Saturday, October 02, 2004

Iran Who?

Jonah Goldberg reports that Iran is ripe for a democratic revolution, bringing down the oppressive theocracy which has stifled the nation for 25 years. Unfortunately, it is getting barely any attention in the press.

Glenn Reynolds wonders why we aren't paying more attention to Iran. I don't know Glenn, maybe we're a bit DISTRACTED at the moment? Violent insurgencies and a thousand American casualities tend to do that to a nation (and a press corps).

Friday, October 01, 2004

Friday Factcheck

I had held back on accusing Bush of distorting certain issues I thought he likely misrepresented because I wanted to be sure on my facts. But a bit of research shows that Bush seriously misled America on a few of his key points in the debate.

1) The whole 100,000 Iraqi troops trained. I already addressed this earlier, so I'm not going to do it again. Suffice to say, that isn't how many Iraqi troops are actually available for us to use in combat.

2) Bush's claim that he raised funding 35% for the Nunn/Lugar program (which secures loose nuclear material around the world) surprised me, because it certainly doesn't mesh with what I've heard. And surprise surprise, it looks like Bush hasn't been a big fan of this program after all. The Washington Post reports this morning that:
Bush said he has increased spending on curbing nuclear proliferation by "about 35 percent" since he took office. But in his first budget, he proposed a 13 percent cut -- about $116 million -- and much of the increases since then have been added by Congress.

Bush fought on Nunn/Lugar alright. He fought against it, and thankfully he lost. But that isn't a benefit to his side.

3) I'm almost tempted to not include this, because there is some room for opinionated disagreement. However, Bush's assertion that opening bilateral talks with North Korea would cause the ruin of the multilateral ones seems to be without a warrant. The Post continues:
On North Korea, Bush charged that Kerry's proposal to have direct talks with that country would end the six-nation diplomacy that the administration has pursued over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Kerry has said he would continue the six-party talks as well. Bush said direct talks with North Korea would drive away China, a key player in the negotiations.

But each of the other four countries in the talks has held direct talks with North Korea during the six-party process -- and China has repeatedly asked the Bush administration to talk directly with North Korea. Moreover, the Bush administration has talked directly with North Korean diplomats on the sidelines of the six-party talks, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with his North Korean counterpart over the summer.

At the very least, this isn't as cut and dry as President Bush has made it out to be. It appears that all party's but the US believe that US bilateral talks will improve, not harm, relations. And for the record, Kerry saying that both multi- and bilateral talks are necessary is not an inconsistancy, its a realistic and legitimate policy position (no different from Bush saying we need to fight both Iraq and Al-Qaeda).

Most of the other gaffes were relatively minor and inconsequential (whether Bush was right in identifying Poland as part of the coalition strikes me as splitting hairs, not mention ignoring the larger point that Poland is not evidence of a 'grand coalition.'). The only important issue on which Kerry is alleged to have misspoke is when he said that Bush let Bin Laden escape in Tora Bora. The media claims that we don't actually know that Bin Laden was there. This may be true, but we certainly suspected it (kind of like we suspected Iraq had WMDs?), and at the very least we DID know there were alot of Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorists out there whom we presumably wanted to catch. On the basis of the best possible intelligence and most feasible military action, President Bush made the wrong choice and that doesn't change regardless of whether Bin Laden actually was there or not.

DeLay Admonished

Man, my day just keeps getting better and better. First off you had the debates, in which Kerry clearly creamed Bush. Then I got to watch Republicans desperately try and spin the results, and fail miserably. I'm sorry, but when Rudy Giuliani gets taken down Jon Stewart, you know you've got problems. When that video clip comes out, I want it.

But perhaps the most satisfying news today comes from Capitol Hill, where House Majority Leader (and Official Prince of Darkness) Tom DeLay has just been admonished by the House ethics committee from trying to coerce another Representative to vote for a GOP-backed bill by threatening to withhold support for his son in a tightly contested GOP primary. As usual, DeLay expressed amazement at the novel concept of ethical conduct
In a statement, Mr. DeLay said that he had not meant to violate House rules and that the panel had never ruled on this type of activity before.

