Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Hoo boy, Luskin just keeps on going. It's telling that this is continuing... if the argument was better somebody who actually knew about economics (Luskin is a Yale first-year dropout) would have taken over, and if the Movementarians and their blogger fellow-travellers weren't so rabidly hateful against any and all critics, the matter would have been quietly dropped. Aside from pathetically trying to score points by calling Krugman a lousy lecturer (which is utterly meaningless), we see this paragraph:

And now... with the second apologia in its evening edition... we see Krugman pull out all the stops, resorting even to bold-face type. I can just imagine his tiny fists pounding the keyboard, screaming out the one thing that can save him...
So, you ask, why were these paragraphs boldfaced? I'll quote the first in full (which Luskin, predictably, didn't):

Update: Yes, this means that the output and employment increase created by a fiscal expansion goes away - the additional jobs are here today, gone tomorrow. Don't take my word for it - check any major principles textbook. Tax cuts may create jobs, but the jobs go away even if the tax cut remains in place. "in the long run, shifts in aggregate demand affect the overall price level but do not affect output." Mankiw, p. 744.
That's right, folks... the section was in boldface because it was an after-publishing edit, no different than a blogger putting something in italics in order to differentiate between the newer and older material. (I don't usually do it, but it's common.) Luskin's a blogger, he'd know this, yet deliberately misportrayed the real reason in his quest for juvenile "points" on Krugman.

(Plus, he continues to misinterpret what Krugman is saying, mistaking the idea that "the jobs would exist anyway after a few years" to "the jobs would go away after a few years".)

Add the woeful shot at the maintainer of the Unofficial Paul Krugman archive as being "infinitely sycophantic" and the spectacle of David attempting to fell Goliath by flinging his own rancid faeces is quite complete.

As Dwight Meredith said, Krugman isn't the liar here.

Edit: Bobby, the aforementioned "infinitely sycophantic" maintainer, actually illustrated the whole thing quite well:

"Krugman's theory asserts that there would be no more jobs beyond the 1.4 million created in the first two years of the Bush plan (I don't agree with that, but let's stipulate it). While there would be no more jobs, he never asserts that those initial 1.4 million jobs will vanish at any time over the then years of the plan. They will be there generating $40,000 wages each year for ten years. So we still have to divide the ten-year cost of the tax cut by ten, because those jobs will be around for ten years."

As I understand it, the writer, Donald L. Luskin's, analysis is wrong for the following reason: AS SOON AS WE ARE NO LONGER NEAR THE LIQUIDITY TRAP THE PRESENCE OF THE TAX CUT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE AS TO WHETHER THOSE 1.4 MILLION JOBS EXIST THEREAFTER.

To see why here's a thought experiment:

Let's say we pass the tax cut in Spring 2003. It's now the end of 2004, and, by now, we are no longer close to a liquidity trap. This means that the Fed once again can bring us back to full employment through monetary policy, whereas monetary policy was relatively ineffective during the trap. For the sake of argument, up until now the tax cut has created 1.4 million jobs. We are now faced with two choices:

(1) Repeal the tax cut. Thereafter, we let expansionary monetary policy maintain the 1.4 million extra jobs and create any new jobs until we have the unemployment rate that the Fed desires. Notice that, in the years after the trap is over, those 1.4 million jobs remain although the tax cut is gone.

(2) Keep the tax cut in place. However, the Fed will match this choice with forgone interest rate cuts or interest rate hikes. The Fed will conduct a monetary policy that maintains those 1.4 million jobs and create new ones until we have the unemployment rate that the Fed desires. So those 1.4 million jobs remain with or without the tax cut.

Just to make it crystal clear, let's put it together: In the years we are near the liquidity trap, under our assumptions, the presence of the tax cut creates 1.4 million jobs. After the trap the presence of the tax cut not only makes no difference in new job creation, it makes no difference as to whether those 1.4 million jobs still exist thereafter.

Therefore the 1.4 million jobs can be attributed to tax cuts ONLY IN THE YEARS WE ARE NEAR THE LIQUIDITY TRAP AND NOT AFTER THE TRAP ENDS.

Please do not fail to note that the time when the trap ends is exogenous to this model and, here, is independent of whether or not a tax cut is passed. Indeed Krugman says, "Now most forecasts presume that we'll be out of the trap by next year - that is, before most of the supposed job creation from the tax cut takes place. Even if you're more pessimistic than that, we're probably looking at only 1-2 years when fiscal policy creates jobs." I am assuming that these forecasts do not assume this tax cut which has not passed yet. Anyway, sorry if I botched or misinterpreted any of this.
'Nuff said. This is probably why Luskin had to namecall... "Bobby" had his number, and Luskin knows it. His only hope was flung faeces, counting on the idea that two opposite ideas will produce the expectation that the truth lies at the middle, even if one side is completely fallacious.

Thus the Wurlitzer plays on.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Over the past few hours, I've been tracking the argument that has gone on between Paul Krugman (via his website) and the supply-side Objectivist Donald Luskin. Luskin attacked him for a column he wrote for the New York Times earlier, where Krugman argued that the "1.4 million jobs" that Bush claims his tax cuts will deliver won't justify the cost of the cuts. Luskin attacked Krugman, as Luskin believes (quite passionately) that the cuts will create jobs over the entire 10-year period. Krugman responded on the website, and Luskin fired back with the link above, attacking two main arguments: one forwarded by Dwight Meredith about how "the dog didn't bark" and the other Krugman's own piece.

Dwights piece brought up, among other things, a "the dog didn't bark" argument:

Secondly, and far more persuasive to a Sherlock Holmes fan, is the dog that didn├»¿½t bark. President Bush in currently traveling the country in an effort to build support for the tax cut plan. He and his surrogates say at every stop that the tax cut is meant to create jobs. If credible evidence that his tax cut proposal would create 5.4 million jobs existed, a Donald Luskin column in NRO would not have been the first time we had heard that figure. In the absence of hearing that dog bark, it is safe to assume that no credible evidence that the tax cut would create 5.4 million jobs exists.
Seems credible enough, and Dwight followed it up with a credible defense of Krugman's figures and attack of Luskin's as being willfully disingenuous. Luskin's response?

Meredith's defense is narrowly focused on whether 1.4 million jobs are all the jobs that will be created by Bush's tax-cuts. Even if you assume that no more than 1.4 million jobs will be created, Krugman's claim that $500,000 in tax-cuts is buying only $40,000 worth of jobs is still wildly wrong. For Krugman's claim to be correct, those 1.4 million jobs would have to exist for only a single year and then vanish -- and you'd have to believe that the tax-cuts would have no other favorable effect to which you could assign some of their cost. So to assert that my critique is wrong -- simply because one part of it relied on the assumption that over ten years there would be more than 1.4 million jobs created -- is like defending O. J. on the grounds that, yes, he stabbed Nicole to death in her kitchen, but it's a vicious lie to say that he left the lights on in the kitchen when he left.
This is where things start to get a little hairy. Luskin's attack on the Krugman article itself depends on attacking one key point of the argument in order to break it down- his entire critique hinges on Krugman supposedly messing up these figures. (There was an additional attack on Krugman based on the financial crisis of the states, but it's immaterial, and telling that it was never raised again.) Dwight was attempting to question Luskin's credibility in the same fashion that Luskin attacked Krugman- and even implied as much with his final section:


Thus, based on the CEA report, the effects of the tax cut proposal will be to increase job growth for the first year and a half of the ten-year period and then decrease the creation of jobs after that initial burst.

The administration often talks about the 1.4 million jobs to be created in the first two years of the tax cut. It rarely talks about the effects of the tax cut on job creation for any period after 2004.

We find it highly ironic that Luskin would call Krugman a liar for failing to consider the job creation effects of the tax cut after 2004 when Luskin first links to the CEA report and then ignores its findings on that very subject.

Paul Krugman is not the liar here.
Luskin was obviously responding to this by attempting to bully and dodge his way around it (in the exact same fashion that he accused Krugman of doing), yet Dwight's critique holds, as Luskin did not challenge it on its substantial points, including the accusation that Luskin was spreading deliberate falsehoods. With that, we're forced to make a choice: either the credibility of Luskin's entire critique comes into question, or the credibility of Krugman remains untouched by Luskin's attack on this one set of numbers. Luskin's defense, ironically, implies the latter.

