Monday, June 28, 2004

Bush's defense record

National Journal has an in-depth article on Bush's record as commander-in-chief. There is praise for the Rumsfield's transformation, and hints that Rumsfeld hasn't gone far enough! Of course there is also concern about the unprecedented operating tempo at which Bush's foreign policy has obligated the military to keep up. Something not so commonly discussed is that not only is the army's current manpower arrangement unsustainable, but so is the current budget arrangement:
Meanwhile, Bush has also inherited, and retained mostly unchanged, the Clinton-era plan for procuring new weapons, a plan that also counts on major long-term spending increases. Overall, by the same CBO figures, the Defense budget is on track to grow from $383 billion in fiscal 2004 to $439 billion in fiscal 2009 -- above the peak of either Vietnam or the Reagan buildup, in constant dollars. And CBO warns that its estimates do not include likely weapons overruns or the supplemental bills for funding the global war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

Thanks to Congress's generous supplementals, "the Department of Defense has not really been asked to absorb any of the costs" of Iraq, said CSBA's Kosiak. But historically, defense spending rises and falls in cycles, Kosiak warned, and "if we're not going to see budgets of $450-plus billion a year for the next decade, we're not going to be able to afford everything in the administration's plans."
I'd gladly support a $500 billion defense budget, but it's not politically feasible. The deficit has probably reached the ceiling of political acceptability (and certainly passed my personal ceiling), and I can't think of any sufficiently potent combination of spending cuts and tax increases that could actually get through Congress.


Niall Ferguson has a nice WSJ article arguing that the future holds a real possibility of a period of "apolarity" as he terms it, in which US power over the world recedes but nothing really takes it place. It is not a pleasant scenario. That's the thing aobut a hyperpower; you never miss it until it's gone.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The clock is ticking

More on Darfur:
The U.S. Agency for International Development estimated that at least 350,000 people will die of disease and malnutrition over the next nine months.
Read the rest.

Friday, June 25, 2004


So, what's been happening in Fallujah in the past few days? I keep reading about the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his terrorists. We seem to be doing a lot from the air: "U.S. aircraft last week dropped leaflets on the city urging residents to turn in al-Zarqawi," and "airstrike after airstrike after airstrike. Question: why did we put ourselves in the position where we can't do much more than strike from the air? The Marines had our enemies in Falujah surrounded and were about to finish them off. Then we seized a cease-fire from the jaws of victory. As part of this cease-fire we handed the problem of Fallujah to the "Fallujah Brigade." Just as in Tora Bora, we sent in poor surrogates and they have failed miserably, with the insurgents still in control of Fallujah:
The travelers entered Fallujah first through a checkpoint operated by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a U.S.-trained paramilitary unit meant to add muscle to the American-led occupation. The men in black berets distractedly waved cars past, onto the city's main street.

Then it became apparent who was really in charge. A few yards in, wild-eyed young men in masks pulled cars over at will, searched them and demanded identification documents. No one could leave or enter without passing muster. Other groups of fighters in masks roamed side streets and alleys, brandishing rifles at all sorts of angles.
Combining the article of the last link with our resorts to airstrikes fully convinces me that Fallujah remains a haven for terrorists.

This is just one aspect of the woe from our lack of resolve in Fallujah. Let's look at other levels. First consider the humanitarian aspect. Although many residents of Fallujah escaped becoming collateral damage in a pitched battle in the Marines took control of the city, they did not escape tyranny:
A few weeks ago, masked insurgents, apparently religious Sunnis, paraded four men through town who had been caught selling beer and whiskey along the banks of the Euphrates. The men were shirtless, and their backs were bleeding. They had been savagely whipped for selling alcohol, which is legal in Iraq. There have also been reports of masked men running checkpoints in the city and enforcing a strict Islamic code in which dominoes, videos and Western-style haircuts are banned.
Next, consider what Fallujah has done to our credibility. We said we would find the killers of the four contractors and bring them to justice, which is kind of hard when the insurgents still control the city (see last link). From the same NYT article as the above quote, we learn that,
Mahmood Othman, a Kurdish politician who sat on the governing council, called Falluja ''another Taliban'' and complained that the deal the Marines made set a bad example. ''This could be a model for the rest of Iraq,'' Othman said. ''Whenever you want your own rule, you fight the Americans, and they'll back off.'' Othman pointed to Karbala and Najaf, two Shiite holy cities where Americans are contemplating granting some form of local control to the very militiamen they were just fighting. ''See,'' he said. ''More Fallujas.''
You'd think, given the perception of this administration as incredibly hawkish, that this sort of self-defeating halfheartedness would be only be heard of in recollections of administrations past.

