Happy New Year!
Well, it’s been quite a year. We’ve seen a new Presidential strategy on Iraq succeed – largely because nearly everyone missed the point about what was “new” about it – only to watch Central Asia slide into chaos. Meanwhile, local Republicans went down with their ship, namely the rickety and full-of-holes transportation tax-hike of 2007. All of this coincided with the most exciting and strange presidential contest in recent memory (and it’s still ongoing, obviously).
It is on that last one that I will focus my last post of 2007.
A new poll is out on the Iowa caucuses from MSNBC, and I trust it a great deal – not because of MSNBC, but because of the folks who did the poll: Mason-Dixon. M-D is just about the best pollster we have: no agenda, no partisan clients, and no search for self-aggrandizement. They just poll and report, thank you.
Here’s what they have on the Democratic side:
Where Edwards previously had lagged slightly behind Clinton and Obama, the poll showed him at 24 percent, compared with Clinton at 23 percent and Obama at 22 percent.
In other words, a three-way tie.
Three things to take from this: (1) Edwards pulled a similar spike in support in 2004, coming from nowhere to second place. It was that result that put him second in nearly every other state, and set him up for the number two spot on the Democratic ticket this year, and the spike kept going right up to caucus night; (2) if you look at the details (here), you’ll see Edwards has a slight lead among repeat caucus-goers, and a double-digit lead among union members; and (3) in the Dem caucus, you cannot support a candidate who gets less than 15% at your mass meeting, so second-choice support is critical, and Edwards leads by eleven points on the second-choice question. That’s enough for me to call an upset: John Edwards wins Iowa; Clinton edges out Obama for second. What that means for New Hampshire and beyond is anyone’s guess, but I’m guessing (for now) that it will help Edwards in New Hampshire at Obama’s expense. I have no ideawhat it means for Senator Clinton’s numbers there, but I don’t think she’ll be as hurt as Obama will be. The question is, does Edwards become competitive in NH? I can’t answer that one.
On the Republican side, Mitt Romney has slid ahead of Mike Huckabee. This is muchtougher call, because while Romney has the lead among repeat caucus-goers, Huckabee is ahead among born-again Christians (the GOP version of union voters, see the numbers here). Also, Huckabee’s voters are more firmly committed to him, but there’s not 15% threshold in the GOP meetings. Not even momentum can help much, because in the past, momentum has been with the most social-conservative candidate (Robertson in 1988, Buchanan in 1996, and Keyes in 2000). So is it momentum? Or unexpected high social conservative turnout?
I’m going to go out on a limb an say it’s the latter (the pollsters saw Buchanan coming, but Robertson and Keyes were surprises). Therefore: I call Huckabee the winner in
Arkansas (Update: ahem, that’s Iowa), but not by much. The more interesting race will be for third, between Thompson and McCain. This poll has Thompson up 1, and up 3 with repeats, but McCain with the firmer support. I think what will matter is Thompson’s superior organization (superior to McCain, that is), so Thompson edges out McCain for third. I don’t know what a Romney loss will mean in New Hampshire, but the bigger question may be how McCain is viewed. If it goes as I think (McCain fourth, but over 10%), he can say he exceeded expectations, and NH will become a McCain-Romney battle (Thompson’s third place finish will help more in SC than NH, I think). If McCain finishes below 10%, Thompson becomes the story, and he gains in NH at McCain’s expense, in which case Romney could win NH if he can keep his post-Iowa bleed to a minimum. Add to that a sudden urgency in the Giuliani campaign to do well in NH (I think Paul edges him out for fifth), and I must say, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen up there.
The only predictions I can make safely (FWIW, and that’s not much) are these: Edwards, Clinton, and Obama in that order for the Democrats (I could really care less about the rest of that field), and Huckabee, Romney, Thompson, McCain, Paul, Giuliani, and Hunter in that order for the GOP.
With that, Happy New Year, and let’s see if I’m right.
