Friday, March 24, 2006

Hillary Notes

HILLARY AND FEMINISM. I've promised my eleven-year old daughter that I would take her to see Hillary's Clinton's inauguration if she's elected in 2008. Why? Hillary being elected president would be an almost sacred moment in the history of women in the United States. Given that my daughter is going to be a woman someday, I'd want her to see Hillary's inauguration because it would be such an inspiring moment--a big culmination of the struggle for female equality that's been going on here since Anne Hutchinson in the 1600's.But the feminist connection is a big part of Hillary's problem as a candidate--far bigger than her supposedly stiff public style. Much of the reason that conservatives hate Hillary so much is that she became the public face of the feminist rejection of traditional female roles. When Hillary said that she wasn't a Tammy Wynette "Stand By Your Man" type of woman during her 1992 interview, she made herself into a permanent target for traditionalist hostility. It's bad enough that Hillary was a feminist valedictory speaker and hot-shot lawyer, but she had the nerve to publicly deny the value of traditional roles. My brother-in-law in Louisiana says that the right-wing formula has changed from "God, Gays, and Guns" to "God, Gays, Guns, and Hillary." The fact that Hillary is an exemplary mother and stood resolutely by Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky crisis only made things worse. There's nothing that bigots hate worse than a target who acts contrary to stereotypes.

Feminism is also a key reason why Hillary is the target of so much pro-feminist hostility as well. If there was ever a sell-out, it was Hillary Clinton. It was bad enough that she marrying a skirt-chasing asshole, subordinated her career to his, and put up with all his affairs. But everybody on the left knows that Hillary has sold out much of the promise that women's equality would make politics better and the country as a whole better. Rather than standing up for feminist principle or even standing up for what's right, Hillary Clinton's career has been marked so much by bobbing and weaving, conceding, being beaten, and learning from defeats that she's become just as conservative as a lot of the male Democrats out there. For a lot of feminists and a lot of people on the left, Hillary Clinton is someone who has betrayed them and they're not anxious to see her win the presidency either.

HILLARY AS NATIONAL CANDIDATE. Our Newsweek arrived with a George Will column implying that nominating Hillary would be madness because no sitting Senator and nobody from the Northeast has won the Presidency since Kennedy. But being a Senator from New York doesn't make Hillary Clinton a Northeasterner any more than living in New York makes Sean Hannity a New Yorker. Having been born and raised in Chicago, lived much of her adult life in Arkansas, and resided in Washington for most of the last six years, Hillary Clinton is a woman who should be seen as a person of the nation rather than a person of any particular state. As Dick Morris points out in his otherwise insipid comparison of Hillary and Condoleeza Rice, Hillary has become a national brand. This is also why the curse of being a senator doesn't hurt Hillary either. She may be the junior senator from New York but she's also bigger than the Senate in a way that Bob Dole or John Kerry could never imagine.

NOT REALLY AS LIBERAL. Right now, the press doesn't like Hillary any more than it likes Al Gore. This is partly because Hillary doesn't respect the media any more than George Bush but can't fake a "regular guy" act for the media's benefit the way Bush can. And it's partly because Hillary's a tremendously disciplined campaigner who can deliver exactly the same speech seven or eight times a day. That's the kind of campaigning that is a raging bore for the reporters covering it even if it doesn win elections.However, if the media does warm up to Hillary, the line that will win the election for her is right within its grasp. The line: "she's not really as liberal as everybody thought." Hillary's been stereotyped as a die-hard liberal, but she isn't any more liberal than Bill Clinton and she'll prove it over and over again when people start listening to what she says on the war, flag-burning, health care, and most other issues. If Hillary Clinton is going to win the election, "she's not really as liberal as I thought" will have to be on a lot of voters' lips.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How Are We Doing in Iraq?

President Bush stated at his press conference today that he wouldn't keep the troops in Iraq if he did not think the American effort there could succeed. That raises the question of the extent to which we are accomplishing our objectives. President Bush has stated many times that the purpose of the invasion was to 1. remove Saddam Hussein from power; 2. create a stable democracy in Iraq; 3. have that new Iraqi democracy serve as a role model for other Arab nations; 4. weaken global terrorism. How are we doing in relation to those goals?

