Saturday, October 30, 2004

Friday, October 29, 2004

Dropping A Bomb

British medical journal The Lancet is publishing a report issued by a group of American and Iraqi researchers led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in which they claim that more than 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since in the US invasion. This . story . is being . covered . all over . the . place. Prior to this, most media sources have been using as their reference as to how many civilians have been killed. While iraqbodycount only puts the count at 17,000, Scott Lipscomb, an associate professor at Northwestern who works on that project, says that they only count deaths specifically reported on in the media and that they've "always maintained that the actual count must be much higher." The reaction seems to be split between complete skepticism based on the sheer size of the number, and some level of deference to general credibility of Lancet and Johns Hopkins. I'm sure the spinners are already spinning, and the fallout will probably last about until, oh, next Wednesday, at which point nobody will give a crap.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"Just the One-Fingered Victory Salute"

Check it out. (Quicktime)

The Russians Took 'Em!

So says "Mr. Shaw," according to this FT story. "Mr. Shaw" reportedly heads "the Pentagon's international armament and technology trade directorate."

Larry Di Rita, the official Pentagon spokesperson, was none too pleased. “I am unaware of any particular information on that point.... I would be careful about information that has been asserted because I don't know how accurate it might be.”

Good advice, Larry. I have known for some time not to trust anything coming from the Pentagon -- or the Bush administration generally. But it always helps when people get the word out.

Did Anyone Think of Asking the Iraqis What Happened to the Explosives?

Well, AFP did. According to Mohammed al-Sharaa, who (according to AFP) heads the Iraqi science ministry's site-monitoring department, "[i]t is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall."

"The officials that were inside this facility [Al-Qaqaa] beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of."

Just to be sure you caught that, "which the US-led coalition was aware of."

Now, I don't know whether this guy is a crook or what, but don't you think other outlets should share what the Iraqi government has to say?

(Thanks again for the great coverage, Josh Marshall)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

101st Airborne Commander Confirms They Did Not Search Al-Qaqaa

As noted on TPM (Talking Points Memo), NYT reports in this story to be featured in tomorrow's paper that they did not look for any explosives at Al-Qaqaa:

"We happened to stumble on it," he said. "I didn't know what the place was supposed to be. We did not get involved in any of the bunkers. It was not our mission. It was not our focus. We were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad. The plan was to leave that very same day. The plan was not to go in there and start searching. It looked like all the other ammunition supply points we had seen already."
* * *
"I had given instructions, 'Don't mess around with those. It looks like they are bunkers; we're not messing around with those things. That's not what were here for,' " he said. "I thought we would be there for a few hours and move on. We ended up staying overnight."

More on Cirincione in Salon

So I took a closer look at that Salon article I mentioned in the last post, and lo and behold -- Cirincione addresses some of the questions I posed. He contends the administration knew all along that the explosives were there, but they did not do anything about it because of arrogance and because they held a disdain for the IAEA: "The administration didn't like the inspection reports they were getting out of the IAEA before the war, and they were determined to punish and humiliate them." Cirincione continues:

The administration knew it was there. Why didn't they do anything about it? It was arrogance. I think you have to say that this is not incompetence as much as it is arrogance. They simply did not believe that they were going to have an insurgent or terrorist problem after taking the country. Even when the insurgency began, apparently there was no effort to try to go back and secure these materials.

Later in the article, he identifies what to him is the question to ask from this:

A key question here is, Have U.S. officials known all along that these were the explosives that they were dealing with? People need to go back to Bush officials and start asking some hard questions about what kinds of explosives have been used.

Update on Al-Qaqaa Fiasco

There are two news articles that, in my view, give a good description of the story as it now stands.

First, MSNBC has this story explaining that at most, there is a three-week period where the explosives--all 770,000 pounds of them--could have been taken from the site. That story quotes one of NBC's journalists who was embedded with the 101st Airborne when they arrived at the site. Lai Ling Jew describes the scene and explains that “there wasn’t a search.... The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us."

Second, CSM provides this summary of various news coverage on the topic. In a Salon article that CSM references, Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is quoted as saying: "This is thousands and thousands of potential terrorist attacks.... It's like they knocked off the Fort Knox of explosives."