By this time tomorrow, residents of northern Virginia will be paying higher taxes on “hotel rooms, car rentals, property sales and car repair” (DC Examiner), all part of the egregious transportation tax hike of 2007. never mind that the mere existance of these taxes is being challenged in the courts, the greedy politicians want your money right now.
Well, almost all the greedy politicians. One man is refusing to buckle, and told the Examiner so (emphasis added):
But Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William, is challenging the plan in court, saying the transportation authority has no constitutional right to levy taxes.
“I think it is highly irresponsible to proceed ahead to collect these taxes,” Marshall said. “This is like gambling with other people’s money on a Supreme Court decision.”
Not to be rude, but I should note that the other Republican candidate for U.S. Senate has responded with deafening silence.
Cross-posted to Bloggers 4 Bob Marshall
The DC Examiner beat me to the punch this morning, but the point is important enough to be spread far and wide: President Bush can wipe out billions of dollars in wasteful spending with the stroke of a pen (emphasis added):
President Bush and Republican members of Congress have a critical choice to make and very little time left in which to do it. For Bush, the choice is whether to issue an executive order directing federal departments and agencies to ignore earmarks that aren’t explicitly included in the legislative text of the recently approved $515 billion omnibus spending bill. As we noted a week ago in this space, the Congressional Research Service has advised Congress that such an executive order would with the stroke of a pen kill the thousands of earmarks that are routinely “air-dropped” into the federal budget via committee reports on spending bills. This is because the Constitution requires that all federal expenditures originate in the House and be approved by both chambers of Congress. Committee reports aren’t and so are not binding on the executive branch.
Now the merits of this are beyond question, but there is a significant political upside for the President on this. He would accomplish several things at once (besides the obvious in saving taxpayer money and stopping the government from doing things it should not do). Some of them, the Examiner mentioned, so I think it’s only fair to cite them:
Talk of a lame duck in the White House would cease because Bush would gain leverage to force Congress to stop talking about federal spending priorities and actually establish them. He would also bequeath to his White House successors a powerful precedent. If Congress resists, the issue will be starkly drawn for voters in an election year. The thought of Bush on the campaign trail speaking against those who opposed his effort to kill earmarks ought to be sobering. The executive order would be Bush’s finest hour and a worthy legacy on domestic issues.
As for Republicans in Congress, a Bush executive order against earmarks is probably their last slim chance to prove their claim to have gotten the message of 2006.
There are two things the Examiner editors left out: (1) it would be a nice way for the President to rebuild credibility with the Republican base – said lack of credibility being the real reason his approval rating remains doggedly below 40%- and (2) it would provide a perfect reminder of just what the Constitution allows the government to do and what it doesn’t – thus providing a terrific bridge between the majority of Republican voters and the Ron Paul supporters, both within and outside the party.
The only drawback is that Senate Republicans - who, as the Examiner noted, are still “talking and voting for earmarks as if the 2006 elections never happened” – would be nonplussed. Well, given that nearly half of there seats are up for grabs in the upcoming elections, I’m guessing they’ll keep their complaints to themselves.
Mr. President, this is the one issue that would at last give you the political upper-hand against Congressional Democrats, because it’s the right thing to do. Please, issue that executive order; cancel the earmarks; and bring us at least part of the way back to limited, constitutional government.
Cross-posted to the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia
According to BNN, I am now 6th on the influence rankings.
I think we need an intervention over there.
Given the record-breaking attention this site has received lately (many, many thanks to all who have looked and linked), I thought it might be wise to mention and comment upon the latest news. Bill Roggio is showing why he has a place in my right-hand column (although his latest actually shows up on Worldwide Standard). Among the most important points (emphasis added):
The Pakistani government has changed its portrayal of her death three times in the 24 hours since her death. First she was reported to have been shot in the head and chest with AK-47 gunfire, then she was reported to have been killed by ball bearings from a suicide blast, and finally she died after suffering a skull fracture from hitting her head on the sunroof after the suicide bomber detonated . . .
