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The Nation

November 18, 2008
Katrina vanden Heuvel

Last month, Congressman Barney Frank called for a 25 percent cut in the defense budget--approximately $150 billion in annual spending--saying, "We don't need all these fancy new weapons. I think there needs to be additional review."

Predictably, the Republican backlash was swift. House Minority Leader John Boehner called Frank "incredibly irresponsible." House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee ranking member John McHugh (R-NY) labeled the proposed reduction "unconscionable." Democrats--especially those on the House Armed Services Committee --didn't exactly embrace Frank's target, either.

But Congressman Frank isn't backing down. In an e-mail to me yesterday he wrote, "Much of the reduction will come from ending the war in Iraq and from cutting unneeded weapons systems. I believe that it's appropriate to reduce defense spending, and this is a goal I wanted to set. I don't have specific details at this point, but I will be working with my colleagues to identify weapons systems that we can reduce, and I also want to look at drawing down the number of our overseas bases."

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November 18, 2008
Robert Dreyfuss
Bob Dreyfuss

A doddering old former US secretary of state wants President-elect Obama to do more than keep Robert Gates on a secretary of defense. He suggests that Obama ought to retain W.'s policy of preventive, unilateral military assaults on, well, anyone we don't like.

No, it's not Henry Kissinger. George Shultz, who served under President Reagan, in an interview with the Washington Times, said that Bush's "doctrine of pre-emptive defense against terrorism" was "a controversial but important idea," adding:

"That is, that in this age where there are people who want to do damage to us through terrorist tactics, you want to be aggressive in trying to find out what might happen before it happens, and then stop it from happening; that is, take preventive action.

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Bob Dreyfuss
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November 17, 2008
Christopher Hayes

My Swiss-junket-mate, Matt Yglesias makes a good point about the distance between the abstract ideal policy vis a vis GM and the auto-industry and the real-world one we're likely to get. This dovetails with the point I was trying to make in an earlier post, which is, more or less that though we're in a moment of what I tentatively believe to be fairly massive change in the operating ideology of the American federal government, we're equipped with a government that is, thanks largely to preceding dominant ideology hostile to its very existence, desperately ill-equipped to competently manage and execute something like, say, large-scale industrial management.

Now, a large part of the reason for this is that the conservative/libertarian critique of government is to a degree self-fulfilling, gut the public sector, create a degraded, corrupt, transactional economy of influence and crony capitalism and all of the most dystopian right-wing visions of the efficacy of government compared to the market look alarmingly true.

But I'm squarely in the camp that believes we need some fairly large scale changes in the relationship between the state and the market, much of forced by the magnitude of the crisis we now face. One of the major challenges, perhaps, in some senses, the major challenge for the Obama administration will be building a federal government capable and worthy of dispensing the many new responsibilities it will inherit.

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November 17, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

Barack Obama resigned his US Senate seat on a grace note.

Unfortunately, the process of replacing him may not be so graceful as his exit from the chamber in which he has served for the better part of four years.

Obama's letter to his Illinois constituents, published Sunday in the state's newspapers, recalled a distant era in American politics when legislators saw themselves as being of a state -- and deeply connected to that state's electorate.

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John Nichols
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November 17, 2008
Christopher Hayes

Apologies for the week-long hiatus. I was on a trip in Switzerland (about which more in a bit) and trying amidst a heavy schedule to pay attention to developments back at home. Seems like the central news is the emerging debate over a GM/automaker bailout. I'm far from expert in these matters and still puzzling through the details, but Felix Salmon's comments on the false dichotomy of bailout v bankruptcy seem sensible.

But there's a broader point to make here: we're in totally uncharted waters right now. We've witnessed the intellectual collapse of the old neo-liberal orthodoxy, and yet its advocates retain tremendous real-world political, intellectual and elite influence. The public's attitudes towards state intervention have grown generally more friendly, but figuring out where the public is ideologically is a very tricky business. And on top of this we have this rolling crisis, which demands, or seems to demand consistent intervention, ideology be damned.

