Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, March 31, 2005

PRESIDENT JIMINY CRICKET

A long post on "The Lessons of History" that I wrote over at Citizen-Journal. Visit and comment.

Bush's approval rating has hovered in the 40s lately. Why? Bush is unpopular with the American public for the same reason that Jiminy Cricket was unpopular with Pinocchio. He tries to get us to do things we ought to do, but don't really want to. Bush is pushing us to tackle the long-term fiscal challenge posed by the Social Security program, and to substitute something less generous perhaps, but more sustainable and consistent with values of personal responsibility. He is pushing us to shoulder the burden of promoting freedom around the world. He wants to keep Terri Schiavo alive, and by implication for all of us to reject euthanasia even when it's convenient. And he wants us to reform immigration laws so that foreign-born people who are peacefully earning their livings in our country are not pushed into a shadowy underclass existence.

Bush is facing up to big problems, big moral problems, that we would prefer to ignore. Good for him, even if we don't like it.

Friday, March 25, 2005

RAISE TAXES AND PRIVATIZE SOCIAL SECURITY

I'm disgusted with the Democrats for refusing to entertain the notion of private accounts. As a twenty-something, I've been despoiled by the program, and the only way my trust can be restored is by giving me something I own.

But there's a parallel form of numbskulled denial on the other side: the Republican refusal to consider tax hikes. Yes, I want a smaller government; yes, I realize that a low-tax environment is good for business and growth; yes, I realize that taxes are a burden and reduce labor incentives, and so on. But. Deficits are bad for the economy, too-- worse than taxes, I'm convinced. It would be wonderful if Congress would cut spending. But they aren't. So we need to raise taxes.

We especially need to raise taxes if we're going to create private accounts. One of the big advantages of private accounts is that it would allow the government to eliminate its dissaving. Under the present system, the Trust Fund is required to buy Treasury bonds, and the government has to borrow to make this possible. Private accounts can raise the savings rate, but the government has to take the opportunity to reduce its dissaving, i.e. raise taxes.

The good guys in politics today are Republicans like Lindsay Graham, who are willing to entertain tax hikes, and Democrats like Joe Lieberman, who are willing to modernize Social Security. But they are sadly scarce. Voters need to treasure such politicians, and re-elect them by wide margins, so that others will take note.

WHY DOES MUGABE BOTHER TO HOLD ELECTIONS?

There's going to be an election in Zimbabwe on March 31st. Here's what Mugabe is doing to win it:

And ZANU people say bluntly that only their supporters will get government food aid. Farming has collapsed, a drought is now parching the southern half of the country, most aid from outside the country is blocked, and AIDS is rampant. Last month the Johannesburg-based Famine Early Warning System Network, estimated that 5.8m Zimbabweans, in a population of around 11.5m, desperately need food aid—or they could starve. So voting the “wrong way” looks to many of them like a death-sentence.

Furthermore, the ZANU-appointed electoral commission is happy to use an out-of-date voters' roll. This, along with ballot stuffing, could be ZANU's single biggest vote-rigging advantage. A full register has never been disclosed. A partial audit of the roll by the MDC in Bulawayo shows why. Of a sample group of 500 voters, barely half were listed correctly. Nearly a fifth of those named were dead; officials ensure that such “ghosts” are loyal ZANU voters. The South Africa-based Zimbabwe Institute, which advises the MDC, reckons that this probably gives ZANU an 800,000-vote bonus in a voting population of around 5.3m. In addition, the 3m-odd Zimbabweans, most of them very likely MDC backers, who have been driven into exile by economic collapse or government repression, are barred from postal voting.


And yet this is not a Saddam-type election, where the dictator gets 100% of the votes:

[I]f the poll were free and fair, the MDC would romp home. Despite massive intimidation and vote-rigging in the last general election, in 2000, the newly formed party won 57 seats, with 47% of votes cast, against 62 seats for Mr Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF (to give it its full acronym) which officially took 48.6% of the vote...

Mr Mugabe seems determined, this time, to win two-thirds of the seats, so he can then change the constitution. Among other things, he might scrap a provision that requires an election soon after a president steps down.


First, Mugabe is an international pariah whose misrule has driven the country to inflation and famine, so why would anyone vote for him? Second, if Mugabe is willing to rig elections and use intimidation, why doesn't he just cancel the election, or, better yet, falsify the results to give himself 99%, like Arab dictators do? Does it help his self-image to avoid making his elections into total travesties? Or would he for some reason be unable to rig elections that much-- because the loyalty of certain elements within his ruling apparatus hinges on the observance of electoral forms?

The uprising in Kyrgyzstan is testimony to the global appeal of the democratic idea. But the pantomime election in Zimbabwe is weirder evidence of the same thing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

A NEW BLOG HOME (FOR A WHILE)

For the past week, I've been blogging over at Citizen-Journal, with the label "Good Samaritan." I'm not sure whether I'll stay there permanently, but I think I'll try it for a while. It's led to some interesting discussions. On the other hand, I'll have to lay off the radical pro-immigration stuff. Maybe I'll stop by here every now and then to blog about immigration.

On that topic, I like these comments from President Fox:

PRIMING THE PUMP for his meeting with President Bush at the "Western White House," Mexican President Vicente Fox stirred things up again when he told reporters in Mexico City last week that walls along the U.S.-Mexican border were "discriminatory" and "against freedom."

Asked about a fence that U.S. officials are building along the border south of San Diego -- a barrier referred to, by people on both sides, as the "Tortilla Curtain" -- Fox said the structure "must be demolished."

"No country that is proud of itself should build walls ... it doesn't make any sense," Fox said.


Whether these comments are good from the tactical point of view I don't know. (The author of the piece I linked to thinks not.) But I certainly agree with Fox, and I wonder whether other developing-country leaders will follow suit. Developing countries that condemn rich countries for their closed borders have justice on their side. Why not brandish it? (I think India and Brazil have already started doing so during trade negotiations.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

john jansen is also puzzled by the institution of "trolls" over at Brad DeLong's place:

what exactly is a troll? i have intermittently posted stuff at left wing sites and have taken a ton of flak. i have posted reasoned positions which i thought were worthy of discussion.do these blog sites,be they left or right,require that all postings be of the same general view or is polite and robust debate encouraged.........onr thing that disturbs me is gratuitous use of the "f" word.i think it demeans the writer and makes me wonder about his/her intellect.the eschaton site seems to have the most violators there.anyway,most of these things post interesting and worthwhile stuff and it is fun reading.be well and peace.jjj


Brad DeLong likes to maintain a conversation underlain by certain assumptions, e.g. that Bush is bad, the Iraq War was bad, Social Security reform is a terrible idea. Readers don't necessarily have to share those assumptions, and they can even stealthily undermine or question. But Brad doesn't commenters openly to question those assumptions, and he won't allow commenters to attack them.

