Category Archive for: Terrorism [Return to Main]

Saturday, June 08, 2013

'What is the Price of Freedom?'

Comments on this?:

What is the price of freedom?, by James Choi: Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort? In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting? Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? ... What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, PATRIOT Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? --David Foster Wallace, The Atlantic, on the trade-off between liberty and security.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

'End the War on Terror and Save Billions'

Comments on this?:

End the war on terror and save billions, by Fareed Zakaria: As we debate whether the two parties can ever come together and get things done, here’s something President Obama could probably do by himself that would be a signal accomplishment of his presidency: End the war on terror. ...
For 11 years, the United States has been operating under emergency wartime powers granted under the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force.” That is a longer period than the country spent fighting the Civil War, World War I and World War II combined. It grants the president and the federal government extraordinary authorities at home and abroad, effectively suspends civil liberties for anyone the government deems an enemy and keeps us on a permanent war footing in all kinds of ways. ... Phasing out or modifying these emergency powers should be something that would appeal to both left and right. ...
If you want to know why we’re in such a deep budgetary hole, one large piece of it is that we have spent around $2 trillion on foreign wars in the past decade. ... The ... U.S. government has built 33 new complexes for the intelligence bureaucracies alone. The Department of Homeland Security employs 230,000 people. ...
Of course there are real threats out there... But we have done this before, and we can do so in the future under more normal circumstances. ...
In any event, it is a good idea that the United States find a way to conduct its anti-terrorism campaigns within a more normal legal framework, rather than rely on blanket wartime authority granted in a panic after Sept. 11.
No president wants to give up power. But this one is uniquely positioned to begin a serious conversation about a path out of permanent war.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'Significantly More Negligence Than Has Been Disclosed'

"Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat":

The Deafness Before the Storm, by Kurt Eichenwald, NY Times: It was perhaps the most famous presidential briefing in history.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.
On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission... Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.
That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion: the administration’s reaction to what Mr. Bush was told in the weeks before that infamous briefing reflected significantly more negligence than has been disclosed. ...
The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.
But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. ... In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real. ... And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings... Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. ...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Who Are We Becoming?

Brad DeLong:

Who Are We Becoming?: Torture Edition: Scott Lemieux: Torture Without Accountability:

Adam Serwer: Investigation of Bush-era Torture Concludes With No Charges | Mother Jones

It is not as though we got anything out of torture. We blackened our reputation for a generation and did substantial damage to our national security. We gave away a piece of our soul. And our torturers and our torture techniques--they are the techniques designed to elicit false confessions.

At least when we sent Maher Arar to the Syrian Mukhabarat, the professionals there figured out pretty quickly that he was innocent and sent him back. Had our CIA kept hold of him, it would have elicited a false confession and still be claiming that he was a mastermind behind 911…

So I write:

I think the good guys have lost this permanently.

Impeaching or trying presidents and cabinet members for policies of torture is a vote loser, or so all the High Politicians think. And going after lower-downs creates very bad precedents for the future--for one thing, it then makes CIA agents slaves of the then-president because they must get their end-of-term plenary pardons before the administration changes. And the Roman Republic's fall teaches it how bad it is for people to fear that losing an election will land them in jail.

POTUS now has plenary power to arrest, detain, torture, or kill anyone on his say-so alone without ever having to explain why--a power William the Conquerer never claimed…

And somebody smarter than I am responds:

I would urge people to think of accountability as a generational project -- this is how it has worked out in Chile, Argentina, South Africa... the thing that can be done now is create opportunities for more participants to tell their stories, put on record what was done and who did it and how, so that the record gets fuller rather than thinner over time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Kenya’s Forever War"

Dayo Olopade does not believe Kenya's “Operation Linda Nchi” -- it's war against terrorism -- is worth the cost:

Kenya’s Forever War, by Dayo Olopade, Commentary, NY Times: NAIROBI — A bomb exploded in downtown Nairobi on Monday [May 28] — the eighth such attack in as many months. It was a far more sophisticated operation than the makeshift grenades that have been tossed from moving cars and into small churches and bars in the recent past. This bomb was big enough to send at least 30 Kenyans to the hospital. ...
Al Shabab, the Somalia-based terrorist group, has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in Kenya. But there are other culprits closer to home: Odinga, President Mwai Kibaki and the Kenyan military brass who last year unilaterally declared open-ended war against Al Shabab, with unacceptable side effects.
Operation Linda Nchi” (“Protect the Nation”), which began in October, was sold to Kenya with the same “offense as defense” playbook that took the United States into war with Iraq. Ministers assured Kenyans that the invasion would be quick and easy, focused on the “hot pursuit” of kidnappers and pirates who had been terrorizing Kenya’s northern coast.
Like the promises of a slam dunk in Iraq, none of those projections have been true. Eight months on, the fight against Al Shabab — which even Somalia’s president has called “unwelcome” — is proceeding with only middling success. ... Taming Somalia is like taming Afghanistan: no nation has done it, though plenty have bled their treasuries trying.
Living in the Horn of Africa over the past year, I’ve been humbled by the complexities of regional politics. The Kenyan establishment had its reasons to invade Somalia: fighting for vital tourist dollars, punishing rogue pirates and petty kidnappers, protecting the $24 billion port under construction in the northern town of Lamu. Pressure from an America that has itself soured on military intervention is also said to play a role. But I still believe that none of these justifications is worth it. ...
The mounting belief that this foreign war is causing domestic violence has become a growing chink in the unified front that Kenyan citizens first projected when Linda Nchi began. Kenya’s failure to confront this could prolong the violence in both places.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Blaming Terrorists for the Financial Crisis

It is possible to find taxpayer dollars that have been completely wasted:

Don't be afraid of economic terrorists, by Andrew Leonard: Just because there isn't any evidence proving that jihadi terrorists, Chinese Communists, Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, separately or acting together, masterminded Wall Street's great financial crash of 2008 doesn't mean it couldn't have happened! That, in a nutshell, is the absurd, disturbing message at the heart of Kevin D. Freeman's Pentagon-funded study, "Economic Warfare: Risks and Responses." Since so much of what happens on Wall Street is hidden from public view or regulatory oversight, we don't know what really happened. Therefore, anything could have happened. And since there are bad guys who hate us -- well, you connect the dots.

Freeman published his study in June 2009, funded by a contract from the Department of Defense's Irregular Warfare Support Program. But for reasons that are not entirely clear, the Washington Times's Bill Gertz, a reporter who has made a career of hyperbolically exaggerating national security threats to the United States, waited until Tuesday of this week to cover the study at great length, declaring authoritatively, "Financial terrorism suspected in 2008 economic crash"... It seems the Pentagon no longer wants to have anything to do with Freeman's thesis, and even though it was submitted as source material to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, failed to be included in the final report. So clearly, there is a conspiracy to suppress Freeman's truth-telling. ...

Or, alternatively, the fact there is no actual evidence supporting the thesis and the analytic rigor demonstrated by Freeman isn't what a serious person would find remotely convincing might be the real reasons for the mass shunning. ...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"The Economics of Terrorism"

Andrew Leigh summarizes recent research suggesting that the provision of social services is a key factor in stopping terrorism:

The Economics of Terrorism, by Andrew Leigh: My AFR op-ed today is on the economics of terrorism, discussing a new book by Eli Berman...:
What Makes Martyrs Tick, Australian Financial Review: ...Why were hardly any lives lost to suicide bombing in the 1970s, but over 10,000 in the 2000s? What makes suicide bombing so popular in the modern age?
Most people find it impossible to answer this question without using the word ‘crazy’. But a fascinating strand of research has begun to use the tools of economics to try and better understand what drives suicide attacks, and how we might stop them in the future.
In his new book,... economist Eli Berman ... takes a ... look at one of the hottest policy questions today. He begins by popping a few myths. Interviews with families and friends of suicide bombers, as well as with failed bombers, show that they are not particularly motivated by the afterlife, but by concerns closer to home. ...
Careful studies ... suggest that they are not generally depressed or mentally ill, and would not be the kinds of people who would otherwise kill themselves. Rather than regard suicide bombers as mad zealots, Berman argues, we should think of suicide bombers as misguided altruists, who truly believe that their acts will bring great benefits to their community.
To understand why suicide bombing has become more common, Berman contends, we need to stop focusing only on the motivations of bombers, and consider the ‘hardness’ of their target. As it becomes more difficult for terrorists to do damage, they are more likely to switch to suicide bombing. ... Faced with no other option, ‘rebels counter with suicide attacks’. Thus the rise in suicide bombings over the past quarter-century has a lot to do with the improvements in the military capability deployed against them. ...
What can we do to reduce the number of terrorist attacks in the future? One approach is to limit the amount of money reaching insurgent groups. ... But Berman’s main focus is the relationship between terrorism and social service provision. It is no accident, he says, that the Taliban run law courts, Hezbollah collects garbage, and Hamas operates health clinics. Social services provide a way of harvesting new recruits, and testing their commitment to the leadership. And because they can be withdrawn at will, social service provision gives leverage over the local population...
To really shut down terrorist groups, Berman argues, we need to undermine their social service provision. He gives the historical example of Egypt’s President Nasser, who undermined the Muslim Brotherhood by nationalising their network of schools and clinics in the 1950s. By directly providing electricity, healthcare and welfare services, governments improve the outside options for young people. ...
In the past, researchers such as Princeton University’s Alan Krueger have pointed out that the typical suicide bomber is better-educated than other members of their group. If suicide bombers are well-schooled, the argument goes, antipoverty programs won’t reduce terrorism.
Yet by looking at groups rather than just individuals, Berman’s book shows why the two are intertwined. ...Berman argues that ‘social service provision creates the institutional base for most of the dangerous radical religious rebels’. Demolish that base, and you begin to unravel the organisation.
Unusually for a book about terrorism, Berman keeps it in perspective. Global terrorism is not the greatest threat to the world. ... The more we can help poor governments provide basic services to their citizens, the less space we allow for radical rebels to fill the void.

I don't know how effective this would actually be, but even if it was the best policy ever, would there be much support among conservatives for using nationalized health care, welfare, and the provision of other social services as counter-terrorism measures?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"Obama's Vietnam Syndrome"?

Simple question. If George Bush was president instead of Barack Obama, would the discussion and criticism of the war in Afghanistan be different? Why has there been so little attention to this issue? This has been bugging me for quite awhile, people are dying everyday - many of them are innocent bystanders - yet we don't seem to be willing to bring this discussion out into the open and talk about whether this is the correct policy to pursue. Is it because Obama and most of the left is "thoroughly frightened by America’s right wing"? (This is supposed to be an economics blog, so I tossed in a graph):
Obama's Vietnam syndrome, by Jonathan Schell, Commentary, Project Syndicate: There can be no military resolution to the war in Afghanistan, only a political one. Writing that sentence almost makes me faint with boredom..., who wants to repeat a point that’s been made thousands of times? Is there anyone on earth who does not know that a guerrilla war cannot be won without winning the “hearts and minds” of the people? ...
Americans are accustomed to thinking that their country’s bitter experience in Vietnam taught certain lessons that became cautionary principles. But historical documents recently made available reveal... those lessons were in fact known -- though not publicly admitted -- before the U.S. escalated the war in Vietnam. That difference is important. If the Vietnam disaster was launched in full awareness of the “lessons,” why should those lessons be any more effective this time? ...

Why did President Lyndon Johnson’s administration steer the U.S. into a war that looked like a lost cause even to its own officials? One possible explanation is that Johnson was thoroughly frightened by America’s right wing. ... His national security adviser, McGeorge Bundy, fueled Johnson’s fears. In a 1964 memo, he wrote that “the political damage to Truman and Acheson from the fall of China arose because most Americans came to believe that we could and should have done more than we did to prevent it. This is exactly what would happen now if we should be seen to be the first to quit in Saigon.”...

Did Johnson’s advisers push the country into a disastrous war in order to win an election -- or, to be more exact, to avoid losing one? ...

