What the fuck was all that North Korea nonsense from Bush? China would pull out if we entered bilateral talks with North Korea? China has been pushing for bilateral talks between the two countries! In fact, Hu Jintao wants exactly what John Kerry was proposing—to hold bilateral talks within a multilateral framework. Kerry could have nailed Bush on that, alas.
Kerry should have made much more hay of the fact that the insurgency is causing serious havoc right now, and that Bush seems to be in denial and powerless to do anything about it. That's the one fact that Bush can't get around, and it's pretty clear proof that "more of the same" is failing. When Bush said, "The terrorists are streaming in Iraq because they hate freedom," Kerry should have said, "I know why they're fighting. That's not the point. The point is that you're not stopping them." Also, Bush's figures on how many troops were trained were wildly off.
Overall, Bush seemed whiny and jittery to me, but I'll readily concede bias on this point. Kerry seemed very calm and forceful. But again… Admittedly, some of Kerry's answers seemed sub-optimal, and I would have focused less on the allies aspect and more on the fact that Bush has failed on the ground, but presumably the allies bit is the one area where most people know Bush is vulnerable. I dunno.
Nuclear proliferation, I think, was a winner for the Dems. Kerry put a much-neglected issue on the table, and pretty clearly showed how Bush had screwed up. Bush's answer seemed to be, "Uh, me too. I think nukes are bad. Oh! And, uh, I'm trying, I really am…"
By and large, I think Kerry has handled Iraq questions badly during the campaign, but tonight I started to have faith that he knows what he's doing.
Freedom from fear is what the Iraqis hoped we were bringing them when we rolled into Baghdad last year. They’d spent 35 years living under Saddam’s malevolent eye, knowing he could jail them, torture them, slaughter them whenever he saw fit. But they were unsure about American intentions. The United States had betrayed their hopes many times before, and at terrible cost. So the solid citizens of Iraq watched as the statue fell, and they waited. What they got was anarchy. And Defense Department flippancy: "Freedom’s untidy," "Democracy is a messy thing."
"The message we sent to the Iraqis," says an American member of last year’s post-invasion transition team, "was that we’ve done what we had to do. Saddam’s gone. We’re not really interested in the Iraqi people." Inaction spoke louder than words. "Urban riots, if you don’t get them under control, they spread like a forest fire. The Iraqis looked at what was happening and said we didn’t stop it because we didn’t care. The sense of utter indifference on our part was chilling."
Anarchy set the stage for insurgency, which doesn’t require a supportive population so much as a passive one that declines to side with the occupiers. "After the looting, nobody was going to stand with us then," says the same U.S. official, "because we didn’t stand with them."
And a powerful closing line: "People do not feel liberated just because you say they are. They won’t love you for intentions. They will judge you by your actions."
On occasion, the Weekly Standard is a decent right-wing publication – its writers may be wrong, but they're at least fairly honest. Today, alas, isn't one of those days. Hugh Hewitt opens with a column wondering why the "Old media" isn't paying more attention to Kerry's newest tan, which, Hewitt claims, is what "ordinary Americans are talking about." (Ordinary Americans? Call me naive, but I'd guess that only a small fraction of the population has the time to sit at their computers all day and giggle about Kerry's skin color.) Meanwhile, Hewitt finds time to threaten the debate moderators: "If Lehrer goes in the tank for Kerry, expect an enormous blowback." Uh, right. And what exactly will constitute a bad performance by Lehrer? If he dares to ask Bush why Iraq is imploding, or why the military is understaffed, or why the Taliban is still romping around Afghanistan?
In other Standard news, Matthew Continetti notes that John Kerry liked Peter Galbraith's recent essay on partitioning Iraq, and so decides that Kerry must be advocating this sort of plan. I'm not sure what Continetti's driving at here -- perhaps the stunning point that Kerry and Galbraith both think there is a problem in Iraq and maybe agree on some things -- but the article inadvertently speaks rather well of Kerry. Galbraith is perhaps the foremost American expert on the Kurds. That Kerry would consider his views "important" certainly says something. That his opponent, President Bush, considers the views of experts to be "just guessing" also says something. If you have any idea what that might be, e-mail the Weekly Standard with your very interesting theory.
Some good advice from Noam Scheiber on how Kerry should deal with the inevitable Iraq question:
The key is to jump on the offensive, immediately presenting the choices as they actually exist. The problem with the Iraq war isn't what it did to Saddam. Indeed, at this point, that's probably the war's one unambiguously good consequence. The problem with the Iraq war, as The Atlantic's James Fallows (among others) has recently written, is the opportunity cost--all the things that didn't happen because the Bush administration was so focused on Saddam.
I don't know if this will work or not. It might just sound like more flip-flopping, I don't know. But it's on the right track. In an ideal world, the Democratic candidate would say something like this:
Here's how I would have handled things. In the fall of 2002, we had Saddam Hussein pinned down. The inspectors were swarming around in Iraq, the Security Council had made a renewed commitment to sanctions, and Iraq was no longer an immediate threat. At that point I would have kept pressure on Iraq, but would have also focused on more immediate threats. I would have used our political and military resources to hunt down remaining members of al Qaeda and to secure Afghanistan. I would have spent energy using diplomacy and the threat of military force to disarm Iran and North Korea. I would have used our international prestige to push heavily for political solutions in both Israel, the Kashmir, and Chechnya. When all that was done, and the immediate threats to national security were resolved, then I would have turned my attention to Saddam Hussein, who was in fact a long-term threat to regional stability, but not an immediate threat. And if it came down to invading Iraq, I would have made sure we were fully prepared to occupy Iraq and win the peace, without any distractions in Iran or Afghanistan or elsewhere.
Besides having the virtue of being the policy I agree with, this seems politically airtight. The key is to indicate that Saddam Hussein was a threat (which, long-term, he may have been), but that we had him pinned down in late 2002, and had other, more pressing issues to resolve.
Peter Beinart has a column in the Washington Post today laying out the evidence that Bush could be preparing to cut and run from Iraq if re-elected. Now, cutting and running in and of itself isn't a bad thing, as long as that's the best possible option. On the other hand, if it's being done purely for political purposes, cutting and running is obviously pretty irresponsible. But I don't think either is the case here. It seems that Bush genuinely believes that if Iraq ever asks us to leave, then they must be self-sufficient -- and if they're self-sufficient, then we've "finished the job." Never mind the possibility of sectarian violence, never mind the growing insurgency hives, never mind the threat of Kurdish secession. What matters to Bush is the appearance of some sort of legitimate "handover."
I think the confusion here comes largely from the fact that there are actually two Iraq wars, and the administration has refused to recognize this. The first war -- the war Bush sold us -- was to overthrow Saddam Hussein and put a thriving democracy in its place. That war is over; we lost. The second war will need to defuse the rather massive security crisis that Bush has created in Iraq -- which is at present a failed state, a prime recruiting ground for terrorist groups, and a source of regional instability. With that in mind, this Newsweek article by Retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner, who helped plan the first Gulf War, has perhaps the best recommendations yet for Iraq: The next president will need to sit down with the State Department and his military commanders, figure out what the most realistic objectives in Iraq are, and do what needs to be done to pursue them. In other words, figure out how to fight the second war, and handle an actual threat to national security. Right now, there is very little evidence that Bush is at all worried about this threat, and that's why, as Beinart suggests, he would be more likely to cut and run.
Nice round-up from Brookings tackling one of the more interesting problems global development: the status of state-owned financial institutions. (Er, I did say "interesting," not "exciting.") Everyone knows that privately-owned banks work better than state-owned banks; the tricky part is how to make that transition. Devil in the details, innit. The experience in Russia, Pakistan, and elsewhere would tell us that government fire sales usually end badly, and what's needed is some sort of properly functioning legal framework already in place. The Brookings conference, meanwhile, tells us that how you sell off the banks matters too.
All this reminds me, I'm not sure what's happening to the banking system in Iraq—it might be worth finding out. The military government nationalized commercial banks way back when, though under Saddam Hussein there were a few private banks, and under the coalition a few more opened up. But, if I'm not mistaken, the central bank is still state-owned, and the banking industry in general is not open to foreign investors (although the CPA page says otherwise, I think that's out of date, but I'm not sure.) In fact, there's not much good reporting on how Iraq's financial institutions are holding up, and how the "shock therapy" treatment is turning out. I know that's the least of Iraq's problems right now, but still.
True story: I was somewhat idly browsing the New Republic's masthead the other day, and wondered why Executive Editor J. Peter Scoblic never wrote anything, since he seemed to be a pretty accomplished journalist and all. Question answered. His new essay on Bush and North Korea is perhaps "the definitive article" on the topic. Or perhaps "a definitive article." Or maybe just "very good indeed." Whatever. Like Fred Kaplan before him, Scoblic points out that Clinton's diplomacy worked, and that by waiting four years before basically offering what Clinton offered, Bush has made a bad situation worse. But he makes a few other good points too, namely, that Clinton used the threat of force more effectively than Bush did:
Seeking peaceful solutions to crises is, of course, admirable, but Bush's tack had a crucial flaw: It ignored the symbiotic relationship between force and diplomacy--the importance of which should have been manifest in late 2002. After all, it was the credible threat of U.S. force that convinced Saddam to readmit weapons inspectors that November. But, even as Bush threatened war if Iraq did not comply with inspections, he did nothing when North Korea actually expelled iaea personnel. As one senior administration official later acknowledged to a New York Times reporter: "I admit there appears to be more than a little irony here. But Iraq was a different problem, in a different place, and we had viable military options."