In this environment, we're seeing a lot of very ad-hoc policy-making, a case by case government intervention. I'm not sure what the massive wholistic alternative to this is, but it seems to be that we've now got a mismatch between the capacities of our deeply stripped down, subcontracted federal government, and the requirements of the moment. Amidst all the talk of the Bush Administration's penchant for increasing the size of the state, the measure invoked is the size of the federal budget as a percentage of GDP, which has indeed grown. But starting in the early Clinton years, the federal civilian workforce has shrunk [PDF]. Contractors make up the gap.

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November 17, 2008
TomDispatch

One of the eerier reports on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan appeared recently in the New York Times. Journalist John Burns visited the Russian ambassador in Kabul, Zamir N. Kabulov, who, back in the 1980s, when the Russians were the Americans in Afghanistan, and the Americans were launching the jihad that would eventually wend its way to the 9/11 attacks… well, you get the idea…

In any case, Kabulov was, in the years of the Soviet occupation, a KGB agent in the same city and, in the 1990s, an adviser to a UN peacekeeping envoy during the Afghan civil war that followed. "They've already repeated all of our mistakes," he told Burns, speaking of the American/NATO effort in the country. "Now," he added, "they're making mistakes of their own, ones for which we do not own the copyright." His list of Soviet-style American mistakes included: underestimating "the resistance," an over-reliance on air power, a failure to understand the Afghan "irritative allergy" to foreign occupation, "and thinking that because they swept into Kabul easily, the occupation would be untroubled." Of present occupiers who have stopped by to catch his sorry tale, Kabulov concludes world-wearily, "They listen, but they do not hear."

The question is: Does this experience really have to be repeated to the bitter end -- in the case of the Soviets, a calamitous defeat and retreat from Afghanistan, followed by years of civil war in that wrecked country, and finally the rise of the Pakistani-backed Taliban? The answer is: perhaps. There is no question that the advisers President Obama will be listening to are already exploring more complex strategies in Afghanistan, including possible negotiations with "reconcilable elements" of the Taliban. But these all remain military-plus strategies at whose heart lies the kind of troop surge that candidate Obama called for so vehemently -- and, given the fate of the previous 2007 U.S./NATO "surge" in Afghanistan, this, too, has failure written all over it.

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The Notion
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November 17, 2008
Robert Dreyfuss
Bob Dreyfuss

Why, after so many months, was the US-Iraq security pact approved now? True, the two countries were facing a deadline of December 31, when the UN authority for the occupation expires, but they could have gone back to the UN for a temporary extension or simply signed a bilateral statement not nearly as involved as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)approved yesterday by the Iraqi Cabinet.

Here's the reason, in my opinion. The election of Barack Obama changed Iran's calculus, and so Iran decided, very subtly, to shift to neutral on the pact. As a result, many politicians in Iraq who are either influenced by Iran or who are outright Iranian agents now support the pact. It's an important sign from Tehran to Obama that they're willing to work with the United States.

For months, the United States has blamed Iran for sabotaging the prospect for an agreement, and there's little doubt that had John McCain won the election, Iran would have concluded that the likelihood was very high that Iraq would be used as a base for attacking Iran over its nuclear program.

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Bob Dreyfuss
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November 14, 2008
John Nichols
John Nichols

Everyone is excited about the fact that President-elect Barack Obama is talking with New York Senator Hillary Clinton about the prospect that she might serve as Secretary of State. But the big news from inside the transition process is the speculation that New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine might be selected for the essential economic position of Secretary of the Treasury.

Corzine certainly has one of the "qualifications" that official Washington demands. He is a former senior partner with Goldman Sachs, the firm that has contributed so many Cabinet secretaries and administration insiders over so many years that it is referred to as "Government Sachs."

But Corzine is not your typical Goldman-Sachs man.

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John Nichols
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November 14, 2008
Robert Dreyfuss
Bob Dreyfuss

In today's Wall Street Journal, a top hawkish Democrat -- a supporter of Hillary Clinton in the primaries whose hardline views on Iraq forced Hillary to break with him -- gives Barack Obama some advice he doesn't need. This time, it's on Iraq.

In "How to Win in Afghanistan," Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution writes:

President-elect Barack Obama has wisely promised an increase in U.S. forces for Afghanistan. But his proposed minisurge of perhaps 15,000 more troops, on top of the 30,000 Americans and 30,000 NATO personnel now there, will not suffice as a strategy. More is needed. ...

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Bob Dreyfuss
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