Saturday, August 18, 2007

The netroots and the neocons

Last week I blogged about some dubious netroots criticism of the "foreign policy community".

Since then, the netroots have been going to town. There's this Glenn Greenwald post... here's a sample:

America is plagued by a self-anointed, highly influential, and insular so-called Foreign Policy Community which spans both political parties. They consider themselves Extremely Serious and have a whole litany of decades-old orthodoxies which one must embrace lest one be declared irresponsible, naive and unserious. Most of these orthodoxies are ossified 50-year-old relics from the Cold War, and the rest are designed to place off limits from debate the question of whether the U.S. should continue to act as an imperial force, ruling the world with its superior military power.
Matthew Yglesias provided his "amen" here.

Gideon Rose, guest-blogging at the Economist, fires back in this post. The highlights:

The funny thing is...hell, I’ll just come out and say it: the netroots' attitude toward professionals isn’t that different from the neocons', both being convinced that the very concept of a foreign-policy clerisy is unjustified, anti-democratic and pernicious, and that the remedy is much tighter and more direct control by the principals over their supposed professional agents.

The charges the bloggers are making now are very similar to those that the neocons made a few years ago: mainstream foreign-policy experts are politicised careerists, biased hacks, and hide-bound traditionalists who have gotten everything wrong in the past and don’t deserve to be listened to in the future. (Take a look at pretty much any old Jim Hoagland column and you’ll see what I mean.) Back then, the neocons directed their fire primarily at the national security bureaucracies—freedom-hating mediocrities at the CIA, pin-striped wussies at the State Department, cowardly soldiers at the Pentagon....

First, many of the people in the various national security bureaucracies are indeed Humphreys, and deserve to have their every move and utterance treated with great skepticism. Second, many of the people at Brookings or CSIS or other top think-tanks are fully as noble, disinterested, serious-minded, and knowledgeable as the best people inside the system, and the notion that they’re not is just cheap cynicism. Third, the idea that there is some Chinese wall separating the professionals inside the system from those outside it is just silly: the higher ranks of the bureaucracies are filled with political appointees, many outside experts have extensive experience inside the system, and the good people in all places tend to know and respect each other.

Bottom line, there just isn’t a good clean answer to the question of how much deference foreign-policy professionals should get from other citizens in a democracy. The populist answer "none" might be appropriate in terms of democratic theory, but it would yield pretty crappy policies in practice. But obviously something like a Federal Reserve for foreign policy would also be absurd, given how nebulous, limited and fallible "professionalism" in this area actually is. Jefferson told us to pay a "due respect to the opinions of mankind"—that seems about right for people with specialized knowledge and experience in the policy arena as well.

I would describe the netroots response to this as mixed.

The moderate elements have reacted like this.

The less moderate elements reacted like this.

I'll react a bit more to this debate over the weekend.

UPDATE: Here's my follow up post.

Finally, I must link to Atrios having some fun with the folks at Democracy Arsenal. As much as it pains me, I have some sympathy for Atrios here, since there have been times when the folks at Democracy Arsenal have confused the living hell out of me.

posted by Dan at 12:43 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Open market thread

Comment away on the financial markets' latest gyrations. Some background reading: 1) The Fed's statement announcing a lowering of the discount rate. This came with a FOMC statement that said:

Financial market conditions have deteriorated, and tighter credit conditions and increased uncertainty have the potential to restrain economic growth going forward. In these circumstances, although recent data suggest that the economy has continued to expand at a moderate pace, the Federal Open Market Committee judges that the downside risks to growth have increased appreciably. The Committee is monitoring the situation and is prepared to act as needed to mitigate the adverse effects on the economy arising from the disruptions in financial markets.
This has made the Dow Jones very happy.

Sound policy or moral hazard? The New York Times today suggests the former, since there were no fundamental changes (though, to me, this story ain't chopped liver).

