Category Archive for: Iraq and Afghanistan [Return to Main]

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...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War"

New estimates for the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars:

'Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars, Democrats Say, by Josh White, Washington Post: The economic costs ... of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far total approximately $1.5 trillion, according to a new study by congressional Democrats that estimates the conflicts' "hidden costs"-- including higher oil prices, the expense of treating wounded veterans and interest payments on the money borrowed to pay for the wars. That amount is nearly double the $804 billion the White House has spent or requested ... through 2008... [The] report, titled "The Hidden Costs of the Iraq War," estimates that the wars ... have thus far cost the average U.S. family of four more than $20,000...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Forward Looking Markets See Trouble in Iraq

Austan Goolsbee on what the Iraqi bond market is telling us about the chance of success in Iraq (this has come up previously, see "Is The 'Surge' Working? Some New Facts" and Jim Hamilton: Economic Indicators of Success in Iraq):

In the Bond Market, a Bleak Prognosis for Iraq, by Austan Goolsbee, Commentary, NY Times: President Bush's surge of troops in Iraq has done little to resolve the political debate over the Iraq war. But global financial markets have been monitoring the war for months, and with remarkable consistency, they have concluded that the long-term prospects for a stable Iraq are very bleak.

That is the picture that emerges from a study by Michael Greenstone, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology... Professor Greenstone started by reviewing basic statistics on the Iraqi economy and on the battle for security within Iraq since February. This data provided a murky view, at best. ... Sifting through these facts was time-consuming, but it provided little real guidance on the state of affairs in Iraq.

It wasn’t until Professor Greenstone began examining the financial markets’ pricing of Iraqi government debt that he had his eureka moment. It was immediately clear that the bond market — which, historically, has often been an early indicator of the demise of a political system — was pessimistic about the Iraqi government’s chances for survival. ...

Continue reading "Forward Looking Markets See Trouble in Iraq" »

Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Should We Use Mercenaries at All?"

Tyler Cowen responds to a comment:

Should we use mercenaries at all?, by Tyler Cowen: Over at Mark Thoma's, Bernard Yomtov asks a very good question:

Why should there be mercenaries at all, given the existence of a large and well-trained Army? The mercenaries are former soldiers. Their functions are military and could be carried out by regular soldiers. The only reason I can see for using them is precisely to have people doing military jobs who are outside the normal chain of command, and not subject to normal laws, rules, and regulations governing the conduct of soldiers. In other words, it is to have people who do not work for government in the way that they should.

Most private contractors today do not serve in the function of soldiers but rather they deliver, ensure, and guard supplies. This should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but often the private sector does a better job and without major legal problems. 

Security guards, however, are often "mercenaries." A general or top Iraqi official for instance might be guarded by Blackwater employees. The critics have not shown that Blackwater employees misbehave at a higher rate than do U.S. soldiers, so the comparative case against Blackwater -- as opposed to the more general case against the war -- is mostly shrill rhetoric. It is possible to pay Blackwater employees bonuses for good performance rather than just give medals, plus they are on a higher pay scale in the first place. Nonetheless my judgment call is that issues of perception and accountability are important enough in contemporary Iraq that we should be using contractors less in these capacities (as the column indicated), but the temptation to use them is based on more than just sheer political abuse.

Contractors lower the cost of good operations, contractors lower the operational (but not social) cost of bad operations, contractors magnify the costs of mistaken Executive preferences, and contractors can raise new problems of monitoring. If you don't think the first item on this list is at work, there is good reason to cut back on contractors in Iraq.

But if you view the scope and use of contractors as a more general decision, rather than something which can be fine-tuned for each war, it is no longer such a simple choice.

I do not believe contractors should be used as combatants. Supply and support missions are another matter, and if by chance private contractors come under unexpected attack they should defend themselves, but they should not be put into such situations intentionally. Killing, if it has to be done at all, should not be done by contract, government or otherwise. Death is not just another good to be traded in the marketplace and I refuse to treat it that way even if, somehow, we do manage to save a few bucks along the way (and the economics can cut both ways, i.e., there are arguments about externalities that undercut the argument for contractors, e.g. who paid to train the people that Blackwater now uses and how much of the saving comes from taxpayers footing the bill for the training, but that just scratches the surface of externalities such as contractors not fully internalizing the cost of killing civilians or harming Iraqi property).

If I thought that using mercenaries would save lives overall, including the lives of innocent Iraqi bystanders, then I would consider the option even if it costs more, not less - as it does. These are lives we are talking about, not widgets produced by xyz. If pay for soldiers is the problem, if we get better service from Blackwater because they are paid more, then fix it - we're paying the Blackwater employees with tax dollars already and I have no problem at all with paying people willing to enter into combat as U.S. soldiers very, very well for that risk. But it's hard for me to believe that money is the motivating factor in combat when one's life is, very literally, on the line.

For me, it's akin to executions. If we have to have them (and we don't, and shouldn't), it should be the government who does the killing. Period. We might save money by contracting the executions out to the private sector, and probably would, but is that how you want it to be done? If not, how is war different? Again, for me, killing should never be part of an economic transaction between government and the private sector. If we must defend ourselves, if killing must be done, it should not be carried out as a for profit activity. I understand and support the use of contractors in support roles - providing for the needs of people in combat - but war zones are not a place where economic incentives much matter. The institutions that support markets are completely absent for one thing, staying alive trumps all, and the discipline of the military, not the discipline of the market, is what provides incentives to curtail behavior such as shooting anything that moves in order to stay alive. Markets have their places, but war zones are not among them.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Private Contractors and War

Tyler Cowen:

To Know Contractors, Know Government, by Tyler Cowen, Economic Scene, NY Times: Allegations of misbehavior by employees of Blackwater USA in the shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis have brought the military’s use of private contractors into question. But whatever the possible sins of the Blackwater firm, the overall problem is not private contracting in itself; ... but rather ... the sins and virtues of their customers, namely their sponsoring governments.

It is easy to rail against contractors for holding money above loyalty to country; Halliburton, for instance, has been a target of this criticism. But... private ships licensed to carry out warfare, helped win the American Revolution and the War of 1812. ... Today, many of our allies receive payment, either implicitly or explicitly, to support American efforts. War is, among other things, an economic undertaking, so the profit motive in military affairs isn’t always bad or ignoble.

When it comes to supplying troops, or protecting high-ranking officials, private military contractors often offer greater flexibility and rapidity of response. The employees, many of whom are former soldiers or operatives, tend to have more experience than current, mostly younger soldiers.

The recent comeback of private contracting suggests that central governments have become weaker again, at least relative to the tasks they are undertaking. Alexander Tabarrok ... traced the history of private contractors in a study, “The Rise, Fall, and Rise Again of Privateers” (The Independent Review, spring 2007 ). He showed that public navies and armies began to displace private contractors in the 19th century, as governments became more powerful and better funded.

Today, America no longer has a draft, its military bureaucracy can be inflexible and the public wishes to be insulated from the direct impact of war. Contractors are a symptom of government weakness, but are not the problem itself. The first Persian Gulf War, which enjoyed greater international support, was not reliant on contractors to nearly the same degree.

Among many Iraqis, Blackwater and other companies have a reputation for getting the job done without much caring about Iraqis who get in the way. But part of the problem may stem from economic incentives. If Blackwater is assigned to protect a top American official, who is later assassinated, Blackwater may lose future business. A private contractor doesn’t have a financial incentive to protect Iraqi citizens, who are not paying customers. Ultimately, this reflects the priorities of the United States military itself. American casualties are carefully recorded and memorialized, but there is no count of Iraqi civilian deaths.

It is harder to recognize when private contractors are being underemployed. During the Rwandan civil war in the 1990s, the United Nations debated using two private contractors, Executive Outcomes or Sandline International, to intervene. The U.N. rejected the notion and instead turned to a poorly trained Zairean police contingent. We’ll never know how private contractors would have fared, but the Zaireans were ineffective; some 800,000 Rwandans were murdered.

Yet the use of contractors is not a free lunch.

Compared with the military, contractors are not subject to direct scrutiny by Congress and they are not covered by international law with the same clarity. Excessive use of private contractors erodes checks and balances, and it substitutes market transactions, controlled by the executive branch, for traditional political mechanisms of accountability. When it comes to Iraq, we’ve yet to see the evidence of a large practical gain...

When private contractors are combined with government troops, the contractors usually can’t do much better than the setting in which they are asked to perform.

When things are going well and the “good guys” are in control, the flexibility and experience of military contractors can make things go even better. But when the environment is hostile and events are spiraling out of control, the incentives of private contractors may lead to many mistakes.

Note that a serious issue for Blackwater — the allegations about needless deaths of innocent civilians — has also been an issue for United States government forces from the beginning of the conflict.

Most of all, contractors are appealing when a victory is possible in relatively quick order. The potential accountability problems won’t linger for long; conversely, few contractors will look good when a conflict runs on for years.

Currently, the chances of establishing a stable Iraqi government appear quite low. ... If so, we should be cutting back on private contractors, as the critics are suggesting, because there is no desirable end in sight. Of course, those same reasons suggest troop cutbacks as well.

In the next conflict, however, the temptation to use contractors may again be strong. What if private contractors offer a real chance of making a positive difference? ...

Private contractors may not respect virtue for its own sake, but like most businesses, they will respect the wishes of their most powerful customers, in this case governments. What is wrong with Blackwater may, most of all, mirror what is wrong with Uncle Sam.

"Where Does the Right-Wing End and the Media Begin?"

This is part of an interview with Paul Krugman on the relationship between the right-wing and the media, and other matters:

Where Does the Right-Wing End and the Media Begin? By Rory O'Connor, AlterNet: I had the opportunity to sit down this week with ... Paul Krugman... He certainly pulled no punches during our conversation...

Rory O' Connor: ...What role if any do the media play in movement conservatism?

Paul Krugman: The media are a very important force... They shape perceptions, and they conceal issues. Look at the 2000 presidential campaign, for example, where the media were so heavily biased against Al Gore. That's what brought Bush to within a Supreme Court decision of the White House. ...[T]he role of the media in not telling you reasons why you should be skeptical about the course of the war, for example, it's enormously important. ...

[T]here are several major parts of the news media that are for all practical purposes part of "movement conservatism" -- Fox News, the New York Post, the Washington Times -- and in which other news organizations are intimidated, at least to some extent. I sometimes talk about ... "asymmetrical intimidation." If you say a true but unflattering thing about Bush or in fact about any other prominent conservative, oh, boy! People are going to go after you. I mean, I've got people working full-time going after me, right? But if you say a false, unflattering thing about a Democrat or a progressive, no risk ... And that shapes coverage, no question about it. It's better now, but it's still very asymmetric. The other thing ... about the media is their addiction to the trivial. We've got the most substantive election coming up, I think, ever. ... And what are we seeing news stories about? John Edwards' hair and Hillary Clinton's laugh ... this is horrifying! And again -- it's asymmetric. ...

ROC: It sounds like you're saying there's a bias in the media. If you are, what is the bias?

PK: The media's bias, a large part of it is in fact right-wing bias, because they are effectively part of the right wing. Fox News ... there's ... no liberal equivalent..., there is no network that, if a conservative got the Nobel Peace Prize, would have responded the way Fox News did to Al Gore's Peace Prize...

Beyond that, there's two things at least; first, the hatred of substance -- they really want to talk about all that trivia -- and there's also the fetish of evenhandedness. ... Way back in the 2000 campaign, I wrote ... that if Bush said the earth was flat, the headline would read: "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Planet." I was thinking specifically about what Bush was saying about taxes and Social Security, which were just out and out lies! But no one would say that, and they still won't. It's better now, a little, but they still won't say it... [T]he Big Lies are all on the right right now. So it works much more to their advantage.

