Sunday, June 3, 2007

Matthew Yglesias: Busying Giddy Minds with Foreign Quarrels

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Matthew Yglesias: Via Scott Horton, Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein notes that the geniuses in the Defense Department seem to have been deliberately courting US-China conflict:

While Bush publicly continued the one-China policy of his five White House predecessors, Wilkerson said, the Pentagon “neocons” took a different tack, quietly encouraging Taiwan’s pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian. “The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week, essentially to tell the Taiwanese that the alliance was back on,” Wilkerson said, referring to pre-1970s military and diplomatic relations, “essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian, whose entire power in Taiwan rested on the independence movement, that independence was a good thing.”

This is, of course, no surprise. Francis Fukuyama has recounted that during the 1990s doldrums Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan discussed the fact that their "Neo-Reaganite" foreign policy required a new enemy, and that people in their circle debated whether to make the enemy China or Islamism. They reached the conclusion that China was the best option, only to reverse course after 9/11 and put the emphasis on Islamism. In either case, they regard US-China conflict -- and, indeed, conflict between the United States and other countries generally -- as something to be encouraged.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Matthew Yglesias on the Madness of Paul Berman

Paul Berman is the best of the best of the best of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders:

Matthew Yglesias: I have no real intention of reading a 28,000 word Paul Berman essay on why Tariq Ramadan is bad in The New Republic, so I'll refrain from commenting on the substance of things. I will note that Ian Buruma's Iong New York Times Magazine article on Ramadan reached very different conclusions and I'm more likely to take Buruma's word for it than Berman's.

That said, the very fact that Berman wrote such a thing reminded me of Josh Marshall's years-old essay on Berman and "the Orwell Temptation". Josh described the temptation primarily in terms of a tendency to overblow the world-historical significance of Islamist terrorism in order to make intellectuals feel more important, like they're living at really important times. In Berman's case, though, this impulse also exhibits itself in a pretty weird conception of the role of the intellectual in world-historical times. Way back in his March 2003 essay on Sayyid Qutb Berman was saying things like this:

It would be nice to think that, in the war against terror, our side, too, speaks of deep philosophical ideas -- it would be nice to think that someone is arguing with the terrorists and with the readers of Sayyid Qutb. But here I have my worries. The followers of Qutb speak, in their wild fashion, of enormous human problems, and they urge one another to death and to murder. But the enemies of these people speak of what? The political leaders speak of United Nations resolutions, of unilateralism, of multilateralism, of weapons inspectors, of coercion and noncoercion. This is no answer to the terrorists. The terrorists speak insanely of deep things. The antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things. Presidents will not do this. Presidents will dispatch armies, or decline to dispatch armies, for better and for worse.

As Brian Weatherson argued at the time there was something very strange about this. 9/11 certainly made the philosophy of Sayyid Qutb a more interesting topic for the intellectually inclined, a more valid subject for New York Times Magazine articles. Nevertheless, it takes a curious frame of mind to believe -- as Berman appears to believe in complete earnestness -- that defeating al-Qaeda requires us to first engage in close reading of the works of a man who died forty years ago, and then for us to muster an army of intellectuals to refute his philosophy.

Here, again, implicit in the essay on Ramadan is the notion that, on some level, for al-Qaeda to be defeated it's necessary for hawkish western left-wing intellectuals to win an internecine argument with other western left-wing intellectuals about the merits of Tariq Ramadan's work. It's just a bizarre idea, a weird picture of how the world works; as if Soviet Communism collapsed because books about the superiority of free markets were really convincing rather than because books about the superiority of free markets were true and therefore societies featuring free markets outperformed the Soviet bloc.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Talking Points Memo: One Must Never Fear to Negotiate

Josh Micah Marshall writes:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: May 27, 2007 - June 02, 2007 Archives: Rice sat at the witness table in Hearing Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building explaining why "those who talk about engagement with Syria and Iran" are all wet. "That's not diplomacy -- that's extortion," she said. The administration has already reversed course on its policy towards Syria, with Rice having engaged in direct, bilateral talks with Syria' foreign minister a few weeks ago. But direct discussions with Iran were always considered far more controversial. As far as the Bush gang is concerned, Iran needs to be isolated, not engaged. To talk to Iran is to "reward bad behavior." We've gone a quarter-century without talking to Iran, and Bush wasn't about to strike up a conversation, especially given the Ahmadinejad regime.

At least, that was the policy. "U.S. diplomats said Monday's scheduled talks with Iran will be limited to discussions about Iraq's security, and not about the unresolved issues of detained Americans in Iran or the country's nuclear program. The meeting in Baghdad will be the first public and formal meeting between U.S. and Iranian representatives since the United States cut off diplomatic relations 27 years ago. 'The issue at hand in the meeting between [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Ryan Crocker and the Iranian representative ... is going to be focused on Iraq and stabilizing Iraq,' U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week."

I don't disagree with the diplomatic decision, but it's worth noting that after years of saying talks with Iran would be reckless and irresponsible, the Bush gang is grudgingly accepting the reality that Dems have been pushing for quite a while. Would it be rude to point out how often this has happened of late? Dems said Bush should talk directly to Syria; Bush said Dems were weak to even suggest it; and Bush eventually came around. Dems said Bush should talk to North Korea and use Clinton's Agreed Framework as a model for negotiations; Bush said this was out of the question; and Bush eventually came around. Dems said Bush should increase the size of the U.S. military; Bush said this was unnecessary; and Bush eventually came around. And Dems said Bush should engage Iran in direct talks, particularly on Iraq. It took a while, but the president came around on this, too.

For years, all we've heard from the right is that Bush is a bold visionary when it comes to foreign policy, and Dems are weak and clueless. And yet, here we are, watching the White House embrace the Dems' approach on most of the nation's major foreign policy challenges. Now, if Bush could just bring himself to accept the Democratic line on Iraq, too, we'd really see some progress.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Unqualified Offerings on Glenn Greenwald

Suicide Bombings vs. Air Raids:

Yes and No § Unqualified Offerings: Glenn Greenwald (note: now I’m doing it!) has what is generally an excellent item about the real enthusiasm for attacks on civilians, and the transformation of the Republican Party into “from Falwell/Robertson social conservativsm obsessed with abortion and gay rights into a macro version of the Little Green Footballs comment section, obsessed instead with, literally excited by, detaining and torturing people, maximizing government domestic surveillance, starting still new wars in the Middle East and being far more brutal with the current ones.” There’s one thing he doesn’t quite get around to saying and one thing where he misses the point.

First, he’s right to leave aside the specific tactic of “suicide bombing” to focus on the question of attacks against civilians. Suicide bombing is simply a way to kill people that guarantees the perpetrator himself won’t survive. The suicide bomber can target military personnel, government officials, supply convoys or just plain folks. So can any other combatant, legal or illegal, uniformed or not. Suicide attacks give us the heebie-jeebies for reasons separate from the morality of the target: suicide attacks freak us out because they’re very hard to defend against, they are sneaky by design, and they betoken a level of commitment on the part of the attacker that unsettles us back in the hindbrain. Since it scares us, we prefer to pretend that one person killing himself to blow up a pizza place is somehow more abominable than a thousand people safely firebombing every pizza place in a city from the air, as well as every house and garage and grocery store and restaurant and factory.

9% of Muslims refused to answer the “Are suicide attacks against civilians ever justified to defend Islam.” If I were a Muslim, I might join the 9% on the “Wow, you’ve really constructed that question to carefully apply to what a few people who look like me do, haven’t you?” grounds. The real ethical question is, “Are deliberate attacks against civilians ever acceptable?” Greenwald has the data on just where you can find enthusiasm for the idea that they are.

Gideon Rachman: Still Heading for the Exit in Iraq

Gideon Rachman writes, in the FT:

Gideon Rachman's Blog: Still heading for the exit in Iraq:

The decision by Congress to authorise extra funding for the Iraq war - without setting a deadline for withdrawal - is being portrayed in some places as a capitulation by the anti-war crowd. Not at all. It simply means that the crucial political struggle over withdrawal from Iraq has been delayed a few months. The real battle is going to take place in September. At that point, all of the American troops set aside for "the surge" will have been in Iraq for several months. In September General David Petraeus, on whom so many American hopes are hanging, is also due to give a crucial "status report" to Congress. If the news looks bad, then Congressional moves to get the troops out will begin in earnest. The Iraqi insurgents will doubtless factor this into their calculations. President Bush is already predicting a bloody August.

Earlier this week I met a couple of senior Republican politicians. One of them was still strongly pro-war and convinced that progress is being made; the other was wavering. But both were worried that Congress is still liable to pull the plug on the war effort prematurely. And both see September as the crunch month. By then, the presidential election campaign will also be in full swing. With the Iraq war more unpopular than ever, the campaign is only likely to increase the pressure to get out of Iraq. It was notable that in yesterday's vote, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted against authorising new spending for the war. They know which way the wind is blowing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Soda Can Is Filled with Soda. An MOI Is Filled with Shiite Militiamen

I thought this quote from Spencer Ackerman's Nation article was clear. Kevin Drum apparently didn't:

Spencer Ackerman: Let me take you on a journey into the beating heart of war journalism. What happens when you've got a quote that seems vivid and redolent, rich in texture, emitting a bouquet of meaning and insight, but... may in fact be a word salad? The answer: print that sucker. Indulge me here.

Kevin reads my Nation piece, pulls out this passage:

The MOI is the Ministry of Interior, arguably the most powerful department in the Iraqi bureaucracy. It has control of the police, and since 2005 it has been an instrument of Shiite political power.... Haider gets nervous when I press him about MOI complicity with the militias. He picks up a can of Pepsi from his desk. "I can't say anything about the MOI, but here's an example. This is a soda. You know what it is, and what it consists of."

and remarks, "Say what?" Rightly so. Let me explain....

Colonel Haider was pretty open to talking to me after Lt. Sherrill indicated that it was OK with him. I immediately started asking him about militia infiltration.... He pointed to the Ministry of Interior as the source of the problem. I continued to ask him about this. All of a sudden, a routine U.S. checkup on his operations became a case of an American reporter, escorted by the very U.S. soldiers checking up on the station, pressing him about the perfidies of his superiors. He grabbed a soda can on his desk, gave me that quote, and evaded further questions.

