Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Gadflyer's Memo To The Hawks

The Gadflyer has a response to hawk who are gearing up to blame the lack of public support for "losing" the war in Iraq:

You knew--or certainly should have known--that there are a lot of us and we'll never support a war unless it's clearly necessary. You just can't face that simple reality so you never plan for it....

Sure, you hawks can convince a lot of folks in the beginning of a war that it's an absolutely necessary fight, but as it drags on and people have a chance to think it through, they realize that that bad guy wasn't so bad, at least not for us--and certainly not as bad as the neighbors' kid coming back all mangled. And, after all, wasn't that bad guy 6,000 miles away?

When those conversations hit Main Street, we become the majority. And then you bitch and moan about it like you never saw it coming....

What's more, we are just as firm in our sense of moral superiority as you and your 'honor thy country' crowd are in yours. You don't understand how we can fail to support our president and our troops, and we can't understand how you can betray those troops by blindly supporting a president who sends them into harm's way for anything less than the most noble purpose.

I guess it's an irreconcilable difference. But it would be nice if you planned to lose the country's support beforehand instead of whining about it afterwards. If you factored it into your calculus and chose a course other than war, we'd be happy and the world would be a little less bloody.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The President's Speech

There is nothing major new in the President's speech, so I'll just comment on one section:

I recognize that Americans want our troops to come home as quickly as possible. So do I. Some contend that we should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces. Let me explain why that would be a serious mistake. Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis - who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done. It would send the wrong message to our troops - who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy - who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out. We will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed - and not a day longer.

Since Bush wants our troops to remain in Iraq until the mission is completed, let's back up in the speech to find out what our current mission is:

Our mission in Iraq is clear. We are hunting down the terrorists. We are helping Iraqis build a free nation that is an ally in the war on terror. We are advancing freedom in the broader Middle East. We are removing a source of violence and instability - and laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren.

This makes in supremely unclear how we will determine when to leave Iraq. At the risk of beating an obvious point to death, I'll take this one goal at a time.

  1. "hunting down the terrorists:" This part of the mission will be completed when we get tired of hunting down terrorists in Iraq. That's hardly a bright line telling us when it's time to withdraw.
  2. "helping Iraqis build a free nation:" Again, this is a pretty open ended commitment. They have an elected government now, so if we haven't completed this mission yet, it's hard to say what event would constitute the completion of the mission.
  3. "...that is an ally in the war on terror:" That's a rather presumptuous goal unless we are trying to create a puppet government.
  4. "advancing freedom in the broader Middle East:" So the timing of our withdrawal depends on events in the greater Middle East, not just in Iraq?
  5. "removing a source of violence and instability:" Bush doesn't bother to identify this "source," so we have to guess what he means. My guess is that he is referring to Saddam Hussein, in which case this part of the mission is already accomplished.
  6. "laying the foundation of peace for our children and our grandchildren:" And how in the world are we supposed to know whether we have achieved this, or even whether we are getting closer to achieving it?

Bottom line: with this mission, it's basicly meaningless to say that we will stay until the mission is completed.

With that in mind, Bush's claimed reasons for refusing to give a timetable for withdrawal look unconvincing. I think it is important to make clear to the Iraqi people that we are not going to stay indefinitely. I think our soldiers are prepared to withdraw from Iraq when our government determines that it is in our national interest to do so. And I think that the insurgents are planning to wait us out in any case. The insurgents won't be defeated by us; they will be defeated, if at all, by there fellow Iraqis.

Bush's speech continued:

Some Americans ask me, if completing the mission is so important, why don't you send more troops? If our commanders on the ground say we need more troops, I will send them. But our commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight. And sending more Americans would suggest that we intend to stay forever - when we are in fact working for the day when Iraq can defend itself and we can leave. As we determine the right force level, our troops can know that I will continue to be guided by the advice that matters - the sober judgment of our military leaders.

This illustrates the disconnect from reality of this Administration. If Bush read the newspapers, he would understand the problem: when we go into a city and defeat the insurgents, we don't have enough troops to continue to secure the city. We leave, and the insurgents come back. If commanders aren't requesting more troops, it's because they know that such requests would not be welcomed by the White House. Bush's assertion that he would send more troops is an empty promise--we don't have more troops to send.

Bush's speech has done nothing to reassure me that he has a reasonable plan to achieve a decent result in Iraq and get our troops out.

Next Debate Question - Will We All Ever Agree That Iraq Was Right or Wrong?

The next question is posted:

If Iraq becomes a real and stable democracy, will we all be able to agree it was worth it? If Iraq descends into anarchy or a terrorist-supporting theocracy, will we all be able to agree we made a mistake?