As I noted yesterday, this was a sophisticated attack. Although I was incorrect that she was shot through the window of her armored vehicle – it is surprising she would go through the roof in a crowd given the past attempt on her life–the attacker (or attackers, as there is still speculation there were two gunmen) still required a high degree of training and discipline to conduct the strike.
The shooter was able to penetrate the dense security cordon in the garrison city–likely with help form the police, military, the Inter Service Intelligence, or some combination of the three organizations. He fired an AK-47–not the most accurate of assault rifles, from a motorcycle, not the most stable of shooting platforms. He struck Bhutto in the head and chest, indicating he was an excellent shot. Then in the chaos of the crowd, the shooter had the wherewithal to detonate his vest.
The attack has all of the elements of a complex military operation.The PPP, Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N political party, and others are already pointing the finger at Musharraf and the military as the culprits. Musharraf and his government are modifying the cause of Bhutto’s death to deflect the involvement of elements of the police, military, and intelligence services.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is blaming an al-Qaeda group for the murder, which said group denied (NDTV); it should be noted that the initial group fingered was a different al Qaeda cell from the one the Pakistani government named.
The other and, for now, bigger question is the level of military involvement (it is almost certain there was some). There are three possible explanations: (a) aid to the assassins was given on Musharraf’s orders or with his knowledge, (b) aid to the assassins was given by Musharraf supporters within the military but without his orders or his knowledge, or (c) aid to the assassins was given by al Qaeda/Taliban sympathizers within the military.
About the only thing of which I am certain is that Musharraf himself did not order or know about this. Is it true that Musharraf would benefit from Bhutto’s death (he would therefore be the only choice left for anti-Taliban Pakistanis), but only if someone else killed her. Bhutto’s PPP was the party for those who hated both the Taliban and Musharraf. Which one they hated more depended in some cases on what day of the week it was. Musharraf is smart enough to know he would suffer tremendously at the polls (he has is own party, the PML-Q, which had at least a quarter of the vote before all hell broke loose) if he had a role in her murder.
However, I don’t think that would have stopped some of his supporters in the military from giving the killers a hand, on the assumption that it couldn’t be traced to them. Or, perhaps it was al Qaedists who had penetrated the upper ranks of the Pakistani military. One thing to keep in mind, though, I would not be surprised if several Pakistani military officers were part of both groups.
Meanwhile, Nawaz Sharif – who conventional wisdom holds would be the biggest beneficiary of all this - has chosen to boycott the elections. Sharif has been in Pakistani politics for nearly twenty years. If he was really going to clean up, he never would have boycotted. The fact is, Sharif’s party has not done well since the 1999 coup – in contrast to the PPP, which outpolled the PML-Q in the 2002 elections, Sharif’s PML-N fell below 10% in that year’s vote. Yes, both parties were dealing with a government determined to reduce their numbers as much as possible, but it didn’t work with the PPP, while it did with the PML-N. I’m guessing Sharif pulled the boycott card because he knew the PPP is likely to gain votes off Bhutto’s martyrdom – and most likely at his party’s expense.
What does it mean for America and the WBK War? Honestly, I’m still not sure. The first issue is whether or not there will be elections at all (I still say the vote will go on as scheduled, but I’m less sure of it as I once was). Right after that is the new PPP leader (still unchosen at this hour, I believe) and whether they will be as serious in combating the Taliban and al Qaeda as Bhutto had grown to be.
The one trump card we hold in all of this is India. India has already fought four wars with Pakistan, and it is the one nation on Earth which would fear a jihadist Pakistan even more than we would. I am convinced that a Pakistan under al Qaeda control would cease to exist within a year – and I do mean cease to exist. It might be a good idea for someone (say the Bush Administration) to remind the Pakistani people of this. Meanwhile, we should also make clear to India that we would be four-square behind them in any war against a Talibanist Pakistan.