Of course, what was done was done for a reason. Again quoting the NYT article:
An American military commander responded to that concern by saying that nobody should be complaining about Latif [leader of the Fallujah Brigade]. He was the best option they had, the commander said, short of invading the city and putting a marine on every street corner.
Granted, the alternative of victory would have been costly both in blood and publicity, but - and I strongly suspect this is because we gave our enemies such a haven - we still face a loss of blood and publicity in the form of more terror attacks from al-Zarqawi's network. Hopefully, as Iraqi security forces mature, they will properly deal with our common enemies. The new Iraqi prime minister has made a point of talking tough, but actions speak louder than words. We must wait and see.


I've been reading a steady trickle of articles about Sudan over the years, none of them flattering. First it was fighting in southern Sudan, and now Darfur, in which the battle appears to be more one-sided and possibly even more vicious:
Half a million people have been uprooted, with their villages burned to the ground, and 100,000 (the lucky ones) have taken refuge across the border in Chad. Ten thousand, and perhaps far more, have been murdered outright. Rape is ubiquitous; victims are often scarred or branded to make their shame permanent. Wells are poisoned to make sure the survivors will not survive long. When those uprooted are unable to plant crops in the rainy season, which has recently begun, starvation will threaten the region's entire population of 5 million. And this is not, as the Sudanese government insists, the work of mere rogue militias; government jets have been seen strafing villages in support of the marauders.
This is isn't even close to the first article I read about Darfur, but it's the straw that broke the camel's back. Stopping this atrocity is a cause worthy of Western military might. Sudan needs to be given an ultimatum. If threats don't work, then threats must be carried out, ideally with troops from countries that aren't militarily stretched thin in Iraq.

Nice racket II

Nuclear blackmail update:
North Korea wants 2,000 megawatts of power per year -- about one-fourth of its current total consumption -- in exchange for freezing work on its nuclear program, the Kyodo news agency reported, citing diplomatic sources, on the second day of talks in Beijing. In the United States, a megawatt can supply power to about 1,000 homes.

It was unclear whether U.S. officials would discuss such a request since the United States said North Korea must commit to dismantling the program, not just freezing development.

Japan and South Korea said they would consider giving North Korea fuel oil if it freezes its nuclear program as a step toward its eventual dismantling.
Ooh, what a great deal. They freeze their nuclear program - at least the parts of it we know about - until they think they can extract a bigger payment from their neighbors. I realized there are no good military options when it comes to North Korea, but wouldn't a standoff be better than paying tribute? North Korea's neighbors differ on this point, and I'm sure they have reasons; I just can't fathom what they are.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Nice racket

Well, what do you know, nuclear blackmail might just work after all. Even if we're not willing to buy off North Korea, apparently everyone else is:
Under the plan, South Korea and possibly other countries could begin providing heavy fuel oil to the North's battered economy immediately if the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, promises to dismantle the country's plutonium and uranium arms programs, U.S. officials said.
Once North Korea began to display and secure its materials and weapons -- and its claims have been verified by U.S. intelligence -- the United States and the other nations at the negotiations would issue provisional security assurances.
North Korea would be given only three months to halt and disclose all of its nuclear activities, including a secret uranium enrichment program that it says does not exist, and to begin securing and destroying nuclear materials under the supervision of international monitors, the officials said. Otherwise, these preliminary benefits would be halted.
Why are we going along with this? The NYT explains:
Mr. Bush's critics say he waited far too long to make his offer; Mr. Kerry argues it should have happened early in 2001, and others say right after the American invasion of Iraq. Hawks inside the administration believe it is still too early.