ROC: Do you think it's possible that economics is driving politics in the media?

Continue reading ""Where Does the Right-Wing End and the Media Begin?"" »

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Robert Reich's Postscript on Fair Taxes

Robert Reich says "the case for substantially raising marginal income tax rates on the rich" is clear:

Who Pays the Dollars that Finance Bush's War? More on a Fair Tax Burden, by Robert Reich: President Bush has just sent Congress an “emergency” request for an extra $46 billion in expedited funds for Iraq, Afghanistan and other national security needs. That’s in addition to the $145 billion in war-related spending included in Bush’s original 2008 budget. Which brings me back to the subject of who’s gonna pay for all this. ...

[T]he principle for who’s gonna pay should be equal sacrifice. Equal sacrifice means that in paying taxes, people ought to feel about the same degree of pain – regardless of whether they’re wealthy or poor. This means that someone earning $2 million a year ought to pay a larger portion of her income in taxes than someone earning $20,000 a year. Even Adam Smith saw the wisdom of a graduated tax. “The rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in proportion,” he wrote. (Wealth of Nations, vol. 2, ed. Campbell, Oxford U Press, 1976, p. 840.)

Traditionally during wartime, taxes have been raised substantially on top incomes to help pay the extra costs of war. The estate tax was imposed by wartime Republican presidents Lincoln and McKinley. It was maintained through World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War. Now, under Bush, with Bush's war costing more and more, it's being phased out.

During World War I the marginal income tax on the richest Americans rose to 77 percent; during World War II it was over 90 percent. In 1953, with the Cold War raging, Republican president Dwight Eisenhower refused to support a Republican bill to reduce the top rate, then 91 percent. By 1980, the top marginal rate was still at 70 percent.

Combine this logic with the facts I shared with you two blogs ago – about how large a share of national income and wealth the super-rich now claim – and the case for substantially raising marginal income tax rates on the rich should be even clearer.*
* Postscript: The blogger who asserts that 84.6 percent of all federal taxes are paid by the top 25 percent of income earners, and over a third are paid by the top 1 percent, advances a specious argument. First, most Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes; in addition, state sales taxes have grown faster than almost any other form of taxation. Both payroll taxes and sales taxes take a much bigger portion of the paychecks of lower-income Americans than of higher-income. Viewed as a whole, the current tax system is quite regressive.

Second, and more to the point, it’s irrelevant how much of the total income tax burden is paid by the top 25 percent, or even the top 1 percent. The ethical and logical issue is what sort of sacrifice individuals are making, or should be expected to make, rather than what sacrifice an economic “class” is making as a whole. The rich have become so wealthy that even if each wealthy American paid a very small share of his or her incomes in taxes, the rich would still, as a group, account for a large share of total income taxes. I find it ironic that conservatives who extol the virtues of individualism and abhor so-called “class warfare” would resort to such a deceptive argument.

And, though I think Reich has in mind a net increase in taxes rather than revenue neutral offsets that increase progressivity, along these lines:

A Tax Plan as Trial Run for ’09 Law, by Edmund L. Andrews, NY Times: The House’s leading Democratic tax writer will propose a sweeping overhaul of the tax code on Thursday that would increase taxes on many people with incomes above $200,000 but cut them for most others.

The bill, [is] to be introduced by Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York ... Mr. Rangel has acknowledged that he does not expect to enact such a bill this year, and President Bush would almost certainly veto legislation that raises taxes on the wealthy. ...

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.

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.]

Sunday, October 07, 2007

War on the Cheap

Since we're talking about who pays the costs of the war, here's a way the costs are being reduced: by making sure soldiers who served in Iraq are not eligible for education benefits after they return. This is not how we should be saving money or treating our soldiers. This is from George Borjas:

Kinked Constraints, by George Borjas: Every microeconomics student learns that sudden changes in opportunities--which are usually represented by kinks in the constraints facing decision makers--generate outcomes that cluster on those kinks.

Examples abound: Workers retire at age 65 (and not at age 64 years and 364 days) because of the substantial change in retirement benefits that kicks precisely when the worker turns 65; employers recall workers from temporary layoffs just before the government-provided unemployment benefits expire; and so on.

Well, here is one particularly pathetic example of the behavioral impact of kinked constraints:

When they came home from Iraq, 2,600 members of the Minnesota National Guard had been deployed longer than any other ground combat unit. The tour lasted 22 months and had been extended as part of President Bush's surge.

1st Lt. Jon Anderson said he never expected to come home to this: A government refusing to pay education benefits he says he should have earned under the GI bill...

Anderson's orders, and the orders of 1,161 other Minnesota guard members, were written for 729 days.

Had they been written for 730 days, just one day more, the soldiers would receive those benefits to pay for school. "Which would be allowing the soldiers an extra $500 to $800 a month," Anderson said.

I no longer believe in coincidences when it comes to stuff like this. Whoever wrote the order for 729 days knew precisely what he or she was doing.

While sticks and stones are breaking bones, we're more interested in whether words have hurt us. I'd rather see the press focus on issues such as who wrote this policy and under whose direction, how widespread the practice is, and so on, than to hear another word about what Rush or anyone else said that might have hurt someone's feelings. Rush is a buffoon who deserves to be ignored, not catered to when he craves attention and makes the latest outlandish statement. Writing a policy to avoid paying education benefits under the GI bill (and other things such as providing access to needed health care when soldiers return from duty in Iraq) says more about support for soldiers who have served than anything he might say and all of the attention devoted to Rush et. al. crowds out more important discussions from the public dialogue.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Who Should Pay for the War?

Thomas Friedman says we are through the looking glass:

Charge It to My Kids, by Thomas Friedman, Commentary, NY Times: Every so often a quote comes out of the Bush administration that leaves you asking: Am I crazy or are they? I had one of those moments last week when Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, was asked about a proposal by some Congressional Democrats to levy a surtax to pay for the Iraq war, and she responded, “We’ve always known that Democrats seem to revert to type, and they are willing to raise taxes on just about anything.”

Yes, those silly Democrats. They’ll raise taxes for anything, even — get this — to pay for a war!

And if we did raise taxes to pay for our war ..., “does anyone seriously believe that the Democrats are going to end these new taxes that they’re asking the American people to pay at a time when it’s not necessary to pay them?” added Ms. Perino. “I just think it’s completely fiscally irresponsible.”

Friends, we are through the looking glass. It is now “fiscally irresponsible” to want to pay for a war with a tax. These democrats just don’t understand: the tooth fairy pays for wars. Of course she does — the tooth fairy leaves the money at the end of every month under Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s pillow. And what a big pillow it is! My God, what will the Democrats come up with next? Taxes to rebuild bridges or schools or high-speed rail or our lagging broadband networks? No, no, the tooth fairy covers all that. She borrows the money from China and leaves it under Paulson’s pillow. ...

Of course, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, the Democrat David Obey, in proposing an Iraq war tax to help balance the budget was expressing his displeasure with the war. But he was also making a very important point when he said, “If this war is important enough to fight, then it ought to be important enough to pay for.” ...

Previous American generations connected with our troops by making sacrifices at home — we’ve never passed on the entire cost of a war to the next generation, said Robert Hormats, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International, who has written a history — “The Price of Liberty” — about how America has paid for its wars since 1776.

“In every major war we have fought in the 19th and 20th centuries,” said Mr. Hormats, “Americans have been asked to pay higher taxes — and nonessential programs have been cut — to support the military effort. Yet during this Iraq war, taxes have been lowered and domestic spending has climbed. In contrast to World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, for most Americans this conflict has entailed no economic sacrifice. The only people really sacrificing for this war are the troops and their families.”

In his celebrated Farewell Address, Mr. Hormats noted, George Washington warned against “ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burdens we ourselves ought to bear.”

I don't think that now is the right time to raise taxes given the weakness in the economy, and to the extent that spending on the war has crowded out other types of spending there has been a cost for the war, but in general the idea that we need to bear the consequences of our decisions is hard to argue against. Once the nation's decision-making apparatus, such as it is, decided to go to war, what if the rich and powerful had been told that their tax cuts would have to wait until the war ended, that paying for the war would not allow tax-cuts so long as the war was still going on? Might that have changed the support for the war the president received from this powerful coalition? The tax-cuts are hard to justify in any case, and a tax-cut on hold may not have been enough to change the outcome, but requiring sacrifice of some sort from those of power and influence is at least a step toward bringing the costs of the war into the decision making process. Being forced to pay for a war I don't support would tick me off, but that's the point -- by making the public fully internalize the cost of the nation's decision to go to war (including the human cost), it will motivate more pressure to bring this war to an end.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

America is Not at War, America is at the Mall

A proposal to raise taxes to help to pay for the war:

The Iraq money pit, by James P. McGovern, Boston Globe: I recently came across a photo of a handwritten sign in a US military facility in Ramadi, Iraq. The sign read, "America is not at war. The Marine Corps is at war; America is at the mall."

The sign reflects a perception among many US soldiers and their families that the American people are not sharing in their sacrifice. It is a perception grounded in reality..., who is really sacrificing? Certainly not members of Congress. We will not wake up tomorrow in harm's way in Baghdad or Fallujah. ...

I propose we change this dynamic by raising taxes on nearly every American in order to pay for the war in Iraq. ...

It is reasonable to assume that the cost will approach $800 billion by the time Bush leaves office. I will soon introduce legislation to impose a "surtax" to begin paying for future war costs that have not been budgeted and paid for by existing federal revenues. This war surtax is modeled on similar surtaxes imposed during World War II and the Vietnam War to cover war costs. ...

My surtax proposal is not an additional tax on income; rather, it is a tax on tax liability.

For example, if a low-income taxpayer owes $100 in taxes, he would be subject to an additional 2 percent surtax of $2. Wealthy taxpayers would pay a higher percentage. Corporations, trusts, and estates would also be subject to the surtax.

Needless to say, this idea of a surtax makes my colleagues - Democrat and Republican - exceedingly nervous. No politician likes to talk about raising taxes. But somebody, someday, somewhere will pay the hundreds of billions we have borrowed so far for this war.

My conservative colleagues will argue that we should cut spending to cover the costs. That's nice rhetoric, but it's not real. Are we going to eliminate the entire departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services? Or how about eliminating all funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Energy, Interior, Treasury, the EPA, and NASA combined? That's what it would take to fund just one year of the Iraq war.

Some of my fellow antiwar liberals believe that since the war in Iraq is wrong, they do not want to pay for it. But isn't it also wrong to force future generations to pay for it?

I voted against the war in Iraq. I have consistently fought to bring the war to an immediate end and to bring our troops home. I believe it is the worst political, military, and diplomatic tragedy in our history.

But to force our children to pay for that tragedy would only compound it. The war in Iraq has been this generation's mistake. It should not be the next generation's burden.

We have an opportunity to say to our soldiers and their families that we are in this together; that their fellow citizens are also sacrificing just a little bit.

That's a message worth sending.

While it's certainly true that someone will have to pay for the war at some point - somebody, someday, somewhere will have to give up something to pay the bills - raising taxes right now is not good short-run economic policy given the current weakness in the economy. Driving the economy into a recession would show sacrifice, but that's not the best way to show our support.

It's not good politics either. If a bill was passed raising taxes, and George Bush actually signed it only to have the economy then sink into a recession due to the housing slump or other causes, the political fallout would be large (The WSJ is already claiming that the belief that Democrats will raise taxes is making businesses hesitant to invest and contributing to the current weakness). Thus, while good long-run budget policy does require a plan to pay for expenditures, the political gain from raising taxes now seems small relative to the potential political and economic downside.