Now, as I wrote down Haider's words, I thought to myself: "Yeah, that's right... a soda. I know exactly what it is, and what it consists of. Much like I know what the MOI consists of. A soda can consists of soda! The MOI consists of Shiite militiamen!"...

I must have gone back and forth with taking that quote out of the piece a million times. If I took it out, I would have a situation where I took the reader right up to the edge of raising the MOI trouble but not crossing the threshold.... [W]hile nearly every police commander blamed the MOI at least partially for infiltration, it would have been awkward to suddenly switch characters, especially because I wanted to ground the piece in a specific police station. So, finally, I opted for the Pepsi quote, and figured that it would make sense in context.

Tell me, faithful commenters: was this a mistake? Be my ex-post-facto editor. Citizen journalism advances another step!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Spencer Ackerman: Training Iraq's Death Squads

Spencer Ackerman writes:

Training Iraq's Death Squads: One of the reminders of Ali's sacrifice is a framed photograph on his cluttered desk. In it, his young son wears the oversized camouflage helmet of Lieut. Jonathan Sherrill, a 24-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, who leads a platoon of the 57th Military Police Company, which oversees fifteen police stations like Khadimiya here in western Baghdad. Sherrill doesn't smile much out on patrol, but in the photograph the diminutive lieutenant wears a grin almost as large as the one plastered on Ali's overjoyed son. When Sherrill walks into Ali's office on a March afternoon, the besieged major's chubby, mustachioed face lights up. An aide rushes to bring sodas for Ali's friend.

"He's one of the hardest-working IPs I've ever met," Sherrill tells me, using the ubiquitous military acronym for Iraqi Police. "He's doing good, and making sure the station gets what it needs." But what the station--and Iraq--needs is not solely measured in items on an acquisition order. Roving the hallways are men only nominally controlled by the police chain of command. "I'm happy with the loyalty of many of the men," Ali tells me after he finishes briefing Sherrill on the day's progress. "But we're suffering with the newer IPs, because I don't know exactly if they come from a militia or some political party." It's a fear echoed by practically every IP commander the 57th becomes partners with. Several told me that many of their police are little more than militiamen in uniform.

"If they belong to the religious guys, it poisons their mind," Ali continues. "Now, in the station, the guys who join can collect information on the other sects. When they get into civilian clothes, they go out and kill the other sect." Ali shrugs. "I have no control over that." The bed in his office underscores both his hard work and the fact that many of his own officers, like the insurgents they are supposed to fight, have placed Ali under siege. Some are suspicious of his closeness with the US military. Some will kill him as part of inter-Shiite factional strife. Others will simply target him for money.

Out of this material comes the long-term US strategy in Iraq. This year's troop surge--an infusion of five combat brigades to Baghdad, along with an additional 2,200 military police and thousands more support forces--brought a return to greater American combat operations, but commanders emphasize that the ultimate goal remains preparing Iraqis to secure their country. Since June 2006, this task has fallen, in part, to the 57th. The company doesn't provide direct training to the IPs; but it advises them on a relentless routine of manning checkpoints, neighborhood patrols, logistics maintenance, payroll and strengthening the chain of command.

"We make them operate their system for when we're not here anymore," explains Capt. Rob McNellis, the 57th's 30-year-old company commander. "If we can help, then absolutely, we'll give them everything we've got, but the focus has shifted." That focus has, by all accounts, yielded improvements in Iraqi police competence. The days when policemen ran from the insurgency are mostly over.

These days the danger is the opposite: that militia-loyal policemen, mostly Shiite here in Baghdad, will use their increased US-gained skills to scourge their Sunni enemies. McNellis and his superiors contend that while they cannot end infiltration, they can curb militia abuses. They hope that the mentorship they provide will force the police to rise above its maculate origins. "There is militia infiltration to varying degrees at the stations," says McNellis, "but nothing succeeds like success."...

The broader problem is that sectarianism remains deeply entrenched. Gen. David Petraeus, the highly regarded commanding general in Iraq, has stated that success can only come through a political settlement. Yet practically every significant reconciliation effort pushed by the United States--a relaxation of the de-Baathification law, a more equitable distribution of the nation's oil wealth, a new round of provincial elections--has bogged down in Parliament. Popular sentiment is no less divided. According to a March poll by ABC News, more than 95 percent of Sunnis believe Baathists should be allowed back into government positions, while two-thirds of Shiites and Kurds reject the idea. Only 4 percent of Sunnis believe their lives will improve over the next year, though 51 percent of Shiites remain optimistic....

The problem runs deeper than the Interior Ministry. Every significant political organization in Iraq fields its own militia as an insurance policy against losing power. For the United States to insist on total militia demobilization would require a massive expansion of the war and cost it whatever Iraqi allies it still has--with no certainty of success. "My own personal view is that it's not realistic to expect in this country for militia groups to be eliminated altogether," says Col. Mike Galloucis, commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade, the parent unit of the 57th. "Militia groups are interwoven throughout the fabric of the country, including the government. But you can always go after bad behavior. You can establish the basic principle of what's acceptable and unacceptable: the notion that everyone accepts the law, no one is above the law, and if you violate it--and I don't care what your sect or your name is--you will be punished." Galloucis's approach led to the firing of several top police generals last fall after the colonel presented Bolani with "a thick packet" of information detailing their corruption.

The result is a trade-off. Police stations do not face US-pushed mass purges of corrupt officers, which would risk further destabilizing a maturing force. But as long as militiamen remain in the police, official cover will exist for kidnappings, murders and other human rights abuses, undermining the rule of law that Galloucis seeks to promote. Proof of specific police complicity in sectarian attacks can be hard to acquire, limiting US ability to get Iraqi commanders to take action. "You can buy a police uniform downtown," McNellis points out....

More than four years into the war, the discrepancy between the scope of Iraq's challenges and the ability of the United States to alleviate them is greater than ever. The commander of Iraqi police in western Baghdad, Gen. Saleh Alany, insists that the United States can't leave--"the terrorists would win"--but says the real problem in Iraq is the entire "generation that was born in the 1980s, during the war with Iran," whose minds have been corrupted by violence. He includes his own men in his assessment: "Loyalty is the biggest problem. The security forces don't have loyalty to the country. They're loyal to the different parties, or other forces." Alany's dim view of the new Iraq is surely colored by his status as a veteran of Saddam's Republican Guard. But if he's right, then to improve the quality of the police force entails increasing the lethality of the militias.

Major Ali in Khadimiya needs no reminder. He picks his security detail personally--he must be wary of those assigned to guard him because of whom they might actually work for. He fears being transferred to the MOI, and vows to take his men to the ministry with him if he is. "I need to know who they are," he says. "Otherwise, they'd kill me." Sherrill sees help on the way. "It's all about weeding out the bad apples," he says, "and for the most part, we've been doing that." After Sherrill leaves, there will be another lieutenant to lend his helmet to Ali's son, and more US troops to mentor Ali's progress. But even with them there, Ali must still fear the uncertain loyalties of his own men, and what they will do with their newfound skills.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Spencer Ackerman on the Legacy of Tony Blair

Playing "Greeks to American Romans," as Harold MacMillan put it, was a winning strategy for British politicians for a long time. Not for Tony Blair. Spencer Ackerman sums it up:

toohotfortnr: it's a crying shame, you left a trail of destruction: Michael Gerson and Tony Blair, Gladstonians against the Horde:

In our conversation, Blair would not be drawn into second-guessing on failures in early stages of the Iraq war -- troop levels, de-Baathification and the like. Those debates, while "perfectly legitimate," do not account for decisive factors beyond the control of the coalition, particularly the bombing campaign of al-Qaeda and Iran's strategy of "containing America" by seeking to "bog them down in Iraq."

"If those two external elements were not there, this thing would be very nearly manageable," Blair told me. "Sometimes you have to come to a very simple conclusion, which is that your enemies decided to fight you."

This is an exculpation? That al-Qaeda would make use of the U.S.'s position of occupying an Arab (mostly) country? Or that Iran would seek to turn its encirclement by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to its advantage? And that the U.S. would find those two developments to be nearly insurmountable amid the other rigors of occupying Iraq? Even if Gerson's infatuation with a morality of intentions can't penetrate the veneer of what's happened in Iraq, Blair should know that a foreign policy that invites a "decisive" response from its adversaries can't possibly survive. And if the point of it all is to nurture human rights while protecting one's interests, then neither objective is served by its collapse.

Ezra Klein on Immigration

Ezra Klein writes:

TAPPED Archive | The American Prospect: THE STATE OF PLAY ON IMMIGRATION. Spent some time Picking Up The Damn Phone this afternoon, and got a much better sense of the political path the immigration bill still has to traverse. First, expect the temporary guest worker program to tumble from 400,000 to 200,000 workers, as Jeff Bingaman and Dianne Feinstein's amendment passes yet again. But this is a more complicated win than it appears at first glance: There's concern among certain liberal groups that if you drop the guest worker program too low, you simply amp up illegal immigration, which is actually worse.

Enter H.R 1645, the STRIVE Act. The House will spend June creating their own version of the immigration bill under the leadership of Zoe Lofgren, a Silicon Valley Democrat (so expect a much greater number of visas for high-skill workers in the final bill) and former immigration lawyer. She'll be under heavy pressure from unions and left-leaning groups to use Luis Guttierrez's STRIVE Act as the basis for her bill. STRIVE, which has a long list of cosponsors ranging from Rahm Emmanuel to Dennis Kuncinich to Silvestre Reyes to Jeff Flake, has a few advantages over the Senate bill, the most notable being its treatment of guest workers, who, after 5 years, $500, and evidence of English and US history classes, can apply for citizenship.

If such a bill is adopted in the House, the legislation will move to Conference with the Senate, which the Democrats control (liberals will remember the many times that Republicans used Conference in recent years to make compromise bills into conservative wish lists). Current thinking is that Bush will sign just about anything that emerges from the process, be it far to the left, or, as with the Sensenbrenner bill he approved last year, far to the right. He needs the accomplishment.