But China, Russia, South Korea and Japan said they were willing to provide North Korea with fuel oil, which the United States cut off a year and a half ago, forcing Mr. Bush's hand.
You all can probably guess what I think of this. What if North Korea doesn't meet the three-month deadline? This situation has occurred before in the 90s. Back then North Korea's neighbors were willing to give her another chance. I expect they will again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Where are the WMDs? That nagging post-invasion question still nags me. Were they destroyed before the invasion? If so, then why didn't Saddam demonstrate this and keep his palaces? If they weren't destroyed before the invasion, were they sent to Syria? Did the looters get `them and sell them? Are they still in Iraq but we're just too incompetent to find them? All of the above? I can't seem to productively think about this issue. No theory I come up with satisfies. I am reduced to considering wholly unsatisfying possibilities, such as many weapons components simply being sold as scrap. I guess I will just have to file my questions in the back of my mind, along with other modern mysteries, like who was responsible for those anthrax attacks. 'Tis frustrating.


Speaking of Russia, another way we can discern the extent to which they are or are not our friends is how they deal with Belarus, a rarely-mentioned but troublesome little corner of the world:
Belarus's dictatorial president, Alexander Lukashenko, made Hussein such a key military, political and economic partner that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in testimony to Congress a year after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, singled out Belarus as the country most likely to accept Hussein if he were to flee Iraq.
Ominously, Belarus has not only reportedly sold weapons to six of the seven countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism but has also continued to defy Washington in doing so -- even with the war on terrorism in full swing. In the case of possible Belarusan involvement in weapons sales to Syria, Lukashenko has not even attempted to conceal his military assistance. "No matter how severely we are admonished for it," he has been quoted as saying, "we'll continue to help Syria militarily, because they have promised to help us in the same way."
Over the past eight years, two U.S. administrations have halfheartedly tried to convince Russia of the need to change the situation in Belarus. Russia, however, has chosen not to use its overwhelming leverage on Lukashenko to improve his dangerous behavior. As a result, the Belarusan regime has become more belligerent and increasingly dictatorial, and it now openly provides economic and military assistance to state sponsors of terrorism.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Russian intel

Interesting. The Russians thought Iraq was planning attacks against the United States, and warned us of this before the war. I hope more details about this come out, if only to satisfy my curiosity.

Daniel Drezner makes a good point about this, asking Putin,
why didn't the information change your mind about the war? You have intel saying that one sovereign state is planning to commit acts of aggression against another sovereign state in violation of the laws of war.

If that's not a justification for preventive action, what is?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Chalk one up for democracy

Science confirms common sense (though they say common sense isn't that common):
Initiative states spend less than non-initiative states. Initiative states concentrate more of their spending at the local level. And initiative states raise a greater portion of their revenue through fees rather than through taxes. The subversion hypothesis, however, gets no support from Matsusaka's research. In each case, the initiative states move public policy in a direction that it consistent rather than inconsistent with popular will. Voters tend to want their state governments to spend less money, etc. Hence, instead of subverting the true popular will, the initiative process appears to be giving that popular will a means with which to influence public policy.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Wasted breath

Surprise, surprise. Bush asks for troops in Iraq and France say no. Why did we even bother asking for NATO troops in Iraq? Surely we knew such an idea would be vetoed. Perhaps I don't understand the finer points of diplomacy, but it seems to me we are wasting our time and giving ourselves bad publicity by going around asking for help when we know the answer is "no." Realistically, almost all countries are already helping in Iraq to the extent they wish to, and we can't significantly change that extent. This is not a diplomatic failure, and it's not something that can be fixed by electing a new president. This is simply a manifestation of the divergent interests of nations.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Loss for words

Crowds Force Extension of Reagan Viewing. Reading what normal people as well as all the columnists say about Reagan, I wish I had something eloquent to add. Unfortunately, I'm too young to add anything but second-hand praise. Let me just say that, putting on my historian's hat, I have no problem calling Reagan the best president since Lincoln.