I think it is going to be hard to get an agreement that Iraq was worth it even if all goes well, because of the opportunity costs. One of these is the war against al Qaeda et al. According to Seymour Hersh,

By early March, 2002, a former White House official told me, it was understood by many in the White House that the President had decided, in his own mind, to go to war. The undeclared decision had a devastating impact on the continuing struggle against terrorism. The Bush Administration took many intelligence operations that had been aimed at Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world and redirected them to the Persian Gulf. Linguists and special operatives were abruptly reassigned, and several ongoing anti-terrorism intelligence programs were curtailed.
If al Qaeda fades away, this will be a minor footnote in the history books. If not, people in the future will be amazed that even after 9/11, fighting al Qaeda wasn't the top foreign policy goal of the United States.

A second opportunity cost is that we haven't stopped the genocide in Darfur. When told about Clinton's inaction on the Rwandan genocide, Bush is reported to have declared, "Not on my watch." But as a result of Iraq, we have neither the troops to intervene nor the international standing to shame other contries into addressing the issue. Because of Darfur, I don't think that Iraq can be justified on humantiarian grounds, no matter how much it improves the lot of people living in Iraq.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Yellow Line Debate Series on Terrorism and Iraq

The Yellow Line blog is having a debate on a series of questions about Iraq and Terrorism. It's a nice idea.

Question 9 (which includes links to the earlier questions) is:

What do you feel should be the next steps in the War on Terror?
What steps do you think the Bush administration will take?

I don't have a real clear idea of what the "War on Terror" is. I would therefore replace this question with questions about the following:

  1. The war against al Qaeda and affiliates. These are the people who attacked us on 9/11.

  2. The war in Iraq. I opposed this, in large part because I believed that al Qaeda and affiliates were a bigger threat than Iraq, but we are there now and must figure out how to deal with the situation.

  3. Nuclear proliferation. I include this because if al Qaeda or one of its affiliates obtains nuclear weapons, we will be facing an existential threat.

None of these three problems are easy to address, and I won't try to do so in this short note. But I think they are important problems worthy of discussion.

Washington Monthly Appeal for Cooper

Charles Peters, founding editor of The Washington Monthly makes an appeal on behalf of Matt Cooper. I was going to write something critical about it, but 150 commenters on the site have beat me to it. Although Peters doesn't mention it, Cooper is a Washington Monthly contributing editor in addition to being an employee of Time, so I can see why Peters might feel an obligation to him. But the comments make clear that his appeal is ineffective.

Patrick Fitzgerald hasn't been leaking information to reporters. This creates an information vacuum which allows critics to assume the worst about him, but it also suggests to me that Fitzgerald is a man of integrity. My guess is that he hasn't issued those subpoenas lightly.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


Thirteen C.I.A. agents have been indicted in Italy, and another six are under investigation. It's a safe bet that the usefulness of the 13 who have been indicted, and probably the usefulness of all 19, has come to an end. The 13 will become fugitives from justice, probably hiding out in the United States with the help of the C.I.A.

This is the same Administration that outed Valerie Plame as a C.I.A. agent. It's the same Administration that destroyed our ability to monitor the communications of Syria's embassy in Baghdad.

The New York Times says:

"We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city," a senior Italian investigator said. "We supplied them information about Abu Omar, and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network."

Abu Omar may be in an Egyptian jail, but what about the rest of his network?

According to Cheney, "America has been in too many wars for any of our wishes, but not a one of them was won by being sensitive." And it appears that when Cheney said he didn't see a need to be sensitive to our allies, he meant it. The Italians may continue to share intelligence with us, but the message to the world is clear: the Bush Administration is not a good partner.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Rove Is Right - We Seek Understanding, Like Sun Tzu

Rather than echoing liberal outrage at Karl Rove's recent remarks, Paul Rosenberg takes on Rove's underlying claim that conservatives are better equipped than liberal to fight terrorism. Unlike Rove, Rosenberg supports his position with quotes from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Excellent.

It's Never the Republican's Fault

Karl Rove's recent coments include the following:

Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger.

And indeed, there is an Al Jazeera article which begins as follows:

A US senator has refused to apologise for comparing the actions of US soldiers at Guantanamo Bay to those of Nazis, while others have decried or defended the mandate and method used to hold prisoners there.

US Senator Dick Durbin on Wednesday refused to apologise for comments he made on the Senate floor referring to Nazis, Soviet gulags and a "mad regime" like Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Illinois Republican party chairman Andy McKenna had demanded he apologise.

As Karl Rove and anyone else who has paid attention to the story knows, the reason that al Jazeera is covering the story is because the right wing spin machine decided to make it into a story. Indeed, al Jazeera mentions Andy McKenna by name as one of the one of the people responsible for turning Durbin's remarks into a news story.

This is, you might think, a pretty bold move by Rove: Going to a fundraiser and accusing Republicans of putting our troops in great danger. But apparently Rove didn't see it that way, because the complete paragraph is:

Let me put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts to the region the words of Senator Durbin, certainly putting America's men and women in uniform in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals.

