Yet another al-Qaeda number three man killed. I’m too tired to make a joke
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.
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.
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.
Dean Baker makes the analogy. As far as it pertains to the editorial page, I think it holds up pretty well.
Spencer Ackerman’s trying an interesting experiment called “sources holler back” where he says that “from time to time I’ll share with you the responses I get to my work from my sources, pending their approval, in the interest of providing a more in-depth airing of the issues I’m reporting on.” Thus I note that in response to his piece on CIA interrogation policy, John Sullivan, longtime CIA polygrapher, complains:
In your article, you made no mention of Michael Koubi, the legendary Israeli interrogator. May I refer you to Mark Bowden’s interview, “The Truth About Torture,” that appeared in the September 11, 2003 Atlantic Monthly and his related article, “The Dark Art of Interrogation,” that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in October 2003. If I wanted to learn something about interrogating Arabs, Israel is the first place I would go.
One interesting thing about politics is that you might think that when a politician develops a reputation for honesty, the way Saint John of Arizona has, that from that day forward he needs to be super-scrupulous about telling the truth. Otherwise, voters who might dismiss a small fib from a “regular” politician will suddenly be outraged. In truth, the reverse is the case. Thus, Mac was not only Back last night, but appears to have made his patently false accusation that Mitt Romney favored a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq the centerpiece of his argument at last night’s debate. Shocking stuff. McCain’s made this claim before, everyone who’s looked at it concluded that it wasn’t true, and so McCain . . . just did it again in a higher-profile forum.
Naturally, Jonathan Martin’s Politico article on the subject was given the headline “Romney falls into McCain trap on Iraq” rather than, say, “McCain Lies His Ass Off.”
You’ve got to be impressed by the audacity of George W. Bush’s claims of executive power. In the latest adventure in signing statements, the congress appropriated some money for defense with the proviso that none of the money be used to finance the construction of permanent military bases in Iraq. Bush signed the appropriation into law but with the proviso that he won’t abide by the restrictions. After all obeying the law he just signed “could inhibit the president’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations to take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
And, of course, it’s true. If we live in the sort of utterly lawless society that Bush appears to be envisioning, it’s very easy to take care that the nonexistent laws be faithfully executed. In a country with the rule of law, by contrast, the president has a lot of hard work that might distract from having people tortured.
After rounding up evidence that the tenuous series of cease-fires that are currently keeping Iraq at levels of violence worse than what we saw in 2003 or 2004 but better than 2006 or 2007 may be unraveling, Fred Kaplan points to some indications that Admiral Fallon at CENTCOM thinks we should swiftly transition from un-surging in Iraq to deeper cutbacks in the force levels. This has tended to be a tension throughout the surge period, with a president psychologically and politically committed to Iraq willing to pour endlessly resources into that country, and a commanding general in David Petraeus who naturally likes the idea of his area of responsibility getting all the juice, but a host of other officials between Bush and Petraeus concerned about the strategic costs of this sort of overcommitment to Iraq.
Here’s Barack Obama talking today in Denver:
It’s time for new leadership that understands that the way to win a debate with John McCain is not by nominating someone who agreed with him on voting for the war in Iraq; who agreed with him by voting to give George Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iran; who agrees with him in embracing the Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to leaders we don’t like; and who actually differed with him by arguing for exceptions for torture before changing positions when the politics of the moment changed.
We need to offer the American people a clear contrast on national security, and when I am the nominee of the Democratic Party, that’s exactly what I will do. Talking tough and tallying up your years in Washington is no substitute for judgment, and courage, and clear plans. It’s not enough to say you’ll be ready from Day One – you have to be right from Day One.
Obviously, Obama, too, would have some problems against John McCain who’ll argue that he’s too green. But the basic spirit here seems correct to me. You want to argue that discontentment with the fruits of Bush’s policies should cause you to vote against John McCain, and the best argument you can make to that effect is that Bush and McCain have very similar records. But to make that argument, you need to be able to step a couple of paces back from your opponent and really wind up and throw a solid punch.
I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see nonsense like this from either President Clinton or President Obama. Even if neither winds up really governing the way I’d be happiest with, we’ll no longer have a policy guided by a knee-jerk aversion to pragmatism.
It seems that Barack Obama must remain forever in purgatory as far as Commentary‘s concerned since he once — shudder — called for an “even-handed approach” to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Needless to say, it was a similar formulation that got Howard Dean in so much trouble back during the 2004 cycle.
I also have to say that this strikes me as a curiously nonsensical red line for Israel’s false friends to be drawing. After all, supporting an “even-handed approach” sounds like exactly the sort of line someone not utterly steeped in the latest talking points might cross by accident. But on top of that, no matter how much you may believe deep in your heart that Arabs are less human than Jews and therefore less worthy of our consideration, it seems like for tactical purposes you ought to at least pretend to favor an even-handed approach and then just proclaim whichever approach you favor to be the even-handed one. That’s just common sense.