That suggests we had no military options in North Korea. But in truth, the threat of force played an important role in resolving the last North Korean nuclear crisis, which was sparked in 1993 when the iaea demanded special inspections at two suspicious nuclear facilities. As negotiations over iaea access to the sites made fitful progress, the Pentagon beefed up its forces in South Korea, sending batteries of Patriot missiles, Bradley fighting vehicles, and Apache attack helicopters. That buildup encouraged the North to compromise. Robert Gallucci, who led the American negotiating team, says the threat of force was an "essential" component of Washington's strategy. "[The North Koreans] started looking at this, I'm pretty sure, and didn't like what they saw--and they shouldn't have, because we were actually doing things that would help us be in a better position to launch a strike," he says. Joel Wit, another American negotiator, learned that workers at North Korean hotels were "sleeping with guns underneath their pillows because they thought there was going to be an American attack." Indeed, President Clinton was prepared to authorize the deployment of 50,000 troops to the region, and he considered a strike on Yongbyon. Had the North Koreans begun to reprocess the spent fuel rods--thereby crossing one of the administration's "red lines"--Gallucci believes Clinton would have ordered an attack.
By contrast, there's no sign Bush has seriously considered military action. Though Powell and others insist that all options remain "on the table," Kelly acknowledged in July that the Bush team has not defined red lines of its own. Certainly, it did nothing in April 2003, when the North Koreans announced they had reprocessed their spent fuel rods. To be sure, there is the very real risk that even a targeted strike on Yongbyon would escalate into a full-scale war with horrific casualties. But, by foreclosing even the threat of force early in the crisis, Bush gave away his biggest stick. (Gallucci calls the move "plain dumb.") He also lost an opportunity. At this point, a strike would be ineffective, because it's unclear where the plutonium from the fuel rods is. It could still be at Yongbyon, but it could also be in a cave somewhere in the North Korean countryside--or on a ship bound for the United States.
While it's hard to come up with a grand unified theory for Bush's foreign policy approach, I think we can point out a few basic problems here. First, Bush tends to treat his state-centered adversaries as irrational actors, when all evidence indicates that they're anything but. Kim Jong Il, like Saddam Hussein, backed down from the threat of war. But those actors also have every incentive to maximize their bargaining position, and that goes double in the face of a hostile United States. I think there's often the assumption that Kim Jong Il wants to conquer South Korea, or control Asia, or support terrorists, or just plain wants to defy the United States for the sake of defiance. Clinton, meanwhile, seemed to have a better sense of Kim Jong Il—who he was, what he wanted, and used that to his advantage.
The second, tentative, point is that Bush doesn't understand credibility. He doesn't understand what causes other countries to take U.S. military threats seriously. Recall that Bush, along with many other neoconservatives, believed that if the war in Iraq went off quickly, other countries would simply accede to whatever demands the U.S. would make. (Indeed, the great delusion is that this is what happened in Libya.) But even ignoring the fact that the bog-down in Iraq has made us less credible abroad, diplomacy-at-gunpoint still requires an understanding of how diplomacy and military force are used in tandem. I can't be sure of this, but Bush seems to think that you either use one or the other, and that if you pull off enough military operations, diplomacy elsewhere will be a cakewalk. I'm not sure that that's how it works. (Then again, I'm not sure how it works, period.)
The DLC sent me a nice little press release today discussing the Bush administration's cuts to Clinton's COPS initiative, a much-publicized (at the time) program to put 100,000 new police officers on the street. According to the DLC, conservatives are killing the program because they hate federal control over crime policy, and "they can't bring themselves to admit that
anything other than tougher sentencing was responsible for the
historic reductions in crime during the 1990s." These slanders might all be true, but they also skirt the issue of whether COPS was actually effective or not.
A few years ago Walter Shapiro was complaining that after six years, the COPS program had only hired 88,000 new officers. The most recent numbers—a full 12 years after the program started, show that 101,962 officers have been hired. (Where the Washington Post got its 118,000 number, I have no idea.) That's not exactly a breakneck pace. We also have no way of knowing how many of those police officers would have been hired anyways. Money is perfectly fungible, and COP grants might allow departments to use pre-existing hiring money for other purposes. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office wasn't too impressed with the program either, saying that the benefits of COPS were inconclusive at best.
At any rate, a bit of linking on the blog doesn't prove anything about the program one way or the other. It is rather sad, though, that only the Heritage Foundation has done any real research on the COPS program. The fact is, no one really knows what sort of tactics reduce crime, apart from harsh sentencing (and that has its own problems). There's certainly no reliable correlation between the per-capita number of cops and crime rates. If COPS had some robust research supporting it, then maybe I'd be inclined to lament its passing. But the DLC has provided no such thing.
Atrios is absolutely right—debate spin is always more important than the debates themselves. For what it's worth, the most effective anti-Bush spin at this point seems to be highlighting his disconnect from reality, starting on Iraq and fanning outwards. 55 percent of Americans, give or take, now believe that the situation in Iraq is much worse than Bush says. Another good move seems to be hammering home Bush's reluctance to admit his mistakes. Bush knows full well that the media goes into attack mode whenever he does admit error—as with the Iraq-Niger-uranium claim—so he doesn't have much room to maneuver.
How very exciting. Your very devoted correspondent gets a mention in The Atlantic Monthly this month. Soon I'll be infiltrating highbrows everywhere! Highbrae? Highbrottum? Oh, just go see.
CRUCIAL UPDATE: Oh, you can't see. 'Tis subscriber-only. Well, here's the offending paragraph—from a piece by Jack Beatty about Bush's health care agenda:
As for the Association Health Plans, they would allow small businesses to pool together across state lines to bargain for lower premiums. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that AHPs would increase premiums for 80 percent of businesses by the same "adverse selection" spiral described above: AHPs could obtain lower rates only by enrolling healthier members. "Meanwhile," Bradford Plumer reports in Mother Jones, "those workers who stay in an AHP will no longer be protected by state regulations, meaning that businesses could craft policies to weed out the less healthy." The result: more uninsured.
"Weed out the less healthy". Fine, fine, so it's not quite the immortal phrasing we were all hoping for. Forgive me, I'm young and attention-grubbing!
I don't know what to make of this exchange. I'm terrified I might become shrill:
O'REILLY: "The Wall Street Journal" says — and that's a conservative paper — that the Defense Department and the Pentagon wasn't aggressive enough in getting al-Sadr and then crushing Fallujah.
O'REILLY: Is the "Journal" wrong?
BUSH: I think that the government of Iraq, Allawi, did a good job in Najaf with Sadr. In other words, they now control the shrines, and they did so in a way that he, Allawi, thought would be best for the political process. In other words, there's a dual track here. There's a political process going forward and a security operation going forward. And the two must be parallel. And Allawi made the decision that the best operation in Najaf would be the way we handled it. And if they're saying that maybe last fall we should have moved on Sadr, it's a judgment call that history will have to look back on.
O'REILLY: Fallujah: Should we have crushed it when we could have?
BUSH: Well, there again, there was a dual track with a political process going forward. A lot of people on the ground there thought that if we'd have gone into Fallujah at the time, the interim government would not have been established. And if the government would not have been established, we wouldn't have been able to transfer sovereignty.
I happen to think the transfer of sovereignty is a key moment in the history of a free Iraq. The reason I believe that is that the Iraq people are going to follow Iraqi leadership, not U.S. leadership. And Prime Minister Allawi's been there for about two and a half months, nearly three months. He's getting his feet on the ground. He's establishing a government, they're training police, they're training army, they're beginning to move out in, in places like Samarra and Najaf in order to make the place a more peaceful country.
"But Allawi didn't— But Sistani— But you went— But Fallujah— Bu-B-B-AAAAAIIIIII!!!!"
There are a lot of things to be said about the IMF and World Bank, but BusinessWeek offers what should be a non-controversial suggestion: Give the major Asian nations better representation. BW argues, among other things, that Asian representatives could offer the sort of local knowledge that might ease or prevent some of the more painful international development blunders. I don't think "local knowledge" gets at some of the bigger structural problems with these institutions, but it could probably help.
The bigger concern, I think, is preventing Asian countries from starting their own regional monetary fund, which could eventually dovetail nicely with an emerging regional trading bloc, and so on. Organizations like the UN and the IMF are supposed to bind nations under a common interest—if not forestalling than at least mitigating the sort of power rivalries found before, say, World War I. If I had to make one overriding criticism of regional trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, it would be that they are fostering a dangerous competition with Asian nations, who are already scrambling to create their own regional free trade blocs. The best way to counteract this trend is to strengthen truly multilateral institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, G-8, the UN, etc. etc.