Is this a conversation worth having? Sure. A good debate usually rests on some common premises. But this kind of censored conversation has trouble adapting if its assumptions turn out to be wrong.

Wolfowitz for the World Bank? Wow!

Here's David Brooks' take on Wolfowitz. I think it's a great idea. The World Bank's development mission and the neocon's vision of spreading liberty really have a lot in common. But there will be a serious culture clash. The international bureaucrats at the World Bank, by and large, despise the Bush administration and all its works.

In my "Guelfs and Ghibellines" essay last fall, I argued that our world is, and is likely to be increasingly, characterized by a "papal-imperial struggle" between the US and UN.

The World Bank is on the "papal" side of the lines, preferring institutions, procedures and international law to events and personalities, pious, high-principled, bookish and ecumenical, dedicated to the poor, but lethargic, well-paid, constrained by political correctness. Europeans are said to be

nervous that Wolfowitz would prove similar to former World Bank head and Former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Radelet said McNamara was accused of channeling aid to nations based not on need but on their support of U.S. policy.


I think it's more likely that Wolfowitz will absorb the World Bank's ethos and outlook, but mingle it with his own commitment to global democratization. This could lead to a fascinating synergy, by which the Bank would acquire a double mission of promoting both development and democracy-- whether future US administrations like it or not.

This promises to be a major setback for the cynical (a.k.a. "realist") school of foreign policy.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

THE CASE FOR REFORM: MORAL VALUES

Jonathan Chait has a point:

[S]elfishness has always been at the core of Bush’s economic agenda. He passed tax cuts by dismissing Democratic worries that it would burden future generations with debt. Remember him waving dollar bills and promising, “it’s your money”? He organized lobbies representing the affluent to push for the tax cuts that would benefit them disproportionately. Karl Rove’s re-election strategy was built on appealing to the narrow self-interest of a series of groups. Farmers got lavish crop payments. The steel, shrimp, textile and lumber industry got tariffs. HMOs and pharmaceuticals got lavish subsidies. Etc.

Unsurprisingly, Bush approached Social Security privatization in the same spirit. The strategy was to divide up the electorate and appeal to each segment in very self-interested terms. They would neutralize seniors with the assurance that their benefits wouldn’t be touched. The young would be lured in with promises of amassing great fortunes in private accounts. Blacks would be peeled off from the Democratic coalition with bogus claims that Social Security harms them disproportionately. And Wall Street and other businesses, who smelled large profits down the road, would pony up tens of millions of dollars to fund the whole campaign.

But it hasn’t worked. And the main reason is that the public is not quite as selfish as the conservatives thought.

The privatizers’ weakest assumption turned out to be their belief that the elderly would support privatization if they knew they wouldn’t be affected.

I partly agree. (On foreign policy, of course, it's the opposite: Bush cares about liberating enslaved nations; the Democrats want to keep the money for schools and fire departments back home.) People are motivated much more by moral concerns, and less by self-interest, than people give them credit for. To me, the case for Social Security reform is moral first, economic second. Moral because with the stock market, retirees are not insulated from the economic cycle, but take a bit of the pain with the rest of us when hard times hit. Moral because property is tied to work, because people would save for their retirement, because generations would not be born into the world with huge burdens of unfunded liabilities. Moral because if we could increase our savings rate, this would spill over into a reduced trade deficit and lower interest rates worldwide, and Social Security reform is the most promising way to do that. Moral because asset ownership and investorhood spread, people will be more open to letting in immigrants, since their welfare will depend not only on capital but on labor. Moral because if children can inherit, they will have a useful economic stimulus—and we all have mouths to feed, after all—to care for their parents in old age. And so on. If it were just higher returns, I’d be against it too.

That said, the pollsters are revolting against the distorted media coverage which makes Social Security reform unpopular. Here’s Zogby letting Republicans know they’re on the right track after all. And Rasmussen decided to write its own headline this time: “Just 28% Favor Leaving Social Security Unchanged: Plurality Prefers Personal Accounts Over Status Quo.” Yeah.

SO I'M A TROLL

For the past couple days I've had a good time commenting over at Brad DeLong's blog. I found it interesting because it seems to be a liberal- and Democrat-dominated environment. I've been on the lookout for such venues, because I'd like to counteract the tendency of the blogosphere to get bifurcated into a right camp and a left camp which just talk past each other.

I put in a few comments which I wish I could quote; but the best of them have been deleted. Here's one, though:

SteveH writes:

"Good gosh, Lancelot Finn. How many generations of Burmese or North Koreans or Sudanese or anyone else are you willing to sacrifice? Should the USA eliminate dictators, who are no threat to us, anywhere and everywhere?"

Tough question. We don't have the resources to do what we did in Iraq in all those countries. Iraq was the model, the symbol, the blazing of the trail towards a new dawn of freedom. Now diplomacy and hard-headed strategizing is needed to turn the precedent into a principle. Right, everyone?


This morning I've got an e-mail from Brad, which said simply:

You've crossed the Troll Line...


I didn't know what this meant, but (to get ahead of the story) he eventually helped me out with this link.

I wrote Brad:

Maybe there's something wrong with the site, or maybe it's just my incompetence, but I couldn't find a description of what a "troll" is anywhere. Does this mean I'm not allowed to post any more comments, or does it mean I should do it less often and try to be more careful about the contents thereof? If the former, I'm not sure how I feel about it. Of course, I'll respect your wishes, as it's your site, but it seems a little bit cheap and maybe cowardly to exclude those who
disagree with your readership, thus stifling debate and encourage the bubble mentality that has obviously developed. But probably you just mean that I should tone it down and not try to hog the limelight, and in that case, you're probably right. I didn't mean to hijack the discussions, but one comment led to another...


And:

So it looks like being a "troll" means that all your comments are deleted from your blog? Wow.

Sorry, Brad, I was willing to defer to your wishes and quit. Still am. But I've definitely lost some respect for you.


And then, when I noticed that a few of my comments were still there, generally in truncated form and sometimes with his rebuttals, I sent this:

I took another look at the blog. So you've left some of them on there, but you throw in some responses. That's better than I thought, thanks. I'm still a bit annoyed that you deleted some of the best ones, however. The one on the liberals' double standard in wanting to impeach Bush but not Saddam was particularly good, and just what your readership needs to hear. And very much on-point, too. If you wanted to delete some and not others, why not the "that's crazy-talk" comment, which might have been pushing the limits of civil debate?

I'm torn. I think you're halfway to engaging in debate. And it's okay for you to try to control your forum. But the way you've done it shows a fear of being challenged at least as much as a desire to keep the debate on topic.

Since a lot of people responded to my comments, the fact that some of them disappeared without so much as a "[troll]" remark to indicate where they were gives the debates a peculiarly censored character.

