Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brad Setser: Larry Summers on Globalization

I am intrigued by a comment the often provacative Larry Summers made at a Davos seminar:

Lawrence Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Harvard University president, delivered some harsh criticism of the way globalization has been pitched to the public. Making the intellectual case for free trade and then simply “paying off” some of the losers in globalization, Mr. Summers said, will not work for world leaders trying to sell the current round of global trade talks to a skeptical polity.

“That’s the Davos lie,” Mr. Summers said during a dinner Friday night.

I wonder what Summers thinks would work?

One of the things that has struck me about the current politics of trade is that the losers aren't really paid off -- either formally or informally. The various government programs that help displaced workers are small. The heads of private equity firms don't, for example, don't tend to raise funds for charities to help workers displaced by booming US imports of auto parts, even though private equity firms clearly have been among those who have benefited heavily from the United States ability to import China's savings surplus.

In some areas, paying people off the losers is rather hard. Compensating US farmers for the loss in market value of their land should the US ever really give up its agricultural subsidies would be quite expensive -- as, for that matter, would compensating US homeowners for their losses should the US every stop subsidizing mortgage interest. Once a subsidy gets capitalized into asset values, watch out ...

I suspect Summers believes that the integration of China and India into the world economy have such profound implications -- including such profound implications for who wins and who loses from trade -- that old policies for managing trade-related dislocation aren't enough. But I don't really know ...

One way of "selling" trade is to emphasize the benefits from imports -- not just the gains from exports. It is pretty hard to argue, for example, that the majority of the gains from US trade with China have come from expanding US goods exports. Sure China buys some Boeings, but China clearly buys far more US debt than US goods. Steve Roach of Morgan Stanley never tires of emphasizing how much the US gains from importing cheap Chinese goods and cheap Chinese financing.

But that doesn't address the concerns of those worried about competition from cheap Chinese labor -- or the concerns of those of us who worry that the US has become a bit too dependent on cheap Chinese financing.

Update: For more, see the Economist's (libertarian-tending) blog, Free exchange, which basically argues that the business men who see the opportunites brought by globalization are right, and the intellectuals worried about its risks are wrong. Business, the argument goes, must do a better job of explaining globalization's broad benefits (i.e. cheap goods -- big profits and big CEO salaries don't count as broad benefits). I suspect that won't work. I would be surprised if the average American hasn't already figured out that Walmart's everyday low prices are largely made in China. The average American also, I suspect, has figured out that the latest round of globalization -- the one that has made the Russian businessmen and their "nieces" the toast of Davos -- hasn't brough with it lower prices for many other things they buy, little things like oil and gas ...

Patrick Cockburn: US soldiers in Iraq kill 250 men from 'apocalyptic cult'

American and Iraqi troops killed about 250 armed men alleged to belong to an apocalyptic Islamic cult who were planning to attack the religious leadership of the Shia in the holy city of Najaf, according to Iraqi political, military and police sources.

The battle took place in the orchards around Najaf and a US helicopter was shot down during the fighting, killing two crewmen. Hundreds of fighters drawn from the Sunni and Shia communities who gathered amid the date palms were followers of Ahmed Hassani al-Yemeni who claims to be the vanguard of the Messiah according to Iraqi politicians. His office in Najaf had been closed 10 days ago.

Details of what happened are sketchy. The US forces used tanks and F-16 fighter bombers. An Iraqi military source said the dead wore headbands declaring them to be "Soldiers of Heaven". The Najaf governor Asaad Abu Gilel said the authorities had discovered a conspiracy to kill some of the senior clergy.

Anarchic violence reached new heights across Iraq. Mortar bombs exploding in the courtyard of a girls' school in west Baghdad killed five children and wounded 21 in the latest atrocity in the escalating sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia.

"The shrapnel hit her in the eyes and there was blood all over her face ... she was dead," said Ban Ismet, a 15-year-old girl wounded in the legs, speaking in hospital of her friend Maha who was killed by the bomb.

The mortaring of the Kholoud Secondary School in the Adil district was the latest tit-for-tat attack between Shia and Sunni in this highly contested area. The school is Sunni and the killing of the children was most likely carried out by Shia militiamen who have been attacking Adil from the north. Sunni in Baghdad are increasingly being driven into the south-west quadrant of the city.

The school headmistress Faziya Swadi said that two mortar bombs exploded in the courtyard of the school, breaking the windows and spraying the pupils with broken glass as well as shrapnel. The stone steps and pathways were smeared with blood. Hours later weeping parents were placing bodies of their children in wooden coffins.

Wherever Sunni and Shia districts are close together in Baghdad there are frequent killings. Each community sees itself as being the victim of unprovoked aggression. Sectarian animosities are particularly high because the Shia rite of Ashura takes place tomorrow when they commemorate the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein at the Battle of Kerbala in AD680. Hundreds of thousands of Shia are making the three-day pilgrimage on foot from Baghdad to Kerbala.

Seven people were killed yesterday by three bombs, two left in markets and one on a bus, in Shia neighbourhoods.

Some 150 people, mostly Shia, have been killed by bomb attacks in Baghdad over the past week. But probably a majority of the 25 to 50 dead bodies, often bearing marks of torture, that are found by police every morning in the capital are Sunni. This is because the police and police commandos are Shia and often detain and kill Sunni at their checkpoints.

Mixed neighbourhoods are disappearing in the capital. The sectarian cleansing started in 2005 and gathered pace after the destruction of the Shia al-Askarai shrine in Samarra in February 2006. Bomb attacks on Sadr City on 23 November last year killed 215 and wounded 250 more. Shia retaliation led to another mass flight of Sunni. Since there are no Sunni safe havens in Iraq, either in Baghdad or outside, many members of the community are fleeing to Jordan and Syria.

In a sign of the unreliability of the security forces some 1,500 policemen have been sacked in the province of Diyala north-west of Baghdad. The new police chief Ghanim al-Qureishi said the men were fired because they fled instead of fighting when insurgents attacked the provincial capital Baquba in November.

BooMan: Did Ari Fleischer Commit Perjury Today?

Did Ari Fleischer Commit Perjury Today?

by BooMan Mon Jan 29th, 2007 at 08:53:02 PM EST

I think I may have found evidence that Ari Fleischer committed perjury today. If Ari Fleischer did not commit perjury today, then former Time Magazine reporter John Dickerson is a big-time liar. First I will introduce the principals, then I will provide the setting and significance of this testimony, and, finally, I will set off the comments of Dickerson against the testimony of Fleischer (and I will do it in pretty color-coded boxes).

Most of you will remember Ari Fleischer as President's Bush's first press secretary. He served as press secretary from the inauguration in January 2001 until July 14th, 2003 (coincidentally, the same day that Robert Novak's column appeared). Fleischer testified today that he had lunch with Scooter Libby on July 7th, 2003 (the day after Joseph Wilson made his appearance on Meet the Press and his editorial appeared in the New York Times). During that lunch, Fleischer testified that Libby told him the name 'Valerie Plame' and that she was responsible for sending her husband to Niger. Later that same day Fleischer boarded Air Force One and headed to Africa with the President, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, and a host of other officials.

Fleischer testified that four days later (July 11th) while in Uganda, he told reporters David Gregory (NBC), Tamara Lippert (Newsweek) and John Dickerson (Time Magazine) that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and was responsible for sending him on the trip.

John Dickerson no longer works for Time. Last I knew, he worked for Slate Magazine as their Chief Political Correspondent. On February 7, 2006 he wrote a column for Slate wherein he revealed that a 'senior administration official' had given him a tip: 'go ask the CIA who sent Wilson'. That senior administration official was Ari Fleischer and they had that conversation in Uganda on July 11th, 2003.

You may have aleady noticed a discrepency in the story Dickerson told and the story Fleischer testified to today. Dickerson said that Fleischer gave him a tip to go ask who sent Wilson. Fleischer said he straight-up told Dickerson (and Gregory and Lippert) that Wilson's wife was responsible.

This discrepency has enormous potential consquences. Fleischer claims that he did not understand the information Libby was giving him about Plame was classified even though Libby told him it that it was 'hush-hush and on the Q.T.' If he didn't think it was classified then he wouldn't be worried about off-handedly telling Dickerson about Plame. But, if he didn't give her name away as he claims, but rather, told the reporters to seek out the 'low-level person' in the CIA that was responsible for sending Wilson...then he knew the information was classified.

Fleischer has immunity for the leak of Plame's name, but he doesn't have immunity against perjuring himself in this trial. Therefore, he would be crazy to lie on the stand. And, yet, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that he did exactly that when he testified today. Unless, that is, John Dickerson is a big-fat liar...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Spencer Ackerman: All Americans see on TV screens are Sunnis slaughtering Shiites and ethnic cleansing in the streets.

yeah that's the other side of this life:
Lally Weymouth jawbones with Adel Abdul Mehdi:

Unfortunately this is true. But this is only one part of the picture. Only 12 months ago, we had elections and 12 million people voted, Sunnis and Shiites.

Yes, and as a result, all Americans see on TV screens are Sunnis slaughtering Shiites and ethnic cleansing in the streets.

Also, if I'm Adel Abdul Mehdi, and a reporter mentions to me at the World Economic Forum that I'm Bush's favorite to replace the of-course-sovereign PM Maliki, I'd walk into the Swiss foreign ministry and seek asylum.

Mark Kleiman: Better drug policy in nineteen easy steps

Well, maybe not so easy.

I have an essay in the current issue of The American Interest intended as a standing-on-one-foot guide to practical drug policy reform. The introduction lays out what I take to be the central facts; what follows is a set of fairly specific recommendations for action, intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive.