However, there's a much worse game being played here. I'll hit you with two paragraphs, one responding to the other. First, Krugman's defense:

No, I didn't forget to divide by 10. (For God's sake: whatever you think of my politics, I am a competent economist, and know how to use numbers.) What I foolishly assumed readers would know - this isn't condescension, I really was foolish - is that no serious economist thinks that a tax cut or spending increase will have any effect on employment more than a couple of years from now. The reason is straightforward: normally the economy is operating more or less at full employment, and any demand stimulus from a tax cut will be offset by an interest rate increase by the Fed. The Fed, of course, polices the economy to prevent inflationary pressures. And eventually we will return to normal circumstances.

The only situation in which a tax cut or spending increase creates jobs is when the economy is operating below full employment, and the Fed is unable to remedy the situation.

We are in such a situation right now - or at least I think we are. The Fed, by the way, does not agree: it thinks that a good recovery is just around the corner, and that it will soon be raising interest rates; in that situation any demand push from a tax cut will simply cause it to raise interest rates faster.

I don't agree, and neither do most private-sector economists; they think that the economy will remain sluggish for a while. And the Fed can't remedy the situation by cutting rates, because it has already cut them almost as far as it can. So since the economy could use a demand push right now, for the time being a fiscal expansion - either a tax cut or a spending increase - would indeed create jobs.
Fairly straightforward, and entirely sensible: if the economy heats up, the feds will cool it off. Krugman doesn't feel it's that heated up right now, so there will be a short-term affect on jobs, but the recession will eventually end, and the feds will eventually step in to cool things down. "When" is a valid question, but not "whether". This is no new argument- it goes back to most of Krugman's books, where he lays out the macroeconomic reasons why tax cuts aren't a cure-all nostrum, and have little to do with wage or job growth, but do have valid productivity effects.

Luskin's response, however, severely damages his credibility:

What follows is an hilariously complicated theory involving the role of the Federal Reserve and various other abstruse elements, leading to the conclusion that the 1.4 million jobs created in the first two years of the Bush plan are all there will ever be. It's full of intellectual bullying ("...Nobody, and I mean nobody, who knows any economics thinks...") and completely fabricated un-facts ("The Fed, by the way...thinks that a good recovery is just around the corner, and that it will soon be raising interest rates...").

If all that crap had been included in the original column, Krugman's simple, flat-out, drop-dead claim that the Bush plan would cost a whopping $500,000 to produce a meager $40,000 in wages would have come off like the brittle, over-specified, forecast-dependent econobabble that it is.
This is not what Krugman wrote, Luskin knows this is not what Krugman wrote, and the very use of the inane term "econobabble" speaks volumes. Luskin knows very well (or should know) that this is not what Krugman wrote. To argue that this is "complicated" implies either that Luskin is utterly ignorant, willfully tendentious, or engaging in the kind of deliberate anti-intellectualism that Scott Adams satirized so well when he had Dilbert's boss say "anything that I can't understand must therefore not be important".

If Luskin had attacked Krugman's points on their merits...if he had contradicted the idea that the Feds would have an effect on employment, then that would be valid. It'd be hard to argue, but he could resurrect the ghost of Milton Friedman and go from there. Of course, then Krugman would eat him alive, as Krugman dissected supply-side arguments with great skill in "Peddling Prosperity" and he'd probably need only to turn to the right page and quote himself. Still, he could make a go of it. That is not what he did*. By deliberately misinterpreting Krugman's response, he not only entirely conceded any and all of the points that Krugman made, but irretreivably damaged his own credibility among any but the already-converted.

In many respects this is quite academic, as opinions will not change. Krugman is going nowhere, his detractors aren't going to find much in the way of support outside of the red-meat circle, and it'll take a hell of a lot more to damage the credibility of Paul Krugman than anything his BlogStalkers have brought to bear -- including Luskin's jihad. What interests me more is nature of the battle itself. Luskin makes great hay out of the lack of support that Krugman received on this. Oddly enough, he's correct: this sort of attack on a right-wing economist supporting the Bush plan would have been quickly met by all the rhetorical weaponry the Movementarians and their BlogFollowers can bring to bear. Even right-wing bloggers can count on no small amount of support. Yet when Krugman is attacked, it ends up being akin to medieval bear-baiting- he far outmatches any of his detractors, but their sheer numbers may lead them to (at least perceived) victory.

Well, this is, at least, my own small contribution.

(*There were two other points he made, which was that the jobs would be around for 10 years- Krugman didn't account for that, and that there would be supply-side effects, which Krugman ignored... which means that Krugman was mistaken. (Luskin says "lying", but that is merely more base attacks.) Both raise questions. Krugman and Bush are both talking about employment over-and-above what the economy would normally provide, and Krugman is quite rightly ignoring other employment: If 1.4 jobs exist in three years that would have been there anyway, then the Bush tax cuts become meaningless. As for supply-side effects, Luskin's attempt to invoke them as proof that there would be more than 1.4 million jobs created raises two questions: why didn't the CEA include them, and more importantly, why didn't Bush include them? Dwight's missing dog, once again, doesn't bark.)

edit: Max Sawicky has his own take on it here, which appears to be that both are wrong, but to different degrees: PK is somewhat wrong and a little arrogant, but that Luskin "just babbles like a fool". I'd say that comes out as a win for Paul. Brad DeLong mostly linked to the Meredith piece, but check out the comments section; Luskin gets ripped to shreds by many of the commentators there, including the always-interesting "Dsquared". Even my old friend Tom Maguire ends up backing Krugman (mostly), which makes it both a red letter day for Krugman supporters and a probable Real Bad Day for the less-supportive Maguire.

Friday, April 25, 2003

More on Jon, prompted by a comment from Tresy:

If Stewart had wanted to venture into politically incorrect territory, he might have asked Zakaria about the theocratic strains lurking just beneath the surface of Republican rhetoric, and what that says about our own democracy. Is it bad for Muslims to want their countries governed according to Islamic doctrine, but not for the Christian Coalition to want it governed according to fundamentalist Christian doctrine?
Jon didn't seem to quite know how to handle him. I don't think he agreed much, but I know that Jon does not generally go hostile on people he disagrees with- he was civil to COULTER, after all- so it's not surprising that he didn't go hardball. It's not his job.

I actually agree with his basic concept. Democratic institutions are as important as actual elections. The problem is with the concept that they should be imposed from without, instead of grown from within. One of the biggest problems with the Russian system and Russian economy is not that the Russians ignored the necessity of political institutions (the Soviet Union was riddled with the things), but that their "helpful" American advisors were compelling them to go with full-on privatization and de-institutionalization. Since the methods of privatization used didn't work properly (mostly due to the failings of market fundamentalists), Russia ended up in the grip of kleptocrats.

With that and countless other examples of screwed-up American-led nationbuilding, Zakaria's thesis deserves a hell of a lot more critical analysis than it seems to be betting.

By the way, I just thought of something: I wonder whether the U.S. should be taking as much credit for nation-building for Japan as they currently are? The jury may still be out on how well that worked. Japan is currently suffering through a rather brutal long-term recession/depression. The seeds of that go back a long ways, to the very beginning of Japanese economic ascendancy. Japan's also a notorious one-party "democracy". Yes, Japan is now far from its WWII-era militarism and pseudo-fascism, but I imagine that had more to do with the imposed nature of the system and the historical inability of fascism to handle military defeat rather than actual nation-building. One might also question whether the powerful nationalism and business/governmental ties that characterized Japan throughout the 80's and 90's don't retain vestiges of the old mode of thinking, even if the military route of expressing it is no longer acceptable.

On the other hand, Germany seemed to turn out ok. Then again, they're part of the "Axis of Weasels" now, so maybe not. (Is it a good thing or a bad thing that a country rebuilt by the U.S. is now powerful enough to defy them? What if Iraq becomes another Germany?)

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Watching Jon Stewart right now, and saw Fareed Zakaria say "we built democratic institutions in South Africa" as proof of the necessity of the U.S. building democratic institutions before allowing people actual democracy.

One Stewartesque word:

"whuuuuuuh?"

I think Nelson Mandela might want to have strong words with Mr. Zakaria, especially considering that American Cold War interests were instrumental (if not essential) in the promulgation and continuation of Apartheid, and I honestly doubt that anything like the Truth and Reconciliation committee (which emphasized reconciliation over retribution) would have got off the ground with American stewardship.

I'll admit, I'm not an expert on South African history, but this is just jarring.
Could Andrew Sullivan be on the verge of abandoning the Republicans? Not sure, but the Santorum controversy (which I haven't really dealt with- go check Eschaton and The Rittenhouse Review for more on the issue) and Sully's reaction seems to imply so.

