Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Did Anyone Bother To Ask?
Under this analysis, America is made safer by confronting the jihadists in Iraq, rather than on American soil. Presumably, the presence of American troops provides an immediate and attractive target for jihadis who flood into Iraq and become stuck on the flypaper of our troop presence rather than turning their attentions westward to North America.
In the past, I have objected to certain aspects of this theory, particularly the failure to realize that there is not a finite number of jihadis in the world, especially if policies such as the Iraq war are increasing their ranks by radicalizing more and more otherwise non-combatants. It's as if we are breeding flies and then touting our flypaper at the same time.
Then there's the issue of what to do when we eventually do leave Iraq, thus removing our GI/targets, and the jihadists that remain decide to depart Iraq - only now with the tactical training, know-how, indoctrination, networking and other abilities so enhanced as to increase their lethality and ability to strike at us (this phenomenon was discussed by me on LAT here). It's as if we are breeding flies on steroids and then touting our flypaper at the same time, despite the flypaper's limited shelf-life.
This, of course, says nothing about the fact that in essence, under this model, we are using our soldiers as bait to lure in a dangerous element. Human targets if you will. Perhaps that sort of thing comes with the job description though.
Despite this introduction, it is worth pointing out that all of the above mentioned strategic concerns and analysis are based on a strictly American perspective. In other words, has anyone thought to ask the Iraqi people how they feel about their country becoming the stage upon which we Americans choose to fight our battle with the jihadists?
In the run up to the war, and since the invasion, many on the Right have prefered to characterize the Left as arrogant, elitist and racist based on the charge that the Left doesn't think the Iraqis, or Muslims in general for that matter, are capable of handling "democracy" (why else, after all, would anyone on the Left object to this war?). But many of these same voices feel perfectly comfortable with the notion of turning Iraq into one giant battlefield to test our mettle with the foreign fighters - displaying a glib disregard for the tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of Iraqis who will get caught in the cross fire. How's that for arrogant and elitist? Is it within our right as a nation to designate Country X as an acceptable staging ground for such a conflict - regardless of the enormous toll in human lives such a prolonged engagement will take on the indigenous population? Does this willingness somehow display a profound respect for the denizens of Country X?
President Bush made frequent, and in my opinion (publius too) non-sequitur, references to 9/11 last night in the context of our operations in Iraq, but consider this: America, tragically, lost almost 3,000 people on 9/11. Iraq has lost well over 100,000. Is it fair to impose this kind of disproportional carnage on another nation - especially one unconnected to the events of 9/11 in the first place? Are Iraqi lives worth less, and this from the crowd that "respects" the Iraqi people? Bush as quoted by Reuters:
"Iraq is where they are making their stand. So we will fight them there, we will fight them across the world, and we will stay in the fight until the fight is won," he said on the anniversary of the formal return of sovereignty to Iraqis.Understandably, such a cavalier willingness to transform Iraq into a perpetual battlefield with aspiring jihadists did not go over so well with many Iraqis. It becomes easier to understand how even those Iraqis pleased with the overthrow of Saddam could come to resent the presence of American troops.
"Why don't they find another place to fight terrorism?" asked Abdul Ridha al-Hafadhi, 58, head of a humanitarian aid group. "I don't feel comforted by Bush's remarks; there must be a timetable for their departure."Syria anyone? Unless you're so arrogant and dismissive that you think they can't handle democracy...
(cross-posted on Liberals Against Terrorism)
[Update: From the files of "It becomes easier to understand how even those Iraqis pleased with the overthrow of Saddam could come to resent the presence of American troops..." check out this story (via the oh-so Cunning Realist - whose own post is well worth the read):
A senior US military chief has admitted "good, honest" Iraqis are fighting American forces.That, or flowers and candies. Either one.]
Major General Joseph Taluto said he could understand why some ordinary people would take up arms against the US military because "they're offended by our presence".
In an interview with Gulf News, he said: "If a good, honest person feels having all these Humvees driving on the road, having us moving people out of the way, having us patrol the streets, having car bombs going off, you can understand how they could [want to fight us]."
General Taluto, head of the US 42nd Infantry Division which covers key trouble spots, including Baquba and Samarra, also said some Iraqis not involved in fighting did support insurgents who avoided hurting civilians.
He said: "There is a sense of a good resistance, or an accepted resistance. They say 'okay, if you shoot a coalition soldier, that's okay, it's not a bad thing but you shouldn't kill other Iraqis.'"[...]
His comments come in stark contrast to the assertions of other top US figures, who persist in claiming all insurgents are either Baathists or Al Qaida terrorists.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Prison Guards And Jailers As Ambassadors
Security contractors were heckled, humiliated and physically abused by U.S. Marines in Iraq while jailed for 72 hours with insurgents, one of the detainees said Friday.Now if this is how American contractors - ex-military at that - are being treated, is there any expectation that Iraqis are being treated any better? This is reminiscent of the story of the US soldier who while posing undercover as a detainee at Gitmo, was beaten so savagely by military guards who were unaware of his status as an American that he suffers permanent brain damage. Further, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that all detainees in Iraq are terrorists when there are standards for detention such as these. Look, the bottom line is this is one of the reasons counterinsurgency is so tricky and occupations so difficult - especially when there are cultural divides. Given the stresses of combat, and the perverse dynamic of the jailer and jailed, people will tend to over-react, seek vengeance against vague embodiments of the "enemy" and allow for crueler, more sadistic tendencies to come to the surface.
"It was disbelief the whole time. I couldn't believe what was happening," said Matt Raiche, 34, an ex-Marine who was one of 16 American and three Iraqi contractors detained at Camp Fallujah last month.
"I just found it crazy that we were being held with terrorists, that we were put in the same facility with them," he told The Associated Press in an interview at his lawyer's office. "They were calling us a rogue mercenary team."
Defense officials disclosed on Thursday that the security guards for Charlotte, N.C.-based Zapata Engineering were detained for three days after they fired from trucks and SUVs on Iraqi civilian cars and U.S. forces in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.[...]
Company president Manuel Zapata said the only shot fired by his workers was a warning blast after they noticed a vehicle following them.
Raiche, of Dayton, Nev., said the contractors were stopped and taken into custody on May 28. He said a Marine told him that shots had been fired, and Raiche told him, "It wasn't us."
Raiche said several of the contractors were interrogated before they were released June 1 with no official explanation for their detention.
Raiche said guards intimidated the detainees with dogs, made them strip and told them to wear towels over their heads when they went to the restroom so insurgents in the facility would not recognize and harm them, Raiche said.
One of his colleagues was slammed to the ground by a guard, he said.
"His head bounced off the asphalt." Raiche said. "He told me he heard one guard say to another, 'If he moves, let the dog loose.'"
Raiche said his colleague told him that a guard then reached down and "squeezed his testicles so hard he could barely move."
When Raiche first arrived at the facility, he said a guard ordered him to the ground and put a knee in his back. He said he heard one Marine say, "How does it feel now making that big contractor money?"
Raiche said the Marines handcuffed them with "zip lock ties." When the detainees complained they were so tight they were losing circulation in their hands, they were cursed at and told to shut up, Raiche said.