One last thing: The folks I talked to believe this is the year. Two years from now isn't an option. The particular political circumstances we're in are nearly unique: Bush has nothing left to lose but his involvement still provides cover for Republicans, Democrats can get an immigration bill without full ownership over it, the space is open for the subject because the President won't allow action on other liberal priorities and the Congress won't countenance any conservative agenda items, and so on. You have the RNC defending a bill that, were it offered under a Democratic president, they'd be tearing apart. Meanwhile, this just won't be a priority for the next president: President Democrat will want to do health care, not amnesty, and President Republican will want to get reelected someday. So this is the shot. --Ezra Klein

Ross Douthat Has a Modest Proposal (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Ross Douthat proposes that people write about stuff they know something about, and not write about stuff they don't know anything about:

Ross Douthat: Kinsley on Hitchens: Matt's right that Michael Kinsley's review of God Is Not Great offers some profound insights into how the the media-public intellectual complex works. It's also a textbook example of how that complex works. First, Christopher Hitchens writes a polemic that ranges across religion, religious history, philosophy and science. Then, the editors of the New York Times Book Review decide to commission a review from Michael Kinsley, presumably because both Hitchens and Kinsley are well-known figures in the media-public intellectual world and "Kinsley on Hitchens" has a nice ring to it. Never mind that Kinsley has never evinced any expertise or even any particular interest in the topics and arguments that Hitchens is covering - it's Kinsley on Hitchens! How can they go wrong?

And sure enough, Kinsley has produced a review that, because he's a smart guy and a good writer, has some interesting things to say about Hitchens' career, but has absolutely nothing of interest to say about the book itself. Indeed, the review is essentially a felicitously-written plot summary, which lists some of Hitchens' arguments and deliberately shrugs off analysis. For instance:

The book is full of logical flourishes and conundrums, many of them entertaining to the nonbeliever. How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer.

But you're reviewing the bloody book! Should they give the believer pause? Has Hitchens devastated religious faith, as he plainly thinks he has? I'm glad he's entertaining - but is he persuasive? Does his book confirm you in your nonbelief, or leave questions unaddressed? Hitchens takes these questions seriously - shouldn't the reviewer, whether an atheist, a believer, or somewhere in between, have the decency to do the same?

Ah, but it's Kinsley on Hitchens. Brilliant!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Matthew Yglesias On the Labor Movement and Hillary Clinton

Matthew writes:

Matthew Yglesias: Here's the full-length version of Ari Berman's "Hillary, Inc." taking a good hard look at Senator Clinton's team of business-oriented advisors. Matt Stoller piles on further and adds "I hope that someone organizes a PAC or 527 against her brand of centrism, and points out the wild inconsistencies from the left." But now here's the rub. It's hard to make hay about, say, the Clinton campaign's ties to union-busting when large labor unions won't do it.

As best I can tell, most labor people would prefer that she not be the nominee, but they're not going to do much of anything about it. They think, after all, that if she wins she'll need to be at least somewhat attentive to their concerns, but that if they tilt against her and she wins anyway, then they'll really be fucked. All of which is probably true, but of course also makes it much more likely that she'll win. Nation writers and progressive bloggers, sad to say, can't communicate this kind of thing to working-class voters in a particularly effective manner.

Bernard Chazelle on Nicolas Sarkozy and France

Over at the Rootless Cosmopolitan weblog, Bernard Chazelle writes:

Rootless Cosmopolitan » Blog Archive » Getting Sarkozy - and France - Wrong: The story has been all over the media: Nicolas Sarkozy might not be an easy man to like but France is the “sick man of Europe” and tough love is what it needs. If its new president’s odes to the liberating power of work and paeons to “the France that gets up early” grate on the ears of his 35-hour-work-week nation, so be it....

Nice story. Too bad it bears so little connection to reality... to get [France] all wrong seems a bit of an art form in the U.S. media. On any given day, Tom Friedman can be found berating the French for “trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day.” Friedman’s genius is to suppress in the reader the commonsense reaction—Indian engineers have no life—and improbably redirect the pity toward the French. That takes some skill....

Productivity is higher in France than in [Britain and the U.S.] (and 50% more so than in Japan). But pity the French: with their 35-hour work week, 5-week paid vacations, and 16-week paid maternity leaves, they work 30% fewer hours than Americans. Maybe that’s why they live longer (81 years vs 78) and infant mortality is lower (4.3 vs 7 per 1000). Unless the reason is France’s health care system: the best in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Or perhaps it’s the narrower inequality gap: child poverty in France is half the British rate and one third the American....

José Bové, the Astérix of French politics, has burnished France’s antiglobalisation image by ransacking McDonald’s outlets wherever he can find enough TV cameras to capture his exploits. But while France has been noisily scoffing at globalization for decades, it has quietly become one of the most globalized nations on earth.... for the last 10 years, France’s net foreign investments (FDI) have ranked in the top 5, and its net FDI outflows have been the world’s largest; foreign investors own 45% of all French stocks....

What, then, is wrong with France? Simply put, the French system serves the interests of two-thirds of the population (the insiders). The outsiders (the young and the old) have been knocking at the door for 40 years. The sons and daughters of North-African immigrants have paid the highest price. While a few might be seeking a new Muslim identity, which their parents shunned, the overwhelming majority of them have no greater desire than to integrate into secular French society.... The crisis of the projects is France’s biggest challenge in the years ahead. The problem is rooted in the twin evil of racism and the insiders’ fierce defense of the status quo. Sarkozy’s presidency will succeed or fail on his ability to break the door open to let the outsiders in, and create jobs for the unemployed youths.

Sarkozy is blessed with all the attributes of a successful politician, including a unique gift for being a jerk. In the back alleys of the banlieues, France’s former top cop comes off as just another white racist thug.... Sarko’s open admiration for the rancid views of my former Ecole Polytechnique colleague, Alain Finkielkraut, makes one wonder....

I... note that while other politicians regurgitate the same tired “solutions” to the crisis of the banlieues—namely, building more community centers named after great poets—Sarko has suggested somewhat more adventurous ideas, such as a restructuring of labor relations, a more flexible labor market, hiring incentives, and even that big French bugaboo, affirmative action, all the while reaffirming France’s traditional rejection of communautarisme. But he is a figure of hate among minorities and, unless he can repair his image and build bridges, he will not accomplish much. The issue of ethnic integration towers above all others. The future of France hangs in the balance. Jacques Chirac, the friendliest and most ineffective French president in memory, spoke endlessly about solidarity but never did a thing about it....   

Unlike Chirac, Sarko is a true man of the right. Being France, of course, that still puts his agenda, though not necessarily his character, to the left of Kucinich. But he faces a French left that, unlike its American version, lost the battles but won the war. France typically elects rightwing presidents to implement leftwing policies. The consummate pragmatist, Sarko will not fight his battles on ideological grounds.... [H]e intends to use his (likely) new majority in parliament to pass a minimum service public transportation law to dull the effect of transit strikes.... His likely selection of Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister is a master stroke. The highly popular founder of the Nobel-prize winning Doctors Without Borders is a former Communist who worked for Mitterrand, campaigned for Ségolène Royal, and, as the chief advocate of the wooly concept of “droit d’ingérence” (right of humanitarian intervention), played Bush’s useful idiot in the run-up to the Iraq war. His selection is a canny way to please, annoy, and confuse everyone all at once.

French foreign policy is framed within a “Gaullist consensus” that has been remarkably consistent over the years. On the European front, Germany will remain France’s only indispensable partner.... The axis will put the final nail in the coffin of Turkey’s EU admissio.... True to his faith in industrial policy (which seems to have escaped the eagle eyes of his neoliberal admirers stateside), Sarko will strong-arm the European Central Bank into putting downward pressure on the Euro. He will fail.

Sarkozy’s pious words about changing France’s (shameful) neocolonial position in sub-Saharan Africa will come to naught.... Regarding Russia, Sarko will follow Merkel’s lead in being firm with Moscow but opposed to an aggressive stand by the U.S. The neocons’ push for a new cold war meant to reverse America’s declining superpower status, which is what the missile shields in Central Europe are all about, will be strongly resisted....

His strong support among Sephardic Jews reflect his tough stance against the antisemitic violence that flared up during the second Intifada. Many Sephardim live near or in the “hottest” banlieues and suffered the brunt of Muslim anti-Jewish hostility. Although this new form of European antisemitism has since declined, it would be tragic to dismiss it. To his credit, Sarkozy did not....

Washington will have a hard time getting its head around it, but trans-Atlantic relations have ceased to be Europe’s main focus (except in Britain). U.S.-EU relations will improve but the era of a grand common planned destiny is over.... France’s priorities outside the EU will be on the global South, while it channels its Asian policy through the EU...

Kevin Drum on Ashcroft and the Justice Department

Kevin writes:

The Washington Monthly: THE NATIONAL SECURITY CURTAIN....The legal justification for the NSA's domestic spying program, originally written by the infamously hackish John Yoo, was repudiated in March 2004 by the Department of Justice after Yoo left and a new team insisted on taking a serious look at both the program and Yoo's legal arguments for it. Marty Lederman points out today that this team — John Ashcroft, Jack Goldsmith, and James Comey — was no bunch of weak-kneed liberals. They were, under every other circumstance, hardnosed conservatives dedicated to an expansive view of executive power in wartime. What's more, the NSA program was one the administration considered critical to the war on terror; repudiating a previous finding is highly unusual; their actions undermined a key legal tenet of the president's wartime powers; and they knew that both the president and vice president would be furious at what they had done.And yet not only would Ashcroft, et al., not budge — they were prepared to resign their offices if the President allowed this program of vital importance to go forward in the teeth of their legal objections.

In light of all these considerations, just try to imagine how legally dubious the Yoo justification must have been that John Ashcroft was so profoundly committed to its repudiation. It's staggering, really — almost unimaginable that anything such as this could have happened, especially where the stakes were so high.

....Moreover, the "revised" NSA program that OLC and DOJ approved some weeks after the March incident...still allowed electronic surveillance of communications as long as the NSA had a "reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda." Presumably this extremely generous guideline was required by the need to bring the program under the aegis of the AUMF....If that's the narrow version of the NSA program, just how broad and indiscriminate was the surveillance under the program that Ashcroft, et al. would not approve?

Even the Washington Post, not exactly a keen critic of President Bush's executive excesses, has had enough: "The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen."

That's a start. A little late, but a start.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Nobody Has Any Business Supporting Mitt Romney

Nobody has any business supporting Mitt Romney. Nobody:

Matthew Yglesias: What was up with Mitt Romney promising to "double" Gitmo -- I mean, what does that even mean? I think it's weird that this kind of moment where a candidate for the presidency reveals that he has no clue as to what he's talking about with regard to a high-profile, controversial national security issue doesn't count as a "gaffe." Maybe if he'd sighed too much or something....