I am not objecting to implementing reality-based long-run budget policy, but the mistake was cutting taxes with a war on and the economy relatively strong. We shouldn't compound that error by now raising taxes just as the economy is showing signs of weakness. We will need to pay for this war, and I understand the underlying political point being made through a proposal which has no realistic chance of passage. But even if it did have a chance to pass, now is not the time to put the brakes on the economy.

And please drop this argument:

My surtax proposal is not an additional tax on income; rather, it is a tax on tax liability. For example, if a low-income taxpayer owes $100 in taxes, he would be subject to an additional 2 percent surtax of $2.

That's just an accounting gimmick that invites ridicule from the opposition. This raises taxes, so just say that directly. If the person earns $1,000 and the tax is 10% (=$100), then with the surcharge the tax on income is 10.2% or $102. The $2 comes out of income one way or the other and calling it a tax on a tax doesn't change that.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"Trust Us"

"Wartime economist" and libertarian David Henderson:

War and the Constitution, by David R. Henderson: ...The U.S. Constitution is there to protect our rights, to tell the government the only things it can do. If the federal government does not have a specific power granted to it within the Constitution, then it does not have that power. Period. ...

[O]ur rights... [are also protected by] the carefully thought-out division of powers within the U.S. Constitution. Why such a division of powers? Because no one is to be trusted with too much power. Incidentally, when Alberto Gonzales gave a talk at the Naval Postgraduate School in 2002 defending many of President Bush's unconstitutional actions, a colleague and I challenged him afterward. He tried to reassure us, saying, "Condi and others and I are looking out for how the president will play in history. We don't want him to look like some monster who destroyed our freedom. Trust us." I answered, "The Constitution is not based on trust, but on distrust."

One of the most important things the government does is engage in war. For that reason, the Constitution gives the power to declare war solely to Congress. ...

Consider why this matters. Think back to all the discussion before the U.S. government invaded Iraq in March 2003. One of the biggest issues was whether, and to what extent, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We now know that he didn't have such weapons – even many of Bush's defenders will admit his error. We don't even need to get into the issue of whether Bush was lying. Even if we assume the best – that Bush was saying what he thought to be true – the point is that we could have had a much better discussion of the issue if Bush had followed the Constitution. If Congress had actually decided to vote on whether or not to declare war on Iraq, they would have had a debate. If they had had a debate, there would have been multiple sources of information about the weapons of mass destruction. But by violating his oath to uphold the Constitution, Bush made sure that there wasn't an extensive debate. ...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Paul Krugman: Hired Gun Fetish

Paul Krugman on the (mis)use of private security contractors in Iraq:

Hired Gun Fetish, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are ... central to the effort...

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but ... don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet..., Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry...

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time ... to find a way to do without mercenaries...

And the danger ... to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq. Yet ... last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops... Contractors..., “offered ... additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"A Soldier in Iraq"

I will let this speak for itself. It's from "Gian P. Gentile, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, [and] a professor of history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point":

A soldier in Iraq, by Gian P. Gentile, Commentary, International Herald Tribune: After spending 2006 in command of an armor reconnaissance squadron in some of West Baghdad's toughest neighborhoods, I learned to be very humble when linking causes to the effects I thought my unit produced. ... Many times the results had nothing to do with the military force that I applied.

During the second half of 2006, as civil war in Iraq grew and sectarian violence soared, my squadron was given the mission of pacifying the Sunni district in West Baghdad known as Ameriyah.

In early August, I took part in an operation ordered by the Iraqi government called "Operation Together Forward II." In Ameriyah, I essentially surged my squadron with the purpose of protecting the people and breaking the cycle of violence so that the Iraqi government could get some breathing space to function on its own.

Continue reading ""A Soldier in Iraq"" »

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Alan Greenspan versus Naomi Klein

This is part of a longer interview of Alan Greenspan and Naomi Klein:

Alan Greenspan vs. Naomi Klein on the Iraq War, Bush's Tax Cuts, Economic Populism, Crony Capitalism and More, Democracy Now [Watch 128k stream, Watch 256k stream]: AMY GOODMAN: ...We welcome you both to Democracy Now! ... You worked with six presidents, with President Reagan, with both President Bushes. You worked with President Ford, and you worked with Bill Clinton, who you have called a Republican president; why?

ALAN GREENSPAN: That was supposed to be a quasi-joke. ... I’m a libertarian Republican, which means I believe in a series of issues, such as smaller government, constraint on budget deficits, free markets, globalization, and a whole series of other things, including welfare reform. And as you may remember, Bill Clinton was ... doing much that same agenda... [H]e is a centrist Democrat. And that's not all that far from libertarian Republicanism. ...

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Greenspan, let's talk about the war in Iraq. You said what for many in your circles is the unspeakable, that the war in Iraq was for oil. Can you explain?

Continue reading "Alan Greenspan versus Naomi Klein" »

Friday, September 21, 2007

Privatization of Military Services

"Timothy K. Hsia is an Army infantry captain on his second deployment to Iraq":

Iraq needs contractors, by Timothy K. Hsia, Commentary, LA Times: From the time a soldier wakes up until he goes to sleep, he interacts with civilian contractors. Most of the focus has been on personal security detachments, or PSDs -- the bodyguards, like Blackwater. But by some estimates there are as many of 180,000 contractors, and PSDs make up only a small fraction of them. The majority of the jobs are service support for the troops and are filled by non-Americans. The effect of these civilians in the Iraq war has yet to be fully examined, and the legacy of their role will affect how our nation fights its future wars.

The trash being sifted and sorted ... is ... by civilians working for Toifor Co. When [a soldier] walks to the ... recreation facilities, he is greeted by more civilians who run the gym. As he leaves the gym, he can see civilians stacking up the bottled water. When the soldier turns in his laundry, it is to an East Asian civilian... When he enters the dining facility, he is greeted by Ugandan security guards who work for EOD Technology. These Ugandans make roughly $1,000 a month, meager by U.S. standards but considered a small fortune in their country. They also provide security at the forward operating bases -- the largest camps -- because there is not enough U.S. military manpower to do so.

While preparing for a mission, the soldier can expect technicians from General Dynamics or other major defense contracting companies aiding Army soldiers in the upkeep and maintenance of essential equipment. He can expect his Iraqi interpreter to work for a contractor... In addition, many Filipino drivers are responsible for ensuring that most of the heavy equipment ... reach their destinations after they're unloaded in Kuwait. ...

The majority of all this civilian activity usually goes unnoticed on the bases by soldiers and even more so by U.S. taxpayers, who generally think their taxes only support the military forces. After the Vietnam War, most of the combat-support duties were transferred from full-time soldiers to National Guard and Reserve units. But today that structure has been undercut as civilians have taken over those jobs. And these civilian contractors in the non-security roles are only a degree away from what we have historically called mercenaries. They may not be carrying weapons, but they nonetheless assist, equip, sustain and maintain the military force in Iraq.

This war has demonstrated that there are not enough soldiers to equip and sustain a deployed force continuously for multiple years and deployments. Although the Defense Department has not released any official census on the total number of contractors, some reports have indicated that contractors already outnumber soldiers.

The revolution in military affairs envisaged by Donald H. Rumsfeld ... has occurred. The military can deploy with fewer soldiers and still achieve the administration's goals. Implicit in this revolution, though, is the reality that civilian contractors have come to take a significant, vital and cloaked role in the country's prosecution of a war in which Americans are fooled by the actual numbers required to carry out a war.

The Romans found mercenaries to be a quick-fix solution. However, a temporary fix became a more permanent force that the Romans used when they found their own legions had become too expensive -- economically and politically. Let us hope that the United States does not follow the fate of the Roman Empire in this regard.

Continue reading "Privatization of Military Services" »

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jim Hamilton: Economic Indicators of Success in Iraq

Jim Hamilton discusses a recent evidence on the prospects for Iraq gleaned from financial markets:

Economic indicators of success in Iraq, By James Hamilton: Some economists have been interpreting economic developments as shedding light on the success of the military surge in Iraq. I think one needs to use a bit of caution in drawing conclusions from such evidence.

Paul Krugman's analysis generated some interesting discussion at Economist's View, Daily Kos, and Brian Beutler, among many others. Krugman writes:

To understand what's really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed....

.... Last month, the provincial government in Kurdistan, defying the central government, passed its own oil law; last week, a Kurdish Web site announced that the provincial government had signed a production-sharing deal with Hunt Oil of Dallas, and that seems to have been the last straw.

Now here's the thing: Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Bush. More than that, Hunt is a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

....what's interesting about this deal is the fact that Hunt, thanks to his policy position, is presumably as well-informed about the actual state of affairs in Iraq as anyone in the business world can be. By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad's disapproval, he's essentially betting that the Iraqi government-- which hasn't met a single one of the major benchmarks Bush laid out in January-- won't get its act together. Indeed, he's effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration-- maybe even Bush himself-- know this, too.

Mr. Hunt's plan is apparently not a distant potential, but something for implementation here and now. Dallas Morning News reports:

Hunt said it would begin its geological survey and seismic work by the end of this year and planned to begin drilling in 2008.

Here's the question for Professor Krugman-- would you invest many millions of your own dollars in a region that you were convinced is slipping irrevocably into chaos and instability? I found the Kurds' spin on this story (as reported again by Dallas Morning News) a much more natural interpretation than Krugman's:

"Kurdistan is looking more and more like an island of stability" in Iraq, said Qubad Talabani, the son of Iraq's president and the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States. "This should get the attention of other companies."

Now, I'll grant Krugman that the deal does suggest that the future of Iraq may develop along different lines than embodied by the current central government and its oil plan. But that does not mean that the future is necessarily a bleak one for the Iraqi people or U.S. interests.

I have a similar concern about the thoughtful new research paper by MIT Professor Michael Greenstone, which has been favorably described by Freakonomics, Marginal Revolution, and Economist's View, among others. Greenstone looks at a number of indicators, one of which is the price of the Iraqi government debt. Here's Greenstone's description of the background:

Prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq issued about $130 billion in debt. After the Gulf war, they defaulted on this debt. When the US led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, the holders of this debt were spread around the world.... After the end of combat operations in May 2003, the US government brokered a deal to exchange $1000 in the existing bonds for $200 worth of new bonds for those creditors who held at least $35 million in Iraqi bond so that the new Iraqi government would not be hamstrung by this debt. As a result of this debt relief agreement, the Iraqi government issued roughly $2.66 billion in US dollar denominated notes in January 2006.

Greenstone then notes that the interest rate on this debt has increased in recent months. One of his most interesting graphs was the following, which calculates that the implicit probability of default on these bonds has risen from less than a 6% annual risk to more than an 8% annual risk:

The Implied annual default Rate of Iraqi state bonds. Source: Greenstone (2007).


Greenstone described this as a 40% increase in the expected default rate. I suspect that fewer people would be misled if we had instead reported these same numbers as a 2% increase in the probability of default. And while I agree that it is most natural to interpret this as market concern over increased instability, that is far from the only possible explanation. I would think, for example, that exactly the same kind of conditions under which Hunt Oil would profit from its deal with the Kurds would also mean a reduced likelihood of the central government repaying the debt. I could also well imagine that further debt forgiveness could be an integral part of negotiations for what comes next. So while I agree with Krugman and Greenstone that the oil deal and interest rate changes may signal less confidence in the continuation of the current regime in its present form, I do not see the basis for assuming that any changes in that regime necessarily equate with less stability.

Notwithstanding, I can certainly recommend Greenstone's paper for its careful and thorough analysis, which has a number of interesting results besides the observation on interest rates. For example, Greenstone concludes that the surge has successfully reversed the trend in civilian fatalities:

Daily fatalities of Iraqi civilians from 1 year before the surge began through 153 days after the surge began, with regression lines allowing for a break in trend. Source: Greenstone (2007).