But this is true in almost every setting, no matter if the prison happens to be in a war zone or not. Consider, for example, the findings of the Zimbardo experiment as discussed by TTN:
In 1971 Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo conducted a psychological study to determine the effects of the prison environment on those within its walls. To do this, he constructed a simulated prison in the basement of Stanford's Psychology Department building. The simulation protocol was developed in consultation with a group of experienced prison consultants (including one former inmate) in order to ensure an accurate reflection of the reality of incarceration. To populate the prison, Zimbardo placed an ad in a local newspaper offering $15 a day for participants. Respondents were screened to eliminate candidates with health issues, psychological problems, histories of drug abuse, or criminal propensities. The remaining sample of 24 was randomly split into two groups; one half would serve as prisoners, the other half as guards.This prisoner/guard relationship is particularly problematic for America's efforts in Iraq because there was a pre-existing mistrust and animosity to the United States amongst much of Iraq's population, and the abuses unfortunately fall in line with the otherwise implausible propaganda. Given that most of the detainees in these prisons are eventually released back into the population, the prison guards, jailers and MPs - who are all too often (caveat: though not always) transformed by the prison itself in less than savory ways - are serving as one wing of our ambassador corps in Iraq. What kind of message, what attitude toward insurgents and coalition forces, do you think these released prisoners bring to their respective communities? Unfortunately, the likely tales told only serve to reinforce the anti-American bias rampant in the region, which obviously complicates matters further.
Originally Zimbardo had planned to run the experiment for two weeks. However, in merely five days, the situation in the faux prison had spun wildly out of control. The prisoners were beginning to exhibit serious psychological pathologies, including deep interpersonal withdrawal and hysteria. In contrast, the guards had become sadists, subjecting the prisoners to ever-increasing levels of cruelty and humiliation. For the safety of everyone involved, the prisoners were released and the prison disassembled.
In spite of the fact that the experiment participants were identical as the study commenced, a few short days in the prison transformed them in hyperbolic fashion. The prisoners began as healthy men, but left as broken shells. The guards began as kind and civil individuals, yet quickly evolved into hideously sadistic abusers. No pre-existing condition could possibly explain the manifestation of these behaviors.
Quite literally, the participants were transformed by the prison itself.
So you can imagine why this is not exactly good news:
Faced with a ballooning prison population, U.S. commanders in Iraq are building new detention facilities at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and Camp Bucca near the Kuwaiti border and are developing a third major prison, in northern Iraq.I'm not suggesting we have many options in this regard, though I think it would be incumbent on the military units in charge to try to maintain better order and enforce stricter conduct guidelines amongst the jailers and guards. In reality, though, such close, around-the-clock monitoring may not be logistically possible while the incarceration of insurgents is absolutely necessary - but we know that many innocents and petty criminals will inevitably get ensnared by the net set to trap such insurgents. Again, this is why occupying a foreign country, and counterinsurgency operations in general, are such monumentally difficult tasks. Many of the tools you must use in pursuit of your objectives only serve to exacerbate the situation, making your goals that much harder to attain.
The burgeoning number of detainees has also resulted in a lengthy delay in plans for the U.S. to transfer full control of Abu Ghraib to the Iraqi government.
Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, who oversees U.S.-run prisons in Iraq, had planned to be out of Abu Ghraib by early spring. "I believed it until mid-December, but the numbers just weren't going that way," he said. "Business is booming."
(cross posted at Liberals Against Terrorism)
Monday, June 27, 2005
A New Yorker's Rant
Sidewalks, Staircases, Subways and Streets
The topic of sidewalk etiquette is one that is of particular significance to me, seeing as how my last three apartments have tracked nicely with a map of the top tourist attractions in the Big Apple so I, more than most, have come in contact with herds of that peculiar breed of American and foreigner known as touristus domesticus and touristus exoticus respectively - more commonly referred to as the uninitiated sidewalk pedestrian. Despite this attempt at taxonomy, I suspect that many of my nemeses are actual New Yorkers bereft of basic social skills. Nonetheless, some basic rules for the edification of all.
1. Stay to the Right: This is probably one of the only times you'll hear me utter that phrase, so tuck it away in your mind. Traffic moves on the right side in America folks - this applies to sidewalks, stairways, automobiles and the almighty baseball diamond. Why, you might ask, was this arbitrary directional norm adopted? I have no freakin' clue, and I don't much care. For those contrarians out there that prefer the left side as the chosen path to travel, Great Britain and other related venues offer some prime locations to get your left on, but in New York City, and America in general, stay so far to the right that you'd make Karl Rove blush (under the assumption there is actual blood coursing through his veins...I kid, I kid).
So, when walking down the crowded streets in Manhattan, or up and down congested subway stairways, stay on the right side or prepare to get a rude shoulder or elbow. This simple rule helps maintain order and movement out of what would otherwise be gridlocked chaos which would somehow bring about the apocalypse. Trust me on this one.
2. Keep Moving: Every sidewalk in Manhattan is like a conveyer belt, especially during peak hours. When you are walking along the sidewalk, rest assured in the knowledge that there is a queue of harried New Yorkers behind you nipping at your heels, marching in lockstep along with your cadence, just waiting for the opening to make a pass. So for heaven's sake, don't just stop suddenly the moment the thought occurs to you. Such sudden movements can cause a nine-person pile up leading to serious minor injuries [oxymoron intentional]. I don't care if you just realized you overshot your destination, that you left the front door open, the iron on, or the keys to your suitcase nuclear device in the hands of an aspiring, though unstable, jihadi. The way to change course on the sidewalk is to give a look around first and then veer off to the side in a way that won't send ripples of disruption through the caravan. This is especially true when traveling in groups. Which brings me to my next point.
3. The Herd: If you're ever out with a group, and good on you for having friends in the first place considering your utter lack of social graces, try to remember that there are other people who might, you know, also want to use the walkway. When traveling four or five abreast down the sidewalk, like some version of the Sharks and the Jets, understand that one or more of you just might have to yield to the demands of two way traffic. The way to decide who moves is easy: refer to Rule #1. The person farthest left should move to the right either in front of, or behind the group. But remember, don't stop suddenly. But even gradual stops can be problematic as I will explain in Rule #4.
4. Not Down on the Corner: If you're lost or confused or trying to decide which direction or destination you want to gravitate to next, whatever you do, don't pick a primary hub of a corner to hold your impromptu summit. Sounds like common sense right? But you'd be amazed how many times a group will choose the epicenter of the corner of Busy and Crowded to discuss dinner plans or consult a map. Please follow the deceleration dictates of Rule #2 and choose a fringe area off to the side to congregate if you must.
1. See: Rules #1-4 above.
2. Mother's Day Is Everyday: You lazy, self-important, insensitive cads. When you see a new mother with a stroller standing at the top or bottom of a flight of subway stairs, for the love of everything decent in the world, help her carry one end of the unwieldy stroller up or down as needed. This is easy to manage, will only take you a matter of seconds, she will be infinitely appreciative, flash you a warm smile and you will be safe in the knowledge that her toddler isn't hurdling down the stairs to her screams of panic like some drawn out, slow motion scene from The Untouchables.
3. Stairmaster: You lazy, self-important, insensitive cads. When you get on a crowded elevator in a building with 10 or more floors, don't you dare hit the button for the second floor. Unless you have a bona fide physical impediment, step up to the plate and walk up one whole, actual flight of stairs (note: obesity doesn't count as a physical impediment and is actually a stronger argument to use the stairs). Think of it as exercise, your own personal mini-stairmaster workout for the day. Something to spice up your otherwise sedentary monotony behind some desk in some cubicle somewhere. That and you can avoid the hostile stares of those in the elevator who are thinking about what a lazy, self-important, insensitive cad you are. The only thing worse than the second floor ascender is when you're on the trip down in a crowded elevator and it stops on the second floor and someone gets on. You mean to tell me you can't walk down one flight of stairs? Sloth be not proud.
