Tuesday, May 25, 2004

I fear the U.N. even when they bring gifts

One thing Kerry and Bush agree on is the need to be involved in the U.N. Even if folks within the Administration like Cheney don't want anything to do with this organization, Bush is staying the course, as he reminded us last night:
The fourth step in our plan is to enlist additional international support for Iraq's transition. At every stage, the United States has gone to the United Nations -- to confront Saddam Hussein, to promise serious consequences for his actions, and to begin Iraqi reconstruction. Today, the United States and Great Britain presented a new resolution in the Security Council to help move Iraq toward self-government. I've directed Secretary Powell to work with fellow members of the Council to endorse the timetable the Iraqis have adopted, to express international support for Iraq's interim government, to reaffirm the world's security commitment to the Iraqi people, and to encourage other U.N. members to join in the effort. Despite past disagreements, most nations have indicated strong support for the success of a free Iraq. And I'm confident they will share in the responsibility of assuring that success.
I think Bush and Kerry are both far too patient with the U.N. I thought Bush was wasting his time going to the U.N. a second time before invading Iraq, and I really hope to think he only did it to help Blair politically. Jed Babin now points out the folly of our newest dance with the U.N.
President Bush is — again — submitting to wishful thinking by making his plan for Iraq subject to the goodwill of the U.N. The proposed Security Council resolution introduced Monday will achieve the same success as the previous handful: none at all, and for the same reasons the others have failed.

First, the new resolution proposes that the Iraqi Development Fund — the follow-in scam to the U.N. Oil-for-Food swindle — be subjected to some level of control by the new Iraqi government, and not left solely to the U.N.

Second, the proposal also says that the "multinational force under unified (i.e., American) command" that remains in Iraq, "...shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance and security in Iraq including by preventing and deterring terrorism...." That language — the most important in the resolution — would allow us to deal with Iran and Syria from our strength in Iraq. Those words are a guarantee that the resolution will not pass in this form, if it passes at all. Relying on the U.N. is, as it has been since the 1991 Gulf War, a sucker bet. If — as is most likely — the U.N. resolution fails to pass in this form, Bush's plan will not have failed. But the perception will be that it did. And the panic will resume.
It's simple. The U.N., even if we restrict to the Security Council, has member states with interests very much opposed to ours. Thus, we will never succeed in this war entirely or even substantially under the U.N.'s blessing. Anytime we actually make an agreement with the U.N., I am deeply suspicious of what we have agreed to, given the states that comprise the U.N.

A lighter Ledeen

Michael Ledeen, who is usually telling of the dangers from Iran with his "faster please" sense of urgency, has actually written a somewhat light-hearted column. He provides a bunch of quotes from senior Shiite clerics in Najaf denouncing Sadr, and then concludes with "The only thing they might have added is the impressive obesity of the man. I mean, how does one explain that a religious leader of the poor and downtrodden is one of the fattest guys in the Middle East? He's certainly not calorie challenged."

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Has it really been thirteen days since my last post? I've spent a lot more time on math relative to politics of late. I haven't even been following the news in much depth. Now I'm about to go to this logic conference. I've got a few ideas for meaty posts, but they will have to wait until I get back. Until then, let me tersely link to a few items, most of which I've been meaning to blog for a while, but never got around to doing so.

First is Steven Den Beste's "Essential Library," which mirrors more than a few good essays by various folks about foreign policy, all of them relevant to our current conflict. If I were to have an "essential library" of my own, I'd certainly include The Jacksonian Tradition, by Walter Russell Mead, and Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology, by Lee Harris (in that order of importance). So, at the very least, read these two essays.

Second, I would like to note my agreement with the WSJ that the thwarted poison gas attack in Jordan was grossly underreported.

On a less serious note, feast your eyes on this county-by-county map of how various folks in the U.S. mispronounce "soda." (My prejudice towards soda comes from my father, who grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.) Also - surprise, surprise - The Day After Tomorrow has nothing to do with science.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Too much on the back burner

Robert Kagan in the Washington Post:
That is what President Bush has been saying all along. But Bush himself is the great mystery in this mounting debacle. His commitment to stay the course in Iraq seems utterly genuine. Yet he continues to tolerate policymakers, military advisers and a dysfunctional policymaking apparatus that are making the achievement of his goals less and less likely.
National Review has recently had a few articles strongly denouncing the State Dept's Iraq occupation policies. I'm not sure the alternative occupation envisioned by Pentagon would have worked any better; I suspect it would have lead to another Afghanistan, essentially run by local warlords. But there is no doubt the State Dept. has made lots of mistakes that they haven't been punished for. Likewise, after 9-11, heads did not roll at the CIA and FBI. They should have. Bush takes personal loyalty too far. As this article by Jacob Levy argues more thoroughly, our government officials must be accountable for their failures.

Another thing about Bush which is a mixed blessing is his focus on a short list of goals. He may float lots of ideas (say, immigration reform, going to Mars, social security reform, etc.), but most of these do not receive any further investment of political captial. Bush currently seems to have two main goals: success in Iraq and keeping the tax cuts. Before 9-11, education reform was a main goal, and he did pass a major bill. After 9-11 and for a lot of 2002, Afghanistan was a main goal. Unfortunately, Medicare prescription drug coverage was also a main goal. When Bush has made something a main goal, he has thus far met that goal (we don't know yet how things will turn out in Iraq). But for the lesser goals, policy drifts. The result is often a very unsatisfactory status quo. For example, Steven Den Beste notes that,
They [mid-East nations] may make a handful of token police raids on locals which are then claimed to be "militants", whether they actually were or not, as a way for them to try to relieve the diplomatic pressure. Implementation of token reforms is another kind of smokescreen.

This is where I think that the Bush administration has failed. In an SOTU speech, Bush famously (or notoriously) said to the leaders of the world, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But he no longer seems to be following through on that.
Other examples: Our immigration system has not been reformed, nor has Social Security. Also, we remain at an impasse with North Korea, yet we haven't even tried things like economic sanctions. If we succeed in Iraq, I will forgive Bush for the majority of his inaction on other problems, but I'd really like to know what Bush's major goals are for his second term. Are they really just success in Iraq and keeping the tax cuts? These are all I can discern from his election campaign thus far. At the very least, I demand entitlement reform and that we apply a whole lot more pressure on our Islamist foes outside Iraq.

Another good point from Kagan's article (you really should read the whole thing):
The truth is, if the goal is stability, that the alternatives are no easier to carry out and no less costly in money and lives than the present attempt to create some form of democracy in Iraq. The real alternative to the present course is not stability at all but to abandon Iraq to whatever horrible fate awaits it: chaos, civil war, brutal tyranny, terrorism or more likely a combination of all of these -- with all that entails for Iraqis, the Middle East and American interests.
There is no easy way out of Iraq. A lot of people don't want to face this. Some are grasping at straws like the U.N. and "allies" that wouldn't help us in Iraq before and realistically won't ever nontrivially help us in Iraq, no matter how nice we are to them. Such people have already given up. They want to cut our losses, e.g., Nixon's "peace with honer," which was the halfway house to our complete abandonment of South Vietnam in 1975. I'm willing to forgive a lot of Bush's faults on other issues because I don't believe he will give up in Iraq.