Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Can This Be Real?

Cuz it kind of looks like it is. The U.S. denies it, while the UK seems more concerned with supressing the potentially incriminating evidence, but the story going around is that Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera. In Qatar. And wasn't joking. Reportedly, Blair talked him out of it. I imagine his exact words were something like: "Are you out of your fucking mind, you daft bastard?!" Just when you think you've heard it all...

Update: Howard Kurtz had the same reaction - "can this possibly be real?" His conclusion? No, based on the fact that it would be unbelievably stupid. Like that's ever stopped this administration before... I think the least credible part of the story is the fact that Bush would run it by Blair before he did it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Idiot America

Consider this a follow-up to my Defense of Intellectualism from Sept. 5. There is an Esquire article by Charles Pierce rambling across blogs and internet message boards titled Greetings from Idiot America, reprinted in full in many cases (almost certainly without permission, but what the hell). Here's one of the reprints. It is, I think, an issue of critical importance, but one on which I have no idea how we can gain traction. One would hope that the utter disaster that has been Bush's gut-based presidency would have some impact, but the man did after all win reelection...

The Murtha Discussion

Aside from the laughable attempts to tar Congressman Jack Murtha as a coward or Michael Moore, the more serious conservative response to Murtha's proposal to leave Iraq is well stated by neocons Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol in this Weekly Standard article. Murtha gave no consideration to the consequences of our leaving Iraq, they complain. The Iraqi military lacks the capacity to stand on its own, they argue (sidenote: but haven't we been constantly hearing about the many thousands of Iraqi troops who have been trained for a couple years now? I guess that was all BS. But then we already knew that..). There could be civil war, and in any case it will be a huge victory for Al Qaeda, they worry.

I think these are good considerations and important points, but they miss a fundamental preliminary question: can we still win in Iraq? Because if we can't, every point raised by Kagan and Kristol is utterly irrelevant. Murtha argues that it is a lost cause. Unless that point is rebutted, his position must prevail over Kagan and Kristol's. They answer this charge with the flat statement that "victory is in fact possible, though it will require a longer war than anyone would like." That is not at all clear to me.

I have been (and remain) reluctant to abandon the mission in Iraq owing simply to the magnitude of our current obligation to the Iraqi people and the high stakes that Kagan and Kristol detail. However, I am becoming increasingly doubtful about our long term prospects for success in Iraq. I see no signs of the insurgency slowing or Iraqi government gaining control. As Murtha noted, the Iraqis don't want us there, and, in fact, at least some Iraqi leaders view the insurgency as legitimate resistance to occupation. There was a column by Helena Cobban (a CSM foreign affairs columnist) that I thought I had blogged (although it appears I never did) from the summer that presents a credible argument that our presence in Iraq is no longer helping matters. At this point I think we have to look very seriously at whether it is worth staying. I am on the threshold. The prospect of a civil war in Iraq worries me greatly. But if all we are doing is delaying it until our eventual and inevitable withdrawal, we are performing no great service. No matter the stakes, if we can no longer win this war, or if we are making matters worse by staying, we must withdraw.

In this case, Kagan and Kristol's points only go to underscore the general stupidity of the Iraq war in the first place. It was always a gamble of the highest stakes with dubious prospects of success. We have paid a high price for it already in many regards (casualties, money, reputation). Now whether we choose to remain or withdraw, the price will only escalate. I wonder if it is only now that the magnitude of this blunder is beginning to settle in for the neocons.

In the end, I believe this to be a more costly mistake than Vietnam. Where in Vietnam our policy was driven mostly by paranoia of communist dominoes falling (which never actually occurred), here I agree with Kagan and Kristol that this would be a victory for Al Qaeda of real importance. Al Qaeda has operated under the belief, drawn from U.S. interventions in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia, and the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, that the West is weak and has no stomach for fighting. This is a fundamental element of their strategic approach and philosophy. And here, in the most high profile arena possible, we may prove them right. Nonetheless, we cannot allow this to obscure reality in making our choice. If truly this is a lost cause we must not throw more good lives and money after bad. Our military has been courageous and true, and we owe it to them. To quote John Kerry (from when he used to be cool): "How can you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A 21st Century Rivalry

There's a good story on CSM about China's growing military capacity. In particular it describes a rapidly growing modern core group within the military. It predictably focuses on China's improved ability to challenge the U.S. in Taiwan, but I think the more interesting issues lie further in the future and on a much broader scope.