Keith Bradsher and Jeremy Peters report that 2007 might create the inverse of what happened in 1997:

In the past, when economic growth has stalled in the rest of the world, the United States has usually been there to pick up the slack. Now that dynamic is reversed.

With stock markets plunging around the world on financial worries clearly marked “made in U.S.A.,” and with growing concerns about a possible American economic slowdown, a booming global economy could help contain the damage and even assist the United States in absorbing the shock of the collapsing housing bubble and a credit squeeze.

“We’re no longer in a world where the United States sneezes and the rest of the world catches a cold,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist with Global Insight, an economics research firm in Waltham, Mass. “You’ve got strong growth overseas, and it’s been kind of like a lifeline to the United States from the rest of the world.”

At the same time, Brad Setser observes the paradox of the current liquidity crisis -- despite the fact that it started in the United States, the dollar is still viewed as a safe haven.

Meanwhile, French president Nikolas Sarkozy wants greater G-7 involvement.... which gives me hives for some reason.

UPDATE: The Volokh Conspiracy is on this like white on rice.

posted by Dan at 09:55 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

An interesting definition of free speech

The New York Times' Patricia Cohen reports that John Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt's book-length treatise, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, will be released on September 4th. Because of the controversy, some venues, like the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, have cancelled appearances by the authors.

Part of the problem, however, seems to stem from how Mearsheimer and Walt define "free speech":

“One of the points we make in the book is that this is a subject that’s very hard to talk about,” Mr. Walt said in an interview from his office in Cambridge. “Organizations, no matter how strong their commitment to free speech, don’t want to schedule something that’s likely to cause controversy.”

After the [Chicago Council's] cancellation Roberta Rubin, owner of the Book Stall, a store in Winnetka, Ill., offered to help find a site for the authors. She said she tried a Jewish community center and two large downtown clubs but they all told her “they can’t afford to bring in somebody ‘too controversial.’ ” She added that even she was concerned about inviting authors who might offend customers.

Some of the planned sites, like the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, a cultural center in Washington, would have been host of an event if Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt appeared with opponents, said Esther Foer, the executive director.

Mr. Walt said, “Part of the game is to portray us as so extreme that we have to be balanced by someone from the ‘other side.’ ” Besides, he added, when you’re promoting a book, you want to present your ideas without appearing with someone who is trying to discredit you.

Yes.... I can see how presenting an 'opposing view' stifles free speech and debate.

UPDATE: Mearsheimer and Walt elaborate on why they don't like sharing the stage with the 'other side'. This paragraph is particularly interesting:

One might argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on their own. However, they are seen as controversial only because some of the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original article have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us personally—such as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are anti-Semitic. The purpose of these charges, of course, is to discourage respected organizations like the Council from giving us an audience, or to create conditions where they feel compelled to include “contending views” in order to preserve “balance” and to insulate themselves from external criticism.
I think it's actually pretty easy to parse between charges of anti-Semitism and charges that "The Israel Lobby" is a slipshod work of social science. And, hey, what do you know, so do people quoted in Cohen's story:
As for City University, Aoibheann Sweeney, director of the Center for the Humanities, said, “I looked at the introduction, and I didn’t feel that the book was saying things differently enough” from the original article. Ms. Sweeney, who said she had consulted with others at City University, acknowledged that they had begun planning for an event in September moderated by J. J. Goldberg, the editor of The Forward, a leading American Jewish weekly, but once he chose not to participate, she decided to pass. Mr. Goldberg, who was traveling in Israel, said in a telephone interview that “there should be more of an open debate.” But appearing alone with the authors would have given the impression that The Forward was presenting the event and thereby endorsing the book, he said, and he did not want to do that. A discussion with other speakers of differing views would have been different, he added.