That's how little they care about individual liberties. I guess, as so many gloating liberals have emailed me to point out, I have been incredibly naive. I expected a basic level of respect for gay people from civilized conservatives. I've always taken the view that there are legitimate arguments about such issues as marriage rights or military service and so on; and that fair-minded people can disagree. And, of course, there are many fair-minded people among Republicans and conservatives who do not agree with Santorum, and I am heartened by their support, especially the Republican Unity Coalition and Marc Racicot, RNC head. But something this basic as the freedom to be left alone in own's own home is something I naively assumed conservatives would obviously endorse - even for dispensable minorities like homosexuals. I was wrong. The conclusions to be drawn are obvious.
Many have blogged, written, opined and lamented the divisions on the left, including myself. We should remember, however, that there is a division on the right... not just between "paleoconservatives" and "neoconservatives" but between both and the pseudo-libertarianism of many who lean towards the Republicans. (Neoconservatism in its proper, Straussian form does not seem to be as compatible with Libertarianism as many seem to believe). While they can get along on many issues, the continuing battles about homosexuality (and to a lesser extent, race) on the right are probably the best illustration that there are certain issues upon which they are irreconcilably divided, and that the coalition on the right has its own contradictions.

Up until now, however, they've been able to get away with not truly addressing these conflicts. The dedicated, ambitious neo-conservatives that make up the core of the conservative movement realized a very long time ago that infighting would weaken if not annihilate their ability to elect legislators and executives. While its unlikely that these divisions would lead to alternative parties growing in power and stature- the American system is utterly bipartisan and will remain so for a good while to come- it would definitely lead to bruising primary battles, policy conflicts, and voters on the "wrong" side either sitting out on election day or voting for the Democratic "lesser of two evils".

The fear of that happening is what has led to the strength and cohesion of the Republicans since the late 80's. The acknowledgement that all policy and personal conflicts between members should be subordinate to the goal of gaining and retaining power isn't new (ironically enough, it's Leninist), but without it, the modern Republican party and conservative movement would be toast, and quick.

That's why I've been calling them "Movementarians". it isn't conservatism that unites them because "conservatism" is a contested concept. The zealotry of some towards their brand of "conservatism" is the key cause of these factional battles. It isn't about any single leader, either- although they support Bush, it's hardly a personality cult. Instead, its the sense of movement and the willingness to sacrifice their goals to the success of the Movement as a whole that best defines them. The Movement is the key aspect, thus, "Movementarian".

(And, yes, like all good modern political terms, it comes from the Simpsons.)

Thing is, this can only last for so long. The conflicts we're seeing within the Bush administration and the conflicts that we're seeing over conservatism as a whole (like Sully vs. Santorum, or Novak vs. the Neocons over the war) are evidence that, having gained power, the conflicts over how to use that power are stressing the unity of the Movement. Success for those who don't share the goals of the Movement may lie in exploiting these faultlines, to break apart the coalitions and the various "conservatisms", so that primaries become more contentious and candidates are forced to take a stand.

More importantly, though, success will lie in recognizing that it is precisely the kind of "purity" that many on the left prize so heavily that tears apart political coalitions. This does not mean that the "far left" doesn't need to exist... it does, as it provides a backdrop upon which moderate leftists and liberals can present their ideas, and sometimes the extremists' goals can contain the seeds of really good and really innovative policy ideas. Still, all need to recognize that they're moving in the same direction, and they're largely for the same things, and that if they're willing to compromise some of their "purity" they can get a lot more done. There is room for both a center-liberal like Kevin Drum and a socialist like Martin Wisse (excellent bloggers both), and that in order to succeed the first step is to recognize that, and abandon the kind of distancing games that extreme and center both engage in in order to disassociate with the "other guys". They'll only succed when they learn the lesson that the Movementarians are, perhaps, forgetting:

Ultimately, they're on the same side.
So.... it's begun.

According to the Washington Post, the Iraqi Shiites are already starting to move the country in a direction Washington never intended:

As Iraqi Shiite demands for a dominant role in Iraq's future mount, Bush administration officials say they underestimated the Shiites' organizational strength and are unprepared to prevent the rise of an anti-American, Islamic fundamentalist government in the country.

The burst of Shiite power -- as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands who made a long-banned pilgrimage to the holy city of Karbala yesterday -- has U.S. officials looking for allies in the struggle to fill the power vacuum left by the downfall of Saddam Hussein.

As the administration plotted to overthrow Hussein's government, U.S. officials said this week, it failed to fully appreciate the force of Shiite aspirations and is now concerned that those sentiments could coalesce into a fundamentalist government. Some administration officials were dazzled by Ahmed Chalabi, the prominent Iraqi exile who is a Shiite and an advocate of a secular democracy. Others were more focused on the overriding goal of defeating Hussein and paid little attention to the dynamics of religion and politics in the region.

"It is a complex equation, and the U.S. government is ill-equipped to figure out how this is going to shake out," a State Department official said. "I don't think anyone took a step backward and asked, 'What are we looking for?' The focus was on the overthrow of Saddam Hussein."
Indeed it was, despite the concerns of pretty much everybody not directly caught up in the project. The biggest problem with removing Saddam has always been what to do afterwards, and outside of "quagmire week", most people were quite aware that removing Saddam's regime would be the easy part. Since outsiders knew, those insiders not hit with the blinding brilliance of America As The Shining City on the Hill should have known as well. Why didn't they prepare for something they were endlessly warned about?

Oh. Right. The looting of the museum and library. This is getting to be a trend, isn't it? There's pretty abundant proof at this point that the post-war scenario was not properly thought out, something that even the most hawkish liberals had been worrying about. While the Museum's looting was bad enough, however, the side effects this time could be catastrophic.

The administration hopes the U.S.-led war in Iraq will lead to a crescent of democracies in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied territories and Saudi Arabia. But it could just as easily spark a renewed fervor for Islamic rule in the crescent, officials said.
I do wonder who these particular "officials" are. I'm betting they're out of State, not the Pentagon, and that State had been worried about this particular eventuality for a while. This actually raises an important question- how bad is the infighting getting? It seems like State and the neoconservatives within the Bush administration really are at loggerheads on everything. There's State's desire to bring the U.N. on board, which Cheney, the Pentagon, and the Defense Policy advisor types were manifestly against. There's the question of who runs the show in post-war Iraq, and for how long, as some Defense types are already suggesting a quick pull-out after the infrastructure is rebuilt. There's the relative importance of Chalabi- darling of the neocons, and more and more a complete wash on the ground in Iraq. There's the all important question of whether Iraq will be allowed to be democratic even if the people decide that they don't want to have a close relationship with the United States. A series of stories in the media implied that the post-war chaos in Baghdad was at least partially due to dueling plans and wars over control between different branches of the U.S. government. Is this the fruit of that conflict?

More importantly, who should win that conflict? Newt Gingrich is already coming out on the side of Defense at the AEI, although somebody should let him know that Bush's agenda does not have to be the AEI or PNAC agenda. There's no doubt that the conservative media and the neocons at the helm are going to be backing their people in Defense. Still, while Defense should be given its props for (most) of their handling of the war, they shouldn't be the ones handling the peace. Not because I think that the U.S. military can't handle it, but because at this point it's already been pretty conclusively demonstrated that Rumsfeld and Co. can't be trusted with the safety and security of the Iraqi people due to their penchant for poor planning. Even if Defense stays in, the neoconservatives should definitely be taken out of rotation, as almost everything they've advocated as a solution for Iraqs woes has either had the stench of empire or has been proven hopelessly wrong. (Witness Chalabi.)

I said long before this war began that nobody would want Saddam around in-and-of himself... that, at best, he's useful mostly as a classic Hobbesian sovereign, there to keep order at the price of freedom, because the chaos of freedom would be even worse. I worried that once he was removed, the situation in Iraq would grow steadily worse, as it's an almost-entirely invented country that was only kept from flying apart by the efforts of British-backed monarchs and then the most powerful strongman in the middle east. It's a little early, of course, but it would appear that religion's centrifugal effects are already starting to take their toll.