The media coverage is missing what I find to be the most important question here. If troops did search the Al-Qaqaa facility in Spring of 2003 and discovered that the explosives were gone, why did the US Government not report that to the IAEA? And how does that fit with the Bush Administration's position that the Pentagon did not learn of these missing explosives until after October 15, when the IAEA passed along the information it learned from the interim Iraqi government?

Of course, other questions remain unanswered too. For instance, what did the 3rd Infantry find when they got there on April 4th? According to this AP report, the troops found the explosives still under IAEA seal. And of course, where are the explosives now? Have they been used in the insurgency? And last, doesn't this demonstrate that there were not enough troops on the ground at the time of the invasion?

Disappointed With Slate

How in the hell did this story on Bush's tax cuts get past their fact checkers? The guy says nothing about where his numbers come from and they run absolutely contrary to those posted by the Congressional Budget Office. That report shows the tax rates on the top quintile dropping more on than any others, and that nobody's tax rate has fallen more than 11%. As a share of total tax revenues, the top quintile has dropped over the last 4 years, everybody else's share has increased to take up the slack. The Slate story is compete bullshit and they should be embarrassed to lend their (rapidly diminishing) credibility to it.

Eliot Spitzer - Super-Prosecutor

Slate has a nice profile on Eliot Spitzer. Not mentioned here, Spitzer also recently made news when it came out that his office is involved in a serious investigation of payola in the radio business, more news to follow. This is maybe not as critical as some of his other work, but it is a situation certainly worthy of attention and should be popular with the public.

Not Learning the Lesson

Apparently, back in March, even as the Abu Ghraib story was breaking, and even as the administration was trying to distance itself from the Justice Department's prior statements that international laws on torture didn't apply to the US, the Office of Legal Counsel was hard at work releasing an opinion stating that the CIA could remove prisoners from Iraq in contravention of the Geneva Convention, even as they acknowledge that this action constitutes a grave breach and a war crime under the terms of the convention. The Post article cites international law experts as calling the reasoning in the memo "unconventional and disturbing". These guys just don't take a hint...

Oh, Well That's Just Fine Then

I love the statement by VP Cheney quoted in story on Wired:

"If our troops had not gone into Iraq, that is 400,000 tonnes of weapons and explosives that would be in the hands of (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein..."

Well, who cares that Islamic militants and Al Qaeda affiliates have hundreds tons of high explosives, because otherwise Saddam would have them, and it's Saddam we're fighting here, not Al Qaeda. Right?

CNN Reports that NBC Reports that Troops Report that Explosives Already Gone

CNN's story discusses the comments made on NBC News TV last night that there was an embedded reporter with the 101st Airborne on April 10, 2003 when troops arrived at Al-QaQaa. And those troops reportedly found no HMX or RDX -- the nasty explosives that have now been declared missing.

Several points. First, I am really impressed that NBC has trained its reporters to recognize HMX and RDX -- for they must have been trained in order for them to vouch for what the troops found. Second, there is no story on MSNBC confirming what those NBC reporters did in fact see. Third, if that story is true, that means the troops (and hence, the DOD, knew the weapons were missing in the Spring of 2003 -- why didn't they do anything about it (like tell the IAEA) until October 2004? Fourth, that 101st Airborne visit on April 10, 2003 was not the first U.S. visit to that site post-invasion: According to this AP story of April 5, 2003, the 3rd Infantry Division had been to the site.

I hope the media keeps the pressure on so that we will get a straight story. And if we do get the straight story, I expect we will learn that there are some really crooked "folks" involved.

Monday, October 25, 2004

This Story Is Too Much Fun

The Bush campaign, citing an NBC news report from April 2003, said Monday night that the explosives were already missing from the depot when U.S. troops arrived there one day after the fall of Baghdad. "John Kerry's attacks today were baseless," Bush spokesman Steve Schmidt said. "He said American troops did not secure the explosives when the explosives were already missing."

Pentagon Endeavors to Keep Its Story Straight

I'm confused.