Ken Salazar, the Democratic contender for Colorado's Senate seat, is really smart. And I mean really smart:
Ask Salazar how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution and he is unequivocal: He would have voted for it on the basis of the case President Bush made. But ask him how he'd vote in light of what we have learned since and his answer is one that Kerry might have considered. "It's not a fair question," Salazar replies, "because the matter would not have even been raised to the Congress if the facts had been known."
If the Kerry campaign bombs, heaven forbid*, rule #1 of campaigning will become: Don't ever, ever, ever answer counterfactual questions. Good on Salazar for figuring that out. That is all.
*The question of heaven's ruling interests, incidentally, is answered nicely here.
David Ignatius' latest, I daresay, is pretty good. Just because Islamic jihadists cut off a lot of heads doesn't mean that they're winning hearts and minds:
A perfect example of how the jihadists' efforts have backfired, argues Kepel, was last month's kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq. The kidnappers announced that they would release their hostages only if the French government reversed its new policy banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves in French public schools. "They imagined that they would mobilize Muslims with this demand, but French Muslims were aghast and denounced the kidnappers," Kepel explained to a Washington audience. He noted that French Muslims took to the streets to protest against the kidnappers and to proclaim their French citizenship.
Kepel believes that the war for Muslim minds may hinge most of all on these European Muslims. In countries such as France, Britain and Germany, large Muslim populations are living in secular, democratic societies. All the tensions and contradictions of the larger Muslim world are compressed into the lives of these European Muslims, but they're free to let the struggle play out in open debate. Thus, it's in Europe that Islam may finally find its accommodation with modern life.
I just wish that instead of saying, "See! The terrorists aren't winning… they might be losing," Ignatius had written, "All this talk about winning and losing kind of obscures the complexity of the situation." Because it does. Naturally I blame our two-party system. Rather than have a nice little multi-partisan discussion about the best way to accomplish a whole series of worthy tasks—from helping certain Muslim societies co-exist with Western society, to eradicating transnational global jihadists—we're stuck with an incomparably dumb debate about whether the terrorists are winning or losing.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to bed so that I can wake up, shuffle into Mother Jones headquarters, and link to a whole bunch of Reuters articles showing that the "terrorists" have gained the upper hand. Blah.
Are there any historical examples of a democratic election "sapping legitimacy" from a growing insurgency movement? This seems to be the key assumption in both Iraq and Afghanistan—that democratic elections will somehow turn public opinion against the insurgents in some undefined way. Is there a theory or empirical support behind this, or is it just something that sounds kind of right?
UPDATE: A-woo-ga! A-woo-ga! Clear the runway! David Brooks to the rescue:
As we saw in El Salvador and as Iraqi insurgents understand, elections suck the oxygen from a rebel army. They refute the claim that violence is the best way to change things. Moreover, they produce democratic leaders who are much better equipped to win an insurgency war.
As Iraqi insurgents understand? Wha--? Point two sounds kind of right, maybe. As for point three, whatever, nothing about a democratic leader makes him or her inherently "better equipped" to wage war. As I recall, the ever-illegitimate Hosni Mubarak has done a plum job of beating Egypt's Islamic insurgency with a stick. Once again: "Dammit, I need quantification!" Also: "Why in the name of Negroponte would you bring up El Salvador?"
Resolved: That the crop of columnists currently filling in for Thomas Friedman—especially Dahlia Lithwick and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.—are light-years beyond their predecessor. Discuss. Seriously, though, the Times would be well-served by offering rotating month-long spots to guest columnist who could each develop some "pet" issue at length over the course of a few columns. Gates' weekend piece, on whether African-American workers can just get up to "average", is especially good, churning out solutions left and right:
Recently, I asked a few experts on poverty in black America about how we might get to average. I heard a lot of deep breaths. When they picture black America, they see Buffalo - a boarded-up central city and a few lakefront mansions. The glory days for the black working class were from 1940 to 1970, when manufacturing boomed and factory jobs were plentiful. But when the manufacturing sector became eclipsed by the service economy, black workers ended up - well, stuck in a demographic Buffalo.
My colleague William Julius Wilson, the sociologist, thinks better manpower policies would help. Once black workers moved to where the jobs were; they need to do it again. Instead of trying to turn ghettos into boomtowns, then, we ought to provide workers with relocation assistance, and create "transitional public sector jobs" for those who haven't yet found a private-sector gig. Oh, and - since we're dreaming - fixing the schools would be nice, including "school-to-work transition programs," to place high school grads in the job market….
But maybe, as the economist Glenn Loury suggests, we need to aim lower. "There doesn't seem to be an end in sight to the vast, disproportionate overrepresentation of African-Americans in prison or jails," he told me. "It's our deepest problem." Job training for willing prisoners would be a good start.
I only read two paragraphs of William Safire's Monday column—as well I should!—but perhaps it somewhere raises an interesting question: How much do the terrorists pay attention to popular opinion here in the U.S.? We're supposed to believe that John Kerry has singlehandedly—okay, he had some help from Tom Daschle—"emboldened" our enemies. But do they even care? What do they make of all this? Do the ordinary, run-of-the-mill Iraqi civilians who die by the handful give a damn what John Kerry thinks? Do they care whether the New York Times runs the latest beheading on Page A1 or on Page A23?
Dammit, I want actual data on terrorist propaganda—its uses, its effects, the effects of this or that response. And I want it quantified. If we can't break down the terrorists in Excel, how are we ever going to win this thing?
The errors made by Alan Greenspan over the past few years—failing to predict the recession in 2001, predicting deflation in 2002, muting his reservations over the Bush tax cuts—have fanned away that old aura of invincibility. Still, he has a lot of credibility with Wall Street, he knows how to set expectations, and he made a bunch of right monetary calls throughout the '90s. So when the Washington Postwonders who will fill Greenspan's shoes, we can imagine some pretty damn big shoes. Maybe too big: it seems that all of Greenspan's potential successors would continue to pursue price stability over full employment:
Fed officials of both parties are closely aligned these days in a consensus, developed over the past two decades, that the best way to foster economic growth and lower unemployment is to keep inflation very low. That buried the argument made by many economists and politicians until the late 1980s that the Fed could reduce unemployment by letting inflation creep higher.
Point of order: this isn't quite the consensus that the Post makes it out to be—after all, Alan Blinder, Vice Chairman of the Fed, has argued that a little inflation is a decent price to pay for full employment. Meanwhile, George Akerloff has shown that at zero inflation, employers have a hard time cutting real wages. Why? Well, it's easy to give an employee a 2% nominal raise during a period of 3% inflation—the worker's getting a pay-cut, but not an overly noticeable one. It's a lot harder, though, to give an employee a 1% nominal cut in a time of zero inflation—not only is the cut psychologically damaging, but many union contracts forbid nominal cuts. Akerloff projected that at zero-inflation, we'd have an unemployment rate one or two points higher than we would at 3 percent inflation.
Another thing to note is that, at very low inflation, the Fed doesn't have a whole lot of options for combating asset bubbles. Ideally it would raise rates more to head off the bubble, but it certainly doesn't want to sink into deflation. (I take it the Bank of Japan had this problem in the early '90s.) Greenspan pretty much gambled in 2000 that he didn't need to respond to steadily rising stock prices—and the results weren't pretty. Obviously, hindsight doesn't need to squint, but the problems with price stability should at least give the "consensus" some pause, shouldn't it?
Yeah, things seem bad in Iraq, but how could we really know if we're not real live Iraqis? That seems to be what Rich Lowry is driving at here:
One thing I was struck by listening to Allawi last week was how often he referred to "tribes," the tribes of Fallujah, the tribes of Najaf, etc, etc. It made me realize how little any of us "generalists" sitting here in the US really understand of what's going on in Iraq. What do we know about how a tribal society operates?
Well, not much. But say… doesn't this strike you as an excellent argument against going to war in the first place? If I recall, way back in the days of the CPA, the U.S. military earned a fair bit of notoriety for failing to strike up good relations with tribal sheiks. Now and again the sheiks would help to coordinate reconstruction projects, or defuse hostage situations, but more often than not they would happily encourage violence against the occupiers. Oh, and it took us a little while to figure out, if we ever figured it out, that when you kill one Iraqi in a clan, the rest sort of vow to take up arms against you. Hey, there's some useful tribal knowledge for the "generalists"! The fact that occupation authorities knew none of this, and didn't bother to find any of it out, led to a good deal of bloodshed. But now, apparently, this lingering ignorance is reason for war critics to keep their mouths shut. Whee!