I had also said that war is not a magic wand- that it carries its own risks and consequences, ones that can far outweigh the benefits initially sought. The end of both the Franco-Prussian War and the first World's War can be seen as examples of this, as the former led to the latter and the first World War led to an even greater one. This does not mean necessarily that those wars should not have been fought (although it takes a gifted mind to defend the insanity of the first World War), but it does mean that what plays out after the war is over matters, whether it's Bismarck's efforts to isolate France or the Treaty of Versaille where France and its allies pay back Bismarck's successors in spades, not realizing what they're actually seeding. Even the end of the Cold War can be seen in this light, as the breakdown of the U.S.S.R. was deeply traumatic to both Russians and the region, and the fallout in Russian politics has led to a streak of nationalism that is disturbing to anybody who cares to take a close look at it.

This war in Iraq looks to be moving in these very same directions. The blindness, foolishness, zealotry and tendentiousness of the neoconservatives running the show (either directly in the administration or indirectly through the conservative media) are slowly crushing the prospect of peace, prosperity, and secularity in Iraq. If they guessed wrong, and it's pretty manifestly obvious they have, their responsibility for the situation should be highlighted and publicized, and the responsibility for diplomacy should be given back to the diplomats at State.

That may not suit Bush's agenda, as Newt has been charging...

but it may save Iraq.

Edit: Another piece on the same issue. One quote, right at the top, should summarize everything that's wrong with this situation:

Just days before a meeting this week in Beijing between U.S. and North Korean officials, for instance, the Defense Department pressed to have James A. Kelly, the head of the delegation and Powell's chief Asian expert, replaced by Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, a Rumsfeld ally on North Korea. Powell rejected the suggestion.
What more needs to be said? This is a battle between the expertise and pragmatism of the people at State and the neo-conservative movementarians, a group that appears not to have sunk its claws too deep into at least one part of the American executive branch. This definitely puts Newt into context- he's trying to open the door for the Movement to take over State too. Blaming State for the alienation that the Bush doctrine prompted is only the start. Looks like we now know where Bush's next war is going to be, and it's going to be at Foggy Bottom.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Well, looks like the fulmination over the Oil-for-Food program is at this point academic, as France has just announced that they want the sanctions to end. Considering that Bush had already called for this, it's likely that the sanctions will therefore soon be lifted.

Good news, mostly, although it does raise a question: if the situation becomes better in Iraq due to the sanctions being lifted, can the American government justly take credit for this, considering they were instrumental in the creation and continuation of the sanction regime in the first place? I'm sure that many will blame Hussein, but he didn't create the sanctions, he just had them slapped on him when he invaded Kuwait.

Odd how these things work out, hmm?

Anyway, the article includes a quote by Blix about American shenanigans during the inspections:

In an interview with BBC radio aired Tuesday, Mr. Blix said that before the war, the United States and Britain appeared to have used "shaky" intelligence, including forged documents, in an effort to prove Iraq had banned weapons.

He called it “very, very disturbing” that U.S. intelligence failed to identify as fakes documents suggesting that Iraq tried to buy uranium from the West African nation of Niger. He told reporters at the United Nations on Tuesday that the contract about "yellow cake" uranium "was more than shaky, it was a fake."

He also told the BBC that U.S. officials tried to undermine his inspection team by telling the media that he withheld information about an Iraqi drone from the Security Council.

"They felt that stories about these things would be useful to have and they let it out," he said. "It was not the case. It was a bit unfair and hurt us."
It's pretty obvious that the Bush administration had absolutely no interest in or desire for inspections to work, as they would have threatened the policy of regime change... yet they couldn't abandon it entirely, because they hadn't yet made the shift of war justification from WMDs to "freeing Iraqis". Still, confirmation of this obstructionism isn't going to help Bush either in the eyes of non-Americans or in the eyes of history. We'll never know if inspections would have worked, because they weren't allowed to.

Well, this is disturbing. Apparently there are Children at Camp X-Ray.

Children.

I mean, while it isn't the hell that some people portray it as, one of the the primary raisons d'etre for it is interrogation, and it has been shown in the past that the U.S. is not above the use of torture (or allowing others to use torture and then benefiting from the results).

The thought that a U.S. army corporal could be interrogating a child as I write this sends shivers down my spine. Not just for what it means, but what the reaction will be if anybody in the Arab world finds out. Like, for example, if they watch ABC.
Ok, here's a quick question... can anybody tell me how to go about getting archives that go past september of 2002? Is this a blogger bug or some sort of weird template thing?

Edit: Ok, I've futzed with practically everything, and no dice. The only big problem I've seen is that my blog archive template is giving me a "no such file found" bit, which might explain a lot. I hadn't played with that much since I got the blog, but if that's what's doing it, then I'll see about fixing it.

Anybody wish to confer about this in more detail, email me; if I get help, I'll give credit.
Matthew Yglesias writes a somewhat glib bit on the Saddam statues getting knocked down:

Personally, I'm a statue freak so I think people should keep as many statues as possible in their cities. Obviously I understand the impulse to knock down Saddam's statues and I won't blame people if they do it, but I hope that a few are at least left standing as exemplars of what was, after all, a significant period in Iraqi history. They should also consider putting up new statues of other people so that the country doesn't undergo sudden statue depletion. Fortunately, Mesopotamian history is filled with commemorable figures going all the way back to the days of Gilgamesh.
Oddly enough, Saddam may stick around. One of the phenomena that I remember hearing about in conversation a while ago was that statues of Soviet-era Russian leaders and politicians are either going back up in their places of honor or there is significant agitation to do so- up to and including KGB leaders, not the most desirous lot.

I don't see this as being about the policies and actions of the figures in question, of course. The thing is, Yglesias' idea that "it's a significant part of their history" may well be echoed by the people of Iraq themselves, especially if the rebuilding doesn't go as well as hoped (again, see Russia) and many Iraqis start thinking that they would be better off now if they were under Saddam. This would be a huge embarassment to the United States, of course, as (unlike in Russia) the United States was instrumental in the end of Saddam's regime and any nostalgia for said period is a pretty direct rebuke of the U.S., but that's why the rebuilding is so important.

Unfortunately, according to this piece, which implies that many within the government want to bail out fairly soon:

These officials are leaning toward a quick exit from a country that U.S.-led forces conquered in less than a month. The administration remains committed to repairing and rebuilding war-damaged infrastructure, in many cases to standards considerably higher than before the war started, a senior defense official said. Indeed, San Francisco-based Bechtel Group was just awarded an initial $34.6 million contract to rebuild airports, water and electricity systems, roads and railroads.

But the far larger task of ensuring that Iraq emerges as a representative democracy friendly to U.S. interests and operating with a free-market economy would be left to an Iraqi interim authority, which could control key aspects of Iraqi governance within months.
Oops. This could be disasterous. These officials are apparently willing to do the easy stuff (that is, not coincidentially, highly profitable to American companies doing the rebuilding) but not the hard stuff: actually building that democracy that they've been talking about. On a certain level I do sympathize- the longer the American presence, the louder the cries of "colonization", and the behavior of the U.S. to date hasn't exactly disproved that claim. (I wonder how many Iraqis are going to know the name "Halliburton" before this is over?) Still, it's manifestly obvious that the wealth of Iraq could pay for the reconstruction whether or not the U.S. army is there, and it is also obvious that Bush's rhetoric compels him to not just rebuild infrastructure, but play midwife to a middle eastern democracy as much as he is able.

If he cannot do that, and pulls out, then he only demonstrates that Afghanistan's current woes are part-and-parcel of Bush-style "regime change". Those that look back nostalgically at order and prosperity (such as existed in Iraq when it wasn't embroiled in warfare of one kind or another) will want to rebuild not just Saddam's statue, but Saddam's governing style. Interwar Germany all over again.

edit. Kevin Drum posited the eminently sensible idea of letting the U.N. get involved:

A few days ago I suggested that since there were big problems with both a prolonged American presence in Iraq and with a quick pullout, a strong role for the UN would be a good compromise. What I meant, of course, was that a true multinational presence is the best long run solution, and since the UN is the only serious multinational organization we have with experience in nation building and peacekeeping, the UN it is.
He quotes David Adesnik's anti-U.N. argument, but as Adesnik's (or at least that of his argument) conception of U.N. involvement appears to be limited entirely to the oil-for-food program, the IMF, and the World Bank, I think it can be safely dismissed. There's more to the U.N. than those, and I'd question whether he believes that the U.N. is ever successful.

(He also demonstrates a possible inability to understand the job that's necessary when describing a successful rebuilding occupation as "temporary"; as opposed to permanent, maybe, but that's a pretty long "temporary"- and what's with pulling out the "bipartisan consensus" canard that died in the 2002 election?)

