Monday, March 31, 2008
By: John F. Harris and Mike Allen and David Paul Kuhn
March 31, 2008 12:27 PM EST
Hoping to avoid a summer-long bloodbath for the Democratic presidential nomination, some party leaders such as Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen have urged a convention of superdelegates in June, after the caucuses and primaries are over.
The idea sounds exotic, but recent public declarations and Politico interviews with top Democratic officials have made clear that something like what Bredesen proposed is already underway — not with a big meeting but with an intensifying series of exchanges among party elites.
The early voting in this virtual convention is bad news for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her hope that Democratic leaders will settle the nomination is starting to come true — with Barack Obama so far emerging as the beneficiary.
After a 10-day slog of self-inflicted wounds and fatalistic headlines for Clinton, these party elders are clearly tilting against her hopes for keeping the nomination contest open indefinitely.
The Democrats’ virtual convention is taking place publicly, with statements like the remarkable comment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that Clinton should get out now, and semi-publicly, with background comments made by top operatives to the media.
It is taking place also in private entreaties by e-mail or phone — the modern equivalent of smoke-filed rooms — as advocates for Obama urge an early end to the race and Clinton backers plead for time and warn about his general election vulnerabilities.
This weekend Clinton vowed to push on, perhaps for several more months, in hopes of an eventual victory at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in late August. This means her main strategic imperative, in addition to winning the April 22 Pennsylvania primary, is to slow and, if possible, reverse the parade of Democratic luminaries in recent days urging that the contest be wrapped up by spring rather than stretching into summer.
The dynamic shows another way that Clinton’s strategy is working — once again with different consequences than she wants.
Clinton is succeeding, many party operatives believe, in exposing Obama's potential general election vulnerabilities, concerns that would be amplified considerably if she scores a convincing win in Pennsylvania.
But the general effect of these doubts — at least so far — has been to inspire unease with her continued campaign, rather than second-guessing about Obama's front-runner status.
Some Clinton backers such as commentator and former consultant James Carville dismiss these anxieties, saying there is little danger from an intramural contest and that Obama, even if he does emerge as the nominee, should be prepared for far rougher stuff from Republicans in the fall.
Former President Bill Clinton told California Democrats convening in San Jose this past weekend to “chill out” and that continued competition is a “good thing” for the party’s prospects in November.
But it is clear that Hillary Clinton’s run of luck in recent days, including her own stumbles over an exaggerated account of a visit to Bosnia as first lady, has not helped her cause in playing for time.
Clinton retains a lead among the superdelegates, who — because neither she nor Obama will likely win enough elected delegates to clinch the nomination — will determine the outcome.
But the restlessness of party leaders has become unmistakable in recent days. So, too, has been the premise — sometimes unstated, sometimes explicit — that it is Clinton’s ambitions rather than Obama’s that would have to yield in the name of party unification.
In a recent Politico interview, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) reiterated his stance that he will not take sides in the primary race. But he added that he believes that by early June all the superdelegates should come to a decision on whom to pledge their vote.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, meanwhile, set an unofficial deadline of July 1.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that something "will be done" to resolve the race before the convention.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she is confident a decision will be made "before the convention," so Democrats can go in unified.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), an Obama supporter and a former general chairman of the party, told National Journal that party leaders need "to stand up and reach a conclusion."
Another Obama backer, 2004 Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), said on ABC’s “This Week”on Sunday: “I think the superdelegates ought to decide early, perhaps earlier than July. … Every day gives John McCain the opportunity to build momentum for the general election.”
Describing the mood in Washington, a top Democratic strategist who supports Clinton said: “There’s a little bit of a deathwatch going on. Instead of, ‘Who’s going to win?’ the chatter is, ‘How’s it going to unfold?’”
The strategist added: “There is general panic among Democrats. The big question is: Does she walk to the door, or is she shown to the door?”
The reason some Democrats believe Clinton needs to be escorted from the race is not that they dispute her claims that the race is agonizingly close. It is that they see few scenarios in which she can finish the primary calendar ahead in elected delegates or the popular vote. By this logic, denying the favored candidate of African-Americans — the party’s most loyal constituency — if Obama is ahead could rupture the party.
Clinton is not moved by these claims. Close advisers to her emphasized over the weekend that she is going nowhere — not simply as a matter of politics but of personal temperament. Like her husband, she is constitutionally averse to quitting.