"In this report the committee has provided guidance regarding a novel and very specific subject matter,'' he said. "I accept their guidance."

Now I know its hard to keep track at this point, so let's be clear: This is not the same ethical investigation as the one prompted by departing Texas Representative Chris Bell over DeLay's Texas redistricting tactics. Its also distinct from his admonishment over pressuring trade groups to hire Republican officials (hinging legislation passage on it), his aides indictment for Money Laundering and Illegal Fundraising, and a myriad of other "ethical lapses which just go to show that DeLay is the most corrupt man in Washington (not an easy feat).

Now all I need is to see DeLay in handcuffs, and I'll be in sheer bliss. Come on law enforcement, get tough on crime!

The Post-Debate, Part Two

TNR has its debate analysis up. Etc blog thinks that Kerry left alot to be desired, but expectations were so low it doesn't matter. Jonathan Cohn thought originally that Kerry's focus on alliances would be a death blow, but concedes it seems to have gone over rather well. Ryan Lizza claims that the nervousness of the GOP in spin alley betrays the fact that their candidate got creamed. And Jeremy McCarter argues that Kerry won because he drew effective contrasts and made himself look decisive. All agreed that Kerry LOOKED better than Bush did, and that for many voters, that's all that matters.

On related, but slightly different notes, Peter Beihart says neither candidate had a truly honest or workable plan for Iraq. Beihart also degenerated the prospects of democracy emerging in Iraq, which I find deeply troubling. And Spencer Ackerman points out that Bush was making a huge distortion when he said that we have 100,000 trained Iraqi troops in uniform, a fact I pointed out last night.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Post-Debate Analysis...or Why It's All About Poland

I just finished watching the 1st Presidential Debate. As you know, I wasn't at all confident about Kerry's chances tonight, in fact, I thought he risked blowing the entire election.

Now? (drumroll please...)

Kerry drilled it (it being the debate and Bush).

Kerry: Loved how he came out swinging. He clearly knew his stuff, and he nailed Bush on SPECIFIC programs he was neglecting, which I thought was great. I thought especially that his emphasis on proliferation, chemical plant security, and port security, was a dagger to the heart. If he can keep the focus on those issues, Bush will be beat. Also, Kerry finally gave an answer that strikes at the heart of his whole consistancy deal on Iraq. Hussein was a threat, there was a right way and a wrong way to disarm him, and we picked the wrong way. This isn't a binary, you can agree on the problem and see many different solutions. Kerry also laid out his Iraq plan, which is important. I'm not sure how I feel about the summit idea, but at least its a fresh idea. Add it to internationalization and iraqification, and suddenly you've got a bona fide solution. "Outsourcing" line about Bin Laden and warlords a bit over the top, but it got the point across. Best line of the night was when Kerry said "I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?" That's huge. Still some rambling issues and clarity problems, but much improved there too. And while at times Kerry made his positions explicitly clear, in general his discussion of them might have been too complex and confusing. However, the overall aura Kerry gave off was calm, in control, and Presidential. GRADE: A-

Bush: Stuck to message about consistency, which was good. However, Bush just repeated the same rhetoric over and over (if I heard "mixed messages" one more time I was going to put a hole in the TV), which makes it seem like this was a script, not him actually listening to the debate. Some evasions of the questions, especially when he was trying to make the answer fit into his preconcieved narratives. Saying "I'm going to win the election" doesn't answer the question "Will the country be more likely to have a terrorist strike if Kerry wins the election," and then Bush goes off on his resolved schtick. When Bush was forced off-message, he looked very vulnerable, alot of long pauses and stutters. That's actually worse than it normally would be because it directly harms his "resolute commander" image. I've been reading on some Conservative blogs that Bush looked "authoritative" and "resolute," and I can only believe that they are on cocaine. Normally I'd agree that Kerry is a worse speaker than Bush, but not tonight. I was glad that Bush didn't take the SBVT bait on the "character question," surprisingly classy. Oh, this is important: When the allegation is that you don't have a real alliance, saying "you forgot Poland" is NOT a good response. One GREAT point was how does Kerry expects to convince the world to help us in this "colossel failure of judgment" and "diversion?" That deserves an answer. Overall weak responses to Kerry's specific allegations on port/nuke/chem security, which is unfortunate, especially considering he agreed that non-proliferation is the most important issue. And to top it all off, he looked HORRIBLE on the cutaway shots, like Gore in 2000. He's going to have to improve big time. GRADE: C