No, the real problem is whether the U.N. even really wants the job. I'm sure that more than a few American policymakers who aren't wedded to the anti-U.N. neocon faction would love the U.N. to move in, pick up the job, and pick up the tab. That's the problem, though- since the U.N. didn't support the war, their legitimacy as a body that can confer legitimacy to military action would be even further eroded if they did move in, as they would be seen by all and sundry as an American handmaiden. So it looks like it'll be an American job, not a U.N. one. The U.N. may do it, but it'd create more problems than it solves.

Lot of that going around, come to think of it.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Excellent piece by Teresa Neisen Hayden about the spin doctoring that's dominated this entire "war" and that is currently being done over the looting issue. Quoting would be pointless: just go read it.
Very angry piece about Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds) by Kevin Drum.

This week Glenn seems to have completed his transformation into the Rush Limbaugh of the blogosphere. Like the piece above, in which he "can't help but feel" that journalists and intellectuals are really motivated by sympathy with murderous dictators, Instapundit has turned into an orgy of innuendo and name calling, with anti-war activists saddened because they "didn't get the oceans of civilian blood [they] wanted," smug remarks about how the BBC "has shot itself in the foot" simply for reporting the looting in Baghdad that everyone is reporting now, and snide comments about scare-quoted "neocons," as if these folks don't really exist and it's shocking to suppose that anyone has ever wanted this war to expand beyond Iraq.

Glenn's schtick has always been a bitter and cynical one, but the end of the war seems to have been a watershed for him. Like Rush with his "stack of stuff," Instapundit has turned into nothing more than a clearinghouse for bile, with post after endless post explaining that anyone who disagrees with him is really motivated by a seething hatred of America and a desire to see everything that is good and true torn limb from corrupt limb. The level of rage and contempt that it takes to continue extracting pleasure from banging out this kind of stuff on a daily basis baffles me.
My vote on this is that Glenn is trapped in a "David Brock dilemma". Brock said in his book that although he was bothered by the length and breadth of vitriol that he went to in attacking Clinton and the Democrats, he knew that if he softened up, he'd be in deep trouble with his newfound Movementarian friends. While Glenn isn't a neoconservative, it's pretty clear that any rise in prominence and fame that Glenn will enjoy from here on out will be through Movement outlets like the Washington Times, Fox News, the Weekly Standard and the like. If he antagonizes them by veering off message, like Brock did when he wrote that book about Hillary Clinton, he'll end up persona non grata, or at the very least the kind of person who prompts muttered whispers when not quite within earshot.

In other words, if he veers off message, he'll never be anything more than he is now. I don't think he's quite willing to do that, and in that situation, where there is a logical (if flawed) case to be made for the Movement's positions, it's easier to stay on message and just ratchet up the rhetoric. That's what he's doing, and that's why he's being slowly "Rushified".

On the other hand, he could just be being an ass. Still, the "Brock effect" could be a factor.
Well, looks like nothing's been found so far. The biggest possibility, radioactive material at a weapons plant near Karbala, turned out to be a bust:

The team found radioactive material in a maintenance building and "dual use" biological equipment that could be used for peaceful or military purposes buried in metal containers under huge mounds of gravel and dirt.

Col. Richard McPhee, commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, a Defense Department unit responsible for the search for unconventional weapons, took a specialized nuclear detection team to the site today and removed seven canisters containing a radioactive isotope of cesium from the huge maintenance warehouse.

Although analysts have not yet determined its specific purpose, the experts said they thought that the cesium was probably intended to calibrate machinery in one of the many new buildings and production facilities that were under construction here.
The article goes on to point out that the inspectors are having some real problems: they are underequipped, get either underreaction or overreaction from military brass, and (ironically?) are beset by looters, who are carrying off things before they can be inspected.

Word that the plant was open to pillage spread quickly through surrounding impoverished villages, several of which have been without electricity, medicine and even water since the war began. By the time the Defense Department specialist unit arrived, much had already been looted.

For instance, the experts found manuals that came with two drying ovens imported from Germany, equipment that can be used to culture viruses and bacteria for weapons. But the ovens themselves were gone by the time the specialists arrived.
This is ominous. It suggests that the widespread looting is not just the theft and destruction of the heritage of the Iraqi people by gangs of thieves, but a security risk in-and-of itself if WMDs are indeed present. (Of course, if they aren't, there are other problems.)


By the way... I'd like to address the pathetic Movementarian rhetoric that the looters are somehow "the Iraqi people" and thus deserve their loot. Historical treasures like those found in the National Museum belong to all the Iraqi people, not just whichever got to the loot first. By allowing looters to steal and destroy these antiquities, the Bush administration (who, as I mentioned, were warned about this) are either inadvertently or deliberately erasing the past of the Iraqi people. This is also true of the fineries in Saddam's palaces- why should something that belongs to all the Iraqi people only benefit those who happen to live in Baghdad and fight their way into the compound first? If the palaces are to be sold off, then let them, but it should benefit all equally, not whomever happens to luck into stealing it. It is precisely this problem which plagues the former Soviet Union, albeit on a much, much grander scale: the kleptocrats were and are essentially looters, and beneficiaries of one rather unsuccessful form of American-led "transition". That, of course, wasn't Bush's fault, and had nothing to do with him. Still, it's an object lesson- looters are not representatives, or victims. They are simply thieves, stealing what should be public property and making it private without the people's knowledge or consent.

Then again, if you stop and think about it, that isn't a new thing for the Movementarians, is it?
Here's a thought:

While there's no doubt that many of the archeological treasures that were looted over the last week-or-so have been destroyed, many (possibly most) may not have been. Pretty much everybody who is in charge in Iraq (for what that's worth) is no doubt going to be anxious to have these things returned to the Iraqi people as a whole, safely kept within the museums within which they belong. However, a "get tough" law and order approach to this will be possibly more trouble than its worth, as it'll be fairly simple to smash/burn/whatever the artifacts, and I for one don't give a rats ass about punishment as opposed to getting those treasures back safely.

So whoever does eventually run the show over there, I have a suggestion: complete amnesty for those that return the artifacts, including (perhaps) a reward for their safe return. Does this mean that this may reward thieves? Yes, but punishment of theft, no matter how great, is of vanishing importance compared to the historical record itself. It would also set them apart from Saddam's regime, who would have no doubt taken a hard (read: murderous) line on anything like this, and the shock of the differing treatment may do wonders for convincing people that the new boss is not the same as the old boss.

If this step has already been taken, then fine, no problem, great minds and suchlike. If it hasn't, however, it should be considered. This is the history of civilization here, and it's more important than vengeance.

Edit: that being said, some thought should be given as to the larger responsibility here. I had thought that this was an unanticipated accident. According to this, however, we appear to have ended up in another situation where the basic incompetence of the Bush administration is demonstrated, and its the one thing that Bush was supposed to be good at: they never, ever listen. At least, to anyone outside the Movement.
I was gratified to discover a mention in an (as usual) excellent piece by Digby, one part of which I'd like to elaborate on:

The lesson of Iraq is that the United States is going to do what it wants to do without regard to international law or any nation’s good faith effort to cooperate. If they have decided to take military action against you it is a fait accompli. “Aggressive engagement” looks suspiciously like the “Decade of Defiance and Deception” public relations package that sold the war to the American public. No world leader is now under the misapprehension that complying with American demands necessarily guarantees that he will not be invaded and deposed anyway. There is no value in face saving or compromise because the US has proved that it will change its goals and create new rationales at will. So, the only question for any leader in this situation is whether to surrender without bloodshed or go down fighting. All moral authority is vested in America's willingness to deploy its military.

American foreign policy is now entirely unpredictable and is based upon nothing more than an elastic self-serving notion of American security. It requires no international consensus regardless of whether it directly impacts US national security and does not follow any international law or norms. It interprets treaties as it wishes without regard to precedent and holds other nations to standards to which it does not hold itself. It does not speak with one voice so its impossible to judge its real position and act accordingly. The American public are overwhelmingly supportive of the administration's new policy regardless of whether the government lies blatently about its reasons so there is little hope of any internal pressure to moderate. The world must now base its relationship with America on nothing more than blind hope or fear of one man's unknown intentions.
There are two related problems here: One being international law, the other being international power. The United States is the most powerful country in the world right now, with nobody to match it- that's why those who run the United states feel they can discard international bodies like the UN, as they think the U.S. doesn't require any sort of collective security arrangement to make itself safer- indeed, it is so powerful at this point that its security objectives are supposedly better served by simple force.