“I don’t think the book is very good,” said Mr. Goldberg, who said he read a copy of the manuscript about six weeks ago. “They haven’t really done original research. They haven’t talked to the people who are being lobbied or those doing the lobbying.”

posted by Dan at 09:18 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's re-engage with John Edwards foreign policy vision

Yesterday I took some potshots at Rudy Giuliani's Foreign Affairs essay -- and I wasn't the only one.

In the wake of Giuliani's steaming pile o' crap, however, John Edwards' Foreign Affairs essay "Reengaging With the World," has been badly neglected. The hardworking staff here at will now rectify this omission.

Let's start with the writing. See if you can pick out Edwards' key theme from this introductory paragraph:

We must move beyond the wreckage created by one of the greatest strategic failures in U.S. history: the war in Iraq. Rather than alienating the rest of the world through assertions of infallibility and demands of obedience, as the current administration has done, U.S. foreign policy must be driven by a strategy of reengagement. We must reengage with our history of courage, liberty, and generosity. We must reengage with our tradition of moral leadership on issues ranging from the killings in Darfur to global poverty and climate change. We must reengage with our allies on critical security issues, including terrorism, the Middle East, and nuclear proliferation. With confidence and resolve, we must reengage with those who pose a security threat to us, from Iran to North Korea. And our government must reengage with the American people to restore our nation's reputation as a moral beacon to the world, tapping into our fundamental hope and optimism and calling on our citizens' commitment and courage to make this possible. We must lead the world by demonstrating the power of our ideals, not by stoking fear about those who do not share them.
There's a fine line between emphasizing a phrase for rhetorical effect and bludgeoining the reader into a stupor through mindless repetition. Fortunately, Edwards ignores this line completely and chooses to "reengage" the reader with the literary equivalent of a frying pan to the head.

Then there's this priceless pair of sentences:

What we need is not more slogans but a comprehensive strategy to respond to terrorism and prevent it from taking root in the first place. This strategy should transcend the familiar divide between "hard power" and "soft power." Instead, we need to place "smart power" at the center of our national security policy.
Way to transcend those slogans!!!

Let's go beyond the writing, however, to the policies. Here's Edwards on Iran:

[T]he situation in Iran has only worsened under this administration. With a threat so serious, no U.S. president should take any option off the table -- diplomacy, sanctions, engagement, or even military force. When we say something is unacceptable, however, we must mean it, and that requires developing a strategy that delivers results, not just rhetoric. Instead of saber rattling about military action, we should employ an effective combination of carrots and sticks. For example, right now we must do everything we can to isolate Iran's leader from the moderate forces within the country. We need to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions through diplomatic measures that will, over time, force Iran to finally understand that the international community will not allow it to possess nuclear weapons. Every major U.S. ally agrees that the advent of a nuclear Iran would be a threat to global security. We should continue to work with other great powers to offer Tehran economic incentives for good behavior. At the same time, we must use much more serious economic sanctions to deter Ahmadinejad's government when it refuses to cooperate. To do this, we will have to deal with Iran directly. Such diplomacy is not a gift, nor is it a concession. The current administration recently managed to have one single-issue meeting with Iran to discuss Iraq. It simply makes no sense for the administration to engage Iran on this subject alone and avoid one as consequential as nuclear proliferation.
A three-question pop quiz:
1) In what way will talking with Iran's current leadership "isolate Iran's leader from the moderate forces within the country"? I'm not saying "don't talk," but there does seem to be an inconsistency in Edwards' logic here.

2) What would Edwards think about the Bush proposal to sanction Iran's Revolutionary Guards? Surely this would achieve a separation, yes?

3) Does Edwards seriously believe that the negotiations to date have not broadcast the message to the Iranians that "you know, it will be really bad if you develop nukes"??? What would be different about Edwards' negotiations???