Bloix: I thought he was clear. He does not believe in trial by jury, or the presumption of innocence, or the right to counsel, or an independent judiciary, or the right to liberty. He believes that the government should be disappear people from their homes and send them to prison camps where brutal guards will beat them up at their leisure. He thinks we need more Gitmos and bigger Gitmos. He wants to recreate the gulag. You saw how excited the audience was. They understood it. Why don't you?...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

War Czar Doug Lute

Phillip Carter writes:

INTEL DUMP: Doug Lute: dream the impossible dream: The Washington Post (and others) report that the White House has tapped Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute to be its "war czar." In that position, Lt. Gen. Lute will be responsible for quarterbacking the "interagency process" — a Byzantine system of communication, coordination and policymaking which, in theory, is supposed to produce coherent national security strategy execution. According to the Post:

In the newly created position, Lute will coordinate often disjointed military and civilian operations and manage the Washington side of the same troop increase he resisted before Bush announced the plan in January. Bush hopes an empowered aide working in the White House and answering directly to him will be able to cut through bureaucracy that has hindered efforts in Iraq.

The selection capped a difficult recruitment process for the White House, as its initial candidates rejected the job. At least five retired four-star generals approached by the White House or intermediaries refused to be considered. Lute, a three-star general now serving as chief operations officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in effect will jump over many superiors as he moves to the West Wing and assumes authority to deal directly with Cabinet secretaries and top commanders.

"General Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done," Bush said in a statement.

In choosing Lute, Bush picked a key internal voice of dissent during the administration review that led to the troop increase. Reflecting the views of other members of the Joint Chiefs, Lute argued that a short-term "surge" would do little good and that any sustained increase in forces had to be matched by equal emphasis on political and economic steps, according to officials informed about the deliberations.

Lute believed the situation in Iraq reflected the same mistakes as the ineffective and disorganized response to Hurricane Katrina, according to a source familiar with the debate. Like others at the Pentagon, he also was aggravated because civilian agencies, in his view, had not done nearly enough to help stabilize Iraq. And he was outspoken about the increasing strains on the U.S. military, officials said.

National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said Lute raised his concerns during talks before his selection. "He had the same skepticism a lot of us had," Hadley said. "That's one of the reasons we designed the strategy the way we did." By joining the White House, Hadley said, Lute can ensure that economic and political elements of the plan are implemented. "In some sense, he's part of the cure for the problems he was concerned about."

Until Bush decided this spring to create the position, the highest-ranking White House official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan was a deputy national security adviser reporting to Hadley. Lute, by contrast, will have the rank of assistant to the president, just as Hadley does, and report directly to Bush, while also holding the title of deputy national security adviser.

Okay, I'm still scratching my head over this one. None of my thoughts are new on this, but I thought I'd air them anyway:

1) Isn't this guy [Bush] supposed to be the "war czar"? If he can't make the interagency process work by knocking a few heads and firing a few cabinet officers, who can?

2) What's going to happen the first time that Lt. Gen. Lute doesn't get his way? Imagine a hypothetical where Gen. David Petraeus asks for more Justice Department personnel to promote the rule of law , and Al Gonzales tells him to go swimming in the Tigris. What's a 3-star general to do? Will the White House back Lute and tell Al to cough up the people? Or will Lute get steamrolled? Assuming the latter happens, will he suck it up and soldier on, resign quietly, or resign noisily?

3) How are the other agencies going to react to having yet another general in charge of policy? Maybe about as well as State reacted to having Jay Garner appointed as the head of ORHA during the early stages of the war? I understand that the military is the main effort right now in Iraq. I also understand that's a deeply flawed organizational paradigm, because counterinsurgency is a political endeavor, and it may make a lot more sense to put a political animal (someone like Robert "Blowtorch Bob" Komer) in charge. (What? You've never heard of Blowtorch Bob? Read this! And this!)

4) How broken is the U.S. national security apparatus that we need a "czar" to run it? Is the NSC that f---ed up that it needs a 3-star with some juice in the Pentagon to make things work? (This is a rhetorical question; the only possible answer is yes.) Or are the agencies that stubborn? (Again, yes.) Where and how did the National Security Act and Goldwater-Nichols Act run aground that we've come to this? (Long story.) Could it be that we have the greatest military in the world, capped by the most ineffective and bloated bureaucracy ever created?

Good luck Lt. Gen Lute — you've got a tough fight in front of you.

And Adam W:

Someone needs to tell President Bush that if you're sitting in the Cabinet Room and you don't see a President, then it's you. Regarding your second point, I recall that a major criticism of the brief Jay Garner era was that, as a lower-ranking military man, he couldn't plausibly exert any sway over higher-ranking officials below him on the org chart. I don't see how this situation is much different.

Monday, May 14, 2007

John McWhorter Claims He Is Real...

One more reason not to read the New Republic is that you run into people like John McWhorter. Here he asserts that he is "real." In my experience, people who feel they have to assert their reality are the fakest of all. And so it proves with McWhorter:

Open University: August Wilson's... Radio Golf... with the message that to the extent that black people assimilate to white culture, they are losing their true "selves."... I think I understand where Wilson was coming from. He grew up in the days of Jim Crow, when a black identity was not something to be chosen, nurtured and custom-fitted the way it is now.... [I]t is really unclear to me that black Americans will be the only humans in history to never heal. I don't see the logic in it.

I, for one, feel thoroughly "real."... Yes, my wife is white. However, she sure looks real to me.... I do not accept that the life I lead is unreal, inauthentic, or broken.... Life isn't perfect, but we're making it. We're getting over, and in the process, getting over it. Wilson doesn't want us to get over it.... That might float some people's boats, but I am more interested in feeling whole right here and now. History is important--but not so much...

John McWhorter claims he is real. I say that he is fake. Here is one example: John McWhorter defending former Senator George Allen:

Similar insincerity is evident in the reaction to Allen and the macaca episode . . . . Imagine for a moment that Allen actually knew that a "macaque" is a kind of monkey, or that in French the term is sometimes used as an insult for North Africans (Allen denied having known about either). Who, then, believes that Allen would use the slur against an opposition campaigner aiming a camera straight at him? The facts of the case would suggest that Allen just made up something silly on the spot...

I say this is fake. John McWhorter was saying something he doesn't believe--that George Allen was smart enough not to behave stupidly--because no other African-American was defending George Allen. McWhorter hoped to make himself a rare and valuable commodity in the event that Allen were to have survived his close encounter with the macaques: the only prominent African-American to have taken Allen's side. A little racial arbitrage here. But behaving like this doesn't make McWhorter "real."

Here is another example:

[T]he diversity fetish leads to excusing other cultures for destructive behaviors we would condemn in our own... (witness the tendency to designate Osama Bin Laden a "madman," implying that this sane, calculating person is not responsible for his actions, whereas Dick Cheney is afforded no such exemption from sincere, visceral contempt)...

Nobody I know (and I know many) who calls Osama bin Laden a "madman" is excusing him--they are, rather, saying that we should have long since put enough resources into the search to find him and shoot him down like a dog. Nobody I know (and I know many) who calls Dick Cheney a "madman" is exempting him from contempt--indeed, their contempt is roughly double that of those who do not call Cheney a "madman." A little neoconservative arbitrage here: McWhorter is declaring his allegiance to Cheney and asserting that his opponents (the followers of the "diversity fetish") are in some ways pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Once again: fake. Behaving like this makes McWhorter less real than ever.

Rising Hegemon: And as the Sun rises in the East

Attaturk writes:

Rising Hegemon: And as the Sun rises in the East: The Right-Wing discovers that a French President will primarily look after the interests of ... France! Their idiotic, simplistic notions of foreign relations never fail to shock and guffaw. Nicolas Sarkozy, the right-wing reformer who becomes French President on Wednesday, upset both the United States and his opponents yesterday by offering the job of Foreign Minister to a Socialist veteran with anti-American credentials. Hubert Védrine, 59 — a former senior aide to the late President Mitterrand — who served as Foreign Minister from 1997 to 2002, was considering the proposal yesterday. The prospect of Mr Védrine running foreign policy has infuriated the beleaguered Socialists and amazed the diplomatic world because he is the architect of a doctrine for containing what he called the abusive “steamroller” of American power. His views on “the hyperpower” — the term that he coined in the 1990s — would appear to conflict with Mr Sarkozy’s pro-Atlantic views.

Look, Sarkozy has the advantage of becoming President four-years past the stupidity of "Freedom Fries" and various other idiocies. Like 'em or hate 'em one is hard-pressed to deny that on reflection, no matter the personal interests involved as they were on both sides, ultimately, the French were right and Bush and his supporters were wrong about Iraq.

Sarkozy saying he would like to mend fences with the United States over this silly game of mutual sarcasm equaling his suddenly ignoring overwhelming French opposition to U.S. foreign policy and militarism is a game only a Bush syncophant could fall for, and the usual suspects did hook, line, and sinker. The Bushophiles are just as moronic as ever. French conservatism is intermixed with French Nationalism, from DeGaulle to Chirac to Sarkozy they have typically been in favor of a check on American expansion and ambition. Fools as always.

Matthew Yglesias Does Not Have Any Respect for Paul bremer

Nope. No respect. Not strange, not new, not old, not familiar:

Matthew Yglesias: Strange New Respect: Jim Henley and Scott Lemieux are feeling it for Paul Bremer after reading his Washington Post self-defense article. Personally, my sympathy for Bremer goes down whenever he publishes anything. I think Bremer has essentially been turned into a scapegoat for very broad intellectual errors and policy mistakes that affected a wide swathe of the American elite from 2002-2005. Rather than acknowledge that this is what happened; that certain stupendously wrong ideas gained widespread adherence in the two years after 9/11, there's been an enormous willingness to believe that, hey, no, everything's fine, it's just that Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld are really dumb.

The trouble with trying to defend Bremer from this unfair position, however, is that every time he opens his mouth he's refusing to adopt the only really viable defense he has -- that he was the fall guy for a doomed enterprise. It's not that disbanding the Iraqi Army wasn't an error, it's just that having done things the other way 'round wouldn't have produced the desired unified, democratic, and yet willing to be used as a platform for US power-projection throughout the region Iraq that Bremer was supposed to produce. He wound up making pro-chaos decisions because the country had, as a matter of national policy, chosen to adopt unrealistic and incoherent -- yet strangely vague -- war aims. The only real blunder Bremer made was agreeing to take the job under those circumstances.