There's something in the essay, I trust, to offend almost everybody, but most of it reflects a near-consensus among the small tribe of academic drug policy analysts. (Most of my colleagues disagree with me about eliminating the minimum drinking age, and I'm just about alone in having any interest in hallucinogen policy.)

As a teaser, here are the specific policy recommendations:


Don’t fill prisons with ordinary dealers. Lock up dealers based on nastiness, not on volume. Break up flagrant drug markets using low-arrest crackdowns.


Encourage problem drug users to quit without formal treatment. Pressure drug-using offenders to stop. Expand opiate maintenance. Work on immunotherapies.


Say more than “No.” Don’t rely on DARE. Prevent drug dealing among kids.

Alcohol and tobacco

Deny alcohol to problem drinkers. Raise the tax on alcohol, especially beer. Eliminate the minimum drinking age. Encourage less risky forms of nicotine use.


Let pot-smokers grow their own. Get drug enforcement out of the way of pain relief. Create a regulatory framework for performance-enhancing chemicals. Figure out what hallucinogens are good for, and don’t let the drug laws interfere with religious freedom. Stop sacrificing foreign policy and human rights objectives to drug control.

Footnote I didn't choose, and wouldn't have chosen, either the title or the photos. Other than that, everything in the piece is mine; Adam Garfinkel and his crew were both generous with editorial suggestions and non-directive about substance.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden: History is a machine for the generation of irony

Today is Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 125th birthday. Presumably in commemoration, Blood and Treasure links to FDR’s message to the Maghreb in October 1942, as American troops arrived to reinforce the battle against Hitler’s Afrika Korps:

Praise be unto the only God. In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O ye Moslems. O ye beloved sons of the Maghreb. May the blessing of God be upon you.

This is a great day for you and us, for all the sons of Adam who love freedom. Our numbers are as the leaves on the forest tress and as the grains of sand in the sea.

Behold. We the American Holy Warriors have arrived. We have come here to fight the great Jihad of Freedom.

From late January 2007, this reads like a bit from a Ken MacLeod novel, only in the past.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Virginia Postrel on Kieran Healy on Organ Transplants

Organ transplants are at once the most amazing and frustrating of medical miracles. A new kidney or heart can cure someone who would otherwise die or, even in less than ideal circumstances, extend life and improve well-being. The surgical skill and pharmaceutical innovation required to make transplantation work are wonders of human ingenuity.

But there is still no such thing as a truly new organ. Unlike insulin or artificial hips, organs so far cannot be successfully manufactured. They come only pre-owned, usually from young, healthy people who have died suddenly in traumatic accidents that destroyed their brains. Rainy weekends increase the organ supply. Helmet laws reduce it. The more than 94,000 Americans on the waiting list for organs are, in effect, waiting for someone else to die so that they can live.

This grisly calculus posed enormous cultural problems for early transplant advocates, as Kieran Healy, a sociologist at the University of Arizona and a contributor to the blog Crooked Timber, notes in “Last Best Gifts.” “Public ambivalence about transplantation was overcome, in part, by arguing that donation was the ‘gift of life,’ ” he writes. “The success of this idea now makes it more difficult to garner support for a market for organs.” By emphasizing altruism, transplant advocates gave comfort to the bereaved, conferring meaning on a tragic event and justifying what might otherwise seem like desecration. This early success helps explain why, even in the face of a critical shortage of organs, many leaders in the transplant field oppose any financial incentives for organ donors, including tax credits or payment toward funeral expenses.

The “gift of life” story is useful but, according to Healy, oversimplified. Shaped by a strongly anticommercial ideology, it places too much emphasis on the division between giving and selling. It doesn’t acknowledge the diverse ways in which people define the social meanings of exchange, regardless of whether money is involved. The fable of heroic altruists also misleadingly emphasizes the motives of the donor (or the donor’s family) over the system in which the decision to give or not takes place. “The voluntary donation of human goods is an organizational accomplishment,” Healy argues...

Ezra Klein: This is the sort of writing few Washington writers will do, as many of them want to one day work for The New Republic, and see no reason t

Matt is doing important work exposing and naming Marty Peretz's anti-Arab sentiment and unthinking, unblinking, expansionary strain of Zionism for the hateful, violent ideology it is. This is the sort of writing few Washington writers will do, as many of them want to one day work for The New Republic, and see no reason to torch that particular bridge. The past few years have seen that hold weaken, as The New Republic's increasing alienation from the left has convinced many young writers that it's not the place for them -- now or in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, Peretz is rarely held to account, largely because there's an odd, tacit understanding that he's a cartoonish character and everyone knows it. As Glenn Greenwald writes:

I had not written more about Peretz because it seems as though there is some sort of tacit agreement that Peretz's hate-mongering won't be held against The New Republic, and that, for whatever reasons, Peretz will be accepted as a more or less mainstream figure despite spewing bigotry of the type one finds on white supremacist sites (albeit directed elsewhere). And since New Republic writers don't, to my knowledge, spout the same hate-filled diatribes, perhaps there was a sense that Peretz is even more irrelevant than the magazine itself and therefore does not merit any real discussion.

Hence his ghettoization to "The Spine" blog, where his separation from the "real staff" of the magazine he owns would be all the clearer, at least to those able to decipher the signal (on most magazine sites, of course, having your own blog while the majority of writers share a group site is a sign of respect for a particularly worthy pundit, not an implication of buffoonery).

The New Republic operates under an odd set of rules that's clear to the staff, made clear to their friends, and basically unknown to the world at large. That's partly why the rise of the blogosphere has been so wrenching for the magazine: Magazine writers used to get feedback from an array of people they knew and a couple letter-writers. So it used to be understood by majority of the sort of people Jon Chait got feedback from that Jon Chait was not, in fact, connected to or in agreement with Marty Peretz.

But with the rise of the net, the number of discernible voices increased exponentially, and they don't totally get why a magazine shouldn't be judged, at least in part, by its editorial line and the opinions of its editor-in-chief and owner. They don't know that Jon Chait is a likable guy or that The New Republic is one of an exceedingly small number of outlets willing to cut checks to young, liberal writers. Their experience of the magazine, in other words, is normal, untempered by the special rules of reading much of elite punditry has offered to TNR And so they judge TNR as an institution, and see the actions and published opinions of its longtime leader as, in fact, somewhat relevant to their assessment of the magazine.

In any case, this post is mainly to show support for Matt, who's doing the right thing for the right reasons, and not letting careerist considerations stifle his speech. It occurs to me too that TNR may want to avoid provoking Spencer on these matters. It is in fact the case that TNR chock-full of good writers, among them Chait, Cohn, Scheiber, Lizza, etc. But the magazine is led, and many of the final decisions made, by a rather intolerant zionist who holds deeply objectionable views, and whose average post implies or explains that Arabs are an uncivilized, near-barbarous people who have no culture worth mentioning and can't even do work. The problem is that this is the sort of thing that can be admitted privately, but not publicly, and it puts many writers (though not, I should be clear, all -- some folks at TNR agree with Marty) in a tough spot. Fine. But there's no reasons so many others should be complicit in the illusion.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dean Baker: Global Warming is Serious: Why Can't the Post Treat It Seriously?

In a front page article on President Bush's changing statements on climate change, the Post tells readers that he will spend $29 billion on "climate science, aid, and incentives." Is there even a single reader of this sentence, apart from those actually working on climate policy, who has any idea what this commitment means?

For beginners, how about telling readers the time frame for this spending? My understanding is that the $29 billion will be spent over ten years (approximately 0.1 percent of projected spending), but I don't have any clear idea of what this money refers to, so I can't say that for certain. It would also be helpful to know to what extent this money involves an additional commitment of resources -- the government has spent money for decades on climate science and various programs that encourage conservation.

In short, reporting this $29 billion in projected spending provides no information whatsover. Couldn't the two experienced reporters who wrote this piece recognize that they were not providing any information to readers? Couldn't their editors?

Paul Krugman: Who Was Milton Friedman?

I don't want to push the religious analogy too far. Economic theory at least aspires to be science, not theology; it is concerned with earth, not heaven. Keynesian theory initially prevailed because it did a far better job than classical orthodoxy of making sense of the world around us, and Friedman's critique of Keynes became so influential largely because he correctly identified Keynesianism's weak points. And just to be clear: although this essay argues that Friedman was wrong on some issues, and sometimes seemed less than honest with his readers, I regard him as a great economist and a great man.

Milton Friedman played three roles in the intellectual life of the twentieth century. There was Friedman the economist's economist, who wrote technical, more or less apolitical analyses of consumer behavior and inflation. There was Friedman the policy entrepreneur, who spent decades campaigning on behalf of the policy known as monetarism—finally seeing the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England adopt his doctrine at the end of the 1970s, only to abandon it as unworkable a few years later. Finally, there was Friedman the ideologue, the great popularizer of free-market doctrine.

Did the same man play all these roles? Yes and no. All three roles were informed by Friedman's faith in the classical verities of free-market economics. Moreover, Friedman's effectiveness as a popularizer and propagandist rested in part on his well-deserved reputation as a profound economic theorist. But there's an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual. While Friedman's theoretical work is universally admired by professional economists, there's much more ambivalence about his policy pronouncements and especially his popularizing....

Keynes didn't make an all-out assault on Economic Man, but he often resorted to plausible psychological theorizing rather than careful analysis of what a rational decision-maker would do. Business decisions were driven by "animal spirits," consumer decisions by a psychological tendency to spend some but not all of any increase in income, wage settlements by a sense of fairness, and so on.

But was it really a good idea to diminish the role of Economic Man that much? No, said Friedman, who argued in his 1953 essay "The Methodology of Positive Economics" that economic theories should be judged not by their psychological realism but by their ability to predict behavior. And Friedman's two greatest triumphs as an economic theorist came from applying the hypothesis of rational behavior to questions other economists had thought beyond its reach.

