Things that don’t matter except when they do

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I have to be completely honest: I don’t care very much who winds up as DNC chair. What I mean by that is that I would like to see Keith Ellison get the job, and I would not like to see Tom Perez get it, but if Perez does get it I’m not going to be that mad about it.

At least, not yet.

I don’t know much about Perez’s politics. Erik Loomis (who supports Ellison) says he was a very good Labor Secretary, and Loomis knows Labor issues quite well whereas I care about those issues but am not very well-informed about them because, well, there are only so many hours in the day. So I’ll stipulate that he was a good Labor Secretary in part because I don’t think it matters when evaluating his candidacy to run the DNC. His Israel-Palestine politics are shitty, but he’s running for DNC chair, not Secretary of State, and moving forward it’s going to be harder and harder for the Democratic Party to remain as anti-Palestinian as it currently is, regardless of who the DNC chair may be.

I know Ellison’s politics better, and I like them, but even if you like his politics you have to bear in mind that he’s running for a job where personal politics aren’t supposed to, and usually don’t, matter. I don’t think Reince Priebus, for example, had much effect on moving the Republican Party toward the nativist hard right, and in fact it seems pretty clear that he was along for the ride. What should matter in a party chair is how they manage the party apparatus.

Where I disagree with Loomis is in the notion that it doesn’t matter who’s running the party or that Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn’t do a fair amount of damage over her ~8 year tenure. The evidence of her apparently willful decimation of state parties is splayed all over any 2016 electoral map you can find and written in any piece you read about the number of legislative seats in this country that simply go uncontested in any given election cycle (yes, the Republicans choose not to contest seats too, but they’re not the minority party). It’s clear when every other tweet out of the DNC’s Twitter account is a GIF of Leslie Knope rolling her eyes that something in DWS’s Democratic Party was broken, and I’m not sure how you can argue that it didn’t matter come election time.

So given that, what worries me most about Perez is that some of the same people who left DWS in charge of the party even as it was clear she was running it into a ditch are the ones pushing Perez’s candidacy. If Perez gets the job and revitalizes state parties, recruits candidates all over the map, and fixes the national party’s messaging operation while staying out of the way on policy, then he’ll probably be OK. On the other hand, if he gets the job and keeps weakening state parties, keeps restricting the party’s messaging, and/or tries to use his perch to drag the party to the right, that will be shitty. I feel pretty confident that Ellison knows what’s wrong with the DNC and has a plan to fix it. That, much more than their relative political viewpoints, is why I would like to see Ellison get the gig. I really have no idea if the same is true of Perez, but I also don’t know that it’s not true, so I guess if he gets the job I’ll take a wait and see position.

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Today in Iranian history: the 1921 Iranian coup

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Reza Khan when he was War Minister (Wikimedia)

The irony of Iran’s experience during World War I is that the evaporation of Imperial Russia in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution should have marked a positive turning point for th…

Source: Today in Iranian history: the 1921 Iranian coup

Conflict update: February 20 2017

McMaster Gets the Gig

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H. R. McMaster (Wikipedia)

Donald Trump has a new national security adviser, and it’s not a name that was on many candidate lists: Lt. General H. R. McMaster. I’ll confess that keeping track of general officers in the US military is not exactly a pastime of mine, so I don’t know much about McMaster. John McCain likes him, which is a bad sign, but he’s also written critically of the military’s failure to challenge the civilian policymakers who got us into Vietnam and of the Bush administration’s approach to the Iraq invasion, so that might be good. He’s very well-regarded in the “counter-insurgency” school within the military, which sometimes strikes me as a bit of a cult, but he does have considerable experience in CENTCOM and particularly in northern Iraq. That experience, at least per Thomas Ricks, seems to have been OK–in particular, the notion that “every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you’re working for the enemy” is something the military and its current commander in-chief would do well to internalize.

Most importantly, McMaster isn’t Michael Flynn and isn’t a conspiracy addled, war-mongering maniac like Michael Flynn. It’s not clear whether he’ll be stuck with Flynn’s collection of like-minded maniacs on the National Security Council. Robert Harward, you’ll recall, refused the job rather than accept that he wouldn’t have control over his own personnel (and thus, he probably surmised, he wouldn’t have much real influence over national security policy either). Maybe McMaster insisted on bringing in his own people and Trump gave in, or maybe, as an active duty officer, McMaster felt more obligated to take the job despite the constraints than the retired Harward did. But still, at least he’s not Flynn, or someone equally disturbing like John Bolto–I’m sorry, what was that?

HA HA HA HA HA WE’RE SO FUCKED

Iraq

The main combat operations today seemed to center on the southern part of Mosul, where Mosul airport is located. Iraqi forces have made the airport one of their immediate priorities, with the hope that, after some repairs, it will be usable for combat support missions for the rest of the offensive. The latest update from Reuters says that Iraqi forces have reached the “vicinity” of the airport, but I’m not sure what “vicinity” means.

Joel Wing has a rundown of the three initial prongs of the west Mosul operation: Continue reading

US Presidents and the Middle East: Teddy Roosevelt and the Perdicaris Affair, 1904

On President’s Day, people who write about other parts of the world often write about curious historical anecdotes involving some past American head of state and whatever part of the world th…

Source: US Presidents and the Middle East: Teddy Roosevelt and the Perdicaris Affair, 1904

Conflict update: February 18-19 2017

Trumplandia

Say, this seems nice:

On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

I’m not going to pretend that the wealthy and powerful never had special access to the levers of power in DC before this, but as with so many things about Trump, he seems to have taken the grossest parts of American politics and made them grosser.

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Munich Security Conference and tried to assure the attendees that the Trump administration’s commitment to NATO is “unwavering.” Reuters, at least, suggested that he was received tepidly at best, though the NATO bit got him some applause.

Paul Pillar wrote a typically insightful piece a few days ago about the utter confusion surrounding Trump’s Israel-Palestine policy, and what it says about Trump’s foreign policy more generally.

We’re Still All Gonna Die

Because it’s the one part of the government that Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can’t be seen to contradict or gut, the one part of the government that will definitely be allowed to continue research into climate change and its impacts is the Pentagon. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis, ironically for this cabinet, was actually pretty forward thinking on renewable fuels and the national security implications of climate change when he was a flag officer.

The War on Terror (Old School Edition)

Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind radical Muslim cleric whose involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and subsequent terror plots in the United States earned him a life sentence in federal prison, completed his sentence when he died on Saturday morning. He was 78 and, really, won’t be missed.

Seriously, fuck that guy.

Iraq

Continue reading

Site update

Aside

homer-sleep

Although when I started writing those conflict/world news digests I said they would not become a nightly feature, they have become basically a nightly feature, with only occasional breaks when I’m indisposed and/or at the end of my rope. Which is fine, people seem to appreciate them and it helps me stay on top of world news, which I like because I am a gigantic nerd with atrophied social skills. But I think I am going to try to take Saturday nights off from now on unless something absolutely demands otherwise, because those things are a beast to put together every night. I’m starting tonight because inasmuch as this is a three-day weekend, the possibility of taking a night off seems even more pleasant than it does in general. As always, thanks for reading!