1. Waiting In Vain: There's little that sets the blood aboil like being cut in line. When waiting for what seems like an eternity for a subway on a hot, dank platform, the anger is multiplied by a factor of ten - especially since long waits mean the platforms get crowded as riders pile up so the eventual train that arrives is likely packed like sardines from prior stations' pile ups. So, if you want to avoid altercations, hostilities and occasionally violent outbursts, don't wait in the background, and then when the train arrives, push your way in front of people who have been waiting longer then you. That is a wanker move.
2. Speaking of Sardines: Even if you're late for work, even if you're itching to get home after a hard day's toil and even if you're the top surgeon on your way to perform urgent quadruple bypass at Columbia Presbyterian, have the decency not to jam yourself into a subway car that is already bursting at the seams with people. Will ten minutes really make that much of a difference in your life? More than having what many would consider fairly advanced foreplay with a hundred or so commuters at once? (note: not as sexy as that might sound to some of you deviants out there). Yesterday, on the 1 Train, I heard a pregnant women frantically shouting because people were inadvertently pushing at her stomach in order to squeeze into a car that was already well past capacity. Priorities people.
3. Fools Rush In: Here's a simple one, and easy to master too. When waiting for a subway, even if you're excited to be heading wherever it is you're going, when the train comes to a stop and the doors open, step aside and let the people off the train before attempting to enter. It's easier this way. Think about it logically, people get off train making room for you and others to get on train. Oh yeah, and it avoids nasty head-on collisions.
4. Observe the Hierarchy: You lazy, self-important, insensitive cads. This goes out to the young and able-bodied subway riders. When a subway is crowded, and some are forced to stand and straphang, be chivalrous and offer up your seat to those who might need it more. This is especially true for those that rush to claim a seat even though they're only going one or two stops. Haven't you just spent almost an entire day sitting behind a desk? Won't the stand do you some good? There's a basic hierarchy to observe and it goes like this: First, deference should paid to pregnant women. They're carrying an extra person for the love of God. Next, young mothers or fathers carrying infants or pushing strollers. That should be self-explanatory. After them come senior citizens, first women then men (excuse the implicit sexism, but it just feels right and some rule is needed). Show some respect you ingrates, with some work, luck, good fortune and wit you too can aspire to be old one day. This will be just one of your rewards. After that, the seat's all yours. Enjoy.
1. Get In Line: Though you see them everywhere, not all taxis are unoccupied, and during certain hours of the day and in certain areas, their scarcity is acutely felt by would-be travelers. Here's a tip for the neophytes: when the light is on illuminating the taxi's number on the top of the taxi, it is unoccupied so hail away. When the light is off, someone is inside so no need to waste your wave and whistle. But no matter what, you should never come to a curbside in which you see someone already trying to hail a cab and move ahead of them down the street to preempt any taxis heading in your direction. Show some grace and wait your turn. There is a place in hell for people who think this is somehow acceptable conduct.
2. Beware Cyclists: New York City is awash in bike messengers, and their ubiquity has only seemed to grow since the prophetic, cinematic tour de force known as "Quicksilver" starring Kevin Bacon. Here's the rub though: you have to look out for these bandits of the bicycle. They operate in a world without rules, full of expectations but sans responsibilities. The takers who never give. And it's not just limited to the professionals. What am I talking about? The fact that cyclists completely ignore all traffic laws, but want to be treated as if they were cars when it benefits them. In other words, if you dare to step into the street when the coast appears clear from car traffic despite the "Don't Walk" sign, but fail to notice an oncoming cyclist, they will rip into you like you just killed a puppy for sport. But, if you have the "Walk" sign (the green light in other words) and all cars are obediently waiting at their red light, don't be surprised if you get blind sided by a bicycle rider who thinks red lights shouldn't apply to them, only the green. Seriously. Always look both ways, even when you have the right of way.
There. I feel better now. And you? Well, you got a useful guide to some of the basic etiquette of urban life. I suppose there's one more thing I should throw in - a warning of sorts. If you ever find yourself in the Meatpacking District, shuffling between the many clubs and bars that punctuate that part of town, you should know that those aggressive prostitutes that pepper you with propositions, well they're actually.....nah, why ruin the surprise.
(hat tip to the Daily Show for inspiration at the end).
Friday, June 24, 2005
Mini Book Review - The Stock Ticker and the Superjumbo by Rick Perlstein
The crux of the basic disagreement in this little debate-book is, in a sense, implied in the title of Mr Perlstein's larger work from earlier in the year: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus. The Stock Ticker.... begins with an essay by Perlstein, followed by short pieces of rebuttal or agreement by disparate Democratic and Progressive voices, and ending with a Perlstein rejoinder. The two camps are roughly as follows: Perlstein and others, on the one hand, argue for a rhetorically bold, systemic rebuilding of the Democratic party for the long-term, with a principled and unwavering focus on economic populism; and, on the other hand, some Clintonista or DLC-types argue that the party is actually doing alright, and would even be in power now if not for various factors (the Blue Dress, 9/11). It's a pretty lively exchange, and interesting things are said by all. But Perlstein's side is ultimately most convincing. For all their hard-won achievements, the Clintonistas/DLC-types seem to be assuming an environment of some kind of at least very basic consensus across party lines - a conservative one, a post-Reagan one. It is this reporter's opinion (and, obviously, Perlstein's thesis in the other book) that there is no such thing. It's a subtle but vital difference between world views.
Perlstein uses as a 'parable' the story of the Boeing Corporation. In the earlier part of the 20th century, Boeing traded short-term profit for a dogged, single-minded long-term investment (time and billions of dollars) in what eventually became the fantastically successful Boeing 707, then did it again with the 747. The fruition of these huge gambles made the company the overwhelmingly dominant aircraft manufacturer in the world from the late 50s until recently. The company only fumbled - and capitulated to Airbus - when it changed focus and became the kind of firm 1990s Wall Street preferred: one focused on ever-greater quarterly earnings, and never mind about the long-term. Perlstein argues that Democrats' strategic tacking right-and-left (mostly right) in an effort to peel off just enough 'independent' voters to get 50%+ 1 has 'hollowed out' the party, much as short-term profit-maximizing has demonstrably hollowed out Boeing.
[G.H.W.] Bush, with the economy as it was [and with Perot in the race], had the lowest approval rating of any president seeking reelection in history[:] my little mutt Buster could've beaten George H. W. Bush in 1992.
Ruy Teixeira's dismissal of this line as 'unusually silly' is telling in its humorlessness and literalness (salient problems for liberals lately). Perlstein is an historian, and should be allowed his FDR reference ('my little dog Fala'). Indeed, his point is serious: any decent Democrat should've been able to beat Bush 41 in '92, and too much cause-and-effect shouldn't be read into Clinton's 'New' Democrat innovations. Beware: Post hoc, ergo, propter hoc.. Perlstein's emphasis on the importance of party ID is also taken a bit literally by Teixeira, who points out in his rebuttal that Democratic Party ID dipped only slightly in recent years and is inching back up. Perlstein's point is not about polling data per se, but about personal identification with the Party; people don't personally identify with the Democratic Party because they don't have a clear, basic idea of what they're identifying with. He notes:
Judis and Teixeira make a fascinating observation about the increasing number of voters who refuse to identify with a party: "When the new independent vote is broken down, it reveals a trend towards the Democrats in the 1990s and a clear and substantial Democratic partisan advantage...Once those independents are assigned the party they are closer to, Democrats enjoy a 13 percent advantage."