If one were asking the question, as I wish more people were, of which course among the currently feasible options would be in the best interests of the Iraqi people, I think exploration for new oil and a decrease in the number of Iraqis who are being killed would be viewed as unambiguously hopeful developments.

I appreciate the point that we should think about what's best for the Iraqi people. Sometimes, that seems to be given little weight or forgotten in these discussions. A few points in response:

First, I thought one of the points of the paper is that the standard indicators give mixed messages about the success of the surge. The unreliability of the data combined with the ability for those in charge to manipulate the data make it difficult to reach firm conclusions. As the author says, "Evaluating such conflicting indicators is challenging," and hence the use of financial market data instead which, though not perfect, may give a better indication of the chance of success. And what the financial market data say is not encouraging.

Second, of all the data used in the paper, the author took special note of the data on civilian deaths, saying that "even among the available data, there are legitimate questions about quality and reliability. This is especially the case with the civilian casualty data." For that reason, the confidence intervals are large and the break shown in the graph is unlikely to be statistically significant when all sources on uncertainty are accounted for.

Third, beyond the measurement problems with civilian deaths, and there are serious questions about how these data are gathered, much like the fall in interest rates can be a sign of god or bad developments in the economy depending upon the source of the change, a drop in civilian deaths must be interpreted in terms of the underlying cause. There is evidence that the fall in civilian deaths is due to ethnic cleansing in many neighborhoods. Once a neighborhood is "cleansed," violence drops, but it's hard to interpret that as a success for the Iraqi people.

Fourth, is Balkanization good or bad for the Iraqi people overall? It probably depends upon which group you belong to and how it plays out. I can't disagree that Balkanization "does not mean that the future is necessarily a bleak one for the Iraqi people or U.S. interests," but there's certainly no guarantee that will be the case and it's hard to imagine getting to that outcome without a substantial amount of violence. Since the Hunt deal relies upon the dissolution of the current government and involves who gets the property rights to Iraqi oil, the potential for instability and negative consequences for the Iraqi people seems quite real.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"The Iraq War is Largely about Oil"

Alan Greenspan explains his comment about oil and the Iraq war:

Greenspan Says Hussein's Removal Was 'Essential', by Bob Woodward, Washington Post: Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said in an interview that the removal of Saddam Hussein had been "essential" to secure world oil supplies, a point he emphasized to the White House in private conversations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Greenspan ... made the striking comment in a new memoir out today that "the Iraq War is largely about oil." In the interview, he clarified..., saying that while securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.

"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."

He said that in his discussions with President Bush and Vice President Cheney, "I have never heard them basically say, 'We've got to protect the oil supplies of the world,' but that would have been my motive." Greenspan said that he made his economic argument to White House officials and that one lower-level official, whom he declined to identify, told him, "Well, unfortunately, we can't talk about oil." Asked if he had made his point to Cheney specifically, Greenspan said yes, then added, "I talked to everybody about that." ...

Greenspan ... added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab. "No, no, no," he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of "making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will."

One more person telling the administration what they wanted to hear prior to the war.

If I had questions about monetary policy, Ben Bernanke is one of the first people I would want to consult. Few, if any people are more knowledgeable about both the theory and evidence, and his recent experience enhances his understanding of how the Fed interacts with financial markets.

But if I want to know about oil markets, how removing a dictator in the Middle East will impact the region's stability, and so on, Ben Bernanke is not the first person I would think of to talk to. He might not even be in the top ten or twenty.

Greenspan was telling members of the administration what they wanted to hear, and I'm sure they used his worries about oil markets to buttress their case for going to war. But I hope Greenspan also encouraged the administration to consult with others who have more expertise on these issues than he has. I'm not sure exactly what or who Greenspan relied upon to draw his conclusions, so perhaps he consulted the experts himself, and given the cherry picking of "facts" that went on perhaps it wouldn't have mattered much in any case, but when war is involved you hope that the best and the brightest are part of the discussion.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Is The 'Surge' Working? Some New Facts"

This NBER paper by MIT's Michael Greenstone reinforces Paul Krugman's message (in the post below this one) that the "smart money" is betting against Iraq's survival. According to this analysis of the Iraqi state bond market, since the Surge began there has been "a 40% increase in the market's expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that to date the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it." Here's the abstract, introduction, and conclusion the paper:

Is The 'Surge' Working? Some New Facts, by Michael Greenstone, SSRN, September 14, 2007: Abstract There is a paucity of facts about the effects of the recent military Surge on conditions in Iraq and whether it is paving the way for a stable Iraq. Selective, anecdotal and incomplete analyses abound. Policy makers and defense planners must decide which measures of success or failure are most important, but until now few, if any, systematic analyses were available on which to base those decisions. This paper applies modern statistical techniques to a new data file derived from more than a dozen of the most reliable and widely-cited sources to assess the Surge's impact on three key dimensions: the functioning of the Iraqi state (including civilian casualties); military casualties; and financial markets' assessment of Iraq's future. The new and unusually rigorous findings presented here should help inform current evaluations of the Surge and provide a basis for better decision making about future strategy.

The analysis reveals mixed evidence on the Surge's effect on key trends in Iraq. The security situation has improved insofar as civilian fatalities have declined without any concurrent increase in casualties among coalition and Iraqi troops. However, other areas, such as oil production and the number of trained Iraqi Security Forces have shown no improvement or declined. Evaluating such conflicting indicators is challenging.

There is, however, another way to assess the Surge. This paper shows how data from world financial markets can be used to shed light on the central question of whether the Surge has increased or diminished the prospect of today's Iraq surviving into the future. In particular, I examine the price of Iraqi state bonds, which the Iraqi government is currently servicing, on world financial markets. After the Surge, there is a sharp decline in the price of those bonds, relative to alternative bonds. The decline signaled a 40% increase in the market's expectation that Iraq will default. This finding suggests that to date the Surge is failing to pave the way toward a stable Iraq and may in fact be undermining it.

Continue reading ""Is The 'Surge' Working? Some New Facts"" »

Paul Krugman: A Surge, and Then a Stab

Paul Krugman says if you follow the money, it will lead to the truth:

A Surge, and Then a Stab, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: To understand what’s really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed.

Back in January, announcing his plan to send more troops to Iraq, President Bush declared that ... “...Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.”...

Two-thirds of Iraq’s GDP and almost all its government revenue come from the oil sector. Without an agreed system for sharing oil revenues, there is no Iraq, just ... armed gangs fighting for control of resources.

Well, the legislation Mr. Bush promised never materialized, and on Wednesday attempts to arrive at a compromise oil law collapsed.

What’s particularly revealing is the cause of the breakdown..., a Kurdish ... provincial government ... production-sharing deal with the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas ... seems to have been the last straw.

Now here’s the thing: Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body... By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds.., he’s essentially betting ... against the survival of Iraq...

The smart money, then, knows ... that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration — maybe even Mr. Bush himself — know this, too.

After all, if the administration had any real hope..., officials would be making an all-out effort to get the government ... to start delivering on some of those benchmarks, perhaps using the threat that Congress would cut off funds otherwise. Instead, the Bushies are making excuses, minimizing Iraqi failures, moving goal posts and, in general, giving the Maliki government no incentive to do anything differently.

And for that matter, if the administration had any real intention of turning public opinion around, as opposed to merely shoring up the base enough to keep Republican members of Congress on board, it would have sent Gen. David Petraeus ... to as many news media outlets as possible — not granted an exclusive appearance to Fox News...

All in all, Mr. Bush’s actions have ... been what you’d expect from a man whose plan is to keep up appearances for the next 16 months, never mind the cost in lives and money, then shift the blame for failure onto his successor.

In fact, that’s my interpretation of something that startled many people: Mr. Bush’s decision last month, after spending years denying that the Iraq war had anything in common with Vietnam, to suddenly embrace the parallel.

Here’s how I see it: At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq — and prevent the country’s breakup from turning into a regional war — will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.

Previous (9/10) column: Paul Krugman: Where’s My Trickle?
Next (9/17) column: Paul Krugman: Sad Alan’s Lament

When Johnny Comes Marching Home


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Irrational Escalation of Commitment

Does the dollar auction provide a model for the war in Iraq?:

Lessons on the surge from economics 101, by Oliver R. Goodenough, Commentary, Rutland Herald: Economics professors have a standard game they use to demonstrate how apparently rational decisions can create a disastrous result. They call it a "dollar auction." The rules are simple. The professor offers a dollar for sale to the highest bidder, with only one wrinkle: the second-highest bidder has to pay up on their losing bid as well. Several students almost always get sucked in. The first bids a penny, looking to make 99 cents. The second bids 2 cents, the third 3 cents, and so on, each feeling they have a chance at something good on the cheap. The early stages are fun, and the bidders wonder what possessed the professor to be willing to lose some money.

The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar. After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.

Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.

America is long past the possibility of some kind of profitable outcome in Iraq. Neo-con dreams of a quick, cheap victory, delivering democracy and peace and self-financed from Iraq's own oil revenue, got us started on this misadventure. ... And like the economics class, suddenly we were in the thing up to our necks, with only bad choices available at an ever-escalating cost.

We can cut our losses now and take our lumps, or we can keep throwing good money after bad until maybe we wear the other side out, but in the process raising our own ultimate losses substantially. And in Iraq, the losses are already desperately high, on both sides, in blood, in money, and in the erosion of institutions like law and national cohesion. ...

As our commitment to this war once again comes up for public deliberation, listen to the arguments being made for staying in the game.

"We must honor our dead." ... "The other side is giving up the fight." ... "We can't afford to lose." ... Remember the dynamic of the dollar auction, and think carefully when such plausible and emotionally appealing short-term logic is used to justify putting another whopping bid on the table.

Oh yes, there is one other way out of the spiral — in the classroom, if you allow some kind of negotiated settlement between the two sides, they can sometimes agree to split the dollar and halt the contest. ... Of course..., we are told ... that such dialogue would only serve to reward their evil actions. Victory is the only acceptable result. ...

Monday, September 10, 2007

If It's on a Slide, It Must be True

Beware of Generals bearing slides.

What do you think of the Petraeus/Crocker testimony so far, and about MoveOn's "General Betray US" ad?

Friday, September 07, 2007

Paul Krugman: Time to Take a Stand

Paul Krugman says that if Democrats remember five things when General David Petraeus testifies before Congress next week on progress in Iraq, it will help them take a firm stand on ending the war:

Time to Take a Stand, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: Here’s what will definitely happen when Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress next week: he’ll assert that the surge has reduced violence in Iraq — as long as you don’t count Sunnis killed by Sunnis, Shiites killed by Shiites, Iraqis killed by car bombs and people shot in the front of the head.

Here’s what I’m afraid will happen: Democrats will look at Gen. Petraeus’s uniform and medals and fall into their usual cringe. They won’t ask hard questions out of fear that someone might accuse them of attacking the military. After the testimony, they’ll desperately try to get Republicans to agree to a resolution that politely asks President Bush to maybe, possibly, withdraw some troops, if he feels like it.

There are five things I hope Democrats in Congress will remember.

First, no independent assessment has concluded that violence in Iraq is down. ... So how can the military be claiming otherwise? Apparently, the Pentagon has a double super secret formula that it uses to distinguish sectarian killings (bad) from other deaths (not important); according to press reports, all deaths from car bombs are excluded, and ... “if a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian. If it went through the front, it’s criminal.” So the number of dead is down, as long as you only count certain kinds of dead people.

Oh, and by the way: Baghdad is undergoing ethnic cleansing... When a Sunni enclave is eliminated and the death toll in that district falls because there’s nobody left to kill, that counts as progress by the Pentagon’s metric.

