Well ... the Administration and the military seem to have plenty of ideas [of what to do in Iraq right now]. [H]e wrote this during a major anti-terrorist operation north of Badghad which is interesting for its contrasts with the force that had been requied in Falluja (and who is now doing the majority of the operations, i.e., Iraqis).
But this isn't a "new" idea, it's the same old idea (blow up the insurgents) we've been using for three years now. It didn't work in a vacuum then, there's no reason to assume it will start now. What is really needed is a strong focus on democratic institution building, especially restoring trusts between the Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds. The good news is that's exactly what Ambassador Khalilzad has been focusing on recently (I'm a big Zalmay Khalilzad fan). The bad news is that it appears to be about a year or two too late. Whether or not it will do any good now is, at best, a toss-up.
Withdrawing from Iraq may or may be not be a better idea, but it is a new (in that it's a tactic we haven't tried yet) idea that has some plausibility. The line of reasoning goes that our forces are the primary point of friction for a significant portion of the population, so by setting a withdrawal point, we (a) take the wind out of the sails of at least a portion of the insurgency, and (b) put pressure on the various squabbling sects in the government to get their act together before we pull out. Do I buy this argument? Not yet, although it's certainly been growing on me since it was originally proposed. But I have a lot of trouble arguing why it isn't better than staying the with the same old tired, failing strategies the Bush administration has been pushing in the region. As for what we should have done instead of invading, the obvious answer is focus on rebuilding Afghanistan (remember when the Bush administration was so focused on Iraq it "forgot" to put in any money for the Afghani reconstruction? That's an example of what we call a bad PR move). A bird in hand, after all....
But, as I said, I'm the wrong guy to talk to when it comes to Iraq. So let's look at some other issues I see a greater distinction between my and my party's beliefs, and those of the GOP. Start with Social Security. Mark says that while this may be a bad solution, it's better than the Democratic claim that there's no problem at all. First of all, it's entirely plausible that Democrats are right: there might not be a problem. The estimates of Social Security solvency are always pessimistic--we've outperformed the market estimates they're based off every time. But even if Democrats are wrong, they're still right, because (a) Social Security running a deficit makes it no different from every other federal program, and (b) if the market actually is running that poorly, that may hurt the SS status quo, but it kills any market-based solution for fixing it. But second of all, I'm not sure how "not having a solution" comes off as comparatively disadvantageous for the Democrats anyway--why is nothing worse than a "solution" that exacerbates the problem? That's the other thing--I blogged previously on how privatization won't actually "solve" anything, because political reality mandates we still cover retirement losses, and the transaction costs will skyrocket our deficit to the point of making this administration look thrifty. If we have a spare 2-3 trillion dollars that we're just aching to spend, why can't we just use it to shore up the solvency deficit directly (I think I read that this amount of money would keep social security solvent well into the 22nd century), rather than embarking on some new and unknown program (whatever happened to the Burkean conservative?). I think it's a bit rich to give Republicans a pat on the back for coming up with a "solution" that doesn't even come close to addressing the actual problem. If that's our standard, fine, my "solution" is that we give Shetland ponies to every little girl when they turn seven years old. I have no idea how that will reduce our solvency deficit, but thankfully, that's no longer relevant to saying we've fixed the problem. Our party gives out ponies. Where's the GOP at?
On to health insurance, medicare, et al. Mark pretty much admits that the "reform bill" was a disaster, and proposes that we amend the constitution to prohibit the government giving insurance. This might be an interesting argument, but what national Republican is running these days on abolishing Medicaid? I must have missed that part of Bush's campaign speech. I'm kind of reminded of a line by Kevin Drum on the Federalist Society:
[they] talk about whether or not genuine originalists should overturn New Deal opinions from the 40s, which strikes me as sort of like arguing over whether or not Superman could kick Green Lantern's butt: harmless, to be sure, but hardly part of the real world. If Federalist Society members are convinced that...what's really needed is someone who will vote to repeal the Social Security Act, they're just fantasizing, not discussing real-life issues.