Guns-butter

What is uncanny about the current debate about Afghanistan is the degree to which it displays continuity with the Vietnam debates, and the Obama administration knows it. To most Americans, Vietnam taught one big lesson: “Don’t do it again!” But, to the U.S. military, Vietnam taught a host of little lessons, adding up to “Do it better!”
Indeed, the military has in effect militarized the arguments of the peace movement of the 1960s. If hearts and minds are the key, be nice to local people. If civilian casualties are a problem, cut them to a minimum. If corruption is losing the client government support, “pressure” it to be honest, as Obama did in recent comments following President Hamid Karzai’s fraud-ridden re-election.
The domestic political lessons of Vietnam have also been transmitted down to the present. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972, proposed to end the war, which by then was unpopular, yet lost the election in a landslide. That electoral loss seemed to confirm Johnson’s earlier fears: Those who pull out of wars lose elections. That lesson instilled in the Democratic Party a bone-deep fear of “McGovernism” that continues to this day.
There is unmistakable continuity between Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on President Harry Truman’s administration for “losing” China, and for supposed “appeasement” and even “treason” and Dick Cheney’s and Karl Rove’s refrains assailing Obama for opposing the Iraq war... It is no secret that Obama’s support for the war in Afghanistan, which he has called “necessary for the defense of our people,” served as protection against charges of weakness over his policy of withdrawing from Iraq. So the politics of the Vietnam dilemma has been handed down to Obama virtually intact. Now as then, the issue is whether the U.S. is able to fail in a war without becoming unhinged.
Does the American body politic have a reverse gear? Does it know how to cut losses? Is it capable of learning from experience? Or must it plunge over every cliff that it approaches?
At the heart of these questions is another: Must liberals and moderates always bow down before the crazy right over national security? What is the source of this right-wing veto over presidents, congressmen and public opinion? Whoever can answer these questions will have discovered one of the keys to a half-century of American history -- and the forces that, even now, bear down on Obama over Afghanistan. ...

Friday, October 09, 2009

The "Big Brother Database"

We need to update our privacy rules for the digital age so that the "cyber warriors" know where the boundaries are, and we also need to ensure that the boundaries are respected:

Who's in Big Brother's Database?, by James Bamford, NYRB: On a remote edge of Utah's dry and arid high desert, where temperatures often zoom past 100 degrees, hard-hatted construction workers with top-secret clearances are preparing to build what may become America's equivalent of Jorge Luis Borges's "Library of Babel," a place where the collection of information is both infinite and at the same time monstrous, where the entire world's knowledge is stored, but not a single word is understood. At a million square feet, the mammoth $2 billion structure will be one-third larger than the US Capitol and will use the same amount of energy as every house in Salt Lake City combined.
Unlike Borges's "labyrinth of letters," this library expects few visitors. It's being built by the ultra-secret National Security Agency—which is primarily responsible for "signals intelligence," the collection and analysis of various forms of communication—to house trillions of phone calls, e-mail messages, and data trails: Web searches, parking receipts, bookstore visits, and other digital "pocket litter." Lacking adequate space and power at its city-sized Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters, the NSA is also completing work on another data archive, this one in San Antonio, Texas, which will be nearly the size of the Alamodome. ...
Once vacuumed up and stored in these near-infinite "libraries," the data are then analyzed by powerful infoweapons, supercomputers running complex algorithmic programs, to determine who among us may be—or may one day become—a terrorist. In the NSA's world of automated surveillance on steroids, every bit has a history and every keystroke tells a story. ...[...continue reading...]...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Paul Krugman: The Big Hate

The conservative media and political establishment are aiding and abetting "the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism":

The Big Hate, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Conservatives were outraged. ... But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.

There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.

Exhibit A for the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism is Fox News’s new star, Glenn Beck...—... a commentator who, among other things, warned viewers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration’s “totalitarian” agenda (although he eventually conceded that nothing of the kind was happening).

But let’s not neglect the print news media. ...The Washington Times ... saw fit to run an opinion piece declaring that President Obama “not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” and that in any case he has “aligned himself” with the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

And then there’s Rush Limbaugh. ...[W]hen Mr. Limbaugh peddles conspiracy theories — suggesting, for example, that fears over swine flu were being hyped “to get people to respond to government orders” — that’s a case of the conservative media establishment joining hands with the lunatic fringe.

It’s not surprising, then, that politicians are doing the same thing. The R.N.C. says that “the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals.” And when Jon Voight, the actor, told the audience at a Republican fund-raiser this week that the president is a “false prophet” and that “we and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, thanked him, saying that he “really enjoyed” the remarks.

Credit where credit is due. Some figures in the conservative media have refused to go along with the big hate... But this doesn’t change the broad picture ... that supposedly respectable news organizations and political figures are giving aid and comfort to dangerous extremism.

What will the consequences be? Nobody knows, of course, although the analysts at Homeland Security fretted that things may turn out even worse than in the 1990s — that thanks, in part, to the election of an African-American president, “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

And that’s a threat to take seriously. Yes, the worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic. Politicians and media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Sachs: Obama's Military Conundrum

The people who need to hear this advice from Jeff Sachs don't seem to be interested in listening:

Obama's military conundrum, by Jeffrey Sachs, Project Syndicate: American foreign policy has failed in recent years mainly because the US has relied on military force to address problems that demand development assistance and diplomacy. Young men become fighters in places such as Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan because they lack gainful employment. Extreme ideologies influence people when they can't feed their families, and when lack of access to family planning leads to an unwanted population explosion. President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a new strategy, but so far the forces of continuity in US policy are dominating the forces of change. ...

The policy decisions of recent months offer little ... hope for a fundamental change in US foreign policy direction. While the US has signed an agreement with Iraq to leave by the end of 2011, there is talk in the Pentagon that US "non-combat" troops will remain in the country for years or decades to come. ...

Some opponents of the Iraq war, including me, believe that a fundamental – and deeply misguided – objective of the war from the outset has been to create a long-term military base (or bases) in Iraq, ostensibly to protect oil routes and oil concessions. As the examples of Iran and Saudi Arabia show, however, such a long-term ­presence sooner or later creates an explosive backlash.

The worries are even worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Continue reading "Sachs: Obama's Military Conundrum" »

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

We should waterboard Cheney to get the truth about what happened regarding the interrogations. He says it's not torture, there's no lasting damage, and it works, so what are we waiting for? I want the ad revenue from the live broadcast.

I can't believe we are allowing the torture debate to be redefined to be about whether it works, and who knew what when. No matter who knew about it, or when they knew about it, it was wrong and those responsible - Republican or Democrat, whomever - need to be held accountable. Actually, I can't believe we are debating torture at all. If you had told me prior to the Bush administration that we'd be debating the use of torture today, I would have laughed and thought you were nuts. The whole debate still feels surreal. Are people really arguing that torture is not torture, and that it works?

The truth, however ugly it might be, is the only way forward. Obama's refusal to release pictures and other information on the interrogations because it might lead to pressure on him to seek the truth and interfere with other items on his agenda, or whatever his reason is for this decision, is indefensible.

No matter how much I'd like to see Cheney on the waterboard telling us whatever we want to hear to make it stop, I grew up believing we were better than that, that even if torture did work the United States would never, ever do that. There was never any need to debate whether we had crossed the torture line because we were nowhere near it. I know we were never as pure as we believed, that we didn't always live up to our ideals, but this? We may not have always lived up to our view of ourselves, but we didn't abandon the underlying moral principles. What a disappointment.

Monday, April 27, 2009

David Davis, the 42 Day Terror Detention Plan, and the US Bullying the UK over Torture

At the Global Conference dinner tonight, part of which was a panel discussion on sports philanthropy by Andre Agassi, Mia Hamm, Tony Hawk, and Annika Sorenstam, I sat next to a conservative member of Parliament, David Davis. He told me this story:

Tories in turmoil as David Davis resigns over 42-day vote, UK Guardian, June 12, 2008: The shadow home secretary, David Davis, threw the Conservative leadership into turmoil today by unexpectedly announcing his resignation as an MP, forcing a byelection in his constituency over the government's 42-day terror detention plan.

Davis's move - to "take a stand" on what he said was the "relentless erosion" of freedoms by the government - was taken against the wishes of David Cameron, who beat him in a Tory leadership election in 2005.

Cameron made his disappointment clear by replacing Davis as shadow home secretary with the shadow attorney general, Dominic Grieve, and saying Davis had no guarantee of returning to the front bench if - as all parties expect - he wins the byelection. ...

Davis seemed unaware he had consigned himself to the backbenches, telling the BBC: "I may or may not be on the backbenches … This issue matters more to me than my job."

Labour attempted to undercut Davis by announcing that they, like the Liberal Democrats, would not contest the byelection... But Davis's decision to resign and stand again - a move last seen on the British mainland in 1982, and not since 1973 on a single issue of principle - injects new unpredictability into British politics. ...

A Conservative source said Davis had had only three hours' sleep on Tuesday night and was going through some kind of personal crisis. Davis brushed the suggestion aside, saying: "Pop psychology in politics is very amusing but rarely right."

In his resignation statement, delivered outside the Commons at 1pm, Davis said: "I will argue in this byelection against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government." He said the undermining of civil liberties through moves such as detention and the introduction of ID cards "cannot go on".

"It must be stopped, and for that reason today I feel it is incumbent on me to take a stand," he told reporters...

He said his current issue is torture:

Ministers face torture pressure, BBC: UK ministers must answer allegations that Britain was complicit in torture, a senior Conservative MP has said. David Davis said a High Court ruling on Wednesday alleged that Binyam Mohamed, a UK resident held in the Guantanamo Bay camp in Cuba, had been tortured. ...

The judges said the UK's attorney general has begun a criminal investigation into possible torture against Mr Mohamed. Lord Justice Thomas and Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said the attorney general would be investigating the issues of "torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment".

The judges said they wanted the full details of the alleged torture to be published in the interests of safeguarding the rule of law, free speech and democratic accountability.

But they had been persuaded that it was not in the public interest to publish those details as the US government could then "inflict on the citizens of the United Kingdom a very considerable increase in the dangers they face at a time when a serious terrorist threat still pertains". ...

No 10 said it was not aware of any threat from the US government to withdraw intelligence co-operation with Britain if details of the case were revealed. ...

Mr Davis said a High Court ruling, which pointed to complicity by the UK and US authorities in his torture, was prevented from being published after the US put pressure on the UK. ...

He said Mr Miliband should make a statement to MPs about the issue as soon as possible to "explain what the devil is going on". He said the UK government should make it "plain" that it did not support torture in any circumstances.

Mr Mohamed, 30, has been held in Guantanamo for four years... But war crimes charges against him were dropped in October. ...

Last August, Lord Justice Thomas said evidence relating to the case should be disclosed, saying it was "essential". However, the British government argued the disclosure of certain material would cause "significant damage to national security".

Mr Davis said it appeared the Bush administration had "threatened" the UK government about the repercussions should details of the case be made public.

"Frankly it is none of their business what our courts do," he said, adding this was "plain fact" not merely an allegation.

"They should not seek in any circumstances to put pressure on British courts. That's completely beyond the rule of law."

He said Mr Miliband must explain why this had happened and whether the new Obama administration supported its predecessor's stance on the issue.

"While he is at it, he [the foreign secretary] should explain what degree of complicity we have in this," he told the BBC.

Mr Davis said the government had taken a "highly principled public stand" against torture but must "come clean" about whether there were cases where British agencies ever knew about instances of torture by others. ...

Civil liberties campaigners described the judges' remarks on the case as "astounding". Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said the Bush administration had tried "to bully" the British courts and President Obama must make it clear he would not do the same.

And Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said all the documents in the case must be published immediately. "There is no other terms for what the US intelligence services are doing than blackmail," he said. "It is simply incredible that the US government would have halted intelligence co-operation with the UK if this information had been made public."

I encouraged him to pursue this, and the torture issue more generally, relentlessly.