Second, Gen. Petraeus has a history of making wildly overoptimistic assessments of progress in Iraq that happen to be convenient for his political masters.

I’ve written before about the op-ed article Gen. Petraeus published six weeks before the 2004 election, claiming “tangible progress” in Iraq. ...

Third, any plan that depends on the White House recognizing reality is an idle fantasy. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, on Tuesday Mr. Bush told Australia’s deputy prime minister that “we’re kicking ass” in Iraq. Enough said.

Fourth, the lesson of the past six years is that Republicans will accuse Democrats of being unpatriotic no matter what the Democrats do. ...

Finally, the public hates this war and wants to see it ended. Voters are exasperated with the Democrats ... because they don’t see Congress doing anything to stop the war.

In light of all this, you have to wonder what Democrats, who ... are considering a compromise that sets a “goal” for withdrawal rather than a timetable, are thinking. All such a compromise would accomplish would be to give Republicans who like to sound moderate — but who always vote with the Bush administration when it matters — political cover.

And six or seven months from now it will be the same thing all over again. Mr. Bush will stage another photo op ...[in] Iraq. The administration will move the goal posts again, and the military will come up with new ways to cook the books and claim success.

One thing is for sure: like 2004, 2008 will be a “khaki election” in which Republicans insist that a vote for the Democrats is a vote against the troops. The only question is whether they can also, once again, claim that the Democrats are flip-floppers who can’t make up their minds.

Previous (9/3) column: Paul Krugman: Snow Job in the Desert
Next (9/10) column: Paul Krugman: Where’s My Trickle?

The U.S. Benchmarks

We find that the Bush administration has not fully met any of its eighteen benchmarks, and has partially met four:

Continue reading "The U.S. Benchmarks" »

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Don't Remember Where the Buck Stops

Instead of taking responsibility for the decision to disband the Iraqi army, President Bush has said he doesn't remember much about it, and has given the appearance of trying to shift the responsibility elsewhere. But L. Paul Bremer says President Bush was aware of the decision and has released an "exchange of letters" to back up his claims.

But why should people have to provide evidence to force the president to take responsibility for key decisions about the war? He may not have been aware it was a key decision - that seems to be the case - but not understanding how important it was doesn't absolve him of responsibility for it. Instead, it highlights the poor understanding he and others in the administration had about what postwar conditions would be like, and what would be needed to stabilize the country:

Envoy’s Letters Counter Bush on Dismantling of Iraq Army, by Edmund Andrews, NY Times: A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been “to keep the army intact” but that it “didn’t happen.”

The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion... In releasing the letters, Mr. Bremer said he wanted to refute the suggestion in Mr. Bush’s comment that Mr. Bremer had acted to disband the army without the knowledge and concurrence of the White House. ...

Continue reading "I Don't Remember Where the Buck Stops" »

Monday, September 03, 2007

Paul Krugman: Snow Job in the Desert

Paul Krugman wonders if the media has learned anything from its past mistakes:

Snow Job in the Desert, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the United Nations Security Council, claimed to have proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. ... [M]any people in the political and media establishments swooned: they admired Mr. Powell, and because he said it, they believed it.

Mr. Powell’s masters got the war they wanted, and it soon became apparent that none of his assertions had been true.

Until recently I assumed that ... a repeat of the snow job that sold the war impossible. But I was wrong. The administration, ... relying on Gen. David Petraeus to play ... Colin Powell..., has had remarkable success creating the perception that the “surge” is succeeding, even though there’s not a shred of verifiable evidence to suggest that it is.

Thus Kenneth Pollack..., author of “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq” ... and ... Michael O’Hanlon, another longtime war booster, returned from a Pentagon-guided tour of Iraq and declared that the surge was working. They received enormous media coverage; most ... accepted their ludicrous self-description as critics of the war who have been convinced by new evidence.

A third participant..., Anthony Cordesman ... reported that ... he saw little change in the Iraq situation... But neither his dissent nor a courageous rebuttal of Mr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Pollack by seven soldiers actually serving in Iraq ... received much media attention.

Meanwhile, many news organizations have come out with misleading reports suggesting a sharp drop in U.S. casualties. The reality is that ... every month of 2007 has seen more U.S. military fatalities than the same month in 2006.

What about civilian casualties? The Pentagon says they’re down, but it has ..[not] explained how they’re calculated. According to a draft report from the Government Accountability Office, which was leaked..., U.S. government agencies “differ” on whether sectarian violence has been reduced. And independent attempts ... to estimate civilian deaths ... have not found any significant decline...

Above all, we should remember that the whole point of the surge was to create space for political progress in Iraq. And neither that leaked G.A.O. report nor the recent National Intelligence Estimate found any political progress worth mentioning...

But, say the usual suspects, General Petraeus is a fine, upstanding officer who wouldn’t participate in a campaign of deception — apparently forgetting that they said the same thing about Mr. Powell.

First of all, General Petraeus is now identified with the surge; if it fails, he fails. He has every incentive to find a way to keep it going, in the hope that somehow he can pull off something he can call success.

And General Petraeus’s history also suggests that he is much more ... political ... than his press would have you believe. In particular, six weeks before the 2004 presidential election, General Petraeus published an op-ed article in The Washington Post in which he claimed — wrongly, of course — that there had been “tangible progress” in Iraq, and that “momentum has gathered in recent months.”

Is it normal for serving military officers to publish articles just before an election that clearly help an incumbent’s campaign? I don’t think so.

So here we go again. It appears that many influential people in this country have learned nothing from the last five years. And those who cannot learn from history are, indeed, doomed to repeat it.

Previous (8/31) column: Paul Krugman: Katrina All the Time
Next (9/7) column: Paul Krugman: Time to Take a Stand

Lies Swayed Congressman to Support the War

Democratic Congressman Paul Kanjorski explains how lies were used to convince him to vote to authorize the Iraq war:

Kanjorski: Millions of people coming to the Poconos, by Howard Frank: ...The highlight of the night for many was the explanation he gave for his vote on the Iraq war in 2002.

"We were told a lot of things that were incorrect or inaccurate" he said.

Kanjorski described how, prior to the vote, he and several other representatives were ushered into the Roosevelt Room in the White House and given a 90-minute, highly classified briefing by then National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenant.

"They told us all kind of things. That we were under a threat and their information was as complete as possible and they (Iraq) had weapons of mass destruction" he said.

Kanjorski was not terribly impressed with the briefing. Within two hours he received a call from the White House, asking if he had any further questions. Kanjorski said he that to enter into a preemptive war, he had to be convinced the threat is imminent. And he wasn't convinced.

So he was asked to return for another briefing the next morning.

In it, he was shown large pictures of a plane "that looked like a mosquito." Kanjorski was told these were called UAVs - unmanned aeronautical vehicles, the highest black-box weapons we have, and they (the Iraqis) have 1,000 of them, and they can deliver weapons of mass destruction. That included a plane that could spray chemical and biological materials.

He was told the intelligence agency had incontrovertible evidence of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. "I'm a lawyer" he said. "Use the phrase 'incontrovertible evidence' and you've got my attention. It was impressive."

That presentation swayed him. But, he added, "the Iraqis never had one damned weapon."

"There was no way they ever took those pictures in Iraq," he said, referring to the UAVs. ... "We invaded a sovereign nation based on a lie."

Continue reading "Lies Swayed Congressman to Support the War" »

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"The Paul Wolfowitz of the '60s"

Walt Whitman Rostow was "one of the most controversial economists of his time," and it wasn't just because of his views on growth theory and economic development:

The Paul Wolfowitz of the '60s, by David Milne, Commentary, LA Times: ...One of the key members of John F. Kennedy's and Lyndon B. Johnson's inner circle was Walt Rostow, whose contributions to the making of the Vietnam War bear striking similarities to the role played by Paul Wolfowitz in strategizing the American invasion of Iraq.

Possessed of a brilliant mind, a Yale PhD, noble intentions and an unwavering belief in himself, Rostow was a decorated OSS agent during World War II who established a global reputation as an economic development theorist at MIT in the 1950s. As a speechwriter for President Eisenhower, he worked tirelessly to convince him that increasing America's foreign aid budget was morally imperative in a time of economic abundance -- not to mention tactically essential in an age of a global Cold War.

Continue reading ""The Paul Wolfowitz of the '60s"" »

Friday, August 31, 2007

Test Marketing and Salesmanship: The Propaganda Battle for War with Iran

I think everyone should know that you may soon be subjected to a marketing blitz promoting war with Iran. Like the author of the post below, I don't know whether this is true or not, but "it’s worth a heads-up":

Continue reading "Test Marketing and Salesmanship: The Propaganda Battle for War with Iran" »

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...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"The Lost Year"

President Bush appears confident he can continue to ignore congress:

Bush Wants $50 Billion More for Iraq War, by Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post: President Bush plans to ask Congress next month for up to $50 billion in additional funding for the war in Iraq, a White House official said yesterday, a move that appears to reflect increasing administration confidence that it can fend off congressional calls for a rapid drawdown of U.S. forces.

The request -- which would come on top of about $460 billion in the fiscal 2008 defense budget and $147 billion in a pending supplemental bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is expected to be announced after congressional hearings scheduled for mid-September featuring the two top U.S. officials in Iraq. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will assess the state of the war and the effect of the new strategy the U.S. military has pursued this year.

The request is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress they have made, a congressional aide said. ... The decision to seek about $50 billion more appears to reflect the view in the administration that the counteroffensive ... will not be shortened by Congress. ...

The revised supplemental would total about $200 billion, indicating that the cost of the war in Iraq now exceeds $3 billion a week. The bill also covers the far smaller costs of the war in Afghanistan. ...

In a speech yesterday to the convention of the American Legion in Reno, Nev., Bush gave an optimistic assessment of recent events in the war, now in its fifth year. "There are unmistakable signs that our strategy is achieving the objectives we set out," he said. "The momentum is now on our side."

Yes, Mission Nearly Accomplished -- we've heard that before. Since the administration line that "the surge is working, it just needs more time" is being reported uncritically, here's more:

The Lost Year, by Dan Froomkin, Commentary, A new national intelligence estimate concludes that President Bush's troop surge shows no signs of accomplishing its goal of encouraging political reconciliation in Iraq. ...

These and other developments take us back in some ways to December 2006. It was then, in the wake of the November election and the report of the Iraq Study Group, that the debate in Washington finally appeared to be shifting away from how to achieve victory and toward how to cut our losses.

Instead, Bush ignored public sentiment, overruled his military commanders and opted for escalation. And now it appears that the only thing the surge has bought him is time -- nine months or maybe a year, during which he was able to postpone the inevitable.

What has that year cost America -- and Iraq? For starters, a year in Iraq translates to over 1,000 more dead American soldiers; over $100 billion more in direct appropriations; over 15,000 more dead Iraqi civilians; and countless grievous wounds and shattered families both here and there.

In light of the costs, having bought a year of time may not seem like much of an accomplishment. But if Bush can drag things out another year or so, he can wash his hands of the whole mess and leave it for his successor to deal with...

Warren P. Strobel and Leila Fadel write for McClatchy Newspapers: "A new assessment of Iraq by U.S. intelligence agencies provides little evidence that the American troop 'surge' has accomplished its goals and predicts that the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will become 'more precarious' in the months ahead.

"A declassified summary of the report released Thursday said that violence remains high, warns that U.S. alliances with former Sunni Muslim insurgents could undercut the central government and says that political compromises are 'unlikely to emerge' in the next 12 months."

Mark Mazzetti writes in the New York Times: "The assessment, known as a National Intelligence Estimate, casts strong doubts on the viability of the Bush administration strategy in Iraq. It gives a dim prognosis...

