Friday, August 1, 2008

Courting the Stupid Vote: The Latest Issues

What issues currently interest stupid voters?  Or more precisely, what issues do the various campaigns believe interest or could interest stupid voters?

Here’s a recap of recent items:

1)        Washington Post, July 30, 2008: Obama “Snubs” Troops: “For four days, Sen. John McCain and his allies have accused Sen. Barack Obama of snubbing wounded soldiers by canceling a visit to a military hospital because he could not take reporters with him, despite no evidence that the charge is true…  McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said again yesterday that the Republican's version of events is correct, and that Obama canceled the visit because he was not allowed to take reporters and cameras into the hospital. "It is safe to say that, according to press reports, Barack Obama avoided, skipped, canceled the visit because of those reasons," he said. "We're not making a leap here."  Asked repeatedly for the "reports," Bounds provided three examples, none of which alleged that Obama had wanted to take members of the media to the hospital.”  (Go to .)

It has been documented that Obama has often visited troops in the course of his European and Asian trip.  In this case, since bringing the media was never a consideration, cancellation could have nothing to due with the media’s absence.  It may have been a snafu of some sort, but nothing to be insulted over.

It is guaranteed, of course, that the complete lack of evidence is irrelevant to the McCain campaign or many stupid voters.  This is a big win for McCain in the war for the stupid vote.

2)         Part A: Joe Conason, Salon, July 25, 2008: The Surge is “Working”: The rebuttals of McCain's embarrassing assertion that the Sunni insurgency's turn toward the U.S. and away from al-Qaida came because of the surge have been ample and devastating.  His badly skewed sense of time and events has raised fresh doubts about his fitness for the presidency, since he was either incapable of comprehending contemporary facts or intentionally misleading the public when he told CBS anchor Katie Couric (which was edited in a manner to make McCain seem less ignorant) that the Anbar awakening "began" during the surge (and that troop escalation enabled the U.S. to protect a Sunni sheik who was actually assassinated during that period).

But aside from that moment of untruth, there are deeper problems in all the airy assertions about the triumph of the surge.

First there is the matter of that shift by the Sunni insurgents, which had nothing to do with the escalation.  What changed the minds of the Sunni rebels in Anbar province and elsewhere was a revamped counterinsurgency doctrine that emphasized careful bribery over indiscriminate reprisals -- and that seized upon the growing alienation of the Sunnis from the bullying, murderous leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq.  The American military officers who oversaw and implemented that strategy, including Gen. David Petraeus, deserve full credit.  Even Petraeus, a strong supporter of the surge, makes very limited claims about its role in bolstering the Sunni turn, however.

In fact, it was the prospect of an early U.S. withdrawal, not the surge that prompted the Sunni insurgents to change sides, according to the American officers who worked with their leaders.  A fascinating article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs by Georgetown professor Colin Kahl and retired Gen. William Odom quotes Marine Maj. Gen. John Allen, who ran the tribal engagement operations in Anbar during 2007, saying that the Democratic sweep in the 2006 midterm elections and the increasing demand for withdrawal by the American public "did not go unnoticed" among the province's Sunni sheiks.  ‘They talked about it all the time.’

… perhaps the most plausible reason is that there are many fewer Iraqis to kill in the places where the worst violence occurred, because so many of them have abandoned their homes or left the country altogether.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that roughly 5 million Iraqis have fled, with nearly half of them now living in Syria, Jordan or other neighboring states.  Others belong to the cohort known as the "internally displaced," who have sought refuge from the militias "cleansing" Baghdad in either the northern or southern provinces.  When there isn't anybody left to kill, the murder statistics tend to improve.”  (Go to .)

In his interview with Katie Couric, McCain said, "Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks," said the Senator.  "Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others.  And it began the Anbar awakening."

The Arizona Republican's campaign went further the next day, claiming that the major figures that turned around Anbar province would have been killed had the surge policy not been in place.  "If Barack Obama had had his way, the Sheiks who started the Awakening would have been murdered at the hands of al Qaeda," said spokesman Tucker Bounds.

As it turns out, the major Sunni sheik responsible for coordinating the Sunni Awakening to turn against al Qaeda in western Iraq, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was assasinated in Anbar province by an al Qaeda group in September 2007 - the midst of the U.S. surge.”  (Go to .)