Our national discourse has reached the point where Rove can accuse Republicans of endangering our troops, throw in a non-sequitur reference to liberals, and be confident that his audience will blame liberals for what the Republicans did.

In fact, it's worse than that. I've seen no evidence that the lives of our troops have been placed in danger. Certainly Rove doesn't present any. So it appears that Rove has made up the charge that Republicans are endangering our troops, purely so that he could redirect the blame at liberals. If that's not bizarre, I don't know what is.

UPDATE (Saturday, June 25, 2005): Apparently Rove was lying when he said that al Jazeera broadcast Durbin's words. Abu Aardvark says:

I just ran a FBIS search (Foreign Broadcast Information Service - which monitors and translates foreign broadcasts for the American government). "Durbin" in the year 2005 for reports coming from Doha (where al-Jazeera broadcasts) turns up zero hits. "Guantanamo" turns up 17 hits, none of which mention the remarks of the Senator from Illinois.

Before the Downing Street Memo, there was Plan of Attack

Bob Woodward's book Plan of Attack made a big splash when it was released, but has largely faded from public discourse. The book is not available on line, so Bob Somerby provides a six part series that reminds us how the book described the Bush Administration fixing the intelligence and facts around the policy, to use the phrasing from the Downing Street Memo. The first four parts don't have their own web pages; to find them follow the links and search for "Downing". The last part has not been posted as I write this, but might be by the time you read this.

Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6

You can also read this old article in Slate, which lists some of the high points of the book, though its selection emphasizes cute over substantive.

My impression of Woodward's books is that his sources are all trying to promote the president or to describe their own successes. And Woodward, for his part, does try to be accurate and complete, and does a pretty good job of getting the real story, including a few things that his souces might rather not see published. He then writes it up using a nonjudgemental writing style that comes across as somewhat lauditory.

Take for example this passage from Bush at War (page 83):

[Rice's] fears were shared by others, which led to a different discussion: Should they think about launching military action elsewhere as an insurance policy in case things in Afghanistan went bad? The would need successes early in the war to maintain domestic and international support.
There's not a hint of outrage that the Bush Administration would consider launching military action for public relations purposes. There's nothing to highlight this scoop. That's why Woodward could include information like this in Bush at War and still get the White House to cooperate with his reseach for his next book, Plan of Attack.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Bush Isn't Rude, He's Just Clueless

Bush and Jaafari's joint news conference ended with a question to Jaafari by an Iraqi reporter. The reporter made it really, really clear who the question was for:

Mr. Prime Minister, I am a presenter on radio in Iraq. My question is for you. For more than two years we've started a change in Iraq, but the process of building is very slow. There are secure cities in Iraq, Samarra and Kurdistan. When will you begin the reconstruction in Iraq? When do we begin to establish the first bases of reconstruction? And you know that if you started reconstruction in Iraq it will mean that young people will have something to do, and they will leave terrorist activities. So the question is for Mr. Prime Minister. There were discussions held with the President Bush, and the most important thing you discussed with him we want to know about it.

The questioner begins the question by addressing the Prime Minister. But, as though it occurred to him that there might be someone listening to him who is really, really slow, he repeats the point: "the question is for Mr. Prime Minister."

So what happens next? Bush jumps in and says:

Sometimes we don't tell you things, you know.

No, we discussed a lot of important things. We discussed democracy, we discussed having the constitution there, and we discussed security, we discussed reconstruction.

We are spending reconstruction money, but, you know, you need to ask that to the government. They're in charge. It's your government, not ours. This is the government that is -- that has got the ministries in place that spends the money. We're willing to help, and we have helped. And I want to thank the Congress and the American people for their generosity in helping Iraq rebuild. And we're spending money.

But, remember, your question kind of made it seem like -- that we're in charge. We're not. You had elections; 8.5 million people voted, and this good man is now in charge of the government. I don't want to be passing the buck, as we say, but we're more than willing to help reconstruction efforts, but this is a sovereign government --

PRIME MINISTER JAAFARI: Thank you, very much.

PRESIDENT BUSH: -- with an elected Prime Minister by the people of Iraq. And so we want to look forward to working with the government. Our role is to help. His role is to govern and lead. And we've got the money allocated. Obviously, it's important to get electricity to the Iraqi citizens and clean water to the Iraqi citizens. And, you know, I was pleased to see the other day when I was reading that there's a lot of air traffic in and out of the airport now, quite a lot of air traffic. In other words, there's commerce beginning to develop. We want to be helpful. But the responsibility rests with the people who the Iraqi people elected. And that's you, Mr. Prime Minister.

When Bush jumped in to answer the question, rather than letting the Prime Minister go first, I cringed at the sight of our President having such a huge ego that he couldn't wait for Jaafari to answer the question before making his own comments about it. But then we got to, "You need to ask that to the government." Uh, Mr. Bush, the questioner did ask the government.