1. REMOVING SADDAM HUSSEIN. Here, the American military clearly succeeded. Saddam Hussein was overthrown, captured, and is now standing trial for his many crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the invasion seemed to have unleashed a whole new generation of Saddamist/Baath party psychopaths. By the time of the invasion, Hussein himself was a monster in decline. Worried about germ phobias, writing the Koran in his own blood, and so fearful that he withheld information on WMD from his own generals, Hussein was too self-indulgent and paranoid to be effective and his government seemed to have calcified around him. However, the removal of Saddam Hussein seemed to have released the energies and abilities of subordinates who were just as monstrous as Saddam himself. The remnants of the Saddam regime and Baath Party proved to be surprisingly effective at using nationalist rhetoric, bribery, and intimidation to organize the initial core of the underground resistance. Yes, we removed the monster, but removing the monster will not have been a complete success until we remove all the new monsters who were unleashed unintentionally by the invasion.

2. ESTABLISHING STABLE DEMOCRACY. Following the overthrow of the Saddam regime, the U. S. has pushed the Iraqi's through three rounds of national elections. As a result, many of the elements of a stable democracy are in place: an elected executive and national assembly, multiple political parties, a free media, and active political debate. These accomplishments have been very substantial and the whole effort would be counted a big success if these were the only factors in establishing "stable democracy." However, each step forward have been accompanied by enormous setbacks that make it doubtful that Iraq will be a stable democracy for decades if ever. The biggest setback to stable democracy has been the development of a determined insurgency based in the Sunni areas. The insurgents have launched a relentless series of assasinations, attacks on infrastructure, assaults on Shiite religious shrines, suicide bombings, and ethnic cleansing campaigns that have put the Iraqi government under tremendous pressure. As long as the insurgents enjoy a strong base among the Sunnis and support from global jihadis, it is likely that the Iraq insurgency will continue indefinitely like the long-term insurgencies in Columbia and Guatemala.

Compounding the problems caused by the insurgency, the elections resulted in a very weak government. The Shiite religious parties are the strongest bloc, but leaders of these parties have neither been strong enough to govern on their own nor skilled enough to forge working coalitions with Kurdish, Sunni, and secular politicians. As a result, Iraqi politicians have yet to settle on a permanent prime minister and cabinet line-up even though the elections were three months ago. The crunch point is whether the next government will be based on the Shiite parties or a national unity coalition. Both options are prescriptions for weakness. A Shiite government would be weak because it did not command the allegiance of the Sunnis, Kurds, or secularists. The kind of national unity government that the U. S. is pushing would be weak because every meaningful decision would be the subject of acrimonious four-way negotiations. Given the state of civil war caused by the insurgency, the chronic weakness of the Iraqi government has to be viewed as a factor that prevents the stabilization of democracy.

Another powerful barrier to stable democracy has been the infiltration of Shiite militia members from the Badr and Mahdi militias into Iraqi military and police units. As a result, the government's military apparatus has become a launching pad for Shiite death squads. Matching and sometimes exceeding the atrocities of the Sunni insurgents, the Shiite militias have ensured that Baghdad remains in a dystopian state of anarchy where nobody can feel secure for themselves or their families.

To sum up, the U. S. has succeeded in introducing a democratic form of government to Iraq. However, the democratically-elected government is extremely unstable and is a poor prospect for becoming more stable in the future. Even though it is faced with a powerful insurgency from the Sunni population, the Iraqi government is weak and corrupt at the top and riddled with death squads and militias at the bottom. Not only is the Iraqi government is not strong enough to stabilize itself against the insurgency, it contributes to the instability by countenancing violent militia activity.

3. CREATE A DEMOCRATIC ROLE MODEL FOR OTHER ARAB NATIONS. If the U. S. has failed to create a stable democracy in Iraq, it is obvious that Iraq has not become a role model that other Arab countries would want to emulate. The message from Iraq to countries like Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt is that loosening the reins of power gives Sunni fundamentalists to try to create Taliban-type states in their countries. It's a message that these countries had already been deriving from Algeria and Afghanistan. Condoleeza Rice has argued on several occasions that democracy is needed because current Arab governments are not stable enough to prevent terrorist activities in their own countries. If anything, the situation in Iraq has further stimulated the development of Arab global terrorism as young men from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt travel to Iraq to be indoctrinated in jihadi ideologies and trained as terrorist fighters. Far from providing a stabilizing role model for the rest of the Arab world, the invasion of Iraq has strengthened the position of global terrorism in countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia and weakened the case for democratization.