What’s more, her public argument that she is the more electable candidate is only a pale version of her private thoughts and those of Bill Clinton. They firmly believe that Obama is unready to face a general election or, if he wins, a presidency that would follow.
For now, her party is hoping that the public pressure on her to step aside will create a backlash that will further fire up her most zealous supporters, especially women.
“The more she can let this threat hang over the process, the more leverage she has,” a former Clinton administration official said.
On Friday, Obama was talking about the nomination race in the past tense. “There are some people who felt like: God, when is this thing going to be over?” he said at a Pittsburgh rally. “It’s like a good movie that’s lasted too long. But the truth is that this has been a great campaign, a great primary season. It’s been hard, it’s been tough.”
But wary of the possibility that pushing Clinton out could backfire, he has begun saying calmly that she’s free to stay in as long as she likes.
And she may take her time, vowing in a Washington Post interview on Saturday to stay in as far as the convention: “I know there are some people who want to shut this down and I think they are wrong.”
A senior adviser to Clinton argued at length that the race is still very much in play.
“The press corps seems to have it in their mind that this race is done,” the adviser said. “Either you guys can’t count or you want it done.”
The adviser asserted that the campaign is gaining traction with its argument that Obama would have electability problems in the fall and might weaken other Democrats running on his ticket.
“It is our read that many of the remaining superdelegates are increasingly concerned about whether or not — as attractive a candidate as he is, as strong as a spokesman as he is — is this guy going to be carrying our district? I don’t think many candidates are looking forward to the Republican ad where ... his minister is saying, ‘God Damn America.’
“People are making [individual] calculations,” the adviser added. “They don’t know which way to jump.”
In the past 10 days, however, Clinton has steadily lost ground. Democrats’ private grumblings became public warnings.
It started March 21, when New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson — who was appointed to two Cabinet posts by Bill Clinton — endorsed Obama after holding off when it would have helped him most, right before the Hispanic-rich Texas primary.
Three days later, in what some Obama strategists believe may eventually be seen as the death blow, Clinton had to admit she had repeatedly exaggerated when claiming to have landed in Bosnia under sniper fire as first lady. It was an unnecessary gilding of the lily, tainting video of her in a military setting that otherwise would have been very positive.
In another indignity, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), who had vowed to remain neutral, joined the Obama bandwagon on Friday.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) did the same on Sunday.
This gathering momentum has forced the Clintons into Hail Mary arguments, causing even some confidants to wonder about their logic or real aims. Bill Clinton recently pointed out that she was ahead in the popular vote in primaries, as opposed to caucuses — essentially saying she’s ahead in contests she has won.
“They’re trying everything, and nothing is sticking,” said a Clinton family adviser. “It is possible she’s trying to leverage all this into a spot on the ticket.”
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Fri Mar 28, 2008
By Alberto Fajardo and Ignacio Alvarado
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico, March 28 (Reuters) - Hundreds of camouflage-clad Mexican troops flew into the northern city of Ciudad Juarez on Friday to quell a surge in drug gang murders across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Part of a 2,500-strong army and federal police force set to descend on the dilapidated city over the next three days, the heavily armed soldiers streamed out of military planes and were trucked off to set up road blocks and launch foot patrols.
The troop convoys are opening up a new front in President Felipe Calderon's 15-month-old war on drug cartels. Already about 25,000 soldiers and federal police have deployed in hotspots across Mexico, especially along the U.S. border.
Ciudad Juarez, which has drawn worldwide attention because of a rash of brutal murders of women, has seen 200 people slain in drug-related violence so far this year -- ten times as many as a year ago.
The overall death toll associated with drug gangs in Mexico has rise to more than 720 so far this year, well above the count this time last year.
Mexico's drug wars killed more than 2,500 people in 2007.
The troops in Ciudad Juarez will raid houses, seize weapons and narcotics and purge local police forces accused of working with drug gangs, officials said. Military commanders will take over the day-to-day running of security.
"It's well overdue, but it's a good thing the army has arrived. They are the only ones who can fight the drug gangs, the police are too scared," said Marcelo Acosta, an engineer who last week witnessed a shootout at a busy intersection.
The United Nations and Amnesty International have expressed concern about whether Mexico's use of soldiers against drug gangs risks human rights abuses, following a handful of civilian deaths last year.
Until recently Ciudad Juarez has had a light military presence and analysts say drug cartels have taken advantage of that to try to control smuggling routes to the United States.