AP story this morning:
At the Pentagon, an official who monitors developments in Iraq said U.S.-led coalition troops had searched Al-Qaqaa in the immediate aftermath of the March 2003 invasion and confirmed that the explosives, under IAEA seal since 1991, were intact. Thereafter, the site was not secured by U.S. forces, the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

AP story this evening (same author):
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said U.S.-led forces searched the Al-Qaqaa facility after the invasion. "Coalition forces were present in the vicinity at various times during and after major combat operations," he said. "The forces searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facility, but found no indicators of WMD (weapons of mass destruction)."

And there's this story, from AFP this afteroon:
A Pentagon spokesman said it was unclear whether 380 tons of high explosives reported missing from a weapons facility in Iraq disappeared before or after it fell under control of US forces.
* * *
"This is a first report. We do not know when -- if those weapons did exist at that facility -- they were last seen, and under whose control they were last in," Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said. "It's very possible -- certainly it's plausible -- that it was the Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) regime that last had control of these things," he told AFP.

DiRita said US forces visited the Al-Qaqaa site several times after the US invasion of Iraq as part of a US-led search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related material. But he said it is unclear whether the missing explosives were at the site during those visits. "The forces searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings at the facility. Some explosive material was discovered, none of it carried IAEA seals. They did find stuff there. They probably secured it or destroyed it," he said.

DiRita said Iraq was swimming in weapons and ammunition after the war. More than 500 weapons sites were identified after the war, and some 200,000 tons of ammunition have been destroyed by US forces. "I'm told they (US forces) made several visits to that facility looking for WMD related (material), and obviously we need to learn more about exactly what it is they saw there," he said. "There have been these reports that there is evidence this place has been looted. But I think that's something to be very careful about. That place was not in anybody's control but Saddam Hussein's from the beginning of the war until sometime in April," he said.

"It's just really difficult to say with any kind of certainty what happened to those weapons, and who were the last people who had control of them. But I think it's at least arguable that the last person who had control of them was the Saddam Hussein regime," he said.

Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) notes the discrepancy too.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq

Here's the NYT story.

Fire Sale on Explosives

Josh Marshall, one of my favorite bloggers, has this post on his blog, Talking Points Memo, forecasting what he thinks will be a big news item to break soon. Apparently, an insider's newsletter called The Nelson Report reveals that over 350 tons of really nasty explosives were taken in the early days of the United States' invasion of Iraq. What makes things interesting is that, according to the portions of the Nelson Report quoted by Marshall, the DOD has been trying to keep the mishap a secret from the IAEA. Apparently United States Defense officials put pressure on the Iraqi interim government not to disclose anything to the IAEA, and the issue was kept under wraps until recently, when Iraqi officials disclosed the missing explosives.

The post also suggests that the stolen explosives have been used in many of the suicide bombings plaguing Iraq. Although the story alludes to the fact that the stolen explosives may be used in the triggering process for a nuclear weapon, that fact alone does not seem to make this an IAEA issue. I bet there is a lot of legs on this story, and it may have important consequences for the election. It is certainly worth paying attention to it to see what develops.

UPDATE: The Drudge Report claims that the New York Times is working on a front-page story about "terrorists and explosives." I take everything on that site with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it seems to corroborate Marshall's post.

More on Jon Stewart, Comedian Extraodinaire

You might think this post is about Jon Stuart Leibowitz's appearance on 60 minutes tonight (CBS News). Nope -- although it was fairly entertaining (Stewart said the slogan for 60 Minutes should be: "May Cause Drowsiness"). Rather, I am curious whether someone can tell me what the heck "hitler massaging" means. Cordry made a reference to it in a funny sketch that can be viewed here (check out the "Let It Fly" video, compliments of Comedy Central).

My best guess is that to "hitler massage" means to compare one's opponent to the most infamous villain of our time. Maybe Cordry will let us in on his own private joke soon.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Kurtz on Stewart

Howard Kurtz, one of Big Media's best analysts (over at WP), has this to say on Jon Stewart, one of Big Media's best critics.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Speaking Kerry-ese

There's funny column on Slate comparing prepared script with with what he actually says on his campaign stops. An example:

Kerry's Script: I will work with Republicans and Democrats on this health care plan, and we will pass it.