C+/B-


Finally Brad replied to me as follows:

I'm trying to run a conversation. People have latitude to express themselves that is proportional to the amount of information they bring to the table.

What pieces of information have you brought to the table?

In the relatively unlikely event that you don't know what a "troll"
is and seek to learn, take a look at... (link above)


Answer: First, plenty, and I wish I could pull some of my old comments out of Brad's oubliette to prove it. Second, if Brad wants to claim/pretend that all his other readers are contributing useful information while I was not, take a look at some other (more or less randomly selected) comments on Brad's site, which he did not see fit to censor:

We need to ensure that everyone responsible is eating out of garbage cans. Being torn to pieces by an outraged mob would be better, but you can't have everything.


(What?)

If we're going to beat a country into our preferred shape, there will usually be resistance; and with the kind of people we are today, that means torture.


Hmm. A bit vague. Or this:

Would be appropriate. Won't happen. While we're at it, why can't we fire all the pundits who believed in the Administration's case for invading Iraq?


Seems like Brad is not alone in liking the idea of censorship...

Fuck Bush, fuck his cronies and fuck the mouth-breathers who voted for him.


Really? That's informative...

When are the Dems going to have the guts to introduce a bill of particulars on impeachment in the House? Sure, it wouldn't go anywhere, but it would do a world of good to get the case against Bush on the table, in a way that left no doubt as to its seriousness.


I could go on and on, but it would be superfluous. Brad obviously censored me as a "troll" not because my contributions were "disproportionate to the amount of information I brought to the table," but because I disagree with his views and those of most of his readership. Now, if Brad wants to ensure an ideologically homogeneous comment section on his site, he has every right to do so: as I said, it's his site. But there's really no avoiding the conclusion that he and his readership are running away from debate. And there's a broader point here about the difference between the contemporary Right and Left. The Right is rich in ideas and likes to dispute and solve problems. The Left is convinced of its innate superiority and tends to avoid debate, preferring to purge and censor.

To wit, I've never heard of a right-leaning blog cutting "trolls" out of the debate. A revealing line is Brad's mention of the "relatively unlikely event" that I had never heard of trolls. Apparently, being on the left, he thinks the idea is well-known; coming from the right, it's an unfamiliar concept.

There's one more point here. Brad's letter suggests that the only thing a reader-commenter could contribute to the debate is "information." This is consistent with the motto of his website: "Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community." Note that phrase: reality-based community. The implicit contrast is with ideology.

Brad is committing a basic philosophical error. Our perceptions of the world are always mediated by ideas. If I perceive a cat, this is not due solely to "reality"; it's also because I possess the concept of a cat. A newborn baby could experience the same sensory impression but would not perceive a cat, because she would not possess the concept of a cat, or underlying concepts such as that of an object. Ideas, and (to cite the same phenomenon at a higher level) ideologies, matter, indeed they're indispensable. If you think you perceive "reality" without any lens of "ideology," you still have an ideology, you're just so naive that you don't realize it. It's easy to take the next step and dismiss those who disagree with you as suffering from "ideology," of which you are blissfully free.

Brad, I contributed facts, but I contributed something else that your side needs even more: argument. Argument deals with facts, rearranges them, assesses their importance, draws conclusions. In a time when the political spectrum is giving way to a kaleidoscope and the traditional signposts of right and left are in flux, argument is beginning to seem like the basic litmus test that distinguishes right from left. Libertarians, free-market conservatives, theocons, neocons, pro-business moderates, even the occasional paleocon, they differ tremendously from one another, but they all love to argue, they live by arguing, they accept that they must stand or fall by argument. Liberals speak a different language: they lament, or scold, or scoff, or call themselves "reality-based."

One honorable exception to this rule is the Left2Right blog, run by a bunch of liberal professors who, however, are happy to entertain dissenting views.

And here's a word for Alan, if he happens to drop by:

Mr. Finn, could you enlighten the rest of us wretched fools where Krugman's numbers are wrong? I get it that you don't like that Krugman isn't supporting a position you would like, but you fail to say what he has written which is actually wrong.

Unlike the rest of the punditorcracy -- and unlike you -- he cites numbers that hold up when you get back to the source. Please tell us where his numbers don't add up.


What's interesting here is that I never claimed Krugman's numbers were wrong. In fact, in the quote in question, Krugman was not offering numbers; he was calling Bush and Lieberman (wait for it...) LIARS for making a claim that each extra year of delay cost $600 billion. Now, I don't think this number can be characterized as either true or false: it's a simplification of a much more mysterious set of facts about the growth of unfunded liabilities that can't be explained in a soundbite fashion. Quarreling about numbers is to some extent a red herring here. The basic facts are clear enough: Social Security will eventually run out of funds unless there are policy changes; this is confirmed by the SSA and the CBO, it was always known, Krugman himself has admitted it. A reform could make SS cheaper or more expensive, save money or lose money, depending on how it's designed, and until we get a more specific plan there's not much to be said, except that, given the degree of uncertainty and complexity surrounding the issue, and the difficulty of explaining it to voters, we need to give politicians who are TRYING to explain the problems to the public a break.

Monday, March 14, 2005

ON MY WAVELENGTH

George Will thinks, like me, that the GOP ought to be able to live with a payroll tax hike. He also presents this argument:

Republicans of the "starve the beast" inclination — those who aim to slow government's activism by reducing government's revenues — might relish the thought of Social Security's rendezvous with 2011. At that tipping point, the Social Security surplus begins to shrink.

Today the government is partially funded by that surplus of Social Security tax revenues over outlays, a fact disguised by politicians talking rot about Social Security being an "insurance" program with a "trust fund" in a "lock box." But between 2011 and 2016, Social Security outlays will exceed revenues by $32 billion, and the sums will rapidly increase during the cascading retirements of baby boomers. These sums must result in increased borrowing, or cuts of other government activities, or both.

"Starve the beast" Republicans can live with this. But what are Democrats thinking?


which reminds me of what I argued here, namely that the Democrats are nailing their flag to a sinking ship.

When it comes to Social Security, George Will is on my wavelength.

No more posting today. But I have jumped into a couple of debates at Brad DeLong's blog.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fred Barnes explains why Bush would be an idiot to let up on individual retirement accounts. He's right.

I thought of a way to explain the link between private accounts and solvency. Suppose your car has an oil leak. A Democrat would tell you just to put more oil into the car. That's bad advice. You need to put more oil in and fix the leak.

More penance here, from Stuart Taylor at the National Journal, who initially supported the war, then in 2004 thought it would be a big mistake, but now is coming around to "root for Bush" again. Kudos to him for having the guts to change his mind. On the other hand, what was so hard about just supporting the war all along. What kept me steadfast was the numbers: Saddam killed millions, and we were indirectly responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths through the sanctions, whereas maybe 100,000 died in the war, and the enemy probably killed as many of those as we did. Combine that with reading the Iraqi blogs. Taylor seems like an honest guy, but you need a backbone of good, firm moral reasoning.