Here's the riddle: what is a swing voter? More and more, it is an American who thinks like a Democrat but refuses to identify as one.
DLC person William Galston and Clintonista Elaine Kamarck argue - generally speaking - that in the Clinton years, the country saw solid progress, pointing especially to the economic growth of the 90s, and the EITC. They are not wrong, but their baseline is different from Perlstein's and others who tend to agree with him (and who also point out the inevitable bubble-burst at the end of the 90s); Perlstein writes:
The traumas that shaped the world view of a Teixeira, a Greenberg, a Judis, were the post-60s backfirings of left-of-center boldness. The same goes for Al From, whose formative political experience, he has told me, was McGovern's loss in 1972. The traumas of my own political generation, conversely, were the backfirings of left-of-center timidity
Clinton's achievements (we can't call them 'triumphs') - like the expansion of the EITC - were essentially defensive. You don't become a majority party - the subtitle of the book is, How The Democrats Can Once Again Become America's Dominant Political Party - playing defense. Perlstein argues not that it's OK to lose (Boeing didn't lose until they chose to), but for being willing to lose - sticking to the core principle of economic justice - in order to actually win. He's calling for political imagination.
One of the more interesting chapters in this little book is by Daniel Cantor, the Executive Director of the Working Families of New York Party. WFP is a fusion party, something which, at the moment, is legal in only NY, CT, DE, MS, SC and SD, although there evidently is lobbying going on in other states to make it legal elsewhere. Cantor explains:
Fusion is simple. It refers to the electoral tactic of two parties 'fusing' on one candidate, meaning the candidate appears twice on the ballot under two separate party labels. "Vote Perlstein for State Assembly' we might say in New York, "but vote for him on the WFP line and send him a message about...health care [or taxes, or living wages, or whatever else the WFP chapter in his district thinks important." [....] Rick gets 45 percent as a Democrat, his Republican opponent gets 47 percent, and the last 8 percent shows up on the WFP line....Rick wins 53 percent [total] to 47 percent, but he owes us 8 percent of his victory [...]
Fundamentally, fusion is the peculiar, American form of proportional representation, in that it allows political minorities - understood arithmetically - to show their strength and to make coalitions with other parties.
A sly and brilliant way to move parties (any party) in the direction you want! What's not to love? The duopoly will resist in the majority of states where fusion parties aren't yet legal, of course, but it sounds like a good fight to me. The Republicans already kind of have a fusion 'party' of sorts: the right wing evangelicals. This sounds to me like a very practical way to corral the famously unwieldy Democratic party, and to insert some proportionality into our politics.
Despite what some of his interlocutors see (perhaps with a little justification) as glibness, Perlstein is definitely on to something here. Notwithstanding literalist quibbles, the Boeing metaphor is exactly right in a fundamental, even non-metaphorical way. The paradox of the rise of the modern Republican party is that the GOP used long-term planning and doggedness to ultimately promulgate a regime of decidedly short-term, short-sighted policies, in effect nationalizing the 'quarterly earnings' fetish of Wall Street: 'starve/bleed the beast' fiscal policies; maximum political polarization ; the one-time-profit sell-offs of public properties in the 80s; the reckless throwing of the only lately-rebuilt military into a less than considered land war in Iraq - an entire culture of 'eat, drink and be pious, for tomorrow we shall die': the Armageddon Culture. Perlstein's antidote for the Democratic Party is also the antidote for the country as a whole. It is irresistible.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
That Sounds Like America To You?
Some in the past have complained of the exaggerated celebration that some liberals (including myself possibly) might partake in every time someone just to the right-of-center unequivocally condemns torture and similar detainee abuse. To the extent that I am guilty as charged, understand that I do this to reinforce my belief in the foundations of our democracy, the fabric of our society - that certain issues should not be defended out of knee-jerk partisanship, and that underneath all the squabbling Americans have a sense of decency that will overcome some of human nature's frailties and failings that tend to emerge and assert themselves in times of stress and fear. At least that's my hope.
I thought torture was just such an issue, one that would be met with a swift and comprehensive rejection from all political factions. But, like publius, the avalanche of apologias from many, and the ghoulish revelry of some, on the Right have shaken my confidence and left me wondering. Pieces like those excerpted below serve to gird my wayward faith. So forgive my cheerleader-ism for a moment, and indulge my written sigh of relief which comes as I realize that there are sensible people on the other side of the aisle that understand the importance of our liberal traditions (and do your best to ignore the flaming these guys get from their regular readers in the comments section the moment they stake out what should not be such a controversial position, similar to the treatment the QandO authors received here and here which I discussed here).
First (via Greg) is John Cole with a sensible and balanced appraisal of L'Affaire Durbin:
Senator Dick Durbin made a comment in a long and thoughtful (for Durbin) speech that politically was profoundly stupid (the full speech can be found here, courtesy of Joe's Dartblog), but it is the height of absurdity and partisan foolishness to call for his censure and to allow ourselves to be distracted from the larger issue. Yes, he is a Democrat. Yes, he probably shouldn't have included a reference to Nazis. But that doesn't give us license to distort his remarks and launch an immature witch-hunt.[...]Now is that so hard? So radical? Is that bashing America, or praising America - think about it? Rather than get swept up in the "Chorus" of voices seeking to assuage the underlying cognitive dissonance of a given revelation, or treating any and all self-criticism that seeks to improve on our nation's ideals as "unpatriotic," take an unvarnished look at the situation and do better. Instead of allowing a foible of the messenger or an oversight by the vehicle carrying the message to obscure the salient issues, cut through the less than perfect form to the heart of the more crucial substance. John Cole quotes Andrew Olmstead on the matter:
...he most assuredly did not call American troops Nazis. Here is the relevant portion of Durbin's speech:When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report, with the FBI e-mail (displayed here courtesy of the ACLU) italicized:Read the FBI email again, without Durbin's remarks[...]
On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.
Are Durbin's remarks really that offensive? Do you honestly hear descriptions like that and think to yourself - "Gee, American troops do that all the time."
Of course you don't, and I don't either. I think of some third world dictator, some tin-pot despot who brutalizes not only his enemy but his own people. Someone like, for example, Saddam Hussein. Or Pol Pot. And that was Durbin's point - not that we are Nazis, but that we are better than Nazis by an order of magnitude, and that such acts of abuse, while rare, are beneath us.
What should offend you is not what Durbin said, but the possibility that what Durbin said regarding the abuse may be accurate - even if it happened only once. And spare me the false bravado and the tough-guy attitudes about how this doesn't sound so tough, and they deserve what they get. I am all in favor of stern measures and tough interrogation practices, but there are lines that should not be crossed.
If your attitude is that because some evil people killed 3,000 people on 9/11, we have the moral high ground and are thus free to do as we please, including chaining people in a fetal position and forcing them to wallow in their own urine and feces, you might as well stop reading now because we aren't going to agree on anything. We have the right to detain these people, we have the right to interrogate these people, and we, in the future, have a right to try them for their crimes and punish them appropriately.
But we also have an obligation to ourselves and to the rest of the world to treat these detainees humanely, lawfully, and in accordance to the history of decency that I proudly associate with the United States. To do otherwise is to stain our dignity and our honor, as well as our reputation and good standing in the world.