Where are the US conservatives with this kind of courage? He said that when he first came out against the 42-day detention plan, the reaction on conservative blogs was very negative. However, the comments on those blogs disagreed overwhelmingly, and in no uncertain terms, and that grassroots support as he called it along with the support of a paper (the Daily something? - sorry - I don't recall) he compared to getting the support of Fox news caused the conservative blogs (and others in the media) to change their position. And once that happened, it was "checkmate" for those within the government who opposed him.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Paul Krugman: Reclaiming America’s Soul

We need to "regain our moral compass":

Reclaiming America’s Soul, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” So declared President Obama, after his commendable decision to release the legal memos that his predecessor used to justify torture. Some people in the political and media establishments have echoed his position. We need to look forward, not backward, they say. No prosecutions, please; no investigations; we’re just too busy.

And there are indeed immense challenges out there: an economic crisis, a health care crisis, an environmental crisis. Isn’t revisiting the abuses of the last eight years, no matter how bad they were, a luxury we can’t afford?

No, it isn’t, because ... never before have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for. “This government does not torture people,” declared former President Bush, but it did, and all the world knows it.

And the only way we can regain our moral compass ... is to investigate how that happened, and, if necessary, to prosecute those responsible.

What about the argument that investigating the Bush administration’s abuses will impede efforts to deal with the crises of today? Even if that were true — even if truth and justice came at a high price — ...laws aren’t supposed to be enforced only when convenient. But is there any real reason to believe that the nation would pay a high price for accountability? ...

Tim Geithner ... wouldn’t be called away... Peter Orszag, the budget director, wouldn’t be called away... Even the president needn’t, and indeed shouldn’t, be involved. All he would have to do is let the Justice Department do its job... America is capable of uncovering the truth and enforcing the law even while it goes about its other business.

Still, you might argue — and many do — that revisiting the abuses of the Bush years would undermine the political consensus the president needs to pursue his agenda.

But the answer to that is, what political consensus? There are still, alas, a significant number of people in our political life who stand on the side of the torturers. But these are the same people who have been relentless in their efforts to block President Obama... The president cannot lose their good will, because they never offered any.

That said, there are a lot of people in Washington who ... probably just don’t want an ugly scene... But the ugliness is already there, and pretending it isn’t won’t make it go away.

Others, I suspect, would rather not revisit those years because they don’t want to be reminded of their own sins of omission.

For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract “confessions” that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.

It’s hard, then, not to be cynical when some of the people who should have spoken out against what was happening, but didn’t, now declare that we should forget the whole era — for the sake of the country, of course.

Sorry, but what we really should do for the sake of the country is have investigations both of torture and of the march to war. These investigations should, where appropriate, be followed by prosecutions — not out of vindictiveness, but because this is a nation of laws.

We need to do this for the sake of our future. For this isn’t about looking backward, it’s about looking forward — because it’s about reclaiming America’s soul.

I wrote this several days ago, but never posted it. It echoes much of the above:

When asked whether people will be held accountable for their actions during the time the last administration was in power, this administration says that it's time to move on, to put the past behind us, to let bygones be bygones. But that is not a reason to prevent people from having to take responsibility for their actions.

Continue reading "Paul Krugman: Reclaiming America’s Soul" »

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

China, Iraq, Oil, and Geopolitical Stability

I think this is right, we should encourage this:

A new dynamic for the Middle East, econbrowser: Maybe it's time to try something new. And maybe it's already starting.

Last week the New York Times reported:

In the first major oil deal Iraq has made with a foreign country since 2003, the Iraqi government and the China National Petroleum Corporation have signed a contract in Beijing that could be worth up to $3 billion, Iraqi officials said Thursday.

Under the new contract, which must still be approved by Iraq's cabinet, the Chinese company will provide technical advisers, oil workers and equipment to help develop the Ahdab oil field southeast of Baghdad, according to Assim Jihad, a spokesman for Iraq's Oil Ministry. If the deal is approved, work could begin on the oil field within a few months, Mr. Jihad said.

And today the Guardian confirms that the deal was approved by Iraq's cabinet.

There are some Americans who regard expanding Chinese global influence with fear and suspicion. But I maintain that stability and prosperity for Iraq and the broader Middle East should be the primary U.S. objective at the moment. Although China of course has its own reasons to be interested in the region, those interests are undermined by terrorism and regional instability just as much as ours. And precisely because China is a distinct power with separate interests from the U.S., its status as a more neutral third party leaves it in a position to assist in restoring stability to Iraq and the region in ways that the U.S. cannot. The perception that the purpose of toppling Saddam Hussein was to benefit U.S. oil companies greatly undermines our capacity to bring peace to the region. One way the U.S. can signal that our goal is instead regional stability is by embracing a larger role for China in Iraq and the Middle East.

Some may ask, What good does it do Americans if Iraqi oil gets shipped to China? The answer is, it is a global market for oil... [P]rice depends on the total quantity produced globally and the total quantity consumed globally. More global production means a lower price, and which country consumes which oil is of little practical significance... But it matters a great deal for the price that American consumers pay for oil whether the Iraqi oil is produced or is not produced.

Others may worry that higher oil production today just leaves the world with less of this depletable resource for the future. But to this I would counter that the transition to a world when global oil production no longer increases each year will raise some tremendous geopolitical stresses. The more stability and cooperation we can have as we enter that phase, the better off we will be.

You've heard it said, "What's good for General Motors is good for the U.S." But I say, "what's good for Iraq and China is good for the U.S."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Police Say Law-Abiding People Have Nothing to Fear"

I'm with libertarians on this one, this goes too far. I didn't think Americans would ever put up with the kinds of invasions of privacy that we've allowed in the name of preventing terrorism, but I was wrong:

Police to Track All Vehicles into New York City, by David Theroux: The New York City Police Department is now planning on tracking the movements of all vehicles entering Manhattan in a federally funded program designated “Operation Sentinel.” Of course, this massive assault on privacy is being done to track and screen out “terrorism.” And according to the Associated Press:

Police say Operation Sentinel would rely on license-plate readers, radiation detectors and closed-circuit cameras installed at the 16 bridges and four tunnels serving Manhattan. About a million vehicles drive onto the island every day. The vehicle data would be analyzed by computers programmed with information about suspicious vehicles...

....New York City police are admitting that since they neither know who are actual terrorists or how to find them, everyone is a criminal suspect and will be monitored in the stereotypical bureaucratic belief that extracting information on everyone will somehow solve the problem. But, don’t worry:

Police say law-abiding people have nothing to fear: Vehicle data deemed innocent would be purged after 30 days.

Translation: spying, collecting files, and then keeping the information on permanent record is entirely at the discretion of the police bureaucracy. In all:

The plan calls for 116 stationary and mobile license-plate readers and 3,000 closed-circuit cameras that would be monitored by officers at a command center.

...The ... Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights states that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . . .” But this has certainly not stopped government intrusions into the private lives of innocent people, all of which is based on the “precautionary principle” that abridging the rights of a peaceful, law-abiding individual is justified even if the risk of harm is negligible. But once again, the end never justifies the means, and the rule of law is based on the enduring principles that every person is innocent until proven guilty and that no one, including the police and other government officials, has the right to infringe on the rights of others.

As Benjamin Franklin noted in 1775:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. ...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Spending on Counter-Terrorism: Is It Worth It?

Bjørn Lomborg and Todd Sandler argue that we are not being rational in our approach to combating terrorism:

Re-thinking counter-terrorism, by Bjørn Lomborg and Todd Sandler, Project Syndicate: ...[T]he developed world is spending hundreds of billions of dollars to protect against terrorism. But is it worth it?

Although citizens of rich countries regard terrorism as one of the world’s greatest threats, trans-national terrorists take, on average, just 420 lives each year. So, have the terrorists succeeded in getting the developed world to invest poorly in counter-terrorism, while ignoring more pressing problems involving health, the environment, conflict, and governance? ...

Global annual spending on homeland security measures has increased by about US$70 billion since 2001. Unsurprisingly, this initially translated into a 34 per cent drop in trans-national terrorist attacks. What is surprising is that there have been 67 more deaths, on average, each year.

The rise in the death toll is caused by terrorists responding rationally to the higher risks imposed by greater security measures. They have shifted to attacks that create more carnage to increase the impact of fewer attacks. ...

Increasing defensive measures worldwide by 25 per cent would cost at least US$75 billion over five years. Terrorists will inevitably shift to softer targets. ...[E]ach extra dollar spent increasing defensive measures will achieve – at most – about 30 cents of return. We could save about 105 lives a year in this best-case scenario. To put this into context, 30,000 lives are lost annually on US highways.

Contrary to the effect of increased defensive measures, fostering greater international cooperation to cut off terrorists’ financing would be relatively cheap and quite effective. ... While this approach would do little to reduce the number of small events, such as “routine” bombings or political assassinations, it would significantly impede the spectacular attacks that involve a large amount of planning and resources. ...

Another option is for target nations to think more laterally in their approach to counter-terrorism. Some observers argue that the US – a key target – could do more to project a positive image and negate terrorist propaganda. This could be achieved in part by reallocating or increasing foreign assistance.

Currently, the US gives only 0.17 per cent of its gross net income as official development assistance – the second-smallest share among OECD countries – and aid is highly skewed toward countries that support America’s foreign policy agenda. By expanding humanitarian aid with no strings attached, the US could do more to address hunger, disease, and poverty, while reaping considerable benefits to its standing and lowering terror risks.

We do not advocate conceding to terrorists’ demands; rather, we recommend that foreign policy be smarter and more inspirational. There is no panacea for terrorism. ... However, we should not allow fear to distract us from the best ways to respond. ...

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Molly Ivins: Big Brother Bush

A year ago today on January 31, 2007, Molly Ivins passed away. I grabbed this column pretty much at random from the archive (here too) but it seems to be fairly representative  of what we have lost -- and timely given the recent debate over FISA:

Big Brother Bush, by Molly Ivins, AlterNet, December 29, 2005:  The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. Thirty-five years ago, Richard Milhous Nixon, who was crazy as a bullbat, and J. Edgar Hoover, who wore women's underwear, decided some Americans had unacceptable political opinions. So they set our government to spying on its own citizens, basically those who were deemed insufficiently like Crazy Richard Milhous.

For those of you who have forgotten just what a stonewall paranoid Nixon was, the poor man used to stalk around the White House demanding that his political enemies be killed. Many still believe there was a certain Richard III grandeur to Nixon's collapse because he was also a man of notable talents. There is neither grandeur nor tragedy in watching this president, the Testy Kid, violate his oath to uphold the laws and Constitution of our country.

The Testy Kid wants to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it because he is the president, and he considers that sufficient justification for whatever he wants. He even finds lawyers like John Yoo, who tell him that whatever he wants to do is legal.

Continue reading "Molly Ivins: Big Brother Bush" »

Friday, January 25, 2008

"A Criminal Idea"

Jamie Galbraith tells the war hawks advocating the use of nuclear force to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction to think carefully about what they are suggesting because "as Nuremberg showed, it is not force that prevails. In the final analysis, it is law":

A Criminal Idea, James Galbraith, Commentary, Comment is Free: Five former Nato generals, including the former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, John Shalikashvili, have written a "radical manifesto" which states that "the West must be ready to resort to a pre-emptive nuclear attack to try to halt the 'imminent' spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction."

In other words, the generals argue that "the west" - meaning the nuclear powers including the United States, France and Britain - should prepare to use nuclear weapons ... to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a non-nuclear state. And not only that, they should use them to prevent the acquisition of biological or chemical weapons by such a state.

Under this doctrine, the US could have used nuclear weapons in the invasion of Iraq in 2003, to destroy that country's presumed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons - stockpiles that did not in fact exist. Under it, the US could have used nuclear weapons against North Korea in 2006. The doctrine would also have justified a nuclear attack on Pakistan at any time prior to that country's nuclear tests in 1998. Or on India, at any time prior to 1974.

The Nuremberg principles are the bedrock of international law on war crimes. Principle VI criminalises the "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression ..." and states that the following are war crimes:

Continue reading ""A Criminal Idea"" »

Friday, December 14, 2007

Myths About Torture

From this Sunday's Washington Post, five myths about torture:

5 Myths About Torture, by Darius Rejali, Commentary, Washington Post: So the CIA did indeed torture Abu Zubaida, the first al-Qaeda terrorist suspect to be waterboarded. So says John Kiriakou, the first former CIA employee directly involved in the questioning of "high-value" al-Qaeda detainees to speak publicly. He minced no words last week in calling the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" what they are.