Friday, March 11, 2005

AN AMERICAN TONY BLAIR?

That's what Noam Scheiber seems to have in mind when he suggests that George W. Bush's legacy will be a Democratic majority. He writes:

The Democratic base... consists of a bunch of activist types who love spending time and money on idealistic causes, and who can be convinced to spend it abroad as long as you persuade them the motivation is pure. They believe in things like democracy, human rights, civil society, responsible governance, etc. with every fiber of their being...

Democrats, in other words, have principled reasons for supporting democratization abroad, which, in many cases, even outweigh their intensely partisan dislike for this administration...

Now think about what happens in 2008. Several years of intense democratization rhetoric from the White House, along with what I hope will be some real democratization successes, will have made democratization a winning issue in the country's political center. (To some extent it already had by last year's election.) This seems to me to overwhelmingly favor the Democratic nominee, who can simultaneously excite his base while claiming the new, pro-democratization center...

Andrew Sullivan... suggested [this trend] might have even broader application than foreign policy. For example, immigration reform is another issue liberals basically support and conservatives basically oppose, which Bush could ultimately sell the middle of the country on. Ditto government spending on prescription drugs--even homeland security.


Now, this is an appealing scenario to me. I would love it if the Democrats produced a Tony Blair figure in 2008, particularly if this were combined with continued Republican control of Congress. Of course, the Democrats could have done that this year by nominating Joe Lieberman, who would have got my vote despite my admiration for Bush. Why didn't they? Carol Morse suggests over at Tech Central that the problem is with the proviso that "the motivation is pure," and that the Democrats will lose the center by rejecting intervention abroad when it's linked to the national-security interest. They demand too (in a slovenly, uninformed, unserious way) that the means are pure, which renders them strategically incompetent.

This need for purity of motivation strikes me as a fatal conceit. One of my mottoes is: Everybody's got a mouth to feed. Pretending your motives are pure usually if not always masks hypocrisy. That's not to say people are never motivated by love: they often are. But then they simply forget the distinction between their own interests and those of the one they love. To ask a person who loves whether his motives for loving were pure would not make sense to him. And there's no necessary link between purity of motivation and rightness of policy, by the way. Our motives for supporting Israel are pure. We feel a bond with them. Our support for Israel has tainted us with guilt for wicked things like the settlements. Our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Europe in WWII, were driven in large part by the national-security interest; as a result, they were much more effective, even (or especially) if measured by their democratizing side-effects rather than our national-security gains.

I also wonder whether Scheiber is simply mistaken about the values of the Democratic base. I wrote last fall of John Kerry:

To detail all John Kerry's faults would require much more space than I want to use here, so I'll focus on one: in the long struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, John Kerry is not on the right side. Not that he's on the wrong side. He's on no side.

How do I know? Well, I don't, but I think I have pretty good evidence. A belief in moral equivalence is not the kind that demands to be articulated, and it would be disadvantageous for an American politician to admit to it. So a bit of detective work is needed.

Let's start with what John Kerry said in his Senate testimony in 1971. He told the Senate that the Vietnamese didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy." But that year in Philadelphia he remarked that "Ho Chi Minh is the George Washington of Vietnam." He also "noted Ho Chi Minh's understanding of the United States Constitution and his efforts 'to install the same provisions into the government of Vietnam.'" Actually, George Washington presided over the foundation of a free, constitutional republic, whereas Ho Chi Minh established a repressive, communist dictatorship. It seems, then, that we have a case of projection here: it was John Kerry who didn't know the difference between democracy and communism.

Now I don't really want to hold against John Kerry something he said thirty years ago. It was a fashionable idea at the time, and the heat of the moment, and the passion of youth, and so on. Also, Kerry was a privileged youth, and privilege prevents youths from being trained in the deep link between work and property that is the bedrock of free societies; absent that understanding, sympathies with socialism and communism are often the mark of a generous nature. I might even commend Kerry's lack of chauvinism. But Kerry has had thirty years to watch what kind of state Vietnam has become. He has had thirty years to mull over what part the US withdrawal played in the chain of events leading to the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Where's the introspection? Where's the remorse? Better men than Kerry have gotten contemporary history badly wrong. But better men than Kerry have recognized and repented of their mistakes.

Fast-forward to 1984. The Sandinistas had taken power in Nicaragua by overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship; they nationalized many industries and were moving to the left, becoming increasingly Marxist-Leninist. Reagan, pursuing a policy of containment and of preventing communism from establishing a foothold in the Western Hemisphere, funded the contras who were fighting against the Sandinistas. Kerry negotiated with Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, thus undermining US policy. It didn't seem to bother Kerry that the Sandinistas were getting aid and advice from the Cubans and the Soviets, though Soviet advisors had earlier done much to convert Cuba into a totalitarian state. Eventually a truce was arranged between the contras and the Sandinistas, which led to an election, which the liberal opposition won. Fortunately, unlike in Vietnam, we don't get to see what Nicaragua would be like if Kerry had had his way, but his behavior fits into a worrisome pattern.

But most disturbing is Kerry's failure to express any approval of or enthusiasm for democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is particularly striking because it would probably help Kerry politically to sound supportive of democracy in Iraq. And Kerry is generally willing to flip-flop and re-position himself quite a bit for the sake of political advantage. Yet about democracy in Iraq he is silent. This makes sense, though, when you consider that Kerry's career began with a protest against the use of US force to spread democracy abroad. To oppose the spreading of democracy, the imposition of our values on other cultures, may be considered the premise of Kerry's whole political career.


If the Democrats believe in democracy and human rights and all that, why did they nominate a moral relativist like Kerry? Because moral relativism is a core Democratic value too, and one that seems to trump their abstract attachment to democracy and human rights etc. In short, I would love to see the Democrats nominate a Tony Blair (or Joe Lieberman) figure. And John Kerry stands as the symbol of all the historical baggage they will have to cut loose in order to do so.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

BUSY WRITER

I've been busy writing comments today. I graced Evangelical Outpost with a brief philosophy of clothes. And I continue my crusade against CINGULAR (cursed be its name through all the ages) here. And I've posted two more pieces on Social Security reform at my website, here and here.

THE CAUSE

"The Therapeutic Dependency State." Louis Woodhill over at the Social Security Choice blog has a great post which coins a great phrase. Read it.