Police say Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who leads the Sinaloa cartel of Pacific coast traffickers, has taken his fight for control of smuggling routes to the city, targeting the once-mighty Juarez cartel.
The local cartel was weakened by the 1997 death of its leader and is also being attacked by eastern Mexico's Gulf cartel.
Soldiers in Ciudad Juarez seized cocaine, marijuana and heroin bound for the United States and arrested 42 people this week suspected of links to drug gangs, army commanders said. (Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Catherine Bremer)
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
By Eric Reeves
March 22, 2008
IN PREPARING to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, China has engaged in a massive campaign to dissemble its role in the Darfur genocide in western Sudan, now entering its sixth year. Such a task was unexpected by Beijing. The regime knew it would encounter strenuous protests over the continuing destruction of Tibet, although the recent violent crackdown in Lhasa suggests Beijing hadn't anticipated how deeply Tibetan anger runs. China's leaders also knew they would draw fierce protests over their callous support of the brutal Burmese junta. Condemnation of Beijing's own gross domestic human rights abuses was equally predictable. But the effectiveness of Darfur advocacy in highlighting China's role in Sudan took Beijing by surprise. Steven Spielberg's resignation as an artistic director for the Games - a decision of conscience stressing China's role in Darfur - sharply intensified China's dismay.
more stories like thisThus Beijing has pulled out all the stops to counter advocacy success in emphasizing China's longstanding diplomatic protection and economic support for the Islamist regime in Khartoum. Though Khartoum's genocidal counterinsurgency campaign against Darfur's African tribes has been authoritatively documented for years, Beijing seeks to obscure this grim reality through distortion, half-truths, and outright mendacity. In turn, nothing encourages Khartoum more than China's refusal to speak honestly about violent human destruction in Darfur, where growing insecurity has brought the world's largest humanitarian operation to the brink of collapse.
Why does China airbrush away Darfur's genocidal realities? Why has Beijing been Khartoum's largest weapons supplier over the past decade? Why has China repeatedly wielded a veto threat at the UN Security Council as the world body vainly struggles to bring pressure to bear on Khartoum? The answer lies in China's thirst for Sudanese crude oil.
Since the beginning of serious oil development in the 1990s, China has been the dominant player in an oil production consortium located mainly in southern Sudan. China was also complicit in the scorched-earth clearances that were part of oil development until the north-south peace agreement of 2005. What China got for its ruthlessness was prime access to the 500,000 barrels of crude that Sudan now produces daily. Given the voracious growth in China's oil consumption, Beijing has determined that ignoring gross human rights abuses in Sudan is simply a cost of doing business.
This is why China has offered unstinting diplomatic protection to Khartoum, most consequentially at the Security Council. And now in defense of this destructive protectionist policy, China offers up deliberate distortions of Darfur's terrible truths. Thus Khartoum's adamant refusal to accept desperately needed non-African troops and specialists for a UN-authorized peace support operation becomes a mere "technical" problem, according to Liu Guijin, China's Darfur envoy. But this is false. The regime's refusal to accept the UN-proposed roster of troop-contributing countries has largely paralyzed deployment of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur, authorized by the Security Council last July. Britain's UN ambassador spoke for many when he declared this year that Khartoum had made a "political decision" to obstruct the deployment. China blames the "international community" for not pressuring rebel groups in Darfur to negotiate an end to the conflict. While there is some justification to this charge, the real problem lies in China's refusal to countenance sanctions that might pressure Khartoum to engage in good-faith diplomacy. China will not allow even targeted sanctions against regime officials most responsible for flagrant violations of international humanitarian law.
Confident that China will block punitive actions, Khartoum recently resumed savage civilian clearances in West Darfur, deploying regular military forces and Arab militia proxies. Tens of thousands of African civilians were displaced by ground and air attacks, and hundreds were killed; towns, villages, and camps for displaced persons were destroyed; humanitarian aid was blocked. Only immense confidence in China's diplomatic protection emboldened the regime to resume such large-scale genocidal destruction. If China is to be a legitimate host of the 2008 Olympics, the preeminent event in international sports, it cannot be complicit in the ultimate international crime - genocide. The world community must respond more forcefully to this intolerable contradiction.
Eric Reeves is author of "A Long Day's Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide."
Saturday, March 15, 2008
By Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Contributor
By now everyone sees what he wishes in Iraq — a disaster of many proportions, a necessary war that will still be won. Liberals who used to demand that we promote democracy abroad are fierce critics of Iraqi democracy; conservatives, who want an iron hand dealing with a hostile Middle East, support spending hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding Iraqi society.
