Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the battle of the estimates

The way bureaucracies work, they are already drafting their assessments on Afghanistan for the scheduled December strategy review. One component of that review, of course, is U.S. public opinion. Already there are signs of the battle for it. A few days ago, Gen. Petraeus gave an interview to the Washington Post in Kabul in which he said that progress is faster than expected. Today, that paper carries a Washington-sourced story, apparently based largely on intelligence estimates, saying that coalition forces are having tactical successes but not strategic success against the Taliban.

Expect more of this in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

post-election politics

I'm annoyed by the speculation and, in my view, faulty analysis regarding how the president and congress will interact after the elections, especially if at least the House has a Republican majority. Nobody seems to recognize that the White House will go it alone, regardless. In the runup to reelection, first term presidents use congress as a punching bag if necessary and a co-conspirator only if it's in their personal/political interest. The insularity of Obama's White House staff only reenforces this tendency. They will focus entirely on what helps the president, not what might help Democrats in congress.

Meanwhile, congress will be more closely divided even if Democrats retain majorities. That leads to gridlock except on the only must-pass bills, chiefly appropriations to run the government. That's where the drama will be,  and not on much other legislation. Both sides will bluff and threaten, and only one side can win. Calls for congress to be more progressive or more conservative or more centrist won't matter. Each side will plot how to escape the OK Corral shootout with the fewest injuries.

the meaning of the elections

I want to write this now, before we are swamped by the usual punditry. Whoever wins on November 2, the only incontrovertible lesson is that the winners got more voters to the polls than the losers. Anything else is just speculation.

The opinion polls indicate major Republican gains, which should be expected for several reasons. With few exceptions [1934. 1998, 2002] the President's party usually loses strength in Congress in mid-term elections. When the economy is bad, more incumbents lose. When the public feels the country is "on the wrong track" -- and that figure is now above 60% -- the President's party suffers.

What the national polls can't show, however, is why Candidate A beat Candidate B, since that outcome depends on multiple factors -- some local, some national, some related to personalities, some to ideologies.

So beware the instant analyses that try to draw broader lessons. Most will be the prescriptions the analyst would offer before the voting ["be more centrist," "be more conservative," "be more liberal," "be more negative," "be more positive"]. Instead, just congratulate the winners you like and console the losers you wish had won.