One other thought; Pakistan’s oldest friend in the world is Communist China. In the past, the Communists have pointedly demanded the outside world leave its client states alone, or support “stability,” i.e., the status quo. Yet they have been almost completely silent on Pakistan. Do they know something we don’t? Or do they – as I have always suspected – have a stake in al Qaeda’s survival and advancement?
Something to think about, no?
One of the more annoying things I hear from the lefties is their insistence that President Bush is hated across the globe, and has dragged down pro-Americanism with him. The trouble is, they’re not really talking about the rest of the world; their talking about Europe and (if you can believe the polling, which I don’t in any dictatorship) the Middle East. There’s only one problem with that – it completely ignores the largest democracy on the planet: India, and whaddya know, President Bush is very will liked there (Beverly Kirk, Politico, emphasis added):
But in interviews during my recent trip to India, it became apparent that Bush retains a healthy dose of popularity, at least in this significant corner of the globe, the world’s most populous democracy. Polls have shown similar results: A 2006 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found 56 percent of Indians have a favorable view of the U.S., with the same percentage saying they have confidence in Bush’s leadership.
To give an idea as to the importance of this, India’s population is over 1.1 billion people (yes, that’s a “b” – CIA), which is more than the entire European continent plus Russia (Internet World Stats), yet no one seems to notice that Bush is just about the most popular American in India.
Now, in part, this is the typical lefty refusal to accept good news, but Americans in general tend to ignore India. This is not wise, especially given havoc in Pakistan these days. Lest anyone forget, a nuclear-armed Pakistan under jihadist control will be a much bigger threat to India than to us, and the Indian people will become an indispensable ally should that day ever come. In fact, I would humbly submit they’re indispensable now – and I’d say that even if they didn’t like the President so much.
Southwest Virginia once had the most competitive Congressional District in the state – so much so it was dubbed “the Fighting Ninth.” Now, its current Representative (Rick Boucher) has thrown in the towel (from RK):
According to today’s Coalfield Progress(subscription only), Rep. Rick Boucher (D-9th) says “it’s now virtually certain that within the next three years, Congress will pass a law that will impose mandatory controls on greenhouse gases.” The newspaper also reports that Boucher “has announced his intention to author legislation that will both mandate the reduction of greenhouse gases and ensure a viable coal economy for years to come.”
I won’t bore you with the excerpt on carbon seperation, sequestration, and the like. I’ll just get to the point: when a Congressman representing a coal district decides to ignore the growing evidence against “global warming” and merely negotiate the terms of surrender, it’s time for him to go.
To the voters of the Ninth, I offer this advice: (1) You might want to consider joining the rest of us in making sure we elect a President who will veto any such greenhouse gas nonsense that gets out of Congress, and (2) I’ve heard that William Wampler is not happy with his current job; perhaps someone should encourage him to challenge and defeat this whimpering weasel. After all, it was Boucher sent Wampler, Sr., into retirement 25 years ago.
Revenge is sweet, Senator; get yourself a taste.
Welcome Shotgun readers – FYI, I am an American blogger, “liberal” is an ideological term, not a partisan one (here’s the explanation); were I Canadian, I would not support any Liberal Party – anywhere.
Bill Roggio relays the report from Asia Timesreporter Syed Saleem Shahzad:
Al Qaeda’s central command is taking credit for today’s successful assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. A senior al Qaeda military leader in Afghanistan has contacted Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani journalist for the Asia Times and Adnkronos International with close connections to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and bragged about killing Bhutto.
“We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahadeen,” Mustafa Abu al Yazid, al Qaeda’s commander in Afghanistan, told Mr. Shazad. The attack was reportedly ordered at the highest levels of al Qaeda.