In his 1957 book A Theory of the Consumption Function—not exactly a crowd-pleasing title, but an important topic—Friedman argued that the best way to make sense of saving and spending was not, as Keynes had done, to resort to loose psychological theorizing, but rather to think of individuals as making rational plans about how to spend their wealth over their lifetimes. This wasn't necessarily an anti-Keynesian idea—in fact, the great Keynesian economist Franco Modigliani simultaneously and independently made a similar case, with even more care in thinking about rational behavior, in work with Albert Ando. But it did mark a return to classical ways of thinking—and it worked. The details are a bit technical, but Friedman's "permanent income hypothesis" and the Ando-Modigliani "life cycle model" resolved several apparent paradoxes about the relationship between income and spending, and remain the foundations of how economists think about spending and saving to this day.

Friedman's work on consumption behavior would, in itself, have made his academic reputation. An even bigger triumph, however, came from his application of Economic Man theorizing to inflation. In 1958 the New Zealand–born economist A.W. Phillips pointed out that there was a historical correlation between unemployment and inflation, with high inflation associated with low unemployment and vice versa. For a time, economists treated this correlation as if it were a reliable and stable relationship. This led to serious discussion about which point on the "Phillips curve" the government should choose. For example, should the United States accept a higher inflation rate in order to achieve a lower unemployment rate?

In 1967, however, Friedman gave a presidential address to the American Economic Association in which he argued that the correlation between inflation and unemployment, even thought it was visible in the data, did not represent a true trade-off, at least not in the long run. "There is," he said, "always a temporary trade-off between inflation and unemployment; there is no permanent trade-off." In other words, if policymakers were to try to keep unemployment low through a policy of generating higher inflation, they would achieve only temporary success. According to Friedman, unemployment would eventually rise again, even as inflation remained high. The economy would, in other words, suffer the condition Paul Samuelson would later dub "stagflation."

How did Friedman reach this conclusion? (Edmund S. Phelps, who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics this year, simultaneously and independently arrived at the same result.) As in the case of his work on consumer behavior, Friedman applied the idea of rational behavior. He argued that after a sustained period of inflation, people would build expectations of future inflation into their decisions, nullifying any positive effects of inflation on employment. For example, one reason inflation may lead to higher employment is that hiring more workers becomes profitable when prices rise faster than wages. But once workers understand that the purchasing power of their wages will be eroded by inflation, they will demand higher wage settlements in advance, so that wages keep up with prices. As a result, after inflation has gone on for a while, it will no longer deliver the original boost to employment. In fact, there will be a rise in unemployment if inflation falls short of expectations.

At the time Friedman and Phelps propounded their ideas, the United States had little experience with sustained inflation. So this was truly a prediction rather than an attempt to explain the past. In the 1970s, how-ever, persistent inflation provided a test of the Friedman-Phelps hypothesis. Sure enough, the historical correlation between inflation and unemployment broke down in just the way Friedman and Phelps had predicted: in the 1970s, as the inflation rate rose into double digits, the unemployment rate was as high or higher than in the stable-price years of the 1950s and 1960s. Inflation was eventually brought under control in the 1980s, but only after a painful period of extremely high unemployment, the worst since the Great Depression.

By predicting the phenomenon of stagflation in advance, Friedman and Phelps achieved one of the great triumphs of postwar economics. This triumph, more than anything else, confirmed Milton Friedman's status as a great economist's economist, whatever one may think of his other roles...

Blake Hounshell: The Bomb Iran Conference

The Bomb Iran conference Home » blogs » Blake Hounshell Wed, 01/24/2007 - 6:52pm. While the early Davoisie arrivals were sipping their carbon-neutral San Pellegrino and munching on organic canapés, another conference was taking place elsewhere in the world. No, it wasn't the World Social Forum, a.k.a the anti-Davos assembly being held in Nairobi, Kenya. It was another sort of thing entirely: a seventh annual high-level Israeli security meeting in the Mediterranean resort town of Herzliya. Judging by the sound bytes I'm reading, you could call it the Bomb Iran conference. U.S. government officials as high as Gordon England and Nick Burns were in attendance. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was also there, as were his rivals John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. Romney went for a strained historical analogy: I believe that Iran's leaders and ambitions represent the greatest threat to the world since the fall of the Soviet Union and before that Nazi Germany." Expect more of this over-the-top rhetoric from both sides of the aisle. What to do about Iran is going to dominate the American debate from now until 2008, and beyond. In President Bush's speech last night, he stressed again the consequences of failure in Iraq, warning that a U.S. defeat could embolden a dangerous Iran. So it's timely that for this week's Seven Questions, FP spoke with Dr. Ali Ansari, an expert on Iran at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, about the Bush administration's policy toward that country (Iran, not Scotland). Check it out.

Duncan Black's Reading List for Understanding American Journamalism

So, what to read? In no way am I trying to come up with a comprehensive list, and certainly one could reach farther back in time. None of this stuff "begins" at a specific point in time, really. If not for the return of the Iran Contra crew I'd probably not even start until we get to Clinton, but it's probably necessary to reach back for a bit of a reminder. So, in rough order. First, the Reagan years. Haynes Johnson's book suffers from being boring, but it's a pretty good Reagan era primer, or at least I thought so a few years ago when I read it. Some of the general social critique I imagine is a bit dated. Hertsgaard's On Bended Knee (Tom Tomorrow just reminded me to include this). Next, Lawrence Walsh's book about Iran Contra. Next, Eric Alterman's history of the punditocracy. Then, Sidney Blumenthal's book The Clinton Wars, which I think is especially useful for its earlier chapters. Gene Lyons' Fools for Scandal. Conason & Lyons Hunting of the President. For the fictionalized version, Philip Roth's The Human Stain. David Brock's Blinded by the Right. The book that Josh Marshall never wrote about "Clinton hatred" in the 1990s. Marvin Kalb's One Scandalous Story. The book that Bob Somerby never published about the Gore campaign coverage, or just go read the Daily Howler archives. Toobin's Too Close to Call. Late edition - Johnson's The Big Chill. Alterman's What Liberal Media. David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine. Wolcott's Attack Poodles. Boehlert's Lapdogs. I haven't read any of the books about the press and the Iraq war coverage (aside from Boehlert's, which gives it some coverage), though I guess as a first stab I'd recommend Massing's articles in the NYRB. The Unseen War. Now They Tell Us. Unfit to Print. Iraq, the Press, and the Election. Obviously the point isn't that I agree with every idea or opinion expressed in these books, but they provide a rough narrative strand which certainly informs my view of recent history and the media and one which I think is, to a great degree, shared in the "netroots."

Paul Kiel: Iraq's Absent Parliament

Today's Must Read By Paul Kiel - January 24, 2007, 8:41 AM The New York Times checks in on democracy in Iraq, where "nearly every session" of the parliament has been adjourned since November... because as few as 65 of the 275 members there showed up. Why? It's irrelevant: "Deals on important legislation, most recently the oil law, now take place largely out of public view, with Parliament — when it meets — rubber-stamping the final decisions." Also, the country is very dangerous, and despite the $120,000 salary, the members say they can't afford adequate protection -- one member says that he uses 40 guards when he's in Iraq, and the salary only buys 20. And, well, there's the fact that the job has inevitably disappointed members who "were here for the game, for prestige, for the money,” as one puts it. As a result of the rampant truancy, the Speaker is contemplating "fining members $400 for every missed session" and replacing absentees. But... there's a problem. "For the proposals to be put in place, a majority of members in Parliament have to be present to pass them."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gideon Rachman: Israel's World View

Israel's world view

Before leaving Israel yesterday, I and some colleagues had the chance to talk to various members of the Israeli military and foreign policy establishment. Obviously, they were well aware they were talking to journalists, so one must discount for spin. But here, briefly, is how they see the world:

Iran: The Israelis are obsessed with the development of an Iranian bomb. They say it will be the first time an "enemy state" has the capacity to exterminate Israel. They think the Iranians are 12-18 months away from crossing the technical threshold and three years away from having the bomb itself. They acknowledge that the Americans seem to think that Iran is further away than that - perhaps five years. There is time for diplomacy to work, and they think President Ahmadinejad is not in a secure position. But they clearly think that it is most likely that Israel and the United States will soon be faced by the decision over whether to take military action. They hope the US will do it. But the strong implication is that Israel will take action alone if necessary. But they are far from sanguine about the potential regional consequences, in terms of a wider war, terrorism and so on.

Lebanon: They see Hizbollah as a branch of the Iranian state. They say that Hizbollah has substantially rebuilt its military capacity, although it is inhibited to some extent by the presence of the UN. Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, has been a pleasant surprise to the Israelis. They regard him as a tough, courageous patriot - but they also think he is very vulnerable. Long-term the Israelis are gloomy about the prospects for Lebanon, because they believe a talented and mobile Christian community will emigrate in large numbers.

Syria: They see Syria as an active member of an Iranian-led radical camp. But they confirm newspaper reports in Israel of informal, "back-channel" talks on a peace deal with Syria - and they reckon President Assad may be interested in a deal. They seem pretty contemptuous of Assad. One gets the impression that while the Iranians scare them, the Syrians do not.

Iraq: They are worried by an implosion of Iraq after the Americans leave. Possible consequences include Iraq becoming a new centre for "global jihad", and the destabilisation and implosion of Jordan, under a wave of Iraqi refugees.

The Saudis: The Israelis seems to love the Saudis at the moment - and they think the Saudis are increasingly warm to them, since both sides have a mutual interest in containing Iran. But the Israelis are also worried by a nuclear arms race in the region. The Saudis could go nuclear quite quickly, possibly because they have an arrangement with Pakistan. Other countries that are thinking of going nuclear, in response to the Iranian programme, are Egypt and Turkey.