4. WEAKEN GLOBAL TERRORISM. This is probably the area where the invasion has had the biggest negative effect. VP Cheney was emphatic in saying today that terrorism had not been strengthened by the Iraq invasion. Paraphrasing his words, he claimed that terrorism was stimulated by American weakness rather than American strength. However, all the evidence points in the other direction. Before 2001, the global jihadis were confined to the Afghanistan margins of the Muslim world. Now have a strong military position in Iraq which (as we are continually reminded) is in the heart of the Middle East. Because of successful al-Qaeda recruitment efforts for the war in Iraq, global terrorism has become stronger in the rest of the Arab world as well. After their tours in Iraq, Jordanian and Saudi fighters are more committed, better trained militarily, and bigger threats to the stability of their home countries. Because of the American invasion, Iraq has become an inspiration to terrorist recruitment, an exemplary training ground for terrorist fighters, and a breeding ground for future terrorist threats. By stimulating global terrorism, the invasion of Iraq has made the world a more dangerous place for everyone.

To conclude, the U. S. invasion did result in the removal of Saddam Hussein and the establishment of democratic institutions in Iraq. At the same time, the democratic institutions in Iraq have proven so weak and unstable that "stable democracy" is at best a long way off and at worst a utopian mirage to distract from the real state of civil war and anarchy. Far from being a positive role model for other Arab nations, the situation in Iraq serves as an object lesson on the disastrous consequences of loosening the reins. Likewise, the invasion has stimulated rather than discouraged global terrorism. Despite the real accomplishments associated with the American invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is very far from accomplishing most of their goals and the overall situation in relation to democratization and global terrorism is in many ways worse than it was before the invasion.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Feingold Stands Alone

Perhaps it is best to start by thinking about what the Republicans would have done if one of their members had thrown a Feingold-type bomb. The answer is obvious. Sen. Bombthrower (Republican, Kansas) would have been lionized on right-wing radio, become a star on the Republican fund-raising circuit, and given more responsibility in the leadership the way that Tom DeLay was promoted in the House. Given that Sen. Bombthrower's proposals were vetted by the Hoover Institution and American Enterprise Institute in advance, there was no surprise that scholars from these think-tanks came out in support of the general principles behind Bombthrower's ideas. Shelby Steele of Hoover, Newt Gingrich of AEI, and Frank Gaffney (defense intellectual for hire) were all on television defending Bombthrower's proposals.

The legislation in question may have been sidelined, but the Republican leadership and other Republican senators would have made sure that Sen. Bombthrower's proposal was accompanied by a variety of other rhetorical handgrenades against the conduct of the Democratic leadership and some M-16 rounds about how liberals in general were ruining the country. In other words, if a Feingold-type bomb were thrown from the Republican side, the bombthrower's initiative would have been promoted through the conservative media, received support from conservative think tanks, and viewed as promoting the "conservative movement" even if it failed. In fact, many of the lions of conservativism have been spectacular failures, G. Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, Robert Bork, and John Bolton to name a few.

What are the Democrats doing with Feingold. Are his ideas being promoted in the popular left-wing media? Are Democratic icons using Feingold's initiative to roast Bush about lying about WMD, the torture memos, mismanaging the war in Iraq, Katrina, and other fiascos? No! Are Feingold's ideas being used to rally the liberal/left troops and keep them agitated in opposition to the Bush administration? No! Has any fundraising been done by the national Democrats under the "Support Feingold" banner? No! Has Feingold gotten any play by the "liberal media" or liberal intellectuals? It certainly doesn't look like it.

Far from taking the opportunity to pile on Bush, the "liberal media" refuses to consider the merits of Feingold's proposal while "Democratic consultants and strategists" accuse Feingold of selfishly pursuing his own Presidential operations. Harry Reid himself may have backed off the idea of denouncing Feingold, but he still doesn't have enough tactical sense to use Feingold's bomb as an opportunity to throw a few of his own. Why not offer a blistering critique of the conduct of the war? What not emphasize that the Bush administration seems more effective in breaking American law than they are in stopping the insurgency or reacting to natural disasters?