But did they work? Torture's defenders, including the wannabe tough guys who write Fox's "24," insist that the rough stuff gets results. "It was like flipping a switch," said Kiriakou about Abu Zubaida's response to being waterboarded. But the al-Qaeda operative's confessions -- descriptions of fantastic plots from a man whom journalist Ron Suskind has reported was mentally ill -- probably didn't give the CIA any actionable intelligence. Of course, we may never know the whole truth, since the CIA destroyed the videotapes of Abu Zubaida's interrogation. But here are some other myths that are bound to come up as the debate over torture rages on. ... [...continue...]

Until it actually happened, I never imagined having this debate, I never imagined that the U.S. would be close enough to the line that there would ever be any question whatsoever about whether we torture or not. I still hardly believe that we do, or don't want to believe it. We're supposed to be the good guys.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"We Know Too Little about the Causes and Consequences of Terrorism"

Fernanda Llussá and José A. Tavares say most of what you heard about terrorism is probably wrong. This is a summary of economic research on the causes and consequences of terrorism:

Do we know enough about terrorism?, by Fernanda Llussá and José A. Tavares, Vox EU: Probably not. Think of terrorists as irrational misanthropes with little education and low income. Think of terrorist attacks as causing major economic damage. Think of fear of terrorism as perfectly rational and well understood. If you think like this, you may gain some comfort from the fact that many people think like you. But you (and they) are wrong. Probably, completely wrong, according to the empirical and theoretical research on the economics of terrorism available. The fact that popular beliefs about terrorism have received little influence from research in the topic – and, to some extent, also the reverse – coupled with the urgency of knowing more, suggests the importance of further research. In other words, given its relevance, we know too little about the causes and consequences of terrorism.

Continue reading ""We Know Too Little about the Causes and Consequences of Terrorism"" »

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Make Livelihoods, Not War

Jeffrey Sachs says our militarized foreign policy has been a disaster. Here's the short version:

America’s Failed Militarized Foreign Policy, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Project Syndicate: Many of today’s war zones – including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan – share basic problems that lie at the root of their conflicts. They are all poor, buffeted by natural disasters – especially floods, droughts, and earthquakes – and have rapidly growing populations that are pressing on the capacity of the land to feed them. And the proportion of youth is very high, with a bulging population of young men of military age (15-24 years).

All of these problems can be solved only through long-term sustainable economic development. Yet the United States persists in responding to symptoms rather than to underlying conditions by trying to address every conflict by military means. It backs the Ethiopian army in Somalia. It occupies Iraq and Afghanistan. It threatens to bomb Iran. It supports the military dictatorship in Pakistan.

None of these military actions addresses the problems that led to conflict in the first place. On the contrary, American policies typically inflame the situation rather than solve it.

Time and again, this military approach comes back to haunt the US. The US embraced the Shah of Iran by sending massive armaments, which fell into the hands of Iran’s Revolutionary Government after 1979. The US then backed Saddam Hussein in his attack on Iran, until the US ended up attacking Saddam himself. The US backed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan against the Soviets, until the US ended up fighting bin Laden. Since 2001 the US has supported Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan with more than $10 billion in aid, and now faces an unstable regime that just barely survives.

US foreign policy is so ineffective because it has been taken over by the military. Even postwar reconstruction in Iraq under the US-led occupation was run by the Pentagon rather than by civilian agencies. The US military budget dominates everything about foreign policy. Adding up the budgets of the Pentagon, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Department of Homeland Security, nuclear weapons programs, and the State Department’s military assistance operations, the US will spend around $800 billion this year on security, compared with less than $20 billion for economic development. ...

A more peaceful world will be possible only when Americans and others ... realize that today’s conflicts, having resulted from desperation and despair, can be solved through economic development rather than war. ...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reich: No Immunity for the Telecoms

Robert Reich does not favor immunity for the telecoms. I don't either:

Why the Telecoms Shouldn't Get Immunity, by Robert Reich: I'm old enough to remember J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Nixon’s CIA, and the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. But anyone who's even halfway sentient ought to know there's a Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. So you'd think that executives at the nation’s biggest telecoms -- AT&T, Verizon, and so on -- would be alert to the possibility that government might illegally snoop on Americans. Yet these executives didn’t blink an eye when the NSA came knocking. You want records of domestic phone calls? Sure, help yourself! Emails? Yeah, we got tons. They’re yours!

When word of this leaked out and the companies got sued..., the telecoms went to Congress and complained... They deserved immunity from such lawsuits, they said, because they were only following orders. Now that Congress is back, it's about to decide whether the telecoms' argument makes sense. It doesn't.

Only following orders? ... Corporate executives have a duty to disobey government orders when they have reason to believe those orders are illegal or unconstitutional -- and make the government go to court to get what it wants. The duty to refuse is especially important when it comes to the nation’s telecoms, whose technological reach is extending deeper and deeper into our private lives.

Sure, there’s a delicate balance between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberties. But that’s for courts to decide – not spy agencies and not telecom executives. If in doubt, the telecoms can go to the special courts set up precisely to oversee this balance, and get a declaratory judgment. The only way to keep pressure on them to do this and not become agents of our spy agencies is to continue to allow Americans to sue them for violating their legal rights.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Iraq War Costs More than You Think

Tyler Cowen writes a letter "To: President George W. Bush" with the subject identified as "The Hidden Costs of Iraq":

What Does Iraq Cost? Even More Than You Think, by Tyler Cowen, Commentary. Washington Post: ...One commonly cited estimate of Iraq's cost, based on an August analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is $1 trillion, and that's probably on the low side. A report released last week by the Democratic staff of Congress's Joint Economic Committee put the war's 2002-08 tab at $1.3 trillion.

But all these figures don't quite get at Iraq's real cost. ... We often think of cost simply in terms of dollars spent, but the real cost of a choice -- what economists call its "opportunity cost" -- consists of the forgone alternatives, of the things we could have had instead. ... This idea sounds simple, but if applied consistently, it requires us to rethink and, yes, raise the costs of the Iraq war.

Set aside the question of what we could have accomplished at home with the energy and resources we've devoted to Iraq and concentrate just on national security. Here, the hidden cost of the war, above all, is that the United States has lost much of its ability to halt nuclear proliferation.

Mr. President, when the war started, I was convinced by your arguments that we had to stop Iraq's dictatorship from getting the bomb. No longer. Let's look at some of the opportunity costs the United States has incurred so far:

1. We still haven't secured our ports against nuclear terrorism. The

$1 trillion we've probably spent on the war could have funded the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security 28 times over.

2. The human toll of the war is dreadful: more than 3,800 U.S. soldiers dead and more than 28,000 wounded, plus more than 1,000 private contractors killed and many more injured. It's harder to know how many Iraqis have died; some estimates claim that the war has caused a million or more Iraqi deaths, and even if that's an overstatement, the toll is still very high. But it's not just the lives that are gone; we've also lost the contributions that these people would have made to their families and to humanity at large.

3. Another major hidden cost: Many of the wounded have severe brain injuries or other traumas and will never return to "normal" life. Furthermore, Washington will find it far harder to recruit and retain quality troops and National Guardsmen in the future.

4. Don't forget the small statistics, which are often the most striking. ...[A]n estimated 250,000 bullets have been fired for every insurgent killed in Iraq. That's not just a waste of ammunition; it's also a reflection of how badly the country has been damaged and how indiscriminate some of the fighting has been. Or take another straw in the wind: The cost of a coffin in Baghdad has risen to $50-75, up from just $5-10 before the war, according to the Nation magazine.

5. Above all, governing Iraq has, so far, been a fruitless investment. According to 2006 figures, U.S. war spending came out to $3,749 per Iraqi -- almost as much as the per capita income of Egypt. That staggering sum hasn't bought a lot of leadership from Iraq, or much of a democratic model for its Arab neighbors.

In fact, Mr. President, your initial pro-war arguments offer the best path toward understanding why the conflict has been such a disaster...

Following your lead, Iraq hawks argued that, in a post-9/11 world, we needed to take out rogue regimes lest they give nuclear or biological weapons to al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups. But each time the United States tries to do so and fails to restore order, it incurs a high -- albeit unseen -- opportunity cost in the future. Falling short makes it harder to take out, threaten or pressure a dangerous regime next time around.

Foreign governments, of course, drew the obvious lesson from our debacle -- and from our choice of target. The United States invaded hapless Iraq, not nuclear-armed North Korea. To the real rogues, the fall of Baghdad was proof positive that it's more important than ever to acquire nuclear weapons... Iran, among others, has taken this lesson to heart. The ironic legacy of the war to end all proliferation will be more proliferation.

The bottom line is clear, Mr. President: ... you must now realize that the costs of a failed war are far higher than you've acknowledged.

Ironically, it's probably the doves who should lower their mental estimate of the war's long-haul cost: By fighting a botched war today, the United States has lowered the chance that it will fight another preventive war in the near future. The American public simply does not have the stomach for fighting a costly, potentially futile war every few years. U.S. voters have already lost patience with the pace of reconstruction in Iraq, and that frustration will linger; remember, it took the country 15 years or more to "get over" Vietnam. The projection of American power and influence in the future requires that an impatient public feel good about American muscle-flexing in the past.

Even if the wisest way forward is sticking to our guns, the constraints of politics and public opinion mean that we cannot always see U.S. military commitments through. Since turning tail hurts our credibility so badly and leaves such a mess behind, we should be extremely cautious about military intervention in the first place. The case for hawkish behavior often assumes that the public has more political will than it actually has, so we need to save up that resolve for cases when it really counts.  ...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Strategic Drift in Iraq

A call to reopen the debate over the mission in Iraq and for progressives to "offer a clear challenge" that represents a "a real change in course":

Strategic Drift Where's the Pushback Against the Surge?, by John Podesta, Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis, Commentary, Washington Post: With apparent disregard for the opinion of the American people, the debate over whether the large U.S. military presence in Iraq threatens our national security has been put on hold. Both political parties seem resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock ... and bequeath this quagmire to the next president. The result is best described as strategic drift, and stopping it won't be easy.

President Bush claims that his strategy is having some success, but toward what end? He argued that the surge would provide the political breathing space needed to achieve a unified, peaceful Iraq. But its successes, which Bush says come from a reduction of casualties in certain areas, have been accompanied by massive sectarian cleansing. The surge has not moved us closer to national reconciliation. ...

Progressives must be careful not to repeat the mistakes made in 2002 and 2004, when they failed to offer a clear challenge or choice on Iraq. Splitting the difference and hedging on positions helped get America into this quagmire. ... Progressive candidates should be offering clarity on Iraq and pushing for a real change in course. ...

Rather than push for a realistic end to U.S. engagement, the Bush administration claims doomsday scenarios would become reality if a phased U.S. withdrawal began. Iraq, it says, would become a terrorist sanctuary, incite regional war or be the scene of sectarian genocide. These arguments are as faulty as those that led us into Iraq, and progressive leaders must push back. ...

The real security problem in Iraq is a vicious power struggle among competing militias and factions. Foreign terrorists are mainly Sunni and represent only a small percentage of the problem. ... [I]n Anbar province, Sunni tribal leaders rose up against the pro-al-Qaeda Sunni elements well before the surge began. Drifting along the current path actually enhances the al-Qaeda narrative of America as an occupier of Muslim nations.

Similarly, the presence of a large U.S. combat force contributes to regional instability. Since the surge began, the number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled. The U.N. ... has said that more than 2 million Iraqis have left the country, and tens of thousands flee every day, often to squalid camps in Syria and Jordan.

As long as U.S. forces remain in Iraq in significant numbers, regional powers feel free to meddle, knowing that America must bear the consequences. If we clearly state our intent to leave, these states will have incentive to intervene constructively; it would endanger their own security if Iraq were to become a failed state or a launching pad for international terrorism. Even Shiite-dominated Iran, which has become the region's largest power as a result of the war, would not want an Iraqi haven for Sunni-controlled al-Qaeda.

