Towards A Good Samaritan World

Thursday, November 30, 2006


My article at Tech Central Station, "The New Populism and the iPod Economy," takes on Senator-elect James Webb's populist manifesto in the Wall Street Journal. Among other things, I show that an evolution-skeptic can still find merit in the work of Daniel Dennett:

Think of all work as occurring on two metaphysical planes: physical space and Design space. (The term "Design Space" is the philosopher Daniel Dennett's.) To plant a garden, you must dig holes and pull weeds—physical work—but also plan how to align the furrows and decide what crops to plant—Design work. To cook a meal, you have to dice onions and cut potatoes—physical work—but also decide the ratios of the ingredients, and judge how long to leave the pot on the stove—Design work. Physical work is the work of the hands. Design work is the work of the mind.

As civilization advances, muscle power tends to be replaced by machine power. At the same time, mankind acquires increasing power to reproduce Design. This tends to make the best Design work more and more valuable, while rendering the second-best Design work worthless. People need to adapt to both of these changes.

Sometimes economic change turns people from Design workers into mere physical workers. For example, in the Industrial Revolution, many rural peasants became factory workers. Rural agriculture and husbandry require forethought and skill, which was passed down from generation to generation. Factory work was more mechanical and required less thought. As their own Design work was lost, new kinds of Design work were pioneered by industrial inventors, entrepreneurs, managers, and distributors, which workers—"workers"—didn't understand.

There was (then as now) a trickle-down effect: industrial progress raised workers' living standards even as it made the fortunes of the tycoons. But "workers" felt a double insult: their own work had been dumbed down, while the mysterious prosperity of the bourgeoisie gave them a feeling a relative poverty. This seemed "unfair." They were working, they were playing by the rules they knew. They deserved, they thought, an equal share of the rewards.

The American middle class today enjoys far higher living standards than the factory workers of the early Industrial Revolution. They also understand that merely working is not enough to earn an average living. One must get educated, go to college, acquire professional skills. But now the Information Revolution is changing the nature of work again. As economists Lawrence Katz, David Autor, and Melissa Kearney wrote last January:

"[The] 'polarization' of the U.S. labor market, with employment polarizing into high-wage and low-wage jobs at the expense of middle-wage work [can be explained by] a model of computerization in which computers most strongly complement the non-routine (abstract) cognitive tasks of high-wage jobs, directly substitute for the routine tasks found in many traditional middle-wage jobs, and may have little direct impact on non-routine manual tasks in relatively low-wage jobs." (my emphasis)

If "the non-routine (abstract) cognitive tasks of high-wage jobs" sounds cryptic, it is. "Abstract" work occurs at the frontiers of knowledge, of Design Space, and it is inherently difficult to understand. This is part of the reason that it is so well-paid; few people are able to do it. Though college educations are as useful as ever, a college degree is not enough. The secrets of cutting-edge value-creation in the Information Age have not yet been standardized into skills that can be taught in any school.

And here's my blow against populism:

Webb warns us of "a steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century." But is it a bad thing for our times to resemble the 19th century? The century between Waterloo and World War I (1815-1914) was a golden age of peace and progress. It was the age of the railroad and the steamship and the telegraph and the photograph. It witnessed the advent of universal manhood suffrage and major advances in the rights of women. Modern Italy and Germany were born. The 19th century was an era of steady advance in every field of human endeavor, from food production to finance to physics to free trade, from music to medicine to metallurgy, from literature to longevity, from biology to biography, from social science to sewer systems.

The story of how all that ended is sad and strange. It ended, of course, with "the guns of August" in 1914, but the seeds of its end were planted long before: a rising tide of protectionism which exacerbated national rivalries; the rise of nationalism and socialism; a vague discontentment among the intelligentsia, which longed to overthrow the old order in favor of they-didn't-really-know-what; frustrated envy and impotent confusion on the part of the still-relatively-poor as they witnessed the prosperity of the unprecedentedly-rich. The wave of progress had a populist undertow.

Also, the comments are worth reading this time. The immigration articles seem to turn the discussion forums into a chorus of nativist loudmouths, I don't even read them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Moshen Rezai, secretary of Iran's "Expediency Council," is very happy with recent developments in the Middle East:

"The kind of service that the Americans, with all their hatred, have done us," said Mr. Rezai, "no superpower has ever done anything similar. America destroyed all our enemies in the region. It destroyed the Taliban. It destroyed Saddam Hussein. ... It did all this in order to confront us face to face, and in order to place us under siege. But the American teeth got so stuck in the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan that if they manage to drag themselves back to Washington in one piece, they should thank Allah."