Actual Kerry: I will work with Republicans and Democrats across the aisle, openly, not with an ideological, driven, fixed, rigid concept, but much like Franklin Roosevelt said, I don't care whether a good idea is a Republican idea or a Democrat idea. I just care whether or not it's gonna work for Americans and help make our country stronger. And we will pass this bill. I'll tell you a little bit about it in a minute, and I'll tell you why we'll pass it, because it's different from anything we've ever done before, despite what the Republicans want to try to tell you.

Forgetting the Facts

Howard Kurtz has a great story in the Washington Post about the state of campaign advertising. He argues that the Bush and Kerry campaigns are pushing the limits or propriety by advertising against positions that they say their opponents hold, but actually don't. As Kurtz writes, it's nothing new to exaggerate the positions of one's political opponent to cast them in a bad light, but these go beyond that. They are the advertising equivalent of push-polling, disingenuously seeking to pin the opponent with blatantly false labels. Kurtz argues that there are two critical factors as to why this is happening. First is that the media sucks at calling the campaigns to task and embarrassing them for this behavior. Second, even when the media does, the campaigns are able to out-shout them through sheer volume of advertisements. It presents a strong argument in favor of strict campaign funding controls when the amount of money in the system overrides the ability of the media to serve as a watchdog for the public. And it certainly supports the arguments of media critics, like, oh, say Jon Stewart, that there is something seriously wrong with the way the media does their job.

Eliot Spitzer: Still Kicking Ass, Still Taking Names

Under the gun this month: insurance brokers. Spitzer is charging that a number of insurance brokers (including Marsh & McLennan, the world's largest such company) have been taking money under the table and rigging bids for insurance companies. I've always been of the opinion that if you looked carefully into any major investing/corporate accounting/money management sector you could find pervasive corruption and white collar crime. The old boys' network and the culture of entitlement just breeds it like flies on shit. It will probably take more than Eliot Spitzer to solve the problem, but he's done a pretty remarkable job so far.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Re: Shooting Gallery

Among the storm of blog and big media coverage of Jon Stewart's Crossfire appearance, I found this metacoverage of the story interesting. Apparently there were more downloads of the show just from IFilm than there are viewers for an average episode of Crossfire. That's not to mention the 1,100 Bit Torrent seeds, some of which have climbed to the top of the charts on torrent sites. Wow. The internet is neat. It is sort of amusing that the guy in the article doesn't know why CNN isn't distributing the clip themselves. Has he actually seen the show?

Friday, October 15, 2004

"F.C.C. Clears Internet Access by Power Lines"

This news story (NYT) discusses teh newest entry into the high speed internet world, Broadband Power Line ("BPL"). I have never heard of this before, but if consumers are indeed able to get 1 to 3 megabits per second of data over power lines, that will facilitate broadband access in rural marketplaces and help put competitive pressure on cable and DSL.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Dodgeball: It's More Than Just A Crappy Movie

The Washington Post has an editorial pointing out how Kerry and Bush ducked the hard questions in the final debate. It continues to amaze me how easily these guys get away with offering no plans on balancing the budget and addressing the social security/medicare crisis, which are really the most pressing issues facing our federal government. It's appalling.

The Fourth Debate: The Candidates on Slashdot

A few weeks back slashdot, in coordination with the New Voters Project solicited questions, and, through the slashdot moderation system, rated them. These were submitted to President Bush, John Kerry and Ralph Nader. The responses are in. Suffice it to say, Bush and Kerry probably didn't type these out and a lot of the answers are pretty bogus, but it's interesting nonetheless. My favorite answer:

Q: When is it appropriate for a leader to change their opinion? Both sides have been accused of flip-flopping on important issues - President Bush on establishing the Dept. of Homeland Security and steel tariffs, Senator Kerry on the Iraq war. But changing opinion due to thoughtful reconsideration ought not to be derided as flip-flopping. Tell us about a time when you had an honest change of opinion on a topic of national importance.