Ezra Klein: I Was Wrong

Alright, unpleasant post to write, but I was wrong: The Bush administration's health plan is a trap. I'd counsel Democrats to oppose it, but that'll hardly be necessary. The surprising outcome would be if they even notice it. And this comes, I hasten to underscore, from someone who was willing, eager even, to give the Bush administration a chance, to believe the Democratic majority had spurred them towards more pragmatic, constructive policy-making. Fool me once...

What the early reports either didn't make clear or didn't know was that the plan's changes to health care deductibility don't set limits, they're creating, instead, a standard deduction of $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for families. My initial understanding was that those were caps: Above them, you couldn't deduct anything further. Below them, you simply deducted what you spent. That was incorrect. Instead, everyone will get precisely those deductions no matter what they spend. If you're 23 and your health care costs $2,000 a year, you still deduct $7,500, pocketing the difference. It would, in that situation, be economically foolish of you to purchase high quality, comprehensive coverage. And that goes all the way up the line. The intent here is clear: To incentivize the purchase of low-quality, high-deductible care, particularly among the healthy, young, and/or rich. To degrade the risk pool, and encourage HSAs. To reduce coverage, costs, and health security.

It's almost laughably wrongheaded, and won't survive an instant in Congress. Pete Stark, chair of the House Health Subcommittee, has already dismissed the idea of hearings. Other Democrats, I expect, will react much the same. Bush is responding to America's fears of high health costs, inadequate coverage, and increased risks with a proposal that promises to further weaken their coverage, heighten their risk and, when they get sick, increase their costs. It's a wonder he's even bothering. As for me, I made the mistake of extending good-faith to an administration that, time and again, has proven it deserves none. The optimist in me has been grounded for a week, and won't get dessert for two.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Firedoglake has Scooter Libby's defense: Fitzgerald said Libby may have had a motive to lie, because [McClellan] said you'd lose your job if you leake

As you learned a few days ago, my name is Ted Wells. And I speak for Scooter Libby. Scooter Libby is innocent. Totally innocent.

He is an innocent man and he has been wrongly and unfairly accused.

There will be no witness who takes that stand during this trial that will say "I know Scooter Libby intentionally lied." There is no such witness.

There will be no witness who will take the stand and produce a document that shows that Scooter Libby intentionally lied.

There will be no scientific evidence that he lied or gave a false statement.

This is a weak paper thin circumstantial evidence case about he said, she said.

No witness, no documents, no scientific evidence.

People do not lie for the heck of it.

When someone tells an intentional lie, it's because they've done something wrong, they're trying to cover something up. Scooter Libby did not do something wrong. He had nothing to cover up. He was an innocent person and there was no reason to lie.

Scooter Libby was not out pushing any reporter to publish a story.

There will be some at the WH who you will learn pushed reporters to write stories. There will be some at the State Department who pushed reporters to write stories about Mrs. Wilson.

Scooter Libby pushed no one to write story.

Scooter Libby had no knowledge that Ms. Wilson had a classified or cover job before July 14.

No witness will take the stand to say that Scooter Libby knew.

As I stand here right now, I can't tell you whether she was or she wasn't. Walton has decided it's irrelevant.

[this is weird, because Wells is simultaneously trying to say he didn't know, but that we don't know. I think he has already introduced the likelihood that she was, with his statement about July 14.]

Fitz said Libby may have had a motive to lie, because Scottie said you'd lose your job if you leaked.

Mr. Libby was not concerned about losing his job. He was concerned about being set up. He was concerned about being the scapegoat.

Mr. Libby said to the VP, "I think the WH, people are trying to set me up, people want me to be the scapegoat. people in the WH want me to protect Karl Rove." [Swopa–you owe me dinner.]

Cheney made notes of what Libby said. Notes show Libby telling VP that he was not involved in leak. [oops, Wells, accidentally said, "not involved in leak to Karl Rove."

Cheney's note: "Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others."

The person who was to be protected was Karl Rove. Karl Rove was President Bush's right hand person. Karl Rove was the person most responsible for making sure Bush stayed in office. He had to be protected. The person who was to be sacrificed.

Katherine R. on Maher Arar. Impeach George W. Bush. Impeach him now.

Arar update

by Katherine

Maher Arar remains, officially, too dangerous to fly over U.S. air space.

U.S. officials won't say what the sources of information against him are. I have a guess as to some of them. I've posted it before, but it's not widely known enough, so here's one more vain effort.

Posted by hilzoy at 12:35 AM in Maher Arar | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

September 19, 2006 "They told him yes, he could invent a story" by Katherine

Von notes below that Syrian intelligence forces beat Maher Arar into falsely confessing that he had received terrorist training in Afghanistan. It's actually worse than that. Arar wasn't just tortured into a false confession in a Syrian prison. He also seems to have been sent to be tortured in Palestine Branch partly because of false confessions that two other Canadian citizens made under torture in the same prison.

Their names are Ahmad Abou El-Maati and Abdullah Almalki. Unlike Arar, they both traveled to Syria voluntarily. El-Maati flew to Damascus for an arranged marriage in November 2001. Almalki went there to visit relatives in May 2002. Both were arrested by Syrian intelligence forces when they arrived at the Damascus airport, and taken to a prison called the Palestine Branch. Both have since been released, returned to Canada, and given detailed chronologies of their experiences in Syria to their lawyers. (Here is a PDF of El-Maati's chronology; here is a PDF of Almalki's).

Continue reading ""They told him yes, he could invent a story"" »

Posted by hilzoy at 10:25 PM in Maher Arar | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack (0)

Thomas Ricks on the "surge," David Petraeus, and Washington politics

Thomas Ricks on the "surge," David Petraeus, and Washington politics

From the Brian Lehrer show this morning, a discussion with Thomas Ricks, author of "Fiasco" and Washington Post military correspondent:

Brian Lehrer: I think it's the Washington Post... that's saying the troop surge is not what Prime Minister Maliki asked for? Just the opposite? He asked for US withdrawal from Baghdad? Are you familiar with that?

Maliki, real politik and America's "surge"

Thomas Ricks: I am. Very much. When I was with Defense Secretary Gates in Baghdad last month the Iraqi officials hanging around the meetings would tell you that what they had asked for was that US forces move to the periphery of Baghdad and basically beat up the Sunnis for them while they more or less finished the ethnic cleansing of central Baghdad with the Shiite army.

BL: That's an interesting way to put it!

TR: Well, it's my characterization. It's not quite how they put it! But -- reading between the lines -- that's where they were going. It's a kind of "donut strategy": you guys get out of here and be useful chumps while we sort out our internal differences, finish the ethnic cleansing, and consolidate our hold on power. I don't think that's where the Americans wanted to go so, while they called this "Maliki's plan," it's almost the opposite. It's "we're going to send troops into the middle of the city, double the American presence on the streets of Baghdad because we don't trust your army.

BL: Why? I mean seriously. From a strictly cold, calculating US national interest perspective, why would the US care if the Shiites finished the ethnic cleansing job in Baghdad if it gives the US a structure for some kind of internal solution, even if it's a "use your guns"-power-oriented military solution in Baghdad, while the US saves its fire power to go after Al Qaeda?

TR: Well, there's a good reason why the US has to worry about that. The US government still hopes for a reconciliation, that some sort of political solution can be worked out between the Shia and the Sunnis that includes the Kurds as well and averts a full-blown civil war. They're in a chronic, low-level civil war. Today was a particularly nasty day in Baghdad already.

BL: More than 70 people killed and two bomb blasts in the city...

TR: Yes. And actually in the last few minutes there's been another one in a police station -- another 14 people. You've got 27 US troops dead over the weekend. So it's been a rough few days there. My worry about the US insisting on reconciliation is that politically the Bush administration consistently has been about 6 to 12 months behind the curve in Iraq from the very get-go. In military terms, it's called "losing the initiative." We've been operating off balance -- basically fighting from our heels rather than our toes since about 2003. The reality of Iraq that they haven't caught up with, I fear, is that the Shiites have concluded that they've won. And that's why we're proposing this "donut" strategy. And as you say, if the Shiites have won, then it has won the civil war, won control of Iraq. All we're doing is being a useful tool to help them out and keep the Sunnis off their back while they consolidate their hold. I think the US is going to try over the next 6 months to operate more independently and say, "No, we're not just going to be a tool for the Shiites." Whether they can pull that off is a wholly different question.

BL: You must be doing this interview with your AP wire or something in front of you because I see now that it moved across the wire just 3 minutes ago that a bomb and mortar attack has hit a market in a volatile area north of Baghdad killing 12 people and wounding nearly 30. So that's in addition to the 70+ reported in the earlier attacks and that's the one you were referring to.

TR: Yes. I never do interviews without the wire in front of me!

Muqtada al Sadr and Maliki -- who's in charge?

BL: But despite what we were saying about this Maliki plan and the US going against the Maliki plan, there's something else from the AP today. It says, "Iraq's prime minister has dropped his protection of an anti-American cleric's Shiite militia after US intelligence convinced him the group was infiltrated by death squads, according to two officials speaking yesterday..."...

TR: ...Are you a basefall fan?

BL: Am I a baseball fan? Well, yeah.

TR: The Iraqi prime minister saying he's dropping his protection of Muqtada al Sadr is like the third-base coach of the Yankees' single A farm team saying he's going to straighten out George Steinbrenner! That's the power relationship between Maliki and Sadr. Sadr commands a more powerful force than Maliki does. By US military calculations, Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army, has more effective fighters than the Iraqi army does.