There is one sure way to stop this drift. The United States must set a firm withdrawal date. It is the only way Iraqis and regional leaders will make the compromises necessary to stabilize Iraq and the entire Middle East. This withdrawal can be completed safely in 12 to 18 months and should be started immediately.

President Bush seems content to let Iraq drift until he leaves office, but America can ill afford this policy...

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Cruelty Consecrated by Nations

Just after During the Enlightenment:

Cesare Beccaria: Essay on Crimes and Punishments, 1819 1767 [Update: Please see comments on date correction]: Cesare Beccaria applied an Enlightenment analysis to crime and punishment, and to the ugliness of the traditional legal and penal system.

...The torture of a criminal during the course of his trial is a cruelty consecrated by custom in most nations. It is used with an intent either to make him confess his crime, or to explain some contradiction into which he had been led during his examination, or discover his accomplices, or for some kind of metaphysical and incomprehensible purgation of infamy, or, finally, in order to discover other crimes of which he is not accused, but of which he may be guilty.

No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorize the punishment of a citizen so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? This dilemma is frequent. Either he is guilty, or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary. If he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for, in the eye of the law, every man is innocent whose crime has not been proved....

Friday, November 02, 2007

More Questions about FEMA and Homeland Security

Richard Carson raises a good point in his debate over the role of government in fighting wildfires:

Where was the Forest Service?, by Richard Carson, Commentary, LA Times: ...I could not agree with you more that (a) the federal response was disastrously slow, and that (b) the state and local government bears substantial responsibility for this slow response. We are also in agreement that FEMA was practically useless in the early days of the fire, and that the military was anxious to help out and should have been allowed to do so. You are, however, much too quick to let FEMA and the military off the hook, and you left out the U.S. Forest Service altogether. ...

Setting wildfires in the West has long been seen as one of the major things terrorists could do with minimal resources. FEMA's failure to have a plan for mobilizing the federal firefighting assets of the U.S. Forest Service and the military in a timely manner leads one to ask if FEMA's only real function is, as you say, to "give away money after the fires." ...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Paul Krugman: Fearing Fear Itself

Fear the fear mongers:

Fearing Fear Itself, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In America’s darkest hour, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged the nation not to succumb to “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” But that was then.

Today, many of the men ... with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination ... have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.

Consider ... the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Mr. Podhoretz, ... a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. ... And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11...

Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work..., and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut...

Meanwhile, the idea that bombing will bring the Iranian regime to its knees ... is pure wishful thinking. ... Mr. Podhoretz, in short, is engaging in what my relatives call crazy talk. Yet he is being treated with respect by the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination. And Mr. Podhoretz’s rants are, if anything, saner than some of what we’ve been hearing from some of Mr. Giuliani’s rivals.

Thus, ... Mitt Romney asserted that America is in a struggle with people who aim “to unite the world under a single jihadist Caliphate. To do that they must collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us.” ... And Mike Huckabee, whom reporters like to portray as a nice, reasonable guy, says that if Hillary Clinton is elected, “I’m not sure we’ll have the courage and the will and the resolve to fight the greatest threat this country’s ever faced in Islamofascism.” Yep, a bunch of lightly armed terrorists and a fourth-rate military power — which aren’t even allies — pose a greater danger than Hitler’s panzers or the Soviet nuclear arsenal ever did.

All of this would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration adopted fear-mongering as a political strategy. Instead of treating the attack as what it was — an atrocity committed by a fundamentally weak, though ruthless adversary — the administration portrayed America as a nation under threat from every direction.

Most Americans have now regained their balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up — perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.

And the base is looking for a candidate who shares this fear.

Just to be clear, Al Qaeda is a real threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as fear itself — the unreasoning fear that has taken over one of America’s two great political parties.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Cost of the War

The CBO has estimated the cost of the war based upon two scenarios:

Summary At the request of Chairman Spratt, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has totaled the funding provided through fiscal year 2007 for military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities associated with the war on terrorism, as well as for related costs incurred by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for medical care, disability compensation, and survivors’ benefits. In addition to totaling the funding provided to date, CBO has projected the total cost over the next 10 years of funding operations in support of the war on terrorism under two scenarios specified by the Chairman. Those scenarios are meant to serve as an illustration of the budgetary impact of two different courses in the war on terrorism but are not intended to be a prediction of what will occur.

Warcosts
Appropriations for U.S. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the War on Terrorism (Billions of dollars)

Including both funding provided through 2007 and projected funding under the two illustrative scenarios, total spending for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and other activities related to the war on terrorism would amount to between $1.2 trillion and $1.7 trillion for fiscal years 2001 through 2017 (see Table 1). A final section of this testimony briefly compares parts of CBO’s estimate to a frequently cited estimate prepared by two academic researchers, Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz. ...

According to this, there is an additional $700 billion in interest expenses bringing the total (under the $1.7 trillion dollar scenario) to $2.4 trillion. There is more to say but, unfortunately, I am short on time, so I will leave it to you to add more detail in comments. [Update: More here.]

Monday, September 10, 2007

Alan Krueger: What Makes a Terrorist?

Alan Krueger on the motivation to become a terrorist:

What makes a terrorist?, Alan B. Krueger, Vox EU: My former classmate Tyler Cowan, in his review of my new book, What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism, said, “My only complaint is that the book does not deliver on its title; it tells me what doesn’t make a terrorist, but I still don’t know what does make a terrorist.” He also wrote that the book was “full of first-rate empirical work” and that it “punctuates many myths about terrorism.” Since I strongly agree with the second part of his comments, I’ll use this space to respond to the first part.

Continue reading "Alan Krueger: What Makes a Terrorist?" »

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me...

Poor president Bush. Victor Davis Hanson is upset because nobody, but nobody likes the president, except, apparently, him. He argues that the critics have it wrong, that the president deserves some respect for his dogged pursuit of Osama Bin Laden and his followers. Is he serious? Credit for the pursuit of Bin Laden?:

The Many Enemies of George Bush, by Victor Davis Hanson, Real Clear Politics: George Bush is not a very popular fellow. ... Let's start with the hard left... They hate George Bush. ... The mainstream Democratic Party has been pretty vocal in its dislike, too. ...

However venomous this current Democrat attack machine, it is somewhat similar to what Republicans did to Bill Clinton in the 1990s. That's what rough-and-tumble two-party politics is about. Of course, there are even Bushophobes among Republicans and right-wingers.

Ultra-conservatives don't like open borders or the president's big increases in federal spending. As neo-isolationists, they don't think Iraq is worth one dead Marine. Now even mainstream Republicans are inching away...

Overseas, the president continues to get no love. ... Arab reformers aren't fans of the president, either...

Finally, there is at least one group whose hatred of Bush is more than welcome: bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorists. ... But why ... does bin Laden hate George Bush so passionately? ... Al-Qaida terrorists no doubt hate every American president. But bin Laden's venom for feisty George Bush is special, galvanized by the president's success...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

How to Beat Terrorists

Willem Buiter says we should legalize drugs if we want to disable terrorist networks:

Legalise drugs to beat terrorists, by Willem Buiter, Commentary, Financial Times (Free): The UK government is considering reclassifying cannabis from a class C drug to a class B drug, carrying higher penalties for using and dealing. As an economist with a strong commitment to personal liberty and responsibility, my preference would be to see all illegal drugs legalised. The only exception would be substances whose consumption leads to behaviour likely to cause material harm to others.

Following legalisation, the production and sale of these drugs should be regulated to ensure quality and purity. They should also be taxed, as are tobacco products and alcoholic beverages...; more money should be spent on the rehabilitation of addicts. Ideally legalisation should occur simultaneously in a number of neighbouring countries...

The principle-based argument for legalisation is that behaviour that harms others ought to be criminalised, not behaviour that hurts only the person engaged in it. It is not the government’s job to protect adults of sound mind from the predictable consequences of their actions.

If the public is ill-informed about the consequences of drug taking, there is an educational role for the state. Children should be protected..., as they are from tobacco and alcohol. ... Parents should be paternalistic, but when it comes to mentally competent grown-ups the state should not be. ...

A pragmatic argument against criminalising drugs is that criminalisation creates vast rents and encourages criminal entrepreneurs to use violence, intimidation, bribery, extortion and corruption to extract these rents. Another pragmatic argument is that it is pointless to waste resources fighting a war that cannot be won. The losing war on drugs wastes resources that could be used to fight terrorism and other crimes.

Another important argument for legalising, in particular, all cultivation of poppy and of coca (and their illegal derivatives) is that this would take away a vital source of income and political support for terrorist movements, including the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (Farc) and various paramilitary groups.

Continue reading "How to Beat Terrorists" »

Monday, July 23, 2007

"Maybe the People Who Think There's a Conspiracy Out There are Right"

Haven't seen much about this, so thought I'd note it here. This is an editorial from the local paper about the Bush administration's refusal to allow Homeland Security Committee member Congressman Peter DeFazio to examine plans for government action following a terrorist attack or natural disaster:

Access denied, Editorial, Register-Guard: If the Bush administration wanted to fuel conspiracy theories about its classified plan for maintaining governmental control in the wake of an apocalyptic terror attack, it could not have come up with a better strategy than refusing to let Congressman Peter DeFazio examine it.

Continue reading ""Maybe the People Who Think There's a Conspiracy Out There are Right"" »

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"Myths of the War on Terrorism"

Questions about the war on terror:

Myths of the War on Terrorism, by Steve Chapman, Creators Syndicate: For anyone who has grown complacent about the danger of terrorism, the incidents in London and Glasgow were supposed to provide a jolt of reality. ... Here was proof that the jihadists are still out there, ready to strike...

But ... intent and ability are not the same thing. Though, al Qaeda may -- emphasize "may" -- still have the capacity to mount the occasional major operation, that doesn't mean terrorism should be treated as an omnipresent, existential threat.

Continue reading ""Myths of the War on Terrorism"" »

Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Lack of Civil Liberties, Not Poverty, Breeds Terrorism"

These results have been noted here before, but they're worth highlighting again. Terrorism is not driven by economic conditions:

Princeton Economist Says Lack of Civil Liberties, Not Poverty, Breeds Terrorism, by David Wessel, Capital, WSJ (Free): When Princeton economist Alan Krueger saw reports that seven of eight people arrested in the unsuccessful car bombings in Britain were doctors, he wasn't shocked. He wasn't even surprised.

"Each time we have one of these attacks and the backgrounds of the attackers are revealed, this should put to rest the myth that terrorists are attacking us because they are desperately poor," he says. "But this misconception doesn't die."

Less than a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush said, "We fight against poverty because hope is an answer to terror." ... Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn has argued, "The war on terrorism will not be won until we have come to grips with the problem of poverty...."

The analysis is plausible. It's appealing because it bolsters the case for the worthy goals of fighting poverty and ignorance. But systematic study -- to the extent possible -- suggests it's wrong.

Continue reading ""Lack of Civil Liberties, Not Poverty, Breeds Terrorism"" »

Friday, December 01, 2006

Looking for Risk in All the Wrong Places

How we get snookered by our fears and by those who exploit them:

Why We Worry About The Things We Shouldn't... ...And Ignore The Things We Should, by Jeffrey Kluger, Time: It would be a lot easier to enjoy your life if there weren't so many things trying to kill you every day. ... There's the fall out of bed that kills 600 Americans each year. ... Will a cabbie's brakes fail when you're in the crosswalk? Will you have a violent reaction to bad food? And what about the ... father and grandfather who died of coronaries in their 50s probably passed the same cardiac weakness on to you. ...

Shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we'd get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong. ... We pride ourselves on being the only species that understands the concept of risk, yet we have a confounding habit of ... building barricades against perceived dangers while leaving ourselves exposed to real ones. ...

Sensible calculation of real-world risks is a multidimensional math problem that sometimes seems entirely beyond us. And while it may be true that it's something we'll never do exceptionally well, it's almost certainly something we can learn to do better.

AN OLD BRAIN IN A NEW WORLD

Part of the problem we have with evaluating risk, scientists say, is that we're moving through the modern world with what is, in many respects, a prehistoric brain. We may think we've grown accustomed to living in a predator-free environment in which most of the dangers of the wild have been driven away..., but our central nervous system--evolving at a glacial pace--hasn't got the message.