President George Bush Responds:

President Bush declined to answer this question. - Editor

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Economists Love GWB (ok, not really)

A group of 169 business-school professors, including two Nobel laureates, have sent George Bush a letter criticizing his economic policies. Similarly a poll taken by The Economist of 100 academics shows Kerry winning in nearly every issue polled.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Bush "Forgets" His Manners

Here (thanks to Oliver Willis's blog, Like Kryponite to Stupid) is a clip of President Bush at his less-than-best moment of the debate.

Bush "Forgets" Tree Company

Yes Mr. President, I would like to buy some lumber. According to (the same site that Vice President Cheney tried to refer to at the Tuesday debate), President Bush owns part interest in "LSTF, LLC, a limited liability company organized for the purpose of the production of trees for commercial sales." According to and demonstrated by President Bush's own financial disclosures, Kerry was entirely correct to suggest that under President Bush's definition of "small business" is so broad that the President himself qualifies.

Afghans -- Are You Ready for Democracy?

Scott Baldauf of CSM asks that question in this piece. Baldauf also describes the concern of the United Nations that there are multiple registrations and safety issues that call into question the legitimacy of today's elections before they have even taken place. According to United Nations figures cited in the article, there are only 9.8 eligible voters in the country, yet as President Bush and Vice President Cheney have observed in the debates there are over 10 million Afghans registered to vote.

BBC News reports this morning that there were some additional problems with the election. Beside general concern for safety, 15 candidates claimed to be boycotting the election because of voting irregularities. To avoid multiple voting, election officials put ink on the thumb of each voter after he had cast his vote. In some cases the ink was washable.

The BBC article reports that only two candidates beside Hamid Karzai did not participate in the boycott--but they "stood down in [Karzai's] favour on the last day of the campaign."

Bremer Begs Forgiveness

Bremer authored this op-ed in yesterday's NYT. My favorite graf:

It's no secret that during my time in Iraq I had tactical disagreements with others, including military commanders on the ground. Such disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations. I believe it would have been helpful to have had more troops early on to stop the looting that did so much damage to Iraq's already decrepit infrastructure. The military commanders believed we had enough American troops in Iraq and that having a larger American military presence would have been counterproductive because it would have alienated Iraqis. That was a reasonable point of view, and it may have been right. The truth is that we'll never know.

Re: Athiesm Gets a Facelift -- Its Future Looks Bright

I'm not sure how far Dennett's movement is going to get. He and Richard Dawkins and others have been preaching these same ideas for many years without gaining much traction. Ultimately I don't think they need to. The trend-line of popular belief has been going in their direction since the dawn of empiricism, and while it has moved painfully slowly, we'll get there eventually. As Dennett points out, the numbers are growing significant, and politicians are, if nothing else, well aware of demographics. I don't think we'll be seeing a repeat of George H. W. Bush's statement that "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots" statement any time soon.

On to the Roger Wright stuff. Wright's arguments seem to suffer from the ex post flaws of any other design argument. His grand triumph over Dennett was to get Dennett to admit that there was a probabilistic tendency for modern society to develop in the universe. He concludes that the universe was therefore designed to create that result. He seems, like other design advocates, to be working backwards from the feeling that modern human society is really neat and therefore must have been the "goal" of the universe. He plays fast and loose with his terminology in the whole discussion and dresses it up a lot, but that's the basic jist of it. At times he speaks of the design as being evolution ("the 'designer' was natural selection"). Later he comes back and refers to evolution as evidence of a design ("to the extent that evolution exhibits directionality of the kind I've just described, there is at least some evidence of design"). It's all very convoluted and he ends up chasing his tail.

What I think comes out of the interview is that Wright is arguing that evolution is directional and leads to modern human society (which I believe Dennett supports to the extent that evolution tends towards the most competitively successful organisms, which, to date, is us) and that the laws of the universe are such as to allow for evolution, therefore the universe was designed to create us. This is really no different from the basic design argument as it has been argued by post-Darwin theists. This argument has been well addressed by Dawkins and others

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Athiesm Gets a Facelift -- Its Future Looks Bright

This is a rather old op-ed piece by Daniel Dennett, originally published in the NYT on July 12, 2003. It's worth taking a peak at the Brights' homepage too. (I don't remember whether they have come up here before, but even if they have it is worth the reminder.)