Why Is Bush So Dominant Over the Republican Party?

They should have revolted in May 2001--rather than follow along as Cheney established his dominance and cut the moorings connecting the White House to reality. But they didn't. Various voices discuss why:

I have puzzled for years on why Bush seems to exercise such control over the conservative movement and its institutions. Ronald Reagan didn't have anything close to the degree of support Bush has. I wish I could figure it out...

I blame 1994, and the message learned that division within a party carries the risk that 1/4 of your incumbents will lose their jobs. Like today--the most centrist 30 Democratic representatives think that they have a better chance of keeping their jobs in 2008 if Pelosi is perceived to be a success than if they cross the aisle and strike a deal to join a ruling House coalition led by Boehner and company, a ruling coalition with which they might well be in more ideological sympathy...

That's a factor, but there's a lot more to it. I'll figure it out someday.

The assessment in Ron Suskind’s 2004 article holds up pretty well, although it was mistaken about the civil war in the Republican Party...

If such a civil war had broken out, the Republican Party might still have a chance next year. I am truly baffled as to why so many Republicans seem determined to go down with the sinking ship. I can only conclude that there are Democratic candidates that are within the range of acceptability to those Republicans fed up with Bush—they would rather switch than fight...

These poll data are revealing:

Perhaps another factor I have written about is that the rise of talk radio, Fox News, and the Internet means that many Republicans need not ever be confronted by inconvenient facts or will always have a plausible explanation from Fred Barnes to explain them away. I really saw this last year when many Republicans were absolutely convinced that they were going to keep control of Congress, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Every single night I heard Barnes explain why the polls were wrong, but in fact they were spot-on accurate. To my knowledge, Fred has never explained why he was wrong about the polls being wrong. Yet now I am hearing the same thing—the polls showing a huge Democratic advantage next year are simply dismissed as biased or inaccurate or something...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Ezra Klein: Give Bigger Government a Chance

Ezra Klein writes:

Give bigger government a chance - Los Angeles Times: Conservatives talk a lot about government failure, but over the last few years, it's really we who have failed government, depriving it of the revenue, the conscientious management and the attention needed for it to succeed. Undercapitalize a pizza joint and your customers will taste the poor ingredients, become frustrated by the long waits and grow repulsed by the grimy environs. Staff it with your unmotivated drinking buddies and the service will falter, as will the quality of the product. It's no way to run a pizza place, and it's certainly no way to run a government.

But that's exactly what we've done. With Proposition 13 and the famous California tax revolt, and with presidents whose entire domestic programs amounted to mindless tax-cutting, and with Congresses that have been happy to pass cuts and stack deficits, we have systematically deprived the government of the revenues it needs to provide basic services, even as we've come to need it to do so much more. The Bush administration has only added to the problem. The president once said: "I was campaigning in Chicago, and somebody asked me, 'Is there ever any time where the budget might have to go into deficit?' I said only if we were at war or had a national emergency or were in recession. Little did I realize we'd get the trifecta." He's right. Not only have we spent more than $500 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan and untold more on homeland security measures, but we've created, in Medicare Part D, the most expensive new entitlement since President Johnson signed the Great Society into existence. We've also increased education spending through the No Child Left Behind Act. And during all this, tax cuts have robbed the Treasury of $200 billion in revenue; the need for a two-thirds majority in the Legislature impeded the flexibility of California to raise state taxes to compensate, while Proposition 13 continued to handicap our municipalities. All that money has to come from somewhere. And the "where" isn't the high-profile initiatives that the media is watching — the Medicares and Social Securities (although they may suffer too) — but from the smaller, less-noticed, but critically important programs and departments that millions rely on.

If Congress must constantly approve high-profile emergency expenditures that funnel hundreds of billions of dollars toward Iraq, and states cannot pick up the slack, there will have to be cuts in funding for police and schools and jails and Pell Grants and the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs and the nation's infrastructure and all the rest. So is it any surprise that law enforcement is extending a beggar's cup to Philip Morris, public colleges are becoming less affordable and UC law schools are shilling for corporate dollars? And that it's all happening even as the globalizing economy demands ever higher skills, as ill and traumatized Iraq war veterans are going without care, as roads and schools are crumbling and myriad other minor catastrophes are underway beneath the notice of the national media but well within the range where they harm ordinary Americans.

Such unhappy outcomes are not merely morally unsettling, they're often economically inefficient. Government spending can be more than necessary, it can be desirable. It can step in, for instance, when the market fails to deliver public goods that society desires but private entities haven't figured out how to fund. (It's useful having a national military, right?) And it can use its regulatory power to ensure that competition works to increase well-being rather than to simply amp up industry profits. UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong once wrote that "sometimes government failures are greater than the market failures for which they purport to compensate. Sometimes they are not." The trick is knowing which is which. But if, like the Bush administration, you are blithely unconcerned with running an efficient, effective government, funding its necessary elements, presenting honest choices to the American people between tax cuts and social investment and staffing the whole enterprise with skilled professionals, you never need make those judgments as you have neither the resources nor the personnel to effectively deploy the central organizing structure of modern societies. And that's a shame.

Libertarian humorist P.J. O'Rourke likes to say that "Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it." Over the last few years, that's been true. But government can work, and increasingly, Americans appear to be anticipating its return. A new Pew Research Center poll finds that public support for a societal safety net and for government protections is at its highest levels in more than a decade — which suggests that Americans don't think bake sales are the way to fund their schools or that Philip Morris is really who they want subsidizing law enforcement. And in recent elections, the once popular "Taxpayer's Bill of Rights" amendments that seemed so unstoppable a decade ago are being rejected and, in Colorado, repealed, as voters finally tire of paying the costs in broken infrastructure and insufficient public services.

When asked what type of political system Americans would have, Ben Franklin famously responded, "A republic, if you can keep it." Well, he also bequeathed us a government, if we can run it. And somehow, I don't think the Philip Morris police department is quite what he had in mind.

Thomas Barnett Hates Condi Rice

He writes, apropos of George Tenet's book:

While I don’t much care for tell-alls from people who didn’t do all when in office … (Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog): Where Tenet’s book is worth reading is exactly on everything except “slam dunk,” like the fact that no one every seemed to seriously discuss or argue through what comes after capturing and/or killing Saddam. And that Bremer kept the CIA in the dark on both disbanding the army and de-Baathing the government. Or that Rice basically abdicated her honest broker role in the NSC, a point nobody bothered to raise in her SECSTATE confirmation hearings (ah, but there’s so much to admire in her “grit and grace” that her stunning incompetency in her previous job need not have been examined. I mean, it’s not her fault the interagency process didn’t wo . . . wait a minute, it’s exactly her fault.). Or how “nobody wanted to give Bremer specific marching orders” and that “Rice felt she could not order changes.” Or how everyone fell in love with Chalabi and let him call way too many of the big shots by proxy.

The last bit provides a stunning example of Condi’s non-role:

“What the hell is going on with Chalabi?” the President asked me at a White House meeting that spring. “Is he working for you?” [Senior CIA officer] Rob Richer, who was with me at the meeting, piped up, “No, sir, I believe he is working for DOD.” All eyes shifted to Don Rumsfeld. “I’ll have to check what his status is,” Rumsfeld said. His Under Secretary for Intelligence, Steve Cambone, sat there mute. “I don’t think he ought to be working for us,” the President dryly observed.

A few weeks later the President again raised the issue. “What’s up with Chalabi?” he asked. Paul Wolfowitz said, “Chalabi has a relationship with DIA and is providing information that is saving American lives. CIA can confirm that.” The President turned to us. “I know of no such information, Mr. President,” Mr. Richer said. The President looked to Condi Rice and said, “I want Chalabi off the payroll.”

At a subsequent meeting, chaired by Rice, DIA confirmed that they were paying the [Iraqi National Congress] $350,000 a month for its services in Baghdad. We knew that the INC’s armed militia had seized tens of thousands of Saddam regime documents and was slowly doling them out to the U.S. government. Beyond that it was unclear to me what the Pentagon was getting for its money. Somehow the President’s direction to pull the plug on the arrangement continued to be ignored.

Paging Dr. Kissinger! Could Rice have been more of a doormat?

I don’t know what’s sadder: Bush having to figure this out on his own and then telling Rice to finally do something about it or Rice not being able to follow his direct order--or the American people having to wait for Tenet’s tell-all to find out.

Tenet was clearly, in the words of the Economist, a total “time server.”

Problem is, so is Rice.

Following Powell’s empty-suit performance prior, this has been the worst pair of SECSTATES in a row in my lifetime.

The cossacks work for the Czar, Tom.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Matthew Yglesias: Why We Should Withdraw from Iraq

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Matthew Yglesias: The Paradox:Benjamin R. "Randy" Mixon says he needs more troops in Diyala Province:

Mixon, speaking Friday by teleconference from Camp Speicher, outside Tikrit, to a Pentagon news conference, said that he did not have enough soldiers to provide security in Diyala. The local government is "nonfunctional" and the central government is "ineffective," he said. . . . Mixon was withering in his criticism of the Iraqi government, saying it was hamstrung by bureaucracy and compromised by corruption and sectarian discord, making it unable to assist U.S. forces in Diyala.

Why, though, isn't the reason to take the troops out? After all, what's the point of throwing ever more American blood and manpower in support of a corrupt, ineffective government? And this is the essential problem. One could easily imagine a post-war situation where Iraq had a government that was not yet competent to run the country, but showed signs of rapid improvement such that if we kept supporting it for a while more, things might turn around. In the real world, though, we're into the fifth year of this business and instead of improving, things just change and get bad in different ways -- what's the point of responding to the failures of the Iraqi government but sending even more troops to fight?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Jim Henley: Just a Smack at Liberaltarianism

Unqualified Offerings writes:

Just a Smack at Liberaltarianism § Unqualified Offerings: I said at the time that the practical problem with Brink’s program is that there’s no serious constituency within the Democratic Party for the sort of entitlement restructuring that Brink made the linchpin of his original article. More generally, not just the Democratic Party but the country as a whole is trending “left” on economics, and has been since 2000. The southpaw candidates - Gore and Nader - pulled a majority of the popular vote that year, and while I would never argue that Nader’s votes “belonged” to Gore, the aggregate percentage shows where the country’s head was at economically. Were it not for a very famous incident involving airplanes I suspect we’d have seen Democratic pickups in 2002. If not for the fallacy of sunk costs, I suspect George W. Bush would have been a one-termer.