Very few distortions on factual matters, though Bush's statement that the funding for securing loose nuclear material has risen 35% raised red flags. That doesn't mesh with what I've read on the matter. One true distortion was Bush's statement that 100,000 Iraqi soldiers are in uniform. That's TECHNICALLY true, but of that 100,000 only 22,700 have enough training to be even minamally effective. In my opinion, that doesn't count. It certainly makes Kerry's Iraqification point on the need to accelerate training more salient. Other than that, the facts didn't seem in much dispute.

Commentary by Powerline, Daniel Drezner, Kevin Drum, Victory Briefs (featuring some of the best debate critics in the business!), and Andrew Sullivan. Full transcript of the debate here.

Pre-"Debate" Jitters

I'm worried about the debates. I'm not confident that John Kerry will make a good show of himself. First of all, Kerry still seems almost entirely incapable of stringing a coherent sentence together when it comes to his Iraq position (a fact one of my commenters pointed out, though I disagree with his conclusion that it makes Kerry a flipflopper). If Kerry gets caught rambling blindly on some "nuanced" Iraq position, he's toast. Plain and Simple.

Another potential pitfall is if Kerry tries to get too the wrong direction. If he makes some grandoise statement to President Bush like "The American people want to know when you're going to bring the troops home," he'll be clobbered by the Republican Spin Machine so fast you won't have time to say "swing vote." Kerry has to appeal to the voters who want us to win Iraq, not those who don't think we should be there at all. That means challanging Bush on his weaknesses (like Fallujah), not playing to his weak-kneed liberal stereotype.

One thing that had made me optimistic about the debates was that I thought Kerry could address Bush directly. If I were Kerry, I would make my entire opening speech a serious of questions: "The War on Terror is too important to be subordinated to Politics, Mr President. The American people deserve to know: Why have we held back in Fallujah? Why'd you allow House Republicans to kill a bill to increase Chemical Plant Security? Why are you cutting funding towards securing loose nuclear material, so terrorists can't build a dirty bomb? Why'd you threaten to veto desperately needed Homeland Security spending, right after 9/11? Why'd you oppose the creation of 9/11 commission? Why'd you oppose the creation of the Department of Homeland Security? The security of the American people is worth more than a soundbite, Mr. President. It means having a real plan, that exists in the real world, and the American people deserve real answers to these questions."

Aggressive, neat, overwhelming, and factually true. What a combo (ok, maybe I'm tooting my own horn just abit)! But the principle sounds good, right? Apparently, Karl Rove thought so too, because questioning the opposing candidate is one of the many prohibited actions in the Byzantine debate rulebook. As Josh Benson of the The New Republic points out:
Deathly afraid of being challenged on his unraveling Iraq policy, Bush demanded--and won--a series of bizarre rules governing tonight's debate. There will be no rebuttals allowed, for instance. No follow-up questions, no movement about the stage, no audience interaction, no props, no split-screen TV shots, no moderator discretion. The perspiration-prone Kerry was even denied a chilled room. Worst of all, the rules forbid Kerry from asking Bush any direct questions, a prohibition that constrains Kerry's options and makes a mockery of our civic process precisely when open debate matters most.

This is a debate? This harldy qualifies as dramatic interpretation! At this point, why don't we just play the candidates stump speeches back to back?

Benson thinks that Kerry should just ignore these rules and question Bush anyway (or at least bend them). I find this proposition tempting, as the prospect of Bush whining that "questions are against the rules" is very, very appealing. But unfortunately, I don't think that the action would be as consequence free as Benson implies. Maybe it would be beneficial on the whole, I don't know. But the facts are that these "debate" rules make it almost impossible for the already error-prone Kerry to succeed tonight.

