YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT. Ezra , I really, really don't like disagreeing with Peter Bergen on al-Qaeda. You generally should be extremely wary of telling a guy who interviewed bin Laden that he's off-base. But, dude, you asked . Thanks, Ez, you're a good friend. Let me start by saying that Peter is 100 percent right that bin Laden & co. want to take over Iraq. But, to expand a bit on a point that Blake made , "want" and "can" are two different things. Peter may be a bit skewed by his deep knowledge of Afghanistan here. It was pretty easy for al-Qaeda to adapt to a post-Soviet Afghanistan. From the evidence so far, that's really not the case in Iraq: not only do the Iraqi Sunnis really dislike al-Q , but Anbar province has even assembled its own anti-Qaeda death squad . There's only one thing that could stop the Sunnis from fighting al-Qaeda: their greater desire to fight us instead. There's also a Machiavellian aspect here. To be extremely callous (given that we're...

    RISK ASSESSMENT: SCHMITT CRASHES THE PARTY! Ok, not really. Mark Schmitt has swooped in with a worthy intervention into the Hacker-Klein-Yglesias discussion of The Great Risk Shift . Check it out, and wait for Hacker's response tomorrow. --The Editors
  • JUST A GAME....

    JUST A GAME. Shakes on Limbaugh : Limbaugh is just one of many loathsome characters who have made names for themselves by treating politics as a game, a fun and profitable little pastime that has no real-world consequences -- and the richer he gets, the more real a lack of consequences becomes for him. The luxury of staggering wealth means never having to worry about Social Security, or healthcare, or how much gas costs. It�s a game. Who cares. And in that game, people like Michael J. Fox aren�t real people. They�re images on a screen, they�re pawns to be played. Stem cell research isn�t a real thing. It�s a political football. Safely nestled away from the real world in a radio studio, Limbaugh doesn�t want or need to think about the people he mocks, the people he uses to score a goal. That's quite right. But there's another element too: For the wealthy, and even for many in the middle class, it's hard to viscerally understand the importance of the safety net and the relatively small...

    PETER BOYER. Over at Open University, David Greenberg has a good post criticizing Peter Boyer 's latest New Yorker piece , which in typical fashion combines plenty of good writing and colorful material with an unseemly internalization of right-wing talking points and caricatures of liberals. This reminds me to plug one of Matt 's first web pieces as a young whippersnapper here at TAP -- the definitive (the only?) Peter Boyer hit piece . Give it a look. --Sam Rosenfeld

    SPEECHLESS. In the weirdest, scariest, and most hopeful story you'll read today, Scott Adams , the creator of Dilbert, has been functionally mute for the last year-and-a-half. He contracted Spasmodic Dysphonia, a rare, poorly understood affliction where the part of your brain that governs speech simply shuts down. You can still sing, and do public speaking, and talk to yourself, and engage in various other activities related to, but not using the same neural pathways as, normal speech. But you can't speak. No one has ever gotten better. As of today, Scott is the first. He did it by remapping his own brain. --Ezra Klein

    GET OUT OF AL-ANBAR, AND GET OSAMA. I'll take a stab at Ezra's call for reactions to this op-ed by Peter Bergen . Bergen writes: Instead, we should focus on a minimalist definition of our interests in Iraq, which is to prevent a militant Sunni jihadist mini-state from emerging and allowing al-Qaeda to regroup. While withdrawing a substantial number of American troops from Iraq would probably tamp down the insurgency and should be done as soon as is possible, a significant force must remain in Iraq for many years to destroy al-Qaeda in Iraq. I agree with Bergen that we should prevent such a bad thing from happening, but I disagree on the means. Fortunately, the emergence of a "militant Sunni jihadist mini-state" is not as likely as Bergen thinks. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is actually fairly unpopular even in Al-Anbar and Diyala provinces, to the extent that the police chief in Baquba has said that they have been "driven out and finished off." What's more, General Casey is now openly admitting...

    CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION. Here's Rep. Jean Schmidt , being stupid on the subject of a videotape on which she was, earlier, really stupid . It is devoutly to be hoped that, if it does nothing else, a Democratic sweep in the upcoming elections might disenthrall the Republicans from the notion that they can collect anyone off the steam-grates of their party's boulevards, dress them up, and throw them out there to plague and pester the rest of us. Among its other effects, the " Gingrich Revolution" created a framework in which an incredible passel of fools, lightweights, mountebanks, kinky libertines, and public omadhauns managed to get themselves elected to Congress. I mean all of that as a compliment, by the way. It takes a formidable political machine to inflict on the rest of us such an unholy combination of The Story of O and Horse Feathers . --Charles P. Pierce

    WHAT ZALMAY FORGOT. While checking in on Steve Clemons' Washington Note , I came across this list from 2005 entitled "Ten Lessons for Nation-Building." I have a lot of respect for its author, Zalmay Khalilzad , as I think he's a pragmatic and able diplomat in a tough job (though he should have stayed in Afghanistan, where he was most effective). Nevertheless, if you peruse Khalilzad's list you'll note a gaping hole: nowhere does he list the most important job of an occupying power, which is to provide security for the populace. Is it just a coincidence that the U.S. has never, in fact, been able to provide the safe and secure environment that the Army's new counterinsurgency manual (PDF) stresses is essential to winning popular support? Priorities matter. -- Blake Hounshell

    MORE TROUBLE FOR SHAYS. Yesterday I doubted whether Rep. Chris Shays' challenger Diane Farrell had the deadlocked race sewn up now by her endorsement in The New York Times . Well, now Garance has a piece in The New Republic that should deliver a death blow to Shays. Apparently Shays has taken to bragging about his first venture into Iraq, leaving out the part about how, stopping en route in Qatar, a small middle-Eastern monarchy, he told an audience: "This nation, like my small state, has always played a large role in advancing participatory democracy, civil discourse, and stable commerce." But the scandal wasn't his royal ass-kissing -- it was how Shays, with his famously holier-than-thou stance on ethics, got there in the first place. According to Garance: ... despite his record of pushing for meticulous record-keeping, Shays's privately sponsored trip to Qatar was notably absent from his own annual federal financial disclosure form, filed in May 2004, in violation of House rules...

    WINGER WEEK. Following up Pierce -- the president and vice president have said all sorts of great stuff to conservative journalists and commentators this week. --Sam Rosenfeld