As it is, the Democrats can trace the moment of their revival as a viable political party to their uncompromising opposition to the President’s social-security proposals of 2005. That was their first political victory of the 21st Century and the fifty-millionth time the Donks have profited politically from “defending social security.” I say this not to pick on Brink, but just to clarify why libertarians can’t ground their hopes for liberal-libertarian concord in “entitlement reform.”

We’re entering an era where the public, according to all the polls, is looking for populist economic measures and the Democratic Party is going to give them some. Libertarians have the usual few unsatisfactory options. The first is to return to the bosom of the GOP and encourage them to thwart as much of the Democrats’ economic agenda as possible. In ordinary times I’d be all for this - sweet, sweet obstructionism. These are not ordinary times. Libertarians can’t in good conscience further the fortunes of the Banana Republican Party. Note that while Milton Friedman did meet briefly with Augusto Pinochet, he didn’t participate in Pinochet’s coup. The Caudillo Party needs to lose its fatally campy attraction to “swagger” before it can be trusted with so much as a seat on the student council in a rural middle school.

The second option is to continue to think long term, and continue to concentrate on saying the things we think are true, regardless of their present salability. (Gene Healy said this somewhere, I am certain, in response to Tyler Cowen back in March. I’m damned if I can find the right entry, though.) This is an entirely honorable course, and at least some libertarians ought to make it their main focus.

The third option is to try to coax the least damaging version of the populist measures coming down the pike, while trying to get “the left to be good on issues the left is supposed to be good on,” as Jesse Walker put it last year. That is, peace and civil liberties. I realize that the Democratic Party as a whole has done fvck-all for peace and civil liberties, but it contains constituencies that would like it to do more, and libertarians can swell that chorus. This means singing harmony with “dirty fucking hippies,” which will be hard for libertarians who are more anti-left than anti-state. But the hips, more than the self-styled contrarians who cluster around the New Republic and the Democratic Leadership Council, are the ones who really oppose preventive war, the unitary executive and the domestic security state.

As to the economic populism, the short answer is to prefer the simple to the complex. Treat safety-net measures with the least in social-engineering provisions as less bad than the alternatives. From and anarcho-capitalist perspective it’s all theft and coercion, and I’d never want anarcho-capitalists to stop making that point. But even anarcho-capitalists may decide that, given one’s choice of thievery, that some are less damaging than others. Now, the last aspect of this approach may be the most challenging, and call for the biggest break with habits of thought from the days when many libertarians thought of themselves as “small government conservatives.”

Every safety net entails moral hazard by lowering the price of imprudence. Welfare and unemployment insurance encourage a certain level of irresponsibility at the margins of the working world. Government pensions marginally discourage private retirement savings. National health insurance will breed incremental insouciance about diet and other personal habits. Plus, all social insurance eventually gets paid in taxes, either now or in eventual debt service, and ceteris paribus people would rather pay less in taxes than more. Politicians often try to control moral hazard by legislating against the “problem” behavior. Drug prohibition, twinkie taxes, workfare provisions, forced savings - all have been enacted or proposed to limit moral hazards stemming from safety-net programs, and not just by liberals. During the 1990s I got the impression that, having given up on eliminating welfare, Republicans had decided to settle for making it really annoying to be on welfare, based on the kinds of proposals they were submitting. Just within the last month we’ve seen calls for trans fat bans and other food prohibitions based on the logic that the health costs of such foods come out of the public treasury.

Traditionally the libertarian instinct, faced with an entitlement or social insurance program, has been to limit it somehow. And of course the libertarian instinct is also to reduce spending as much as possible, which moral hazard regulation does. I submit, though, that “social insurance plus moral hazard regulation” is the worst of both worlds from a libertarian perspective. The social insurance makes large claims on the public purse while the hazard regulation fills daily life with niggling restrictions. Therefore I think we libertarians should prefer more subsidized vice to more enforced virtue. The thing is, that will cost money. It will even in many cases be annoying. But a state that spends massive piles of money on social insurance is a less intrusive state than one that spends massive piles of money on social insurance while using that spending as an excuse to keep anyone from having fun.

The preceding is almost completely useless to Brink at the Obama vs. Hillary vs. Edwards vs. Richardson level. I’m a big picture guy! (For the duration of this already lengthy blog item anyway.) Nor does it offer libertarians much of a positive program for the pending populist moment. I’ll see what I can whip up for next time. BUT! I suspect Hillary Clinton is easily the worst of the Dem candidates by almost every criterion discussed above, little better than a Republican. Personally, I’m still hoping Richardson vaults into the first tier and believe he has time to do so.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

A Tiny Revolution: Message: U.S. Government Still Mind-Numbingly Cynical

A Tiny Revolution:

A Tiny Revolution: Message: U.S. Government Still Mind-Numbingly Cynical: The Atlantic just published a 26,000,000-word long article about Condoleezza Rice. At one point it mentions U.S. attempts to push Palestinian society into civil war (sub. req.):

In the fall of 2005, as part of a new push for democracy in the Middle East, Rice insisted that legislative elections be held in the Palestinian territories.... To Rice’s surprise, the elections in January 2006 were won by Hamas...

Eager to reverse the results of the election, Rice decided on a new plan of action that resulted in fighting in the streets of Gaza between Hamas and Fatah gunmen. The plan, which she developed after speaking to President Bush, was to put pressure on the Hamas government by providing the Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas with training, intelligence, and large shipments of supplies and new weapons, paid for by the United States and by Saudi Arabia. The hope was that Hamas, faced with a well-armed, well-trained force of Fatah fighters, might be cowed into moderating its positions or relinquishing the power it had won through elections. Alternatively, Hamas might be pressured into an escalating series of gun battles, in which case Abbas, as head of the Palestinian security forces, would have an excuse to crush Hamas by force...

Hamas won the clashes, which left more than 140 Palestinians dead, and the Hamas government remained in power.

A few pages later, the author describes following Rice on her recent trip to Jerusalem:

I find a copy of Friday’s State Department Rapid Response sheet lying on the ground. “Message: Americans do not want to see Palestinians killing Palestinians. Palestinians should be living in peace among themselves and with Israel,” the document instructs, quoting Rice.

And indeed, that's exactly what Rice said in a February interview with Al Arabiya.

Message: Condoleezza Rice Most Loathsomely Unctuous Human Being Imaginable

Spencer Ackerman on George Tenet

Spencer Ackerman writes:

George Tenet's Twisted Intel | The American Prospect:In his new memoir, the former CIA chief proves to be a master of non-apology apologies

Let's just leave "slam dunk" aside for a moment.

It's true that in his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet goes to elaborate rhetorical lengths in denying that he had intended to characterize Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction as a dead certainty when he used that infamous phrase. And, like much else in the book, Tenet's focus on the "slam dunk" quote is actually sneaky -- he serves to obscure the real issue at hand while oscillating between contrition and a fiery, if dubious, defense of his tenure....

Tenet has always sought to ingratiate himself with his masters, whether Presidents Clinton and Bush or the GOP Congress, in order to protect himself and the CIA from criticism.... Tenet's own particular brand... involves the unctuous rhetorical tactic of conceding failure up front, only to hastily explain that, in fact, there were no real failures -- not on his part, not on his agency's part, and certainly not on President Bush's part. He's a master of the non-apology apology. Take the most important Iraq-related example of massive failure on his watch: the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The NIE, which assessed that Iraq had vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and an ongoing nuclear weapons program, only exists because the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence requested it in September 2002, needing an authoritative intelligence judgment on the eve of the vote to authorize the war. In the book, Tenet concedes that he "didn't think one was necessary... I was wrong."...

Tenet places heavy emphasis on the "crash project" that the three-week NIE represented, and implies that weaknesses in the NIE are attributable to the time constraints faced by its chief author, National Intelligence Officer Bob Walpole.... Tenet should mention... the political constraints imposed by the Bush administration. The White House insisted... the war authorization occur before the November congressional elections, so as to enable the Republicans to use the war question as a political cudgel against the Democrats. But he mentions no such thing.....

[Tenet] bristles at the [Senate] panel's desire for an assessment of, in his characterization, "the effectiveness of planned U.S. covert and military actions in Iraq," This is a serious misrepresentation.... Graham, the Democratic chairman, requested... forecasts of what the Middle East would look like in the aftermath of an invasion of Iraq. Graham wanted the full committee to get a broader understanding of the implications of war.... Tenet, however, restricted the NIE to covering only WMD, and now disgraces himself further by implying that the committee attempted to meddle with war planning. There's an irony here: Later in the book Tenet trumpets the CIA's foresight in predicting the chaos of Iraq -- assessments that he stopped Congress from receiving when it counted....

It gets worse when he engages the famous issue of the aluminum tubes.... Nowhere in Tenet's new book can one find even a momentary contemplation of the idea that the NIE should have abandoned its conclusion about the Iraqi nuclear weapons program on account of the DOE's objection, rather than push that outlook to the margins as a dissenting view.... Tenet also gives an unsatisfactory explanation of how these dissents were scrubbed from the public version of the NIE.... In other words, the NIE was tragically misread and misrepresented -- off the hook he and the president go....

His inoculation of Bush from blame is all the more troubling because Tenet is absolutely right about a central claim in the book: The intelligence wasn't determinative of the war. The Bush administration opted to invade Iraq because of a mélange of strategic reasons, for which the public case about weapons of mass destruction was merely, in Paul Wolfowitz's words, "the one issue that everyone could agree on." The proper word for this is "deceit." It's true enough that Tenet had little hope of salvaging his reputation through his memoir, given the overwhelming disrepute in which nearly everyone, left and right, holds him. But he should have devoted much more introspection -- and apology -- to the way in which his faithful service led him to turn intelligence work into policy advocacy. It wouldn't have been very cheerleader-like. But the college basketball season has long since ended.