McCain’s “Surge is Working” strategy nonetheless is probably a huge success in winning the hearts and minds – well, at least the hearts – of stupid voters.  The timid Mainstream Media does little to correct the impression.  Facts mean little, and many, if not most voters will not know the history of the surge, the “Anbar Awakening” and the fact that the completion of “ethnic cleansing” which has left many persons as refugees in their own country, has led to a lessening of violence because it has left fewer persons to kill and persecute as neighborhoods in Iraq become increasingly homogenous and segregated.

It also does not matter that McCain claimed that it was “The Surge” that protected the founder of the Anbar Awakening” when in fact Sheikh Sattar, the founder and leader of the tribes that initiated the movement was assassinated in September 2007, at the height of “The Surge.”

And, oh yeah: what was the actual purpose of “The Surge”?

From Wikipedia: According to the "Fact Sheet: The New Way Forward in Iraq " issued by the White House, "the President's New Iraq Strategy Is Rooted In Six Fundamental Elements" as follow:

1.         Let the Iraqis lead;

2.         Help Iraqis protect the population;

3.         Isolate extremists;

4.         Create space for political progress;

5.         Diversify political and economic efforts; and

6.         Situate the strategy in a regional approach.”  (Go to .)

Which of the above items has “The Surge” been instrumental in accomplishing?  Element 1 is doubtful though not ridiculous.  Iraqi troops are still not as independent as needed.  Element 2 has certainly not been accomplished – ethnic cleansing has been carried out.  Item 3 was probably accomplished via the “Anbar Awakening” and the threat of US troops leaving and not via “The Surge”.  Items 4, 5 & 6 are probably the most doubtful of all the elements.  “The Surge” is no slam-dunk, though it seems to have done no harm in Iraq and may have indeed succeeded, in a sense, in closing the barn door after all the horses ran out.  But “The Surge” almost inarguably has harmed US interest overall by depriving the US of the ability to divert more effort to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al Qaeda and the Taliban actually exist and threaten us and the US-backed government of Afghanistan.

Part B: Barack Obama: “I had no doubt… we would see an improvement”: An appeal to ignorance is not confined to one political party however.  In January 2007, candidate Barack Obama said, "We cannot impose a military solution on what has effectively become a civil war.  And until we acknowledge that reality -- we can send 15,000 more troops, 20,000 more troops, 30,000 more troops, I don't know any expert on the region or any military officer that I've spoken to privately that believes that that is going to make a substantial difference on the situation on the ground."  (CBS' "Face The Nation," 1/14/07.)

The above quote may have indeed been true and sensible at the time it was originally made.  However, it is fair to say that it is possible that “The Surge” has indeed made a “substantial difference on the ground” even if, in the long run, this difference is irrelevant because of political failures of the Iraqi government or if, taken as a whole, US interests were harmed.  However, it would be an appeal to ignorance to say “Now, I had no doubt, and I said at the time when I opposed the surge, that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence."  (Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat Presidential Candidate Debate, Manchester, NH, 1/5/08)  (Go to .)

The above contradictory statements rely on ignorance and yet are easily discovered – if one wants to make the effort to find the facts.

The facts do not matter, however, to Stupid Voters and certainly a Stupid Voter is stupid precisely because they won’t make the effort to find anything out.  In the battle of “The Surge is Working” vs. “I had no doubt… we would see an improvement” we most likely have a HUGE advantage to McCain in the race for the Stupid Vote.

The Reasoning Voter (and Reasoning News Media member) should not be swayed either way; instead the Reasoning Person might ask, “Why did we need a surge, whether it would work or not, in the first place?  Who or what line of thinking put us in this position in the first place?  Are we better off overall with this war, or would we have been better off with a continuation of the UN weapons inspections and where did the candidates stand on that when that all important decision had to be made?

When was the last time you heard that series of questions asked of the candidates by the Mainstream Media?

Answer: Stupid Voters probably don’t care, but one could certainly wish that the Mainstream Media were up to the challenge so that we could give the opportunity to Stupid Voters to prove that they’re not so stupid.