There’s a bunch of progressive groups experimenting with some interesting “Iraq recession” messaging which sounds promising to me, but as Paul Krugman explains doesn’t fit the facts particularly well:
The fact is that war is, in general, expansionary for the economy, at least in the short run. World War II, remember, ended the Great Depression. The $10 billion or so we’re spending each month in Iraq mainly goes to US-produced goods and services, which means that the war is actually supporting demand. Yes, there would be infinitely better ways to spend the money. But at a time when a shortfall of demand is the problem, the Iraq war nonetheless acts as a sort of WPA, supporting employment directly and indirectly.
Krugman mentions the war’s impact on the price of oil as one potential caveat. I would also add that the war’s been going on long enough at this point that we’re feeling some of the long-term consequences of war-related spending along with the short-term ones. Americans are probably somewhat poorer on average than we would be had the war never been fought. But the war’s not responsible for the economic slowdown — in the short-term it’s helping to prop the economy up. Indeed, the DC area in particular (though also, I would note, Arizona — though obviously Saint John’s hawkish views reflect pure straight talky principle and owe nothing to the large number of defense contractors he represents) has seen a lot of defense-fueled growth.
President Bush yesterday signed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after initially rejecting Congress’s first version because it would have allegedly opened the Iraqi government to “expensive lawsuits.”
Even though he forced Congress to change its original bill, Bush’s signature yesterday came with a little-noticed signing statement, claiming that provisions in the law “could inhibit the President’s ability to carry out his constitutional obligations.” CQ reports on the provisions Bush plans to disregard:
One such provision sets up a commission to probe contracting fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another expands protections for whistleblowers who work for government contractors. A third requires that U.S. intelligence agencies promptly respond to congressional requests for documents. And a fourth bars funding for permanent bases in Iraq and for any action that exercises U.S. control over Iraq’s oil money.
In his “Memorandum of Justification” for the waiver, Bush cited his Nov. 26 “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship” between Iraq and the United States. This agreement has been aggressively opposed by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress as not only unprecedented, but also potentially unconstitutional because it was enacted without the agreement of the legislation branch.
Today on CNN, Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-MA) voiced concern that this declaration may indefinitely commit U.S. troops to fighting Iraq’s civil wars:
Involved in those declaration of principles, there is an implicit potential for the United States military forces, years from now, being involved in a full-blown civil war in Iraq. And I don’t believe that’s where the American people want us and I don’t think that’s in the best interest of our national security.
Earlier this month, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced legislation requiring the Bush administration “to consult with Congress before moving forward with any agreement that could lead to long term security arrangements and other major economic and political commitments.”
Throughout his presidency, Bush has issued more than 151 signing statements challenging 1149 provisions of laws.
Here’s a random note from last night. Bush, talking about a free trade pact with Colombia, said “If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere.” The purveyors of false populism are, I guess, Hugo Chavez and other murky conspirators. But why is it false populism? Chavez is a real populist. Maybe you think he’s a populist peddling fake solutions to Latin America’s problems, but he’s certainly not a secret pro-business neoliberal.
Meanwhile, what about failing to ratify the Colombia trade deal will embolden false populism? This seems like a bizarre context in which to start applying fight them in Tikrit so we don’t need to fight them in Tuscon logic.
Roger Pilon, Cato’s chair in constitution studies, is apparently one of that breed of libertarians who believes strongly in unlimited government surveillance powers plus retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecom firms. Fortunately, we’ve also got this other breed of libertarianism around. Still, it’s a bit hard to take Cato’s claims to be sincerely serving a doctrine of small government when its people stake out this kind of position.
Here’s a bit on Saint John of Arizona flip-flopping on the Law of the Sea Treaty:
It’s no surprise, really, as he’s flip-flopped on a ton of stuff, though none of that seems to have penetrated into the narrative about him.
UPDATE: More here.
Indonesian dictator Suharto is one of those people who I’d vaguely assumed was already dead until I read a story about his demise. I’m not sure I have much to say about Suharto beyond the obvious — bad man, killed lots of people, etc. — but John Quiggin has an interesting post making the case that since his departure from power “Indonesia has been remarkably successful in dealing with what was, in many respects, a poisonous legacy from the Suharto era.”
Bush said: “Over the past 7 years, we have increased funding for veterans by more than 95 percent. As we increase funding, we must also reform our veterans system to meet the needs of a new war and a new generation.”
FACT — 1.8 MILLION VETERANS LACK HEALTH INSURANCE: “The new study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, estimated that in 2004 nearly 1.8 million veterans were uninsured and unable to get care in veterans’ facilities.” [New York Times, 11/9/07] Read more
Bush said: “We have also changed the way we deliver aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account. This program strengthens democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative.”
FACT — MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE PROGRAM WILL SOON BE BANKRUPT: “President Bush’s signature foreign-assistance program is likely to run out of money this year, leaving in the lurch several poor countries that have labored to meet its strict eligibility standards, according to aid officials. Mr. Bush introduced the Millennium Challenge program in 2002 as a new approach to fix the perceived failures of overseas-development assistance.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/22/07]
FACT — BUSH IGNORED DEMOCRACY DURING TRIP TO SAUDI ARABIA: During his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Bush didn’t meet with “one Saudi dissident or political activist, much less a democrat.” [Newsweek, 1/14/08]