America, therefore, "presents us with an opportunity rather than a threat -- not because it intended to, but because its estimates were wrong and made many mistakes," argued Mr. Rezai. Washington, he said, "has now despaired of toppling the Islamic Republic. The threats we face... are about blocking Iran's influence in the region. This is a vital national interest and the entire nuclear dispute revolves around it."

Mr. Rezai said, "now that the Democrats have both houses of Congress," it was incumbent upon Iran to "behave reasonably." America's policies and goals in the Middle East won't change, he concluded, but methods will and "put aside Bush's warmongering methods," and both countries "will stay clear of aggressive confrontations."

Helping Iran is a price worth paying to get rid of Saddam and the Taliban. We should talk to them. The sanctions were always a bad idea.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


A couple of years ago I made the argument (on an obscure personal web page) that:

When we departed in 1973, only Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos fell to communism. But what if we had departed ten years earlier, or never gotten involved?

By 1973, there had been two crucial changes. First, Suharto had come to power in Indonesia, and massacred hundreds of thousands of communists, not only ending the communist threat there, which had been a serious one, but also causing Indonesia to align with the West, whereas the previous ruler, Sukarno, had been inclined to side with the Soviet Union. Thailand had been strengthened by ten more years of participation in SEATO. India, which, like Indonesia, had been inclined to lean towards the communists rather than the west, had also fought a war with China—and accepted American help. The "dominoes" were more resistant to falling. Second, the Sino-Soviet split had taken place (there had even been a war between Red China and the Soviets), and then Nixon had showed up in China and "triangulated" the Soviet Union. This transformed the global balance of power, so that it no longer threatened to tip decisively against us.

Vietnam became a Stalinist state, complete with gulags, secret police, and wretched economic policies, and in Cambodia there was a horrific genocide which killed one-quarter of the population of the country. If three dominoes fell after 1973—South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos—how many might have fallen if we had pulled out in 1963? Thailand? Indonesia? If the balance of power had shifted decisively towards the communists in southeast Asia, would that have given more confidence to India's huge Communist party to take over? A flood of totalitarianism might have swept over Southeast and possibly South Asia. From Indonesia, might communism have jumped to Australia? The Australians were afraid of this; that's why they fought side by side with us in Vietnam to the end. (Even if this is conceded, admittedly, one may maintain that American security would not be affected; but allies matter.)

If the domino theory was valid, that opens up the possibility that Vietnam may not have been a mistake at all. Maybe we didn't even lose. Granted, the regime we were defending fell, but we held the line long enough that the spread of communism in Southeast Asia was checked, and long enough for the global communist threat to be weakened because of internal divisions. It was a costly holding action, with which we bought time to render that difficult battlefield irrelevant; then we got out. This logic does not imply that Vietnam was the best option we had: maybe it would have been better to make our stand in Malaysia and Thailand, for example. And to be sure, when we began to defend Vietnam, we planned to save it, not sacrifice it. But in the great global chess game against the Soviets, we had sacrificed a pawn to save the queen, and arguably we captured a rook in the meantime.

Now Fouad Ajami makes a similar case:

Nowadays, more and more people despair of the Iraq venture. And voices could be heard counseling that the matter of Iraq is, for all practical purposes, sealed and that failure is around the corner. Now and then, the memory of the Vietnam War is summoned. America had lost the battle for Vietnam but had won the war for East Asia. That American defeat had brought ruin to Vietnam and Cambodia, but the systems of political and economic freedom in Asia had held, and the region had cushioned the American defeat, and left a huge protective role for American power.

When it comes to argument, the hawks have plenty of ammo left. But then, the doves have always appealed more to emotion and prejudice than to reason.

Monday, November 27, 2006


A chilling, heart-breaking post from Iraq the Model:

Some news were really bad though, my uncle called on Friday to tell me that he and his family of eight were being forced to leave their neighborhood.

My Sunni uncle, his Shia wife and their children were told to leave because the head of the household is Sunni. His voice was filled with pain as he talked to me, I asked him who made the threat and he said ten cars filled with armed men came to our street shooting their guns in the air and announcing through a loudspeaker that all Sunni people must leave within 24 hours, then they went to the mosque and murdered the preacher's son.