One of the main reasons for the troop surge was to allow for a political reconciliation, and that hasn't happened. So, in essence, the argument is that the strategy hasn't worked, so we need to do more of it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"The First Permanent President of America"

It's very telling (and a bit scary) when these guys reveal their true objectives. Assuming this isn't satire, and it doesn't appear that it is (it's so far from sane that it's hard to tell), here's a call to, among other things, wipe out the population of Iraq with nuclear weapons, replace them with Americans, and install Bush as our permanent president. From Crooked Timber:

A website run by the neocon thinktank the Center for Security Policy (members include Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle and Doug Feith) has published (then removed) a piece calling for Bush to use his military powers to become “the first permanent president of America” and “ruler of the world”. Along the way he suggests that the population of Iraq should have been wiped out. The website Family Security Matters also runs pieces by Newt Gingrich, Judy Miller and other luminaries.

The full piece is preserved here at Watching the Watchers. I found it via Wikipedia.

As someone would say (though maybe not in this case) “read the whole thing”. It’s impossible to tell if this is satire by someone who has cleverly infiltrated FSM over a lengthy period (quite a few other pieces by the same author, Philip Atkinson were also removed), a sudden outbreak of insanity (unlikely since Atkinson previously published stuff almost as extreme as this, with the endorsement of FSM), or the actual views of CSP/CFM, accidentally revealed and clumsily concealed.

As things stand, there’s a presumption in favor of the last of these views. The piece was published by CSP/FSM and constitutes, at present, their last word on the subject. If they repudiate Atkinson’s views they should say so openly, and live with the embarrassment of having published him and praised his ideas until now.

Here's Atkinson's editorial from the link above:

Conquering the Drawbacks of Democracy, by Philip Atkinson: President George W. Bush is the 43rd President of the United States. He was sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2005 after being chosen by the majority of citizens in America to be president.

Yet in 2007 he is generally despised, with many citizens of Western civilization expressing contempt for his person and his policies, sentiments which now abound on the Internet. This rage at President Bush is an inevitable result of the system of government demanded by the people, which is Democracy.

The inadequacy of Democracy, rule by the majority, is undeniable -- for it demands adopting ideas because they are popular, rather than because they are wise. This means that any man chosen to act as an agent of the people is placed in an invidious position: if he commits folly because it is popular, then he will be held responsible for the inevitable result. If he refuses to commit folly, then he will be detested by most citizens because he is frustrating their demands.

When faced with the possible threat that the Iraqis might be amassing terrible weapons that could be used to slay millions of citizens of Western Civilization, President Bush took the only action prudence demanded and the electorate allowed: he conquered Iraq with an army.

This dangerous and expensive act did destroy the Iraqi regime, but left an American army without any clear purpose in a hostile country and subject to attack. If the Army merely returns to its home, then the threat it ended would simply return.

The wisest course would have been for President Bush to use his nuclear weapons to slaughter Iraqis until they complied with his demands, or until they were all dead. Then there would be little risk or expense and no American army would be left exposed. But if he did this, his cowardly electorate would have instantly ended his term of office, if not his freedom or his life.

The simple truth that modern weapons now mean a nation must practice genocide or commit suicide. Israel provides the perfect example. If the Israelis do not raze Iran, the Iranians will fulfill their boast and wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Yet Israel is not popular, and so is denied permission to defend itself. In the same vein, President Bush cannot do what is necessary for the survival of Americans. He cannot use the nation's powerful weapons. All he can do is try and discover a result that will be popular with Americans.

As there appears to be no sensible result of the invasion of Iraq that will be popular with his countrymen other than retreat, President Bush is reviled; he has become another victim of Democracy.

By elevating popular fancy over truth, Democracy is clearly an enemy of not just truth, but duty and justice, which makes it the worst form of government. President Bush must overcome not just the situation in Iraq, but democratic government.

However, President Bush has a valuable historical example that he could choose to follow.

When the ancient Roman general Julius Caesar was struggling to conquer ancient Gaul, he not only had to defeat the Gauls, but he also had to defeat his political enemies in Rome who would destroy him the moment his tenure as consul (president) ended.

Caesar pacified Gaul by mass slaughter; he then used his successful army to crush all political opposition at home and establish himself as permanent ruler of ancient Rome. This brilliant action not only ended the personal threat to Caesar, but ended the civil chaos that was threatening anarchy in ancient Rome – thus marking the start of the ancient Roman Empire that gave peace and prosperity to the known world.

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestiege while terrifying American enemies.

He could then follow Caesar's example and use his newfound popularity with the military to wield military power to become the first permanent president of America, and end the civil chaos caused by the continually squabbling Congress and the out-of-control Supreme Court.

President Bush can fail in his duty to himself, his country, and his God, by becoming “ex-president” Bush or he can become "President-for-Life" Bush: the conqueror of Iraq, who brings sense to the Congress and sanity to the Supreme Court. Then who would be able to stop Bush from emulating Augustus Caesar and becoming ruler of the world? For only an America united under one ruler has the power to save humanity from the threat of a new Dark Age wrought by terrorists armed with nuclear weapons. Contributing Editor Philip Atkinson is the British born founder of and author of A Study of Our Decline. He is a philosopher specializing in issues concerning the preservation of Western civilization. Mr. Atkinson receives mail at

Note -- The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, views, and/or philosophy of The Family Security Foundation, Inc.

Just to be sure, I checked the website Family Security Matters for a statement on this, but nothing. As noted above, there's an article by Newt Ginrich and also articles by many others (e.g. Judith Miller), so apparently they have no problem whatsoever publishing in the same venue as Atkinson, but there's nothing explicitly disavowing Atkinson's views.

Friday, August 24, 2007

"U.S. Falters In Bid to Boost Iraqi Business"

I had hopes for this. Very slim hopes, but hopes nonetheless:

U.S. Falters In Bid to Boost Iraqi Business, Few Products Sold To American Firms, by Josh White, Washington Post: More than a year after the Pentagon launched an ambitious effort to reopen Iraqi factories and persuade U.S. firms to purchase their goods, defense officials acknowledge that the initiative has largely failed because American retailers have shown little interest in buying products made in Iraq.

The Pentagon thought U.S. firms would be willing to help revitalize the war-torn Iraqi economy and create jobs for young men who might otherwise join the insurgency. But the effort -- once considered a pillar of the U.S. strategy in Iraq, alongside security operations and political reform -- has suffered from a pervasive lack of security and an absence of reliable electricity and other basic services.

Iraqi officials have recently highlighted pending deals with retailers such as Wal-Mart and J.C. Penney, businesses that they said were considering purchasing Iraqi products from the few local factories that have restarted. But the two companies said last week that they are not in negotiations to buy Iraqi products...

Three officials who have worked with the Pentagon's Task Force to Support Business and Stability Operations in Iraq said in recent interviews that, although some factories have achieved limited success, the larger effort to link Iraqi industries with U.S. retailers has been a "failure." ...

The task force's assumption from the outset -- one shared by top U.S. commanders in Iraq and senior leaders at the Pentagon -- was that jump-starting Iraqi factories would push young men into paying jobs and away from violence.

But, in the past year, only 4,000 jobs have been created... Those results come against the backdrop of a grim overall economic picture...

Suppose Bush had engaged in a no holds barred attempt to get firms to cooperate in this venture, used his bully pulpit at every opportunity to tell firms it's their patriotic duty and used all the usual slime machine tricks against those who don't cooperate. If he had gone all out and asked his business buddies to sacrifice for the cause (for once), told them that if young men can give their lives, can't you help as well, could that have made a difference? Or was it always hopeless? I've always thought we tried this much too late, so we'll never know for sure.

Why did we wait? The idea initially was that the free market would work its magic and somehow provide the jobs that were needed, so there was no need to protect former state-run enterprises -- those needed to be replaced in the name of efficiency. I wonder if adherence to that ideology rather than adopting a top-down planned approach that kept formerly state-run enterprises open and running (and opened more if needed) from the start would have changed the subsequent course of events. Forget efficiency, there was plenty of time ahead to worry about that, just put people to work doing something, anything. There was plenty that needed to be done.

[Update: Dani Rodrik follows up, "Thoma is right of course. And it gives me pleasure to welcome him to the industrial policy sympathizers club..."]

This is expressed better in a quote from a previous post:

[T]he radical restructuring of Iraq's political economy has received ... little critical attention.... It was taken as a given that after knocking off Saddam, we'd rapidly privatize huge swaths of Iraq's national companies, get rid of hundreds of thousands of civil servants, completely restructure the country's tax and finance laws and throw Iraq's economy wide open for foreign multinationals. ...

Continue reading ""U.S. Falters In Bid to Boost Iraqi Business"" »

Sunday, August 19, 2007

"We are Skeptical of Recent Press Coverage Portraying the Conflict as Increasingly Manageable"

The view of Iraq from soldiers serving there:

The War as We Saw It By Buddhika Jayamaha, Wesley D. Smith, Jeremy Roebuck, Omar Mora, Edward Sandmeier, Yance T. Gray and Jeremy A. Murphy: (Baghdad) Viewed from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. ... To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. ...

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. ... What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense. ...

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head ... on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive...) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse — namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Continue reading ""We are Skeptical of Recent Press Coverage Portraying the Conflict as Increasingly Manageable"" »

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Predictions on the Cost of the War

A headline from yesterday's news:

Taxpayers Could Face $1 Trillion War Tab: Congressional Budget Office Publishes New Findings

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could cost American taxpayers $1 trillion, according to the most recent projections made by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Download Full CBO Report

Let's go back and look at estimates of the war's cost from before it started. An email notes this video of a Jim Lehrer News Hour report from March 5, 2003, about two weeks before the March 20 invasion, showing William Nordhaus and others predicting the costs of the Iraq war. At the end of the video, Donald Kagan accuses Nordhaus of political bias even though Nordhaus presents a range of estimates based upon both optimistic and pessimistic outcomes. I assume Kagan was afraid that Norhaus's estimates for the pessimistic case might cause opposition to the invasion, hence the charge of political bias. [Given the number of Kagans who argued for the war, the relationships can get confusing. Donald Kagan is the father of the AEI's Frederick Kagan, a strong supporter of the war and an "intellectual architect" of the surge, so his comments should be judged from that perspective ("...[Frederick] Kagan authored the so-called "real Iraq Study Group" report as the AEI's 'hawkish' rival to the ISG report of James Baker and Lee H. Hamilton in December 2006. ... Kagan was said to have won-over the ear of President George W. Bush, strongly influencing his subsequent "surge" plan for changing the course of the Iraq War...").]  Here's the video [video link]:

Continue reading "Predictions on the Cost of the War" »

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Manufactured Contempt and Its Consequences

This came by email from Greater Good. It is about Iraq and its impact on the soldiers who serve there, not economics. I am not an expert in this area so I can't say much about the claims made in this essay, but it raises interesting questions so I thought I'd post it for discussion and maybe we can learn something. Given the current debate on the psychological impact of the war on those who serve, prompted in part by the writings of Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp, this seemed timely:

Hope on the Battlefield, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, Greater Good: During World War II, U.S. Army Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall asked average soldiers how they conducted themselves in battle. Before that, it had always been assumed that the average soldier would kill in combat simply because his country and his leaders had told him to do so, and because it might be essential to defend his own life and the lives of his friends. Marshall’s singularly unexpected discovery was that, of every hundred men along the line of fire during the combat period, an average of only 15 to 20 “would take any part with their weapons.”...

Marshall was a U.S. Army historian in the Pacific theater during World War II and later became the official U.S. historian of the European theater of operations. He had a team of historians working for him, and they based their findings on individual and mass interviews with thousands of soldiers in more than 400 infantry companies immediately after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops. The results were consistently the same: Only 15 to 20 percent of the American riflemen in combat during World War II would fire at the enemy. Those who would not fire did not run or hide—in many cases they were willing to risk greater danger to rescue comrades, get ammunition, or run messages. They simply would not fire their weapons at the enemy, even when faced with repeated waves of banzai charges.