BL: But... if you're right then the Bush administration strategy right now -- this "troop surge" as they call it -- hinges to some degree on an impossibility. Because yes, the US is going to go after Sadr's militia itself, I guess, with this troop surge in Baghdad, but they're looking for cooperation and they say it's vital to get the cooperation of Maliki. And it seems to me what they mean by cooperation is his willingness to crack down and continue cracking down. Am I wrong about that?

How Bush lost Iraq

TR: Not at all. The problem here, as you may suspect, is that two aspects have characterized the American approach in Iraq over the past three years. One has been official over-optimism in which institutions fail to recognize the basic reality on the ground. The second is a rush to failure with Iraqi forces. I think the concern of a lot of people in the military right now -- especially officers who have a tour or two in Iraq -- is that the new plan combines both those flaws: official optimism about what Iraqis are willing to do, and a rush to failure in pushing Iraqis too soon to do too much.

Mona: Bush Remains our Glorious Leader: Only the Generals Have Failed

Bush Remains our Glorious Leader: Only the Generals Have Failed

By Mona

The likelihood of my voting for John McCain in ‘08 was never high, but it is now extinguished; I will oppose him vehemently. The “maverick” Senator from Arizona who is supposed to be so reasonable and moderate, is loyally ripping pages from George Bush’s “How to Scapegoat Everyone and Evade Responsibility for My Own Insane, Warmongering Delusions” playbook, and former decorated POW McCain is not above demonizing General George W. Casey, just as his Leader has been doing. (Nevermind that McCain is also an ardent supporter of the “surge.”)

For ever so long Leader told us he faithfully followed the advice of his generals on the ground — but we now know that that obtained with the understood caveat there were certain things he was… not to be told, my emphasis:

For years now, George W. Bush has told Americans that he would increase the number of troops in Iraq only if the commanders on the ground asked him to do so. It was not a throwaway line: Bush said it from the very first days of the war, when he and Pentagon boss Donald Rumsfeld were criticized for going to war with too few troops. He said it right up until last summer, stressing at a news conference in Chicago that Iraq commander General George Casey “will make the decisions as to how many troops we have there.” Seasoned military people suspected that the line was a dodge–that the civilians who ran the Pentagon were testing their personal theory that war can be fought on the cheap and the brass simply knew better than to ask for more. In any case, the President repeated the mantra to dismiss any suggestion that the war was going badly. Who, after all, knew better than the generals on the ground?

Leader, that’s who. By shortly after the first of this year General Casey, according to Leader, didn’t know squat:

WASHINGTON- General George Casey, the United States’ Army’s senior commander in Iraq, will most likely be forced to pay the price of President George Bush’s strategic failures in the war in Iraq.

The New York Times reported that President Bush plans to fire the general, who was supposed to complete his service this coming summer, within the next few weeks.

The report said that Bush did not like his commanders’ strategy, which aimed for retreat without victory, and Bush is taking advantage of the replacement of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld with Robert Gates in order to get rid of Rumsfeld’s senior general in Iraq as well.

And John McCain wants to extract a further pound of flesh from the sacrificial lamb, and humiliate a man who by all accounts is an honorable one who has faithfully served his country:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said yesterday that he is inclined to oppose President Bush’s appointment of Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as the new Army chief of staff, on the grounds that Casey’s 2 1/2 -year tenure as U.S. military leader in Iraq was marked by “failed leadership.”

McCain, the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, which must confirm Casey’s appointment, and a likely presidential candidate in 2008, accused Casey of presiding over “a failed policy” in Iraq, in which McCain said Iraqi forces were expected too quickly to assume growing responsibility for security matters there.

Failed leadership. Got that? Everything wrong in Iraq is Casey’s fault. It is not that we never should have waged the war in the first place, or that having done so its prosecution was inept beyond describing, with no plan — literally — for how to keep the peace in a nation known to be suffused with bitter tribal and sectarian hatreds. There has been no failure in the White House. Perish the thought. It’s the damned idjit brass.

But let be quickly conceded that Leader, McCain and all the dead-ender war supporters love and support the troops, as we opponents of the war do not, else we would not voice our opposition on blogs and give comfort to the terrorists. Mean-spirited denunciations of the troops’ officers, announced in elite news outlets, could not conceivably gladden any Al Qaeda hearts because when war- and escalation-supporters speak such things, that’s different.

Dan Froomkin: From Hero to Goat

From Hero to Goat By Dan Froomkin Special to Monday, January 22, 2007; 1:20 PM

After six years of striding onto the House floor like a conqueror, President Bush will arrive for Tuesday night's State of the Union Speech deeply unpopular and politically crippled.

The most vivid symbol of the new order of things will be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi literally looking over his shoulder. With Pelosi's Democrats now in control of both houses of Congress -- and some members of the president's own party peeling off as he pushes stubbornly ahead in Iraq -- Bush will find his friends far outnumbered by his foes.

The pomp of the State of the Union address and the deference given to Bush's office will prevent the night from turning into an outright rout.

But as a defensive measure, White House speechwriters are said to have crafted a speech that avoids the traditional laundry list of proposals and applause lines that would almost surely have fallen flat -- or even led to boos and groans -- given Bush's new circumstances.

To some extent, what's amazing is that it has taken this long.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Bush's approval rating, now at an all-time low of 33 percent, has been solidly in negative territory ever since April of 2005. That's 21 months. And the percentage of Americans who find him honest and trustworthy, now at an all-time low of 40 percent, has been in negative territory since November of 2005, or a little over a year.

Even as the public turned against him, Congress was there for President Bush. But no more.

USA Today Interview David Jackson writes in USA Today: "President Bush can't guarantee that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of his presidency because 'we don't set timetables,' and said the war on terrorism will remain a 'long struggle' for his successors, he told USA Today in an interview.

"Bush believes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can clamp down on sectarian violence, and he warned Iran not to aid Iraqi insurgents. Bush's comments came in a wide-ranging chat Friday to preview his State of the Union speech, in which he'll argue 'what happens in Iraq matters to your security here at home.'"

In the accompanying story on domestic issues, Jackson writes that Bush highlighted Social Security, energy and immigration.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

"Q: Are you seeing any evidence that people are listening or responding to your argument?

"A: What matters is what happens on the ground. That would be the best way to show the American people that the strategy, the new strategy I've outlined, will work. . . .

"Q: Now I've often heard you say during the campaign, 'The job of the president is to confront problems, not to pass them on to future presidents or future generations.' Is Iraq going to be a problem for the next president?

"A: The war on terror will be a problem for the next president. Presidents after me will be confronting with this, with an enemy that would like to strike the United States again, an enemy that is interested in spreading their vision -- I call it a totalitarian vision of governance -- an enemy that will kill innocent people to achieve their objectives and an enemy that would like to acquire weapons that could do serious damage. . . .

"Q: Will the U.S. be out of Iraq in January of '09?

"A: That's a timetable; I just told you we don't put out timetables."

Poll Watch Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write for The Washington Post: "President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday at the weakest point of his presidency, with dissatisfaction over his Iraq war policies continuing to rise and confidence in his leadership continuing to decline, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. . . .

"Americans overwhelmingly oppose Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to the conflict. By wide margins, they prefer that congressional Democrats, who now hold majorities in both chambers, take the lead in setting the direction for the country rather than the president. . . .

"The president will use his speech to try to rally public opinion behind his troop deployment plan, but during the past 10 days he has made no headway in changing public opinion. The Post-ABC poll shows that 65 percent of Americans oppose sending more troops to Iraq, compared to 61 percent who opposed the plan when the president unveiled it Jan. 10 in a nationally televised address. . . .

"Only two presidents have had lower approval ratings on the eve of a State of the Union speech. Richard Nixon was at 26 percent in 1974, seven months before he resigned in disgrace because of the Watergate scandal. Harry S. Truman was at 23 percent in January 1952, driven down by public disapproval of the Korean conflict and his firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. . . .

"Just 42 percent say he can be trusted in a crisis, with 56 percent saying he cannot -- the first time a majority has given him a negative rating on a crucial element of presidential leadership."

Here are the complete results.

Darlene Superville writes for the Associated Press: "Americans seem sour on the state of the union in advance of President Bush's address on the subject." She has results from the Associated Press-AOL News poll.

Brian Braiker writes for Newsweek that "the latest Newsweek poll finds that Bush's call for a 'surge' in troops is opposed by two-thirds (68 percent) of Americans and supported by only a quarter (26 percent). Almost half of all respondents (46 percent) want to see American troops pulled out 'as soon as possible.'

"Bush's Iraq plan isn't doing anything for his personal approval rating either; it's again stuck at its lowest point in the history of the poll (31 percent)."

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ken Silverstein: Intelligence Community to Congress: “The dog ate my national intelligence estimate"

Intelligence Community to Congress: “The dog ate my national intelligence estimate”

Posted on Sunday, January 21, 2007. By Ken Silverstein. Back in July, I reported that, in spite of pressure from CIA analysts, intelligence czar John Negroponte was blocking a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq. The CIA describes an NIE as “the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue,” and a fresh one was badly needed because the last one on Iraq, which was compiled between 2004 and 2006 and leaked to the New York Times last September, had become outdated. Negroponte was said to fear that given the worsening situation in Iraq a new NIE would, of necessity, be deeply pessimistic, and that such an assessment might get leaked and embarrass the Bush Administration during last fall's elections.

Soon after that story was posted, six U.S. senators called for a new NIE on Iraq, and in August the Senate passed an amendment demanding that one be prepared. I've just learned that—months later and to the immense frustration of Congress—the new NIE is still not ready.