So, Feingold pretty much stands alone in public even though there's a lot of popular sentiment on the Democratic side for impeachment. True, the Democratic leadership in Congress avoid another six hours of daily pounding from the right-wing media, but they still don't get anywhere themselves. At the same time, the Democratic consultants collect enormous contingencies while counting people like Bob Novak as their best friends. What the Democrats in Congress need is the courage to support the bomb-throwers among them, the brains to cleverly toss a few hand grenades themselves, and the ability to help keep their own constituents mobilized.

They also need consultants who are best friends with people other than Bob Novak.

Delusion and the new Bush National Security Strategy

Sure the Bush administration was delusional in 2003. There were three core delusions. Most and importantly and disastrously, Bush/Cheney were convinced that we would be able to take over Iraq and easily transform it into a client state that would eagerly host tens of thousands of American troops. Then there was the equally delusional conviction that American troops would then be able to invade Syria and Iran while intimidating Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt into becoming democratic client states themselves. The Bush/ Cheney administration deluded themselves into thinking that the whole Arab Middle East was ripe for transformation into democratic states and American allies and that we could leverage the whole dramatic make-over if we just took over Iraq ourselves. Finally, the Bush administration believed that this enormous transformation could be executed at little cost or no cost to the U. S. "Iraq's oil wealth would pay for the invasion." "We could take Tehran without firing a shot." It was all going to be so easy.

Well, it didn't turn out that way by a long shot and the most inspired delusionals (Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith) are spending more time with their families.

The delusional stage of Bush/ Cheney foreign policy has been over for more than two years now. Instead, the Bush/Cheney administration has repositioned itself. Sure the administration is still talking about "democratization." After all, it would be political suicide for Bush/Cheney to admit that the whole adventure in Iraq had been a disastrous mistake based on delusional assumptions. However, the Bush administration no longer assumes that Iraq is going to become an American client state, that the rest of the Middle East is going to be transformed into democracies, or that the U. S. is going to be able to avoid paying enormous costs in lives, money, and reputation for the Iraq adventure. Like, Spectrum 7 and Harkin Oil, American foreign policy has gone from from unsustainable expectations to a series of dry holes to covering up the failures.

So, how are the failures going to be covered up:

1. By sustaining the rhetoric of foreign policy delusion while drastically lowering the expectation of any success. Bush's introductory letter characterizes his administration as weakening but not defeating global terrorism. That's still delusional. Now that it has a firm base in Iraq, gobal terrorism is stronger than it was when Bush took office in 2001 and a great deal stronger than it was in 2003. But the new security document doesn't assume that the U. S. will be able to transform the Middle East by waving the banner of "pre-emptive strikes" and "democratization." Delusional rhetoric minus delusional expectations is not insanity, it's politics.

2. The other part of the Bush policy strategy is to produce small and medium scale successes to distract the American public from the reality of large-scale failure in Iraq. That was the point of forging a "new strategic partnership" with India. The Bush administration isn't going to be India's friend any more than it's going to be the friend of France or Germany. However, the Bush administration desperately needed a foreign policy "win" and they were willing to pay a high price for that win in terms of giving countenance to India's nuclear arsenal. Look for more costly wins in the future. But this isn't delusional as well. The Bush administration knows that it has a weak hand in American politics, but it's still playing that hand as hard as it can. The Bush administration knows that their core foreign and military policies have failed disastrously. Now they are doing their best to keep those failures from becoming political failures for the Republican Party as well.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Treason and the Iraq War

Treason is one of the persistent issues brought up by the right-wing in relation to the war. For Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and other conservative activists, just about anyone who publicly dissents against the war is committing the treason of giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy. In a recent reply (sorry, I don't do links), Jack Dallas listed a wide variety of Democratic politicians who he believed should be in jail, including "Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Howard Dean, Dick Durban, Robert Byrd, Charlie Rangle, Nancy Pelosi, [and] Barbara Boxer" who he thinks should be in jail for treason. Quite a long list, but nothing unusual from the right-wing. Sceptical, Publius, and others have made the same kinds of accusations on these boards as well.