Not all of Edwards' ideas are bad (I like the "Marshall Corps" idea), but after reading the whole essay, one has to conclude that Edwards' thinks the word "reengage" actually means "sprinkle magical fairy dust from the House of Gryffindor on the problem, which will cause all parties to recognize their common fate."

posted by Dan at 08:31 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thankfully, the anti-American card has its limits

The lead for Hugh Naylor, "Tired of Energy Ills, Syrians Doubt the West Is to Blame," in today's New York Times:

Syria has had a summer of power failures and electricity shortages, and recent suggestions by Prime Minister Muhammad Naki al-Otari that American and French economic pressures are to blame are being greeted with skepticism by a weary public.

Mr. Otari’s claims represent a shift in position in a country that has long held that American pressure has had a negligible impact. But many Syrians say their electricity woes are more a function of government incompetence than of international pressure.

“According to my knowledge, the official line has been that America’s sanctions and its policy of isolating Syria are both failing,” Nidal Malouf, director of the Syrian Economic Center, wrote in an Aug. 5 article on, a private online news agency. “Now the government is trying to find an excuse for its failure to provide cities with the most basic needs.”

posted by Dan at 12:45 PM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

More candidates in Foreign Affairs

In the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Rudy Giuliani and John Edwards get a crack at articulating their foreign policy vision.

The gist of Giuliani's essay, "Towards a Realistic Peace":

The next U.S. president will face three key foreign policy challenges: setting a course for victory in the terrorists' war on global order, strengthening the international system the terrorists seek to destroy, and extending the system's benefits. With a stronger defense, a determined diplomacy, and greater U.S. economic and cultural influence, the next president can start to build a lasting, realistic peace.
The gist of Edward's essay,"Reengaging With the World":
In the wake of the Iraq debacle, we must restore America's reputation for moral leadership and reengage with the world. We must move beyond the empty slogan 'war on terror' and create a genuine national security policy that is built on hope, not fear. Only then can America once again become a beacon to the world.
Time to go read these essay. Back soon.

Be sure to check out FA's Campaign 2008 website as well.

UPDATE: Sweet Jesus, the Giuliani essay is badly written. James Joyner, Kevin Drum, Jim Henley, and Matthew Yglesias all go to town on it.

Even more disturbing is the failure to comprehend different foreign policy doctrines. Consider this paragraph:

A realistic peace is not a peace to be achieved by embracing the "realist" school of foreign policy thought. That doctrine defines America's interests too narrowly and avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values. To rely solely on this type of realism would be to cede the advantage to our enemies in the complex war of ideas and ideals. It would also place too great a hope in the potential for diplomatic accommodation with hostile states. And it would exaggerate America's weaknesses and downplay America's strengths. Our economy is the strongest in the developed world. Our political system is far more stable than those of the world's rising economic giants. And the United States is the world's premier magnet for global talent and capital.
You know, you can slam realism for not caring much about human rights, or for advising a hard-hearted approach to world politics. What you can't do is claim that realism "exaggerate[s] America's weaknesses and downplay[s] America's strengths" because it doesn't pay attention to economics.

Then there's this whopper:

America must remember one of the lessons of the Vietnam War. Then, as now, we fought a war with the wrong strategy for several years. And then, as now, we corrected course and began to show real progress. Many historians today believe that by about 1972 we and our South Vietnamese partners had succeeded in defeating the Vietcong insurgency and in setting South Vietnam on a path to political self-sufficiency. But America then withdrew its support, allowing the communist North to conquer the South. The consequences were dire, and not only in Vietnam: numerous deaths in places such as the killing fields of Cambodia, a newly energized and expansionist Soviet Union, and a weaker America. The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse.
Actually, the fall of Saigon was, in the end, the final falsification of the domino theory that Giuliani's essay unconsciously accepts. South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia collapsed. That was it. The Soviet Union's subsequent expansionism proved to be its ruination, as it found itself bogged down in Afghanistan.

I could go on, but it's too tedious. This is an unbelievably unserious essay.

posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

For those of you nostalgic for Pravda

Simon Romero reports in the New York Times about Hugo Chávez's proposed constitutional changes:

President Hugo Chávez will unveil a project to change the Constitution on Wednesday that is expected to allow him to be re-elected indefinitely, a move that would enhance his authority to accelerate a socialist-inspired transformation of Venezuelan society.