"The Therapeutic Dependency State" is a good description of the historical phenomenon that the broad and diverse right-wing insurgency-- neocon, paleocon, theocon, free-marketeer, and libertarian. And despite our increasingly loud and awkward differences, it is opposition to the Therapeutic Dependency State which still gives a certain unified moral purpose to the divergent brands of conservatism. As long as the Therapeutic Dependency State is unvanquished, conservatives in all their disparate varieties will have a common cause.

THE ECONOMIST ON IMMIGRATION

The Economist provides a helpful summary of the current state of US immigration, and the prospects for Bush's proposed reform. I didn't realize this:

Hence the uncertain future of Mr Bush's guest-worker proposal. His idea is that illegal workers will receive “temporary worker cards”, renewable every three years, that will allow them to travel back and forth to their country of origin without fear of being denied re-entry. Tax-favoured savings accounts, available once they return home, will be an incentive not to stay illegally in America.


When you combine this with the way immigration is being seen as a way to bolster Social Security, this is starting to resemble my proposal to stop restricting immigration and tax it instead.

The idea of "the right to migrate" remains a fundamental difference however. For the foreseeable future, I hope for progress on the political front but continue to advocate civil disobedience.

Charles Krauthammer has written a brilliant essay which deserves be the definitive statement of the vindication of the Bush Doctrine. Money quote:

In the 1991 uprising, tens of thousands of Shi'ites and Kurds were killed by the raw power of Saddam's helicopters and tanks and secret police. What was different this time? No Saddam. The American army had come ashore to disarm and depose him. After the sword, it provided the shield to allow 8 million Iraqis to revel in their first exercise of democratic self-governance.

Why now? Because until now the forces of decency in the region were alone and naked, cynically ignored by an outside world content to deal with their oppressors. Then comes America, not just proclaiming democratic liberation as its overriding foreign policy principle but sacrificing blood and treasure in the service of precisely that principle.

It was not people power that set this in motion. It was American power. People power followed.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

MaxedOutMama worked hard on this blog post, "Surfing the Tsunami," yesterday. I was impressed. She starts with the sea change in opinion on Iraq but segues to this:

[T]he German political system as it has evolved post-war hates change. It fears economic change because it forces social change, and it fears social change because it might force economic change. Whether any American wants to hear it or not, we are facing the same issues now, and we have obviously not decided how we will resolve them. Demographics are a relatively immutable force, and we will have to dramatically alter our domestic spending programs as a result. Anyone can read our newspapers and see a willful failure to confront the realities we face...

After defending people's rights to do what they wish, then we have the right as a society to create laws and a legal framework that try to promote opportunity and overcome handicaps. We have always done best as a society when we have distributed opportunity widely, and we have always stagnated and retreated when we have built walls inhibiting opportunity, whether those walls were based on color, ethnicity, class or other categories. We have several centuries of history behind us, and those centuries ought to have taught us that people create economic growth, and that more people participating freely in the economy and in national life promote economic freedom and a healthy national life. Every time we open doors we profit from it. This should be a common American understanding. That particular axiom has proved out over and over again.

However, we are entering a period in which it appears that the bottom socio-economic third of our society is losing big-time. This trend is being fed by international economic trends and our own short-sighted economic policies. We will have to forge a new consensus within the next decade as to how we will conduct our domestic economic affairs, and it will take major change. Do we have the courage to do it?


Interesting, but what does she have in mind? Other than Social Security reform, here's a suggestion of mine, about how to open the borders to immigrants.

ECHOES OF TIANANMEN

The Rose Revolution. The Orange Revolution. The Purple-Finger Revolution. Now the Cedar Revolution. Revolution is in the air. Democrats and dissidents are taking heart; dictators and tyrants are nervous. People power is on the move.

We've been here before. In 1989-91, the Soviet empire, from Prague to Kazakhstan, spectacularly collapsed. There were other democratic stirrings going on, too: Violeto Chamorro beat the Sandinistas in an election in Nicaragua; Vietnam undertook democratic reforms; and Saddam was driven out of Kuwait. Bush hailed a new world order.

But not in China. Whereas the Soviets ultimately stopped short of resorting to bloodshed to prevent the disintegration of their empire, the Chinese did not. They massacred thousands of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and maintained their grip on power.

What is awkward for sympathizers of the liberal theory of history is that China, where the center held, was far more successful than the ex-Soviet bloc, where it did not. China's economy has flourished since Tiananmen, and China is now the premier example of a successful developing country, and indeed is emerging as one of the most successful economies in the world. Maybe the Chinese would have succeeded even more if the democracy movement had succeeded, but the Russian analogy does not favor this hypothesis. Most Russians regret the fall of the Soviet Union, despise Yeltsin and Gorbachev, and resent the imported notions of democracy and the market and the influence they have had on Russia. Their economy unraveled into a morass of corrupt stagnation. To transform a Communist economy gradually, a la China, seems wiser in hindsight than to embrace the market overnight. And it takes a Communist government to run a Communist economy. What happened in Russia did not feel like liberation; it felt like a social collapse.

That's why Hezbollah's pro-Syrian demonstration in Beirut today seems significant to me. It's a reminder that the people are not always on our side. Also, Americans tend to view all these movements in terms of democracy, and ignore the ethnic/nationalist dimension which may be more important. Thus:

Hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah followers took to the streets in support of Syria yesterday, offering a sharp reminder that Lebanon's popular uprising against Syrian occupation has not won over its 1.2 million Shi'ite residents.

In a display of political might intended to either cow the anti-Syrian opposition or enhance the standing of the Hezbollah militia in the coming power struggle, the massive crowd filled the city's central square and spilled into side streets, waving Lebanese flags and chanting anti-American slogans...

With an estimated 500,000 guest workers in a country of about 4 million people, the Syrians have a large cultural presence in Lebanon and in the past have been cajoled, ordered or bribed into participating in "Lebanese" shows of support for Syria.


So in Lebanon, which is a semi-free country and by no means a totalitarian state, a terrorist party can mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters to counter-protest the advance of democracy. This does not mean Bush was wrong about the universal appeal of liberty, or that the spread of democracy makes the world safer. But it does remind us that to hand out the dissident/democrat halo to anyone who can bring a crowd into a public square with a slogan and a flag does not a coherent political philosophy make.

Would an independent Lebanon expel Syrian guest workers? Should we approve of that? Would it re-awaken violence between religious communities? Morally, the war in Iraq was actually a clearer case than the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon. Saddam Hussein was so murderous a ruler that Iraq had nowhere to go but up. In Lebanon, there is a many-sided dispute. And as copycat democrats and demonstrators pop up around the world (e.g. Kyrgyzstan, via Instapundit), some will be opportunists, many will be ethnic nationalists, and some may bring a worse future for their countries if they succeed.