Here, I want to turn the tables and argue that the Bush administration is coming pretty close to committing treason itself. The standard for treason defined by the Constitution is quite high. But I believe that the Bush administration's conduct of the war does come close to one of the types of treason defined by the Constitution.

Here's the relevant clause from Article 3, section 3:

"Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort."

The text of the Constitution defines two types of treason. The first is waging war against the United States. The primary example of this kind of treason would be the war that the Confederates waged against the United States. Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and everyone else in the Confederate leadership could have been tried for treason under this understanding of the treason section. It also might be possible to view the leadership of terrorist organizations in the United States as "levying war" against this country and thus as committing treason. In this sense, someone ordering Timothy McVeigh to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City might have been "levying war" and thus committing treason. That would not have been the case with a foot-soldier like McVeigh himself or a soldier in the Confederate Army.

The second phrase is more flexible, but narrowly emphasizes "adhering to" the enemies of the United States as the standard for treason and treats "giving aid and comfort" to the enemy as deriving from attachment to the enemy. It is in this sense that E. A. Poe and Tokyo Rose would have been committing treason during WWII. They were adhering to the enemies of the U. S. and were giving "aid and comfort" out of that allegiance.

Right-wingers want to claim that public criticism of the war such as claiming that the administration lied about WMD in Iraq is treasonable because it gives "aid and comfort" to al-Qaeda. However, the claim is extremely weak on two grounds. First, the right-wing makes several assumptions about the efficacy of Democratic opposition. They assume that the criticisms of war opponents are communicated to the enemy, that the enemy cares about the opinions of war opponents, and that the enemy actually is encouraged by those criticisms as opposed to other things. The Democratic leadership fails to provide aid and comfort on all three counts. It's message (to the extent that it has a message) doesn't get heard, there's no reason to believe that al-Qaeda cares about their message, and there are so many good reasons for al-Qaeda to feel encouraged about the situation in Iraq that the status of American opposition to the war would have no effect. More on this last point later.

Even more decisively, the Democrats do not "adhere to the enemy" and I have not even heard of accusations to this effect from the right. Because they do not actually adhere to the enemy, nothing the Democrats do can be seen as giving "aid and comfort" in the sense defined by the treason clause. Ultimately, the treason clause was meant to prevent people from being accused of treason unless they were actually levying war against the U. S. themselves or adhering to an enemy waging war against the U. S. All the accusations of the "soft treason" of providing highly indirect forms of "aid and comfort" to the enemy are excluded by the wording of the clause.

On the other hand, the Bush administration has been doing such a poor job with the occupation that it indeed is useful to measure their conduct against the standard of "adhering to the enemy." The Bush administration's conduct of the war involves two stages of malfeasance, one that is clearly not treasonable and another that is questionable. The first stage of malfeasance occurred immediately after the overthrow of Saddam and the beginning of the occupation. It is well known that the Bush administration was negligent in putting down the initial anarchy, cleaning up the ammunition dumps, closing the borders, and doing the other basic tasks needed to secure Iraq right after the invasion.
This is now conventional wisdom and several sources on the right have complained about the incompetence of the early occupation. Needless to say, the ineffectiveness of the occupation provided an enormous amount of "aid and comfort" and especially encouragement" to the enemy. The U. S. had an aura of invincibility when the tanks rolled into Baghdad, but that aura was lost forever because of the initial misconduct of the occupation and the U. S. is now seen as a kind of violent, blundering giant. By recklessly wasting the reputation for effectiveness that they had gained in the Persian Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration provided our enemies with a gold mine of “aid and comfort” that boosted the morale of Saddam holdovers, gave men reason to hope that they could take out revenge on American forces for killing members of their families, and provided incentives for global jihadis to start coming into Iraq from Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. If providing indirect forms of “aid and comfort” to the enemy were treason, the Bush administration’s early approach to the occupation would have been treasonable negligence.

However, providing “aid and comfort” is not treason. So arrogant, reckless, and incompetent that they were acting “as if” they wanted the enemy to succeed, the Bush administration was still not committing treason. That’s because they were not “adhering” to the cause of America's enemies.