This seems to be an attempt to discard "soft power" or, at least, redefine it to suit the purposes of the neoconservatives.It used to be that they felt this required at least the appearance of multilateralism, but outside of the sad show that was the "coalition" (where countries were either strongarmed into joining or just added without their knowledge), multilateralism is pretty much dead right now. Without a new paradigm for soft power outside of "collective consent" (Which is what the U.N. represents), there's not much else to go on: the "liberator" bit is going to get old quickly, and isn't going to win the U.S. any friends or allies among governments that don't want to see today's Baghdad become paradigmatic. The "shining city on the hill bit" may be good enought to keep local support, but it won't gain any soft power in international relations. The problem is that without soft power, the United States' control only lasts as long as its military is strong enough to fend everybody off... and without any ethical basis by which the United States can justify this arrangement, other countries can portray their contra-American buildups as morally justifiable, and even use it to build what they see as "defensive" alliances.

Up until now that would be counter-productive at least, but then again up until now they could rely on the United States being reluctant to wage war and wanting to be seen as having a stake in international order. As both of those are gone, what's to stop an arms buildup, especially in countries that are friendly today but recognize that they might not be tomorrow?

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Well, one bit of good news: at least according to this Guardian piece, there's no appetite for an invasion of Syria, at least, not right now.

he White House has privately ruled out suggestions that the US should go to war against Syria following its military success in Iraq, and has blocked preliminary planning for such a campaign in the Pentagon, the Guardian learned yesterday.

In the past few weeks, the US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, ordered contingency plans for a war on Syria to be reviewed following the fall of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, his undersecretary for policy, Doug Feith, and William Luti, the head of the Pentagon's office of special plans, were asked to put together a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria, outlining its role in supplying weapons to Saddam Hussein, its links with Middle East terrorist groups and its allegedly advanced chemical weapons programme. Mr Feith and Mr Luti were both instrumental in persuading the White House to go to war in Iraq.

Mr Feith and other conservatives now playing important roles in the Bush administration, advised the Israeli government in 1996 that it could "shape its strategic environment... by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria".

However, President George Bush, who faces re-election next year with two perilous nation-building projects, in Afghanistan and Iraq, on his hands, is said to have cut off discussion among his advisers about the possibility of taking the "war on terror" to Syria.

"The talk about Syria didn't go anywhere. Basically, the White House shut down the discussion," an intelligence source in Washington told the Guardian.
Interesting if true. I'm wondering, however, whether this is actually Bush's doing. The political leadership at the White House (Card and Rove) might be in conflict with the warhawks on this. The hawks are in full-on "let's blitz our way across the Mideast" mode, whereas the political types know that starting belligerence in Syria could backfire in a massive way, and are probably counting on that "reverse domino effect" to do the job of aiding U.S. interests anyway.

Just goes to show: when there's no real political opposition, the conflict will inevitably become internal. It happened with the Liberals in Canada, and it may be building in the Republicans in the United States.
Don't know what to think of this... anybody got any other links to this effect?

(Important part bolded)An Iranian news agency allegedly close to top conservative military figures attributed the fall of Baghdad to a secret tripartite agreement between Saddam Hussain, Russia and the US.

According to the Baztab agency, al-Sahaf was instructed to stay in Baghdad until the very last moments to lend the impression that everything in Saddam's camp was under control. The agency also claimed that Russia gained $5 billion to orchestrate this agreement.Anyone got other sources for that idea? It's unattributed in this article (which was about al-Sahaf), and the only version I had heard didn't involve the U.S.
From Eric Tam:

Hey, Steven "Le Nuke" Den Beste, Michael Ledeen, William Safire, and all of you other whackjob righties who argued that the French and the Germans were in some sort of insane conspiratorial alliance with Saddam Hussein and/or fundamentalist Muslim groups to assault the United States, repeat after me:

Those French and German soldiers are still in Afghanistan.

That's right. Not once, during the entire UN imbroglio did either France or Germany utter a word about the contribution of its vitally needed troops from the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. This was the Bush Administration, that holy defender of muscular humanitarianism, who threatened to withdraw American participation from the Bosnia peacekeeping mission so as to get its way with the International Criminal Court. In other words, it held the peacekeeping mission hostage as a foreign policy bargaining chip.

Given this difference in behaviour, it's incredible to me that so many Americans could sincerely assert the humanity of the American power and the perfidity of the Europeans. Do they realize how important ISAF is to the thin line between Karzai's very fragile regime in Kabul and an Afghanistan that's completely at the mercy of the Taliban or a bunch of warlord thugs? Or that the U.S. continues to refuse to lend support for its expansion outside of Kabul?

The next time you hear someone mouthing off about Freedom Fries or some other such nonsense, remember Bill's mantra about our European friends. And say it after me again:

Those French and German soldiers are still in Afghanistan.
Not much more that needs to be said, except that the action in Afghanistan wasn't even under the U.N.- the French and Germans are there solely because they're supporting the Americans in that. It's certainly true that one of the reasons they're there is because they don't want the heat for leaving, but as Kleiman mentioned, that doesn't mean that they still couldn't, and that it doesn't matter that they're still there.
Stanley Kurtz is calling for war with North Korea, using a neat bit of circular logic:

What are the North Koreans really after? Are they practicing nuclear brinkmanship and blackmail simply as a way of extorting financial aid and security guarantees from the West, or has Kim Jong Il made a fundamental decision that nuclear weapons are essential to the survival of his regime...

...I believe that Kim Jong Il has decided that the survival of his regime depends upon the possession of nuclear weapons. Such a decision by the North Koreans would be entirely rational... He also knows that, post-9/11, the United States is especially interested in putting an end to his regime. Given that, Kim has every reason to conclude that the only certain way to deter the United States and its potential allies is through the possession of nuclear weapons.

It is true, of course, that the very possession of nuclear weapons is what makes the North Korean regime anathema to the United States. So why not disarm and survive?
Well, offhand, I'd say it probably has something to do with the fact that it's not the possession of nuclear weapons that would cause the Americans to invade North Korea, but (as this article aptly demonstrates) the possibility that at one point the North Koreans may have nuclear weapons. I realize that it's easy to forget that the exact moment this whole crisis began was when Bush threw North Korea onto the "Axis of Evil" and prompted them to start madly pushing to get nukes because they knew that Bush was going to take them out, but if you're going to place blame for the failure of negotiations, that's where it should go. The Bush administration has demonstrated that it doesn't matter whether or not the weapons exist or the desire exists to use it, just that it might down the road.

Indeed, look at how he follows up:

And given North Korea’s isolation, possession of a nuclear deterrent may be the only realistic path to regime survival. Put yourself in the place of Kim Jong Il. Would you feel safe knowing you were years away from reconstituting your nuclear weapons program? Would you trust the United States to harmlessly funnel massive economic aid to your now denuclearized state, or would you fear covert or overt American steps to destabilize and destroy your now denuclearized regime before you had a chance to change your mind and rearm?
This is a familiar logic, then; the cop-movie cliche where one person asks a second which person he should kill, and then the second agonizes because he's supposedly "responsible", even though he didn't pull the trigger. Kurtz's logic depends on the United States being seen as a threat by Pyongyang, and the very existence of the piece and the line of argument it generates is the surest proof that such a threat exists! Kurtz acknowledges that what the North Koreans are most concerned about is the possibility of the Americans bringing down their regime anyway; he's damned if they do, damned if they don't, choosing only the excuse given. He's right in one respect- at this point, the surest route to security for any dictator is to get nukes, and I can guarantee that they're all eyeing the Russian arsenal very, very closely as their own day of an American takeover gets closer and closer, unless they're lucky enough to be aligned with the U.S., like Pakistan. This is, of course, the security dilemma (defensive acts by one actor seen as offensive by another), and is exactly the kind of thing that the concept of national sovereignty is supposed to prevent. If sovereignty is assured, then things like nukes aren't needed, because invasion isn't likely unless a country prompts it. With the United States' current belligerence, the only possible way to ensure peace is either an empire, or for the U.S. to make sure that all their non-allies are too weak and isolated to survive, let alone pose a threat. Kurtz' arguments are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Friday, April 11, 2003

From the "I don't know a bloody thing about history" file:

This resembled the end of the Cold War because it was, in a different context, exactly the same thing.It's the end of a vicious, oppressive dictatorship, that had clung on to power, with the help of the Soviet Union and France and China, well past its due date.
Hmm...Let's see. Was Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union at the end of the cold war:

-Vicious? Nope.
-Oppressive? Not really- witness his bringing back that critical physicist from Siberia, and the reason the August 1991 coup happened was partially because he was so eager not to oppress.
-A Dictator? He was responsible for building an elected assembly and was a committed democratic reformer. If anything his successor was the dictatorial one, as his flood of presidential decrees can attest, along with his willingness to wreck the region in order to gain power. (The CIS was a sad joke.)
-Beaten by American troops? Nope, only by the unworkability of his own economic system, which was understood way back in the Brezhnev and Krushchev days, but they were too paranoid about the United States to do anything about it. Reagan, if anything, pushed the reforms back.
-in any way comparable to Saddam Hussein? Not by a longshot. Hell, neither was Brezhnev or Krushchev. Gorbachev was about as Stalinist as Sullivan himself. Less so, probably.