“It is believed that the decision to kill Bhutto, who is the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was made by al-Qaeda No. 2, the Egyptian doctor, Ayman al-Zawahiri in October,” Mr. Shazad also reported. “Death squads were allegedly constituted for the mission and ultimately one cell comprising a defunct Lashkar-i-Jhangvi’s Punjabi volunteer succeeded in killing Bhutto.”
Mustafa Abu al Yazid has long been the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In May, Yazid was officially appointed al Qaeda’s military commander in Afghanistan.
Just in case anyone thought this puts Pakistan’s military in the clear (emphasis added) . . .
Based on the sophistication of the Bhutto assassination, al Qaeda and the Taliban were very likely assisted by infiltrators and sympathizers in the Pakistani military and Inter Services Intelligence agency.
Welcome Shotgun readers – FYI, I am an American blogger, “liberal” is an ideological term, not a partisan one (here’s the explanation); were I Canadian, I would not support any Liberal Party – anywhere.
“Everyone’s an expert on Pakistan, a faraway country of which we know everything. It seems to me a certain humility is appropriate.” – Mark Steyn
These words ring in my ears as I write; I can only ask that those who read this remember them as well.
Like the rest of us, Benazir Bhutto was a flawed human being; unlike the rest of us, her flaws were exposed throughout her political career. Despite this, she may have been, while she lived, the best chance Pakistan had for a future free of tyranny and terror. Sadly, she was assassinated this morning. This is a terrible tragedy for her, her family, and her supporters. What it means for Pakistan is not so clear.
In order to understand why Pakistan’s future was and is so murky, we must look to the past. In fact, a lot of what we face in the Wahhabist-Ba’athist-Khomeinist War can be traced in the history of Pakistan.
Bhutto’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was a leading Pakistani politician in the 1970s; he was popular, corrupt, and sympathetic to the Soviets. By the late 70s, however, his popularity was on the wane, and elections held in 1977 were marred with charges of vote-rigging. By the summer, Bhutto was ousted in a coup led by General Muhhamad Zia ul-Haq. It is at this point where the “Wahhab” piece of the WBK war begins to focus.
Whenever I hear the nonsense about America training or funding Osama bin Laden, I almost want to scream. There is no evidence of this assertion that we made a “deal with the devil” – as it were – in Afghanistan.
However, we did make a “deal with the devil” in Pakistan. There is no question General Zia was a strong American ally, but it was he who began the Wahhabization of Pakistan – especially within the Pakistani military. He was so successful that countries that have since become home to Pakistani immigrant populations (i.e., Great Britain) are having more trouble assimilating younger ethnic Pakistanis than older.
According to Daniel Pipes, Zia was moving away from the Wahhabism he had unleashed on his people by the last 1980s. We’ll never know, because Zia died in a plane crash in the summer of 1988; with Wahhabized military and elite still intact.
By the end of 1988, Benazir Bhutto had returned to Pakistan and was elected Prime Minister. The military bounced her from power within two years, only to see her return in 1993. Her second term (also ended by military coup) was praiseworthy, but also troubling (Iain Murry, NRO - The Corner):
. . . the Telegraph‘s commendably objective obituary of Benazir Bhutto is here. After her ineffective first premiership, many forget that her second tenure was almost Thatcherite:
Her tight monetary policy produced a dramatic reduction in the budget deficit, pulling the country’s economy back from the brink of collapse, and earning it a clean bill of health from the IMF and World Bank.
The massive inflow of foreign investment gave rise to expectations of a new era of economic development for Pakistan. Her offer of lucrative packages for foreign investors garnered contracts for infrastructure projects worth many billions of dollars. And her privatisation programme was commended for its transparency and broad ownership approach.
Sadly, her father’s authoritarianism manifested itself in other areas. What Pakistan needed was a free-market, secular approach that guaranteed important freedoms. She almost delivered that, but not quite.
Indeed, it was during this, her second term of office, that the Pakistani military first looked to the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan, although how much control she had over that is highly debatable. What is not in dispute is that General/President Pervez Musharraf himself was a Taliban sponsor until September 11, 2001.