On a more serious note, it's also my understanding that, as bad as the friction with Iraqi tribes was, they tended to be some of the best-behaved Sunnis in Iraq. (Note: there are Sunni tribes and Shiite tribes. In fact, there are even some Sunni-Shiite tribes.) Plus, I'm not sure how important tribal leaders are these days. They've never been as prominent among the Shiites as religious leaders like Sistani. Among Sunnis, I'm not so sure. I would imagine that the real problem is with all those ex-Baathists, mercenaries, foreign fighters, and a generally disgruntled population. The idea that you can negotiate this problem out of existence seems far-fetched.
Still, Lowry could be right, he really could. Allawi might have a "sophisticated", "very Iraqi" approach to negotiating with the Sunni tribes and ending the violence. Perhaps, like Saddam Hussein—or better yet, Hamid Karzai—he'll let the tribes maintain their autonomy in exchange for a bit of cooperation. It's not a great strategy if you want democracy, but if you just want a little peace and quiet in Anbar, it might work.
Best assessment yet of the situation in Iraq, from Air Force Col. Mike Turner (Ret.), who served on the planning staff for Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. We need to start talking about two different wars in Iraq. The original war in Iraq, the one that Bush planned and sold, was one that would transform the country from a hostile dictatorship into an allied democracy. As Kerry said, it was a war of choice, and it backfired.
So now we have an imminent second war in Iraq. This is going to be a brand new war of necessity, one that takes a failed state and tries to eliminate as many of the following as possible: a) havens for global Islamist terrorist group; b) regional instability; c) threats to the world oil supply; d) violent strains of Islamic fundamentalism; e) elements for civil war and genocide. "Stay the course" is a misnomer—Bush's war is over; we lost. Now it's time to go after an existing and growing threat to American security, and this is a whole new war.
I had an interesting conversation today with Amelia Tyagi, co-author of The Two-Income Trap, a book I really can't recommend enough. Over the course of our talk it became clear that policies oriented towards the middle-class really need to take into account the innate competition among middle-class families. For instance, offering free child care to working mothers may help working mothers, but it puts families with stay-at-home moms at a comparative disadvantage, and encourages those moms to enter the workforce.
What sort of disadvantage are we talking about? The main competition, it seems, arises when families start jockeying for homes—especially jockeying for homes in good school districts. Most middle-class families have realized that both parents need to work, not as a luxury, but as the only possible way to shelter their children from crappy schools. A child-care policy that encourages this rat race only makes middle-class families more insecure.
"The last thing you want to be seen as is a puppet of the United States, and you can almost see the hand underneath the shirt today moving the lips," said Joe Lockhart, a senior Kerry adviser.
Well, yeah, Joe Lockhart could have been a bit more temperate. A more "upstanding" response might have been: "Allawi is facing tough times, he's doing a tremendous job, and we know he needs to put the best face forward, but we're concerned that he hasn't fully addressed the major problems in Iraq, and we just want to know how we can reconcile those statements, with, say, those of Allawi's own security officials." It's a run-on, but you get the idea.
So why didn't Lockhart say what I just wrote? Because even if he had, conservatives would have still been disgusted, they still would have accused him of calling "brave" Allawi a liar (as if his bravery has anything to do with the truth of his statements), and they still would have accused Lockhart of giving comfort to our enemies. Nothing would have changed, except that maybe the media would have downplayed Lockhart's remarks, and wouldn't have run headlines questioning Allawi's (and Bush's) credibility. The Kerry campaign would have gotten all of the grief, and none of the benefits. That doesn't make Lockhart a nice guy; it just makes him a shrewd political strategist (and honestly, what's all this "they're desperate" talk?)
I just spent the last hour interviewing John Judis about his new book, The Folly of Empire. It was a good interview, and I'm hoping to get it up on the Mother Joneswebsite by next Monday, but it still left me with a few unresolved questions about Iraq, multilateralism, democracy, that sort of thing.
The growing consensus on Iraq, I take it, is that the Bush administration botched up the invasion by not committing enough troops, by ignoring the State Department's "Future of Iraq" findings, by pushing privatization too soon, by staffing the CPA with political appointees rather than actual experts, etc. etc. To be sure, doing all of those things would have alleviated some of the problems we're seeing now, and increased the chace for success, for some value of "success". Certainly the Sunni insurgency—the ex-Baathists, the Salafi fundamentalists, the foreign fighters—would have found themselves with a less fertile recruiting pool.
But even under optimal occupation conditions, we still would have had to figure out how to balance competing interests among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. It's very unlikely that we could have resolved those disputes without a persistent U.S. presence, and Judis argued that that would have eventually led to a nationalist backlash, ala Iran—if not now, then 15-20 years down the line. That would work well for Bush's re-election campaign, but not for long-term stability.
The alternative, I guess, would have been to wait until Saddam Hussein died and his state dissolved (assuming that the sanctions regime could stay in place). But then we would have had a power vacuum into which one or more of a) the United States, b) Iran, c) Turkey, d) Saudi Arabia, e) Syria would have entered, and the same sort of inter-ethnic disputes would have cropped up, perhaps writ large. The U.S. could, of course, try to get the UN or some other international institution involved, and given the oil factor, maybe the UN, etc. would have been quicker to act than in Bosnia, or Rwanda, or the Sudan. But I don't know. Over a long enough time scale, it seems that almost any response to Iraq—unilateral or multilateral—will have to face the same crisis conditions we're facing now (or will face in the near future). What a world, what a world.
Scare tactics return with a vengeance! Looking over Ezra Klein's post on the draft, my first thought, once again, was, "Oh hell yes, let's scare everyone into thinking Bush is planning to draft our sorry asses! Whoooooo!" But then, the pause. Re-read Kerry's speech at NYU. Re-read Kerry's remarks before the 2002 war vote. This is a man who can, when he needs to, really think seriously about national security—and let's face it, the Dems desperately need someone who can think seriously about national security.
Right then. So my main jitter is this—if saying "Bush is gonna bring back the draft" actually becomes a successful trump card that works every time, Kerry could well return to his old ways. By "old ways," I mean that back when Kerry thought he could rest on his Vietnam laurels, he had a pretty tepid vision of national security. Recently, though—now that the public and media have, however unfairly, forced Kerry to explain himself—he's come up with a pretty coherent set of principles on Iraq, terrorism, and whatnot. Now if Ezra (or anyone else) can convince me that Kerry can maintain that clarity and run a frenzied "Draft! Draft!" campaign, I'd like to hear it, and I'll happily sign on. From experience, though, once you know how to use the warp levels on Super Mario Brothers 3, you tend to forget how to play the actual game 'n' stuff.
Insta-update! (Because everyone has second thoughts...) Yes, I suppose winning is half the battle, or five-eighths of the battle, or whatever. Still, it's not inconceivable that "Republicans want to bring back the draft!" could morph into some form of generic dovishness, a tagline to trot out against any vote for military action. In the same way that "Democrats want to surrender to Osama!" morphed into an all-purpose (and wholly unserious) "hawkish" stance.
Among other things, Belmont Club makes the mathematical case for why large terrorist networks need state sponsors:
[This] is crucial to understanding why the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the toppling of Saddam Hussein may have cripped global terrorism so badly. Without the infrastrastructure of a state sponsor, terrorism is limited to cells of about 100 members in size in order to maintain security. In the context of the current campaign in Iraq, the strategic importance of places like Falluja or "holy places" is that their enclave nature allows terrorists to grow out their networks to a larger and more potent size. Without those sanctuaries, they would be small, clandestine hunted bands.
Which would provide ample justification for invading Iraq if, you know, there had been any large terrorist networks sheltered by Saddam Hussein to begin with. So let the hunt begin! By Belmont's specs, we are looking for a large terrorist organization of over 100 members, operating under Saddam Hussein.
Well okay, technically, if we want to say that invading Iraq has made us "safer" than before, we need to find more 100+ member groups under Hussein than exist in post-Hussein enclaves like Fallujah. But for now, all we ask for is a 100+ member group that could not have existed without Saddam Hussein. Thank you.
Unfortunately, Jessica Mathews has it right. We can't keep Iraq as our own little strategic foothold and create some sort of Iraqi democracy and maintain stability. At least one of these has to give, and in the long run, we'll be happiest giving up our strategic foothold. (Which is only to say that in the long run, we'll be unhappiest overseeing an Iraqi civil war.) I say "unfortunately," because dismantling our bases and cutting the puppet strings will meant that we've spent a lot of blood and money in Iraq without much national gain.
Anyways, her solutions to Iraq are: withdraw from the Green Zone; reassure Iraqis that we have no long-term intentions on their country; break contracts with Halliburton etc. and get Iraqis working on reconstruction; increase troop levels in the streets; convene an international summit for debt relief and border security. Oh, and delay elections. Too bad Ayatollah Sistani has already struck that option down. Although I imagine if the U.S. promised to reduce its political presence (by moving out of Baghdad) and withdraw support from Allawi & co., and brought back a heavier U.N. presence, we could probably persuade Sistani to sit tight and wait. But what then? There's still the possibility that an elected Shiite-Sunni "religious" government would provoke the Kurds, etc., bring doomsday, etc. On the other hand, we can't really say with certainty that the "faster elections" advocates have it wrong -- maybe we can ring in an Allawi-dominated National Assembly in January, leave out a number of Sunni voters, and eke by with that much-fabled "tenuous stability" option. Egad. Remind us never to invade a faction-ridden country again… Oh, right.