While I think the Senator's point would have been stronger had he quit before describing the use of rap music, I can't deny the Senator's argument. If the FBI report is accurate, that's some pretty damnning [sic]stuff. People left to marinate in their own urine and feces is pretty mild from the standpoint of torture, but I think it certainly rises to the level of maltreatment (to borrow from a commenter at QandO) and is certainly not the kind of thing we think of American soldiers as doing. I've discussed my own concerns about torture in greater depth before. I don't have any heartburn with stress positions or female interrogators invading detainees' physical space. But leaving a prisoner in his own waste, or forcing him to endure low-grade physical torment for hours via high or low temperatures is questionable at best in my book, and I would prefer those options remain off the table. Even if they don't necessarily rise to the level of torture, they just don't strike me as things we ought to be doing.Agreed. Next is Cole's fellow Red State blogger Josh Trevino (nee Tacitus):
Which means that tend to I agree with Senator Durbin. Reading that report, it's not the kind of thing you would instinctively believe Americans would do. The allusion to the Nazis and other totalitarian regimes is arguably unwise, but I'm not sure it's inaccurate. No, what we do at Guantanamo doesn't rise anywhere near the horrors of the Nazis or the Communists, but that description sounds a lot closer to what we think of when we think of totalitarian states than when we think of America. At least, what I think we'd like people to think of when they think of America.
See? You get to keep all your ideological goodies, and you still get to take gratuitous swipes at Democrats, liberals and the like. It just sounds better when you're also saying that torture is un-American and that the treatment described in the FBI memos is more reminiscent of brutal despotism than the American tradition - at least that which we would like to foster and preserve as the American tradition. That while clumsily delivered, Durbin's main point remains correct. I would think that would be hard to miss.
So, we've now established that Senator Durbin has a poor grasp of historical parallel. Oh, bravo for us indeed. (Next: Robert Byrd was in the Klan!) Make no mistake, it needed to be done: but it is done, and it is, as it always was, a sideshow. The continuing hysteria over it is just that; John Cole is quite right to point out that the time has come to act like adults. And what does that entail? In this case, a bit of reflection, not on Durbin's blundering rhetoric, but on his substance.
The substance is, distressingly enough, there. Specifically, the Senator cites some appalling abuse as witnessed by an FBI agent. While it is fashionable in certain crowds to shrug at these things on the grounds that the victims are all terrorists anyway, the affected apathy leaves some assumptions unexamined. Those assumptions are: first, that the abuse as reported was as bad as it got; second, that the victims are all terrorists. Both assumptions are false. We know that dozens of prisoners have died in American custody, with a shameful proportion being probable homicides. We also know that many prisoners have been released from Camp X-Ray, apparently not terrorists after all.
Now, two caveats here: no one, to my knowledge, has died at Camp X-Ray; and the specific techniques witnessed by Durbin's FBI source were, I am fairly sure, accepted US military interrogation tactics as long as twenty years ago. These are mitigating facts if you fixate on rhetoric in a vacuum, studiously ignore the constellation of American prisons other than Guantanamo, and pretend that rap music, shackles and uncomfortable air temperature is the extent of the problem. Knowing that on the next news cycle Durbin will be yesterday's news and our wartime prisons will remain a current affair, what would an adult do?
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Poster Child Of The Problem Child
The Bolton-boosters go one further, though, by arguing that this coarse, gruff style, this hard-nosed determination, are actually to be viewed as assets in the cause of reforming the United Nations. John Bolton's tough as nails exterior gets results, or so the talking points go. Underneath this smoke screen, however, the reality of the well-reasoned and intelligent opposition to Bolton can be found - and it is not primarily a question of personal style, though in the arena of diplomacy these attributes are more pertinent than in many other professions.
Foreign policy expert, and Libya scholar Ronald Bruce St John captures the most salient aspects of the case against Bolton:
John Bolton has been widely characterized as a combative, intolerant, strong-willed, hard-line, bullying, abrasive, and abusive diplomat. While the evidence suggests these charges are mostly true, they largely miss the point. John Bolton is unfit to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, not just because of his management style, but because he has repeatedly distorted U.S. intelligence and misdirected U.S. diplomacy to serve an ideological agenda. [emphasis added]St John focuses on Bolton's role, or lack thereof, in what many have described as one of the Bush administration's greatest victories in the arena of foreign policy: securing the agreement of the Libyan government to relinquish its pursuit of WMD. Some Bolton supporters have tried to paint this as a vindication of Bolton's various policies, mannerisms and strategies, but the opposite appears to be the case. As St John chronicles, during the period in question, Bolton was giving a series of dubious and brash speeches and issuing statements to the press that overestimated Libya's capacity and intentions vis a vis WMD which in turn were serving to alienate Libya thus disrupting the detente that had been gradually coalescing between the two countries since the 1990s. Worse still, he was actively obstructing progress in negotiations with Libya on WMD and many other related topics. Guess what the preferred solution was: remove Bolton from the scene.
Even as Bolton continued throughout 2003 to misrepresent the threat posed by Libya's WMD programs, he jeopardized the talks between Libya, Great Britain, and the United States, which Libya initiated in March 2003 and which culminated in the historic Libyan announcement at year-end to renounce weapons of mass destruction. According to a recent Newsweek report, the tripartite talks in London proceeded to a successful conclusion only after the Bush administration's top arms control official was removed from the negotiations. Bolton was sidelined after the British complained "at the highest level" (read Tony Blair) that Bolton's obstructionist behavior threatened to torpedo the talks.Here is an excerpt from the Newsweek article St John referenced:
On several occasions, America's closest ally in the war on terror, Britain, was irked by what U.S. and British sources say were efforts by Bolton to undermine promising diplomatic openings. Perhaps the most dramatic instance took place early in the U.S.-British talks in 2003 to force Libya to surrender its nuclear program, NEWSWEEK has learned. The Libya deal succeeded only after British officials "at the highest level" persuaded the White House to keep Bolton off the negotiating team. A crucial issue, according to sources involved in the affair, was Muammar Kaddafi's demand that if Libya abandoned its WMD program, the U.S. in turn would drop its goal of regime change. But Bolton was unwilling to support this compromise. The White House agreed to keep Bolton "out of the loop," as one source puts it.So we see that Bolton's ideological dogmatism - a rigid adherence to a philosophy that refuses to offer carrots along with sticks - interfered with his ability to function as a diplomat, and his ability to see a clear opening for what turned out to be a momentous breakthrough in US non-proliferation efforts - the task that Bolton was supposed to be in charge of but which was aided most by his absence.