The removal of term limits for Mr. Chávez, which is at the heart of the proposal, is expected to be accompanied by measures circumscribing the authority of elected governors and mayors, who would be prevented from staying in power indefinitely, according to versions of the project leaked in recent weeks.

Willian Lara, the communications minister, said Mr. Chávez would announce the project before the National Assembly, where all 167 lawmakers support the president. Supporters of Mr. Chávez, who was re-elected last year with some 60 percent of the vote, also control the Supreme Court, the entire federal bureaucracy, public oil and infrastructure companies and every state government but two.

The aim of the overhaul is “to guarantee to the people the largest amount of happiness possible,” Mr. Lara said at a news conference on Tuesday.

The story has a whiff of the old Soviet-era Pravda. Not because Romero is Chávez's mouthpiece, but rather the tone of the comments made by Venezuelan officials.

And, of course, Chávez's apparent fondness for democratic centralism.

posted by Dan at 08:05 AM | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Your declinist metaphor for today

Analysts have been comparing the United States to a decaying, declining Roman empire for close to forty years now. It has become so clichéd that, according to a little-known DC ordinance, anyone who makes the analogy inside the beltway is forced to listen to either Robert Kuttner or George Will pontificate for an entire hour on its historical appropriateness. Shudder.

Given these formidable barriers, it must mean something that the Comptroller General is dusting off the comparison and making it anew. The Financial Times' Jeremy Grant explains:

The US government is on a “burning platform” of unsustainable policies and practices with fiscal deficits, chronic healthcare underfunding, immigration and overseas military commitments threatening a crisis if action is not taken soon, the country’s top government inspector has warned.

David Walker, comptroller general of the US, issued the unusually downbeat assessment of his country’s future in a report that lays out what he called “chilling long-term simulations”.

These include “dramatic” tax rises, slashed government services and the large-scale dumping by foreign governments of holdings of US debt.

Drawing parallels with the end of the Roman empire, Mr Walker warned there were “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that brought down Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government”.

“Sound familiar?” Mr Walker said. “In my view, it’s time to learn from history and take steps to ensure the American Republic is the first to stand the test of time.”

Mr Walker’s views carry weight because he is a non-partisan figure in charge of the Government Accountability Office, often described as the investigative arm of the US Congress.

While most of its studies are commissioned by legislators, about 10 per cent – such as the one containing his latest warnings – are initiated by the comptroller general himself.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Walker said he had mentioned some of the issues before but now wanted to “turn up the volume”. Some of them were too sensitive for others in government to “have their name associated with”.

“I’m trying to sound an alarm and issue a wake-up call,” he said. “As comptroller general I’ve got an ability to look longer-range and take on issues that others may be hesitant, and in many cases may not be in a position, to take on.

Click here to read more of Walker's analysis. An excerpt:
Unfortunately, our government’s track record in adapting to new conditions and meeting new challenges isn’t very good. Much of the federal government remains overly bureaucratic, myopic, narrowly focused, and based on the past. There’s a tendency to cling to outmoded organizational structures and strategies.

Many agencies have been slow to adopt best practices. While a few agencies have begun to rethink their missions and operations, many federal policies, programs, processes, and procedures are hopelessly out of date. Furthermore, all too often, it takes an immediate crisis for government to act. After all, history has shown that Washington is a lag indicator!

Efficient and effective government matters. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita brought that point home in a painful way. The damage these storms inflicted on the Gulf Coast put all levels of government to the test. While a few agencies, like the Coast Guard, did a great job, many agencies, particularly the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), fell far short of expectations. Public confidence in the ability of government to meet basic needs was severely shaken—and understandably so. If our government can’t handle known threats like natural disasters, it’s only fair to wonder what other public services may be at risk.