Francis Fukuyama: Beating an Orderly Retreat


Beating an orderly retreat - Los Angeles Times: GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has promised to return to Washington in September to report on the outcome of his surge strategy. I hope he will say that sectarian killings, bombings and U.S. casualties are all down. But even if he does, I doubt he can offer a clear, plausible date by which the Iraqi army and police will be able to stand on their own without massive U.S. support. So regardless of what he concludes, we seem destined to enter the presidential election season with no credible date for a U.S. exit from Iraq. In more than four years of war, there have been countless turning points at which we were led to expect decisive political progress in Iraq: the capture of Saddam Hussein (December 2003); the turnover of sovereignty (June 2004); elections for the constituent assembly (January 2005); elections to ratify the constitution (August 2005); and elections for the Iraqi parliament (December 2005).

The surge was the last military card we had to play, and now our bluff will soon be called. In my view, there is only one condition under which we can withdraw from Iraq with our core interests fully protected and with a reasonable claim that our mission was accomplished, and that is when strong Iraqi military and police forces emerge that can operate independently of U.S. forces and prevent a takeover of the country by either Al Qaeda in Iraq, resurgent Baathists or Muqtada Sadr's Shiite militia.

Let's not kid ourselves. The situation today is in some ways much worse than the one faced by President Nixon in Vietnam 35 years ago. At that time, South Vietnam had an army with a paper strength of 1 million men that, despite its problems, was able hold on for three years after the U.S. withdrew its ground forces. The South Vietnamese army provided Henry Kissinger with his "decent interval" between the U.S. withdrawal and South Vietnam's collapse. (Indeed, Kissinger argues with some plausibility that the South Vietnamese military could have hung on indefinitely if Congress hadn't cut off funds for U.S. air support.) Nothing like that exists or will exist in Iraq for the politically meaningful future. As of November, the Pentagon claimed it had trained 322,000 Iraqi military and police, but it admitted that the actual number on hand was much lower because of desertions and attrition. Iraqi forces continue to suffer huge shortfalls in armor, weaponry, logistics and communications, and it is unclear how they would fare without American hand-holding. Serious training of Iraqi forces started late and never received adequate funding or top-level attention, despite the fact that Petraeus was at the helm of the training effort in recent years. The South Vietnamese army may have been nothing to write home about in 1972, but we are extremely unlikely to have an Iraqi equivalent by the end of 2007.

What all this means is that even if the surge, by September, is reducing violence in Iraq to some degree, it will not guarantee a "safe" exit strategy for U.S. forces. But here's the problem: Do we have any other choice than to withdraw? We could stick it out, and I suspect that we could avoid losing in Iraq for another five, 10 or 15 years, as long as we're willing to maintain high troop levels, continue to spend large amounts of money and suffer more casualties. But even the most conservative Republican candidates are unlikely to campaign on a platform of staying in Iraq indefinitely when the primary season starts next winter and the war enters its sixth year. This means that we will have to engage in a very different debate from the one we have been having up to now, a debate not about surging and not about withdrawing with our goals accomplished but about how to draw down our forces in a way that minimizes the costs that will inevitably accompany our loss of control.

This is a difficult situation, but it is necessary. The questions we need to address include: How do we reconfigure our forces to provide advice, training and support, rather than engaging in combat? How we can withdraw safely without a serious Iraqi army to cover our retreat? How will we dismantle enormous bases like Camp Liberty or Camp Victory and protect the diminishing numbers of U.S. troops in the country? Do we trust the Iraqi military and police sufficiently to turn over our equipment to them? How do we protect the lives of those who collaborated with us? The images of South Vietnamese allies hanging to the skid pads of U.S. helicopters departing Saigon should be burned into our memories. And what if the weak Iraqi government we leave behind falls or other political crises occur when we have fewer U.S. troops to respond? Can we work with proxies, resources or arms supplies to shape outcomes?

As we draw down, the civil war is likely to intensify, and the focus of our efforts will have to shift to containing it within Iraq's borders. Preventing intervention by outside forces will become an even more urgent priority. On the other hand, it is not necessarily the case that the situation will spiral out of control. Although the situation is graver in some ways than Vietnam, in others it is better. Although we have no equivalent to a South Vietnamese army, the enemy has no equivalent of the North Vietnamese army. It is hard to see any of the small factions struggling for power in different parts of the country emerging as a dominant force throughout Iraq. The presence of U.S. forces has itself been a spur to terrorist recruitment, but as it becomes clear that we are on our way out, it will be easier for Iraqi nationalists to turn against the foreign jihadists (as they have already begun to do in Al Anbar province). An intensifying civil war will be a tragedy for Iraq, but it is not the worst outcome from a U.S. standpoint to have a number of bitterly anti-American groups duking it out among themselves. Civil wars eventually come to an end when one side wins (unlikely, in this case) or when the parties exhaust themselves and drop their maximalist aims.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Clark Hoyt to Be Public Editor of the New York Times

Xan writes:

This Could Be Good News | CorrenteWire: I saw this headline…Times Names Public Editor, and since I couldn’t click the mouse and raise that finger to the mouth at the same time I clicked first. Good move: "The New York Times today named its next public editor, Clark Hoyt, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and editor who oversaw the Knight Ridder newspaper chain’s coverage that questioned the Bush administration’s case for the Iraq war."

Hmm. Not to sound like a racetrack tout trying to pick a winner in the Derby but this dude’s bloodlines and recent workout times look good.... "His appointment as public editor takes effect May 14 and lasts two years. He will be the third person to hold the position since The Times created it in 2003, following Daniel Okrent and Byron Calame. Mr. Keller said he considered, but ultimately rejected, the idea of hiring someone from within The Times, or someone from a digital news operation."

Somebody better check local glue factories to see what might have become of those two. Meanwhile this kid sounds promising. Let’s see if he can go the distance on what’s still, like it not, the Churchill Downs of American dead-tree journalism.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Carpetbagger Report » Blog Archive » Friday’s Mini-Report

The Carpetbagger Report watches the Jonathan Weisman special:

The Carpetbagger Report » Blog Archive » Friday’s Mini-Report: * A front-page WaPo report yesterday suggested Dems were poised to give in entirely on the president’s demands on war funding, but today, the caucuses appeared to be standing relatively firm: “Congressional Democrats have signaled they’re not ready to back down in their confrontation with President Bush on Iraq, spurring Republicans to accuse them of causing political gridlock.” The House and Senate passed funding bills for the war in Iraq; Bush vetoed it. Who’s responsible for the gridlock?

Profiles in Prescience: Michael Crowley reminds us of the prescient wisdom of Michael Crowley:

Profiles in Prescience: Michael Crowley | Michael Crowley, Follow the Leader: Can the Democrats survive Nancy Pelosi? The New Republic, November 25, 2002: It's no surprise that Pelosi is working so hard to dispel the notion that she's a liberal. Already, Republicans are painting her as a combination of Maxine Waters and Barbra Streisand. That's unfair: Pelosi isn't a wild-eyed ideologue; she's just a fairly typical member of the House Democratic caucus. And that's exactly the problem. The caucus was already to the left of most Democratic voters--and far to the left of the country as a whole--even before November 5. And now many of its members have decided that the lesson of last week's election disaster is that the party wasn't liberal enough. Pelosi may say her liberalism isn't her defining feature. But it's a big part of why she's about to get promoted. As Michigan Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan recently put it, "I don't think anybody's going to become the next minority leader of the Democrats that wants to go along with [George W.] Bush on the war." In other words, Pelosi was chosen in part because she's not expected to challenge the liberal instincts of the House Democratic caucus. Which is a pity. Because, unless someone saves the House Democrats from themselves, they could be looking at a long time in the minority...

Impach George W. Bush Now: "The McNulty-Rove Meeting" by Scott Horton

Scott Horton writes:

"The McNulty-Rove Meeting": This morning the McClatchy Newspapers report in greater detail on a meeting between Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty and Karl Rove at the White House which focused on an appearance of the number three at Justice—William E. Moschella—to answer queries about the sacking of U.S. attorneys.

According to a congressional aide, McNulty said he attended a White House meeting with Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, and other officials on March 5, the day before McNulty's deputy William Moschella was to testify to Congress about the firings. White House officials told the Justice Department group that they needed to agree on clear reasons why each prosecutor was fired and explain them to Congress, McNulty said, according to the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the transcript of McNulty's interview hasn't been made public.

McNulty said that White House officials never revealed during the meeting that they'd been discussing plans to replace some prosecutors with Gonzales aides, the congressional aide said. McNulty recalled feeling disturbed and concerned when he found out days later that the White House had been involved, the congressional aide said. McNulty considered the extent of White House coordination to be "extremely problematic."

“Extremely problematic” in this case is a code word for “grossly improper.” Moschella went to the hill the next day and made a series of statements which were in the main highly misleading—and some which were later revealed as outright falsehoods. But the whole account provided by McNulty is suspicious. He’s meeting with Rove to agree on a cover story that another official will be sent to the hill to relay . . . and then he claims that he was “disturbed” when he finds out the White House is involved at some later point? Is that really even marginally credible at this point? McNulty was a sort of stationmaster in this entire process, he knew of the core role played by Sampson and Goodling, and he certainly also knew about the secret memorandum empowering them as the Lord-High Executioners for Karl Rove. The fact of the meeting with Rove and the need to “coordinate” answers with him is self-explanatory in this regard. Moreover, McNulty’s claims of distance from the affair become progressively more stretched when we consider the critical role played by his chief of staff, Michael Elston, in attempting to pressure all the U.S. attorneys into silence in the face of a growing probe.

McNulty’s characterizations of his role are simply not credible. He’s escaping fire in this regards only because they are marginally less incredible than those of so many others—starting with Alberto Gonzales himself.

Bradford Plumer: Why Is Anybody Supporting Mitt Romney?

He writes:

Bradford Plumer: If you think the main problem with the Bush administration is that its approach to the Middle East is too nuanced, you'll love Mitt Romney. Here's Shadi Hamid on last night's debate:

One thing kind of bothered me. [Romney] was talking about the jihadist/terrorist threat, and listed Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Iran... and then the Muslim Brotherhood? Huh? The Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s and represents the leading opposition bloc in the Egyptian parliament (with 88 members). The group has publicly committed itself to the rules of the democratic game. Anyway, it's unfortunate that Romney did the standard Republican mistake of thinking that all Islamists are a monolithic terrorist threat, when there are clear, obvious distinctions within Islamism, between radical Islamists (those who operate outside the political system and use violence) and mainstream Islamists (those who operate within the system and renounce violence).