According to Flynt Leverett, Bolton was sidelined for the Lockerbie discussions as well, for familiar reasons (as an aside, Leverett's piece is also a nice correction to the revisionist view that the capture of Saddam led to Qaddafi's change of heart):
One reason the Bush administration was able to take a more constructive course with Libya was that the White House, uncharacteristically, sidelined the administration's neoconservative wing - which strongly opposes any offer of carrots to state sponsors of terrorism, even when carrots could help end such problematic behavior - when crucial decisions were made. The initial approach on the Lockerbie case was approved by an informal coalition made up of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Secretary of State Colin Powell.From the Libya example, we see that opposition to Bolton is not based solely or fundamentally on his personality traits - as abrasive as those may be. Quite simply, he fails to get results in the world of diplomacy. As St John noted:
In the Libyan case, it is clear John Bolton repeatedly slanted intelligence to conform to his ideological preconceptions. And his extreme and uncompromising line later undermined a promising diplomatic opening, threatening the eventually successful negotiations to persuade Libya to renounce weapons of mass destruction. Based on his performance here, a case better documented than recent policy disputes with the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Syria, it would appear Republican Senator George V. Voinovich of Ohio got it right when he described Bolton as a "poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be." It's hard to think of a worse choice to represent the United States at the United Nations--or anywhere else for that matter. [emphasis added]But wait, just when you thought the Libya story, in which Bolton managed to alienate our closest ally, Britain, was enough to disqualify him from the post at the UN: it gets worse (Remeber: if this is how he interacts with British diplomats, what are his prospects for productive negotiations with diplomats from Germany, France, Russia and China to name but a few). The Washington Post is reporting (via Stygius and Laura Rozen) that the departure of Bolton from the State Department has actually improved the performance of many of the programs and initiatives that were languishing under his stewardship.
For years, a key U.S. program intended to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorist hands has been frozen by an arcane legal dispute. As undersecretary of state, John R. Bolton was charged with fixing the problem, but critics complained he was the roadblock.At the bottom of his post, Stygius has a series of links to the plutonium impasse that led Republican Senator Pete Domenici to vent his frustration in an unusually hostile manner for an intra-party dispute as described in an essay on the ArmsControlWonk site:
Now with Bolton no longer in the job, U.S. negotiators report a breakthrough with the Russians and predict a resolution will be sealed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international summit in Scotland next month, clearing the way to eliminate enough plutonium to fuel 8,000 nuclear bombs.
The prospective revival of the plutonium disposal project underlines a noticeable change since Bolton's departure from his old job as arms control chief. Regardless of whether the Senate confirms him as U.N. ambassador during a scheduled vote today, fellow U.S. officials and independent analysts said his absence has already been felt at the State Department.
As Bolton sat within arm's reach, Domenici went as far as to declare on the record that he was "not sure to this point that [Bolton is] up to" resolving the dispute, that he was uncertain "that he attaches the significance" to the program that the Senators did, and that if Bolton "doesn't think it's important enough to solve, this issue of liability, then I submit that you ought to get somebody that can."But wait, just when you thought the Libya story combined with the Russian story - both of which compromised our national security as a result of Bolton's actions and inactions - were enough to disqualify him as ambassador to the UN, it gets worse.
Without the hard-charging Bolton around, the Bush administration not only has moved to reconcile with Russia over nuclear threat reduction but also has dropped its campaign to oust the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and made common cause with European allies in offering incentives to Iran to persuade it to drop any ambitions for nuclear weapons.So let me see if I have this straight: the American government, nay, the Bush administration itself finds that keeping Bolton away from the process - in effect, not inviting him to the party - is the most effective way to realize progress on the issues and tasks that Bolton is, or is supposed to be, in charge of yet we are all supposed to accept the party line that this guy is going to be good for us at the United Nations? Stygius said it best:
Bolton had also resisted using the so-called New York channel for communications with North Korea, a one-on-one meeting used sporadically through Bush's presidency and most recently revived in May. And fellow U.S. officials said Bolton had opposed a new strategic opening to India offering the prospect of sharing civilian nuclear technology, a move made in March.[...]
...Bolton was shut out of Iran after Rice's ascension, according to two U.S. officials, and his policy was reversed. In early January, officials from France, Britain and Germany flew secretly to Washington for a brainstorming session on Iran. Bolton was not invited, European diplomats said. Instead, they met with Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council.
"We weren't the ones who wanted to keep the meeting secret," one European diplomat said. "It was the American side that didn't want him there." [emphasis added]
If the most positive contribution John Bolton has made to solving global proliferation problems has been by his absence, why are we still being subjected to the argument that his "tough" and "abrasive" style gets results, when instead his permanent absence from government service may in the end be Bolton's greatest contribution to US national security?[...]Bolton's unique ineptitude, and the realization of such by his superiors and colleagues has led to some peculiar, though fairly widely accepted, speculation on the motive for his nomination to the UN ambassadorship: rather than keeping him at State or promoting him there under incoming Secretary Condi Rice (who clearly didn't want him around), the UN nomination was a demotion - a way of permanently taking Bolton out of the loop on policy making and putting him into a more ministerial role. From the Washington Post:
To date, Condoleezza Rice's most significant Iran policy innovation has been Bolton's exclusion from State discussions. And does anyone think he continues to play a substantive role in North Korea discussions? Since Bolton is Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, one can understand why this sort of thing decapitates the stock pro-Bolton argument that his "toughness" makes him more "effective" and that he gets results. This is a sham.
When she took over as secretary of state in January, Condoleezza Rice moved to sideline Bolton and reverse some of his approaches, U.S. officials said. By proposing him for the United Nations, she effectively moved him out of the policymaking center at the department's Foggy Bottom headquarters.Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that this is true, and that the primary motive was not to hobble the UN further (perhaps there was a synergy of goals). But then why on earth should the Senate, let alone the American people, accept and endorse a nominee who is so distrusted and has such a poor record of performance that nobody wants him in their camp? And this from the people that are his ideological and political allies mind you. Shouldn't that fact alone be reason enough to want him out of government altogether, as opposed to being an argument for giving him the not entirely irrelevant position at the UN?
You don't appoint the diplomatic world's most notorious problem child as your representative in the premier international organization because no one else wants to baby-sit him, not at a time when our image in the world could use a serious boost not a further hit - which Bolton has managed to deliver before even entering office. I'm flabbergasted.
Now comes word that Bush will likely circumvent the increasingly problematic Senate confirmation process and opt instead for a recess appointment of Bolton. Bush is actually losing support on Bolton in the Senate the longer the process takes, the more is learned and the more it becomes clear that the Bush administration will not turn over the requested information on Bolton to the interested Senators. Fred Kaplan has some words of advice on what might be one more layer on a pile of truly, remarkably bad moves.
Still, President Bush might want to reassess the situation, and not just because Bolton is a lousy pick - a judgment that Bush does not share, in any case. He might want to consider the following question: At a time when he is touting the glories of democracy, does he want his ambassador at the United Nations - America's global spokesman - to have come by the job through such undemocratic maneuvers?Oh, I don't know. It would kind of be fitting for Bolton wouldn't it.
Monday, June 20, 2005
It's Time To Throe Down
This mid-course reality check on the Cheney-esque fantasies of some on the Right has actually braoched the political divide for politician and pundit alike. The voices of discontent have ranged from a bi-partisan Congressional resolution authored by such strange bedfellows as liberal Dennis Kucinich and staunch conservative Walter "Freedom Fries" Jones, which calls on Bush to announce by year's end a plan for a withdrawal from Iraq that would begin by October 1, 2006, to Tom Friedman's own ode to wishful thinking.
Neither of these highlighted cases is particularly earth-shattering in their revelation, but as Eleanor Clift pointed out on the McLaughlin Group this Sunday, think of Kucinich and Jones as the Congressional canaries in the coal mine. A sign of the brewing storm of public opinion that is slowly but surely turning against the President and the campaign in Iraq.