Transforming government and aligning it with modern needs is even more urgent because of our nation’s large and growing fiscal imbalance. Simply stated, America is on a path toward an explosion of debt. And that indebtedness threatens our country’s, our children’s, and our grandchildren’s futures. With the looming retirement of the baby boomers, spiraling health care costs, plummeting savings rates, and increasing reliance on foreign lenders, we face unprecedented fiscal risks.

Long-range simulations from my agency are chilling. If we continue as we have, policy makers will eventually have to raise taxes dramatically and/or slash government services the American people depend on and take for granted. Just pick a program—student loans, the interstate highway system, national parks, federal law enforcement, and even our armed forces.

I don't think we're in any danger of the kind of Malthusian trap that plagued the Roman empire, and America's demographic situation is much healthier than comparable OECD economies. That said, clichés often do carry a grain of truth to them. So read the whole thing.

UPDATE: I wonder if Walker is trying to cross-promote this:

posted by Dan at 08:38 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

In your face, Milwaukee!!

In the Boston Globe, Chris Reidy reports that Boston is a good fit for your humble blogger:

Boston has long been viewed as the land of the bean and the cod -- and now the Hub may also be the land of the blog.

According to, a website that tracks neighborhood blogging, Boston was the "bloggiest city" in America for the two-month period it examined, March and April.

Behind Boston were Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C. said it tracks blogging activity in about 60 urban areas. It based its rankings on a "blogging quotient" that factored in a metropolitan area's population with the number of blog posts tied to specific locations.

By that measure, Greater Boston had 89 posts per 100,000 residents, edging out Greater Philadelphia, which had 88 posts.

Surprisingly, perhaps, such well-wired places as San Francisco and Seattle were farther down the list.

Why was Greater Boston number one?'s chief executive, Steven Berlin Johnson, offered this theory: Blogs thrive where locals are wired, well-educated, and obsessed with politics, a topic that inspires bloggers to vent their opinions.

Another possibility: east coast cities like Boston and Philly have more people who find time to blog while goofing off at their place of work.

[Which is something you never do, right?--ed. Uh... right!!]

posted by Dan at 08:32 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Democratic Party's awful track record, explained

Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry -- Bill Clinton excepted, the Democrats have managed to nominate for president some of the biggest stiffs in the history of modern American politics.

Nevertheless, one has to credit bad Democratic advisors as well. Consider, for example, the lead paragraphs in this USA Today story by Jill Lawrence and Judy Keen:

Karl Rove may be leaving his roles as hard-nosed strategist and bookish policy expert in the Bush White House, but that doesn't mean Democrats can rest easy.

"Karl outside the White House is more dangerous to Democrats than Karl inside the White House," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was Al Gore's campaign manager. Her view: He'll have lots more free time now to dream up ways to boost President Bush's standing, "rebrand" the GOP and conquer the 2008 electoral map.

My view: Any Democrat who hands Brazile the keys to his/her campaign doesn't really want to win.

Seriously, what kind of analysis is this? Readers are requested to offer suggestions for how the GOP get "rebranded".

posted by Dan at 10:07 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Karl Rove's legacy

So Karl Rove joins the long line of senior officials leaving the Bush administration.

Judging Rove's legacy is a bit different than other policy principals. With someone like a Colin Powell or a Donald Rumsfeld, the question is whether they advocated and implemented worthwhile policies. With Rove, there needs to be an additional question: did his advice provide Bush with the political capital necessary to implement the policies Bush wanted?

Paul Gigot argues in the Wall Street Journal that Rove deserves a lot of credit on this metric. Of course, Rove agrees with this:

Mr. Rove's political influence has been historic, notwithstanding the rout of 2006. His crucial insight in 2000 was recognizing that Mr. Bush had to be both an alternative to Bill Clinton's scandalous behavior and "a different kind of Republican." In 2002, the president's party gained seats in both the House and Senate in a first midterm election for the first time since 1934.