Again, it's a bit rich to give Republican's credit for an idea they're not actually proposing. Getting rid of the welfare state is not part of contemporary American politics--Republican or Democrat. So what's the Republican "idea" for fixing the healthcare crisis? Admittedly, perhaps Mark is right, and they don't actually care, and thus the Medicare reform bill was actually a very clever attempt to sabotage the massive mainstream support for the program. But I hardly think bait-and-switching the electorate is the type of "idea" we're talking about here, so I'm going to assume that the GOP congressional leadership honestly wants to fix the healthcare crisis.
In which case, the idea (and it is pretty much singular) is Health Savings Accounts. Only Republicans could see a polity where millions lack insurance, and say "this is horrible! We need to create another tax shelter!" It honestly defies belief, but I think it warrants my claim of the GOP being tax cut obsessed. Health Savings Account, it hardly needs mentioning at this point, are another "give a pony" solution to a problem that has nothing to do with ponies. Besides the fact that the folks who are currently not insured tend not to overlap with the folks who can afford to set-aside $2000 in discretionary income each year, even if we manage to get past that, it still doesn't fix the major problem, which is coverage of catastrophic healthcare scenarios. Your $2000/year layaway is lovely, but it ain't going to do jack if you come down with cancer. Still, until then, more places to hide your income from the tax boys is a nice perk (for those who can afford it).
The Democrats, by contrast, have Universal Health Insurance as their answer. Mark can't figure out who would support this besides "healthcare professionals" (God forbid we listen to Doctors on healthcare policy!). I think there's a rather obvious group #2 we can add...the uninsured. Presumably, they'd prefer having health coverage, to, um, not having it. Group #3 is big business. They're finally coming around to universal healthcare, because they want to get what is turning into a massive liability off their backs. The amount of money they put out on healthcare puts them at a huge competitive disadvantage compared to European firms who get it governmentally subsidized. And the ones who did commit to giving health benefits are suffocating from them (remember when Mark wanted to let the entire American auto industry go bankrupt?). In fact, the only major constituency group opposed to UHC is the Health Insurance industry, because it ruins the racket they've got going.
UHC solves the healthcare crisis in several ways. First, it obviously fixes the problem that millions can't afford private health insurance. I've never seen the GOP even pretend to try and solve for these people. Second, it solves for catastrophic health concerns because it pools risk. Most of us won't come down with cancer, and those who do can draw from a much larger pool of resources than they could with their puny HSAs. Third, it restores competitive balance between American and Europe, by removing our largest corporate liability. Fourth, it saves costs by allowing for price negotiations, and removing the inefficiencies latent in our current hodgepodge mix of HMOs, PPOs, employer insurance, private insurances, ER attacks, etc.. Are there some kinks to work out? Probably. But at least this solution actually addresses the problem at hand, which is more than you can say for HSAs. And contra what Mark says, this sort of long-term thinking is perfectly feasible for politicians (and I'm a cynic!). Saying "I've just ended your insecurity about health expenses" is certainly competitive with "I'm going to cut your taxes until my eyes bleed." And insofar as it isn't, that's primarily because Republican's have perfected making the "tax cuts now, pay for them later, let the others eat cake" argument win votes. To then say that the government shouldn't do insurance because it's too concerned with the short-term is like the guy who kills his parents, then asks the court for mercy because he's an orphan. I'm sorry, but you can't claim advantages from a problem of your own creation. Just because Republicans haven't seen a future-interest they won't sell out for short-term political gain doesn't mean all politicians do it. Otherwise, why are so many Democratic politicians pushing for these longterm benefit plans?
As for the rest: in every case where there's been a conflict, the modern-day GOP has sacrificed it's purported policy objectives for tax cuts. Every. Time. NCLB? Left underfunded. Pay-as-you-go? Threatens further tax cuts, so it's out. Homeland Security programs? Bush threatened veto because he was afraid the price tag would threaten his latest batch of tax cuts. Deficit hawks? Please--we've raised the debt ceiling again and again to accommodate a ballooning deficit. Iraq war? When the Senate tried to pay for it by repealing a few upper-income cuts, Bush threatened veto again. It never ends.