Keep your fingers crossed!

We Have a "Situation"

Andrew Sullivan reports on the preferred Iraqi terminology for the incredibly chaotic mess that passes for their country these days.

Meanwhile, Sullivan also elaborates on why he isn't buying the Conservative mantra that we're "winning" in Iraq right now. To boot:
Maybe I need to be clearer. The reason I believe things are dire in Iraq is pretty simple. The evidence is accumulating that the insurgency - fostered by Baathist thugs, al Qaeda murderers, and other Jihadists - is gaining traction. That would be a manageable problem if the population despised them and saw a way through to a better society. But the disorder and mayhem continues to delegitimize the Iraqi government and, by inference, the coalition occupation. And the inability or unwillingness of the U.S. to seal the borders or effectively counter the terror contributes to the general view that the insurgents are going to win, and therefore the notion that the U.S.-led liberation may make matters even worse than they were before. And this is a vicious cycle. In other words, one reason the insurgency is spreading is because it has tacit support or merely passive acceptance among the general population. And once the general population turns against an occupying power, then things get really ... Algerian. The key moment was probably when George W. Bush blinked in Fallujah. That was when the general population inferred that we were not prepared to win. It's amazing, really. This president has a reputation for toughness and resolution. Yet at arguably the most critical moment in this war, he gave in. He was for taking Fallujah before he was against it. I cannot believe the situation is beyond rescue. But this president's policies have made it much much more difficult than it might have been. Elections are now more vital than ever - because they are the sole means of gaining the advantage in the legitimacy stakes. With those must come a relentless guerrilla war against the enemy, a massive increase in troop levels (whether Iraqi or America), and a huge effort for reconstruction. But we have thrown away a year's worth of opportunity. By incompetence and lack of will. Fallujah was a kind of Dunkirk. And Bush is no Churchill.

Blinked in Fallujah? Oh I remember that! That's when President Bush decided that American votes are more important than American lives! What leadership!

Defensive Lapse

Former co-blogger Greg Ihrie has tipped me off that our new missile defense system is ready to be deployed. Now, by that statement, you might think that it would stand some chance of, I don't know...working? But you'd be wrong!
The paucity of realistic test data has caused the Pentagon's chief weapons evaluator to conclude that he cannot offer a confident judgment about the system's viability. He estimated its likely effectiveness to be as low as 20 percent.

"A system is being deployed that doesn't have any credible capability," said retired Gen. Eugene Habiger, who headed the U.S. Strategic Command in the mid-1990s. "I cannot recall any military system being deployed in such a manner." (Washington Post, 9/29/04)

At least we have a 20% chance of being protected from...the USSR? Russia. Or whoever it is that has ICBMs these days.

Oh right, North Korea! The Bush administration says that this system is necessary to counter the North Korean nuclear missile threat, which is admittedly a serious concern. But as Michael Levi points out, a missile defense system isn't going to fix the problem.

Against a quickly evolving threat, though, isn't some defense better than none? If such a threat existed, perhaps; but it's not clear that the threat the new missile defense is designed to meet is anywhere close to existence. Near-term worries center around nuclear-armed rogue states, especially North Korea. Jane's Defense Week caused a big stir last week when it reported that North Korea was in the advanced stages of developing two new long-range missiles, based on obsolete but still useful Soviet motors. The first missile, a land-based rocket, could not have reached the United States. The more worrying scenario involves engines for old Soviet submarine-based missiles used to build a new submarine-based rockets. Mated with several first-generation Soviet submarines that North Korea has purchased, those missiles could, theoretically, carry nuclear warheads and be used to attack the continental United States.