While in exile, Bhutto made it clear she stood with neither with Musharraf nor al Qaeda (the latter is already claiming credit for her assassination – Michael Ledeen, The Corner). In fact, she was one of the very few who insisted on repeating the inconvenient but important truth: that neither Musharraf nor his military are reliable allies in the WBK War.
In the aftermath of 9/11 and the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Musharraf had a heaven-sent opportunity. Never able to secure a majority of Pakistanis to support him, he had choice: to reach out to the democrats (Bhutto et al) and secure an anti-terrorist polity in Pakistan for the foreseeable future, or freeze out the democrats and allow the terrorist sympathizers to gain as a result. Not only did he choose the latter (New York Post), he has even reached out to the terrorist-backers themselves to isolate democratic forces.
This is why I have never considered Musharraf an ally, and still don’t to this day. It is also why I (and many others) never bought his me-or-the-terrorists rationale. Finally, it is why I remain unsure that al Qaeda did this all by itself.
This is not to say I think Musharraf was personally involved with the murder, or was even aware of it; he’s too smooth for that. But when it comes to the Pakistani military, Michael Rubin (Corner again) put it best:
I don’t want to say much; it’s been a few years since I’ve been to Pakistan. But this artificial dichotomy between supporters of Musharraf as suspects and Islamists being voiced by some TV commentators right now seems to miss the point.
The problem in Pakistan, especially since the days of Zia ul-Haq, has been the extent to which radical Islamist cells infiltrate the military, ISI, and police. Compounding this problem is the defensiveness with which Pakistani generals and security officers deny the problem and the corruption which lets such infiltration continue.
In other words, when it comes to the Pakistani armed forces, we literally cannot tell friend from foe.
So what does this mean for the WBK war? That depends on questions that as of now remain unanswered:
Will the elections be held? The assassination is a near-perfect excuse to delay them, but if Musharraf shifts them beyond February, it will increase speculation that he is taking advantage of Bhutto’s murder or, worse, had a hand in it. Meanwhile, a demoralized and disunited Pakistani People’s Party would have a much harder time against Musharraf’s candidates. I’m guessing the show will go on.
Can Bhutto’s party regroup? I have no idea on this one. If they can, they could easily romp to victory. Bhutto was a personal liability to her party in many, many ways. This transforms her from flawed candidate to mourned martyr. However, if the PPP factionalizes and splits; it could all be over.
What about Nawaz Sharif? The “other” opposition leader has a much shadier history regarding the terrorist-backers (Stanley Kurtz – The Corner), but his anti-Musharraf credentials are nearly impeccable. If the finger points back to the military and the PPP can’t recover, Sharif could be the main beneficiary, which is not good.
What are the odds of the terrorist-backers taking over Pakistan? That’s the big question, and once again, there is no real answer. Already, Musharraf has ceded portions of the country over to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Sharif could be worse, while the successor to Bhutto may not be strong enough to reassert order there. This, of course, assumes one faction will actually win; it could be just as likely that none of them can rule on their own, which given their history can only enhance the power of the terrorist-backers as kingmakers.
What can we do? Sadly, not much, besides continue to kill every terrorist we find in Afghanistan; maintain a very close friendship with India, and hope that the PPP can get its act together. One thing we have in our corner: India is much more afraid of an al Qaedist Pakistan than we are (they would be the terrorists’ first target) so if worse comes to worst, we’ll have a very large, powerful, and increasingly dynamic ally. The bad news is – well, I don’t really need to tell you the bad news, do I?
One more thing, this makes it abundantly clear that America must be vigilant and strong. The WBK War has no timeouts; it is ongoing and in several theaters at once. Republicans looking at Huckabee or (as much as I admire him on other issues) Dr. Paul need to take note. Democrats may want to rethink their party allegiance.
I conclude simply: Benazir Bhutto, R.I.P. Your country (and mine) will sorely miss you.