Swopa wins the award for clever conjecture: Sistani might be jockeying to form an alternative political party. I'm not sure how realistic it would be for him to link arms with Harith al-Dhari and other Sunni clerics, but maybe "President Allawi" sounds repugnant enough to make strange bedfellows. Who knows? At the same time, though, I imagine that Allawi could incite a Shiite-Sunni flare-up pretty easily (a few dead clerics would do it) if he really thought the alliance threatened his election chances.
There's also this: If a Sistani-Dhari party or some such won the elections, the Kurds would bolt pretty quickly. Enter civil war, death, chaos. In fairness, an Allawi government with proper Kurdish representation probably has the best chance of averting civil war, if they can get Sistani aboard. But that's sort of the whole bag of beans, isn't it?
Sure, blame the CEO. But when you're done, blame investors, those poor bastards. Has anyone, anywhere ever understood why traders were so enamored of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Yes, the firms may be "government sponsored enterprises" (GSEs), but their mortgage-backed securities are certainly not insured by the government the way, say, T-Bills are. By rights, the market should treat Fannie and Freddie bonds just like any other corporate bond. But it doesn't, and investors continue to settle for relatively low returns, and that's partly how Freddie and Fannie have made such a tidy little profit.
Alan Greenspan and John Snow tried to drill some sense into GSE traders a few months ago, but they failed, and now it looks like regulation will have to do the trick. Oh well. The Congressional Budget Office doesn't think that good old fashioned SEC disclosure will have much of an effect on mortgage rates. Come to think of it, I'd like to know how much Fannie and Freddie have really knocked down mortgage rates.
Pre-emptive "free market" spin: Of course poor Fannie's going to make herself into a glorified hedge fund. For years politicians in Washington have wrung their hands about the firm's volatility. The only way Fannie could dodge those mean old regulators was to give off some semblance of stability. And stability means over-gorging yourself on derivatives. So, uh, blame the government. Yeah! That's it!
Matt Miller (by way of James Carville) thinks that that's how John Kerry should respond to the inevitable debate question: "Do you think it was a good idea to take out Saddam Hussein?" I'm not so sure. Bush could pretty easily toss his hands up in the air in response, look exasperated, and quip, "Only John Kerry could call something terrible and good in the same sentence." Alas, there might simply be no smart way for Kerry to answer a loaded question like this.
The only saving grace for Kerry will be if things continue to get so bad in Iraq (see, inter alia, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani protesting the January elections) that the loaded questions start flying Bush's way. I, for one, suggest: "Mr. President, why should we trust you to handle Iraq when you've fucked it up so completely thus far?" Jim Lehrer can soften the language as he sees fit.
Maybe it was when they told voters that al Qaeda will buy up all those newly legalized assault rifles. Or maybe it was when they claimed that Bush will give our Social Security taxes over to mutual fund managers. In truth, I'm not sure when it started, but somewhere down the line, KE '04 got very good at scare tactics. The partisan in me would like to say, "Oh if only I could bring myself to frown on such demagoguery!" Har, har!
But the partisan policy wonk in me says otherwise. Scare tactics, especially successful scare tactics, usually seem to turn into substitutes for actual policy. Democrats demagogued pretty hard over Social Security during the '90s ("Enron will come for your pension. And then your children!"), and it worked so well that the party decided it didn't even need an actual Social Security policy. Kerry, to the best of my knowledge, has none. And yes, Social Security isn't that hard to fix, but at some point the Democrats really should figure out a way to pad the tax base, keep benefit payouts under control, and erase the "legacy debt". Creating some sort of mandatory savings accounts on the side wouldn't hurt, either. But right now, the party line seems to be: "Republicans will keep you penniless in old age, and we, uh, won't." Reminds me of Dick Cheney: "Democrats will let terrorists destroy this country and we, uh, won't." We all know how that turned out.
Jonathan Cohn makes an important point about Kerry's plan to expand Medicaid: "To the extent Kerry would have state programs gradually replace private insurance for these people, he's merely accelerating a process that is already underway." Indeed, according to the most recent Census data, Medicaid enrollment rose by 6.5 percent in 2003, even as the percentage of insured Americans declined. All Kerry wants to do is properly fund an ongoing trend.
At the same time, though, Medicaid has some serious flaws. Part of this comes from the fact that it’s a state program, not a federal one -- the wide fluctuations in enrollees tend to squeeze state budgets, especially during recessions. Meanwhile, costs tend to rise faster than state budgets, leading to cuts in services (since many states can't run deficits, even during downticks). But it's not very good as a health care program either, since it deals mostly with treatment rather than more cost-effective preventive care. But such is life. In an ideal world, Kerry would say, "Hey, people are naturally moving into public health care, so let's design a better public health care system." But here in the real world, its: "Hey, people are moving, etc., so let's just fund the system we have."
Investors in stocks and bonds view the world differently. Bond investors tend to be suspicious and pessimistic by nature. They accept lower potential gains in exchange for lower potential losses. Bonds guarantee at least an interest payment, and government bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the most powerful nation in world history. Stock investors are by nature optimistic, even credulous. Stocks are about stories, future growth, and earnings estimates. They are backed only by the full faith and credit of highly fallible CEOs.
So it's natural that there would be some disconnect between the two groups. But the two markets usually have roughly the same view of the economy. Crudely speaking, when the economy is running hot, you'd expect the prices of stocks to rise and the prices of bonds to fall. When it's sputtering along, you'd expect the prices of bonds to rise and the prices of stocks to fall. Today, however, the bond and stock markets seem to inhabit different worlds. They are about as polarized as the American electorate.
Alas, no word on which set of traders we should believe. If you look at the chart Kash set up, though, you see that 10-year bond yields have predicted employment growth fairly well over the last five years. The stock market hasn't predicted things nearly as well. Why? My guess is that bond traders pay closer attention to "pure" macroeconomic indicators, while stock traders have other things in mind. Maybe a bunch of them have serious short positions. Maybe a tiny number of investors are swinging the market (a tiny number of investors usually can), for whatever reason, even as price/earnings continues to lag. Maybe. I wish someone smarter than me -- like, hey, Daniel Gross! -- would follow up with a little more digging.
Update on Fallujah negotiations, from Al-Sabah al-Jadeed:
Negotiators on behalf of Fallujah residents continued meetings with government officials aimed at ending the city's crisis. The delegation headed by Sheikh Khalid Mahmood al-Jumaili, imam of a mosque in Falluja, went to Baghdad to talk about the residents' requests. Fallujans want US forces barred from the city as a condition of handing over their weapons and ending military operations against the Americans. The Fallujans also asked for compensation to be paid to people affected by the recent US bombardment. The delegation expressed optimism over solving the crisis peacefully.
If I may interject a question, please. Can anyone think of an instance in Iraq when an agreement to disarm led to actual disarmament? I've been following the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan pretty darn closely over the past few years, and I can't think of a single example. Everyone in Iraq has guns. Everyone's brother has a gun. Rocket launchers and small arms aren't particularly difficult to hide in a basement. Plenty of agreements have been signed, but the al-Mahdi army has yet to disarm; most Iraqi militias have yet to disarm; the warlords in Afghanistan have yet to disarm. So what do we have here? The U.S. will withdraw its troops from Fallujah, end military operations, pay compensation, and the insurgents will turn over a few surplus rifles. Genuine truce, or mere stalling tactics?
Apparently, according to Charles Noble's book, The Collapse of Liberalism: Why America Needs a New Left. Noble, chair of the poli-sci department at UCLB, suggests that the Democratic party -- Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, Clinton, the whole nine yards -- has failed to challenge American capitalism in any meaningful way, and has equally failed to challenge the idea of American empire in any meaningful way. So the book contains a lot of sentences like these, "Since the Kennedy administration, American fiscal policy has emphasized cutting taxes rather than substantially increasing spending on needed public purposes."
Fair enough, but Noble makes the same error that, say, many Nader voters do: it's easy to fault the Democratic party if you only focus on results. True, in its final form, Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, proved relatively piddling. Same with the New Deal (compared to, say, European welfare states). Same with Clinton's micro-initiatives. But pointing that out is very different from faulting the intentions of those Democratic leaders. The U.S., lest we forget, has a bipartisan government with a surfeit of veto points. This structure made it very easy for Bob Dole to scuttle Clinton's health care plan, even as the majority of Americans (and Clinton) wanted some form of universal coverage. Now I think you might be able to make a sophisticated poli-sci argument that a firebreathing progressive would get more accomplished as president, but you can't get there simply by tallying up Democratic failures and ignoring larger, structural explanations. (Noble does tackle structural reform later on, but focuses on empowering third parties at the voting booth rather than clearing up some of the excess inertia within the legislative process.)