Frank Rich summarized the perceptible shift, and Cheney's waning efficacy as a misinformer:
The administration can keep boasting of the Iraqi military's progress in taking over for Americans and keep maintaining that, as Dick Cheney put it, the insurgency is in its "last throes." But when even the conservative Republican congressman who pushed the House cafeteria to rename French fries "freedom fries" (Walter B. Jones of North Carolina) argues for withdrawal, it's fruitless. Once a story line becomes incredible, it's hard to get the audience to fall for it again.Tom Friedman, on the other hand, issued a pundit's plea to re-tool the occupation and improve on some of its failures in the hopes of salvaging the mission - whatever that might entail. Friedman offers something in the way of good advice but then drowns out the better part by latching on to the curiously illogical suggestion that we "double the American boots on the ground" from the current total of approximately 130,000 to something in the neighborhood of 260,000. Juan Cole, who I imagine is no more well versed in military affairs than Friedman, nevertheless makes easy work of Friedman's docile fish bobbing in the barrel - relying on facts and figures published by Friedman's own journalistic home, the New York Times.
I'm not sure why Tom doesn't know this, but we don't have the troops to do that. There are only 10 fighting divisions in the Army, and standing up more would take 5 years. (A division is typically between 20,000 and 25,000 troops). You can't put all ten into Iraq (remember Afghanistan and South Korea?), and couldn't keep them all there permanently if you could. Friedman's suggestion literally cannot be implemented.[...]Now adding a temporary surge in the number of forces in the Iraq theater might accomplish something in terms of tamping the insurgencies, and such a short-lived increase in size would be more plausible than a long term "doubling," I'm still not convinced of the long term effectiveness of this move given the underlying realities. Before that, though, Friedman preempted his vacuous advice with an even emptier statement of dubious merit.
It is an index of how desperate the US political class is that impractical ideas are put forward by major journalists in newspapers of record that have already reported on their impracticality.
Conservatives don't want to talk about [Iraq] because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed.This sparked a good deal of justified indignation on the Left (Silber via Atrios is well worth the read). Matt Yglesias suggested Friedman put up or shut up:
Friedman's a pretty important guy and surely knows a lot of liberals, so he probably knows some liberals worth naming. This is a pretty serious allegation -- who's he talking about? If he would tell us, then maybe people would have a chance to defend themselves against this smear.Though a bit late to the game, I would like to direct Mr. Friedman's attention to this liberal's archives, a simple perusing of which will indicate an obsessive willingness to discuss Iraq from the perspective of someone who wants to make it work, is willing to stay long term and has repeatedly offered humble suggestions for achieving those ends. While you're at it Tom, you might want to drop by a site called Liberals Against Terrorism - the entire premise of which is to concoct winning strategies in Iraq and elsewhere from a...get this...liberal perspective (this is true of the site in general, as well as the individual members' own blogs - including the most recent addition - the highly recommended Stygius). Ditto Democracy Arsenal, Laura Rozen, and too many others to list really. As a matter of fact, it's hard to think of many liberal blogs that haven't taken this position (ie the entire left leaning constituency of my blogroll). Commenters are by and large in agreement to varying degrees and nuance. That being said, I'm sure the politically spiteful are out there, but as the exception rather than the norm.
So, no to Greg Djerejian's snide innuendos and no to Tom Friedman: it is not the truth that hurts, nor this preposterous yet trite "enemy within" drivel, it is the ignorance and willingness to embrace it (seriously, shame on you Greg, you should know better - Tom may be ignorant, but you have LAT and TIA blogrolled).
While I'm on the subject, I should point to a number of recent efforts (as in last couple of weeks) by liberals on the related topics of helping the Iraq mission to succeed, defining success and informing the eventual decision to commence withdrawing troops (Tom, are you paying attention?). Praktike offers a novel approach for garnering regional cooperation through a mosaic of diplomatic levers to be applied in tandem - though admittedly not the strong suit nor preferred route of the more hawkish in the Bush administration, Prak at least stakes out a fresh position. The Armchair Generalist weighs in with military options, providing links to a number of intelligent pieces (some even from the liberals and left of center types that presumably don't exist in the Friedman-verse - see for example, the Democracy Arsenal post linked to by reader JC in the comments). Brad Plumer links to a thought provoking report from Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institute who makes the all too reasonable point that we must define what "success" really looks like and then fix policy around those goals. That being said, Byman's version of Iraq is far from the lofty ideals of some of Bush's more quixotic supporters. Plumer, accurately enough, calls Byman's plan the "Afghanization of Iraq." There are many many more examples from just the last handful of days.
All of these suggestions are worth considering, discussing, refuting, refining and implementing. The question remains however: will the Bush administration react to the facts on the ground? Will it alter policy and its course of action in the face of reality's obstinate opposition?
One such area demanding a new approach is the fiscal crisis in our nation. Praktike said something that rings true no matter what approach is taken in Iraq, whether it be something different or more of the same:
One thing we do need to do regardless of what happens in Iraq is raise taxes, which, I suppose, is when we find out just how much Americans really support this kind of project. [emphasis in original]So here's Bush's Catch-22: with domestic support for the war in Iraq dwindling, and the midterm elections in 2006 on the not-so-distant horizon, Bush has to try to re-sell the American people on this war during his tour-de-stay the course launching soon, while at the same time finally asking some of them to put their money where their mouth is by repealing portions of the multi-trillion dollar tax cuts that inured to the benefit of the wealthiest Americans while bankrupting the treasury during a time of war. Not exactly an easy sell, even by Bush's standards and that would assume the political will to actually put the fiscal house in order via this means rather than continued embrace of Laffer nonsense and the like. But it's well past due for America's super wealthy to "throe down" if these people believe in the mission as passionately as they proclaim.
A triumvirate of articles in this month's Atlantic sketch the reality and parameters of the problem, as well as a possible future should this recipe for disaster continue to brew unaltered. Jonathan Rauch describes "one of the largest fiscal dislocations in modern American history" ($6 trillion surplus, to $3 trillion deficit), and the fact that the attempts by the GOP to fix the situation have only made it worse:
If you are worried about the federal deficit (and you should be), ask yourself which would do more to improve the country's finances - President Bush's latest budget or a pastrami sandwich. The administration made much of the fact that the budget Bush proposed in February was his tightest yet and was projected to reduce the deficit by half, to $207 billion, in 2010. What the administration did not make much of - you had to look deep in the fine print - is that the deficit would actually decline a bit more between now and 2010 if the Bush plan were not enacted and existing laws were just left alone.Kenneth Friedman warns of the impact a severe economic downturn could have on American values, political life and liberal traditions - a possibility made more likely by the reckless fiscal policies currently being pursued by the GOP leadership in Washington.
In other words, go with the pastrami. It is fiscally sounder, plus it's good with mustard and a dill pickle.
Would it really be so bad if living standards in the United States stagnated - or even declined somewhat - for a decade or two? It might well be worse than most people imagine. History suggests that the quality of our democracy - more fundamentally, the moral character of American society - would be at risk if we experienced a many-year downturn. As the distinguished economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron once observed, even a country with a long democratic history can become a "democracy without democrats." Merely being rich is no bar to a society's retreat into rigidity and intolerance once enough of its citizens sense that they are no longer getting ahead.[...]James Fallows offers a nightmarish, but not as outlandish as I would prefer, future scenario told from the perspective of the 2016 presidential election - which was preceded by an extreme economic "meltdown" in America triggered in large part by policies that "cocked the gun" under the Bush administration.
The reason is not hard to understand. When their living standards are rising, people do not view themselves, their fellow citizens, and their society as a whole the way they do when those standards are stagnant or falling. They are more trusting, more inclusive, and more open to change when they view their future prospects and their children's with confidence rather than anxiety or fear. Economic growth is not merely the enabler of higher consumption; it is in many ways the wellspring from which democracy and civil society flow. We should be fully cognizant of the risks to our values and liberties if that nourishing source runs dry.