Continue reading "Looking for Risk in All the Wrong Places" »

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Suskind: The President Knows More Than He Lets On

Here's part of an interview with terrorism expert Ron Suskind. This isn't about economics, but I thought you should know that capturing and threatening "grievous injury" to young children is one of our interrogation methods:

"The President Knows More Than He Lets On", Spiegel Online: One hundred suspected terrorists from all over the world are still being held in secret American prisons. In an interview with Spiegel Online, CIA expert Ron Suskind accuses Washington of "running like a headless chicken" in its war against al-Qaida. He reserves special criticism for the CIA's torture methods, which he argues are unproductive.

Continue reading "Suskind: The President Knows More Than He Lets On" »

Monday, October 23, 2006

"On the Road with the Taleban"

This report on the situation in Afghanistan is from the BBC News. It's not encouraging. From an economic standpoint, corruption is a major problem:

On the road with the Taleban, by David Loyn BBC News: NATO troops in Afghanistan have been facing a growing number of suicide bomb attacks. It was hoped the troops would be able to make peace, win friends and provide security for reconstruction projects, but now it seems the regime they removed is beginning to return.

"You destroyed our government and all because of just one guest in our country, Osama," said the man leading the war against the British. We sat late at night in what must have been the women's side of a house commandeered for just that night by a man who stays constantly on the move. ... Taleban soldiers ... filled the room ... as we talked.

Continue reading ""On the Road with the Taleban"" »

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Mummy Speaks, and He's Not Happy

This caught my eye because the byline says it's by Jeremy Bentham at University College London (who's a mummy, or properly, an auto-icon). But it's actually by the Jeremy Bentham Professor of Law which, if Google is correct, is Ronald Dworkin:

Do not sacrifice principle to the new tyrannies, by Jeremy Bentham, Commentary, Financial Times: When a terrorist plot to blow 10 planes out of the sky was revealed in August, John Reid, the British home secretary, said that those who worry about protecting human rights in the campaign against terrorism “still don’t get the point”. ... But it is Mr Reid and others who think like him who still do not get the point. They do not understand what human rights are and why the honour of the British nation would be soiled by their proposals.

Mr Reid thinks that human rights are like speed limits that may be high when the risk is minimal but should be lowered for dangerous stretches of road. That is a misunderstanding of the concept of human rights. It was, indeed, the horror of the 20th century tyrannies that brought [human rights] into prominence and produced international treaties such as the European Convention on Human Rights and domestic statutes such as the British Human Rights Act. ... This is the abstract principle, from which all concrete human rights flow, that the existence and dignity of every human life is of high and equal intrinsic importance.

It is this principle that Mr Reid and his colleagues apparently think now obsolete. It is not, I agree, a principle that seems natural to human beings – we are by nature tribal. But we have struggled for centuries to recognise and enforce equal human dignity, provoked, finally, by our revulsion at the 20th century dictatorships. We think the principle represents the best in us ..., and it is depressing that so many of us seem willing to give it up out of fear of the new tyrannies of jihad.

I emphasise that human rights depend on the abstract principle of equal human dignity, not just to explain why they are so important that we must accept sacrifices to protect them, but also to explain that they may be violated in different ways. There are some acts of government that in themselves reveal a disdain for the value and dignity of a human life. Governments kill or jail people for their political opinions, or torture them for information, or force them into religious practices against their own faith, or rape or humiliate them, or aim to eliminate their race or kind. So, any list of concrete human rights must include rights against such treatment; these acts must be condemned in any nation no matter what its laws and traditions. Nations disagree, however, about what respect for human dignity requires beyond these basic protections and adopt different provisions defining the rights of people suspected or accused of crime. In that way, a nation establishes a distinct conception of what human dignity demands and it shows contempt for a group when it denies them the benefit of that understanding.

This is what politicians of both major parties ask Britain to do now. They want to jail people, who might be innocent, for 90 days without charge, which is a substantial punishment likely to damage the prisoners’ lives even if they are then released. They want to deport aliens who may be innocent to countries where they might be tortured and killed and to introduce evidence in UK trials that foreign torturers have obtained. They ridicule judges who stand in their way and they demand that the law be changed to give them licence to do what they want.

All these proposals contradict central features of British justice that mark this country’s conception of what human dignity requires. The politicians say that the dangers to security are too great to continue to respect established rights. Is the danger really so great? Religious fanatics bent on murder are not the only enemies of society. We face serial killers, drug dealers, muggers, industrial polluters, train operators who skimp on safety and white collar criminals who destroy lives. It is unclear that the dangers these people pose to our security is any less than the danger of terrorism. But no one advocates jailing suspected pension fund embezzlers for 90 days without charge while their hard drives are scoured for encrypted evidence.

If we want to change our practices because we need more security, we must do so at the cost of our own wealth and convenience, not the human rights of others. We must pay more in fares and charges to support more rigorous airport and import security. We must be imaginative in exploring other measures. More effective detection devices than those in use are available. ... But we must not try to steal a little more safety by destroying the lives of people not like us, many of whom are innocent of any crime or conspiracy. Sacrificing principle in the face of danger is a particularly shaming form of cowardice. Where has our courage gone?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

You Can't Say That Here

Should the government ban some people from the U.S. because they promote ideas that are too dangerous for us to hear? I think we're losing sight of what freedom means:

Why I'm Banned in the USA, by Tariq Ramadan, Washington Post, London: For more than two years now, the U.S. government has barred me from entering the United States to pursue an academic career. The reasons have changed over time, and have evolved from defamatory to absurd...

I am increasingly convinced that the Bush administration has barred me [because of] my political views. In recent years, I have publicly criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East, the war in Iraq, the use of torture, secret CIA prisons and other government actions that undermine fundamental civil liberties. And for many years, ... I have called upon Muslims to better understand the principles of their own faith, and have sought to show that one can be Muslim and Western at the same time.

My experience reveals how U.S. authorities seek to suppress dissenting voices and -- by excluding people such as me from their country -- manipulate political debate in America. Unfortunately, the U.S. government's paranoia has evolved far beyond a fear of particular individuals and taken on a much more insidious form: the fear of ideas.

Continue reading "You Can't Say That Here" »

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

All Too Quiet on the Energy Front

Jeff Sachs isn't very happy with the Bush administration's approach to avoiding an energy crisis in the future. He thinks we are fighting the wrong war:

Fighting the wrong war, by Jeffrey Sachs, Guardian: Unlimited: It always comes back to oil. The continuing misguided interventions in the Middle East by the United States and the United Kingdom have their roots deep in the Arabian sand. Ever since Winston Churchill led the conversion of Britain's navy from coal to oil at the start of the last century, the Western powers have meddled incessantly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries to keep the oil flowing, toppling governments and taking sides in wars...

Just when one is lulled into thinking that something other than oil is at the root of current US and UK action in Iraq, reality pulls us back. Indeed, President Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world 50 years from now. He did not have in mind the future of science and technology, or a global population of nine billion, or the challenges of climate change and biodiversity. Instead, he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world's oil.

Whatever we are worrying about in 50 years, this will surely be near the bottom of the list. Even if it were closer to the top, overthrowing Saddam Hussein to ensure oil supplies in 50 years ranks as the least plausible of strategies. Yet we know from a range of evidence that this is what was on Bush's mind when his government shifted its focus from the search for Osama bin Laden to fighting a war in Iraq.

The overthrow of Saddam was the longstanding pet idea of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, which was already arguing in the 1990's that Saddam was likely to achieve a stranglehold over "a significant proportion of the world's oil supplies." Vice President Dick Cheney reiterated these fears in the run-up to the Iraq war, claiming that Saddam Hussein was building a massive arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to "take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies".

Cheney's facts were obviously wrong, but so was his logic. Dictators like Saddam make their living by selling their oil, not by holding it in the ground. Perhaps, though, Saddam was too eager to sell oil concessions to French, Russian, and Italian companies rather than British and US companies.

In any event, the war in Iraq will not protect the world's energy supplies in 50 years. If anything, the war will threaten those supplies by stoking the very radicalism it claims to be fighting. Genuine energy security will come not by invading and occupying the Middle East, or by attempting to impose pliant governments in the region, but by recognizing certain deeper truths about global energy.

First, energy strategy must satisfy three objectives: low cost, diverse supply, and drastically reduced carbon dioxide emissions. This will require massive investments in new technologies and resources, not a "fight to the finish" over Middle East oil. Important energy technologies will include conversion of coal to liquids (such as gasoline), use of tar sands and oil shale, and growth in non-fossil-fuel energy sources. Indeed, there is excellent potential for low-cost solar power, zero-emitting coal-based technologies, and safe and reliable nuclear power. ...

It is ironic that an administration fixated on the risks of Middle East oil has chosen to spend hundreds of billions - potentially trillions - of dollars to pursue unsuccessful military approaches to problems that can and should be solved at vastly lower cost, through R&D, regulation, and market incentives. The biggest energy crisis of all, it seems, involves the misdirected energy of a US foreign policy built on war rather than scientific discovery and technological progress.

Whether Iraq is all about oil or not, there has been an underinvestment in research into alternatives sources of energy, and an unwillingness to consider policies to reduce carbon emissions. Iraq being about something other than oil won't change that, and I doubt it would change the administration's energy policy. We could do more than we are doing now even being in Iraq, and as Sachs notes, even more yet if we weren't.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Counterterrorism - Industrial Complex

Harper's on the growing counterterrorism-industrial complex:

Meet the Counterterrorism-Industrial Complex, by Ken Silverstein, Harper's: Last week I wrote about the steady flow of CIA employees to Blackwater USA, the private security contractor with major operations in Iraq. Yesterday's Los Angeles Times took a broader look at the revolving door between intelligence agencies and the private sector, and found that “...U.S. spy agencies have turned to unprecedented numbers of outside contractors to perform jobs once the domain of government-employed analysts and secret agents.”

For private contractors to hire intelligence officials is not a new phenomenon. Take a look at the board of directors of any major defense or homeland security contractor and you're likely to come across some familiar names. ... But the pace of the movement to private firms has recently reached alarming proportions. “At the CIA,” said the Los Angeles Times story, “poaching became such a problem that former Director Porter J. Goss had to warn several firms to stop recruiting employees in the agency cafeteria . . . .

One former senior CIA official told me that the implications of the “enhanced revolving door” are being felt in a broad variety of ways. “There are many people inside who aspire to work for a private contractor because—overnight—they can at least double their earnings,” he said. “It undermines morale and doesn't build a competent system. But the bigger story is that this is symptomatic of a new ‘counterterrorism-industrial complex’ that's popping up and that is starting to look a lot like Eisenhower's military-industrial complex. It's a multibillion dollar industry and it's beginning to drive policy.”

Eisenhower's Farewell Address on January 17, 1961 mentions the military-industrial complex for the first time publicly and warns about its growing political influence. According to Wikipedia:

In the penultimate draft of the address, Eisenhower initially used the term military-industrial-congressional complex, indicating the essential role that U.S. Congress plays in propagating the military industry. But, it is said, that the president chose to strike the word congressional in order to avoid offending members of the legislative branch of the federal government.

Here's the part of the Farewell Address where the term is used:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. ... [W]e should, we must ... be alert to the ... danger that public policy could itself become ... captive...

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield...

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Informal Payment Mechanisms and Terrorism

This article from the Asian Times describes informal payment mechanisms in developing countries, markets that authorities are attempting to shut-down to prevent the flow of money to terrorists. However, in the process many small businesses who rely on these markets are finding it much more difficult to conduct financial transactions:

Moving money without really moving it, by Indrajit Basu, ATimes: Emerging from his damp cubbyhole office in one of the labyrinthine lanes in Burrabazaar, Kolkata, the busiest trading hub in the eastern part of India, Champalal Bubna mopped his brow. ...[O]rdinarily he would have hated walking up the long road ahead - too narrow for a car to enter - carrying the heavy grocery bag he had with him.