So it will be left to historians, as has been true in the case of the far-more-costly Korean and Vietnam wars, to adjudicate the final verdict.
Meanwhile, the war in Iraq has entered yet another manifestation. The fickle American public and its media have switched and flipped on the war as much as they have on Hillary Clinton’s chances — in the last two months she’s been a shoo-in, a has-been, a comeback kid, a loser, and now a contender.
In late 2003, Iraq transmogrified suddenly, from an overwhelmingly popular and brilliant three-week war to remove a genocidal Saddam Hussein, into a bitterly divisive effort of four years to defeat an insurgency that threatened to topple the postwar elected government.
Now, despite the obligatory throat-clearing epithets used by journalists and politicians — “the worst,” “nightmare,” “disaster,” “fiasco,” “catastrophe,” “quagmire” — Iraq is beginning to be seen as something that just might work after all, as the violence subsides and a stable constitutional government hangs on.
Once promised to be the singular issue of the current presidential campaign, the war has receded to background noise of the primaries. An ascendant Barack Obama pounded home the fact that, unlike Senator Clinton, he never supported the removal of Saddam Hussein and always wanted to get Americans out of there as fast as he could; it may well prove that a more circumspect Obama soon won’t want to mention the war and, as hinted by aides, wouldn’t jerk the troops out should he be the next president.
Rarely in American history has a war been so often spun, praised, renounced, disowned, and finally neglected. And the result is that a number of questions remain not just unanswered, but unasked. We have not been hit since 9/11, despite the dire predictions from almost everyone of serial attacks to come. Today if a Marine recruitment center is bombed, we automatically assume the terrorist to represent a domestic anti-war group, not al-Qaeda — a perverse conjecture impossible to have imagined in autumn 2001.
In response to that calm, the communis opinio is that we hyped the threat, needlessly went to war, mortgaged the Constitution — just collate the rhetoric from the Obama and Clinton campaigns — when there was never much of a post-9/11 threat from a rag-tag bunch of jihadists in the first place.
What is never discussed is how many Islamists flocked to Iraq, determined to defeat the U.S. military — and never got out alive. Or, more bluntly, how many jihadists did the U.S. Army and Marines kill in Iraq rather than in Manhattan?
And what was the effect of that defeat not only on the jihadists, but also on those who were watching carefully to see whether the terrorists should be joined in victory or abandoned in defeat? Who really took his eye off the ball — the United States by going into Iraq, as alleged, or Osama bin Laden and his jihadist lieutenants by diverting thousands there to their deaths, as is never mentioned?
When the war started, contrary to the current rhetoric, Osama bin Laden was popular in the Middle East, and the tactic of suicide bombing had won a sizable following. But after the war was fought, and despite years of anti-American rhetoric, bin Laden has never polled lower while support for suicide murdering in the Muslim Middle East continues to decline.
In 2001, the Arab street apparently thought, for all the macabre nature of suicide bombing, that it at least had brought the United States to its knees and such a takedown was considered a good thing; in the latter reflection of 2007 and 2008, it worried that such a tactic brought the United States military to its region, and guaranteed the defeat of jihadists along with any who joined them.
Iraq, as no one ever imagined, ended up as a landscape in which the United States and al-Qaeda would battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab world on the world stage. And in Anbar Province, the jihadists are losing — losing militarily and losing the support of the local Sunni population. Again, whereas the conventional wisdom holds that we have radicalized an entire generation of young Muslims, it may turn out instead that we have convinced a generation that it is not wise after 9/11 to wage war against the United States. In any case, there is no other constitutional Arab government in the Middle East that actively hunts down and kills al-Qaeda terrorists.
When the insurgency took off in late 2003, Europe immediately triangulated against the United States, courted the Arab world, and hoped to deflect jihadists by loudly proclaiming they were vehemently against the war in Iraq. This is in itself was quite remarkable, since the entire recent expansion of the European Union to the south and east had been predicated only on a partnership agreement with the United States to extend NATO membership — alone ensuring these weak new European affiliates American military protection.
Irony abounds: Since 2003, Europe — not the United States — has experienced a series of attacks, and near-constant threats, ranging from bombed subways and rail stations to Islamic demands to censor cartoons, operas, films, and papal exegeses.