Author/Philosopher Robert Wright offers this response (Beliefnet) to Dennett. Beliefnet also has video of Wright interviewing/debating Dennett on whether evolution has a purpose (and it also has some video teachings by the Dalai Lama, although I have not yet watched them myself).

The Next Bloated Lobbyist-Feed Bill

The Washington Post editorial board put on their pork police hats for this editorial against the corporate tax bill, which follows in the grand tradition of the energy and medicare bills of handing out many billions of dollars to corporate allies while accomplishing little or nothing of any value. If I recall correctly, there is also a similar transportation uber-bill also winding its way through congress...

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

More on X-Prize

Here's a great quote from Rutan, as reported in this Seattle Post-Intelligencer story:

"I was thinking about how they're feeling, that other space agency ... the Boeings and the Lockheeds ... I think they're looking at each other now and saying, 'We're screwed.' "

Bremer Criticizes Administration

The WP has this story. It won't be long now before we see a headline that reads, "Bremer Banished from Island."

From Good Cop to Bad Cop

Spencer Ackerman of The New Republic spots a new poll of Iraqis that shows a majority of respondents no longer support the authority of the Iraqi police. As Ackerman notes, this is a major shift from earlier polls. (Today's Papers on Slate cued me in to this post.)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Up and Away

Some happy news today, on the 47th anniversary of Sputnik touching off the space race, Team Rutan's SpaceShipOne successfully returned to space for second time in a week, winning the X Prize. The next objective for private spaceketeers: the $50 million American Space Prize for the first team to send a craft into orbit.

And the Punishment for Illegally Selling Nuclear Technology Is...

Weapons for everybody! Slate reports that Pakistan is to be rewarded with $1.5 billion in shiny new American weapons. That'll teach that dog Musharraf to sell nukes behind our back.

A Waste of Time

Since the early days of the War On Terror, when Camp X-Ray was created at Guantanamo Bay, many charges have been leveled that the conduct there violates humans rights standards and many American and international legal standards. The Bush administration has consistently answered such charges in the press and in the courtroom by claiming that the actions they have taken are a necessity in their efforts to make the world secure from terrorism. Now Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Christino, a military intelligence officer, is claiming in a new book by David Rose, that the interrogations held at Guantanamo Bay have yielded no useful intelligence. Christino states that not a "single terrorist attack" has been prevented by these interrogations.

Information Failure

This Annenberg Center study on the impact of late night shows on political awareness has already been mentioned here. It was also mentioned in the slashdot discussion discussed below. There an astute reader pointed out just how bleak the data from the study is. They asked participants six simple (one might say blindingly obvious) questions relating to Bush and Kerry. They were:

'Who wants to privatize Social Security?'
'Which one doesn't like assault weapons?'
'What is the cutoff income for Kerry's tax increases?' (50k, 100k, 200k, or 500k)
'Who is a former prosecutor?'
'Who favors making the recent tax cuts permanent?'
'Who wants to make it easier for labor unions to organize?'

Note that for 5 of the questions there are two possible answers (Bush or Kerry), and for the tax question there are four. If, then, you selected answers completely at random you should get 2.75 questions correct. The controls in the survey were people who did not watch late night comedy shows. On average they scored 2.6 correct answers. In other words, their responses were worse than random. It may now be said in all honesty and candor that a monkey could score better in a quiz on American politics than the average America. This coincides with another study posted here which found that more a person watches Fox News, the more likely they were to answer a quiz on the Iraq war incorrectly. Is it any wonder that the results of our political elections seem absurd to any informed observer? I say again that failures of the press are just as dangerous to this nation as failures by the CIA or any other part of our government. Our media cannot be regarded as simply another industry competing for market share.

Re: On Tubes and Niger

This story has hit slashdot, and in 6-7 years of regularly reading that site, I don't think I've ever seen this many comments on an article.