And in 2004, for only the second time in history, a president won re-election while helping his party gain seats in both houses of Congress; the other time was 1936. Much has been made of John Kerry's ineptitude, but the senator won some eight million more votes than Al Gore did in 2000, and Mr. Rove claims Democrats outspent Republicans by $148 million thanks to billionaire donations to "527" committees. Yet amid a difficult war, Mr. Bush won by increasing his own vote by nearly 25% over 2000, winning 81% of U.S. counties. The Rove-Ken Mehlman turnout effort was a spectacular achievement. If it did nothing else, that 2004 victory put John Roberts and Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

A big debate among Republicans these days is who bears more blame for 2006 -- Messrs. Bush and Rove, or the behavior of the GOP Congress. Mr. Rove has no doubt. "The sense of entitlement was there" among Republicans, he says, "and people smelled it." Yet even with a unified Democratic Party and the war, he argues, it was "a really close election." The GOP lost the Senate by its 3,562 vote margin of defeat in Montana, and in the House the combined margin in the 15 seats that cost control was 85,000 votes.

A prominent non-Beltway Republican recently gave me a different analysis, arguing that the White House made a disastrous decision to "nationalize" the election last autumn; this played into Democratic hands and cost numerous seats.

"I disagree," Mr. Rove replies. "The election was nationalized. It was always going to be about Iraq and the conduct of Republicans." He says Republican Chris Shays and Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman survived in Connecticut despite supporting the war, while Republicans who were linked to corruption or were complacent lost. His biggest error, Mr. Rove says, was in not working soon enough to replace Republicans tainted by scandal.

What about that new GOP William McKinley-style majority he hoped to build -- isn't that now in tatters, as the country tilts leftward on security, economics and the culture? Again, Mr. Rove disagrees. He says young people are if anything more pro-life and free-market than older Americans, and that, despite the difficulties in Iraq, the country doesn't want to be defeated there or in the fight against Islamic terror. He recalls how Democrats thought driving the U.S. out of Vietnam would also help them politically. "Instead, Democrats have suffered ever since on national security," he says.

Mr. Rove also makes a spirited defense of this president's policy legacy, sometimes more convincingly than others. On foreign affairs, he predicts that at least two parts of the Bush Doctrine will live on: The policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are as culpable as the terrorist; and pre-emption. "There may be a debate about degree," he says, "but it's going to be hard for any president to reverse that."

I have a different take: Karl Rove did maximize Bush's short-run political influence. The long-term costs, however, will not be experienced until well after 2009. And my hunch is that those costs are far greater than Rove acknowledges.

In many ways, this boils down to just mow much power one places in the tyranny of the status quo in politics. It is far more difficult to change policy from its current equilibrium thanb most commentators realize. The question is whether Rove's actions will lead to equal counter-reactions. My hunch is yes, but Karl Rovbe does this for a living... whereas I just teach it.

[Whoa.... earth-shattering analysis here!!--ed. Hey, sometimes the mainstream analysis is correct!]

So, who's more deluded -- Rove or me? You be the judge!

UPDATE: Oliver Willis makes a fair point:

The presidency is failing because of the president. As he has said, he is "the decider", Rove is the adviser. Karl Rove has zero constitutional power or responsibility, while the president has truckloads. Bill Clinton's presidency excelled not because of folks like Begala, Carville, Dick Morris, etc. but because of Bill Clinton's decisions - and similarly Bill Clinton's catastrophic failings were not the doings of his advisers, but himself.

We need to quit elevating these guys to the level of Gods - and the mainstream media, especially people like The Politico's John Harris - are the most guilty of this. Karl Rove is, historically, some freaking guy who worked in the White House. President Bush is the one who history should record as the ultimate "architect" of his own darn failure.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The New York Times has a transcipt of Rove's gaggle with the press on Air Force One.

posted by Dan at 10:01 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)