The situation came to a head last week, during a closed-door session of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This committee expected to be briefed on the long-awaited NIE by an official from the National Intelligence Council (NIC), which coordinates NIEs by gathering input from all of the nation's various intelligence agencies. But the NIC official turned up empty-handed and told the committee that the intelligence community hadn't been able to complete the NIE because it had been dealing with the many demands placed upon it by the Bush Administration to help prepare the new military strategy on Iraq. He then said that not all of the relevant agencies had contributed to the NIE, which has made it impossible to put together a finished product.

Apparently these “dog ate my homework” alibis were badly received by both the Democrats and the Republicans on the Committee, and those in attendance now believe that senior intelligence officials are stalling because an NIE will be bleak enough to present a significant political liability. Given the Bush Administration's “surge” policy and the extraordinary danger faced by U.S. troops in Iraq (27 U.S. servicemembers died there this weekend), the need for a new NIE is urgent. The intelligence community is doing the nation a disservice by making Congress wait for the truth.

Abiola Lapite: Ethnic Homogeneity and Economic Growth in Africa

Friday, August 15, 2003

Ethnic Homogeneity and Economic Growth in Africa

A recurrent irritation of mine is the way in which Africa's problems are often written off as somehow inexplicable, with the events of the past having nothing to do with them whatsoever. All too often, lazy opinion writers reach for the old trope of "ancient tribal hatreds", as if the various wars raging on the continent were all due simply to the irrational feuds that befall savages who are left to their own devices. The fact of the matter is that there is nothing unique about the ethnic conflict that troubles Africa, and that colonialism (yes, that dreaded word!) does in truth have a great deal to do with Africa's problems, though not in the simplistic, "imperialist exploitation" manner in which radical leftists have long enjoyed portraying it.

In truth, a great deal of Africa's problems are home grown, and can be traced directly to poor leadership. But if we say that Africa's leaders are largely to blame for the troubles that plague their countries, how do we then explain the consistency with which African states have chosen such poor statesmen to guide them? The answer, I believe, lies in the ethnic diversity of most African states. To most Western, and particularly, American, ears, the notion that diversity might ever be a bad thing must come across as at best impolite, and at worst an affront to decency; but the facts are what they are, and the evidence we do have strongly indicates that the less ethnic cohesion there is in a state, particularly in a developing one, the less stellar the state's long-term economic performance is likely to be, as the following paper illustrates:

William Easterly, Ross Levine - Africa's Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions

A close reading of the aforementioned paper makes clear that the ethnic heterogeneity of African states can account on its' own for nearly half the entire performance gap between East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the 1965-1990 period, and in some cases (for instance, Tanzania and Japan), is enough to account for the entire gap in economic growth. Of course, the complaint can be raised that nations like America and Canada have managed to absorb a wide range of immigrants without sinking into a morass of poverty, but in response I must point out two realities about those countries that are shared by no African country. The first is that both nations are derived for the most part from voluntary immigrants, who as a condition of entry had to be willing and able to assimilate the political and social values of the countries to which they wished to emigrate. The second is that for the greater part of their histories, the majority of immigrants they took in were in fact of similar ethnic origin, and by the time they began broadening their immigration pools, a strong North-American culture, drawing primarily on English and Scottish roots, had planted firm roots in both nations. It is unlikely that the North American colonies would have been such successes had both of these conditions not held early on in their histories.

If we accept the relationship between ethnic heterogeneity and weak economic performance as established, we are then able to make sense of certain phenomena that were formerly inexplicable other than as matters of chance. In particular, it becomes clear why it is that Botswana, a nation rich in natural mineral resources, and hence theoretically vulnerable to the resource curse, should have performed so stellarly where other resource-rich nations like Liberia, Congo and Nigeria have not. The fact is that between 75 to 94% of Botswana's population share Tswana ancestry. This is in sharp contrast to the other three African nations mentioned here, none of which has an ethnic group with a numerical majority.

What are we to make of these facts, then? The first conclusion that can be drawn is that Europe's utter disregard for pre-existing ethnic divisions in carving up the African continent lies at the root of not just the various wars that are being fought across Africa, but also the economic stagnation that has been the fate of the majority of those African nations that have avoided succumbing to warfare up till the present date. The pernicious notion that the ethnic divisions between Africans are no more than a matter of various "tribes", is at once condescending and historically inaccurate. The reality is that there were pre-existing centralized states with widely acknowledged leaders and well-defined heirarchies of governance across the length and breadth of Africa when Europeans first made contact with the continent, and some of these states were of several hundred years standing by that date. Kingdoms like Oyo, Benin, Songhai, Mali, Sokoto and the like were not mere "tribal" agglomerations of wandering peoples to be gathered up into artificial entities called "Nigeria", "Ivory Coast" and so forth, and it is ridiculous to expect peoples who have forged a common consciousness over the course of hundreds of years to suddenly forsake their ethnic identities for the sake of geographical entities that were cobbled together for the administrative convenience of distant imperial overseers.

If we consider the bitterness with which ethnic conflicts have played out in the European continent over the last several hundred years, and the fact that these ethnic rivalries have still not completely extinguished themselves, even in these days of the NATO alliance and the European Union, we see how unrealistic it is to expect any better from peoples that have been yoked together for much less time than the Flemish and the Walloons, or the Serbs, Croats and Albanians have been. With no language barriers to divide them, and several hundred years under a common crown, there are still grumblings and resentments between the Scots and the English, but we persist in expecting the Hausa, the Ijaw and the Tiv, who have no means of communicating without resorting to the English language, to get along like bosom brothers. Are we then justified in complaining when our hopes are disappointed?

What hope, then, for the future? I can see only two possibilities:

either a foreign power steps in to establish its' rule, and over the course of time impresses its' culture so firmly on the ruled that they abandon their different ethnicities for their new one as subjects of the great power, as occurred with the Romans and their various European subjects, or the borders of the various African states are gradually redrawn to reflect the underlying ethnic realities, by peaceful means or by force of arms. That the latter option seems far more likely than the former is a thought that depresses me, but the age of empires seems to be permanently behind us, as the reluctance of America to intervene even in a Liberia whose citizens were begging for its' oversight, makes abundantly clear. The American people have no taste for foreign entanglements, and while that is in many respects a good thing, for Africans it is more a fact to be regretted than to be celebrated.

John Quiggin: Connecting the dots

Posted by John Quiggin

Jonathan Chait connects the dots between dishonest conservative (fn1) claims about income inequality (coming in this case from Alan Reynolds) to similar arguments made about evolution and global warming. As he says, to construct an alternate reality in which income inequality is not increasing, global warming is not happening and the world is near the end of its 6000 years anyway, there’s no need to prove a case – just cast enough doubt on the facts and ideology or faith will do the rest. This is happening across the board. The Republican War on Science is so broad-based that there is now no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans.

Chait does a good job on all this but it’s a pity he doesn’t extend it to his reconsideration of the Iraq disaster. If liberal hawks like Chait had taken the (correct) view that everything coming out of the Bush Administration and its supporting thinktanks was advocacy designed to achieve a predetermined political goal with no regard for the truth, would they have been so keen to support the war?

If they had disregarded the ‘evidence’ on WMDs presented by Bush and Powell for example, and looked at the reports of UN weapons inspectors, would they have still accepted the casus belli on this issue? And if they had assumed that any Iraqi touted by rightwing thinktanks, such as Ahmed Chalabhi, was bound to be worthless as a guide to conditions in Iraq, would they have been so quick to believe that things were likely to turn out well? Finally, if they regarded reality as an important basis for policy, wouldn’t they have realised that any enterprise run by people who prefer lies to truth is unlikely to succeed in a place like the Middle East, where reality tends to obtrude itself rather brutally?

And, while we’re on the topic of Iraq, the Project on Defense Alternatives has just released a plan for US withdrawal that seems at least as likely to produce a reasonable outcome in Iraq as any of the alternatives on offer (not that that’s saying much).

  1. Of course, there’s nothing conservative about these guys: they are radicals in policy, not to mention epistemology. A better term might be ‘movement conservatives’ or just ‘Republicans’.

Spencer Ackerman: Is it all right? really? is it working? (part 2):

So why did Marty take the unusual step of teasing Michael Orin and Yossi Klein Halevi's forthcoming Iran piece on his blog? According to TNR office scuttlebutt, the piece is causing shpilkis about being yet another hysterical, warmongering embarrassment to the magazine. Right now it's just a rough draft, but insiders fear it could still emerge in print as something pernicious -- hence Marty's preemptive guarantee of publication. Developing...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Brad DeLong: Charles Murray and Michael Barone Once Again

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Michael Barone: Intellectual Garbage Scow Edition)

Mark Thoma does intellectual garbage pickup on the overrated Michael Barone.

He tackle's Barone's claim that "maybe" the fall in social mobility in America is due to the fact that a high IQ genetic elite has risen to the top of the fair meritocracy that is our society. And Mark's head explodes:

"Economist's View: Does Michael Barone Believe the Poor Lack the Genetic Intelligence and Drive Needed to Compete in the Emerging U.S. Meritocracy?: Am I reading this column by Michael Barone correctly? Does it blame being poor on lack of intelligence? Do you believe, as he does, that if you are poor it is most likely because your parents were unintelligent?... Read it yourself....

"'Michael Barone: [P]olls show that Americans think their chances of moving up are better than a generation ago. Statistics tell a different story: There is a higher correlation today between parents' and children's income than in the 1980s, and the income gap between college graduates and non-graduated doubled between 1979 and 1997.

"'"America," concludes Parker, "is becoming a stratified society based on education: a meritocracy."... [This] is exactly what Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray predicted for America in their controversial book The Bell Curve, published 11 years ago. Herrnstein and Murray noted that intelligence is both measurable and in some large but unquantifiable part hereditary, an unexceptionable finding for experimental psychologists but maddening to social engineers. As college education becomes open to all with the requisite intelligence, graduates will tend to marry graduates and produce children with similar intelligence, while others will tend to produce children without it.