Nevertheless, the situation got more complex after the beginning of 2004. When the insurgency started gaining momentum in Spring 2004, the Bush administration was faced with a relatively stark choice. They could dramatically increase troop and support levels or they could seek to tackle the insurgency with the same resources that had failed to keep the insurgency from growing in the first place. Severe costs were entailed by each choice. Given that Gen. Shinseki, the Democrats, Sen. McCain, and Sen. Hagel had all already called for more troops, increasing troop strength would have meant admitting that the Bush administration had grossly underestimated the dangers of the invasion, the strengths of the insurgency, and popular hostility to the occupation. To make such an indirect admission would have been tantamount to confessing that they had mismanaged the invasion and occupation, and would have cost George Bush re-election. So, the Bush administration “stayed the course.”

Not dramatically increasing the commitment to Iraq had costs as well and it was the Bush administration’s awareness of the consequences that pushed them toward the treason line. Certainly, failure to increase American resources meant countenancing the permanency of the Sunni insurgency and giving up the expectation of controlling Iraq with American troops while new Iraqi forces were being trained. Last year, the American military's rhetoric shifted from eliminating insurgents to ensuring that the insurgents did not have "complete freedom of action" in cities like Samarra, Haditha, and Tel Afaar in Western Iraq. Likewise, instead of providing security for a country secured by American troops, the new Iraqi military is being trained to hold its own against an insurgency acknowledged to be formidable.

This brings us to the crux of the question. Did the Bush administration go beyond countenancing the insurgency to viewing a strong insurgency as beneficial to administration interest? How might a strong insurgency have benefited the interests of the Bush administration? First, with a strong and growing insurgency, the Bush administration could still get a lot of traction out of portraying themselves as "tough on terrorism" and the Democrats as soft.

Second, a strong insurgency was an extremely important resource in convincing the Iraqi government to keep U. S. troops in Iraq. One of the top priorities of the invasion was to introduce a large American troop presence into Iraq. However, it also was well known that the Shiite government was eager for American troops to leave at the earliest possible date. The Bush administration had initially expected to be able to install Ahmed Chalabi or some other secular exile who would be favorable to American interests in Baghdad. By the time the insurgency gained ground however, Grand Ayatollah Sistani had forced the Americans to open the new Iraqi government to general elections and had begun organizing the religious Shiite parties into the dominant political faction. It was well known that Sistani and the most important ayatollahs were only marginally less hostile to American occupation than firebrands like Moqtada al Sadr. In this context, a large and growing insurgency was a weapon that Bush’s policy makers could use to convince the Shiite government into continuing to accept American troops and cooperate with American occupation authorities. If a Shiite government asked American occupiers to leave, the whole invasion would be a useless waste of lives, resources, and money that replaced the anti-American regime of Saddam Hussein with another anti-American Shiite government. Right now, the occupation only makes political sense for the Bush administration if there is a large and formidable insurgency.

This is where the Bush administration comes up to the treason line. Not only are they continuing to act “as if” they wanted the insurgency to grow and prosper, they are developing an “interest” in the continued effectiveness of the insurgency. Having an interest in the (partial) success of the insurgency is not the same as “adhering to the enemy,” but it is close enough that the Bush administration warrants further investigation. I would want to know if people in the White House have been involved in meetings where there were “counter-intuitive” discussions of the “benefits” of an active insurgency for the American and Bush administration interests. I would want to know the extent to which considerations of the benefits of the Iraq insurgency informed the decision-making of policy-makers up the line. In other words, I want to know how much the Bush administration considers the ENEMY’S interest to be THEIR interest. That seems to be about as close to committing treason as you can get without actually “adhering to the enemy” or “levying war against the United States.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Republicans 2008--Early Handicapping

The Southern Republican Leadership Conference is being billed as the first official event of the 2008 campaign season. Of course, that doesn't mean that large squad of Republican wannabes have been campaigning in New Hampshire, Iowa, the United States Senate, Weight Watchers, and other venues since the day Bush won re-election. Yes, Weight Watchers. Mike Huckabee lost 100 pounds to prepare for his run, but he might have been on the South Beach diet instead.
The 2008 primaries are going to be very "Democrat-like" for the Republican Party. The leading candidate for the Republican nomination is usually either a president running for re-election (Reagan in 1984, Bush II), a vice-president inheriting the office (Bush I in 1988), or someone anointed by the party elites (Dole in 1996, Bush II in 2000) or rank and file sentiment (Reagan in 1980).

