Tuesday, 30 December 2003
Rise and Fall.
Billmon at the Whiskey Bar serves up this
thought-provoking history of the neo-conservative movement—and speculates on whether the neocons are about to embark on another decade-long hibernation.
(Link via Talking Points Memo)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:10 am. comments.
Monday, 22 December 2003
From the "things I wish I'd thought of first" department, this pretty much sums up my views of the Bush Administration's fiscal policies:
Don't leave Washington without it!
(Link via Daily Kos)
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:47 am. comments.
Friday, 19 December 2003
History will remember this past week as a high-water mark for the Bush Administration: The humiliation of Saddam Hussein puts Bush's Iraq policy in the best possible light, and the right-wing pundits are already crowing that Bush will be unbeatable in the next election. President Bush's most likely opponent is a small-state governor with no foreign policy experience, who is currently making his first real impression on the American people; the "big name" players in the Democratic Party are sitting this election out, hoping for a better opportunity four years from now, and conventional wisdom says that we might as well call this election off.
I'm describing the first week of March 1991, of course. The President is George H. W. Bush, the opponent is Bill Clinton, and the big names on the sidelines are Cuomo and Kennedy and Nunn. Pundits who think Dubya has the 2004 election all wrapped up would do well to remember 1991—and to remember that, once the rosy afterglow of Saddam's capture wears off, Dubya will still be sitting on the tiger's back.
Bush the Younger has committed America's military might, moral prestige, and international leadership in what's now a bid to pacify a nation where two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25. Saddam's capture will eventually raise the pressure on the Bush administration, rather than lowering it: With Saddam in the dock, his dead-end supporters are supposed to dry up and waste away. Each car bomb from this day forward becomes a straw on the camel's back, a breach of the neocon promise that Iraq will turn into Sweden-on-the-Euphrates in the immediate future, and a reminder to the American people that The George W. Bush Story has some serious plot holes that may need addressing at the ballot box.
And Osama bin Laden is still at large.
Meanwhile, Howard Dean is this year's Ross Perot, as Everett Ehrlich suggests in this thought-provoking Washington Post article. Perot spent millions in 1992 to build a grassroots network; Dean harnessed the Internet to achieve the same result, and did so from within one of the two major parties. Perot won eight million votes in '96: Half of those people voted for Dubya in 2000, a fourth went with Gore, a tenth went to Nader, and the rest stayed home. If Dean picks up the ex-Perot vote in 2004, then the scales will tip in his favor.
Meanwhile, Bush will have a challenge holding his coalition together in 2004. He'll still have the unqualified support of his party's howling-mad right wing, the people who read Ann Coulter for the articles—but the small-government advocates who voted for Bush in 2000 are already fleeing his camp in horror. Libertarians and others are appalled by Bush's civil liberties record, and the gay marriage issue may force his hand: He can't rally his socially conservative base without alienating the more tolerant mainstream, and vice versa. The conventional wisdom is that whichever candidate turns out his party base will win next year's election; Bush may have more of a problem doing that.
Dean is getting pummeled this week, in part because of Saddam's capture and in part because that's what always happens to front-runners. But Dean's campaign is a juggernaut: Where his opponents are each preparing to make a desperate stand in one state, Dean is closing the deals in Iowa and New Hampshire and playing for keeps everywhere else. He's going to win the nomination, barring a major blowout, and—if he plays his cards right—he has as much chance to win the election as a little-known Arkansas governor did in '92.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:34 am. comments.
Wednesday, 17 December 2003
Going in style.
Bryan Bell inspired me to do a little more style-sheet tweaking, as you can (probably) see. Viewing the site with a browser that supports the CSS 2.0 "text-shadowing" feature (e.g., Apple's Safari) will reveal some subtle shading effects that make the page look more professional. (The site's content will remain at its current amateurish level, alas.)
I'm not exactly a professional web designer, so I stick to a few simple design rules ("imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" being the chief one), and collect most of my CSS techniques from sites like A List Apart and the Westciv CSS Guide.
I'll probably be tinkering with the site design for at least as long as I'm blogging; it's just one of those things, I guess.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:06 am. comments.
Monday, 15 December 2003
Window of opportunity.