Why did these men fail to fire?

Continue reading "Manufactured Contempt and Its Consequences" »

Saturday, July 28, 2007

George Borjas: Things Could Have Been Worse under Kerry

In response to a recent post, George Borjas argues that things could have been worse under Kerry, something I disagreed with, and still do:

More Kerryisms, by George Borjas: One of my remarks about John Kerry in this post has left Mark Thoma a little puzzled. I wrote:

No matter how disappointed one is with the Bush administration, all it takes is a little googling of John Kerry's latest nonsense to appreciate that things could be worse.

My original post was motivated by Kerry's statement that increasing the minimum wage would be beneficial to employers. It is hard to justify such a statement on the basis of economic models. As Peter Schaeffer wrote in one of the comments to my original post, even an efficiency wage argument makes little sense in this context:

If the efficiency effect was large enough, why wouldn't employers raise wages themselves?

Nevertheless, Mark has a good point about how very disappointing the Bush years have been. Mark says that "Iraq alone is enough to convince" him that things could not be worse with a President Kerry. I'm not so sure.

As I said, all it takes is a little googling to find that Kerry's thoughts on many subjects are, at best, puzzling--and, at least to me, show an undisciplined mind at work. Here are some national security-related examples (all from here):

"I'm an internationalist. I'd like to see our troops dispersed through the world only at the directive of the United Nations."

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq."

On the terrorist threat: "I think there has been an exaggeration."

Admittedly, the signature policies of the Bush presidency have been poorly thought out and/or badly managed (e.g., Iraq, Katrina, immigration). And this admission comes from someone who strongly supported Bush the first time around, and less strongly the second time.

Despite this, it is far from clear that the U.S. would be better off if things had turned out differently in 2004. What would this counterfactal world look like if the man at the helm was someone who thought that the terrorist threat was exaggerated, who didn't think much of the men and women in uniform, and who was willing to surrender a big chunk of U.S. sovereignty and place the lives of those men and women he didn't think much of under the "directive" of a very corrupt United Nations?

On the efficiency wage argument, I agree. As I said originally, I didn't mean to endorse the argument, only try to suggest what Kerry might have had in mind ("Without endorsing Kerry's argument, I believe he has in mind an efficiency wage argument..."). My point was that under the argument I thought Kerry was making, pushing the minimum wage higher and higher would not continue to have benefits for firms. Thus the exercise in George's first point does not, in and of itself, rebut Kerry's claims.

On the rest of the post, I have disagreements with all three points, but let me focus on the claim that Kerry does not "think much of the men and women in uniform." How one can say that about a war hero while endorsing someone who has mismanaged the military into disaster after disaster is, well, puzzling (where are George Bush's Purple Hearts, Silver Star, and Bronze Star?). I don't think I need to do a point by point of all the ways George Bush has hurt the military, and directly or indirectly shown disrespect to the men and women in uniform in the process, but I can't see how, say, misleading us into a war that causes needless death and injury on both sides and continuing to push a failed strategy shows much respect for the men and women who pay the costs of Bush's deceptions and decisions.

And it may be useful to remind people that this was an attempt at a joke that Kerry got wrong. What he intended to say was:

Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.

Using a misstated joke to characterize Kerry's position on the troops when there is a whole history that says otherwise is less than fair.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Questions for Prominent Economists

A couple of things from Greg Mankiw and George Borjas caught my attention, so I want to make sure I understand what they are saying. First, Greg Mankiw says:

Brooks on the Economy, by Greg Mankiw: A prominent Harvard economist emails me to recommend David Brooks's column from a few days ago. He calls it "truly fantastic and obviously correct."

With such a strong recommendation from a colleague, I ... read Brooks. ...[T]he Brooks piece is well worth reading. It is far more informed by cutting-edge economic research than most things you find on the op-ed pages.

In case you missed it, here is Brooks [...reprint of column...]

If Greg is going to claim the authority of a "prominent economist" as standing behind this, he should tell us who that person is, there's no reason for secrecy here, but my question is if Greg (and "prominent economist") stand behind all the claims in Brooks article (see here for a list of posts questioning the claims)? If not, if this isn't a blanket endorsement, could you please give us more guidance as to where you agree or disagree so we can better evaluate your position? There are implications that can be drawn from Brooks's column, e.g. that low-income people are generally lazier than higher income, well-educated people:

today, many highly educated people work like dogs while those down the income scale have seen their leisure time increase by a phenomenal 14 hours a week

so it would be helpful to have positions on this and other points Brooks makes clarified, especially in  light of claims that high taxes have caused high-income individuals to reduce their work effort.

And I was a little bit surprised to find out that George Borjas believes that:

No matter how disappointed one is with the Bush administration, all it takes is a little googling of John Kerry's latest nonsense to appreciate that things could be worse.

This statement is made in the context of the minimum wage, so if the statement is not intended to be broader than policies surrounding the minimum wage, I'm less surprised. But if it is intended as a broader comment, then I have to strongly disagree. Iraq alone is enough to convince me, and that's just the beginning of the missteps from this administration. How could things be worse?

On the other point George is making, in response to a quote from Kerry on how raising the minimum wage can cause "increased productivity, ultimately improving a firm's bottom line," he says:

If a $5.85 minimum wage creates a more "prosperous future for our small businesses" than a $5.15 minimum wage, isn't it a little irresponsible to stop there? Let's go for the $10.00 minimum wage? Or a $15 one? Or...

Without endorsing Kerry's argument, I believe he has in mind an efficiency wage argument where raising wages enhances incentives for low income workers - much as cutting taxes makes the rich work harder in supply-side stories - and thus can stimulate productivity and reduce costs. If so, then one would expect diminishing returns to further increases in the minimum wage so that pushing the wage up to $10 or $15 wouldn't necessarily, by the efficiency wage argument, continue to be worthwhile.

Update: Brad DeLong has follow-up comments.
Update: George Borjas responds.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Paul Krugman: All the President’s Enablers

Paul Krugman takes a look at both the passive and the active enablers of President Bush:

All the President’s Enablers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: In a coordinated public relations offensive, the White House is using reliably friendly pundits — amazingly, they still exist — to put out the word that President Bush is as upbeat and confident as ever. It might even be true.

What I don’t understand is why we’re supposed to consider Mr. Bush’s continuing confidence a good thing.

Remember, Mr. Bush was confident six years ago when he promised to bring in Osama, dead or alive. He was confident four years ago, when he told the insurgents to bring it on. He was confident two years ago, when he told Brownie that he was doing a heckuva job.

Now Iraq is a bloody quagmire, Afghanistan is deteriorating and the Bush administration’s own National Intelligence Estimate admits, in effect, that thanks to Mr. Bush’s poor leadership America is losing the struggle with Al Qaeda. Yet Mr. Bush remains confident.

Sorry, but that’s not reassuring; it’s terrifying. It doesn’t demonstrate Mr. Bush’s strength of character; it shows that he has lost touch with reality. ...

Mr. Bush ... still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

This week’s prime example is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, who made headlines a few weeks ago with a speech declaring that “our course in Iraq has lost contact with our vital national security interests.” Mr. Lugar is a smart, sensible man. He once acted courageously..., persuading a reluctant Ronald Reagan to stop supporting Ferdinand Marcos ... after a stolen election.

Yet that political courage was nowhere in evidence when Senate Democrats tried to get a vote on a measure that would have forced a course change in Iraq... Mr. Lugar, along with several other Republicans who have expressed doubts about the war, voted against cutting off debate...

Thanks to that vote, nothing will happen until Gen. David Petraeus ... delivers his report in September. But don’t expect too much.., the general’s history suggests that he’s another smart, sensible enabler.

I don’t know why the op-ed article that General Petraeus published in The Washington Post on Sept. 26, 2004, hasn’t gotten more attention. After all, it puts to rest any notion that the general stands above politics: I don’t think it’s standard practice for serving military officers to publish opinion pieces that are strikingly helpful to an incumbent, six weeks before a national election.

In the article, General Petraeus told us that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously.” And those security forces were doing just fine: their leaders “are displaying courage and resilience” and “momentum has gathered in recent months.”

In other words, General Petraeus, without saying anything falsifiable, conveyed the totally misleading impression, highly convenient for his political masters, that victory was just around the corner. And the best guess has to be that he’ll do the same thing three years later.

You know, at this point I think we need to stop blaming Mr. Bush for the mess we’re in. He is what he always was, and everyone except a hard core of equally delusional loyalists knows it.

Yet Mr. Bush keeps doing damage because many people who understand how his folly is endangering the nation’s security still refuse, out of political caution and careerism, to do anything about it.

Previous (7/16) column: Paul Krugman: The Waiting Game
Next (7/23) column: Paul Krugman: The French Connections

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"" »

Monday, July 09, 2007

The "Single-Villain" Rhetoric, the Two Al Qaedas, and the Multi-Faceted Challenges in Iraq

I would guess that people who visit here try to keep up with the news and have a pretty good idea about what is going on in the world. So I'm curious to see how well the press has been informing you about the administration's discussions of the Iraq war.

Did you know there are two Al Qaedas? The public editor at the New York Times thinks you should realize that the Al Qaeda emphasized by the administration when discussing the surge did not exist prior to the invasion, is not same as Bin Laden's Al Qaeda, and  is but one part of the problem we are facing:

Seeing Al Qaeda Around Every Corner, by Clark Hoyt, Public Editor, NY Times: As domestic support for the war in Iraq continues to melt away, President Bush and the United States military in Baghdad are increasingly pointing to a single villain on the battlefield: Al Qaeda.

Bush mentioned the terrorist group 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq at the Naval War College... The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven’t been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda’s role in Iraq...

Continue reading "The "Single-Villain" Rhetoric, the Two Al Qaedas, and the Multi-Faceted Challenges in Iraq" »

Saturday, July 07, 2007

NY Times: The Time to Leave Iraq is Now

The New York Times editorial board has come to a conclusion:

The Road Home, Editorial, NY Times: It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.

Like many Americans, we have put off that conclusion, waiting for a sign that President Bush was seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause, in the face of global opposition, and without a plan to stabilize the country afterward.

At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow. ...

It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost. ...

Continuing to sacrifice the lives and limbs of American soldiers is wrong. The war is sapping the strength of the nation’s alliances and its military forces. It is a dangerous diversion from the life-and-death struggle against terrorists. It is an increasing burden on American taxpayers, and it is a betrayal of a world that needs the wise application of American power and principles.

A majority of Americans reached these conclusions months ago. Even in politically polarized Washington, positions on the war no longer divide entirely on party lines. When Congress returns this week, extricating American troops from the war should be at the top of its agenda.

That conversation must be candid and focused. Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

The administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, the United Nations and America’s allies must try to mitigate those outcomes — and they may fail. But Americans must be equally honest about the fact that keeping troops in Iraq will only make things worse. ...

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have used demagoguery and fear to quell Americans’ demands for an end to this war. They say withdrawing will create bloodshed and chaos and encourage terrorists. Actually, all of that has already happened — the result of this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war.

This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage — with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.

Ahmed Chalabi Interview

There's an interview with Ahmed Chalabi in the Wall Street Journal, but before getting to that, here's a brief reminder of Chalabi's history:

Tenet: Cheney Staffers Idolized Chalabi ‘Like Schoolgirls With Their First Crush’, ThinkProgress: In his new book, former CIA Director George Tenet reveals that Vice President Cheney and Pentagon officials pressed for the installation of an Iraqi government led by Ahmed Chalabi, an exile who provided bad information on Iraq’s supposed weapons programs. ...