The locals didn't like this of course since it was the first time they witness this level of violence and tension according to my uncle. Later that day the Shia in my uncle's neighborhood sent a delegation to the local Sadr office demanding the displacement order be cancelled. The guy in the office turned them down telling them these were "orders from above…we will kick them out the same way they kick the Shia out in other areas. They shall remain refugees until Shia refugees return to their homes."

Sending more US troops to Iraq may or may not help. Ask the American field commanders. Better yet, ask the Iraqis themselves, through a referendum-- though it would be difficult to arrange this in the near term. (Would Sadr accept a challenge to fight the US through ballots instead of bullets, I wonder?)

In any case, if more troops would help, we should send them. To stop the killing should be our #1 priority.

UPDATE: I wonder, does Sadr have enough blood on his hands at this point to be put on trial at the Hague? Genocide is against international law. Sadr seems to be well on his way to Milosevic's circle of hell. Is this an argument the Bush administration knows how to make?

UPDATE: Zeyad's latest post about the violence in Baghdad is even more effective, and more chilling, than Iraq the Model's. It reminds me of George Orwell's description of Barcelona at the height of the Spanish Civil War. My "stop the killing" plea would miss the point, for a lot of the people whose messages (from online message boards) Zeyad quotes; they don't want a ceasefire, they want to fight and win. Some of them are killers and deserve to die. But there are so many innocent people caught in the middle.

The US Civil War and World War II were both much bloodier than Iraq has been, yet people don't typically say that they weren't worth fighting because of that. The case could be made that if the end-result is a strong, durable constitutional state, it's worth a lot of bloodshed to bring that about. I don't want to make that case right now, I'm too sick at heart.


Of all government activities above the basics of providing national security, law and order, and protection of property, subsidizing knowledge creation is one of the most defensible. Economists call knowledge a "non-rival" good, meaning that if one person knows something that doesn't exclude others from knowing it. Once knowledge has been created, it can be spread and used at a low marginal cost. And because it is "non-rival," protecting knowledge is difficult and inefficient. The most widely used solution to the problem of incentivizing knowledge creation in our society is intellectual property: the knowledge creator secures certain rights over the commercial use of the knowledge created, through patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc. But this is both difficult to enforce and inefficient, since many people are prevented from using knowledge that they could benefit from, if the benefits are less than sufficient to justify their paying royalties to the patent-holder.

If one million more people burn copies of a Billy Joel CD, this benefits them and harms no one, if these people would not otherwise have bought a Billy Joel CD. But if some people would have bought the CD, and don't because they can burn it, that does hurt Billy Joel and his record company. If the government could just provide Billy Joel a hefty state salary, and then make his music available for free to everyone, this would, in theory, be more efficient. But of course the government is no good at figuring out which artists are really creating value.

Medicinal drugs can improve quality of life, especially for the elderly who suffer from more health problems than the rest of the population. Seniors in America and other industrialized countries are actually doing something unprecedented, exploring new frontiers of longevity. Medical research that opens these new frontiers to mankind generates huge social benefits. But how is it to be financed? There would be no difficulty in financing it if the firms that did the research could recover all or most of the value created. But because knowledge is a non-rival good, once they've done the research, generic drugmakers can produce copies of the drug and prevent the researching firm from profiting from its discovery, unless the government prevents this. And since preventing this means depriving needy people of life-saving drugs, it's difficult for the government to make a credible commitment to enforce the brand-name drug company's monopoly. Direct public financing of medical research would in theory be more socially efficient, if the government could "pick winners" effectively, but it's highly unlikely that it would do so.

The Medicare drug benefit may be a clever compromise. Profit-motivate private-sector agents will still decide what investments to make, and private consumers will make the choices about what drugs to buy and consume. But the government will pick up much of the bill, at least in the case of prescription drugs for senior. Not all of it, though; seniors still have to pay 75 percent of costs under $2,250, and all costs in a "doughnut hole" between $2,250 and $5,100. These charges should help to (a) cover the marginal costs of drug production, and (b) encourage consumers to economize and only use drugs that are actually significantly helpful. Because the government is not allowed to negotiate prices, i.e., to exploit the market power it derives from its monopsony position to reduce its costs at the expense of drug-company profits, the program has so far been helpful to pharmaceutical companies, as the Washington Post reports:

Consumer advocates contend that if Medicare were permitted to negotiate prices, its purchasing power would produce drug discounts similar to those obtained by the Veterans Affairs Department, which covers 4.4 million people. As it is, Medicare prices are significantly higher than VA prices, according to Families USA, a nonprofit association of health-care consumers that analyzed 20 drugs commonly prescribed to seniors.