But that day, he didn't mind, for the bag ... was full of hard cash, and he had to hurry to deliver the consignment to his associate's office about 3 kilometers of winding lanes ahead. The money had to move through informal channels that day for a payment in US dollars to a marble exporter in Cairo. Soon thereafter, he had to rush to meet a new client who also wanted to move money informally to an iron-scrap supplier in Georgia.

"It's getting hectic these days," said Bubna ... an erstwhile hawaladaar ... "Moving money by hawala is getting very difficult...," he said, "but thank God it is, because that's why demand is booming and my knowledge of the tricks of this trade and the contacts are coming in handy."

Indeed. The Indian government may have intensified its "war on terrorism" and its financial channels including hawala or hundi and angaria, but that has only resulted in a burgeoning demand for "informal value transfer systems", because in the pursuit to regulate money-laundering in the wake of renewed terrorist attacks, the government is also clamping down on regular or formal money-transfer systems, which is making life difficult for the numerous small-business people in the country.

Continue reading "Informal Payment Mechanisms and Terrorism" »

Monday, September 18, 2006

Paul Krugman: King of Pain

Paul Krugman wonders why the president is so determined to have torture declared legal:

King of Pain, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: A lot has been written and said about President Bush’s demand that Congress “clarify” the part of the Geneva Conventions that, in effect, outlaws the use of torture under any circumstances.

We know that the world would see this action as a U.S. repudiation of the rules that bind civilized nations. We also know that an extraordinary lineup of former military and intelligence leaders, including Colin Powell, have spoken out against the Bush plan, warning that it would further damage America’s faltering moral standing, and end up endangering U.S. troops.

But I haven’t seen much discussion of the underlying question: why is Mr. Bush so determined to engage in torture? ... And bear in mind that the “few bad apples” excuse doesn’t apply; these were officially approved tactics — and Mr. Bush wants at least some of these tactics to remain in use. ... [Also,] Remember that the Bush administration has imprisoned a number of innocent men at Guantánamo, and in some cases continues to imprison them even though it knows they are innocent.

Is torture a necessary evil in a post-9/11 world? No. People with actual knowledge of intelligence work tell us that ... [w]hat torture produces in practice is misinformation, as its victims, desperate to end the pain, tell interrogators whatever they want to hear. Thus Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — who ABC News says was subjected to both the cold cell and water boarding — told his questioners that Saddam Hussein’s regime had trained members of Al Qaeda in the use of biochemical weapons. This “confession” became a key part of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq — but it was pure invention.

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary. ...

The Republican majority in the House ... is poised to vote in favor of the administration’s plan to, in effect, declare torture legal. Most Republican senators are equally willing to go along, although a few, to their credit, have stood with the Democrats in opposing the administration.

Mr. Bush would have us believe that the difference between him and those opposing him on this issue is that he’s willing to do what’s necessary to protect America, and they aren’t. But the record says otherwise.

The fact is that for all his talk of being a “war president,” Mr. Bush has been conspicuously unwilling to ask Americans to make sacrifices on behalf of the cause — even when, in the days after 9/11, the nation longed to be called to a higher purpose. His admirers looked at him and thought they saw Winston Churchill. But instead of offering us blood, toil, tears and sweat, he told us to go shopping and promised tax cuts.

Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

_________________________
Previous (9/15) column: Paul Krugman: Progress or Regress
Next (5/22) column: Paul Krugman: Insurance Horror Stories

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Economics of Terrorism

This is Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago on the factors determining the productivity of terrorists, and a warning about interpreting who terrorists are based upon who is caught:

Even for Shoe Bombers, Education and Success Are Linked By Austan Goolsbee, Economic Scene Commentary, NY Times: The fifth anniversary of 9/11 passed with a great deal of hand-wringing over all the people who want to kill Americans. Especially worrisome is the apparent rise of terrorists whose origins seem far from fanatical.

These terrorists are not desperately poor uneducated people from the Middle East. A surprisingly large share of them have college and even graduate degrees. Increasingly, they seem to be from Britain, like the shoe bomber Richard C. Reid and most of the suspects in the London Underground bombings and the liquid explosives plot.

This has left the public wondering, Why are some educated people from Western countries so prone to fanaticism? Before trying to answer that question, though, some economists argue that we need to think about what makes a successful terrorist and they warn against extrapolating from the terrorists we catch. It is a problem economists typically refer to as “selection bias.”

In their new study, “Attack Assignments in Terror Organizations and the Productivity of Suicide Bombers,” two economists, Efraim Benmelech of Harvard University and Claude Berrebi of the RAND Corporation, set out to analyze the productivity of terrorists in the same way they might analyze the auto industry. ...

They gathered data on Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel from 2000 to 2005 and found that for terrorists, just like for regular workers, experience and education improve productivity. Suicide bombers who are older — in their late 20’s and early 30’s — and better educated are less likely to be caught on their missions and are more likely to kill large numbers of people at bigger, more difficult targets... Experience and education also affect the chances of being caught. Every additional year of age reduces the chance by 12 percent. Having more than a high school education cuts the chance by more than half. ...

The research suggests ... that there may be a reason that the average age of the 9/11 hijackers ... was close to 26 and that the supposed leader, Mohammed Atta, was 33 with a graduate degree. As Professor Benmelech put it in an interview: “It’s clear that there are some terrorist missions that require a certain level of skill to accomplish. The older terrorists with better educations seem to be less likely to fail them. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that terrorist organizers assign them to these more difficult missions.”

Among Palestinian suicide bombers, the older and better-educated bombers are assigned to targets in bigger cities where they can potentially kill greater numbers of people. That same idea means that the terrorists assigned to attack the United States are probably different from the typical terrorist. They will be drawn from people whose skills make them better at evading security.

We know relatively little about why the suspects arrested in the recent liquid explosives plot failed... Perhaps ... poor educations made it easier to uncover their plan. We do know, however, that they included a large number of South Asians raised in Britain. It’s only natural that terror groups would recruit native English speakers... It does not imply that the Muslim community is a more fertile ground for terrorists in Britain than in other countries.

Think of the extreme case. One of the people arrested in the liquid explosives plot ... was a woman with a baby. London newspapers have speculated that she was planning to carry her baby onto a plane with liquid explosives in his bottle. Even if true, that does not mean we should all start suspecting that women with babies are closet terrorists. That would be rather egregious selection bias. Objectively, we should be much more suspicious of other people. We see only the mother because the terrorists have an overwhelming incentive to find the one unusual terrorist who will outsmart our defenses.

And sadly, it seems that educated and intelligent terrorists are better at doing that than uneducated, fundamentalist lunatics. Oh, that it weren’t so. Like the old advertisement said, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Here's another example of selection bias that might help to clarify. Suppose there two sets of people, one living in city A and the other living in city Z, and you need to recruit a group of tall people to help you in a criminal venture involving impersonating basketball teams. Suppose further that the number people, the distribution of heights, and the willingness to commit crimes is identical in each city.

Now suppose you know your way around city A much better than city Z, and it's closer, so it's cheaper and safer to recruit in city A than in city Z. Then your group, once formed, will only have people from city A in it but they are no more likely to be tall and criminal than people in city Z (to make it like the example above, there could be several teams formed from the group of recruits and each team would be formed and assigned to a location based upon the age and education of team members). Thus, if and when the authorities catch people from your group and discover they are all tall and all from city A (and they are likely to be young and uneducated due to the assignment), it would be wrong to then conclude that young, tall, uneducated people in city A are more inclined toward crime than young, tall, uneducated people people in city Z.

[See also Civil Liberties and Terrorism.]

Monday, September 11, 2006

Paul Krugman: Promises Not Kept

Paul Krugman looks at why the trail for those responsible for 9/11 has gone "stone cold":

Promises Not Kept, by Paul Krugman, Still at Large Commentary, NY Times: Five years ago, the nation rallied around a president who promised vengeance against those responsible for the atrocity of 9/11. Yet Osama bin Laden is still alive and at large. His trail, The Washington Post reports, has gone “stone cold.” Osama and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are evidently secure enough in their hideaway that they can taunt us with professional-quality videos.

They certainly don’t lack for places to stay. Pakistan’s government has signed a truce with Islamic militants in North Waziristan, the province where bin Laden is presumed to be hiding. Although the Pakistanis say that this doesn’t mean that bin Laden is immune from arrest, their claims aren’t very credible.

Meanwhile, much of Afghanistan has fallen back under the control of drug-dealing warlords and of the Taliban, which sheltered Al Qaeda before it was driven from Kabul. ....

The path to this strategic defeat began with the failure to capture or kill bin Laden. Never mind the anti-Clinton hit piece, produced for ABC by a friend of Rush Limbaugh; there never was a clear shot at Osama before 9/11, let alone one rejected by Clinton officials. But there was a clear shot in December 2001, when Al Qaeda’s leader was trapped in the caves of Tora Bora. He made his escape because the Pentagon refused to use American ground troops to cut him off.

No matter, declared President Bush: “I truly am not that concerned about him,” he said ... in March 2002, and more or less stopped mentioning Osama for the next four years. ...[J]ust six months after 9/11 ... the pursuit of Al Qaeda had already been relegated to second-class status. A long report in yesterday’s Washington Post adds [that] ...: early in 2002, the administration began pulling key resources, such as special forces units and unmanned aircraft, off the hunt for Al Qaeda’s leaders, in preparation for the invasion of Iraq. ...

During the first 18 months after the Taliban were driven from power, the U.S.-led coalition provided no peacekeeping troops outside the capital city. Economic aid ... was minimal in the crucial first year... And the result was the floundering and failure we see today.

How did it all go so wrong? The diversion of resources into ... Iraq is certainly a large part of the story. Although administration officials continue to insist that the invasion of Iraq somehow made sense as part of a broadly defined war on terror, the Senate ... has just released a report confirming that Saddam Hussein regarded Al Qaeda as a threat, not an ally; he even made attempts to capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

But Iraq doesn’t explain it all. Even though the Bush administration was secretly planning another war in early 2002, it could still have spared some troops to provide security and allocated more money to help the Karzai government. As in the case of planning for postwar Iraq, however, Bush officials apparently refused even to consider the possibility that things wouldn’t go exactly the way they hoped.

These days most agonizing about the state of America’s foreign policy is focused, understandably, on the new enemies we’ve made in Iraq. But let’s not forget that the perpetrators of 9/11 are still at large, five years later, and that they have re-established a large safe haven.

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Previous (9/8) column: Paul Krugman: Whining Over Discontent
Next (9/15) column: Paul Krugman: Progress or Regress

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Build It, and They Will Stay Home

So long as the wealth gap between countries persists, there will be a powerful incentive for immigration, legal or not:

Wealth gulfs fuel migration, by Branko Milanovic, Project Syndicate: Is today's globalizing era coming to an end? If so, it may not necessarily end with a repeat of the slaughters of the last century, but with an economic retrenchment that brings economic stagnation and consigns billions of people to grinding poverty.

Various candidates have been proposed for the role of globalization's assassin. But one little noticed, yet likely, aspirant has been sneaking up on the world economy: The growing tendency to limit the free circulation of people, to "fence in" the rich world.

We see the menace of this tendency constantly nowadays, but we perceive it in such a seemingly unthreatening way that we may well become accustomed to it. Globalization means free movement of capital, goods, technology, ideas, and, yes, people. Any globalization that is limited to the first three or four freedoms but omits the last one is partial and not sustainable.

After all, if over-populated countries with high unemployment cannot export people, why not reach for higher tariff barriers to protect the jobs they have? But what of the unemployed who become locked into their societies? The war on terror has shown us the dangers that can arise from the social frustrations that often result.

Nevertheless, the "fencing-in" of the rich world continues apace. The United States plans to construct a veritable "Mexican Wall" to keep poor people from crossing into Texas or California.

Likewise, hundreds, if not thousands, of Africans die every year trying to reach the shores of Fortress Europe. Efforts to restrict people's movement between countries expose the soft underbelly of globalization: The deepening gap between countries' mean incomes.

Rather than poor countries growing faster than the rich ..., mainly the reverse is true. This huge gap spurs migration..., and if moving across a border means that their income can be multiplied several-fold, they will try to do it. This is why today's most contentious borders separate economies where the income gaps between people on the two sides are the greatest.