The ... Defense Intelligence Agency said it was paying Chalabi’s organization $350,000 a month to provide information. ... Today, Chalabi oversees the implementation of the escalation strategy on the Iraqi end.

As noted here:

Chalabi was the source for discredited news stories about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction which were penned by New York Times reporter Judith Miller. In 2001, Miller wrote a front-page story about claims that Saddam had twenty secret WMD sites hidden in Iraq. The information turned out to be bogus. [New York Times, 2/26/04; The New Yorker, 6/7/04]

Here's some of the interview:

Survivor, by Melik Kaylan, WSJ: ...Mr. Chalabi is hardly the transient opportunist that his detractors at the State Department, CIA and on the antiwar left once made him out to be. He's still in Iraq, despite long ago losing whatever American support he once had and failing to win a seat in the last parliamentary election. ... And almost alone among the Iraqi political figures, he not only lives but travels widely outside the Green Zone. ...

Though he's not in the current Maliki government, he is still courted by the state and given key appointments. He heads up the De-Baathification program and the Committee for Public Support of the "surge"... Community leaders from all sides troop through his doors daily. ...

On one occasion, ... we visited the football-field sized mosque complex of Khadimiya in Baghdad. It is one of Iraq's top Shiite holy sites... Wearing his trademark suit and tie, Mr. Chalabi was continuously mobbed by crowds...

Mr. Chalabi would appear to be the nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician, one who will risk life and limb... [T]he U.S.'s main error in Iraq, according to Mr. Chalabi, has been trying to micromanage ... Iraqi politics. "The U.S. should make a choice," he says, "either to accept full democracy and live with the consequences or undertake full control. ...

Continue reading "Ahmed Chalabi Interview" »

Friday, July 06, 2007

Paul Krugman: Sacrifice Is for Suckers

Paul Krugman looks at who has sacrificed for the Iraq war:

Sacrifice Is for Suckers, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: On this Fourth of July, President Bush ... called for “more patience, more courage and more sacrifice.” Unfortunately, ... nobody asked the obvious question: “What sacrifices have you and your friends made, Mr. President?”...

You see, the Iraq war, although Mr. Bush insists that it’s part of a Global War on Terror™, a fight to the death between good and evil, isn’t like America’s other great wars — wars in which the wealthy shared the financial burden through higher taxes and many members of the elite fought for their country.

This time around, Mr. Bush celebrated Mission Accomplished by cutting tax rates on dividends and capital gains, while handing out huge no-bid contracts to politically connected corporations. And in the four years since, as the insurgency Mr. Bush initially taunted with the cry of “Bring them on” has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans and left thousands more grievously wounded, the children of the elite — especially the Republican elite — have been conspicuously absent from the battlefield.

The Bushies, it seems, like starting fights, but they don’t believe in paying any of the cost ... Above all, they don’t believe that they or their friends should face any ... penalties for trivial sins like distorting intelligence to get America into an unnecessary war, or totally botching that war’s execution...

Think Progress has a summary of what happened to the men behind the war... To read that summary is to be awed by the ... generosity of the neocon welfare system. Even Paul Wolfowitz, who ... mess[ed] up ... two high-level jobs, has found refuge at the American Enterprise Institute.

Which brings us to ... I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr. ... In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled “Fallen Soldier,” Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University cited the soldier’s creed: “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” He went on to declare that “Scooter Libby was a soldier in your — our — war in Iraq.”

Ah, yes. Shuffling papers in an air-conditioned Washington office is exactly like putting your life on the line in Anbar or Baghdad. Spending 30 months in a minimum-security prison, with a comfortable think-tank job waiting at the other end, is exactly like having half your face or both your legs blown off by an I.E.D.

What lay behind the hysteria, of course, was the prospect that ... one of the people who tricked America into war, then endangered national security yet again in the effort to cover their tracks, might pay some price...

Back when the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity began, Mr. Bush insisted that if anyone in his administration had violated the law, “that person will be taken care of.” Now we know what he meant. ...

Mr. Bush says that Mr. Libby’s punishment remains “harsh” because his reputation is “forever damaged.” Meanwhile, Mr. Bush employs, as a deputy national security adviser, none other than Elliott Abrams, who pleaded guilty to unlawfully withholding information from Congress in the Iran-contra affair. Mr. Abrams was one of six Iran-contra defendants pardoned by Mr. Bush’s father, who was himself a subject of the special prosecutor’s investigation of the scandal.

In other words, obstruction of justice when it gets too close to home is a family tradition. And being a loyal Bushie means never having to say you’re sorry.

Previous (7/2) column: Paul Krugman: Just Say AAA
Next (7/9) column: Paul Krugman: Health Care Terror

Friday, June 29, 2007

"Ignorance of How Ignorant We are is Unpardonable"

One more by Arthur Schlesinger. This one is from 1990 (so we are a couple of years past his 10-15 years ahead) and warns against war in the Gulf:

War in the Gulf: Counsel of Ignorance, by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Commentary, NY Times: Many factors shape foreign policy -- interest, information, judgment, vision, prejudice, fatigue, fear, panic, stupidity -- but there is one we tend to forget. That factor is ignorance -- ignorance of the challenge, of the context, of how ignorant we may be.

Take the Persian Gulf crisis. Do we really know enough about the Mideast to act with confidence? The U.S. has not had serious historic experience in this region. A few missionaries went there in the 19th century, a few oilmen in the 20th and that is about it. We have no strong tradition of Arabist studies in our universities. Most of the time we don't know what we are doing in the Mideast.

Continue reading ""Ignorance of How Ignorant We are is Unpardonable"" »

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Life in Baghdad

A description of life in Baghdad:

Life in the Inferno of Baghdad, by Terry McCarthy, Commentary, Washington Post: ... I arrived here to cover the war for ABC News last July... Two and a half weeks ago, two of my friends, Alaa Uldeen Aziz, a cameraman, and Saif Laith Yousuf, his soundman, were heading home from our bureau. They were stopped by two cars full of gunmen just 100 yards from Alaa's house, ... taken away ... [and] shot dead. We do not know whether they were killed because they worked for an American network, because of their religion or because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either way, they were innocent victims...

I had to apologize [to the families]; neither I nor any of my colleagues would be able to attend the funerals, because their neighborhood isn't safe for us... Both families understood... Left unspoken was the fact that in many parts of Baghdad, to have a foreigner visit your house could endanger everyone there.

Alaa's mother had wanted to bury her son next to his father, in a cemetery in central Baghdad. His cousins had to dissuade her: The area is ringed with snipers, and it is too dangerous... She wailed at the cruelty of a city that will not even allow her to bury her son.

Danger is everywhere in Baghdad; life here is a continuous series of risk assessments. From the moment people wake up, they have to check whether it is safe to leave the house. Is there an unusual amount of gunfire? Have strangers been seen driving through the neighborhood? Is there something new to be afraid of? Anything out of the ordinary is cause for fear. ...

Continue reading "Life in Baghdad" »

Monday, May 28, 2007

Paul Krugman: Trust and Betrayal

Paul Krugman says it's time to start treating "belligerent, uninformed posturing" on the war with the lack of respect it deserves:

Trust and Betrayal, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: “In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war.” That’s what President Bush said last year, in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those were fine words, spoken by a man with less right to say them than any president in our nation’s history. For Mr. Bush took us to war not with reluctance, but with unseemly eagerness.

Now that war has turned into an epic disaster... Yet Congress seems powerless to stop it. How did it all go so wrong?

Future historians will shake their heads over how easily America was misled into war. The warning signs ... were there, for those willing to see them, right from the beginning... But the nation, brought together in grief and anger over the attack, wanted to trust the man occupying the White House. ...

It’s a terrible story, yet it’s also understandable...: nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how bad the leaders and no matter how poorly conceived the war.

The question was whether the public would ever catch on. Well, to the immense relief of those who spent years trying to get the truth out, they did. Last November Americans voted overwhelmingly to bring an end to Mr. Bush’s war.

Yet the war goes on.

To keep the war going, the administration has brought the original bogyman back out of the closet. At first, Mr. Bush said he would bring Osama bin Laden in, dead or alive. Within seven months..., however, he had lost interest: “I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s at the center of any command structure,” he said in March 2002. “I truly am not that concerned about him.” ...

But Osama is back: last week Mr. Bush invoked his name 11 times in a single speech, warning that if we leave Iraq, Al Qaeda — which wasn’t there when we went in — will be the winner. And Democrats, still fearing that they will end up accused of being weak on terror and not supporting the troops, gave Mr. Bush another year’s war funding.

Democratic Party activists were furious, because polls show a public utterly disillusioned ... and anxious to see the war ended. But it’s not clear that the leadership was wrong to be cautious. The truth is that the nightmare of the Bush years won’t really be over until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn’t happened yet.

Here’s the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a “movement” that “has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us,” he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of “Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda” wants to “bring down the West,” he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn’t in Iraq, will “follow us home” if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren’t, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people’s children to graves at Arlington.

Previous (5/25) column: Paul Krugman: Immigrants and Politics
Next (6/4) column: Paul Krugman: Obama in Second Place

In Memoriam

In the display shown in the pictures, each red flag represents one U.S soldier killed in Iraq, around 3,000 at the time, while each white flag represents six Iraqi civilians or soldiers killed in the war - there are over 100,000 white flags representing the estimated 655,000 dead Iraqis. That number from the Lancet study isn't accepted by everyone, but I don't want to argue the number today. Whatever it is, it's far, far too many. I can tell you this. Having seen this display on our campus, even if it's only one-to-one  (which is too low) rather than six-to-one, the display is still stunning.

This is the display when it appeared at Reed college in March. Reed is is a private college north of us in Portland. These pictures don't fully reflect how much area the flags cover, but it gives you some idea (here too):

(click on pictures for larger versions)


And here are a couple of pictures from when it appeared on our campus around the same time:


In this picture, my office is off-camera on the left side of the picture. This is just part of the display - there wasn't nearly enough lawn to hold all of the flags. I can't imagine how much ground it would have covered if they hadn't used white flags to represent more than one person:


I believe this started at the University of Colorado.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Poverty, Illiteracy, and Unemployment or a Clash of Civilizations?

Bombing Muslim countries with jobs and education to end terrorism? The prime minister of Malasia, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, says attributing problems between the west and the Muslim world to a clash of civilizations diverts attention away from the real source of discontent. The key to stabilizing the Muslim world is to improve economic conditions and reduce the high levels of "poverty, illiteracy and unemployment":

The real challenge for Muslim nations is economic, by Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi, Commentary, Financial Times: The divide between the Muslim world and the west has become the great issue of the decade. It has succeeded the cold war as the strategic issue of global concern. The terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Palestinian issue, have created the impression of a clash of civilisations.

The confrontation between the Muslim world and the west is inflicting enormous political, economic and security costs on both sides. The human cost is especially appalling on the Muslim side. It is in the interests of both the west and the Muslim world that this confrontation ends...

[A] new “Economic Agenda for the Islamic World” ... must be a central pillar in our efforts to tackle the roots of unrest and help our own peoples, thus also addressing the causes of discontent that create breeding grounds for terrorism.

There is a danger that today’s overwhelming focus on the Muslim world’s political relationship with the west is diverting attention from even more fundamental social and economic problems. The Muslim landscape that stretches from Morocco to Mindanao is more diverse than western commentators often suppose. There are peaceful countries where the people are wealthy, healthy and educated. However, these are sadly outnumbered by countries and regions that are under­developed, poor and in turmoil.

Continue reading "Poverty, Illiteracy, and Unemployment or a Clash of Civilizations?" »