Even Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, appears to employ better negotiators than the private Medicare plans. On Jan. 1, 6 million elderly and disabled people were switched from Medicaid pharmacy plans to the new Medicare program. Overnight, many drugmakers began selling the same drugs at higher prices. Pfizer, for example, reported saving $325 million in Medicaid discounts during the first six months of this year "due primarily to the impact of" the Medicare drug benefit, according to a company report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. (my emphasis)

I'm not necessarily completely sold. Given America's long-run fiscal problems, I am worried, though the news that "Medicare Benefit's Costs Beat Estimates" (i.e., it's cheaper than expected) is good. But affordability issues aside, the Medicare prescription drug benefit seems like an unusually smart concept for a government program.


Gary Becker writes about the minimum wage:

Controversy remains in the United States (and elsewhere) over the effects of the minimum wage mainly because past changes in the U.S. minimum wage have usually been too small to have large and easily detectable general effects on employment and unemployment. The effects of an increase to $7.25 per hour in the federal minimum wage that many Democrats in Congress are proposing would be large enough to be easily seen in the data. It would be a nice experiment from a strictly scientific point of view, for it would help resolve the controversy over whether the effects of large increases in the minimum wage would be clearly visible in data on employment, training, and some prices. Presumably, even the economists and others who are proposing this much higher minimum must believe that at some point a still higher minimum would cause too much harm. Otherwise, why not propose $10 or $15 per hour, or an even higher figure? I am confident that for this and other reasons, the actual immediate increase in the federal minimum wage is likely to be significantly lower than $2.10 per hour.

If Democrats raised the minimum wage enough actually to have a significant, measurable impact, then they could be punished when the impact turns out to be unemployment among teenagers and other low-skilled workers. They probably won't want to take that risk. Yet part of the Democrats' base wants to push for a "living wage" which would be even higher than $7.25, and which would be disastrous for many current low-wage workers who wouldn't be employable at the higher wage.

Republicans in Congress will be reluctant to see the minimum wage raised, and, if they can't stop it, will try to mitigate the increase. Republicans are probably still strong enough to reduce the minimum wage increase from something economically harmful to something economically irrelevant. You have to wonder how many centrist/sensible Democrats are secretly glad that Republicans still control almost half of the Congress.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Recent events in Iraq reminded me of a blog post I once wrote while I was in the desperately poor sub-Saharan African nation of Malawi:


This idea, that some peoples are just not ready for democracy, has a long history. It used to be a favorite notion of the old colonialists, who practiced liberal principles at home and, to justify not practicing them abroad, opined that non-Europeans had to be "civilized" first, before they could be trusted to govern themselves (and in the meantime, Europeans would govern them instead). More recently, the anti-war "left" has taken up the old colonialist notion: they are livid that America has aspired to bestow freedom on lowly Arabs, whom, they are certain, are "not ready for democracy" (thus implying, though they are reticent about this, that they wish the Iraqis were back under Saddam's murder-ocracy). (I should add, by the way, that this is crediting the anti-warriors with far more coherence than they are generally able to muster; generally they have no arguments whatsoever but instead take refuge behind a cloud of snobbish contempt for anyone who disagrees with them… but anyway…) America is the object of two contradictory charges on this issue: first, that we betray our democratic principles by collaborating with dictatorships (in the Cold War, for example); second, that we are far too convinced that our system is the perfect one and go around imposing democracy in all sorts of places where it is not appropriate. Hmm…

Anyway, our friends down in Blantyre were of the opinion that Malawi is not ready for democracy. One of the Indians was a great admirer of Banda, even though he acknowledged his "atrocities." He was very fervent, and declared "I will speak the truth, I don't care what they do to me."

The other Indian had a similar view, but with a more thoughtful approach. He was sure that things were getting steadily worse for Malawi, and he blamed democracy. People used to respect the chiefs more, he thought. Democracy undermines the authority of the chiefs, and accelerates social breakdown. People in the villages can't read, and don't know what they're voting for. There is tremendous corruption.

