A new report by the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves finds that the “U.S. military isn’t ready for a catastrophic attack on the country, and National Guard forces don’t have the equipment or training they need for the job.” More than 88 percent of Army National Guard units are not combat-ready today.
It was clear to me that the Giants weren’t going to beat the Green Bay Packers. But then again, it was also clear to me that the Giants weren’t going to win their other two playoff games either. Thus, the mere fact that the preponderance of the available evidence strongly points in the direction of a Patriots win doesn’t really prove anything. Thus, I predict that New England will wind up getting the loss they so richly deserve.
During the “Political Grapevine” segment of Fox News’s Special Report last night, host Brit Hume noted the negative criticism that the town of Brattleboro, VT has received for a petition calling for President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to be arrested. Chuckling so much he could hardly contain himself, Hume recounts how “one caller from Minnesota” told the town clerk “he’d like to see terrorists cut off the heads of town officials.” Watch it:
A now annual tradition at The Atlantic presented for your reading pleasure.
I’ve written a bit about John McCain apparent ignorance of economic policy, but it’s also worth noting the vacuity of his thoughts on national security. Check out this farce flagged by Kevin Drum and Steve Benen:
John McCain says in almost every stump speech that he knows how to capture Osama bin Laden and that he’d follow the al Qaeda leader to the “Gates of Hell.”
So Washington Wire was wondering, what does McCain know that President Bush and the Pentagon don’t about how to sweep up America’s most elusive enemy.
“One thing I will not do is telegraph my punches. Osama bin Laden will be the last to know,” he said today while riding on the back of his bus between Florida events. In other words: he’s not telling. Why not share his strategy with the current occupant of the White House? “Because I have my own ideas and it would require implementation of certain policies and procedures that only as the president of the United States can be taken.”
On the small issue of fighting al-Qaeda, in short, he has no ideas whatsoever. Instead, he has a silly slogan about the gates of hell. Macho posturing? Check. Ideas about keeping the country safer? Not so much. But he’s virtuous so who cares, right? Plus, though McCain may not know much about fighting al-Qaeda he really loves war which passes for statesmanship these days, I suppose.
In a Senate hearing today on Afghanistan, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher proclaimed, “There is progress. It’s going in the right direction.” Boucher said Afghanistan now has “a government that works fairly well,” a “quality” police force, a growing “cell phone market,” and even residents who are “furnishing houses.” He concluded:
So, I see all these efforts. Nobody can tell me it’s not going in a positive direction.
Yesterday, however, three major reports said just that, each concluding that the situation in Afghanistan is eroding quickly. “Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan,” said a military report chaired by ret. Gen. James Jones and Thomas Pickering. Boucher said he partly “disagreed” with the conclusions of the reports, which said:
Jones-Pickering Report: “The progress achieved after six years of international engagement is under serious threat.” [LINK]
Atlantic Council Report: “Afghanistan remains a dangerously neglected conflict in a Washington transfixed by Iraq. … On the security side, a stalemate of sorts has taken hold.” [LINK]
National Defense University Report: “It is our assertion that the current Afghan government and its allies, principally NATO and the United States, are not winning the battle in the civil sector.” [LINK]
Over the past year, the situation in Afghanistan has dramatically deteriorated. Violence has jumped 27 percent. Suicide bombings rose to 140 in 2007, compared with five between 2001 and 2005. Coalition and Afghan civilian casualties have reached “the highest level since 2001.”
I’d like to revisit the false populism issue from Bush’s State of the Union address the other night. Obviously, the Colombia Free Trade pact is hardly the most important thing in the world (Colombia’s just too small for this to make a big impact on the US economy one way or the other), but the claim that “If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere” is an excellent example of the complete lack of strategic thought that characterizes this administration. James Poulos, like me, didn’t understand how Hugo Chavez would be emboldened by our failure to ratify the agreement. Daniel Larison explains:
It’s like this, James: if you push for more neoliberal policies in Latin America, that will magically reduce the popularity of the “false populism” that has flourished on account of the backlash against the last round of neoliberal policies pushed by Washington, whereas if you don’t support those policies “false populism” will run wild. That’s clear, isn’t it?
That’s really it, though. In Bush world, first you set out to do something. Then if that thing seems to not be working out or causing problems, what you need to do is do it again harder. Anything else, after all, would only embolden the bad guys. It’s that simple and it’s that dumb.
For those remaining
7 or 8 3 or 4 people who still buy the Bush rhetoric that he cares about global warming and is committed to addressing the problem with new technology, Exhibit 435C for the prosecution is the just-canceled “clean coal” project called FutureGen.
[Amusing anecdote for FHA -- Future Historians of American -- I once had a boss at the US Department of Energy who practiced repeating "clean coal" in front of a mirror so as not to break out smiling when uttering that oxymoron.]