It is in Europe, not in post-Iraq Kansas, where a Turkish prime minister announces to Muslim expatriate residents that they must remain forever Turks and assimilation is a crime; it is in post-Iraq Europe, not Los Angeles, where politicians and churchmen talk of the inevitability of Sharia law; and it is in post-Iraq Europe, not the United States, where honor killings and Islamic rioting are common occurrences.
Why? A number of reasons, but despite all the misrepresentation and propaganda, the message has filtered through the Middle East that the United States will go after and punish jihadists — but also, alone of the Western nations, it will risk its own blood and treasure to work with Arab nations to find some alternative to the extremes of dictatorship and theocracy. Europe, in contrast to its utopian rhetoric, will trade with and profit from, but most surely never challenge, a Middle Eastern thug.
Iraq is purportedly a mess left to the next president. In fact, by January 2009 it may well be far less a strategic problem than was Saddam Hussein’s regime, the no-fly zones, Oil for Food, and the punishing UN embargoes. And the next president may well see a stabilized country in which periodic steady American withdrawals, not an insurgency, are the norm — and far fewer jihadists with far fewer supporters worldwide.
George Bush will be blamed for getting us into Iraq and staying there — he’s already seen some of the lowest poll ratings since Harry Truman or Richard Nixon. The next president will be praised for beginning to withdraw troops in 2009 on a schedule established in late 2008. After all, if a pundit’s column these days has a headline blaring “A Plan for a Way Out” or “Quagmire,” we automatically assume a way to unlock the Democratic primary mess, not leave Iraq. In the first ten days of March, before the most recent losses, there was one American combat fatality among 160,000 troops at war.
Iraqi was always an optional war, one that could either do great harm to our national interest and security or offer great advantage to the United States and the region, depending on its costs and the ultimate outcome. Between 2005 and 2006, public support for the war was mostly lost — trisection of the country and American withdrawal were considered our options. In 2008 there is instead a real chance that the original aims of the war — establishing a constitutional government, defeating terrorism militarily, and convincing the Arab population to reject terrorism — are at last possible.
It is the nature of this strange war that we know far more about who failed and what went wrong, far less about who succeeded and what went right. We believe that the dividends of the war — a constitutional government in Iraq and a stunning defeat of radical Islamic jihadists — happened by accident, while the 4,000 dead are the responsibility of our leaders, not the tenacity of the enemy or the costs of waging war in general. The more that the violence subsides and the costs wind down, the more Americans in a near recession will complain of the expense. The more the Iraqis finally begin to exercise responsible political power, the more Americans will lament there is no way to translate tactical victory into long-term strategic advantage.
Iraq, you see, long ago has become a mirror in which we all see only what we want.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
March 5, 2008
She’s always dressed in a killer suit and never has a hair out of place. We went to Phoenix, where Cindy McCain grew up, to talk with those who know her best. Good friend Betsy Bayless, a former Arizona secretary of state, says Cindy is a “fun down to earth person with a great sense of humor.”
Randi Kaye takes a look at Cindy McCain, wife of presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.
She had a privileged upbringing. Her father started one of the largest beer distributorships in the country and today Cindy is the Chairman of the Board. The company is reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Cindy graduated from the University of Southern California with a teaching degree and went on to become a teacher, but meeting John McCain changed all that. They met before he was in politics at a cocktail party in Hawaii. He is 18 years older than she is.
They apparently had instant chemistry. John was separated from his first wife at the time. About a month after his divorce, Cindy and John McCain got married.
They had three children and adopted a fourth child from Bangladesh. That adoption got attention during the 2000 primary in South Carolina, Sen. McCain’s first run to be president. There were claims Bridgett was actually McCain’s illegitimate black child. That’s not true – that’s dirty politics.
The McCains had another negative story to deal with during that campaign. During that 2000 primary, she was painted as a drug addict. It wasn’t pretty.
Here’s the back-story: In 1989, Cindy had a bad car accident and started taking prescription pain killers for her back injury. Four years later, she was still addicted to pain killers. Friends say her mother confronted her and she admitted her addiction, then immediately stopped taking the pills.
So now the McCain’s are at it again. Cindy seems more relaxed this time around and seems to be having more fun, according to the blog that McCain’s daughter Meghan keeps from the campaign trail.
Still, she hasn’t forgotten what happened back in 2000. In fact, friends say she kept a “grudge list.”
- Randi Kaye, 360° Correspondent