What's my view on this?… Well, I place a pretty high value on freedom of thought—yet it is an elite value, for most people just think the way they're raised and taught and would rather have a full stomach than the right to (in the words of Czech president Vaclav Havel) "live in truth." They say too, that 1) there has never been a war between two democracies ("democratic peace theory") and that 2) no democracy has ever suffered a famine (Amartya Sen). My general inclination is still to go with Churchill's idea that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest." But it seems a little coarse to look at what happened in Russia in the 1990s, or Malawi in the present, and say "that's just the price you pay…"

Yet we face an intellectual vacuum here: if not democracy, then what? Nowadays, elections are the only way a government can be accepted as really legitimate. No matter how successful a ruler who chooses not to render his tenure dependent on the vote-counted judgment of the people, he will get a heavy dose of scorn from the press. Malawian democracy is a function of the global climate of ideas: educated people can no longer articulately support anything else, so democracy becomes the default, whether the people is ready for it or not. But perhaps the alternative is tradition, a deep Burkean consciousness of gradual civilizational maturation, rooted in and drawing strength from tradition… in this case, the authority of the chiefs.

I remember having a feeling that democracy in Malawi was like permanent summer vacation; a general carefree mentality, part of African culture I think, was masking an unraveling of the social fabric. The Malawian people welcomed losing the ferocious discipline of the brutal old dictator, Kamuzu Banda, but the economy and the social fabric were unraveling-- though, unlike Iraq, this unraveling did not take the form of violence or civil war, but of fatal atrophy: people died young, AIDS was spreading, children were being born out of all proportion to the country's capacity to raise and educate them, and everywhere, hunger and destitution. Above this mess the president was the richest person in the country, totally uncaring for the people. The level of civilization in the country was simply not high enough for democratic processes to lead to good choices of leaders, and I sensed that the traditional leadership-- empower the chiefs-- would have been better, but how to do it?


Iraq the Model:

Dialogue: Their way...

Lebanese industry minister Pierre Gemayel was assassinated a few hours ago this afternoon…

Prime ministers, MPs and journalists; all are targets for terrorist regimes if they dare show their opposition to Damascus or Tehran.

The message is clear and loud, I just wonder how many more messages do we need before the world realizes that these murderous regimes are not so much into dialogue?

I accuse Syria of being behind this crime. Syria thinks that just because they made a "friendly" gesture towards Iraq yesterday they would have the right to unleash their dogs in Lebanon today.

That's their definition for dialogue.

These regimes and their allied gangs will not stop their crimes; they will do anything they can to stop the movement of democratic changes and reform in the region and to keep their despotic, dark age regimes in power.

Why don't we split the difference? If we talk to both Iran and Syria we just look weak. So how about a mix of diplomacy and liberation?

We'll tell the Iranians they can go ahead and build their nukes as far as we're concerned. (Let the rest of the world take the lead in stopping them if they're so tired of American leadership. We can't stop the Iranians from going nuclear by ourselves anyway; if you can't beat them, join them!) In return for our endorsement of their nuclear ambitions, we'll demand their full cooperation in ensuring that the transition to Shia dominance in Iraq takes place in as peaceful and liberal manner as possible.

Meanwhile, overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. No nation-building this time, just knock out the regime and get out. Call it Bushian democracy-promotion or a Nixonian quest for "credibility," as you prefer.

UPDATE: The political murders in Lebanon can be the "international" case for war against Syria, as WMDs were the international case for the war in Iraq. We can push them harder than anyone wants them to and make the world mad, fine; but there's no harm in posing as the UN's enforcer, since the UN has so much unfinished, and by its own normal processes unfinishable, business, and such vague rules, that you don't even have to be hypocritical. (Did we have international law on our side going into Iraq? You bet! The guy didn't cooperate with the sanctions!)

UPDATE: Nato thinks my suggestion is crazy. But maybe I was just trying to build momentum in the blogosphere for a regime-change-in-Syria movement in order to build the US's credibility, so that Assad will get spooked and try to make a separate deal with us before we make a separate deal with Iran... ;)


Christopher Hitchens on James Baker:

In 1991, for those who keep insisting on the importance of sending enough troops, there were half a million already-triumphant Allied soldiers on the scene. Iraq was stuffed with weapons of mass destruction, just waiting to be discovered by the inspectors of UNSCOM. The mass graves were fresh. The strength of sectarian militias was slight. The influence of Iran, still recovering from the devastating aggression of Saddam Hussein, was limited. Syria was—let's give Baker his due—"on side." The Iraqi Baathists were demoralized by the sheer speed and ignominy of their eviction from Kuwait and completely isolated even from their usual protectors in Moscow, Paris, and Beijing. There would never have been a better opportunity to "address the root cause" and to remove a dictator who was a permanent menace to his subjects, his neighbors, and the world beyond. Instead, he was shamefully confirmed in power and a miserable 12-year period of sanctions helped him to enrich himself and to create the immiserated, uneducated, unemployed underclass that is now one of the "root causes" of a new social breakdown in Iraq. It seems a bit much that the man principally responsible for all this should be so pleased with himself and that he should be hailed on all sides as the very model of the statesmanship we now need.