If the reports are true, they mean that North Korea is on its way to assured targeting for the American homeland. Doesn't that justify the Alaska deployment? Well, no, since the defense, even if it worked according to plan, wouldn't be able to protect against these missiles. The Alaska defense is optimized against North Korean missiles fired from North Korea, not all missiles North Korea happens to control. In contrast, the new missiles reported by Jane's would be carried away from North Korea on submarines and be fired from considerably closer to the United States. Most likely, the Alaska system would be ill-placed to intercept them. (TNR 8/11/04)

Levi doesn't think that the placement in Alaska will necessarily HARM the US, just that it won't actually do us any good and is a giant waste of money. This is partially true, but what it neglects is the further antagonization the shield will have on an already antsy North Korea. I doubt that they'll do anything extreme like attack us while our system is still vulnerable, but it could spur them to research countermeasures against such a system, which only makes the US less safe. Furthermore, by sending the message that the US will continue to focus solely on nuclear weapons, rather than the situation holistically, what we're really telling North Korea is that Nukes are still a bartering chip. After all, if we're willing to plunk down $100 billion on shoddy technology, it has to mean something to us right?

A program that wastes money in order to make the US less safe while not actually fixing the problem it's targeted at. It would be the worst form of liberal excess. Except, as is so often the case these days, it's President Bush who's doing it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Debater on the Debate

Jed Glickstein, the 2004 National Forensics League champion in Lincoln-Douglas debate, gives his advice to candidates for their forthcoming debate. Considering that he's a more talenting speaker AND analyzer than either of the two candidates (or virtually any politician for that matter), they should listen up.

I particularly liked this soundbite:
"High school debate is a bunch of kids who dress up in suits on the weekend, and they pretend to talk about issues, but they really don't have any power. And political debate takes place between two of the most powerful people in the world, but they essentially don't talk about the issues, it's all very surface level."

Ironically, though I've spent four years spending the majority of my time researching, analyzing, writing, and debating about issues, I don't want to go into politics. I find it all fascinating, but after observing politics for so long I've realized that knowing information and having coherent arguments is at best irrelevant to the electoral process and at worst harmful (ex: Gore 2000). Being knowledgable and insightful makes you "the class nerd," "aloof," "unable to connect to the average American," and worst of all, might force you to take a position that doesn't pander to the right interest group. I can guarentee you that the best high school debaters, if they debated the way they did in rounds, would never win a single election anywhere in the country. It's not because they know too little, its because they know too much, and they aren't afraid to let it be known.


The New Republic's Etc. blog tipped me off to TNR editor Peter Beinart's musings on what the election would be like if Howard Dean was the Democratic candidate.

Beinart essentially makes the argument that Dean would be doing better off than Kerry because the focus of the election would be on Iraq, rather than flipflops. And he reasons, not without justification, that a continued focus on Iraq would help any Democratic candidate immensely. That being said, I think there are a few flaws in Beihart's argument.

First, Beinart seems a bit too dismissive about the likely impact of the GOP branding Dean as "the second coming of McGovern." Beinart argues that Dean can play defense by noting that he supported the Gulf War, and can turn the tables by getting aggressive on homeland security or the Saudis. In a just world, this would work, but it labors under the mistaken assumption that truth has any bearing on how voters percieve candidates. As TNR's own Jonathan Chait has pointed out, the media covers politicians in such a way to reinforce the existing storyline, regardless of whether the surrounding facts back it up or not (subscription only). The storyline on Dean is that he is a peacenik hard lefty, despite his commitment to a balanced budget and "A" rating from the NRA, neither of which is characteristic of your prototypical leftwinger. Since the press had already labeled him the liberals darling, he wouldn't be able to shift center during the election and make the voters believe him, because Americans had been told for months by their local newspapers that Dean was the favorite son of the hippie wing of the Democratic party.
Second, I don't think Dean's Iraq stance is an asset. The best attack the Democrats have on Bush still isn't that he decieved us, or missing WMDs, or anything like that. Its that Bush refuses to fight the wars he gets us into. Dean can't attack Bush on his Iraq policy failures because his solution--withdrawal--wouldn't fix the problem, it'd make it worse, and everyone knows it.
Third, even if Dean could translate his Iraq war opposition into electoral gains, I'm disturbed by the ethical implications. Regardless of whether or not its good politics, Dean's position on Iraq--that we should withdraw--is flatly wrong. Its bad for America, and its bad for Iraq. Isn't the subordination of principles to politics one of things we DISLIKE about Bush (subscription only)? Call me a hopeless idealist, but I don't think that Democrats should stoop to that level.