It's a pretty common meme at this point that China is poised to emerge as a top global rival to the U.S. Assuming that China's economy continues to grow at a rapid rate (and there are some potential problems there, particularly in the banking system) this seems almost inevitable. But I think suppositions that this would somehow mirror the Cold War are dead wrong. I'm not sure how this rivalry would unfold, but I highly doubt that it would resemble the Cold War. The contours of the Cold War were defined by the all-encompassing differences in the economic systems of the two sides that made the complete severing of ties between them possible and desirable.

The key to China's growth has been the modernizing of its economy and its embrace of free trade. The U.S. and China a crucial trade partners, and I don't see that changing. While China will undoubtedly become more assertive in its foreign policy and more apt to challenge the U.S. as its military and economic power grows, there will be a huge economic incentive for China and U.S. not to let things get out of hand. Of course, both sides will need to be wary, as nationalism can lead people to do stupid things, and no doubt there will be domestic political points to be scored by railing against the other side (indeed this is already the case in the U.S.). Flashpoints will emerge and tensions will flare. But money speaks loudly, and I think will hold things together in this case. The dynamic between the U.S. and China will likely be something we haven't seen before.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Another Leak Investigation?

In the wake of the Washington Post's story on the CIA's secret detention facilities, it appears that we may see another high profile leak investigation. The CIA has requested that DOJ investigate the matter and pursue criminal charges for the release of classified information. Likewise (also mentioned in the NYT story) several top House and Senate Republicans have called for a joint Intelligence Committee investigation into the leak. Already several reports are drawing comparisons to the Judy Miller story (see Howard Kurtz's 11/14 column). I think this story would provide an excellent contrast to the Miller story.

The problem with Judy Miller's effort to hide behind press secrecy protection is that the facts of her case flew in the face of the intent of such protections. The idea is to protect whistle blowers and encourage them to bring to light topics, otherwise hidden from the public, that may be critical to the public discourse and democratic oversight of government actions. Judy Miller exposed details meant to crucify one such whistle blower, details that were otherwise irrelevant to the public discourse. Nor was it a simple or direct impeachment of Joe Wilson's credibility or an attack on the substance of his reports. The Plame story was simply an effort create insinuations about Wilson's qualifications and generally besmirch his reputation and possibly (depending on what you're willing to believe about Libby and Rove) to exact revenge by ruining Plame's career. Hardly a lofty testament to the value of an independent press.

The Post's CIA detainee story, by contrast, contained exactly the sort of critical information that the public deserves to see, and should be given every available legal protection. This is not to say that there should be no oversight of how classified information is exposed or that press organizations should not exercise caution in disclosing it (as the Post did in refusing to name the countries where the detainment centers are located). This was information that the public did not know and had no reason to suspect about government policies that go directly to the heart of what our values are and how we conduct ourselves.

This will admittedly cause difficulties for the CIA in its effort to continue to pursue these policies, difficulties that the CIA can claim impair its mission and endanger national security, but these difficulties arise from the outrageousness of the conduct itself. I fail to see how the exposure of this information will in any way impact on the actions of Al Qaeda relative to the CIA, nor the actions of the CIA relative to Al Qaeda, except to the extent that this is now propaganda for Al Qaeda and a source of domestic and international political problems for the CIA. This is not the case of an agent or undercover program that, once exposed, can no longer no long serve the assigned mission. Secrecy is not critical to the function of a prison camp. The exposure of these policies hurt the U.S. and the CIA not because it imposes functional problems, but because the policies are stupid.