Hopefully, Iraqi's will conclude that Bush didn't intentionally upstage their prime minister and that Bush's answer was not intended to be patronizing even though it sounded that way. But wouldn't it be nice if we had a president who could hold a joint press conference without leaving us hoping that foreigners will forgive his screwups?

Karl Rove vs. National Security

Juan Cole does a nice riff on Karl Rove's recent remarks.

The problem our country faces is that Rove and company are so good at manipulating public opinion that there is little incentive for Bush to actually care about America's national security. This is not to say that public opinion hasn't done anything to push Bush in the right direction. For example:

"To the extent that we define our task broadly," Cheney said, "including those who support terrorism, then we get at the states. And it's easier to find them than to find bin Laden."

"Start with bin Laden," Bush said, "which Americans expect."

[Bush at War, by Bob Woodward, pg. 43]

Unfortunately, Bush didn't keep the pressure on bin Laden once a bit of time had passed:

I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority.

Bush received some criticism for this, but Rove has still managed to convince the public that Bush is strong on national security. In theory, when the public is basicly agreed on an issue (we all want national security), politicians in a democracy will give the country what it wants in order to get elected. With Bush and Karl Rove, our democracy no longer functions that way. And the problem won't disappear when Karl Rove leaves the political scene, because now that Rove has shown the way, there are plenty of people with the ability to copy his approach.

Honesty and the War in Iraq

David Brooks has finally decided that honesty is a good thing:

On Tuesday, Senator Joe Biden gave a speech in Washington on Iraq, after his most recent visit. It was, in some ways, a model of what the president needs to tell the country in the weeks ahead. It was scathing about the lack of progress in many areas. But it was also constructive. "I believe we can still succeed in Iraq," he said. Biden talked about building the coalition at home that is necessary if we are to get through the 2006 election cycle without a rush to the exits. [The speech is available on the web.]

Biden's speech brought to mind something Franklin Roosevelt told the country on Feb. 23, 1942: "Your government has unmistakable confidence in your ability to hear the worst, without flinching or losing heart. You must, in turn, have complete confidence that your government is keeping nothing from you except information that will help the enemy in his attempt to destroy us."

That's how democracies should fight, even in the age of polling.

Brooks is right, but he can't quite bring himself to say directly that Bush hasn't been honest, or to address the problem that Bush shows no inclination to change. Not surprisingly, Krugman doesn't share this inclination to pussyfoot around the problem:'s crucial that those responsible for the war be held to account.

Let me explain. The United States will soon have to start reducing force levels in Iraq, or risk seeing the volunteer Army collapse. Yet the administration and its supporters have effectively prevented any adult discussion of the need to get out.

On one side, the people who sold this war, unable to face up to the fact that their fantasies of a splendid little war have led to disaster, are still peddling illusions: the insurgency is in its "last throes," says Dick Cheney. On the other, they still have moderates and even liberals intimidated: anyone who suggests that the United States will have to settle for something that falls far short of victory is accused of being unpatriotic.

We need to deprive these people of their ability to mislead and intimidate. And the best way to do that is to make it clear that the people who led us to war on false pretenses have no credibility, and no right to lecture the rest of us about patriotism.

Alas, I fear Krugman is right. It may be that a reasonable resolution in Iraq is dependent on Democrats winning the political framing battle here at home. And based on past performance, I'd have to say that the odds are against that.

Brooks argues that it is too early to "pass judgement on the overall trajectory of the war" and that therefore we have to keep fighting. But the overall trajectory of the war is partially predictable.

Brooks acknowedges that one of the difficulties we face in Iraq is that, "There aren't enough U.S. troops to hold the ground they conquer." That's true, and not because the United States lacks the resources to hold that ground. The United States could hold that ground, and thereby render the insurgency vastly less effective, by deploying less than 1% of the American population to Iraq. We can't increase the number of troops on the ground immediately, but we could institute a draft right now and begin training people.

If we did that, the insurgents would realize that they were facing an America that was just as determined to win this fight as they were. That's not going to happen, because Americans, including President Bush, simply aren't all that determined to win.

Bush said that, "We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out." But the insurgents have every reason to believe that they can wait us out, regardless of whether we publish a timetable.

So at one level the overall trajectory of the war seems pretty clear. We will eventually withdraw our troops, and the insurgents will claim that they have defeated the United States. We will also be able to claim victory because the goals we set at the start of the war (removing Saddam Hussein from power and seizing his WMD) are either accomplished or moot. What is up in the air is when this will occur, and what the situation in Iraq will be at that time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Republican Talking Points Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink

David Sirota writes about the dishonest GOP spin machine, and how it is helped by self-identified progressives/liberals/democrats such as Ari Melber.

Sirota's view is that people like Ari Melber are "only interested in promoting their name at the expense of others," and he may be right about Melber. But I think there is another factor at work here.