The REAL question is what the election would be like if Joe Lieberman was the Democratic nominee (subscription only).

Ralph Reed on The Daily Show

I was pleasanty surprised with Jon Stewart's interview of Ralph Reed on "The Daily Show" last night. For those of you who don't know, Ralph Reed is the former head of the Christian Coalition and currently Bush's Southeastern Regional Campaign Chief. Stewart managed to elucidate some very good points about our political process amidst his questioning ("So Ralph, would you like to lower expectations about Bush's performance in the debate?" Mr. Reed immediately obliged). Stewart clearly showed a liberal bias, and to Mr. Reed's credit he took it in good humor. But in the midst of everything Stewart managed to throw in some tough allegations
1) Iraq was a diversion for the War on Terror
2) North Korea is and was a greater threat than Iraq was
3) The Bush campaign loves to spin.

All in all, an impressive performance.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Kerr's Challenge Episode Two: The Response

Earlier today I wrote a response to Orin Kerr's challange to pro-war bloggers. Prof. Kerr has now posted the first grouping of responses to his challange (in which you can find my original post). I'd like to just share my thoughts on what was said by others.

The first thing I'd like to note is that I apparently was absolutely right when I guessed that I'd be the only liberal responding to this. Virtually all the posters appeared to be rockribbed conservatives, and no one seemed to have any doubts as to the original validity of the war (Relgious Middle being perhaps the sole exception, and to be fair, most formerly pro-war bloggers who have changed their minds probably wouldn't have responsed to the challange at all). And WAY too many bloggers blindly asserted that Kerry would be worse on Iraq without saying anything to back it up, or even addressing Kerry's Iraq Plan.

Another fascinating thing was the continued reliance on security issues rather than humaniterean/democratization reasons to justify the war (Cafe Hedonistix and Justus for All are happy exceptions, One Fine Jay uses both). Now, I realize that the latter justification probably holds more appeal to liberals like me than it does to your average Republican. But I thought that the record had more than borne out that Iraq was not a threat to the US per se. At best he was a regional threat, but Iraq never was close to possessing the capabilities to get whatever WMDs he did possess to US shores. Alot of these posters seem to conflate the statement that "Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug" (true) with "he has the ability to destroy America" (absurd). The point that Saddam supported terrorists is true and salient, but has been overhyped. Muslim extremists posed as much of a threat to Saddam's secular regime as it did to America. In terms of supporting terrorists, Hussein was a small fish in a very big pond.

Along the same lines, far too many posters were willing to declare our "mission accomplished" simply because we had kicked Saddam Hussein out of power. This strikes me as absolutely absurd. If Iraq forms a new government that is run by radical extremists, we're no better off just because our enemy has a name change. The people who did recognize that Democracy was important (Olive Tree for example) seemed to briefly gloss over it or phrase it in terms of "Iraqi quality of life." They didn't appear to recognize the fact that the lack of a functioning democracy in Iraq would profoundly discredit the United States and likely undo any gains we made from the war in the region. Democracy isn't an optional bonus to US involvment (as Moonage Political Webdream implies) but a pre-requisite to any and every other reasonable measure of success in Iraq. Unfortunately, pretending like democracy isn't relevant gives Bush the political cover he needs to run from Iraq before we finish our job. Doing that will end up making the US less safe than when we started.

Another trap many bloggers fell into was saying that "Iraq isn't that bad, look at how fast we conquered it!" A good example comes from from Pete the Elder
Here is an Andrew Sullivan quote from one of his less hysterical days that sums up my thoughts well: 'If someone had said in February 2003, that by June 2004, Saddam Hussein would have been removed from power and captured; that a diverse new government, including Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, would be installed; that elections would be scheduled for January 2005; and that the liberation of a devastated country of 25 million in which everyone owns an AK-47 had been accomplished with an army of around 140,000 with a total casualty rate (including accidents and friendly fire) of around 800; that no oil fields had been set aflame; no WMDs had been used; no mass refugee crises had emerged; and no civil war had broken out... well, I think you would come to the conclusion that the war had been an extraordinary success.'

