war is lost, this is a respectable position.

As someone who believes that the war is not yet lost, I would like an opposing policy maker to publicly counter this assertion with facts and an intelligent argument that refutes Reid's conclusion.

In a word, I want debate.

Instead we receive the following rhetoric:

"I can't begin to imagine how our troops in the field, who are risking their
lives every day, are going to react when they get back to base and hear that
the Democrat leader of the United States Senate has declared the war is

Thank you, Senator Mitch McConnell, for reminding us of what we see in the news every single day: our troops are risking their lives. That is probably the only fact about this war that every single American knows.

Now let me remind you, Senator Mitch McConnell, that they are not just risking their lives, they are losing their lives - and it is your obligation to tell us why you believe that is necessary.

Intellectual honesty obliges me to admit that troops' morale may be damaged to some extent by Reid's remarks. This is extremely unfortunate and it can have real consequences on the ground. But I ask Senator McConnell, and every other politician that has ever made a similar comment, how long they would put the troops' morale above their very lives?

McConnell's criticism of Reid implies that he would rather allow a war he believed unjust or futile to continue rather than to publicly speak out against it and harm the mindset of those fighting it.

Of course, I am being sarcastic to illustrate the nonsensical nature of the argument. I would expect McConnell and most other politicians to scream at the top of their lungs if they believed Americans were dying in a futile action. It is the only honorable thing to do given such a belief.

Similarly, I would expect vigorous advocacy from a leader that believes in the necessity of a war strongly enough to sacrifice the lives of young Americans.

But instead of advocacy, instead of a counter argument, we get political statements implying that an opponent is being inconsiderate and ultimately harmful to our troops.

McConnell and his peers would better serve the physical and emotional well-being of the troops - not to mention their own moral and professional obligations - with a direct counter argument to Reid's statements.

Supporting the troops means honoring their risk and sacrifice with a worthy cause. It means giving them adequate training and equipment. It means asking only what is absolutely necessary for the vital interests of the nation. When troops are in harm's way, it also means removing them when these conditions are not met.

The only thing the McConnell's in government "support" with their current line of rhetoric is their own political ambitions. This issue is too important and far too complex to waste time on political trivialities. A responsible and worthy leader would recognize that and act differently.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Biden's Plan for Iraq - An Alternative or a Complement?

For the last year, Joe Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been advocating an innovative political proposal for Iraq.

His proposal is to explicitly acknowledge the sectarian divisions in Iraq by weakening the central government and creating three strong regional governments (one Sunni, one Shia, one Kurdish).
Before discussing his plan, Biden goes to great lengths to debunk "the president's strategy". In doing so, he makes some claims that lead me to question exactly how he would implement the plan he advocates. He states that

"The problem is that for every welcome development, there is an equally or even more unwelcome development that gives lie to the claim that we are making progress.

While violence against Iraqis is down in some Baghdad neighborhoods where we
have "surged" forces, it is up dramatically in the belt ringing Baghdad.....Essentially, when we squeeze the water balloon in one place, it bulges somewhere else."

So begins Biden's argument that the President's new strategy has already failed. Though his conclusion may yet ultimately prove right, I think his argument is not convincing and his analogy flawed.

Though it might be true that violence has increased outside Baghdad in proportion to the decrease inside, the water balloon analogy is not appropriate. The location of the violence and the number of people it affects is a tremendously important consideration.

This is because the intention of this surge is not simply to kill more insurgents or even more al-Qaeda terrorists (who incidentally claimed credit for the Iraqi Parliament attack) and thereby lower the overall level of violence (as desirable as that certainly is).

No, the overarching purpose is to provide a level of physical security in Baghdad that will enable the legitimately elected Iraqi Government one final chance to forge the political agreement that everyone agrees is the key prerequisite to a stable Iraqi nation.

When Biden begins to discuss his plan in some detail, he mentions the fact that the Iraqi Constitution supports an arrangement similar to his proposal. This is a critical and compelling point.

Nevertheless, there is a serious flaw - or at least a gap - in his plan.

Specifically, how is the Iraqi government supposed to enact such a plan without the security American troops are providing? The recent attack on the Iraqi parliament makes it clear that there are forces with the intent and capability (in the absence of American security) to kill the entire elected government - in effect destroying the Constitution Biden cites as supporting his plan.

For this reason, I believe that Biden's proposal is worth serious consideration as a complement to the surge, but not as an alternative.