Capturing Saddam gives the Bush Administration a rare chance to adjust its Iraq policies from a position of strength. Bush's flypaper strategists produced a blueprint for military victory in Iraq, but their plans for the post-war have been in serious need of retooling: From Jay Garner's useless playbook of plans to contain nonexistent health epidemics, to Paul Bremner's spectacularly bad decision to disband the Iraqi army, to the elusive plan for Iraq's transition from dictator to student council to full-fledged democracy, Bush's Iraq has been a long slow train wreck since his triumphant strut across the deck of the Abraham Lincoln.
But Saddam's capture changes that. It gives the Administration a short window in which they can retool and rethink their policies without the appearance of desperation; if, for example, the Army had realized that surrounding Iraqi villages with razor wire was not an effective way to stop terrorists (but was doing a really good job of costing them the battle for Iraqi hearts and minds), Saddam's capture offers a perfect excuse to take the wire down, without having to concede it was a mistake to put it up in the first place.
Similarly, Bush now has a brief opportunity (two weeks at most, say) to announce a timetable for democratic elections in Iraq, and have that plan received as an inspiring vision for the future instead of as Bush's proposal to reduce his political liabilities before the 2004 election. This is the time when you make a speech like the one Bush gave to the National Endowment for Democracy last month, if you want it to have an impact outside your circle of supporters; the Baathist resistance is reeling, and it's time for the coup de grace.
If Bush misses this opportunity, then the resistance will regroup and fight on. Anti-American slogans carry a lot more weight when the Americans don't have a solid plan for putting the Iraqi people in charge (or when the Administration pulls a "spoils of war" move and sticks yet another thumb in the eyes of our allies—yeeeesh, that was short-sighted); the Baathists will have some difficulty coalescing around a new leader with Saddam and his sons out of the picture, but it won't be long before they find one, and re-submit their own bloody alternative to the American occupation. If Bush steps forward with a plan that inspires the average Iraqi, the Baathists will be reduced to gang warfare in due time; if he doesn't, the situation in Iraq will eventually return to what it was before Saddam's capture.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:24 am. comments.
Sunday, 14 December 2003
BREAKING NEWS [updated]:
Saddam Hussein has been captured. The CPA is holding a press conference as I type, confirming the details and showing a video of Saddam undergoing a medical examination; Saddam was found in a basement in a Tikrit farmhouse, hidden in a "spider hole" dug beneath the basement and equipped with its own ventilation system; he had grown a long salt-and-pepper beard, and looks like hell. Members of the Fourth Infrantry and Task Force 121 acted on specific local intelligence; Saddam surrendered without a fight, and apparently is being talkative and cooperative.
Paul Bremer's first words at the press conference: "Ladies and gentlemen… we got him." The Iraqi press corps gave Bremer a standing ovation, and went nuts when they showed Saddam on video. Iraqis are dancing in the streets in Baghdad, Mosul and other cities.
This is unquestionably the best news we've had in Iraq for a long time. Capturing Saddam alive is the ultimate intelligence bonanza, and may well break the back of the Baathist insurgency; it might even finally answer all those unresolved questions about if, how and where Saddam's WMD program existed. If the Coalition can take advantage of this opportunity to roll up the rest of the resistance and get the rest of Saddam's allies into custody, it could mark a major, major turning point in the effort to stabilize Iraq.
Three cheers for the troops!
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:48 pm. comments.
Friday, 12 December 2003
War on Everybody.
Here's a prediction: Within the next two weeks, the European Union will begin describing the Bush Administration's decision to exclude Canada, Germany, France, Russia, China et al. from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction contracts as "protectionism." Within 30 days, they will seek a ruling from the WTO against the "reasons of national security" premise (which is the only rationale that keeps this policy from violating our free trade agreements), and within 180 days they'll invoke the "targeted sanctions" originally designed by the EU as a response to Bush's steel tariffs. (The sanctions involve goods ranging from Florida oranges to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but the real target is Dubya's re-election chances: The targeted industries are all in swing states that narrowly voted Republican in 2000.)
I think Europe is tired of being slapped in the face. If Bush or anyone in his Administration thinks this policy makes our should-be allies more likely to send troops, then they're utterly tone deaf; resistance to ham-fisted U.S. policies just hardened in every world capital on the globe. If a Schröder or a Chirac announced today that they'd meekly send troops anywhere in the world the next time the U.S. asked, that leader would be thrown out of office faster than you could say "national pride." This policy will produce zero additional support for our Iraq efforts, and by all accounts will impede our efforts to reduce Iraq's debt and secure foreign aid.