At some point, this wave of democratization may meet its Tiananmen. Some authoritarian regime-- not in Beirut, I think, but somewhere-- will violently crush a popular protest. And as history's judgment on that massacre gradually takes shape in the years that follow, that judgment will be an ambiguous one.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Robert Robb argues that "Lifting wage caps dooms real reform." Baloney. Take a look at his argument:

Lifting the wage cap would raise about $70 billion a year. But this is $70 billion currently going somewhere else, in significant part toward providing investment capital. And at present, the only effect would be to increase what the general treasury ultimately owes the Social Security trust fund.


Wait a minute. If revenues from raising the wage cap go into personal accounts, they will be invested in stocks and bonds. Right now, some of that money is going towards consumption. Also, a tax increase will reduce the deficit, i.e. reduce government borrowing. So some people who would have bought government bonds will have to invest it elsewhere.

The claim that lifting the wage cap in order to finance personal accounts would undermine savings and investment doesn't make sense. It would be good politics and, at a time of unsustainable deficits, it would be good policy too.

WHY WAS BUSH RIGHT? WHY DID LIBERALS GET IT WRONG?

I would be interested to know: are there more penitent doves now saying "Bush was right all along," or more cocky hawks crowing (to use a triple mixed bird metaphor) that "Bush was right all along." The latter, perhaps: but still, today's headline in The Independent seems like a landmark:

It is barely six weeks since the US President delivered his second inaugural address, a paean to liberty and democracy that espoused the goal of "ending tyranny in our world". Reactions around the world ranged from alarm to amused scorn, from fears of a new round of "regime changes" imposed by an all-powerful American military, to suspicions in the salons of Europe that this time Mr Bush, never celebrated for his grasp of world affairs, had finally lost it. No one imagined that events would so soon cause the President's opponents around the world to question whether he had got it right.


But what, exactly, was Bush right about? Right to invade Iraq, presumably, but why? Here the progress is somewhat halting:

The 2003 invasion of Iraq may have been justified by a giant fraud, but that, and above all the January election to which it led, transfixing the Arab world, has proved a catalyst.


The liberal intelligentsia should revisit the old debates. They should figure out which arguments were partly right, and which should truly be thrown on the dustbin of history. As an example of the latter, take this argument which was voiced in an article defending libertarianism this morning:

The libertarian rests content to let Utah be Utah and San Francisco be San Francisco—and to let Iraq be Iraq.


By now, the claim that to leave Saddam in power was to "let Iraq be Iraq" is a grotesque distortion. Iraqis hated the order under which they lived; they welcomed its overthrow; and most of them embraced the democratic alternative which we offered them. Now we are "letting Iraq be Iraq," by electing its own leaders.

Other anti-war arguments may prove to have been more tenable. But liberals need to go beyond admitting that they got it wrong. They need to figure out why they got it wrong, so that it doesn't happen again.

Here's a good place to start: Never condone totalitarianism.

Another confused liberal reports from New York: "the cognitive dissonance is palpable."

Monday, March 07, 2005

DON'T BE AFRAID OF FOREIGN INNOVATORS

Is the US "losing its competitive edge," as this article claims? Wrong question.

The word "competitive" is applicable to individuals and corporations. It might even apply to small countries, inasmuch as these are reliant on a given industry, e.g. garments or timber, or abundant in a particular factor of production, e.g. low-skilled labor. It has no meaning for the United States.

From the article:

On weekend afternoons, Best Buy is as bustling as a souk, full of grandmothers and little kids tooling around with digital video cameras and geeked-out salesmen explaining to the moms that the cell phones in their hands have nearly the computing power of desktop PCs... Whereas a decade ago the most creative, groundbreaking stuff came from Silicon Valley, now it all seemed to come from overseas. The plasma televisions were from Korea; the computer-like cell phones were from Finland; the feature-packed digital cameras were from Japan.

During the last six months, we have begun, quietly, to enter a newly tense moment, with university presidents, business leaders, and columnists delivering ominous-sounding reports and editorials about the threat to American innovation posed by a freshly competitive world—the renewed vitality of western Europe, Japan and Korea, and the ravenous growth of China and India.


Other countries may have made these products, but we still get to buy them. And that's the whole point. The word "competitive," applied to countries, imagines a zero-sum game where none exists.

If I work for Motorola, and everyone in Best Buy is getting Nokia phones, I might lose my job. It doesn't follow that if I'm an American, and everyone in Best Buy is buying Finnish cell phones, I have reason to worry. Foreign "vitality" in developing new products may be a threat to "American innovation." But innovation is just one economic activity of many. There is no reason to identify the health of the innovation sector with the health of the American economy, any more than there is reason to identify the health of the garment industry, or the car industry, with the American economy.

Just as the rest of us may benefit by the outsourcing of garment production, or car production, so we may benefit if foreigners out-innovate American firms-- and then sell these products to us.

If you read the article carefully, you'll notice how selective the quotes are. Most of them are from people on the coasts, and especially at elite universities. But these do not speak for the national interest; they speak for the interests of the innovation industry-- and, by the way, they come from heavily Democratic regions.

Another revealing quote:

But there is perhaps no economic sector that is undergoing a more profound evolution, or in which government investments could make a bigger difference, than energy. As India and China continue their rapid industrialization, and with it their need for oil, analysts predict that the price of oil, already sky-high, will grow even more prohibitive—which means that whichever companies develop the most effective alternative fuels and energy-efficiency technology will revolutionize the industry, and whichever countries can produce those breakthroughs may become rich on it, the Bahrains of the 21st century.


But Bahrain et al. became rich, not because they developed a new energy technology, but because they were sitting on the natural resources that a new energy technology demanded. The Bahrainis didn't invent the internal combustion engine, and it wouldn't necessarily have made them rich even if they had. If future, oil-displacing energy technologies are developed by Europeans or East Asians, these technologies can easily be adopted by Americans. At worst, we'll pay them a lot of patent fees for using the technologies. More likely, they'll end up paying a disproportionate share of the fixed costs of innovation, and we'll get to free ride-- the way they get to free-ride on our development of new drugs.

You have to suspect a bit of intellectual dishonesty here. The guys at the Washignton Monthly want the US to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but they know this would involve self-sacrifice on the US's part. So they're creating a bogus self-interest argument for it.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

FISKING BUCHANAN

Pat Buchanan inspires in me admiration and loathing. Loathing because he is a fascist dog, with bigoted and amoral positions on every subject. Admiration because he is an excellent writer. That he manages to write persuasively despite the vileness of his views only underlines his talent. I decided his latest bit of mindless isolationism pitch deserved fisking.

Did I miss something? Where did all the “not since Rome” bombast, talk of America’s “benevolent global hegemony,” “Pax Americana,” and the New World Order disappear to? Whatever happened to the “jodhpurs and pith helmets” crowd?


None of them have backed down, that's for sure. Actually, they've been crowing a lot lately.