When we let Saddam crush the Shia uprising in 1991, we didn't just betray the Shias, we betrayed America's honor. We must be careful how we extricate ourselves from Iraq now.

Monday, November 20, 2006


Is the impassioned Iraqi democrat advocating a coup here?

Where do Iraqis stand from all the debate about Iraq's future, and how do they look at the expectations and recommendations being made these days?

Iraqis are of course the most concerned and affected by the ongoing crisis but the continuous pressure and trauma made their vision so confused that they are drowned by the daily dangers and problems that compressed their dreams and thought and made seeing tomorrow's sunshine their top priority.

The government stinks—that’s the overwhelming impression that is undermining the public's support for the government and its institutions.

People are tired of criticizing and there's frustration about the government's ability to take serious measures to contain the conflict or improve performance.

Frankly speaking, the ordinary citizen lost faith in his government—worse than that would be the prospect of living with it for another four years and that sounds like a very bad idea if incompetence remains at the current level, or gets worse.

Each episode of escalation brings to the surface the argument that the government must resign or be made to resign but that is not an easy option because even if it was technically possible to force a resignation there would be no better choices ready at our disposal.

At the same time, dismissing the current legislature and calling for early elections would mean more chaos on the streets and more bitter exchange of violence among rival parties…and the ordinary people would be caught in the crossfire of this conflict.

The idea of a 'palace coup de tat' may look tempting and it's one of the popular ideas among many of the people these days as a cure for the deadly instability. But I'm not sure the advocates of this option realize the possible consequences lying beneath the sugarcoating but I understand their attitude because previous coups were mostly smooth and "stability" was regained in relatively no time.

But the case is different now, Iraq is no longer a centralized state and changing the head of the state from within-or from outside-won't be enough to make the entire country accept the change or pledge allegiance to the new administration.
Changing the head will not bring back the limbs together and it might give rise to even more complicated situations.

I agree that a coup would be welcomed by the large segments of people who are tired of the present situation but what about a few months or a year after that? What would be the reaction when months pass by and stability is not restored (and I doubt it can)?

I think the coup administration would then be put in a very similar position to this government's…embarrassed, incapable and losing public support.

Which makes it sound as if the only reason Iraq the Model is not advocating a coup is that he thinks it wouldn't work-- "work" in the sense of restore security. But

Now, our real problem in Iraq is that we do not have leaderships with patriotic agendas and like we said many times in previous postings; these leaderships that work according to partisan and regional-foreign agendas are the main cause of trouble because they are in power and they would not easily abandon the agendas of their masters and regional supporters and they will remain an obstacle in the face of building the state.

The bitter fact is; it was us who brought them to power and gave them legitimacy through elections. But…regret is useless now.

But how were Iraqis supposed to know? It's hard enough for Americans, even with their vast resources of punditry and political analysis and their long party traditions and scores of politicians with long records to judge them by, to get what they want. Iraqis-- how would they have a chance? This is the flaw with spreading democracy: democracy needs deep roots in tradition to be the comparatively beneficent (the least-worst) form of government that it is in rich countries.

I believe that America would like to see Iraq emerge as a model for the region and is working hard to find a way to solve the current crisis. But that cannot be done without having a cooperative Iraqi partner on the ground who shares similar views for Iraq and the middle east. And that's the point; that partner does not exist, at least not in the government.

And I don't think Iraq's neighbors would instruct their representatives (their servants in Iraq) to give America a hand, even though they pretend to be heading in that direction because their vision for Iraq and the region are fundamentally in conflict with that of America. They want to see America defeated in Iraq and that's of course at the expense of Iraq.

So you're saying...

So, to start looking for solutions, America must first start looking for an Iraqi partner, a partner that is devoted to building a model state in Iraq and that favors building a strategic alliance with America instead of grave alliances with rogue regional powers that want to throw Iraq back to the ages of despotism or settle old accounts with America through a proxy war.

