Friday, October 10, 2003
One of the more squalid aspects of politics in Washington is the way important foreign policy questions can be subordinated to the battles over political turf. Such has been the case with the Iraqi occupation. Instead of working together to come up with a rational occupation policy, there has been a vicious turf battle between a Defense Secretary who believed that he had all the answers and a State Department too smug in its sense of self-righteousness to help out. And so, the President, having been ill-served by both Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his colleague at State, Colin Powell, has decided to turn to the only person he can trust, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Dr. Rice has been chosen to head up an outfit called the Iraq Stabilization Group. What is happening is that Iraq policy is being centered in the White House, with the President, through Rice, operating as chief cook and bottle washer. George W. Bush has deliberately chosen to have his most valued consigliere operate as a final filter before he makes a decision.
In the classic NSC structure, the Advisor is supposed to knock heads together to come up with choices for the President. Rice has been criticized by her fellow mandarins in the national security community for failing to bash heads. They never understood that Condi's role is the one that Bush wants her to have. Powell, Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, and other participants in the rugby scrum of Washington parlor politics make their arguments, then Condi goes to the President and "refines" the choices for him. Basically, she uses her power decisively and behind the scenes. She frames the issues for Bush, and most importantly, picks the menu of solutions to offer him.
And she never leaks.
Now then, Rumsfeld and Powell couldn't settle things so Bush has chosen to give Rice enormous power to make executive decisions on his behalf. This centers Iraq policy in the White House and is a defeat for both Rumsfeld and Powell. It is a measure of just how valuable Rice is to Bush, and just how powerful she really is. As I have always said, a woman this disciplined and this focused would make a superb President.
In addition, it's a slap at George Tenet, whose Agency has been leaking stink bombs directed at the White House as of late. And a well deserved one, as Mark Steyn makes clear in this months online edition of The Spectator. Another observer, somewhat critical of the whole process, is Jim Hoagland in today's Washington Post. Hoagland has been urging Bush to take a more proactive line, and recognizes (as does his colleague Tom Friedman) the centrality of the Iraq issue in American foreign policy. I agree with his general thrust. In the same edition of the Post, David Ignatius plays a little too much inside baseball for my tastes. Finally, for a Post trifecta, the always superb Krauthammer
puts paid to the notion that Hans Blix was trying to spread, namely that since the suave Swede found no weapons of mass destruction last year, they never existed.
As to Iraq, I sense a great turning of the tide that the media has yet to pick up on. The efforts of Americans all over that country have been recognized by most Iraqis. Despite the occassional death, real progress has been made there, so much so that Iraqi stores are groaning with merchandise, the dinar is rising in value, and the water and electricity systems are very close to prewar levels. In addition, as a byproduct, the Iraqis will probably hold elections by the middle of next year. Once they have a government in place, the United States will begin to withdraw most of their heavy formations, leaving special forces and light infantry around for bug hunts and project security.
The other great event of the week was the ascent of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arnold has hit the ground running. Governor Gray Davis has until the middle of November until the election is formally certified by the Secretary of State. Until then, he will suffer in silence while Schwarzenegger is about the business of putting together a Government.
Schwarzenegger has a mandate to act. That much is clear, despite the inability of some Democrats to accept the decisive results of last Tuesday evening. The always fascinating Dan Weintraub interviewed State Senator Sheila Keuhl (D-Santa Monica), formerly of The Dobie Gillis Show, and came away with a picture of a bitter, vengeful Democratic leadership that can't wait to attack the Governor-elect. All to the good for Arnold's people, as they intend to go around the Assembly to the people using the bully pulpit and the device of
Proposition and Referendum.
Bill Whalen surveys the Schwarzenegger transition in today's issue of the Online Weekly Standard. Larry Kudlow, always entertaining, argues that Arnold will govern as a conservative in a piece he writes for National Review Online. Kudlow recognizes what I do, that a Governor Schwarzenegger will use the Reagan playbook to run the state, and has a huge advantage over his opponents in the California Assembly and the State Senate. One thing I have yet to see is a role played by State Senator Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who I suspect is being approached by the transition team to help with next year's state budget. For now, Arnold has tapped Donna Arduin to direct his independent audit of the state government. Arduin worked with Tommy Thompson, George Pataki, and lately, Jeb Bush in Florida to solve chronic state budget problems in Tallahassee. She is on loan from Jeb's budget and policy workshop.
Arnold is serious about this audit. He has chosen as his auditor a woman who leaves Florida with a balanced budget and
two and a half billion dollars in a rainy-day fund.
Again, I see a turn in favor of Republican politics. If Arnold is even partially successful, Bush can carry this state next November. I say "can", not necessarily will. Remember that California remains a Democratic state. Arnold's election heralds the return of the California State Republican Party from the wastes of Sainai. If the Republicans can make statewide elections competitive, then this bodes well for the future of the party in that state, and forces Democrats to offer real policy prescriptions as opposed to tilting at Right Wing windmills every election cycle. This turn of events is good for both parties, and in the long run, good for the people of that state.
In an anime note, Dreamworks Studios has bought the rights to Production I.G.'s work in progress,
Innocence: Ghost In the Shell, the sequel to Mamoruu Oshii's landmark interpretation of Masumune Shirow's cyberpunk epic. The only clue we have to the plotline is the following cryptic passage from Production I.G.'s website:
Batou is a living doll.
His whole body, even his arms and legs are entirely man-made.
What only remains are traces of his brain
and memories of a woman
When the boundary between humans and machines
has infinitely blurred,
Humans have forgotten that they are humans.
This is a promiscuous story of a lonesome "ghost" of a man,
who nevertheless seeks to retain humanity.
That's what life is.
I am looking forward to the American release of this film with great anticipation.