There are four such global hot spots: The borders between the US and Mexico, Spain and Morocco, Greece (and Italy) and the southern Balkans, and Indonesia and Singapore (or Malaysia).

Income differences were not always so huge. In 1980, average income in the US was a little more than three times that of Mexico, and the difference between Spain and Morocco 3.5 to one. So income gaps between all these contiguous countries have increased significantly during the last quarter-century.

If globalization, which has so enriched the world's wealthiest countries, is to continue, governments must find ways to increase incomes more evenly. Global income redistribution by the rich countries should be viewed as a matter not of charity, but of enlightened self-interest.

To me, in the long-run, the only real solution is to help poorer countries develop economically. I don't hear much objection to free immigration for Canadians and, outside of South Park, I suspect there would be very little. Free trade with Canada also seems mostly acceptable, though there are certainly frictions, e.g. in lumber.

If the wealth gap persists, we won't be able to build fences high enough, moats wide enough, or do anything else to stop people from trying to come here, and from being successful in their attempts. We might reduce the flow, but no more than for, say, illegal drugs. Poverty prevents countries from doing all the things we think of as "fair," better environmental rules (but look back at the choices we made at similar stages of economic development before casting stones), health care, decent wages, etc. The very existence of poverty makes competition with wealthier countries look unfair to those affected by the entry of poor countries into the marketplace.

But how do we solve that? By isolating those countries from the world's wealth through protectionism, immigration restrictions, and other means so that the wealth gap persists while they try to develop on their own? Or are we better off engaging with poor countries economically and doing everything we can to help them develop and overcome the poverty that is holding them back while also helping the poorer residents of developed countries who might be affected by such policies?

People do not want to leave the place they grew up, leave their family and friends, and go illegally to a foreign country with a different language, a place where they are not generally welcome. It takes a powerful economic incentive to induce them to leave. I am not advocating opening our borders to anyone who wants to come here. But doing all we can to encourage investment in poor countries is the best way to solve the wealth gap and associated problems in the long-run, and that may mean accepting US companies outsourcing or moving to poorer countries during the transition period, and allowing more immigrants from those countries to come here and work. But by whatever means, economic development in poorer countries is the key to resolving many of the difficult problems we face and the only way to achieve a lasting solution.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Trumping the Terror Card

Some politics from Slate. Should Democrats play the scare game too?:

Scare Them Back, by John Dickerson, Slate: Of course Republicans are trying to scare voters into voting for them. Why shouldn't they? ... As a political tactic, how could the GOP resist? Scaring voters has worked in past elections, allows Republicans to highlight issues of law and order and national security that have been their traditional strengths, and it forces Democrats into fits and unforced errors.

Last Wednesday, the president joined the effort. "They want us to cut and run," he said, marking his first use of the loaded phrase to characterize his Iraq-war opponents. "And there's some good people in our country who believe we should cut and run. They're not bad people when they say that, they're decent people. I just happen to believe they're wrong." They're not bad sniveling cowards, I just happen to believe they're wrong sniveling cowards. The president went on to suggest that a show of weakness in Iraq will lead to more deaths in the United States. "If we leave before the mission is complete, if we withdraw, the enemy will follow us home."

The message is clear: Vote for Democrats and more Americans will die. For the president and Republicans to pretend this isn't their political message is silly...

Democrats have not responded well to the simple GOP cut-and-run attack. Their message has been mixed and hypocritical. ... Here's my advice: The Democrats should embrace fear-mongering more passionately. They should embrace the tradition of the "missile gap"—the idea that the United States dangerously trailed the Soviet Union in missile firepower—that in the late 1950s helped young Sen. John Kennedy attack then-President Dwight Eisenhower. This would be good politics, and it would stir a good and currently muffled policy debate....

The question the Democrats should be asking is whether Bush's policies are inspiring the people who want to kill us. Since Republicans argue that if you elect Democrats, more Americans will die, it's logical for Democrats to ask whether continuing the current policies will cause more American deaths. Were the London plotters captured last week hyper-motivated by Bush's policies? The idea is to shift the debate from whether the Democrats would do a better job if they were in charge to whether giving them some control—a majority in one house of Congress, for starters—might lessen the degree to which George Bush and his Republican majority represent an ever-better recruitment tool for extremists.

This question derives from a central one that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asked in his famous October 2003 memo: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?" In the short term, the answer seems to be no. ...

My fear is that Democrats won't have the guts to fight fear with fear, perhaps because they don't want to be accused of being politically craven on an issue where they are weak. Maybe in the end, as a political matter they won't pay a stiff price for failing to. Polling suggests that the GOP effort to fan the fear-mongering flames in the wake of the London arrests and Ned Lamont victory have not increased the GOP's standing. Still, if Democrats don't aggressively ask whether the Republican policies are inspiring a greater number of people to devote their lives to killing Americans than would otherwise be the case, we'll miss a chance to have the kind of messy, realism-filled public debate we somehow continue to skirt. Democrats should stretch beyond the bumper sticker and ask the really scary questions.

Asking whether our actions have increased terrorist recruitment and increased the acceptability of terrorist actions as a strategy of resistance against the US within the broader community is not an "embrace fear-mongering" as the article calls it. It's an important question that needs to be asked.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"We Are On a Losing Trajectory in Iraq"

Thomas Friedman has some questions for Dick Cheney:

Big Talk, Little Will. by Thomas L. Friedman, Commentary, NY Times: The defeat of Senator Joe Lieberman by the upstart antiwar Democrat Ned Lamont has sparked a firestorm of debate about the direction of the Democratic Party. My own heart is with those Democrats who worry that just calling for a pullout from Iraq, while it may be necessary, is not a sufficient response to the biggest threat to open societies today — violent, radical Islam. Unless Democrats persuade voters ... that they understand this larger challenge, it’s going to be hard for them to win the presidency.

That said, though, the Democratic mainstream is nowhere near as dovish as critics depict. Truth be told, some of the most constructive, on-the-money criticism over the past three years about ... Iraq or ... the broader “war on terrorism” has come from Democrats, like Joe Biden, Carl Levin, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Bill Clinton.

But whatever you think of the Democrats, the important point is this: They are not the party in power today.

What should really worry the country is not whether the Democrats are being dragged to the left by antiwar activists... What should worry the country is that the Bush team and the Republican Party, which control all the levers of power..., are in total denial about where their strategy has led.

Besides a few mavericks..., how many Republicans have stood up and questioned the decision-making that has turned the Iraq war into a fiasco ... instead of just mindlessly applauding the administration[?]... Not only is there no honest self-criticism among Republicans, but — and this is truly contemptible — you have Dick Cheney & Friends focusing their public remarks on why Mr. Lamont’s defeat of Mr. Lieberman only proves that Democrats do not understand that we are in a titanic struggle with “Islamic fascists” and are therefore unfit to lead.

Oh, really? Well, I just have one question for Mr. Cheney: If we’re in such a titanic struggle with radical Islam, and if getting Iraq right is at the center of that struggle, why did you “tough guys” fight the Iraq war with the Rumsfeld Doctrine — just enough troops to lose — and not the Powell Doctrine of overwhelming force to create the necessary foundation of any democracy-building project, which is security? ...

Mr. Cheney, if we’re in a titanic struggle with Islamic fascists, why do you constantly use the “war on terrorism” as a wedge issue in domestic politics to frighten voters away from Democrats. How are we going to sustain such a large, long-term struggle if we are a divided country?

Please, Mr. Cheney, spare us your flag-waving rhetoric about the titanic struggle we are in and how Democrats just don’t understand it. It is just so phony — such a patent ploy to divert Americans from the fact that you have never risen to the challenge of this war. You will the ends, but you won’t will the means. What a fraud! ...

[W]e are on a losing trajectory in Iraq... Yes, the Democrats could help by presenting a serious alternative. But unless the party in power for the next two and half years shakes free of its denial, we are in really, really big trouble.

I wonder, are things different this time, or will the terror card still play in the fall? They're planning to play it. According to the Financial Times,

The Bush administration plans to make counter-terrorism a centrepiece of the forthcoming midterm congressional elections following last week’s alleged foiled airline terror plot in the UK.

I'm beginning to think (hope?) that it might not work this time, but fear that it will.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Paul Krugman: Hoping for Fear

Paul Krugman says "the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever," and that the public is beginning to see through the administration's use of fear to gain political advantage:

Hoping for Fear, by Paul Krugman, Using Fear Commentary, NY Times: Just two days after 9/11, I learned from Congressional staffers that Republicans on Capitol Hill were already exploiting the atrocity, trying to use it to push through tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. ... We now know that from the very beginning, the Bush administration and its allies in Congress saw the terrorist threat not as a problem to be solved, but as a political opportunity to be exploited. The story of the latest terror plot makes the administration’s fecklessness and cynicism on terrorism clearer than ever.

Fecklessness: ...Now we learn that terrorism experts have known about the threat of liquid explosives for years, but that the Bush administration did nothing..., and tried to divert funds from programs that might have helped protect us. “As the British terror plot was unfolding,” reports The Associated Press, “the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent ... developing new explosives detection technology.”

Cynicism: Republicans have consistently portrayed their opponents as weak on terrorism, if not actually in sympathy with the terrorists. Remember the 2002 TV ad in which Senator Max Cleland of Georgia was pictured with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? Now we have Dick Cheney suggesting that voters in the Democratic primary in Connecticut were lending aid and comfort to “Al Qaeda types.” There they go again.

More fecklessness, and maybe more cynicism, too: NBC reports that there was a dispute between the British and the Americans over when to make arrests in the latest plot. Since the alleged plotters weren’t ready to go ... British officials wanted to watch and wait, hoping to gather more evidence. But according to NBC, the Americans insisted on early arrests.

Suspicions that the ... administration ... had political motives in wanting the arrests made prematurely are fed by memories of events two years ago: the Department of Homeland Security declared a terror alert just after the Democratic National Convention, shifting the spotlight away from John Kerry — and, according to Pakistani intelligence officials, blowing the cover of a mole inside Al Qaeda.

But whether or not there was something fishy about the timing..., there’s the question of whether the administration’s scare tactics will work. If current polls are any indication, Republicans are on the verge of losing control of at least one house of Congress. ... Can a last-minute effort to make a big splash on terror stave off electoral disaster?

Many political analysts think it will. But even on terrorism, and even after the latest news, polls give Republicans at best a slight advantage. And Democrats are finally doing what they should have done long ago: calling foul on the administration’s attempt to take partisan advantage of the terrorist threat. ...

Above all, many Americans now understand ... Mr. Bush abused the trust the nation placed in him after 9/11. Americans no longer believe that he is someone who will keep them safe, as many did even in 2004; the pathetic response to Hurricane Katrina and the disaster in Iraq have seen to that.

All Mr. Bush and his party can do at this point is demonize their opposition. And my guess is that the public won’t go for it, that Americans are fed up with leadership that has nothing to hope for but fear itself.


Update: In a follow-up in Money Talks, Krugman says this appears to be right -- the public is not buying the administration's fear tactics this time around:

Fighting Fear With Fear: Paul Krugman responds to readers' comments on his Aug. 14 column, "Hoping for Fear"

Paul Krugman: I can't resist a comment on political analysis: as soon as Ned Lamont won the Connecticut primary, and even more after the terror story, the papers were full of political analyses about how this was going to be a big help to Republicans. Nobody seemed to remember that pundits have been predicting a big Bush comeback ever since the failure of Social Security privatization, spinning everything that happened as good news for the president. (David Broder even had a piece published as New Orleans was drowning, asserting that the disaster would put Bush back in "command.") And it just keeps not happening.

So, are last week's events finally producing the elusive "Bush bounce"? Not so far, according to the new CBS News poll neither Bush's overall rating, nor his approval rating on terrorism, have budged.

Score one for my guess that the public is fed up with scare tactics.

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Previous (8/11) column: Paul Krugman: Nonsense and Sensibility
Next (8/18) column: Paul Krugman: Wages, Wealth and Politics