Perhaps figures like Allawi and his bloc stand as a good candidate for a partner but they're a candidate not big enough to form a "salvation front" and work with America and save Iraq.

There are other smaller liberal powers but these are shattered and confused and many of them chose to side with religious parties in order to have a chance to win a seat but I also think they might be willing to form new alliances under different frames, and here the Kurds arise as a potential valuable addition to the front—should they choose to stop looking at the situation from a narrow ethnic corner and realized the bigger image of the region.

Dismissing Maliki's government, whether under a constitutional cover or not, will not be a fruitful act unless before that a fresh patriotic front capable of filling the vacuum is established. This front has to be largely from within the parliament in addition to liberal powers that weren't lucky enough to reach the parliament.

This new political mass will be a very helpful asset to the patriotic Iraqi project and to America's interests, whether on the long term (the next elections) or on the short term in case Maliki's government resigned.

How can that front be assembled?

The only means is explicit, direct support from the United States to this future partner.

Everything is allowed in war and since Iran or other countries support this or that harmful party then America has the right, and the moral obligation, to support a party of its choice.

America is in Iraq now and in order to create a cover of legitimacy to any political or military solution, a strong Iraqi partner must first exist. [my emphasis]

So "America should look for an Iraqi partner"-- not being a partner with those that the Iraqis elected. The partner should be "liberal powers" from "within the parliament." Having lined up this "patriotic front," we should "dismiss Maliki's government, whether under constitutional cover or not." We should then offer "explicit, direct support... to this future partner." This is justified because "everything is allowed in war." It sounds like an American-sponsored coup to me.

The so-called foreign-policy "realists" will mock, but realistically, we can't do that because overthrowing an elected government and sponsoring a coup by "liberal powers" is against our democratic principles. Principles are what we fight for, and are also indispensable geopolitical assets. And they're essential to the legitimacy of American foreign policy in the eyes of Americans themselves.

But we might be able to pressure the Maliki government by asking it to hold referendums. Referendum results on particular questions could sideline the Maliki government to some extent while fitting with our democratic principles. The first referendum we should hold is on whether US troops should stay or not. If there's a supermajority vote "no," we'll leave. If there's a majority vote "no" with local "yes" majorities, we'll stay in pockets to prevent ethnic cleansing, and if that means de facto partitioning of the country, so be it. If there's a majority "yes" vote ("yes, we want American troops to stay") we'll smash Sadr and his Mahdi Army and take the consequences. We'll give just enough signals beforehand that that's what we're going to do so that we can claim a mandate for it.

That's the best solution I can think of to this conundrum. But who knows?

Now-estranged, formerly pro-American blogger Zeyad wrote in 2003:

I truly hope that living under 50 years of tyranny hasn't turned us all into potential tyrants. I worry constantly when I see some of the newly appointed Iraqi officials and controversial politico-religious figures just too eager to rule and assume power in the country. They are desperately trying to push it and speed up things for themselves. I see Saddam's face under the masks they're wearing. They are tyrants in disguise. I would rather have President Bremer (Allah preserve him) ruling us than any of them.

Bremer has often been dismissed as an incompetent. But seeing as his brief rule was probably the best times that Iraq has had in a generation-- better than what came before, better than what came after-- I wonder if a bit of revisionism is called for. Bremer, the good colonialist. Who tragically handed power to the hollow men in the name of democracy.


Two accounts of the life of St. Job of Pochaev. Here's Wikipedia:

In 1604, the monastic community was joined by Ivan Zalizo, a well-known champion of Eastern Orthodoxy and vocal critic of the Union of Brest. Formerly associated with the printing house of Prince Ostrogski, Zalizo established a press in Pochayiv in 1730, which supplied all of Galicia and Volhynia with theological literature. The press continued to function until 1924, when it was taken to the Monastery of St Job of Pochayiv in Jordanville, New York.

Changing his name to Job and elected the monastery's hegumen, Zalizo introduced strict discipline and other reforms of monastic life. During his time in office, the monastery had to fend off incessant attacks by Hojska's heirs, notably Andrzej Firlej, Castellan of Belz, who sued the monks over his grandmother's bequest. In 1623, Firlej raided the monastery, taking the holy icon with him and keeping it until 1641, when a court decision finally restituted the icon to the monks. Job of Pochayiv died on October 25, 1651 and was glorified as a saint soon thereafter.