Bush already has a two-front war in progress, against the Al Qaeda cult on one hand and the Baathist mafia on the other. Opening a third front against our potential allies, as a penalty for not being eager enough to jump on our bandwagon, is so utterly counterproductive and distracting from the real war that it raises serious questions about whether Bush is focused on the right enemy. Anti-American propaganda sources are having an absolute field day with this—they couldn't write a better script to portray the U.S. as a domineering imperialist—and the fact that the White House green-lighted this policy says that the Bush Administration didn't learn anything from its earlier failures to get these allies on board.
I don't see Bush winning re-election at this rate.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 1:57 am. comments.
Wednesday, 10 December 2003
TalkLeft reports that Illinois favorite son and two-term U.S. Senator Paul Simon passed away earlier today after undergoing heart surgery.
I was five years old when Paul Simon went to Washington for the first time, representing my Congressional district at the far southern tip of Illinois; by the time he retired from the Senate in 1997, he'd been my voice in Congress for as long as I could remember. He was, and I do not say this lightly, someone I was proud to have representing me. Simon believed that government could be a force for good, and that fiscal responsibility was a duty of public office: His legacy included co-sponsoring the balanced budget amendment, leading a major overhaul of federal student loan programs, supporting campaign finance reform, and principled opposition to the death penalty.
He was one of only three Senators who voted against holding Whitewater hearings, having recognized a smear campaign against the President for what it was, and he retired because he thought he'd have to spend too much time fundraising if he wanted to serve again. He wrote 22 books, founded a bipartisan think tank, was a role model of integrity and candor, and, as a Republican from across the aisle put it, "He was an example of what every Congressman and Senator should aspire to be."
Paul Simon's last political act, from his hospital bed the day before the surgery, was to endorse Howard Dean. I've been following Dean's campaign for a while now, watching as it gains momentum—and while I haven't exactly swooned over everything he's done and said ("re-regulate?"), I think he's more likely to stabilize Iraq, and to pursue a foreign policy that reflects American values. (Unless, of course, you believe that America should be a beacon of petty vengeance. Whatever happened to the "shining city on a hill" idea?) I know this week's big endorsement news was that Al Gore is backing Dean, but to me Paul Simon's blessing matters more.
Rest in peace, Senator.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 9:04 am. comments.
Saturday, 06 December 2003
Knights of the 82nd Airborne.
Are we witnessing the suit of armor's triumphant return to the battlefield? This Washington Post article reports on the Army's life-saving Interceptor body armor:
During a foot patrol in Fallujah in late September, an Iraqi insurgent suddenly emerged from an alleyway and fired an AK-47 at Spec. John Fox from point-blank range. Fox was hit in the stomach as he returned fire, and the blast knocked him off his feet. The bullet hit the middle of three ammunition magazines hanging from the front of his Kevlar vest, igniting tracer rounds and setting off a smoke grenade. A thick gray plume poured from his vest where he lay.
His squad mates, having shot and killed the gunman, rushed to his side. "Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?" they recalled Fox asking.
They checked and discovered he was unharmed. His body armor had protected him not only from the AK-47 round but also from his own exploding munitions.
"Fox must have been only 10, 15 meters from this guy," recalled Sgt. Roger Vasquez. "And this thing stopped the bullet."
The armor, a Kevlar vest reinforced by ceramic plates, weighs only 16.4 pounds—as compared to a 25-pound flak jacket from the Vietnam era, or a 15th-century suit of armor weighing as much as 120 pounds. The gunpowder era brought an end to the days of armored knights: The thickness of armor required to stop a musket ball was far too heavy to consider wearing, even for a man on horseback. It wasn't until World War I, and the widespread introduction of the steel helmet, that body armor began making a comeback—and, until recently, such armor was only useful as a weak defense against shrapnel and low-caliber guns.
But, if the casualty reports from Iraq are any sign, today's body armor appears to hold up very well, even against automatic weapons fire and roadside explosives. What we're seeing is an increase, in relative terms, in the number of servicemen who lose a limb in combat: The body armor protects the troops from wounds to the head, chest and abdomen, leaving the face, arms and legs still vulnerable.