So what on earth is Sullivan on about? Oh yeah- obfuscating the point that the Soviet Union ended peacefully, and that American force usually ends up doing more harm than good. Will it in this case? Only if Americans let Bush get away with it. It already happened once in Afghanistan. Let's not let it happen again, hmm?
The face of liberation:

The most obvious example is Afghanistan, the land the Bush administration forgot. Most of the country is back under the control of fundamentalist warlords; unpaid soldiers and policemen are deserting in droves. (Remember that the Bush administration forgot to include any Afghan aid in its latest budget.)

President Hamid Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, told an Associated Press reporter: "It is like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem. What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."
Those who tell you that Afghanistan is stable and peaceful, that the bombing ended up meaning everything... they are lying to you, and innocent Afghans are paying the price. Now that the war in Iraq is perceived as being over, the key to ensure that this does not happen again is to not be distracted by saber-rattling at Iran and Syria (who, let's remember, have no U.N. sanctions aimed at them and thus would be the injured parties in the case of an invasion) and to keep on asking "what about Iraq? What about Afghanistan? What about Iraq? What about Afghanistan?" over and over and over again. Not just in a few weeks. Not just in a few months. Not even just this year. Every chance possible from now until election day. If Iraq and Afghanistan aren't exactly what was promised, if innocent Iraqis and Afghans die because the neocons are too busy conquering to roll up their sleeves and rebuild, then the blame will lie at least partially on those who did not have the courage to stand up and ask the questions.

At this point, WMDs aren't an issue- the Bushites justified this war solely on humanitarian grounds. Fine. If that's the position they want to take, then they should be held to it. If they don't live up to their promises, then they should be as hounded as Clinton was. More so- as he lied about sex, and they lied about death. If they do live up to their promises, then they will have demonstrated that the American Empire will be just and moral.

If they want to discard the rules that have undergirded the international system for hundreds of years, then they should be held responsible for it. All of it.
On Saddam et al:

There has been a fair bit of talk (one example here), about how the fall of the Hussein regime means that the wariness with which the left has viewed the enterprise and their continuing concerns are somehow wrong, because of the relief that Iraqis have demonstrated that Saddam is gone.

I personally see that as a deliberate miscasting of the views of myself (and many others) who have been against this. The problem has been and continues to be not the removal of Saddam himself, but the repercussions and side effects of that act. Everybody knew the United States was going to win, and expected that this moment would arise. The problem is not what's going on now, but what follows. The questions still remain: What will the United States do with Iraq? How will it control it? Will the Iraqis initial happiness that Saddam is gone turn into anger at American rule? Will the country dissolve into chaos? What will be the effects on the region, on the world, and on multilateralism and the concept of sovereignty? To say that these questions are invalidated or solved because because the dictator got overthrown is tendentious nonsense.

Am I happy that Saddam is gone? To the extent that it helps the Iraqi people, certainly. Do I believe that it may end up doing more harm than good? Quite possibly. Do I think that this moment justifies the U.S. conquering and then building a new system of mandates in the Middle East? I've read a little bit too much history for that.
Wow... I wouldn't have expected this, but I just ran across a fairly pro-Palestinian piece over at Doug Turnbull's blog, dealing with the reality of that "98%" talking point that gets bandied about a lot. It's not new news, but the source is certainly interesting.

He's also got an interesting series on Al Qaeda, as well.
Digby has been converted
In completely unrelated news, Blogger appears to be working again. Instead of getting consistent "something's messed up" messages and fouling my template, I'm just getting the good old "your publish request" bit. Nice to see it.
I should probably address this and this, as I have linked to the Agonist in the past. For those who aren't up to speed, the Agonist was posting unsourced information, and at least part of that information was from Stratfor, a paid strategic forecasting site. He has since apologized, made a deal with Stratfor, and retroactively linked to everything. Normally, that would be case closed, but a number of bloggers have been practically foaming at the mouth in their hatred and loathing of the Agonist.

The thing is, with the exception of those few "birdie told me" cases where he claimed to be getting the information from unnamed sources (which are, certainly, inexcusable), he was quite clear from the start that he was drawing on other sources. He may not have linked to those sources, but that does not entail him "claiming the work as his own" outside of what I've already mentioned. Whether this is second- or third-hand information (which seems to be the crux of Andrew Hagen's complaint) seems irrelevant, as the same could be said of information he gleaned from other bloggers and from news sources that draw on other news sources (such as, say, the NYT from the AP) for information. In fact, it's important to note that one of Stratfor's methods for gaining intelligence is their own analysis of the foreign press, which is one of the reasons they're so accurate.

There are also complaints that the problem is that he copied posts "word for word" from Stratfor. Fine, but this isn't any more or less plagiarism than if he paraphrased; the problem with plagiarism is not citing information properly, and the ordering of words is a fairly minor matter, in my mind, compared to the question of sourcing.

(That leaves the "I pay for stratfor, why should he be able to publish it for free" bit, which is just another redux of very old arguments about information distribution.)

The reason why the Agonist was good and the reason why I read it at the time and still do now (although not as much, as things aren't quite so critical) is because of the numbers of sources he drew on and the ability he had to boil out any editorializing involved. Even if you completely eliminate the Stratfor stuff, it would have been a good read and a good summarization of the situation. If anything, my biggest complaint is that the Stratfor info was unnecessary; he could have simply relied on his original tactic of watching and reading rather a lot of news. That's where his worth was, and what it remains now. Leaving aside fulminations by those who, I suspect, are more concerned with the readers the Agonist has taken away from other warblogs manned by themselves and their friends.

Should he be criticized? Sure, but he should be for what he has actually done, and there should be a sense of reality here. Stratfor has dealt with it, the Agonist has apologized, and this will no doubt be old news in a few weeks, but I think that the piling on that I've seen is way out of proportion.

Edit: Just to make this clear, this is the first, last, and only post I'm going to write on this subject.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Wait a second... RUMSFELD is saying, live on CNN, that the U.S. should find out how "the Iraqis gained their weapon capabilities"? I'm having Memento flashbacks.

"Hi, I'm Donald. I have this condition..."

I also like the bit about the "flow of weapons of mass destruction and key personnel into bordering countries". Yep, definitely setting up for a push into either Syria or Iran, or both. It also neatly gets around the question of whether or not the WMDs existed in the first place, which the U.S. takes as a given, but which the rest of the world (and many within America, to be fair) find more than a little suspicious. It's funny, actually, because it's a can't-lose situation, as it's quite likely that Syria and Iran will have some form of chemical or biological weapons, and the U.S. could easily claim that they're transplanted Iraqi weapons, whether they are or not.

Come to think about it, it looks like I've just ferreted out the justification for "regime change" in the rest of the region. The United States has no legal grounds on which to take away anybody's chemical weapons (as it's not even a signatory to the treaty, last I checked), but if it can just claim they belonged to the Iraqis, that should be enough to keep the American public relatively onside.
Just heard somebody on CNN say "it's not about one man, it's about changing the regime".

Which, of course, completely contradicts the terms given to Saddam before the invasion.

Figures. Wonder if it'll be about "changing the Syrian regime" next?
As Sean-Paul said, the footage of Saddam's statue being brought down on CNN right now is extremely compelling.

There has been a lot about this situation that has been, to be blunt, deeply weird. The apparent "melting away" of the Republican guard, the relatively poor defense of Baghdad (especially compared to Basra earlier), and the lack of much in the way of WMDs. I just hope that this isn't an attempt to replicate Stalingrad, with the army waiting until the Americans get settled in before attacking through surprise. (Can't remember where I read about the possibility of that tactic.. I believe it was UPI). Seems unlikely though.

