said that it is untenable for the the U.S. to stay the course. Wayne White, who was the head of the State Department’s Iraq intelligence section until last year, told the BBC: “The effort can’t be sustained over the long haul, and so we can’t stay a course, I think, that requires years and years more.” He added, “We’re not winning. It’s apparent.”
The Derb observes that Barak Obama is “articulate.” The man went to Harvard Law School and Oxford, of course he’s articulate.
Steven Levy recounts and celebrates the “iPod Revolution,” the story of everyone’s favorite portable digital music device. Now, I’ve always been an Apple fan, always been a Mac user, and I’m glad to see the company prospering. That said, it’s pretty irresponsible to do what Levy does here and leave out the roll a really dumb law and some business blunders by the record labels have played in the iPod’s rise to hegemony.
In particular, if you went out and bought an iPod, and then you wanted to legally acquire some music for it, the only place you could turn was the iTunes Music Store. And, once you’d built up a library of songs purchased through the iTunes Music Store, the only place you can play the songs is . . . on an iPod. So if when your iPod’s battery dies, you think to yourself “fuck this, I’m going to buy a different company’s player,” well, doing that will require you to re-buy all your music. So you buy another iPod, and you buy more music and you’re further and further locked-in. Even better, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act makes it illegal for a rival firm to construct a player capable of playing legally owned iTunes Music Store files. This is a great deal for Apple who, in virtue of being first, gets to entrench its advantage deeper-and-deeper but it’s not very smart legislation.
Even weirder, using Digital Rights Management to produce this sort of circular lock-in wasn’t Apple’s initial plan for the music store. Instead, they wound up incorporating the DRM features that are key to their business model at the insistence of the record companies, who haven’t actually accomplished anything for themselves (it’s still very easy to illegally download MP3 files) while accidentally creating a new music industry juggernaut.
Greg Djerijian asks whether America’s “unipolar moment” is waning. The real issue here is that the unipolar moment prophesied by Charles Krauthammer in 1990 was always somewhat illusory. The true unipolar moment came not in 1990, but in 1946, when the United States enjoyed something like half of the world’s economic output and a monopoly on nuclear weapons. Since that time, the long-term trajectory of US relative power had been distinctly downward. The collapse of the USSR bumped it back up, but not back to anything resembling 1946 levels and didn’t alter the long run trajectory. Nor should this be a surprise — sustaining the 1946 status quo would have been impossible and would have entailed miring the vast majority of humanity in a permanent state of economic misery. It’s worth remembering that Robert Keohane’s book on what happens to U.S. foreign policy After Hegemony was published in 1984 and locates the end of hegemony in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
For various reasons, by the dawn of the 21st century we’d arrived at a situation where only the United States maintained a serious capacity to “project” military power to regions distant from its borders. Nevertheless, a great many countries containing a majority of the world’s people could not realistically be subjected to direct military coercion of this sort. In terms of non-military forms of power (including the coercive “hard power” of economics) the United States had long been the strongest player, but not strong enough to generate its preferred outcomes without cooperation from other major players. There’s a reason, after all, while real or contemplated US military interventions during the so-called post-1990 “unipolar moment” have been concentrated in the Middle East and Africa — these are the regions where there are no particularly strong local players so the sharp divergence in the great powers’ ability to project force becomes decisive.
A new cover story by Rolling Stone describes the last six years in Congress as the “most shameful, corrupt and incompetent period in the history of the American legislative branch.” Americans’ approval of the conservative-led Congress is “at its lowest mark in 14 years,” with half of Americans believing “most members of Congress are corrupt.”
Yet some conservatives are trying to downplay the stakes of the upcoming election. This morning on Meet the Press, conservative pundit Robert Novak said, “I would make the argument that this is one of the least important elections that I have seen.” Watch it:
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On ABC’s This Week, President Bush said, “I have not read one book about me. … You know, I just — I feel uncomfortable reading about myself.” Bush said it is “weird to be reading books about yourself when you’re still trying to be the President,” and said that authors who comment on his administration before he’s out of office are “myopic.”
Stephanopoulos asked, “You don’t think there’s anything you could learn from these books in real-time?” Bush said: “No.”
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On Fox this morning, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) said the upcoming elections in November may determine whether the U.S. changes course in Iraq. If control over the Senate changes hands, “you’re going to see twelve to fourteen” conservatives “freed up to go out and join in a bipartisan way to tell the President we are seriously off course,” Biden said. He added that if elections don’t result in a change of control, then the administration will view it as a reaffirmation of stay the course. Watch it:
Biden said three conservatives have told him personally that they want to change course, but won’t state so publicly until the outcome of the elections is determined. If Biden’s assertions are true, nearly a dozen conservative Senators have come to the determination that the course in Iraq is failing, but are unwilling to speak out.
2,791 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq and this month has been the deadliest in Iraq this year. While troops are courageously fighting and dying in Iraq, conservative politicians at home can’t muster the courage to honestly state their views about the war.
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During an interview today on ABC’s This Week, President Bush tried to distance himself from what has been his core strategy in Iraq for the last three years. George Stephanopoulos asked about James Baker’s plan to develop a strategy for Iraq that is “between ‘stay the course’ and ‘cut and run.’”
Bush responded, ‘We’ve never been stay the course, George!’ Watch it:
Bush is wrong:
BUSH: We will stay the course. [8/30/06]
BUSH: We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. [8/4/05]
BUSH: We will stay the course until the job is done, Steve. And the temptation is to try to get the President or somebody to put a timetable on the definition of getting the job done. We’re just going to stay the course. [12/15/03]
BUSH: And my message today to those in Iraq is: We’ll stay the course. [4/13/04]
BUSH: And that’s why we’re going to stay the course in Iraq. And that’s why when we say something in Iraq, we’re going to do it. [4/16/04]
BUSH: And so we’ve got tough action in Iraq. But we will stay the course. [4/5/04]
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Fred Kaplan, who offered up what I thought was an uncharacteristically blinkered and churlish dismissal of the first Lancet cluster-sample study of deaths in Iraq, has a more measured critical take on the newer study that raises two somewhat convincing points. One, as you may have seen on some other blogs is an argument developed by British academics Sean Gourley, Neil Johnson, and Michael Spagat who point out that the Lancet‘s household samples were located on “major commercial streets and avenues” rather than, say, back alleys. This significantly simplifies the logistics of doing the survey and for standard public health purposes works fine. For a war, though, it’s at least plausible that the main streets might feature more violence than non-main ones.
Kaplan’s other point is that the Hopkins account of Iraq’s pre-war death rate (5.5 per 1,000 per year) is at odds with the UN’s estimate (10 per 1,000 per year) and that if you take the UN’s pre-war baseline, you wind up with more like 300,000 excess deaths than 650,000. I don’t really know how to evaluate that dispute and I’m not sure anyone else does either. That said, this point from Kaplan seems to me like the crucial takeaway: “Let’s say that the study is way off, off by a factor of 10 or five—in other words, that the right number isn’t 655,000 but something between 65,500 and 131,000. That is still a ghastly number—a number that, apart from all other considerations, renders this war a monumental mistake.”
He doesn’t get explicit about this, but for my part the point would be that for a war allegedly justified at this point on what are largely humanitarian grounds to have any positive excess death rate is a scandal. A humanitarian intervention ought, on any reasonable view of the matter, save lives not increase the volume of death. The exact amount by which the death toll has gone up is sort of neither here nor there. On top of that, it’s worth noting that there are other problems with the methodology that may be leading to an undercount. In particular, one assumes that in some instances entire households have been killed, but the Hopkins method isn’t going to count any households like that.