Right. The Muslim Brotherhood is a large, complex organization. Some of its radical wings may engage in various unsavory activities. But the bulk of the movement has renounced violent jihad and, in places like Egypt, made a point to participate in elections (for which they've earned the wrath of Ayman Al Zawahiri). Not only that, but they represent a broad swath of "mainstream" Islam. Lumping them in with Al Qaeda is a terrible idea. See, for instance, Marina Ottaway in the pages of this magazine, or Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke's recent look at the group in Foreign Affairs. Even the Bush administration is starting to catch on--in the past few months, according to Newsweek, the State Department "cleared" at least one high-level contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. "That doesn't mean we are embracing the group," one official said. "It means we recognize that we have to listen to a range of voices." Does Romney think that's wrong? Should we just start blasting away at random? Do tell.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Fighting the Next Last War

Jim Henley writes:

Fighting the Next Last War § Unqualified Offerings: Looking Sideways at Your World Since October 2001: Today’s hot article, A failure in generalship, by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling, is an intriguing mix of substance and nonsense. The most quoted parts are about what Yingling views as the dereliction of senior military leadership prior to and during the early years of what he still calls, publication lead times being what they are, “the Long War.” See Cernig, and Joyner for useful overviews of that part. The single most quotable line has to be: "As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war."

Here follows a series of opinionated reactions.

Yingling’s accusations can be parsed into short-term versus long-term failings. Short-term, senior leadership in the post-9/11 military failed to make clear their doubts about the practicality of conquering Iraq “with too few troops” to civilian leadership and, after that, to the public. Not enough of them were willing to sacrifice their careers for truth and duty. In fact, some of them were, Anthony Zinni and Eric Shinseki chief among them. Yingling’s real complaint is that the Rumsfeld Pentagon was able to find some generals willing to carry out what most of them recognized, per Yingling, as manifestly impractical plans.

I think I agree with Yingling on what actually happened - the Bush Administration selected for sycophants and, because the American general officer corps comprises exclusively human beings, found them. To avoid this, you either need to choose America’s generals from a purer species or have some system of, er, checks and balances to counteract the tendency of bad administrations to recreate the Army in its image. Yingling actually has a plan for this, involving - horrors! Congressional oversight.

Yingling’s longer-term j’accuse is that the US Army has actively resisted adapting itself to prosecuting counterinsurgencies despite clear indications post-WWII of their salience. Even after Vietnam the Army stubbornly rebuilt itself as a high-tech counterforce maneuver-warfare arm. My own take on this involves inferring from dribs and drabs of hints and asides: I think the Vietnam generation of junior officers who became the generals of Desert Storm and the Clinton Years agreed among themselves that getting involved in counterinsurgency warfare was profoundly unwise, and they helped build a force posture as unsuited to it as possible. “We don’t do mountains,” Colin Powell memorably said. In this I think they were correct. We’ll get to that.

In the course of this indictment, Yingling identifies a “villain” that would raise Harold Bloom’s eyebrow: An essential contribution to this strategy of denial was the publication of “On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War,” by Col. Harry Summers. Summers, a faculty member of the U.S. Army War College, argued that the Army had erred by not focusing enough on conventional warfare in Vietnam, a lesson the Army was happy to hear. Despite having been recently defeated by an insurgency, the Army slashed training and resources devoted to counterinsurgency.

Summers was the Yingling of his day! He was the young turk telling the old farts where they got it wrong. But while it’s been many years since I read On Strategy, I think Yingling’s gloss of Summers argument is unfair. Summers argument was that the Army should have focused on “conventional warfare” in Vietnam so that the South Vietnamese Army could concentrate on the counterinsurgency aspect. Summers believed that the US Army should have been used to seal the borders from NVA infiltration and resupply while ARVN concentrated on the Vietcong. Summers believed that the US lacked ARVN’s local knowledge and that anyway, the South Vietnamese government needed to be the ones to secure their own territory. You can attack Summers’ thesis at all sorts of levels, from operational to moral, but in fact he had a theory of counterinsurgency - it was better done by local clients.

After the elsewhere-blogged passages about the failure of the senior officer corps as a whole to speak out in advance of the Iraq War when it would have done some good, Yingling makes his proposals for producing a better officer corps. James Joyner calls the suggestions naive. I partly agree, but James skips some of Yingling’s better arguments about just what Congress could do, which amounts to, really use already existing oversight prerogatives. Excerpt the first:

However, it routinely confirms four-star generals who possess neither graduate education in the social sciences or humanities nor the capability to speak a foreign language. Senior general officers must have a vision of what future conflicts will look like and what capabilities the U.S. requires to prevail in those conflicts. They must possess the capability to understand and interact with foreign cultures. A solid record of intellectual achievement and fluency in foreign languages are effective indicators of an officer’s potential for senior leadership.

Cynics will note that this qualification brief describes Yingling rather exactly! But there’s a pretty good chance that Yingling has already destroyed his Army career by publishing this article and probably knows it, so I don’t think we should think he’s being merely self-serving. Leaving specifics aside, Yingling is asking for a real confirmation process.

Excerpt the second:

Finally, Congress must enhance accountability by exercising its little-used authority to confirm the retired rank of general officers. By law, Congress must confirm an officer who retires at three- or four-star rank. In the past this requirement has been pro forma in all but a few cases. A general who presides over a massive human rights scandal or a substantial deterioration in security ought to be retired at a lower rank than one who serves with distinction. A general who fails to provide Congress with an accurate and candid assessment of strategic probabilities ought to suffer the same penalty.

I like this guy! And yet. This passage can justly be called naive, and points up one of two major blind spots of the article. Yingling is very good on the institutional failings of the Army, but for a guy with a master’s in Political Science from the University of Chicago, he seems blithe about the larger institutional context in which the Army is embedded. Old soldiers never die. They go to work for defense contractors. Defense contractors lobby Congress. Congressmen babysit the contractors in their districts. The Congressmen and Senators from the regions with the biggest bases and defense plants get the Armed Services committee positions. Congressional Republicans have spent six years teaching us that a political party can put as much energy into thwarting oversight as conducting it. The relationships are all very incestuous, and beyond the iron triangle itself is a network of infantile-nationalist talk shows and bloggers who would be only to happy to demagogue against “anti-military” legislators trying to hold a general to account.

I’m sure some version of Yingling’s reforms can give us a better officer corps, even if they’re imperfectly implemented, but the truth is that the Army can only ever get so good because, at bottom it’s a bureaucracy responding to the laws of bureaucracies. (cf. the Stiftung.) This is a truth American policy needs to integrate into any grand strategy worthy of the name.

I called this a blind spot. You could argue that it’s simply outside the scope of his paper. So the other great unexamined premise of his paper. Let’s approach it by way of his conclusion:

At the Battle of Valmy in 1792, Frederick’s successors were checked by France’s ragtag citizen army. In the fourteen years that followed, Prussia’s generals assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like those of the past. In 1806, the Prussian Army marched lockstep into defeat and disaster at the hands of Napoleon at Jena. Frederick’s prophecy had come to pass; Prussia became a French vassal.

Iraq is America’s Valmy. America’s generals have been checked by a form of war that they did not prepare for and do not understand. They spent the years following the 1991 Gulf War mastering a system of war without thinking deeply about the ever changing nature of war. They marched into Iraq having assumed without much reflection that the wars of the future would look much like the wars of the past. Those few who saw clearly our vulnerability to insurgent tactics said and did little to prepare for these dangers. As at Valmy, this one debacle, however humiliating, will not in itself signal national disaster. The hour is late, but not too late to prepare for the challenges of the Long War. We still have time to select as our generals those who possess the intelligence to visualize future conflicts and the moral courage to advise civilian policymakers on the preparations needed for our security. The power and the responsibility to identify such generals lie with the U.S. Congress. If Congress does not act, our Jena awaits us.

This is nonsense. It’s as apocalyptic as any “Dhimmitude”-obsessed girlblogger, and as unjustified. The simple fact is that nobody can make the US into their vassal via insurgency warfare. The US can lose in Iraq. (The US has, indeed, already done so.) It can lose in Afghanistan. It can suffer attacks and casualties from acts of terror at home. But no insurgency can establish suzerainty over the United States.

This I think is the issue that Yingling and the rest of the Army’s “counterinsurgency insurgents” avoid. Insurgency can’t pose an existential threat to the country. Is there a single instance of insurgency warfare conquering foreign territory? Even if you consider South Vietnam and North Vietnam to have really been separate countries, it was, as certain hawks never tire of pointing out, Hanoi’s regular Army that conquered the South. The FLN could kick France out of Algeria, but it could never rule France. Hezbollah drove Israel out of Lebanon in the 1990s using guerrilla warfare. It couldn’t use the same tactics to drive Israel out of Galilee. Insurgencies can prevent foreign or local governments from consolidating control over the insurgents’ “own” territory. Guerrilla movements that get big enough have been able to take power in their own countries.

But they can’t conquer. Insurgency is fundamentally reactive and, if not always merely “defensive” . . . parochial. A guerrilla army swims in the sea of the people, like the man said, and foreigners make a lousy sea. Even if all “the terrorists” wanted to follow us home after we “cut and run” from Iraq, they could never have remotely the effect here that they manage in Iraq. Here they lack a sea.

By and large, a country like the United States only needs to commit to an ongoing posture of counterinsurgency if it is also committed to serial military domination of foreign populations. In fact, the United States is currently so committed, on a bipartisan basis. But that’s an unwise and immoral posture that will lead to national ruin in the medium to long term. The Iraq defeat offers one of those rare moments for real national reappraisal, an openness to genuine reform. Rather than work at getting better at executing an unwise and immoral grand strategy, let’s choose a different one.

In case you think the above is merely complacent, a last thought. Yingling and his school should consider the possibility that they are the ones preparing to fight the last war. (Shouldn’t we credit the Vietnam generation of officers for not doing this? What would an Army of commandos and civil affairs specialists have done during Operation Desert Storm?) “4GW” cannot pose an existential threat to the United States. It can neither wipe us off the map nor make us bend the knee. But perhaps some way of war in embryo could. A bright guy like Yingling ought to give the matter some thought.