Also, jumping a bit off point, but not too much, I think Paul Krugman had the right idea in this old review of J.K. Galbraith's The Good Society:
To be both a liberal and a good economist you must have a certain sense of the tragic--that is, you must understand that not all goals can be attained, that life is a matter of painful tradeoffs. You must want to help the poor, but understand that welfare can encourage dependency. You must want to protect those who lose their jobs, but admit that generous unemployment benefits can raise the long-term rate of unemployment. You must be willing to tax the affluent to help those in need, but accept that too high a rate of taxation can discourage investment and innovation. To the free-market conservative, these are all arguments for government to do nothing, to accept whatever level of poverty and insecurity the market happens to produce. A serious liberal does not reply to such conservatives by denying that there are any trade-offs at all; he insists, rather, that some trade-offs are worth making, that helping the poor and protecting the unlucky may have costs but will ultimately make for a better society.
All true, and left progressives would do well to find some way to make peace with this reality as well. All told, there's a productive place for both far-left movement -- as an important motivational device -- and liberal-realism of the Krugman variety. More recently, though, we seem to see the far-left movement attacking liberal-realism as "too centrist", while liberal realists attack the far left as "too stupid." Someone needs to coordinate better the "means" wing and the "ends" wing of the Democratic party.
Orin Kerr has a few notes on a recent Antonin Scalia lecture:
Scalia then suggested that our faith in judges today is similar to our faith in experts decades ago. We expect judges to have answers to the great moral questions of the day. The trouble is that judges are not moral experts; they are just lawyers. Judges can dress up moral judgments in a legal opinion in a way that seems very impressive. The form of a legal opinion can create an illusion of expertise in the question (this is my language, not Scalia's).
But in fact judges have no greater insights into moral questions than anyone else. Scalia went on to discuss some of the provisions of the European Union human rights laws, which task judges with enforcing broad moral standards. The difficulty with this approach, Scalia suggested, is that it presupposes that judges have special insight into morality. Because judges do not have any special insights into such questions, it is better to leave them to the democratic process. Scalia then went on to discuss the benefits of an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation; among those benefits was that it did not embroil judges in all sorts of moral questions that they had no ability to answer.
This seems intuitively wrong, but it's hard to express why. For one—and I think Cass Sunstein has made this point well—judicial "activism," as it is usually understood, tends to follow popular opinion. Civil rights—including non-discrimination—didn't become a constitutional norm until long after the public largely deemed discrimination wrong. Ditto with gay marriage—you might say that only a minority supports gay marriage, depending on your polls, but it's a pretty hefty minority. If Sunstein is right and this is historically accurate, then activist judges ruling on moral questions aren't relying solely on their own expertise, but following to some extent the "wisdom of the crowds". I think.
Good idea! 'Twas even better when Hendrik Hertzberg first proposed it. (Okay, if we really want to play this game, maybe we have to go back to John Mill or something… whatever!) The only real obstacle, I think, is Article I of the U.S. Constitution, saying that every state "shall have at Least one Representative." To get around that pesky business, I think Hertzberg suggested having 435 regular Congressmen, and 50 "at large" congressmen. But for the at-large folks, the Hare method would be too messy for any more than about 50 candidates, so it's easier to just vote on a slate of candidates.
However, if you wanted to split up the Senate 50-50 (50 in-state candidates, 50 at-large candidates), then you could select the at-large Senators by the Hare system, since mathematically you would only need to list about 7 candidates at most. Too messy for Congress, though. Yup!
Joe Stiglitz brings back the Keynesian view on deficit spending with a vengeance: "Run a deficit when there is insufficient demand; try to get the biggest bang for the buck...; try to spend the money in ways which enhance long term growth." Right, then. The second and third tenets should be non-controversial. As for the first… well, see 1993. But wait! Stiglitz did see 1993. And here's what he has to say:
The official argument was that deficit reduction allowed lower interest rates; lower interest rates led to more investment; and the increased investment spurred the recovery. But that is unconvincing—largely because it implies a false connection between deficit reduction and lower interest rates. ... As the last few years have shown, Greenspan had considerable room to lower interest rates with or without deficit reduction. So while lower interest rates may have spurred the recovery, deficit reduction did not.
Wait a minute, we say. What about long-term interest rates? How does the Fed keep those down if its running deficits? To which Stiglitz replies: "Presumably, the Fed could have intervened more directly, by buying up long term government bonds, rather than just buying Treasury bills, as it customarily does."
Some context first. The usual supply-and-demand argument has it that when the government runs deficits, it issues more bonds. More bonds equal lower bond prices, which means higher bond yields and hence higher interest rates. Stiglitz is saying that the Fed (or someone else) can intervene by buying back those bonds directly, and bond traders will never know we're running a deficit.
In part, that's what happened over the last few years, according to a recent Fed study. (Although the Fed study uses "no arbitrage" finance models rather than classical supply-and-demand arguments**.) Japan came through for us big, purchasing Treasury bonds in high volume, and knocking down yields 50-100 basis points. Long-term yields also fell because the Fed went on a wild bond buyback when it was carrying a short term surplus between 2000-2001, and reduced bond issues in the late '90s. But hey! That means the Clinton surpluses were partly responsible for the Fed's ability to run low interest rates during the Bush recession.
But that's only part of the story. As the Fed Study above notes, Greenspan was also able to hold long term interest rates down simply by saying so. Brad DeLong called this "open-mouth operations," meaning that Greenspan has so much credibility as an inflation hawk, that when he says "I'm keeping interest rates down," investors truly believe he won't let things get out of hand (by "things get out of hand", I mean inflation and rapid rate increases).
So the last four years have been a relatively special case. Greenspan could do what he did because a) he's a rock star on Wall Street, b) central banks in Japan and China are willing to take on a shitty investment for strategic reasons, and c) the Fed went on a quick 'n' dirty bond buyback, announced in 1999, thanks to the Clinton surplus. I don't think we can always count on this perfect storm appearing to keep interest rates low even as we steep the country in red ink.
**The Fed study is massively interesting, and I wish I could understand more of it. It basically looks at the Fed's approach interest rates from a finance (rather than an economics) perspective. Daniel Davies wrote an essay on this topic a while back—showing how to factor in expectations when figuring out the bond market. I'm not very good at that sort of thing. I wish I was, but I'm not.
Nevertheless, the United States has continued to rely on airstrikes, a tactic that is becoming increasingly controversial. The United States has used fearsome AC-130 gunships to attack individual safehouses in crowded areas. The Pentagon says the strikes will continue as the military works to retake towns controlled by insurgents. Take the example of the September 13 strike on Fallujah. The military said it was a precision attack with warplanes and artillery that destroyed a hideout where associates of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi were meeting. But hospital officials told reporters that women and children were among the dead. They also said an ambulance carting wounded from the scene was destroyed by American forces, another image shown repeatedly on Arab TV.
Because of such incidents, State Department officials have quietly urged the Pentagon to curtail airstrikes--and some government officials portray Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as too reliant on airpower. Using airstrikes in places like Fallujah is "the dumbest possible thing anybody could ever dream up," says a U.S. official who previously served in the military. "[The Pentagon] has this leadership that believes precision munitions are manna from heaven. They do not understand what is happening. This is the worst counterinsurgency effort I have seen in 40 years."
Let's be honest, it's easy to wage a backseat campaign, keyboard in hand, here in the comfort of my cubicle. And the U.S. News &World Report piece mounts a decent defense of the military. (It's hard to avoid killing children when the children are the ones throwing bombs at you.) But the article pretty clearly suggests that the Pentagon has yet to tackle the issue of civilian casualties with any seriousness, and has yet to fight the sort of patient, manpower intensive counterinsurgency that Pamela Hess described in this brilliant UPI piece.
It's worth revisiting James Kitfield's account of Donald Rumsfeld's original battle plan for Iraq: air-power intensive, "light", and relying heavily on precision bombing. Recall, furthermore, that back in October 2003, Rumsfeld appointed James G. Roche Secretary of Army. As a former Air Force man, Roche's selection came as a slap in the face to most Army generals (especially of the Thomas White-Eric Shinseki school), but Rumsfeld also picked him because Roche strongly advocated the "revolution in military affairs," the lighter, faster fighting force. The war plans for Baghdad were essentially a grand experiment cooked up by RMA proponents. What about the current counterinsurgency strategy—is this also an experiment? I'd love to say that Rumsfeld (and Roche) would never endanger our soldiers and risk letting the insurgency flare up, all for the sake of ideology. But it sure seems that way.
I've either received or seen a couple of responses to thisMother Jones column, more or less all to the effect of: "So you want to capitulate to the terrorists, huh?" Um, no. But the piece certainly gives that impression, and it makes a number of pretty basic blunders, so it's hard to just walk away from this one. For the record, my excuses for the shoody piece are: a) I'm a terrible writer, b) it's a complicated topic, and c) the constraints of the "Daily Mojo" format meant I had to type the thing up in a few short hours, without any edits. So it goes. But anyways, here's an elaboration and defense, of sorts.