The strand of liberalism I identify most closely with is pragmatic and relatively nonideological. Consider the Brookings Institution, which is perhaps the premire liberal think tank in Washington. It was "was founded on the principles that research, expertise and administrative competence were needed for government efficiency." In contrast, its conservative counterpart, the Heritage Foundation, was founded "to formulate and promote conservative public policies." The liberal notion that we are all in this together and should be working together for the common good is reflected in the Brooking's mission. In contrast, the Heritage Foundation's purpose is to do battle against the liberals.

Matt Miller comes from the same strand of liberalism, to judge by his NY Times column titled "Is Persuasion Dead?" But let's see how that worked out in the first column he wrote for the NY Times. Miller says that Democrats shouldn't call Bush's proposed Social Security benefit cuts "cuts," because they aren't cuts if you measure them the way that the Republican talking point does. However, it is standard in financial planning to measure retirement income as a percentage of pre-retirement income, and by that measure, Bush's cuts are cuts.

I think it is pretty clear what happened. Miller doesn't appear to have any expertise in financial planning. So he heard the Republican talking point, thought about it, failed to spot the flaw in it, and accepted it as valid. I can't really blame Miller for this. Everybody makes mistakes, and I don't think it is reasonable to expect a columnist to become an expert on finance before commenting on Social Security. But when liberal columnists endorse misleading Republican talking points, we have a problem.

Whenever I think about the state of political discourse today, I find myself feeling pessimistic. The conservative approach to politics strikes me as fundamentally unpatriotic. In my view, Americans should care more about America than about the success of a political party. At the same time, I can't deny that it has been successful. As far as I can see, the left has no choice other than to copy some of the techiques used by the right. The Center for American Progress is a liberal think tank designed to counter conservative think tanks like Heritage. Air America Radio is breaking the conservative monopoly on political talk radio. The challenge is to avoid selling out our souls for political success.

Wither this blog?

David Sirota has linked to one of my blog entries, which makes me an official, if marginal, member of the blogger community.

Can I hope for this blog to ever become non-marginal? I must admit that the prognosis doesn't look that good. A few problems:

  1. I am not a fast writer. I think that the quality of my prose is decent, if unexceptional, but I have this unfortunate tendency to struggle over wording. A successful blog has to be updated regularly, which is a lot easier to do if you write quickly.

  2. I'm not really a political junkie, which makes it hard to write about politics all the time. I could write about a variety of topics rather than just focussing on politics, but I don't think that that approach works for readers, who want to know what to expect when they visit a blog.

  3. The market for political blogs is pretty saturated. The time to start a major blog of political commentary was a few years ago. Now, even if I somehow manage to equal the brilliance and insightfulness of the best of the existing blogs, there is little reason for people to switch to reading me rather than the blogs they are currently reading.

Of course, rather than trying for brilliance, I could go for stupidity. Donald Luskin seems to be pretty dumb, but Brad DeLong links to him all the time. I think that approach only works for people who have jobs writing commentary. Luskin isn't entirely stupid, because he's figured out how to get paid for writing stupid things.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sirota and Melber on National Security

David Sirota blasts Ari Melber for blasting Democrats in the New York Post. I don't know Ari Melber's motives for writing the piece, but it does read like something written by a partisan Republican, which would be fine except that Melber is a Democrat.

Melbar not only attacks Democrats; he misrepresents the polling data he uses:

Exactly 50 percent of Democrats do not believe dismantling al Qaeda should be a top foreign-policy goal. In fact, when recently asked to name the top two "most important foreign policy goals," more Democrats worried about outsourcing than about al Qaeda.

I found the poll Ari Melber is referring to on the web. The poll didn't ask people to name the top two most important policy goals; it asked them to rate the importance of a number of policy goals on a scale of one to ten. (Different people were asked about different policy goals.)

"Breaking up the al Qaeda terror network" was rated a 10 by 58% of all respondents, and by 50% of Democrats. That's not a huge difference. Nobody likes al Qaeda.

The related goal of "capturing Osama bin Laden" was given a rating of 10 by 45% of all individuals polled and 48% of Democrats.

The poll did not ask about outsourcing.

More from Melber:

[The poll] also indicated Democrats are growing more hesitant to support the use of military force....

The Century Foundation poll found 71 percent of Democrats say the Iraq War made them more reluctant to support the use of force "in the future."

Call it dovish contagion: The arguments against attacking Iraq became the default narrative of Democratic policy.

This refers to the question that reads: "Some people say they will more cautious about the use of military force in the future because of what's happening in Iraq. How about you? Do you think you will be more reluctant to support the use of American military force in the future?" The respondent is supposed to say how much more or less reluctant he is. Saying that your general views on the use of military force have not changed is not one of the permitted responses. Since the question is biased in favor of the "dovish" position and the permitted responses assume that "contagion" has occured, the responses provide no real evidence of "dovish contagion."