"'"Unchecked, these trends," Herrnstein and Murray wrote, "will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top."... Are we there yet?... [M]aybe so.

"'Yet should we be so gloomy?... Not everyone has an emotional need to be on top: How many people, if they thought seriously about it, would really want the burdens of a CEO, however lavish the pay?... As Murray has written, all you need to do to avoid poverty in this country is to graduate from high school, get and stay married, and take any job. The intelligence needed to get a place in the cognitive elite may become more concentrated in a fair meritocratic society, but the personal behaviors needed to find a valued place in society are available to everyone. Meritocracy may mean less mobility, but that is bearable if, as Brooks says, "America is becoming more virtuous."...'"

The inheritance of inequality is strikingly large in America today: if the father's lifetime was 100% above the American average for his day, the son's lifetime income will on average be 65% above the American average for his day. That's a lot of inherited inequality. Is this unequal distribution of wealth, income, and status in the United States today the result of the fact that a genetic elite has risen to the top in a "fair" IQ-driven meritocracy?


This high degree of inherited inequality isn't because high IQ genetic eliteness genes are being passed down from fathers to sons. As Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis (2002), "The Inheritance of Inequality," report:

"The direct effect of IQ on earnings... presented in Bowles, Gintis, and Osborne (2002a)... is 0.15, indicating that a [one] standard deviation change in the cognitive score, holding constant... remaining variables... changes... earnings by about one-seventh of a standard deviation.... An estimate of the causal impact of childhood IQ on years of schooling... is 0.53 (Winship and Korenman 1999). A rough estimate of the direct and indirect effect of IQ on earnings... is then... 0.15+(0.53)(0.22) = 0.266....

"h is the heritability of IQ.... The value cannot be higher than 1, and most recent estimates are substantially lower, possibly more like a half or less.... [C]ouples tend to be more similar in IQ than would occur by random mate choice.... [The] genetic correlation of parent and offspring [is] (1 + m)/2....

"Using the values estimated above, we see that the contribution of genetic inheritance of IQ to the intergenerational transmission of income is (h2(1+m)/2)(0.266)2 = .035(1 + m)h2. If the heritability of IQ were 0.5 and the degree of assortation, m, were 0.2 (both reasonable, if only ball park estimates) and the genetic inheritance of IQ were the only mechanism accounting for intergenerational income transmission, then the intergenerational correlation [of lifetime income] would be 0.01, or roughly two percent the observed intergenerational correlation [of lifetime income between parents and children]."

Two percent is simply not a large number. Factors that currently account for two percent of lifetime earnings inequality are simply not yet a big deal, and cannot be responsible for the fall in social mobility.

If there is ever to be a genetic elite, its members will surely exhibit two behavioral traits: a facility with math, and a near-intinctive tendency to do back-of-the-envelope quantitative checks of assertions. We can conclude only one thing from Barone's column: neither he nor his descendents (unless they get really lucky in their mates) are plausible candidates for membership in any "genetic elite".

It is worth pointing out that neither Richard Herrnstein nor Charles Murray are plausible candidates for membership in any "genetic elite" either. Let me turn the microphone over to impeccably right-wing Jim Heckman, who comments on The Bell Curve:

"The Book fails for five main reasons. 1. The central premise of this book is the empirically incorrect claim that a single factor - g or IQ - that explains linear correlations among test scores is primarily responsible for differences in individual performance in society at large.... There is much evidence that more than one factor -- as conventionally measured -- is required to explain conventional correlation matrices among test scores.... They do not emphasize how little of the variation in social outcomes is explained by AFQT or g. There is considerable room for factors other than their measure of ability to explain wages and other social outcomes. 2. In their empirical work, the authors assume that AFQT is a measure of immutable native intelligence. In fact, AFQT is an achievement test that can be manipulated by educational interventions. 3. The authors[']... implicit assumption of an immutable g that is all-powerful in determining social outcomes leads them to disregard a lot of evidence that a variety of relevant labor market and social skills can be improved. 4. The authors present no new evidence on the heritability of IQ or other socially productive characteristics.... [T]hey... [compare] IQ... [to] a crude measure of parental environmental influences. This comparison is misleading. It fails to recognize the crudity of their environmental measures and the environmental component that is built into their measure of IQ, which biases the evidence in favor of their position. Moreover, the comparison as they present it is intrinsically meaningless. 5. Finally, the authors' forecast of social trends is pure speculation... the social policy recommendations have an ad hoc flavor to them.... The appeal to Murray's version of communitarianism as a solution to the emerging problem of inequality among persons is a deus ex machina flight of fancy that is not credibly justified."

Jonathan Chait: Flat-Earth Economics

FLAT-EARTH ECONOMICS. Equality Bites by Jonathan Chait Post date 01.19.07 | Issue date 01.29.07 Discuss this article (18) Printer friendly E-mail this article f there is one trend in American life that most irks economic conservatives, it is probably rising inequality. It's not the inequality itself that bothers them, as most will happily admit. It is the perception of inequality and, worse, the constant discussion of inequality that is so irritating. It offends their view of capitalism, helps justify all sorts of nefarious government interventions, and makes the conservative economic agenda (most of which tends to increase inequality) appear unfair. They would very much like for it not to be true. Failing that, they would like for the public not to believe that it's true--or, at the very least, not to be sure whether it is true or not. This is where Alan Reynolds comes in. A manager at J.C. Penney who attended graduate school at night, Reynolds was plucked from obscurity by William F. Buckley in the 1960s after writing a few pieces for The National Review. (He's still "a couple of classes" short of his masters degree in economics.) He later went to the conservative Hudson Institute and from there made his way to the Cato Institute, where he is now a senior fellow. From this perch, and as a syndicated columnist, Reynolds offers up conventional supply-side economic views; but his specialty is denying that income inequality has grown. He has been at this task for almost two decades, and, as the economic consensus that inequality is increasing has grown stronger and stronger, so, too, has his importance to the right. Reynolds's crucial role within the conservative movement was on full display at a packed-house Cato forum last week in which he defended a paper--titled "Has U.S. Income Inequality Really Increased?"--he published earlier this month and summarized in a much-discussed Wall Street Journal op-ed. Reynolds was introduced by Chris Edwards, the director of tax policy studies at Cato, who began by noting that it is a matter of opinion whether income inequality matters at all. (In his opinion, it doesn't.) Nonetheless, he suggested, "Economists and reporters need to be extremely careful in looking at trends in income statistics over time. All sources of income data have various quirks and shortcomings." In other words, conservatives aren't sure whether inequality is rising, and they don't really care if it is. Their primary concern is that newspapers treat the question as a matter of dispute rather than a settled fact. If this sounds like the conservative stance on global warming or evolution, it shouldn't come as a surprise. Like those two issues, the existence of rising inequality is beyond dispute among academics who study it. This applies even to conservative economists with strong Republican pedigrees. (Harvard economist and former Reagan adviser Martin Feldstein: "There has no doubt been a relatively greater increase in higher incomes in recent years in the United States." Columbia's R. Glenn Hubbard, a Bush alum: "We have an issue with emerging inequality in the country.") And so the ambition of the conservative counterestablishment in these areas is not to overturn the scholarly consensus but simply to make the topic appear so complicated that laypeople and the press don't know what to believe. And the science of measuring inequality, like most sciences, is subject to complicating details. The traditional method of measuring inequality has been to examine data from the Census Bureau. Unfortunately, census data isn't very good at detecting shifts among the uppermost slice of the very rich, because it has historically grouped high incomes into broad categories--say, over $999,999. So, in the last few years, economists Thomas Piketty of the École Normale Supérieure and Emmanuel Saez of the University of California, Berkeley, have started looking instead at tax returns, which have shown explosive income growth among the top 1 percent of tax-filers compared with everyone else. Last spring, they published a paper titled "The Evolution of Top Incomes: A Historical and International Perspective," which offered some startling findings: Since 1980, the share of income accruing to the highest-earning 1 percent of U.S. tax returns doubled, the share of the top one-tenth of 1 percent tripled, and the share of the top one-hundredth of 1 percent quadrupled. Their research was widely quoted in places like The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. Greg Mankiw, a former Bush economist, has called the study "very solid empirical work." That was Reynolds's cue to spring into action. In his Journal op-ed, Reynolds lists a series of potential flaws in the Piketty-Saez data. Most of the complaints are simply picayune details. He writes, for instance, that "not everyone files a tax return, not all income is taxable (e.g., municipal bonds), and not every taxpayer tells the complete truth about his or her income." All these points are true enough. But is there any reason to think they would change the overall picture very much? Not really, unless you think undeclared earnings and municipal bonds are a huge and growing share of our income and that the rich are substantially less likely than the rest of us to cheat on their taxes or own municipal bonds.