Although more abstract and less identifiable in easy to understand formats, this nation's economic health is a national security issue. We cannot succeed in Iraq, or anywhere else for that matter, under almost any reasonable metric of success unless we have the means to pay for our efforts. But instead of a serious approach to foreign policy and national security, the "Vulcans" have neglected this nation's fiscal well being - adopting policies and tax cutting schemes that finish second to a pastrami sandwhich in usefulness.
Everything changed in 2001. But it didn't all change on September 11.[...]
Yes, the ramifications of 9/11 will be with us for decades, much as the aftereffects of Pearl Harbor explain the presence of thousands of U.S. troops in Asia seventy-five years later.[...]
Before there was 9/11, however, there was June 7, 2001. For our purposes modern economic history began that day.
On June 7 President George W. Bush celebrated his first big legislative victory. Only two weeks earlier his new administration had suffered a terrible political blow, when a Republican senator left the party and gave Democrats a one-vote majority in the Senate. But the administration was nevertheless able to persuade a dozen Democratic senators to vote its way and authorize a tax cut that would decrease federal tax revenues by some $1.35 trillion between then and 2010.
This was presented at the time as a way to avoid the "problem" of paying down the federal debt too fast. According to the administration's forecasts, the government was on the way to running up $5.6 trillion in surpluses over the coming decade. The entire federal debt accumulated between the nation's founding and 2001 totaled only about $3.2 trillion - and for technical reasons at most $2 trillion of that total could be paid off within the next decade. Therefore some $3.6 trillion in "unusable" surplus - or about $12,000 for every American - was likely to pile up in the Treasury. The administration proposed to give slightly less than half of that back through tax cuts, saving the rest for Social Security and other obligations.[...]
If the president or anyone else...had had perfect foresight, he would have seen that no surpluses of any sort would materialize, either for the government to hoard or for taxpayers to get back. (A year later the budget would show a deficit of $158 billion; a year after that $378 billion.) By the end of Bush's second term the federal debt, rather than having nearly disappeared, as he expected, had tripled. If those in the crowd had had that kind of foresight, they would have called their brokers the next day to unload all their stock holdings. A few hours after Bush signed the tax-cut bill, the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 11,090, a level it has never reached again.
In a way it doesn't matter what the national government intended, or why all forecasts proved so wrong. Through the rest of his presidency Bush contended that the reason was 9/11 - that it had changed the budget as it changed everything else. It forced the government to spend more, for war and for homeland security, even as the economic dislocation it caused meant the government could collect less. Most people outside the administration considered this explanation misleading, or at least incomplete. For instance, as Bush began his second term the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the biggest reason for growing deficits was the tax cuts.
But here is what really mattered about that June day in 2001: from that point on the U.S. government had less money to work with than it had under the previous eight presidents. Through four decades and through administrations as diverse as Lyndon Johnson's and Ronald Reagan's, federal tax revenue had stayed within a fairly narrow band. The tax cuts of 2001 pushed it out of that safety zone, reducing it to its lowest level as a share of the economy in the modern era. And as we will see, these cuts - the first of three rounds - did so just when the country's commitments and obligations had begun to grow.
So while so many pundits, politicians, bloggers and citizens are busying themselves discussing strategies for succeeding in Iraq, making heartfelt appeals to the American people to "stay the course," or making recommendations like imposing a draft or otherwise increasing the size of our military, we must first take the time to insure that we will have the ability to pay the check for all of our grand strategies and neo-visions. Without tax revenue, without a strong economic base, policy discussions will become de facto moot, and our decisions will be governed more by fiscal demands than strategic concerns. Without the money to fund it, nothing is possible. Unfortunately, this call to arms is falling on deaf ears. So many supporters of our efforts talk a good game, but when it's time to "throe down," the chorus goes silent. Again, Jonathan Rauch:
Bush's first-term deficits were defensible as responses to emergencies, but the emergencies are over; and the strategy of avoiding the extreme downside and picking up the pieces later works only if you do pick up the pieces later. That would involve cutting spending more deeply than Bush has yet proposed, revoking some of his tax cuts or reforming the tax system in ways that generate new revenues, and, at the very least, paying for his initiatives. So far he has shown little inclination to do any of those things; in fact, he wants to make the tax cuts permanent. [emphasis added]Katz's anyone?
Quote of the Day
Q Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?Good question. I can see why Scottie moved on to "Steve." Read the rest of the exchange for the pure comedy of it all - undeniably tragic as that comedy may be (via the Armchair Generalist).
McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.
Q What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?[...]
Q Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.
McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.
Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a 'last throe' lasts for?
McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Steve....
Friday, June 17, 2005
Catching a Draft
I always look forward to my guest shots here at TIA, but, with my lumpy freelance life, sometimes work obtrudes in a big way - no time to even comment very much (and yes, I have been jonesing). So for now, just a quick citation. I have a more substantive post brewing, which I will try to put up later today or Saturday.
For those of you who haven't discovered The Next Hurrah - a group blog which focuses mostly on American politics and culture - I'd recommend taking a look. It's one of my daily reads now. In a particularly good essay the other day about the Lynching Law Apology, DHinMI argues convincingly that:
....lynching was much more than racist terror, it was a flouting of the rule of law. It was an international embarrassment for the United States. And in this era of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and Alberto Gonzales torture memos, failure to support Mary Landrieu’s resolution apologizing for the Senate’s failure to enact anti-lynching laws should be seen as not just racially insensitive, but a failure to stand up and assert the primacy of law in America.
The whole thing is worth reading, including as it does good argument and a fair amount of historical background.
DHinMI has caught a vital political tension. What used to be euphemized as 'Law and Order' now tends to be done with the words 'justice' and 'liberty' (and 'they get three squares a day!'). Our country has often been somewhat ad hoc in negotiating the tension between rule of law and visceral 'justice'. In a time when we are faced with the irresistible need to revise and clarify that tension, our current leaders are mostly taking the morally weak, EZ way out. Let's hope the wheel is beginning to turn, and we remember and value that calm, inner voice - our true selves - again: a nation of laws, not men.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The Debate Ends
I also want to say that I truly believe I have learned something by this process - the debate forced me to hone some of my arguments and Marc's perspective caused me to reevaluate certain positions and shift some beliefs in some areas. In that respect, my ideas on this subject are somewhat different than they were before the debate started. For this, I am indebted to Marc. For those who wish to play catch-up, below is the final compilation of the links to the various posts in the "Spreading Democracy Debate" between TIA and American Future:
AF: Initial Post
TIA: Initial Post
AF: First Rebuttal
TIA: First Rebuttal
AF: Second Rebuttal
TIA: Second Rebuttal
AF: Third Rebuttal
TIA: Third Rebuttal
AF: Fourth Rebuttal
TIA: Fourth Rebuttal
AF: Fifth Rebuttal
TIA: Fifth Rebuttal
And if the reader wishes to follow up on these themes further, two more blogs are beginning a variation of this debate by looking at the issue from the following perspective:
How the use of history has shaped or should shape the role which the United States should play in the spread of global democracy to oppressed or less developed nations.Marc has the relevant links here.
[Update: I would also be remiss if I failed to flag this well thought out critique of us in the West who have made democracy promotion the topic du jour. A highly recommended coda to the now concluding conversation (via praktike of course).