Incidentally, 56% of Republicans said that the Iraq War made them more likely to support the use of military force in the future. Melber could have interpreted this to mean that Republicans are determined to repeat their mistakes. But he only targets Democrats. That's what I meant about him sounding like a partisan Republican.

Now He Tells Us

From The Daily Howler, we learn that last Sunday, NBC's David Gregory said:
Janice Rogers most accounts on the right and the left did not have the judicial temperament, to be considered in this zone of fair-minded people to be on the courts. There are people in the White House who have told me, who worked on this, that she had a very difficult time getting along with other people in California, on the high court there.
People on the right including people in the White House are alleged to have problems with her judicial temperment. Too bad we weren't told this before the vote.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

How I felt about invading Iraq

A Comment by hilzoy over on TPMCafe captures what I thought about the Iraq war so well that I will quote the entire thing here. The post hilzoy is responding to said in part, "It is with chagrin that I admit that the 'radical left' was more correct than the CIA and the national security establishment with regards to whether Saddam was a threat. But...they were reflexively anti-war, and in this case, their automatic position turned out to be right."

Well: I'm about to pile on with everyone else, so let me just start by saying that I take you at your word that you want to figure out how to criticize people civilly, and hope that you'll take this as an attempt to explain what I think needs changing, not as an attack. I should also say that I am not the sort of person you seem to be thinking of when you talk about the 'radical left'. But:

Other people have pointed out that it's both odd and probably unproductive to say that only a few 'serious people' opposed the war in Iraq. I agree with them. But there's another odd rhetorical move in your comment: in your original post, you said that the radical left 'opposed Afghanistan', but in this coment, miraculously everyone who opposed the war, with the exception of a few 'serious people', was on the radical left. That is: you seem to have written those of us who opposed the war in Iraq but not the war in Afghanistan completely out of the picture.

If that reflects your asssumptions, then I can see how you'd feel frustrated at the thought that oddly enough, they were right and you were wrong. But that assumption is not true. I, for instance, supported Gulf I, Kosovo, and Afghanistan; and I would have supported trying to stop the genocide in Rwanda by force. I am 'antiwar' in the sense that, other things equal, war is never my preference, but not at all in the sense that I think wars can never be justified.

I think that the burden of proof is always on those who want to go to war, not just because wars kill people, but also because they have all sorts of unforeseen consequences, often bad. I think this burden of proof is especially heavy when there's no consensus that the war is justified, both because in that case one probably won't be able to get either a security council resolution favoring it or the sort of broad consensus in its favor that we had in Kosovo, and also because I think that when a lot of people don't get what you're doing, you should wonder whether they might be right.

In this case, I thought that burden was not met. For one thing, I thought we needed to stay focussed on al Qaeda, and I couldn't see how we could fight a war in Iraq without losing that focus. Second, I saw no evidence that Saddam had cooperated with al Qaeda. Moreover, this struck me as antecedently implausible: Saddam was a control freak, and al Qaeda was an uncontrollable organization. (I mean: I thought that terrorists would be likely to gravitate towards failed or very weak states like Afghanistan, not tightly controlled totalitarian dictatorships.)

Third, I thought that if we were going to do this at all, we needed to do it right. Screwing up a war is bad in general, but in Iraq it would be disastrous. (Civil war. Secession. The Turks trying to block a Kurdish state. On and on, and all of it bad.) But the Bush administration's approach to Afghanistan convinced me that they would not do it right, and might well do it disastrously.

Fourth, I believed Saddam had WMD (chem and/or bio, not nuclear), at least at first, but I did not believe he would sell them. (Control freak with enough oil revenue not to be desperate for the money.) And I certainly never theought he could deliver them to this country.

Fifth, I stopped believing that Iraq had nuclear weapons sometime around January. I thought that the administration had to be giving Hans Blix information, since it would strengthen their case immeasurably if he found evidence of WMD, but also since it was such a perfect way for them to check out their intelligence. When Blix came up empty, I thought: plainly our intelligence is not as good as the administration seems to think. We had to be telling him where to look, and he was finding nothing.

Finally, I also thought that this war would be disastrous for our image in the region, and that it would make people who would not otherwise join al Qaeda or groups like it do so.

So for all these reasons, I thought this war was a spectacularly bad idea. You may agree with my reasons and you may disagree with them, but I don't think they're self-evidently stupid. Nor do I think they show an insufficient concern for our security: I was watching us move towards war with a kind of horror, thinking: but what about al Qaeda? What about the people who actually attacked us?

So: that's me. While I was thinking these thoughts, there were all sorts of people going on about how opponents of the war just didn't get it, weren't sufficiently serious, and so forth. And it was the fact that they never seemed to so much as entertain the idea that there was any reason why someone might disagree with them other than some sort of non-seriousness or idiocy that was, if memory serves, particularly annoying.

And so now, reading a comment in which you seem to assume that the entire part of the spectrum that's filled by people who opposed only this war, but who did not oppose Afghanistan (or Gulf War I, or Kosovo...) -- well, it's the same thing. It's identifying lots of people who have perfectly reasonable views, and who are moreover quite serious about national security, with another group entirely.