Just a year ago, in the Irving Kristol Lecture at the annual AEI dinner, columnist Charles Krauthammer rhapsodized about America’s “global dominion” and our having “acquired the largest seeming empire in the history of the world.”

We have “overwhelming global power,” said Krauthammer. We are history’s “designated custodians of the international system.” When the Soviet Union fell, “something new was born, something utterly new—a unipolar world dominated by a single superpower unchecked by any rival and with decisive reach in every corner of the globe. This is a staggering new development in history, not seen since the fall of Rome. ... Even Rome is no model for what America is today.”


The term "empire" has always been controversial among the neocons and their sympathizers, and is usually modified with some variant of the word "liberty," e.g. "liberal empire" and "empire of liberty." That the principle of democracy, of government by consent of the governed, was not to be abrogated or supplanted was always well understood. In the case of Iraq, this could not possibly have been more explicit. "The tyrant will soon be gone," Bush addressed the Iraqi people before the invasion. We would help the Iraqi people to establish a democratic government, "and then our military forces will leave."

That said, what Krauthammer said is still just about right. We're still basically unchecked by any rival, with decisive reach in any corner of the globe. And if our power has been drained a bit by the war in Iraq, well, power was never an end in itself, but a means to spread and defend liberty. If we've spent a bit of that power to spur the democratic renaissance that seems to be stirring now, it was well spent.

Well, reality does have a way of intruding upon one’s fantasies, and, looking at our world today, it would seem multipolarism is making quite a comeback.


Note the word "fantasy." We'll revisit it later. For now, note that if multipolarity is "making a comeback," that implies that there was a unipolar moment there.

Buchanan has a point that there are signs of what the realist international-affairs school would call a "balancing coalition" forming against a "hegemon." He just exaggerates the trend, and applies it opportunistically to attack the neocons at a moment when more truthful and reasonable observers, even some who previously opposed them, realizing that events are beginning to vindicate their vision.

Castro, though literally on his last legs, yet defies the Americans and is about to be succeeded as the leading hemispheric Yankee-baiter by Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan ruler who lately defeated a U.S.-backed recall. Chavez has just ordered Russian-built MIG-29s and purchased 100,000 AK-47s and, despite U.S. protests, Moscow appears ready to sell.


Well, that's slightly annoying, but hardly important. You said Saddam wasn't a threat. Now Chavez is? Give me a break.

And as Chavez finds imitators in the Andean nations, the Mexican government instructs its citizens in how best to sneak across the border into the United States. Would Caesar Augustus have put up with such as this in mare nostrum?


I am honored that so many Mexicans and other foreigners desire to make their home here. I wish them the best of luck in peacefully providing for their families in our country. I appreciate their contributions to our country, both economic and cultural. I hope they continue to come. That our country is able to provide them with that opportunity is one of the chief sources of my patriotism. I realize all this is painful for a bigot like you, Buchanan. Not all of us feel the same way.

Our NATO allies, Tony Blair included, are lifting their embargo on weapons sales to China over the protests of President Bush. Old Europe remains adamant in its refusal to send troops to Iraq, as the Ukrainians and Poles, following the Spanish, quietly depart the beleaguered nation.


The beleaguered nation? Well, that's one way of putting it. Iraqis are proud of their new democracy, hopeful for the future, glad to have left behind their nightmarish past, and now appear to be a shining example to the Middle East. Their nightmarish past is behind them. And some of our allies feel the job is done and now it's time to go home.

The Iraqi elections appear to have deposed our client Allawi and empowered Shia parties with ties to Iran and Kurds who covet Kirkuk and its oil and look to ultimate independence.


Allawi was defeated in an election. That's normal. He was never merely our "client" in any case. We wanted to bring democracy, not install a puppet. And the Shias do not want to install a mullahcracy. More likely, Shia democracy will be contagious and be our best bet to bring about the end of the failed theocracy in Iran.

Whatever the neocons’ vision of Iraq—as strategic base camp for World War IV or crown jewel of Middle East empire—Americans seem to be looking for an exit.


Nice phrases, those. "Strategic base camp [in the struggle against Islamofascism.]" "Crown jewel of Middle East empire [of liberty.]" I'll have to remember those-- they may prove to be excellent descriptions of Iraq's role in the near future. By the way, let's put to rest this notion that "exit" would somehow be a form of defeat. Exit was always part of the plan.

And openly contemptuous China lectures us on our failure to rein in our voracious appetite for imports, which is sending the dollar the way of the peso. Beijing refuses to pressure North Korea to terminate its nuclear-weapons program, permits Pyongyang to use Chinese territory to transship missiles and nuclear materiel, and spends a goodly slice of its $160 billion trade surplus with America to build up air, naval, and missile forces for the showdown with Taiwan.


I don't find it particularly humiliating that the Chinese are giving us advice. Lord knows they're running their economy pretty well. Yeah, there could be trouble in East Asia at some point. No one promised a dream of perpetual peace. Perhaps you think that your isolationist foreign policy would provide it? Read about the 1930s.

“Unchecked by any rival,” is how Krauthammer described the new Rome. Yet as one watches the Old Republic spend herself into bankruptcy, run up trade deficits that debauch her currency, decline to defend her own bleeding borders, permit rivals to loot her technology and cart off her manufacturing plants, America does in a way resemble Rome. But it is, unfortunately, the Rome of the late fourth century.

For America 2005, unlike the America we knew not long ago, has become a newly dependent nation, dependent on the Gulf for oil to run our economy, on imports for the necessities of our national life, on Beijing and Tokyo to buy the bonds to subsidize our self-indulgent lifestyles.


Make that interdependent nation, Buchanan. Free trade benefits both parties. There's nothing wrong with that.

And the late fourth century? Armies of barbarians were pillaging the country. Inflation; demographic decline; economic and cultural disintegration. The irony is that Buchanan had the nerve to accuse Charles Krauthammer of indulging in "fantasies."

The ugliest part of Buchanan's ideology is his total apathy to the freedom or welfare of anyone who is not American-born. In this sense, he closely resembles Howard Dean. Those two would make great political allies. I wonder if we can expect to see them draw closer together before 2008.

CINGULAR SCREWED US FOR $1077

A cell phone plan is something you pay $40, $50, $60 a month for, right? No. That's just when you get lucky. Make one false move and you're in deep deep trouble.

We thought we had a national instead of a regional plan with Cingular. We made a lot of calls while on vacation in California and Hawaii. When we got back, I called and they said we had a bill for $1400 or so. That sounded crazy, but when I got through to a representative she said to ignore it, that was a mistake, we owed $110.

It turned out the computer-voice was right. When I called about my account later, sure enough, it was $1600 (it was a month or so later). By that time, we had gotten an extra line for my wife, not knowing that they had screwed us so badly already.

