There’s a bit of interesting confusion breaking out in the progressive blogosphere about how to react to persistent reports (freshly denied, of course, by the White House) that the administration is planning military operations against Iran on grounds of its meddling in Iraq.Armando at Talk Left did an impassioned post accusing Matt Yglesias and James Fallows of arguing for a shift of progressive attention from Iraq to Iran. His main arguments are (1) Iran war talk is “bait” from the Bushies aimed at dissipating congressional efforts to end the war in Iraq; and (2) because Bush and Cheney have no legal authority to start a war with Iran, taking military action based on Iran’s role in Iraq is how they are going to get there. I get dragooned into the argument as someone who doesn’t “get” this latter point, based on a post that expressed incredulity at an Iraqi rationale for an attack on Iran.McJoan at DailyKos picks up on Armando’s post, and clarifies his argument, especially on Point II, suggesting that the only way Bush gets to wage war on Iran is by citing the Iraq War Resolution.What’s confusing to me about both posts is a pretty simple point: is the Iran war talk really a “red herring?” Or is the administration really lusting for immediate war with Iran?In terms of the “red herring” claim, you have to remember that most of the reports of administration war planning against Iran have been relatively under-the-radar, and have been talked about far more by administration critics than by official or unofficial Bush supporters. I see no particular evidence that congressional Dems are folding their tents on Iraq. And with all due respect to the blogosphere, I don’t think the Bushies think they can avoid getting repudiated on Iraq just because some bloggers are arguing about the relative importance of Iran.If the White House really wanted to throw sand in the eyes of Iraq War critics, including a sizable majority of the American people, they’d be doing some very high-profile Iran scaremongering, not focused on Tehran’s role in Iraq, but on the nuclear program, which has indeed gotten significant public and MSM attention.That brings me to the second prong of the Armando-McJoan argument: the Bushies have to make Iraq the pretext for an attack on Iran because they’d otherwise have to get a fresh war resolution from Congress, which ain’t happening. So they are stuck with a transparently stupid and specious rationale for a new war, which would be explicitly described as an expansion of an existing, and overwhelmingly unpopular war. If, that is, they really want to attack Iran, and aren’t just creating a “red herring.”You can see how this argument gets to be a bit circular. The administration either wants war with Iran, or it doesn’t, and if it does, it needs a plausible rationale a hell of a lot more than it needs congressional authority (remember its continuing claims of all sorts of inherent presidential national security powers?). And there’s an obvious scenario where that could happen: the U.S. strongly encourages the Israelis to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and then intervenes to help our ally as a matter of emergency military action, subject only to after-the-fact congressional endorsement under the War Powers Act, if the need for any authority was admitted.As for the initial question of how progressive bloggers should think about these tangled questions, I don’t quite see how worrying about a new war keeps anyone from stopping the old one, unless you’re really into an extreme version of the Noise Machine theory and think any dissent or distraction from the Message of the Day somehow adds strength to Bush’s rapidly collapsing support on Iraq.So let a few bloggers try to walk and chew gum at the same time.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
It’s one of the more comical aspects of the deadly serious game of chicken that House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, but it’s worth pointing out, as I did at New York:
As the United States lurches toward a possible debt default thanks to House Republican hostage-taking on legislation needed to extend or suspend the debt limit, it’s increasingly evident that (as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed) the hostage-taker is strangely reluctant to name a ransom. Indeed, the initial Democratic strategy in this complicated chess game was simply to force House Republicans to say exactly what kind of spending cuts they propose to make in exchange for allowing a debt-limit measure to wobble its way to Joe Biden’s desk.
It’s easy to mock GOP lawmakers for the brainlessness, or maybe cowardice, of their effort to make Democrats identify the spending cuts their opponents want. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell tans the elephant’s hide with considerable panache:
“Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can’t identify what any of those demands are.
“They say they want to reduce deficits — but meanwhile have ruled out virtually every path for doing so (cuts to defense, cuts to entitlements, wiping out nondefense discretionary spending, or raising taxes). …
“Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut ‘wasteful spending’ … but can’t agree on what counts as ‘waste.’”
In so quickly reaching this predictable dead end in answering the world’s easiest math problem, Republicans have one plausible line of defense: It’s how much of the public feels about fiscal matters as well. They really don’t like deficits and (especially) debt. But they really don’t like the kind of spending cuts that Republicans are talking about either (tax increases, of course, are categorically off the table for the GOP and have been since the George H.W. Bush “Read my lips: No new taxes” debacle).
A September 2022 poll from the deficit scolds of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that Americans are up in arms about all the borrowing:
“A 31-month high of 83% of voters are urging the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the national debt, with the biggest jump among those under age 35 (8 points to 85%).
“More than eight-in-ten voters (81%) also said that their concern about the national debt has increased. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 65% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.”
From 40,000 feet, all that red ink looks pretty alarming, it seems. More recently, this very week, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal found a majority of Americans stamping their feet about it:
“Most Americans oppose raising the federal debt ceiling without accompanying cuts to federal spending, a new RMG Research poll finds.
“Sixty-one percent of 1,000 registered voters in the survey said Congress should either raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts (45%) or refuse to raise the ceiling at all (16%). Only about a quarter (24%) said Congress should raise the ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.”
To House Republicans, the great symbol of runaway spending is the “monstrous” $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. Many of them claimed during the fight over Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid that “the American people” were outraged by the measure despite the fact that it cleared the Senate, House, and White House. Perhaps they were thinking of a Twitter poll conducted by Elon Musk that showed that 75 percent of respondents opposed the omnibus bill.
The sad truth is, however, that the more specific you are in identifying items in one of those “monstrous” bills, the more support they command from the public. In 2021, Gallup published a summary of public-opinion research on what was then a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Democratic budget-reconciliation proposal (soon whittled way down to $2.2 trillion and then to a net-negative figure in the ultimately enacted Inflation Reduction Act) and found that its provisions were very popular despite the debt they required:
“[S]everal recent polls … ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, ‘Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?’ and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: ‘A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support.’ The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed …
“A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the ‘reconciliation’ procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn’t seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it — similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.”
So the minute you get into the particulars of Democratic-proposed spending bills, public concerns about debts and deficits tend to fade. And oh — there’s another problem for Republicans on the fiscal front: voters like the idea of higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to pay for popular spending measures.
The lesson for Republicans is clear: Their crusade for fiscal discipline is popular, so long as it is very general and you exclude higher taxes on the rich as a possible solution. No wonder politicians like McCarthy want Democrats to be the ones who name the GOP’s price for letting the U.S. economy get through the year without calamity.