This guy gets a lot right. The important thing is to split the difference between figuring out root causes (including historical causes) of terrorism and taking note of the fact that there really are serious terrorists who can't be reasoned with. And yes, I certainly think, as Masha Gessen pointed out, that al Qaeda and other Salafi militant groups have appropriated the Chechnya conflict for their own purposes. Many of these groups moved into the failed state that arose when Russia withdrew from Chechnya in 1996. Russia is, of course, to blame for the general state of affairs, but as this Stygius fellow says you have to identify "the terrorist as a moral agent" too.
I'll get into the nitty-gritty in a second, but I just want to make my main point, which should have been in the original article and which I made later on: "The point of trying to resolve these situations is to separate out those who, like al Qaeda, will attack the West no matter what, and those who will join bin Laden's jihad because of specific grievances." Yes, I really do believe that if the U.S. helped fixed Chechnya and Palestine and Kashmir (no, of course it's not easy), even on not-so-amenable terms, a lot of people would go home and tune bin Laden (or Shamil Basayev) out. Then the West could focus its attention solely on those who still insist on fighting, even after the grievances are solved—the radical wing of Hamas, say, or Besayev's Wahhabi fighters in Chechnya. I'm not trying to plump for "historicist" explanations of terrorism, simply stating what I think is a pretty basic fact: When there are historical grievances afoot (as in Chechnya), then it's hard to distinguish between "pure terrorists" and "issue terrorists," because their interests meld pretty seamlessly.
Okay, now the nitty-gritty on Chechnya. "Fundamentalist" Islam has a long history in Chechnya because the region has long relied on covert Sufi societies that were set up to evade the Soviet religious crackdown. But Sufi Islam is of course different from and even antithetical to al Qaeda's brand of Salafi Islam, which has nevertheless spread surprisingly quickly through Chechnya in recent years. Wahhabists have found a willing audience among many of the young, impoverished Chechens who fled the region after the first war (1994-96) and traveled around the Middle East. Moreover, it's hard to underestimate the popularity of the mujahideen who defeated Russia in Afghanistan. They are heroes for Chechen nationalists.
So the Salafi fundamentalists are only gaining immense popularity for very specific reasons, all related to the war. If the Chechnya crisis was ever solved (again, not easy), men like Shamil Basayev would find scant audience among Chechen Sufis. Salafi extremists like Basayev and bin Laden may be fighting for the soul of the ummah, but they would not succeed without geo-strategic pretexts such as that in Chechnya. Hence, it's enormously important to figure out what grievances bin Laden uses as their rallying cry—because if we can neutralize those grievances, we can isolate bin Laden (or whoever else wants to go to war).
Interesting paper by Mark Katz on why some democratic revolutions succeed and others fail:
Certain theorists, including Crane Brinton and Timothy Wickham-Crowley, have argued that the role of the armed forces is the key factor in deciding whether a nondemocratic revolution succeeds or fails. If the armed forces protect the ancien regime, then the revolutionary opposition is unable to seize power. If, however, the armed forces do not protect the ancien regime, then the revolutionaries usually do come to power. I will argue that just as in attempts at nondemocratic revolution, the role played by the military is also a key factor in determining the outcome of democratic revolution. When the military is willing to use force to protect the ancien regime, democratic revolutionaries cannot prevail. It is only the refusal of the armed forces to use force that allows democratic revolutionaries to succeed.
What, then, determines whether the armed forces of an authoritarian regime will use force to suppress a democratic revolutionary movement? Using a comparison of the cases mentioned, I will argue that the decision by the armed forces not to protect an authoritarian regime is not the result of a democratic conversion on the part of the military as a whole, but that it results instead from an overwhelming desire to prevent conflict within the military. Thus, if even a small number of key commanders defect to the democratic opposition, this can neutralize the armed forces as a whole, even though most military leaders may be wary of, or even hostile toward, democratization. But if these key defections to the democratic opposition do not occur and the military remains unified, it is able to crush easily the democratic revolutionaries.
Since the obvious case of concern here is Iran, let's talk Iran. The military really has three branches here. There's the Armed Forces proper, for one. By all accounts, it's pretty loyal—though some analysts think that a downturn in the economy could provoke dissent. Next we have Iran's Revolutionary Guard (the Pasdaran), which was created in 1979 to protect the Revolution and enforce Islamic codes. These folks are perhaps the weakest link. In 1994 the Pasdaran showed a wee bit of disloyalty, when anti-clerical riots broke out in Ghazvin, and a number of Pasdaran and Army Commanders refused to suppress the crowds. Furthermore, I believe a number of Revolutionary Guardsmen voted for Khatami in 1997. Anyways, after Ghazvin, Tehran began relying mostly on the basiji--volunteer groups of vigilantes to maintain domestic order. This is the third group, funded mostly by religious charities. I'm not sure, but I don't think Ayatollah Khameini has direct control over the basiji. I believe they are mostly controlled by the Combatant Clergy Association, a conservative party which forms the largest bloc in parliament.
Anyways, the key here, I think, is that there are so many overlapping armed forces that someone is bound to crack down on a revolutionary movement. In Tiananmen back in 1989, as Nick Kristof reported, the 38th Army refused to fight the protestors, but it also refused to defend the protestors. So Beijing just brought in the provincial 27th Army to open fire on the square. Had the 38th Army been more aggressive in its defense, the revolution might have worked. But they weren't.
Something similar seems the likely fate for Iran, (albeit for different reasons) at least in the near future: Revolution breaks out, perhaps one branch of the military (the IRGC) averts its eyes, but the other branches—particularly the basiji brigades—come in and crush the rebellion. This isn't a technical analysis by any means; I'm just pointing out that with fractured and overlapping military forces, Iran doesn't resemble, say, Philippines circa 1986 all that much.
Right on. September seems like as good a month as any for Tony Blair to order a drawdown of forces:
The cuts will occur in the combat elements of the deployment - the 5,000-strong infantry and armoured brigade that is committed to the provinces of Basra and Maysan. Four Royal Navy ships will remain in the Gulf.
However, the incoming force will leave its heavy armour, mainly Challenger tanks, behind, but will be equipped with a unit of Warrior armoured troop carriers.
Senior officers say the scaling back of the British commitment in Iraq is a sign of their success in keeping order and helping reconstruction. But both Basra and Maysan have seen heavy combat recently, with some units sustaining up to 35 per cent casualties, and remains restive. The al-Mahdi army, which was responsible for most of the fighting, remains heavily armed.
I'm too tired to look into this now, but is it really the case that Basra is fine and dandy? As of only a few months ago, Shiite militia groups were gunning down Christians all across the province. The Arab media brings back daily reports of drug rings, oil smuggling, high unemployment, frequent looting, vigilantes targeting shopowners... It's not Sadr City-style chaos, but it is the sort of low-key, crime-ridden town that gives "democracy" a bad name. Oh, and it's one of the first places that Sunni-Shiite infighting will start should, you know, elections go poorly and civil war break out. But who knows? If it works, and things don't get too bad (like, front-page headlines bad) Basra might prove the model for our own premature withdrawal...
Spent the morning doing laundry, cooking, lounging around, sleeping, and reading John Judis' The Folly of Empire. It's not the most insightful book in the world, but it does glance on a few important topics, not least of which is this idea of Democratizing our Enemies for Peace. Or rather, is democracy a necessary and sufficient condition for peace? (Okay, so Judis doesn't ask this question, but I want to, and his book is a good starting-point.)
Quite clearly, it's not a necessary condition. From a national security standpoint, it just wasn't a big deal that South Korea and Taiwan had autocratic regimes until the late 1980s. Nestled safely under the U.S. security umbrella, those countries posed no real threat to anyone. Moreover, from a certain narrowly-defined moral standpoint those governments served their people fairly well, offering economic prosperity, rising living standards, and above all peace. It's obviously nice to have representative government as well, but if a country has everything but that, it's doing pretty well. There's a big difference between "Democratizing our Enemies for Peace" and "Democratizing our Enemies because It's the Right Thing to Do."
Of course, not every country is willing or able to sit safely under the U.S. security umbrella, and, for obvious geo-strategic reasons, not every country can replicate the South Korea/Taiwan experience. Some despotic regimes quite clearly do pose a threat to regional (or global) stability—Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, what have you. As the story goes, George Bush and the neoconservatives believed that democratization was the best way to make these regimes more stable.
The problem, as we've seen in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but as should have been clear long beforehand, is that it's hard to create democracy out of nothing. No one really knows how to go about it. There's democracy-at-gunpoint, or the neoconservative method. Judis cites two examples from American history—Philippines and Mexico—where this strategy has failed. The U.S. tried to side with opposition forces against despotic regimes, but only ended up creating a massive nationalist backlash. In fact, in all of history, democracy-at-gunpoint can boast only two success stories: Germany and Japan. Both had somewhat special circumstances: There was a clear, reasonable, and widely-accepted narrative that these countries had been international aggressors; the nations suffered total military defeat; there was a native backlash against militarism that had led to WWII; they were advanced nations with pre-existing liberal institutions; there were no ethnic tensions within borders (more precisely, they were not colonial creations); and they both faced a rather grave external threat—the Soviet Union. (John Dower's prescient pre-war essay comparing Japan and Iraq makes the contrast rather clear.)