He's absolutely right about that, our ability to win the war quickly and relatively bloodlessly was an incredible statement about the efficacy and talent of our armed forces. However, the reason I'd have announced the above scenario a great success a year in a half ago is that I wouldn't have dreamed that, under those circumstances, we'd be facing a large and growing insurgency, an inability to control the country, and the prospect of a functional democracy rapidly spiraling out of reach. It doesn't matter if we don't have a single new casualty, we've still failed in Iraq if there isn't a functional democracy at the end of the day. Whether or not the news is good or bad is directly a function of how likely a democracy is going to develop under the current circumstances, and under THAT framework, we're doing worse every day. Yes, many Iraqi voices claim that things are getting better, which is a positive development. But bodycounts and bombs talk pretty loudly in of themselves, and it can't all be chalked up to media bias.

One thought that only occured to me just now is that alot of bloggers seem to be almost too objective in creating the criteria for success. The problem, as I see it, is that we could be doing everything "right," but if the Iraqi's still see us as "wrong" then we're still going to lose. Its that simple. That's why perception is as important is reality. Take for example, attacking insurgents in Najaf. I think that, objectively, that's important in the war against the insurgency. But the Iraqis could interpret it several ways:
1) A critical battle against anti-democratic insurgents
2) Liberating a religious holy place from armed rebels, so that its safe for pilgrims to travel there
3) US infidels descrating sacred ground
4) The central government crushing opposition and consolidating power
...etc etc.
How well we do in making it so that Iraqi's percieve our actions as "good" is essential to our prospects for success.

To sum up, while many of the bloggers had some excellent arguments, a few characteristics were common:
1) Too much emphasis on what we've already done while minimizing how the current situation puts it all in jeopardy.
2) A general minimization of the immense importance of a functioning democracy.
3) Very quick dismissals of negative news from Iraq while hyping the positive (even positive news from months ago)
4) A failure to see any middle ground between "staying the course" and "abandoning Iraq." Can't we shift policy but stay in Iraq, using the lessons we've learned thus far to make our mission more successful?

Monday, September 27, 2004

Kerr's challenge

Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy has challenged pro-war bloggers to answer a few questions:
First, assuming that you were in favor of the invasion of Iraq at the time of the invasion, do you believe today that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea? Why/why not?

Second, what reaction do you have to the not-very-upbeat news coming of Iraq these days, such as the stories I link to above?

Third, what specific criteria do you recommend that we should use over the coming months and years to measure whether the Iraq invasion has been a success?

As the sole liberal who remains in favor of the Iraq War (or so it seems), here's my take:

1) Honestly, it depends on the criteria you use, and I think the original reasons given by the Bush administration have been discredited. However, my reasons for supporting the war were always humanitarian based. I think that the US has an obligation to bring about positive change in the world, by removing oppressive dictators and promoting democratization. Unfortunately, this blurs the issue, because I think that if President Bush had used this justification then we'd have gotten considerably more international support (or at the very least, less animosity) than we are seeing today, and that in turn would have translated to a more support and less animosity on the ground as well. For the war on terror to be won, Muslims must see the world is as concerned with improving their lives as it is with ending them. The fact that Saddam was a brutal dictator, that he was a threat to regional stability, and that he was one of the worst human rights violators of our time remain true today, and gives the US all the reasons it needed to intervene.

2) Clearly, the war has been bungled. That's beyond a doubt. The Bush administration has decided to put its head in the sand, and worse yet, its placing political concerns over the necessary actions that we need to win in Iraq. The next administration, be it Bush or Kerry (though given past performance, I don't have much faith in either to do it), has to hold two seemingly opposing things in balance. The first is a renewed, aggressive effort to crush the terrorists in their strongholds, like Najaf and Fallujah. The second is regaining the trust of an Iraqi people who seem to view the US occupation more and more negatively every day. How can we do this? By aggressively courting the elements in Iraqi society that a) aren't affiliated with the extremists and b) still have credibility with the Iraqi people. That means that the interim government (and the US) has to work really hard to make Ayatollah Sistani an asset, not a liability. Firing one of his top allies in the government and provoking a boycott is a bad place to start. A good place to start would be making a renewed effort to show how we're acting for the Iraqis, rather than in our own selfinterest. If the Iraqis don't see tangible benefits from American projects, they'll naturally get suspicious of our motives. But if we show them how the insurgency makes them worse off and that we can provide a better path, we can win back the vast majority of the population that wants to live in a democratic state.