Bush Foreign Policy In Perspective

There is an interesting Think Again feature on Foreign Policy Magazine's web site (which I think has been there a while) by UVA professor Melvyn Leffler on Bush's foreign policy. Much of it strikes me as wrong-headed, but this article, as well as an interview I found with Leffler with the Council On Foreign Relations provide some insight in recasting the issue with a focus on the Cold War. I'll take up a few points from the Think Again.

Leffler argues that Bush's policy is not revolutionary, but rather a continuation of the policies of presidents Jefferson, Wilson, (Franklin) Roosevelt, and Kennedy. I find little value in the comparison to Jefferson (how is reviving 200 year old imperialist policies not radical?), and on the others, even if some objectives remain the same, the shift in context is such that Bush's implementation remains new and adventurous. Certainly the US's Cold War policies, particularly early on, sought an America with a global influence and presence to push back against the communist threat. However, the differences between JFK's vision and the neo-con plan are as striking as the similarities. Kennedy stated in as many words that what he pursued was "not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war". While the neo-cons hope to achieve the same spread of American ideals that Kennedy did, in their realpolitik version American military force provides the impetus for the spread of American values. Wilson championed the League of Nations, Roosevelt the UN. To assert this trio of presidents as role-models for Bush's unilateralism seems to miss the mark.

Next Leffler cites Andrew Jackson's invasion of Florida and Teddy Roosevelt's incursions and the Monroe doctrine as examples of preemptive war doctrine. They smack more of imperialism and power politics to me. Spanish Florida, Cuba, and the other Latin American nations posed no true threat to the security of the US (in this perhaps they were a good precedent for Bush). Leffler also raises FDR's World War II policies as an example of preemptive actions. This seems absurd given that WWII is consistently the top example employed to illustrate the danger of not acting preemptively. Finally, as before, Leffler mentions US actions during the Cold War, which I think do serve his purpose. The US initiated many interventions in order to slow or halt the spread of communism, which was certainly considered a threat to the security of the nation.

Leffler refers to charges that Bush's policies are a departure from Clinton's as "lovely nostalgia". For this he cites statements by Clinton that he would take unilateral action if necessary. That is a far cry from choosing unilateral actions when the threat is not clear and other options exist. Clinton's measured foreign policy demonstrates that he considered such actions to be the option of last resort. Clinton generally upheld the policies established by Bush I of wielding the US's new found power through the mechanisms of multilateral authority. That Clinton would have employed unilateral military force if necessary does not change the fact that the broad sweep of his policy clashes with the policy implemented by Bush.

Relying on campaign statements by Condi Rice and statements of pre-war hype by Don Rumsfeld, Leffler concludes that Bush's foreign policy was transformed by 9/11. I would argue that the principles of the policy were only mildly affected, and rather it was the change in the domestic political atmosphere which gave rise to Bush's aggressive post-9/11 action. Bush had clearly established a belligerent unilateral foreign policy prior to 9/11 through rejecting Kyoto, the ICC, the ABM treaty, and various other multilateral initiatives. Moreover various administration insiders have disclosed that Bush was maneuvering towards military action against Iraq even prior to 9/11. Most of the prominent features of the post-9/11 foreign policy had already been established before the attack.

Where Leffler is most interesting is in his comparisons with Reagan and Cold War policy. At the end of the Think Again article, Leffler finds that Bush attempts to emulate Reagan's exercise of "moral clarity and military power". As mentioned he also draws parallels in Bush's preemptive strategies and unilateralism to Cold War policies. It's also notable that most of the neo-con group were prominent Cold War hawks. Even Condi Rice was formerly a Soviet Union specialist. Bush's policies can aptly be viewed as the right-wing Reaganesque Cold War policies updated for a world without an Evil Empire. All of the key elements are present: the grand idealistic moralism juxtaposed with realpolitik callousness, the focus on military might, the domestic promotion of nationalism. It is a good framework from which to view the Bush foreign policy. That these tactics seem poorly suited for the new context I'll leave for another essay...

Sunday, October 03, 2004

On Tubes and Niger

NYT has phenomenally comprehensive coverage of the case the Bush administration made for war, and Vice President Cheney does not look so good. What a shame -- and right before the debates!