And when you add in apparent bafflement that you could have been wrong while these peculiar people whom you assume to have been out on the fringe somewhere were right -- it just brings back so many old memories ;)

I think the way to criticize people you disagree with is: with respect. It would go a long way.

After 9/11, I wanted a president who would go after the terrorists, not persue his pet project of finishing what his father started in Iraq.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Lying us into War is Wrong

Michael J.W. Stickings seems to think that lying us into war is OK. But his writing is slightly ambiguous, so I'll let him speak for himself:

As it turns out, based on a more careful reading of the documents in question, there really isn't much that's at all surprising. Bush was planning (even itching) to go to war even as he was talking diplomacy, even as he wasn't being straightforward with the American people. So what? Isn't that generally what "war" leaders do? It would have been foolhardly to publicize his intentions too early, and equally stupid not to start planning for war well ahead of the invasion.

Stickings talks about "planning" here. The issue isn't the creation of a plan for the war--the U.S. military has plans for invading all sorts of countries on file just in case they should be needed. The issue is that Bush decided to invade Iraq and then lied about this to Congress and the American people in order to get a Congressional Resolution authorizing the war.

Bush didn't have to lie about his intentions to launch the war in Afghanistan because in that case there was a clear case for war. In the case of Iraq, Bush didn't have a clear case, or at least nothing I would catagorize that way. So he tried to use people's patriotism against them by claiming that he was seeking to use the threat of military force to get Iraq to disarm. That puts someone like myself in the position where anything I say questioning the wisdom of going to war with Iraq has the potential to convince Saddam not to take the threat seriously. The result is that Bush and his supporters had the opportunity to go around the country advocating war without having being seriously challenged on the weaknesses of their arguments.

Yes, I'm mad. Patriotism is something that the president--any president--should encourage. It shouldn't be treated as a weakness to be exploited because that undermines the very idea of patriotism.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Proof Bush lied us into war

The Downing Street memo has been heavily covered by others. I will lay out what I think is the clearest case against Bush. The report states:
C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

That was July 23, 2002. But in public, Bush continued to insist that no decision to go to war had been made. And on Oct. 7, Bush made the case for Congress to authorize military action:

Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable. The resolution will tell the United Nations, and all nations, that America speaks with one voice and is determined to make the demands of the civilized world mean something. Congress will also be sending a message to the dictator in Iraq: that his only chance -- his only choice is full compliance, and the time remaining for that choice is limited.
If Bush had said that he had already decided to go to war, the resolution might have failed. For example, Kerry would not have voted for it. Bush's lies played a key role.

Withholding the cost of the Medicare drug prescription program was bad enough. But if the Downing Street memo is correct--and Bush hasn't said it isn't--Bush lied to get Congress to go to war. If Bush lied about that, he will lie about anything.

UPDATE (Wednesday, June 8, 2005): Bush has denied that he had made the decision to go to war at the time the Downing Memo was written. "There's nothing farther from the truth."

I include this denial for completeness, but I honestly don't see a reason to give it any weight. You may recall that in the third presidential debate Bush denied saying that the wasn't very concerned about bin Laden, even though he made the statement in a nationally televised press conference. Bush's statements about his past are not reliable.

Amnesty International and Darfur

The rather over-the-top suggestion in the forward to the Amnesty International report that Guantanimo Bay was the "gulag of our time" did succeed in at least one case: It got me to move the report to the top of my reading list.

I suppose it's worth noting that Bush's claim that the Amnesty International report is "absurd" is more than over the top. He's characterizing the entire report as absurd based on a single sentence. And even that one sentence is not exactly absurd. A letter to the Washington Post [registration required] sumarizes it well:

The May 26 editorial chastised Amnesty International for drawing parallels between the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and the Soviet gulags. It noted that the size and scale of the facilities do not compare, nor does the frequency of human rights abuse. Points taken. But as a former Foreign Service officer who monitored Soviet prison abuse from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and Vietnamese abuse of prisoners in its "gulag" from the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, I note that abuses that I reported on in those inhumane systems parallel abuses reported in Guantanamo, at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison: prisoners suspended from the ceiling and beaten to death; widespread "waterboarding"; prisoners "disappeared" to preclude monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross -- and all with almost no senior-level accountability.

I am dismayed to find any such similarities with previous gulags.


News reports might give you the impression that the United States was the primary topic of the report, but the forward starts out talking about crisis in Darfur. In today's New York Times, Kristof talks about the systematic rape of women in Darfur.

Doctors Without Borders issued an excellent report in March noting that it alone treated almost 500 rapes in a four-and-a-half-month period. Sudan finally reacted to the report a few days ago - by arresting an Englishman and a Dutchman working for Doctors Without Borders.
Kristof ends his column as follows:
I'm still chilled by the matter-of-fact explanation I received as to why it is women who collect firewood, even though they're the ones who are raped. The reason is an indication of how utterly we are failing the people of Darfur, two years into the first genocide of the 21st century.