Extending body armor to cover the arms and legs would reduce the number of amputees—but it would also reduce mobility and add weight, both of which could contribute to casualties. Medieval knights addressed these problems by riding into battle on a horse; is it possible that, in another decade or two, our troops may ride into battle mounted on Segways, wearing suits of armor made of Kevlar and ceramic plates?
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:11 am. comments.
Thursday, 04 December 2003
Custer had a plan too.
Via e-mail, Sara is curious about how I'd respond to this blog post from Tacitus:
Okay, assorted know-it-alls of the internet....
....what would you do if someone handed you Iraq right now? Iraq and all the tools you might want to fix it up just how you'd like it? Say you were someone with that power. We'll call it a "President." Seems to me like there are several value judgments you'd have to make:
Tacitus then lists seven questions, and provides his own answers for reference.
While I'd modestly decline the title of internet know-it-all (unless of course it allows me to make "Rocky and Bullwinkle" jokes), Tacitus's question is worth thinking about—in the game show "Who wants to be President in 2005?", this one will be the final tiebreaker. If the Democratic challenger answers correctly, he takes the grand prize; if not, our departing contestant will receive a teaching gig at Columbia University and a year's supply of Rice-a-Roni.
So. Some of the options that I'd pursue, if I were elected President and took office tomorrow, are ones that George W. Bush can't: Some doors that Dubya has already closed can only be re-opened by a changing of the guard. Even if I took office planning to continue the exact letter and spirit of Bush's policies, I'd still have more options available than Dubya has right now; I could more easily heal the rift between America and Germany, for example, since I wasn't in office when it opened. (By "healing the rift" I specifically mean "convincing them to put German lives at risk on the ground in Iraq." All other gestures of reconciliation are, for our purposes, meaningless.)
1) What is your primary value with regard to Iraq? Secondary?
My primary value with regard to Iraq, and for that matter the rest of our foreign policy, is to secure the United States against 9/11-style terrorist attacks. I believe the most effective way to do this is to engage and defeat Al Qaeda—not only in the direct, physical sense, but also by discrediting their ideas and demoralizing their supporters.
My secondary value is to secure the blessings of liberty for those who've proven unable to secure it themselves. I would much prefer that Iraqis secured their own liberties—I consider this to be a fundamental duty of the Iraqi people—but I realize that, absent outside help, Iraqis did not have the means to overthrow Saddam nor the experience required to establish a functioning democracy.
2) What sort of state and society do you prefer in Iraq if you leave?
I would prefer to see a secular, stable, democratic government with a well-established respect for the rule of law, property rights, and the freedom of the individual. Iraqi society can be whatever it pleases, provided it respects and retains that system of government. (Note that I consider terrorism to be incompatible with "a well-established respect for the rule of law," to say nothing of individual rights.)
3) What are you unwilling to do to achieve goals 1 and 2?
Generally speaking, my statement of goal 1 limits what I can do to achieve it—for example, actions that run counter to American principles (depriving citizens of the right to a trial by jury, say) would reduce my credibility and impede my efforts to defeat terrorism. I'm also constrained in what I can achieve without the support and assistance of the Iraqi people; I'll pursue my primary goal ahead of my secondary one, but ultimately my success in both efforts is now tied to establishing a democracy in Iraq.
4) What immediate action would you take upon assumption of command?
Internally, I would take the blinders off: I would immediately enact policies to prevent "cherry-picking" of raw intelligence data, ensure that my intelligence, defense, and foreign policy teams were reasonably free of crippling biases, and make certain that our policies were grounded in objective reality rather than ideological doctrine. I'm assuming here that Bush's political appointees are also on their way out; if not, I would immediately fire Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Secretary of Defense Douglas Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and (if possible) Vice President Dick Cheney. I hold these officials accountable for misleading pre-war intelligence, inadequate post-war planning, and deliberate efforts to mislead the American people.