Neil King: How Rice Uses History Lessons

How Rice Uses History Lessons By NEIL KING JR. January 19, 2007; Page A4 LONDON -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice often calls herself "a student of history." And increasingly, she is using history -- or her chosen slice of it -- both to explain and justify the Bush administration's Middle East policy. When Ms. Rice talks about the challenges the U.S. faces across the Mideast, she points, somewhat surprisingly, to Europe after World War II and to the West's decades-long face-off against the Soviet Union, which happens to be her area of expertise. It is a penchant that has scholars scratching their heads. Citing the Cold War's denouement as context for today's bloodshed and tumult may seem far-fetched to some. But Ms. Rice uses the analogy both to beg for patience -- the Cold War, after all, consumed decades -- and to try to elucidate a diplomatic strategy that is increasingly assailed for its lack of assertiveness. While traveling this week through the Middle East and Europe, Ms. Rice engaged in several long historical tutorials with reporters in tow. Her point in referring back to the Cold War, she said, isn't to argue that history repeats itself or that the analogy is exact. "The reason that I cite some of these other times, like Europe, is that it is so clear in everybody's mind that the United States and its allies came out victorious at the end of the Cold War," she said in Kuwait. "But if you...look at the events that ultimately lead to that, you would have thought that this was failing every single day between 1945-1946 and probably 1987 or 1988." Her contention is while things may look bad now in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, history is on the administration's side. She pushed a similar argument to reporters last month. The Middle East is "moving toward something that I am quite certain will not have a full resolution and that you will not be able to fully judge for decades," she said. Critics dismiss Ms. Rice's references to the Cold War as both convenient and a sign of her limited frame of reference. The challenges facing Europe in 1946, they say, bear little similarity to those of the Middle East in the 21st century. "The administration's reservoir of historical analogies seems limited to the 1914-1991 period. And it's all about Europe," said Adam Garfinkle, a former Rice speechwriter who edits the foreign-policy journal The American Interest. "No one in a senior position in this administration seems to have even the vaguest notion of modern Middle Eastern history." When asked this week about what moments in Arab history inform her thinking, Ms. Rice said she had read about "the British experience" in Mesopotamia in the 1920s, which led to the founding of modern Iraq and the withdrawal of British forces. "I know a number of things that went right, and I know the things that went wrong," she said. But Ms. Rice cleaves to her Cold War history to try to drive home a bigger point about the administration's diplomatic approach, which is seen by many as detached and lacking urgency. For six years, the administration has stayed out of direct efforts to push a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. Today, despite widespread calls to talk with Iran and Syria, Ms. Rice rejects such action as ill-timed. She tends to portray events, particularly the clash between what she calls "moderation" and "extremism" in the Middle East, as driven by huge, almost inevitable forces that make diplomacy impractical, or even irrelevant. Critics say such a view has made Washington's top diplomat less flexible in policy making -- and less adept in old-style negotiation and hand-holding, whose results also can be hard to quantify in the short term. Those who clamor for sitting down with Syria and Iran are out of touch with what Ms. Rice calls "the underlying forces." "There's a tendency to think about diplomacy as something that is done untethered to the conditions underlying it or the balance underlying it," she said. "In fact, that's not the way that it works. You aren't going to be successful as a diplomat if you don't understand the strategic context in which you are actually negotiating. It is not deal-making." On this trip, which wrapped up in London, Ms. Rice has portrayed her main mission as firming up what she calls "a new alignment" of moderate states allied with the U.S. to push back against Iran. Ms. Rice also has shown a new interest in trying to promote an Arab peace deal with Israel after years of inactivity. Four years ago, the administration theorized that the U.S. invasion would spawn a democratic Iraq, on good terms with Israel, that would break the regional mold and compel erstwhile enemies to end hostility toward the Israelis. Now, Ms. Rice says it is the Iranian ascent wrought by the war that makes Arab states more open to negotiations. To her thinking, there has been a shift in underlying forces -- as opposed to events the U.S. might have influenced. Again, she points to a favorite historical analogy: the reunification of Germany. "If you had tried to negotiate German unification for any period of time until 1990, you would have not been able to do it because the underlying circumstances were not there," she said. Write to Neil King Jr. at

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Joshua Micah Marshall on Bush's FISA Retreat

Sigh. It's hard getting dumped.

Just ask Mark Levin, resident legal mind of nutball right-wing authoritarianism in early 21st century Washington, DC. Actually, the resident legal mind of nutball right-wing authoritarianism these days is really probably John Yoo. But we're talking a bit more the low-brow, second-tier chat show niche here. In any case, here Levin quite rightly has a fit over the fact that the program the administration spent like -- what? -- a year saying was vital to national security (warrantless wiretaps) can now apparently be brought under constitutional supervision without any problem whatsoever.

William Arkin: Congress Goes Along in Iraq; Gates Says Not So Fast

Congress Goes Along in Iraq, Gates Says Not So Fast

Has the President made a huge mistake in appointing Robert M. Gates as Secretary of Defense?

The President unveils a new Iraq strategy - put aside for a moment whether it is really new - and he has a new leadership team to carry it out.

Soldiers are seemingly flowing over to Iraq to accelerate the U.S. effort.

The Iraqi government is supposedly turning over a new leaf, pressured by American decisiveness and the new plan.

But what if every proposition about Iraq is fundamentally wrong? What if the new strategy is just a hope? What if the Secretary is a cookie-cutter bureaucratic player who lacks the President's fire in the belly and thus has no survival instinct? What if the new team is just for show? And what if the Iraqis are as duplicitous and as fumbling as they were before the White House saw the light?

We now have the strange reality of the President and Vice President making a case for time, continuing sacrifice and eventual victory in what they claim is the central battlefield and fundamental challenge of our time, and the Secretary of Defense says, oh well maybe we won't need all the troops and they could come home early anyhow and we'll wait and see how the Iraqis do, and even more, it's not really a surge, because we are walking and not running to get to the battlefield.

Everyone is ever so happy to pin all of the problems of the past on former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the big bad man who wouldn't allow more troops, who wouldn't let the military fight, who starved the military, that no one is really watching what Gates is conveying, most important, to the Iraqis and the bad guys.

And if Rumsfeld was the epitome of a confident man with strong views and one who was willing to stand up to the uniformed military and decide for himself what was needed, Gates is a management marshmallow of a man, sweet and soft and reassuring, ultimately the perfect centrist to preside over the end but exactly the wrong person to represent the White House's crusade.

In various radio call-in shows I did last week, I heard people left and right hoping for change, hoping that more would make a difference, hoping that the new team and new strategy would indeed turn the corner.

"What would you like to see the 20,000 additional American troops do," one host asked callers. The question was tinged with promise, almost as if Marines would be storming the beach or paratroopers would be filling the sky.

But the surge, I'm afraid, isn't anywhere near so impressive. Not only won't there be one single and immediate deployment, but many of the supposed 20,000 are soldiers who are merely being extended in Iraq: it is like a corporate RIF where the numbers are attained through retirements and attrition. Others, moreover, are merely a surge on paper; the number of actual immediate fighters in Baghdad is only about half what the President suggests.

If there is any hope for a turn around in Iraq, of course we all know it depends completely on what the Iraqis themselves do. The President's new plan acknowledges the al-Maliki government's own sectarian biases and articulates a shared commitment to change. In other words, it is pure-Gatesian, saying all of the right things and assuming that everyone will be reasonable when ideology is expunged. But Iraq is all about ideology, about allegiances and power struggles. Every move is a back-stabbing Mafia-like protection of the family, and though there are hundreds of thousands of reasonable Mohammed Gates', they are as feckless at breaking the ideologues and the enemy, and will continue to operate in the same manner.

Six months from now, with Congressional acquiescence - expect no less - people will again ask 'what ever happened to the effect of the surge?' The answer then is already obvious now: It is just too little, too late.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Steve Benen: About the Iraqis Supporting Bush's Escalation

Based on the White House’s description of the president’s “new way forward,” the bulk of the initiative is dependent on Iraqi officials following through on Bush’s policy agenda. The New York Times had a good item today highlighting a small flaw in the plan: Iraqi officials don’t seem to care for Bush’s policy agenda at all.

American military officials have spent days huddled in meetings with Iraqi officers in a race to turn blueprints drawn up in Washington into a plan that will work on the ground in Baghdad. With the first American and Iraqi units dedicated to the plan due to be in place within weeks, time is short for setting details of what American officers view as the decisive battle of the war.

But the signs so far have unnerved some Americans working on the plan, who have described a web of problems — ranging from a contested chain of command to how to protect American troops deployed in some of Baghdad’s most dangerous districts — that some fear could hobble the effort before it begins.

I don’t mean to sound picky, but shouldn’t the administration have ironed out some of these details before the president announced what would happen? If the U.S. is dependent on Iraqis buying into the plan, and Iraqis aren’t, why unveil a “new way forward” that may not be able to leave the starting gate?

Reading the Times piece, one wonders if anyone in Iraq is ready to line up behind Bush’s approach. Shiites remain a problem.

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

“We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem,” said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. “We are being played like a pawn.” […]

The plan gives a central role to the National Police, viewed as widely infiltrated by Shiite militias and, despite an intensive American retraining program, still suspected of a strongly Shiite sectarian bias. One American officer said that the National Police commanders have been “dragging their feet” over their role in the new plan and that they could seriously compromise the operation.

For that matter, as Steve M. noted, the Sunnis aren’t happy…

President Bush’s plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq has inflamed passions among the restive Sunni Arab minority, bringing new recruits to insurgent cells and outpourings of popular anger toward the U.S., the spokesman for the country’s most hard-line Sunni clerical group declared Sunday.

“Iraq is like a fire,” said Mohammed Bashar Faidi, spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Assn. “Instead of putting water on the fire, Bush is pouring gasoline.” […]

Faidi said Bush’s calls for increased troops had only roused suspicions of imminent offensives on Sunni districts of Baghdad and Al Anbar province and spurred a sudden “mobilization” among Sunnis, according to clerics and prayer leaders who contacted him by telephone from Iraq.

…and neither are the Kurds.

The arrest of the Iranians by U.S. forces at a liaison office in the northern city of Irbil last week exposed a growing rift…. Kurdish legislators condemned the raid as illegal. […]

Although the Iranians were not accredited diplomats, they worked in a well-known office, approved by the Kurdish regional government, that offers consular services and is on its way to gaining accreditation as a formal consulate….

Kurdish officials said the United States should have contacted the regional government before launching the raid.

It’s quite a plan, isn’t it? Bush told 60 Minutes last night, “I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude and I believe most Iraqis express that.” I guess it depends on what the president means by “most.”