This year, no one is going to "inherit" the Republican nomination the way Hillary Clinton will inherit the Democratic nomination. Cheney isn't going to run, the Bush administration does not have a "legacy candidate," party elites are divided, the right-wing media establishment is hesitant, and the rank and file is split and confused. Whoever is going to win the nomination isn't going to be able to just win one important primary to prove they won't blow it. They're going to have to fight hard and prove themselves over a grueling primary campaign season.
Even at this early date, it is useful to follow the conventional format and divide candidates into "tiers" to assess their chances.

THE FIRST TIER: What makes a man or a woman a first-tier presidential candidate is having more of these qualities than almost all of the other candidates. A national Reputation and broad name recognition among the electorate. High levels of early fund-raising. A top-drawer campaign staff waiting to be activated. A strong popular voting base. The only Republican candidate who fits almost all of these criteria is Sen. John McCain of Arizona. McCain is the most popular politician in the country right now and has been the most popular politician for the last six years except for period right after 9-11. He has a strong reputation among Republican moderates and traditional conservatives, independents, and moderate to conservative Democrats.

Nevertheless, a McCain candidacy would have several problems that might keep him from getting over the top. McCain's biggest problem is that he is either moderately or very unpopular with the strongest popular factions of the Republican Party--religious conservatives, social conservatives, and Bush die-hards. If the Republican right can agree on a single, strong, candidate (a big "if"), McCain would have a tough time in the primaries, especially in the South. If the Bush administration decides that they can't tolerate McCain and decide on a "legacy" candidate, that would make McCain's job even tougher because the "legacy" candidate would become the candidate of the right as well.

Other problems for McCain include his campaign operation and his temper. While not as bad as Bob Dole's, McCain's campaign apparatus was not nearly as good as Bush's in 2000. It has to be considered a potential weakness in 2008 as well. Likewise, McCain is well-known for his volcanic temper. That creates a potential for self-destruction in the face of 18 hour campaign days and the inevitable frustrations and defeats.

Because McCain is the only first tier candidate, he has to be considered the favorite. But he's not that strong of a favorite.

THE SECOND TIER: Second tier candidates generally have national reputations, media recognition, fund-raising potential, and a base of popular support. Rudy Giuliani fits the criteria for the second tier. He has a national reputation as a result of his work as mayor of New York, he's media friendly, he can raise money, and he has a base of popular support from 9-11. However, Rudy's strengths are not as formidable as John McCain's strengths and Rudy's weaknesses are worse than McCain's. McCain has a reputation as being more moderate than he is. Rudy is a moderate, pro-choice and pro-affirmative action Republican. As a result he would have even bigger problems in Southern primaries than McCain.

A second possibility for second-tier status is Condoleeza Rice if she is anointed by the Bush administration. I think this is a real possibility because Rice is such a personal loyalist to Bush. If Rice gets a Zeus-like nod from Bush, she'll have some strong assets--a superb campaign staff, fund-raising capacity, and support from a lot of the right-wing media apparatus. That would put her into the second tier and probably would make her stronger than Rudy. But Rice is also a moderate on abortion and affirmative action. She also doesn't seem to have any religious profile. And she's a black woman. So, Rice would be a tough sell in Republican primaries.

THE THIRD TIER: That leaves a lot of guys on the third tier. That includes Frist, Brownback, Allen, Huckabee, Pataki, Romney, Santorum (if he's re-elected), and maybe a couple more. Third Tier candidates are all the same--limited name recognition, no national reputation, little fundraising capability, and no base of popular support. None of the above mentioned men are well-known outside their states or have a great deal of support among Republican constituencies. The only real hope of the Third Tier candidates is for Giuliani and Rice to refuse to run and for them to become the sole representative of the activist right-wing against McCain. Another way to become first or second tier is to be anointed by the Bush administrtion as their "legacy candidate." Either way, they would be the candidate of the right-wing and that would push them into the ring with McCain with at least a fighting chance. Except for Bill Frist, all of the third tier candidates have reason to think that they'll be "the one." But none of them has good reason to think that.

Anyway, the best bet is that the Republican nominee will come down to a battle between McCain and whichever guy emerges from Third Tier status to be the standard-bearer of the right. McCain would be a marginal favorite to win such a batte, but it's easy to imagine him blowing it.