Yes, I know Bush said as recently as Monday (in the most vetted of all Presidential speeches), “Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions.” But he wasn’t lying or flip-flopping or anything. He didn’t say, “We are funding new technologies….” or “Anyone who actually meant what they said would keep funding new technologies….” Give the guy a break. He said, “Let us fund new technologies….” He was imploring Congress for help in a “Let my people go” vein.
This is sort of a setback for those who believe coal gasification combined with carbon capture and storage could be a major global warming solution. I say “sort of” for two reasons. First, the program was being horribly mismanaged:
“The idea of FutureGen makes complete sense,” Dr. Moniz [under secretary of energy during the Clinton administration] said. However, a study he helped direct concluded earlier this year that the FutureGen project was badly structured, with confusion about whether it was a research project or a demonstration. Among its problems, he said in a telephone interview on Friday, was that it has “a cast of thousands” ….
Apparently the too-many-cooks overseeing FutureGen couldn’t make up their minds whether they were developoing new technology or demonstrating existing technology. Hey. No big deal. We have a decade. Why not do both?
The second problem: The goal of FutureGen was to “validate the engineering, economic, and environmental viability of advanced coal-based, near-zero emission technologies that by 2020″ will produce electricity that is only 10 percent more expensive than current coal-generated electricity.
So the project was either doubly pointless or doubly cynical, depending on your perspective. After all, by the time this technology was ready to commercialize on a significant scale in the early 2020s, the world will have built or begun construction on more than a 1000 GW of coal plants, using traditional technology that is not designed for carbon capture and storage. The climate will have been destroyed irrevocably before Futuregen could have accomplished anything useful in the marketplace. Also, we will still need a mandatory cap on carbon emissions to make future FutureGen plants viable because they will be more expensive than traditional plants even in the 2020s. Since the Bush administration opposes a mandatory cap, the whole R&D effort looks like another delaying action … if you were inclined to take anything the Administration says seriously, of course.
No wonder people in the energy business called the project NeverGen.
Now that I read it, I have a lot of sympathy with the arguments made by Parag Khanna in his “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony” article in The New York Times Magazine. However, in the interests of sobriety it’s worth flagging two important caveats. One is that one shouldn’t understate the extent to which the US/EU/China “big three” is still an unequal triad. The United States is a lot richer than China. We have a much larger and more competent military establishment. And while China is beginning to play a global role, we have much more deeply entrenched relationships with countries in every region of the world — including places like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan in China’s back yard.
Meanwhile the EU, were it a cohesive nation-state, would be an extremely mighty power. But it isn’t one. When Europe acts with common purpose, it’s a very influential player, and it’s every bit America’s equal in certain commerce-related aspects of international relations where this happens, but Europe simply has much less institutional capacity to act in this way than does the United States.
On top of that, the big thing to keep in mind when considering any particular “declinist” thesis about American hegemony is that we’ve actually been on the decline for a good long while. In 1945-46 the U.S. economy completely dominated the world, contributing some absurdly high share of total output. Every other significant country on earth had been completely destroyed by war, and we had a monopoly on nuclear weapons. Over time, this dominant position unraveled and Robert Keohane’s After Hegemony, a study of America’s efforts to forge a diplomatic system to continue to get bye in this new world actually came out decades ago. The collapse of the Soviet Union created a kind of illusion of a return to hegemony since international politics had been organized as “USA or USSR” for so long, but all along throughout the postwar period other countries have been gaining in importance.
What happens, I think, is that whenever the United States makes policy blunders such as Vietnam or Iraq, the fact that hegemony has been slowly slipping through our fingertips for decades suddenly becomes apparent. But we’re still the most important country out there, our economy’s still growing in absolute terms, and when our country implements sound policies the whole issue fades into the background.
That said Khanna is fundamentally correct that the United States is not the be-all and end-all of world affairs and that it’s increasingly possible to imagine important diplomatic and commercial endeavors being undertaken that we’re not involved with. As Kevin Drum remarked “it’s a useful article if only because it’s so rare to see foreign policy pieces in the mainstream media that aren’t almost completely America-centric” and it’s fascinating and refreshing to see a take on world affairs that’s not dominated by a “pro-American reformer versus anti-American despot — go!” narrative.
In his upcoming memoir, titled Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President, former Rhode Island senator Lincoln Chafee (R) “excoriates [President] Bush and his GOP allies” for exploiting “wedge issues,” but also “saves some of his harshest words for Democrats who paved the way for Mr. Bush to use the U.S. military to invade Iraq”:
Chafee was the only Republican senator to vote against prosecuting the war. “The top Democrats were at their weakest when trying to show how tough they were,” writes Chafee. “They were afraid that Republicans would label them soft in the post-September 11 world, and when they acted in political self-interest, they helped the president send thousands of Americans and uncounted innocent Iraqis to their doom.
“Instead of talking tough or meekly raising one’s hand to support the tough talk, it is far more muscular, I think, to find out what is really happening in the world and have a debate about what we really need to accomplish,” writes Chafee. “That is the hard work of governing, but it was swept aside once the fear, the war rhetoric and the political conniving took over.”