3) The ultimate criteria for success can only be Iraq as a functioning democracy. This can't be stressed enough. If Iraq is stabilized, but under an authoritarian government, then the Islamic world will see that at best, working with the US will mean trading one dictator for another. At worst, they'll see it as trading an Islamic dictator for an American patsy, which will increase the already swelling tide of anti-American extremism present in the region. Though obviously stability is important, the key point is that it must be made clear to the Iraqis that the possibly heavyhanded tactics necessary to bring about stability (for example, taking out the hornets nest of terrorists in Fallujah) are being done in order to make democracy possible, not just to strengthen the hand of the central authorities. All the polls still show that Iraqis are optimistic about the prospect of democracy, and that positive mentality needs to be harnessed by the allies and interim government. If Iraq collapses into civil war, as the National Intelligence Estimate thinks could be likely, then it will become the biggest breeding ground for terrorists in the world, and probably will ruin any chance of stabilizing the region for decades. Unlike Afghanistan, which is geographically isolated from most of its neighbors, a civil war in Iraq would almost certainly draw in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, and possibly Jordan as well. And for anyone who isn't scared at that prospect, imagine Lebanon, but multiplied by 10 and entirely blamed on the US. In the short term, success can be measured based on how enthusiastic Iraqis are taking to coalition actions to bring about democratic reform, and how willing the interim government is to implement it. If our pro-democratic actions are not seen that way, but seen (correctly or not) as building blocks to dictatorship, then we're doing something wrong. Longterm success is measured by a reasonably stable, pluralistic democracy that manages to balance the rivalry between the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.

Fire away!

Not a Flipflop

Yet another great explaination for why Kerry hasn't flipflopped on Iraq comes from Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig:
As with most Americans, at the start, Kerry supported the war in Vietnam. Unlike almost all Americans of privilege (see, e.g., George Bush and Dick Cheney), Kerry demonstrated his support by volunteering to serve in that war. But after his experience, he—as almost all Americans—came to believe that war was a mistake. Our government had lied to get us into the war; it had lied about its prosecution of the war. Based upon the facts, he changed his mind.

The same is true about the war on Iraq. As with most Americans, Kerry supported giving the President the authority to go to war. As with most Americans, Kerry expected the President would exercise that authority in a way that did not unnecessarily put America at risk. But after his experience, he—as with most Americans—came to believe that war was a mistake. Most of us believe our government lied to get us into the war; most believe it has lied about its prosecution of the war. Based upon the facts, Kerry is now critical of a war he supported at the start.

This is not flip-flopping. It is evidence of a functioning brain. When you learn that the premise of your action was false, you should rethink your action. When you learn that the premise of a war was false, you should rethink the justification for the war. Being stubborn in the face of reality doesn't make you principled. It makes you Chairman Mao.

Another good indicator of a functioning brain is that you recognize the fallacy of the "Kerry flipflopped on Iraq" argument. But then, we knew that the far right had sacrificed its brainpower to the altar of dittoheadedness long ago.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Democracy/Rights Link

Democracy and Human Rights are inextricably linked
UN Human Development Report 2000: "Inclusive Democracy Secures Rights."
Democracy is the only form of political regime
compatible with respecting all five categories of
rights—economic, social, political, civil and
Four defining features of a democracy are
based on human rights:
• Holding free and fair elections contributes to
fulfilment of the right to political participation.
• Allowing free and independent media contributes
to fulfilment of the right to freedom of
expression, thought and conscience.
• Separating powers among branches of government
helps protect citizens from abuses of
their civil and political rights.
• Encouraging an open civil society contributes
to fulfilment of the right to peaceful
assembly and association. An open civil society
adds an important participatory dimension,
along with the separation of powers, for the
promotion of rights.