This is a post I wanted to do yesterday; but then decided I didn’t want to profane the Fourth by writing anything political. For at least one day a year, we ought to be able to show some unity.But I just finished reading Larry Diamond’s fascinating and disturbing book: Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort To Bring Democracy To Iraq. And it left me absolutely livid about the fact that Donald Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense.You should read Diamond’s book; if you don’t have time, he wrote an earlier and much briefer version of his basic argument in Foreign Affairs last fall.Diamond, probably America’s top expert on democracy-building, spent several months working for the Coalition Provisional Authority (the Pentagon-run U.S. occupation entity) in early 2004. And he came away with an indictment of the early and continuing mistakes, mostly attributable to Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides, that we and the Iraqis continue to pay for today.Most of his litany of errors is familiar, but Diamond puts them, and their consequences, together in a way that takes your breath away. Totally aside from the decision to invade in the first place (which Diamond opposed), Rumsfeld’s Big Mistake was his stubborn determination to go into Iraq with about one-third the number of troops that every military and civilian expert told him would be necessary to secure the country. As a result, Coalition troops could do little or nothing to deal with (a) the systematic looting and lawlessness that destroyed what was left of Iraqi civil authority, and paralyzed the economy; (b) a massive influx across unprotected borders of Iranian and Sunni Jihadist agents and fighters; (c) the formation of a vast array of sectarian armed militias, fueled by another bad administration decision to disband the Iraqi army; (d) a decisive erosion of Coalition credibility among Kurds and Shi’a who remember their abandonment by the U.S. to Saddam’s vicious reprisals after the First Gulf War; and (e) a security situation that made reconstruction efforts physically impossible.Aside from that Big Mistake, Diamond catalogues a bunch of subsequent blunders, including an inability to take seriously and accomodate the pro-democracy views of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, probably the most important figure in Iraq; an abrupt 180-degree shift in policy from a breezy assumption that the U.S. could turn Iraq over to exiles like Ahmed Chalabi, to a reluctance to relinquish control at all; and a consisent pattern of doing the right thing, if at all, several months too late.Even the famous “purple-finger” election of January 2005, Diamond says, carried the potential seeds of disaster, thanks to a Bush administration decision in favor of a national proportional representation system, with no provision for local districts. This decision guaranteed Sunni under-representation in Iraq’s first popularly elected government, while eliminating any incentive for the kind of inter-communal political parties that might have emerged in mixed-population areas of the country.Diamond hasn’t give up hope about prospects for the ultimate emergence of a stable Iraqi government, but has laid out an urgent series of U.S. policy changes (which the DLC recently endorsed) necessary to make it possible, including a decisive repudiation of the idea that we want a permanent military presence there.We all know George W. Bush cannot admit mistakes, though he is capable, now and then, of unacknowledged flip-flops. His single biggest mistake with respect to Iraq, before, during and after the invasion, was his and Dick Cheney’s categorical trust in Donald Rumsfeld and the people around him. I for one will have trouble expecting things to get better in Iraq until such time as Rummy walks the plank. Maybe the White House will suddenly announce that Rumsfeld is desperately needed for another job–perhaps some presidential commission on what the military should look like if and when we colonize space. After all, they’ve already found ways to offload Wolfowitz, Feith and Bolton.But any way you look at it, Rummy’s got to go, especially if this president ever intends to make something other than a very bad joke of his 2000 pledge to introduce “a responsibility era.”
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Pouring over the details of the gubernatorial recall election in California, some significant patterns emerged, as I noted at New York:
The overwhelming defeat of the effort to recall California governor Gavin Newsom was a big victory for a Democratic Party that has had its troubles lately. With the margin of victory for the “no on recall” campaign roughly doubling the already-robust advantage shown in pre-election polls, the earlier scare that the recall threw into the ranks of the Golden State’s dominant party dissipated entirely. With about three-fourths of the expected vote now counted, “no” leads “yes” by a 63.8 to 36.2 margin (which could get even larger if the usual pattern of last-cast mail ballots leaning Democratic manifests itself once again).
The “no” vote was remarkably close to Joe Biden’s performance in California in 2020 (he won 63.5 percent). Given the extreme partisan polarization that underlay the recall vote (exit polls showed 89 percent of self-identified Republicans voting “yes” and 94 percent of self-identified Democrats voting “no”), that means the partisan patterns of the presidential race were reduplicated to a remarkable extent in a non-presidential special election, where Democrats often experience a “falloff,” particularly when they control the White House (and in this case, the governorship). That’s great news for California Democrats, and not a bad sign for Democrats nationally, who are bracing for the midterm losses the “White House Party” typically suffers.But in assessing the implications of the results, it’s important to look back at what happened down ballot in California in 2020, while looking ahead to the most critical 2022 battleground, the fight for control of the House. Of the 13 net House seats Republicans gained in 2020, four were in deep-blue California. There is no likely path for Democrats to hang onto House control in 2022 without flipping some or all of those lost seats in one of their strongest states.
Precisely because of the reduplication of the 2020 patterns, there’s really nothing about the recall returns that suggests Democrats are sure to claw back some House seats in California. Two of the four seats Republicans flipped in 2020 (with Asian-American women Young Kim and Michelle Steele as candidates) were centered in Orange County. While “no” won in Orange, the recall race there was closer than the Biden-Trump contest of 2020. A third battleground seat was the one Republican David Valadao won in a very competitive section of the San Joaquin Valley. The recall improved on Trump’s 2020 performance in every county in his district (e.g., Trump won 55 percent in Kings County, but “yes” on recalling Newsom won 63 percent). These results could reflect an intensifying alienation of this heavily agricultural area from Sacramento’s environmental and water-supply policies. Or it could reflect a drop-off in Latino turnout that could spell disaster for Democrats in close 2022 races. Either way the recall numbers should give pause to Democratic optimism about midterm House races.
One study of 2020 returns in California showed Latino turnout trailing non-Latino turnout by about 10 percent. One mail-ballot tracker for the recall showed the turnout gap between Latinos and non-Latino white voters swelling to 20 percent. Youth turnout for the recall was also terrible, exit polls suggest. Yes, these are constituencies that are difficult to mobilize in special elections. But that’s also true of midterm elections, which is a problem Democrats in California and elsewhere need to solve.
The bottom line is that Newsom won the Democratic and Democratic-leaning elements of the California electorate by strongly encouraging partisan polarization via his lavishly funded campaign. This was the obvious smart strategy in this heavily Democratic state. It’s less clear the same strategy will work wonders downballot for Democrats in 2022, which they probably will not have a big financial advantage and shifts in public opinion away from the presidential winner may have settled in, as they did for the last three presidents. Even if Democrats hang onto their monopoly of statewide offices and their super-majorities in the state legislature, any failure to make progress in House races could contribute to the much-dreaded moment when Californian Nancy Pelosi hands over her gavel to Californian Kevin McCarthy, and the Democratic trifecta that gives Biden a chance to implement his agenda comes to an end.