I called them and appealed to their business department to reduce the charges. For two weeks we were in suspense. Finally they cut them 25%, without ever calling me as they promised to do. I then called back and asked them if I could appeal the decision, to which they eventually said no, and then if they could waive the termination fees for us. The one thing they conceded was to waive my wife's termination fee.

We're a lot poorer now, but at least there's the psychic relief of having dissolved our commercial relationship with the dastardly corporate thugs at Cingular. Let everyone be warned.: it could happen to you. The whole episode opened my eyes to Cingular's business model. Give a good deal up front, play shylock in the fine print, then SCREW THE SUCKERS. You could be one of the suckers.

In case you missed it, let's just mention the name of that gang of pirates one more time. CINGULAR.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Everyone is talking about the dawn of democracy in the Arab world. But the same trend may be underway in the former Soviet Union as well:

The peaceful street revolts that recently brought democratic change to Georgia and Ukraine could spawn copy-cat upheavals against authoritarian regimes across the former Soviet Union, experts say.

Waving orange scarves and banners - the colors of Ukraine's revolution - dozens of Uzbeks demonstrated in the capital Tashkent last week over the demolition of their homes to make way for border fencing.

According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, the protest compelled the autocratic government of Islam Karimov, widely condemned for human rights abuses, to pay compensation.

In Bishkek, capital of Kyrgyzstan, hundreds of pro-democracy activists rallied on Saturday to demand that upcoming parliamentary elections be free and fair.

From Kyrgyzstan on the Chinese border to Moldova (see map), where Europe's only ruling Communist Party faces elections next month, opposition parties are eagerly studying Georgia's "Rose Revolution" and Ukraine's "Orange Revolution," which led to the triumph of pro-democracy forces. Opposition groups are even selecting symbols for their banners when the moment arrives - tulips for the Kyrgyz opposition, grapes for Moldova's anticommunists.


As communism was falling in eastern Europe, democrats also ousted communists in Nicaragua and elsewhere. Democratic contagion can jump over regional boundaries.

There were also, in 1989, pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. But unlike the European Communists, the Chinese held firm.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

I just published an article at Citizen-Journal. Find out why "Every Fiber of Senator Boxer's Being Won't Guarantee Your Social Security Check."

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

Bush is demanding that Syria pull out of Lebanon:

"Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, `You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish," Bush said during an appearance at a community college in Maryland to tout his job training programs.

The world, Bush said, "is speaking with one voice when it comes to making sure that democracy has a chance to flourish in Lebanon."


Probably Syria will pull out, but Democrats won't give Bush credit, saying that the Lebanese people were forcing Syria out anyway. They'll probably be right. This is a freebie for Bush. By being on the right side rhetorically, he can get a little more credit for a democratic advance, and ingratiate himself with the Lebanese, without actually doing anything.

Yet imagine what a President Kerry might have said.

"We appreciate the aspirations of the Lebanese people to assume more complete control of their national life. But we must also remember the legitimate security interests of Syria. We must bear in mind the danger of civil unrest in the event of an abrupt Syrian withdrawal. We should never assume that the values we seek to realize in our own political life are the values that other nations seek to embody in theirs. And we should never assume that even a sizeable group of protestors represents the whole Lebanese people.

"When I was a young man, we made the tragic and arrogant mistake of trying to impose our system on a nation very different from our own. With the recent defeat of George W. Bush, America showed that it now understands the lessons which I brought home from Vietnam: that we must be tolerant of others' political values.

"There is no evidence so far that Syria was responsible for the murder of Rafik Hariri. If such evidence comes to light, those responsible should be held accountable for any violation of the law which they may have committed, and judgment will be passed by the authorities under whose jurisdiction the crime took place. Until such evidence comes to light, I trust the word of my friend President Assad of Syria that Syria was not involved in the crime. We must also take into account the possibility that Hariri's murder was a spillover from the upsurge of terrorism triggered by our invasion of Iraq. Not long ago, the US made a wrong-headed intervention in the Middle East based on hasty conclusions. We should not let that happen again.

"When the unrest in Lebanon has calmed down, I will go to Damascus and consult with Assad and with Lebanon's elected president, Emile Lahoud, to discuss what changes, if any, may be needed in the security arrangements of Lebanon."

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

THE DEBATE SHIFTS II

Protesters took to the streets in Lebanon for the past few days to demand Syrian withdrawal in the wake of Rafik Hariri's murder. Today Lebanon's pro-Syrian government resigned, and now Assad is saying that he will withdraw the troops within two, or perhaps six months. Meanwhile in Egypt, Mubarak will allow multi-party elections. The Arab News gushes optimistically:

With 70 million people, Egypt is the most populous Arab country, a regional political and military heavyweight. It is a pioneer in making peace with Israel, in Islamic learning, the arts, literature, medicine, sports and entertainment. In his State of the Union address, Bush called on Egypt to lead the way in one more thing: Democratic change in the Middle East. And it is now doing so.


The neocons' new favorite quote is from Walid Jumblatt, leader of a Lebanese Druze party, who said:

It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. . . . The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.


I predicted earlier that there would be a lot of
"penance" among opponents of the war in the wake of the Iraqi elections. That seems to be materializing. Thus the New York Times editorializes:

Cautious hopes for something new and better are stirring along the Tigris and the Nile, the elegant boulevards of Beirut, and the impoverished towns of the Gaza Strip...

[T]his has so far been a year of heartening surprises - each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance. And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power...


However, Ed Kilgore, guest-blogging at TalkingPointsMemo, is not impressed:

Now I am aware the State Department made the appropriate noises, as its predecessors would have done, after the Hariri assassination, about Syrian dominance of Lebanon, and I also know the Bush administration has been generally hostile towards the Syrian government, as has been U.S. policy for as long as I can remember. But it literally never crossed my mind that Bush's fans would credit him with for this positive event, as though his pro-democracy speeches exercise some sort of rhetorical enchantment.

This is the kind of thinking, of course, that has convinced God knows how many people that Ronald Reagan personally won the Cold War. It's the old post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) logical fallacy.


Now, it is a reasonable position to credit Reagan with the collapse of the Soviet Union. That's not just jingoism of the American right; I've talked to Russians who argue the same thing.

All the same, the comparison is not valid. Bush's role in promoting Mideast democracy was more active than Reagan's in toppling communism. Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. Bush sent in the troops to take down Saddam's statue themselves.

In Eastern Europe, there was a series of velvet revolutions. In the Middle East, there was a shooting revolution first. Now the velvet revolutions are beginning to follow. Meanwhile, the anti-war left/intelligentsia/Democrats are breaking under the strain of cognitive dissonance.

[UPDATE: My mistake. Jumblatt is with the Druze, who are not Muslims; it is another religion allied with Muslims, according to an Israeli friend of mine. Also, more dove-penance here.]