Of course, there is no doubt that the surge is a dangerous option for the American military. Even before the new deployment, our reserve forces and national guard units had been exhausted by this war. Even the active army, according to experts, is nearly at a "breaking point". The current surge obviously exacerbates an enormous problem.

Nevertheless, how can any stable political environment in Iraq be forged without it?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

McCain on Iraq - A Must Read

I have witnessed John McCain lose a lot of credibility with my moderate and liberal friends over the past 18 months. His pursuit of the Republican nomination has led to actions that have left many concerned about how moderate and bipartisan a McCain Administration might be.

Indeed, his campaign strategy has often left me confused - and occasionally made me quite mad.

Nevertheless, I still have a lot of confidence in the man and I believe him to be one of the finest people in government. In my opinion, 20 months of disturbing rhetoric in a Presidential campaign is not enough to destroy a progressive reputation built on 20 years of pragmatic and principled action.

For this reason, his continued support of the war in Iraq carries tremendous weight with me. He has little to gain and much to lose by aligning his position so closely with the President on this matter. Call me naive, but I think it is a rare example of a politician putting the interests of the nation (as he genuinely sees them) above the interests of his political career.

He wrote a piece in the Washington Post today that every advocate of withdrawal should read.

I do not present it as an ironclad case for an indefinite American military presence, only an articulate description of present day Iraq that is under reported in the media.

Friday, April 6, 2007

The Urgency of Climate Change Legislation

I've written on global warming before, so I won't waste many more words on the topic here.

However, this article caught my attention because it asserts that the effects of global warming are far more imminent than I had previously believed.

The scientific consensus that major human suffering due to global warming could start as early as 2020 is frightening - particularly when you consider the length of time it will take to enact serious reforms to curb CO2 emissions...

To those of you that follow Congress closely and write your Reps and Senators, keep an eye on the climate change legislation promised this summer. We need meaningful action now more than ever. I no longer believe we can wait until we have a new President.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Don't Forget the Iraq Study Group

I’ve actually been trying to write a piece on Iraq for the last 10 days or so, but I haven’t been able to finish anything I’ve started.

I guess that is partly because I find myself still believing the notion that our goal should be to stabilize Iraq and not simply to leave as fast as possible. It is not pleasant to cling to this notion as it is rapidly becoming regarded as a fringe position – or, almost as bad – a statement of blind loyalty to President Bush. But I do not believe it has to be either of the two.

The thought of a failed state in the heart of the Middle East, on top of 10% of the world’s known oil reserves, seems wholly unacceptable to me. The genocide of Iraqi Sunni Muslims and the possibility of a broader regional conflict to prevent it seem equally catastrophic – if not to the United States’ interest than certainly to my sense of basic morality. Perhaps these notions are equally unacceptable to Democratic leaders, but if they are, they are not sufficiently addressing them.

Since 2004, the Democrats have chided the Bush Administration’s lack of tactical flexibility and its exclusive focus on military matters in Iraq (to the exclusion of economic, political and diplomatic manuevers). In my judgment, these criticisms were extremely well founded.

However, in the last 5 months, much has changed. Donald Rumsfeld has been replaced. General Petraeus (an officer with almost universal respect) has been put in command. Substantial reinforcements have been committed and are currently arriving. A new strategy to hold and stabilize Baghdad has been adopted and so far, is producing encouraging results. (Nobody jump on me here for declaring the surge “a success”. I’m just stating the fact that violence in the capital has measurably decreased – not subsided entirely or permanently)

These are many of the moves that the Democrats rightly called for in 2004 (minus the surge). Yet today, as they are being executed, the talk is now of deadlines for withdrawal and nothing more.

This is not surprising.

The public has largely turned against this war and the politically popular position is to endorse withdrawal.

Although public support is essential for prolonged military conflict, decisions regarding war and peace cannot be made wholly in response to public opinion if the nation’s vital interests are to be served.

I have been trying to write an article that lays out an alternative vision to the withdrawal, because I firmly believe one is necessary. Fortunately, people more experienced and articulate were working on the same thing.

James Baker published an op-ed today worth reading on the subject. Baker is not exactly viewed an impartial voice in this affair – particularly to those on the left. However, in this context, Baker is speaking as a member of the Iraq Study Group – which is as close to a bi-partisan view as we can get on this issue.

His words deserve attention.

In my opinion, the Democrats should use their new power to push President Bush to adopt the Iraq Study Group recommendations. If our new leadership and strategy fails, then plans for withdrawal may in fact be the best of a series of terrible options. But our long-term interests and our moral obligation to the Iraqis demand that we give it a real chance.