Externally, I would as quickly as possible announce a timetable for the implementation of democracy in Iraq, identifying concrete, tangible, and independently verifiable steps toward establishing a working legislature and an interim executive; at a minimum this timetable would establish the prerequisites for local, regional and national direct elections, in that order, and establish a rough estimate (plus or minus six months, to be firmed up as conditions warrant) on the date for Iraq's first national election. Elections would be supervised by the United Nations or other suitable (non-US) agency with experience in this area. I would commit that American forces will remain in Iraq, with their role in Iraq's civil affairs diminishing over time, until the institutions of democracy were well established and secure from extremist threats.
At the same time, I would reconstitute those elements of the Iraqi army that surrendered without firing on coalition forces, and assign them to non-combat "peacekeeping" roles (e.g., guarding infrastructure, rebuilding schools, etc.) to reduce the demands on our warfighting troops. To the greatest extent possible, I would concentrate our efforts on the Baghdad area and its surroundings; as far as the public eye is concerned, the battle for Iraq will be won or lost there.
I would require the Iraqi Governing Council to appoint one of their number as an interim head of state, with the understanding that this role would be largely ceremonial—that is, a true head of state, rather than a chief executive. This distinction is largely lost in the United States, where the President fulfills both roles; other countries, such as England, distinguish between the ceremonial head of state (Queen Elizabeth II) and the actual leader of the government (Tony Blair). (I'm not suggesting that Iraq should have a monarch, but it does need an individual who acts as the public face of the Iraqi people; having a 25-member committee in this role achieves little, except to allow Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani to step into the gap.)
I would immediately begin training American soldiers and reservists to be fluent in Arabic, and recruiting volunteers with civil affairs experience (i.e., law enforcement, jurisprudence, etc.). I would be candid and accurate with both the troops and the American people about the expected costs of the war, in terms of dollars, lives, and tours of duty.
And, finally, I would turn the Iraqi public television franchise over to Fox News. (I'm only half joking. I originally wrote "I would reinstate funding for the Voice of America," our Cold War-era radio network that countered Soviet propaganda and told our side of the story—but, after a moment's reflection, why not make fair and balanced Fox do something that would help America's image overseas?)
5) What long-term action would you take?
I would attempt to restore the proper role of the United States Congress as the crucible of our democracy, in which our plans and policies are debated, tested and improved, in order to avoid a repeat of the current situation—where our post-war plans for Iraq were not subjected to scrutiny, and popular support for our Iraq policy is not as robust as we'd like. This would require both of America's major political parties to put the national interest ahead of partisan politics—or, perhaps, would require a renewed sense of civic duty from the American people.
I would make a sharp distinction in the armed forces between warfighting and peacekeeping troops, and develop our capacities for peacekeeping independently of our combat roles. This would probably result in creating a separate peacekeeping entity that had more in common with the Peace Corps than the Army; it would handle the tasks required to create a democracy, vs. those required to destroy a tyrannical regime. It would be centered on the current Civil Affairs and Engineering corps, and would ultimately correct the morale-draining problems we currently have with combat troops assigned to ill-fitting roles.
To the extent possible, I would restore America's influence and support for multinational organizations, including NATO, the EU, and the United Nations, and seek to expand the number of countries involved in the reconstruction of Iraq. By "involved in the reconstruction" I mean not only materially involved (i.e., sending troops), but also convinced that promoting democracy and stability in Iraq is essential to the well-being of all nations. I would open a sincere dialogue with our allies about the conflict between America's desire to respect international sovereignty vs. our right to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks, and how we may be able to accommodate, or at the very least listen, to the concerns of other nations.
6) At what point would you declare your plan a failure?
When the American people's support for it fell below 50%. This is not for cynical election-related reasons (I might win re-election even without a popular mandate on the Iraq issue), but because my plans and policies can only succeed if a majority of the people are solidly behind them.
7) How much time are you willing to allot to your occupation?
This is a potentially misleading question: American troops are still in Germany almost 60 years after World War II, but we don't speak of "occupied Germany" today. I expect the United States to play a gradually diminishing role in Iraq's civil affairs over the next five to ten years, but I expect that we'll be the guarantor of stability in Iraq (to the extent that we're providing stability now) indefinitely.
I have to take off my hat to Tacitus, whose blog I don't usually read: His questions have sparked a very lively debate in his comments section, and I'm glad to see a constructive exchange of ideas happening there. Now if we could just get Congress—or, heaven help us, the Administration—to host that kind of debate again.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 8:00 am. comments.