The only reason they were likely secret in the first place was probably to avoid political fallout, in both the U.S. and the host countries. That is not, to my mind, a valid reason for government secrecy. If a democratic country allows its government to conceal its actions because the public would not like those actions, something has gone seriously wrong. If some investigation does arise from this leak, I certainly hope that a critical element of that investigation is to discover why exactly the public did not know about these facilities prior to the leak and to inquire into the validity of the profferred justifications for concealing the facilities.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Michael Brown: A Man of Rare Quality and Genious

From the Department of Homeland Security email archives and the AP:

From Marty Bahamonde (DHS) to Michael Brown, Aug. 31, 2005:

Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical. Here some things you might not know.
Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water.
Hundreds still being rescued from homes.

The dying patients at the DMAT tend being medivac. Estimates are many will die within hours. Evacuation in process. Plans developing for dome evactuation but hotel situation adding to problem. We are out of food and running out of water at the dome, plans in works to address the critical need.

FEMA staff is OK and holding own. DMAT staff working in deplorable conditions. The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner wecan get them out.

Phone connectivity impossible.

More later.

Michael Brown's reply to Marty Bahamonde, Aug. 31:

Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?



Brown press secretary Sharon Worthy to Cindy Taylor (DHS) and others:

Also, it is very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner. Gievn that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy. He needs much more that 20 or 30 minutes. We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise, followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc.


Bahamonde to Taylor:

OH MY GOD!!!!!!!! No won‘t go any further, too easy of a target. Just tell her that I just ate an MRE and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants. Maybe tonight I will have time to move my pebbles on the parking garage floor so they don‘t stab me in the back while I try to sleep.

This stuff is pure gold! Laugh all you want, but please do keep in mind that Michael Brown is, in his own words, "a fashion god."

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What Passes for Fiscal Discipline

Here's CSM's story on the budget reduction plan now circulating on the hill. Not that I have strong feelings on this or anything, but it's an insult to the American people. First off, as a effort at fiscal discipline, it's a non-starter. You're looking a reduction of the deficit over the next five years by 2% (Senate) or 2.5% (House). Completely inconsequential. And the House bill appears to be laser-targeted at items sure to infuriate liberals: student loans, child support enforcement, food stamps, etc. Then, just for fun, they tacked on the ANWR thing. And these people are still talking tax cuts... The only thing that infuriates me more than the federal government ignoring half trillion dollar deficits is that when they actually apply time and effort to dealing with it the results are a sick joke. This bill is a slap in the face to anyone who cares about actual fiscal discipline. Fortunately for proponents of the bill, that appears to be a vanishingly small number of people, and none that they are at risk of encountering in Congress.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Analyzing Alito

In the Washington Post, Cass Sunstein provides a measured look at Alito's appellate record. I have no doubt that we have a major political battle at hand, but Democrats will face a tough challenge in that Alito's record does not look to be any more conservative than Scalia's, and, by Sunstein's analysis, it might be less so. How would a filibuster be justified here when Scalia was confirmed 98-0? There will likely have to be arguments external to the judge's personal record, in reference to the overall balance of the Court or some such thing. This may take the form of arguments that Alito is not just taking any seat on the Court, but he is replacing O'Connor, a relative moderate, in whose mold the replacement should be cast. I've seen this argument implied in several places already, and I'm not sure it makes much sense. It is difficult to find historical or policy justifications for the idea that the Court needs to adhere to some particular partisan structure or another. In general I think this will be a tough fight for the opposition. Their best approach will probably be to tie this nomination as closely as possible to the White House and try to make the confirmation into a referendum on George Bush to capitalize on his falling popularity.

Update: On Alito-Scalia comparisons, Robert Gordon of the Center for American Progress (a liber think-tank) makes the case on Slate that Alito is more extreme than Scalia.

Update (11/02): For some balance, here a CSM story suggests that Alito is not a hardliner on abortion.

Yet Another Update (11/03): I had to add a link to this rebuttal to the CSM column UVA's own Richard Schragger.