One thing that really grabbed me was the placement of a pre-Gulf War flag on the statue base, the one without the Allahu Ackbar bit on it. Perhaps we're seeing the reassertion of the basic secularity of the Iraqi people? If so, that might make things somewhat easier

In any case, it would appear that this is moving into the occupation phase. At least in Iraq. Syria, perhaps, is another matter.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Hoo boy.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has summoned the American and Iraqi ambassadors in Moscow to demand the punishment of those responsible for the attack on their diplomatic convoy.
So now both sides have reason to be ticked off at one another: the Americans for Russian sales of military equipment to the Iraqis, and the Russians for what would appear to be Americans killing their diplomats in their eagerness to take out Iraqi soldiers.

I doubt anything good can come of this.

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Damn, I feel so superfluous these days.

I'm not linking to a specific article because I don't need to, and you don't want me to. For those few reading here who don't read Hullabaloo, just start from the top and keep in reading. It's all good stuff.
Just a quick point, based on something I read in one of the comments threads: it is absolutely, positively, entirely unethical to invade a country and impose a government. Whether done in the noblest intentions or the most cynical, it is a betrayal of the right of a people and a nation to govern themselves... a right just as important as any that might be used as the justification for invasion.

To put this in perspective, this is exactly the same justification used by the Soviets when they invaded Hungary and Czechoslovakia- that they were "protecting the rights of the proletariat" within. The rights that the Soviets were purporting to be "defending" may have been different than the rights that the United States would be "defending" were it to invade Iran, Syria, or whatever, but the outcome would be the same. It is no different than the British citing their "white man's burden" back during the days of their empire, either; it is almost precisely the argument used in order to justify the British "mandatory" client-nation system that was largely responsible for the mess that is the middle east in the first place.

Of course, whether it's actually moral or not is probably irrelevant at this point, because this war has demonstrated the awesome power of the conservative spin machine to dominate and define the public discourse in the United States. The discourse in the rest of the world, of course, doesn't matter at this point. Still, it should be said.
As seen over at Eschaton, said by plainclothed Army officers to a scared mother:

"They showed her a picture of her son wearing a t-shirt that said 'Unfuck the world' on the front, and 'Dethrone the Bushes' on the back. They told her that was an un-American statement. She said, 'That's free speech,' and they said, 'Well, things are changing these days.'"
I think the saddest thing about this sort of thing is that I'm not surprised anymore. Ah well, at least it's another thing to throw in the face of those who spout off "I don't feel any less free to express my (popular) opinion, so obviously nothing's changed".
I'm going to repost something here that I posted in Atrios' message board about Syria. It's in response to this:

I believe the next conflict with Syria will be sold to us along the lines of: "We are going to attack Syria cos they have WMD, Osama and Saddam - who are plotting a new terrorist attack against our country"
These supposed WMDs have become quite the MacGuffin, haven't they?

One slight problem, though. The (very) thin justification that Bush and Co. had for invading Iraq... the broken resolutions... simply don't apply here. If the U.S. invades Syria, it will be flagrantly in violation of international law in a way that hasn't been seen since the Soviets rolled the tanks into Czechoslovakia. WMDs are *not* enough reason to invade, after all: if they were, then the United States itself would be a perfectly valid target. Assisting Iraq isn't enough, either, as the United States was the aggressor here.

Then again, at this point, the only thing that matters is keeping the American public onside, and as long as we keep getting this flood of 9/11 namedropping and "you aren't anti-american, are you?" McCarthyism, I don't see what can be done here.

You want to know what's really scary? Even if the United States isn't fascist (and it isn't), I can easily see the behavior mentioned above used to justify a fascist regime as "democracy doesn't work... the U.S. proves it". Were Putin interested, Russia could start going down this path really, really soon. Fascism in Russia is marginal now, but it was during the Weimar republic, too.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Max Sawicky discusses the death of Michael Kelly, a man whose politics and polemics he didn't like but whose reportage he did. I'm with him on at least one point: attempts to use this to make cheap political points is distasteful no matter what side of the spectrum you're on. Out of respect for that, I won't be naming names.
What Digby said.

Looks like the next target is Iran. I can't wait to see what kind of justification they pull out for that one.
So according to various sources, U.S. troops are now fighting in at least the outskirts of Baghdad, and whatever that "unconventional attack" from Iraq was supposed to be, it hasn't materialized. Indeed, if what CNN says is true (and one should be careful about any source at this point), wealthy Iraqis and some army groups are bailing out of Baghdad.

On the other hand, the associated press is saying "no sign of Americans in Baghdad", outside of a quick raid into the city.

I can see why most bloggers aren't really reporting on the war. Contradiction ahoy.
Kevin Drum asks:

Here's my question: why do I read stuff like this so often? As near as I can tell, the world is full of people who are contemptuous of government agencies and government employees, but they always make an exception for their own friends and for people they themselves have worked for. To a man, these folks are portrayed as islands of sanity in an otherwise hellish sea of indolence and backstabbing.
To an extent, it might just be personal loyalty, but there's more to it than that, because it extends to elected officials. Polling in the past has constantly and clearly showed that while people will rail against Congress, they usually describe their own Reps and Senators as exceptions to the rule. Thing is, the reason why they do is because that is exactly what they're usually told is the case: that the candidate in question is going to "clean up Washington/the state capitol", contrasting themselves with the big scary government machine that they're going to be going up against, "Mr. Smith goes to washington" style. Partially it's because of differences within the country being reflected in the legislatures but not in the actual representatives, but the simple reality of posturing and negative advertising (as well as utterly candidate-driven elections where party only makes a difference once you're already elected) have more to do with it.

This effect, of course, spills over to the bureaucracy: fearsome as a whole, demonized by everybody, victim of tons of political rhetoric... yet getting to know each individual reveals that far from being a cog in the machine, bureaucrats are as much people as anybody else. That lady who gave you a hard time at the DMV is doing her job, just like everybody else, and its a job that at least partially requires people to be a little cold because they can't be seen as playing favorites when interacting with the public.

Once you stop thinking of these people as The Other and return to them their humanity, you'd be surprised at how different things really are. We do it for individuals. It's a shame we can't seem to ever do it as a whole.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Well now... looks like Congress is taking sides in the Powell/Rumsfeld dispute.

A war spending bill that is headed for enactment next week contains unusually blunt language that gives Powell, and explicitly not Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, control over $2.5 billion to be spent on postwar reconstruction in Iraq.

The two Cabinet officers were at odds last year over Iraq, but tensions appeared to subside after Powell decided that diplomatic efforts to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime would not work and joined the call for use of military force. But now key members of Congress suspect that Rumsfeld is trying to elbow Powell out of what is traditionally diplomatic territory: postwar reconstruction.

The House of Representatives version of the spending bill says the money must be "apportioned only to the Department of State" or civilian agencies. The Senate bill explicitly bars the reconstruction funds from being used for "any Department of Defense activity."
That amounts to a congressional rebuke of the White House. The administration wanted Bush to be able to decide who would use the $2.5 billion. Members of Congress thought that meant Rumsfeld would get the money.

"It has been clear to us for quite some time that the Department of Defense would like to take over the management of relief and reconstruction," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said. "Policy and spending decisions regarding postwar relief and reconstruction should be made at the State Department — and nowhere else." Lowey is the top-ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee that controls spending on foreign operations.

The Republican chairman of the panel agrees. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., says leaving the military in charge of reconstruction would be costly because relief agencies and allies, especially Arab allies, would be be less likely to help. "No country is going to put aid workers under a general," Kolbe says.
Signs of tension between Congressional Republicans and the Bush administration? Maybe, but it might well be more because of the heat that Rumsfeld has taken over the conduct of the war. Even if things go swimmingly from now until the end, the questions raised about Iraqi resistence are probably going to damage Rumsfeld's credibility for at least a while, and Kolbe had a point: other countries would be far less willing to help the U.S. with the reconstruction if DoD was leading the way.

On the other hand, as DoD had clearly expected control over Iraq afterwards, this could mean that State and the DoD may have been caught flatfooted on this. I'm sure state will come up with their own plans quickly enough.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Congratulations to long-time liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias for getting a job as a "writing fellow" over at The American Prospect. He's a good writer and I'm glad to see it.

It does raise a question to me, though. If Matthew were pseudonymous like Atrios or myself, would they still have offered him the gig, or would they have asked him to "come out" first?