"It's simple," one woman here explained. "When the men go out, they're killed. The women are only raped."

Under Clinton, the Democrats came around to the proposition that genocide had to be stopped. If one wants to read a partisan political message into the Amnesty International report, as conservatives seem determined to do, it should be this: The biggest losers in the 2000 presidential election weren't the Democrats. The biggest losers were the people now being raped and murdered in Darfur.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

America's DNA

Thomas Friedman has an interesting article about the effects of the 9/11 attacks on America's soft power:
I worry that 20 years from now [people will write about] how America's reaction to 9/11 unintentionally led to an erosion of core elements of American identity. What sparks such dark thoughts on a trip from London to New Delhi?

In part it is the awful barriers that now surround the U.S. Embassy in London on Grosvenor Square. "They have these cages all around the embassy now, and these huge concrete blocks, and the whole message is: 'Go away!'" said Kate Jones, a British literary agent who often walks by there. "That is how people think of America now, and it's a really sad thing because that is not your country."

In part it was a conversation with friends in London, one a professor at Oxford, another an investment banker, both of whom spoke about the hassles, fingerprinting, paperwork and costs that they, pro-American professionals, now must go through to get a visa to the U.S.

In part it was a recent chat with the folks at Intel about the obstacles they met trying to get visas for Muslim youths from Pakistan and South Africa who were finalists for this year's Intel science contest. And in part it was a conversation with M.I.T. scientists about the new restrictions on Pentagon research contracts - in terms of the nationalities of the researchers who could be involved and the secrecy required - that were constricting their ability to do cutting-edge work in some areas and forcing intellectual capital offshore. The advisory committee of the World Wide Web recently shifted its semiannual meeting from Boston to Montreal so as not to put members through the hassle of getting visas to the U.S.

The other day I went to see the play "Billy Elliot" in London. During intermission, a man approached me and asked, "Are you Mr. Friedman?" When I said yes, he introduced himself - Emad Tinawi, a Syrian-American working for Booz Allen. He told me that while he disagreed with some things I wrote, there was one column he still keeps. "It was the one called, 'Where Birds Don't Fly,' " he said.

I remembered writing that headline, but I couldn't remember the column. Then he reminded me: It was about the new post-9/11 U.S. Consulate in Istanbul, which looks exactly like a maximum-security prison, so much so that a captured Turkish terrorist said that while his pals considered bombing it, they concluded that the place was so secure that even birds couldn't fly there. Mr. Tinawi and I then swapped impressions about the corrosive impact such security restrictions were having on foreigners' perceptions of America.

In New Delhi, the Indian writer Gurcharan Das remarked to me that with each visit to the U.S. lately, he has been forced by border officials to explain why he is coming to America. They "make you feel so unwanted now," said Mr. Das. America was a country "that was always reinventing itself," he added, because it was a country that always welcomed "all kinds of oddballs" and had "this wonderful spirit of openness." American openness has always been an inspiration for the whole world, he concluded. "If you go dark, the world goes dark."

Bottom line: We urgently need a national commission to look at all the little changes we have made in response to 9/11 - from visa policies to research funding, to the way we've sealed off our federal buildings, to legal rulings around prisoners of war - and ask this question: While no single change is decisive, could it all add up in a way so that 20 years from now we will discover that some of America's cultural and legal essence - our DNA as a nation - has become badly deformed or mutated?

This would be a tragedy for us and for the world. Because, as I've argued, where birds don't fly, people don't mix, ideas don't get sparked, friendships don't get forged, stereotypes don't get broken, and freedom doesn't ring.

Thomas Friedman seems to have somewhat of a blind spot with regard to the Bush administration. He supported invading Iraq before the war, on the grounds that defeating Saddam would transform the region. After we invaded, he started blasting the Bush Administration for failing to manage the war in a way that would set the stage for this transformation. The question is, why was he surprised? Bush never expressed any interest in using the invasion as a lever to transform the region. And if Friedman wanted to get a pretty good indication of how Bush would manage a war, all he had to do was look at Afghanistan.

His proposal for a national commission shows a similar blind spot. What does the Bush Administration care about such long term effects? This is the Administration that managed to sour our trans-Atlantic relationships over Iraq. It doesn't take a commission to tell us that Guantanamo is hurting America's image abroad.

But if his proposed solution is wrong, his observations are interesting, particularly regarding the conflict between security and openness. I would think that creating architects could find ways to make our embassies more secure without creating the effect Friedman describes, at least for new buildings. Retrofitting an existing building, as was apparently done in London, is harder. As for visas, I don't know how much security the new procedures actually provide. I would guess that a determined terrorist likely to succeed in gaining entry to the United States in despite the new rules.