(As a side note—and a purely speculative one at that—Iraq circa 1991 seemed to resemble Japan more than did Iraq circa 2003. It's possible that had Bush I stormed into Baghdad, we might have succeeded in installing a liberal state. At the very least, the Shiites and Kurds would trust us far more than they do now, and propagandists like al Qaeda would be less prone to rile up an insurgency—after all, Osama bin Laden offered to defend Saudi Arabia against Hussein. But then again, it might not have worked.)
Bearing this in mind, the liberal approach to democracy-building has emphasized international institutions that integrate nations into a political and economic framework. Under Bill Clinton, the economic aspect became particularly important. As he told Congress in 1996, "Free market nations with growing economies and strong and open trade are more likely to feel secure and to work towards freedom." There's some historical evidence that this approach has worked—Spain, Greece, Turkey, and parts of Eastern Europe have all opened up after being integrated into a tight international order. But I'm rattling off examples rather glibly, and closer study is certainly needed to figure out exactly what is going on here.
Judis certainly places himself in this (somewhat idealized) Wilson-Clinton tradition. The liberal critique of George W. Bush, on this view, is that promoting democracy is a good thing, and probably furthers our national security aims, but it is best done through institutions. I can't say I'm unsympathetic to this view—among other things, I've been known to advocate economic engagement with Iran—although it begs for further scrutiny.
But that's not the only lesson Judis draws from the Wilson/Clinton tradition. Judis is also properly skeptical of the old adage that "Democracies rarely wage war on each other." In the age of high-tech weapons, democracies can certainly wage war without suffering many casualties—the check of popular opinion has vanished in many cases. The U.S. is the obvious example, but note that even a democratic Iraq probably wouldn't think twice about going to war with, say, Syria if it could do so simply by lobbing a few missiles towards Damascus. So democracy, if Judis is right, is not a sufficient condition for peace either. International institutions are again needed to rein countries in. NATO is the prime paradigm here—and it explains why Clinton was so eager to salvage the alliance even when it seemed obsolete in a post-Cold War era. He wanted to expand NATO towards Eastern Europe, so that those countries' ambitions would be, as Judis puts it, "subsumed beneath the large multinational commitments of these organizations."
Now, there are arguments to be made that the UN is not the right institution that can maintain a Wilsonian-Clintonian international order. If so, fine. But Bush's disregard for multilateralism—shunning not just the UN, but treaties like Kyoto, the nuclear test-ban treaty, the International Criminal Court—has badly forestalled the possibility of any international order. It's worth pointing out here that Bush's "coalition of the willing" was not multilateralism—multilateralism has nothing to do with how many allies you have and everything to do with working through international institutions. So we've reached the point where, even on the slim chance that Afghanistan and Iraq do become functioning democracies, the world is lacking a strong international framework to make those democracies peaceful democracies.
Readers will likely find no topic more hideous than the trade deficit. And I agree! Sadly, though, it keeps forcing its way into the news -- yesterday the Commerce Department reported that the U.S. had hit a record trade deficit of $166.2 billion last quarter. For the moment, we're concerned with two main questions: What does the trade deficit have to do with politics, and What can be done about it?
First off, it's difficult to blame the deficit on George W. Bush. Most of our troubles caused by America's incurable refusal to save money -- at both the personal and federal level -- and this has been going on for twenty years. Americans (and American governments) spend and spend and spend, which raises the cost of money, boosts interest rates, attracts foreign capital, and thereby raises the value of the dollar. With a strong dollar, foreign products become relatively cheap, and we end up importing more than we export (about twice as much, to be precise). Not only does this harm our domestic manufacturing base -- not least because we have less money for investment at home -- but foreigners use all the dollars they receive to buy up American assets.
Or at least, they used to buy up American assets. During the late 1990s, foreigners rushed in to buy up tech stocks and other goodies. But ever since the bubble burst, a good chunk of the deficit has been financed by Asian central banks, who simply sit on all their excess greenbacks in order to keep the dollar strong, so that Americans will continue to buy Asian imports. Now, Asian banks get a terrible investment deal out of all of this, but as long as it stimulates their export base, they don't care much.
But we're very close to the point of disaster. The Institute for International Economics has argued that deficits become unstable when they reach 4 percent of GDP. We're at about 5 percent right now. Pretty soon, the Asian banks will care that they're buying up worthless T-bills. When that happens, banks will start ridding themselves of dollars, causing a rapid run on our currency and serious economic hurt (oil-driven inflation coupled with high interest rates and a sharp recession). In all likelihood, this is what happens if we try to let the market "sort out" the trade deficit.
In order to forestall that unhappy possibility, we need to start paring down the trade deficit right now. But what, exactly, could George Bush (or John Kerry) do? Some liberals have suggested trade tactics -- either forcing China to revalue its currency upwards or propping up trade barriers against imports. But neither will make a big dent in the deficit. (Trade barriers would only reduce the supply of dollars abroad, causing the dollar to rise and U.S. exports to become more expensive.) Alternatively, we can do what the Fed did in the late '80s and force the U.S. through a sharp economic slowdown relative to the rest of the world (so that foreigners start buying more stuff than we do). This works, but it also leads to very high unemployment, lower consumption, and other unpleasantness.
That leaves two "happy" options. First, we can try to boost national savings. For the government, that means getting rid of the budget deficit. (Each dollar of budget surplus boosts national savings by about 60-80 cents.) Unfortunately, no economist knows how to make people save more money. Bush's "personal savings accounts" and whatnot certainly won't do this -- William Gale and Peter Orszag of Brookings have noted that Bush's tax plans serve only to tax wages, not promote savings. So Bush is utterly wrongheaded as usual. But jacking up savings is a problem we need to tackle sooner or later.
The other way to cut down the trade deficit, as John Quiggin pointed out today, is to reduce oil imports by raising the gasoline tax. To fairly drastic levels. It would hurt, yes, and woe to the politician who dares propose it. But at this point, there's a big economic crisis lurking on the horizon, and we're in pressing need of a solution.
Some ideas from the American Prospect, circa 1998. It's not just getting the money; it's how you spend it:
Though useful, these publications share a common weakness: the authors are implicitly comparing conservative philanthropy with liberal-left or progressive philanthropy, yet none define progressive philanthropy, specify which foundations should be included in that category, or outline what principles might unite them. None of these publications address the organizational landscape to which progressive funders are urged to respond. (NCRP is currently examining the state of progressive infrastructure in five states, which will be a welcome addition to the current literature.) The publications imply that if funders would just get their act together, progressives could be more competitive. Not surprisingly, the small amount of dialogue among funders that has occurred publicly in response has had a defensive tone to it.
If we had a definition of left-liberal philanthropy, it is not clear that major foundations such as Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur, or Carnegie would be included in it. While they might be considered generally liberal, these foundations are not eager to regroup in order to become a left-wing funding juggernaut. The foundations are not comparable to the medium-sized family foundations that comprise so much of the conservative money. The big centrist foundations, rather, are institutions with well-entrenched traditions of pragmatism and experimentalism -- not to mention a program-focused bureaucracy. Any leftward drift by the foundations' staff, however, would be quickly curtailed by the political composition of their boards. There are no Jim Hightowers on the four sisters' boards, but there are plenty of Paul Harveys, as well as corporate executives, who sit on so-called liberal boards.
Paradoxically, though conservative funders have helped a new generation of right-wing activist intellectuals, the conservative think tank world is not "funder driven" -- money does not determine the conservative agenda. In fact, just the opposite appears to be the case. Conservative funders identify talented strategic thinkers and give them financial support and broad latitude; they work collaboratively with strategists such as Paul Weyrich, Ralph Reed, C. Boyden Grey, Grover Norquist, Irving Kristol, Reed Irvine, Ed Feulner, Gary Bauer, William Bennett, Howard Phillips, and others. Funders and strategists meet to hammer out issue campaigns and priorities through the Council on National Policy, a little-known body that is often described as highly secretive. In effect, conservative philanthropists operate as movement strategists first and funders second. That may describe a few small explicitly leftist foundations, but with the exception of a few guerrilla staffers, it hardly characterizes Ford, Rockefeller, and the other big mainstream and liberal foundations.
(Add the $2,150,000 grant Little Mac gave Harper's in 2003 to what Big Mac [$7.5 million] and the Schumann Center [$4.3 million] gave to liberal media in 2003, and you almost hit $14 million. Magazines supported by conservative foundations—the National Interest, the Public Interest, the New Criterion, Commentary, Policy Review, Reason—aren't sucking up anywhere near that kind of money from their benefactors. Reason, which is representative of the bunch, received $1.4 million in subsidies from donors last year. In other words, if the three liberal foundations concentrated their philanthropy on magazines that lost only $1.4 million a year, they could support 10 like-sized publications.)