And here's someone who's more of an Orthodox partisan:

Our venerable father Job was born about 1571 to the Zhelezo family in Volynia (Southwestern Ukraine) and was baptized John. Having wisdom and piety beyond his years, John zealously entered the Ugoinitsky Monastery at the age of ten. He was tonsured exactly two years later with the new name Job. At the age of 30 he was ordained a priest, and shortly thereafter was tonsured into the great and angelic schema. He was then given the task of overseeing the Holy Cross monastery at Dubno. This was a difficult time for the Orthodox in a land so close to Catholic Poland. A false union of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches was declared in 1596. This allowed the Catholic missionaries to spread their lies farther than before. But St. Job was a fearless defender of Orthodoxy, and under his direction, many Orthodox books were distributed, including the first complete Slavonic Bible. Due to the great turmoil, though, St. Job withdrew to the ancient Pochaev monastery, where the miraculous icon of te Pochaev Mother of God was kept. The monks there felt the sanctity of St. Job, and thus elected him abbot. He set about immediately to organize the brethren, build a stone church (which still exists), and start the printing of Orthodox books. St. Job was able to enlist the help of wealthy Orthodox patrons, but he also angered the Catholic nobles by his zeal. One named Firlei was able to confiscate the land and possessions of the Pochaev monastery (and even the icon!). St. Job had to turn to the Polish courts for their return. The venerable Job also participated at the council convened at Kiev in 1628, which was a great uplift for the Orthodox pastors of Polish occupied Russia.

St. Job was a true ascetic as well as an able administrator. He would often withdraw to a cave where he would spend nights in prayer. His vigils were so long that his feet would bleed, and divine light was seen to shine forth from the cave.

Seven days before he reposed, St. Job received a revelation as to exactly when he would die. On October 28,1651, after serving Divine Liturgy, St. Job reposed peacefully. His relics were discovered to be whole and incorrupt after seven years, and transferred to the church of the Holy Trinity on August 28,1659. Dozens of miracles issued forth from the relics, witnessed by not only Orthodox but also by Catholics as well, into whose hands the Pochaev monastery passed for 110 years. After the return of the monastery to the Orthodox church, miracles continued, as they do to this day, as a service and akathist were composed to the saint. The Church has designated two feasts to St. Job: August 28, the uncovering of his relics and October 28, his repose. In these times when many call for a false union with the enemies of Orthodoxy, let us call upon St. Job the Wonderworker of Pochaev to pray for us to Christ God, who is glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen!

Would I wish to charge Catholic missionaries with "spreading their lies farther than before?" Lies? Although my first reaction is to squirm at such language, the Catholics in question were probably Jesuits, and the Jesuit creed of intellectual obedience to the Catholic Church, no matter what, to the point where, in the famous quote:

"If the Church says something is black and we think it is white, believe it's black," Infante wrote. "Jesuits must show that the church is infallible, explain teachings, like why contraception is sinful, and direct people toward holiness."

This does seem the epitome of intellectual dishonesty. So maybe Reader Paul Drozdowski's harsh words are justified.

In any case, I visited the Orthodox monastery mentioned in the Wikipedia article this weekend, and after several hours of worship, and confession and Eucharist, in that holy place in the company of monks and pilgrims, the darkness that had overwhelmed my soul was lightened, and my hope began to be restored. The holiness in these remote places which have fled the world emanates into the world which it has turned its back on. Praise be to God!

Friday, November 17, 2006

A surprising tribute to the late Milton Friedman from Bush-hating economist Brad DeLong. An interesting twist:

Sometime empirical circumstances could win Friedman some unexpected allies. Left-wing Mayor Ken Livingstone's congestion tax on cars in central London is an idea straight out of Milton Friedman. Friedman's negative income tax is one of the parents of what is now America's largest anti-poverty program: the earned-income tax credit, which was greatly expanded by Bill Clinton.

Liberals should take their cue from Friedman for another great anti-poverty program: education vouchers. Oh yes, and Social Security private accounts. (As my onetime roommate Phil Kerpen once pointed out to me: Social Security reform basically means the workers owning the means of production.)


There's a certain parallel between the firing of Rumsfeld after the election, and the victory of Steny Hoyer as Majority Whip for the Democrat-controlled House. Rumsfeld, the ultimate hawk in his public rhetoric, fell; now anti-war champion Jack Murtha, despite the backing of the new Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has been rejected for the House leadership in favor of a candidate with more credibility among "Blue Dogs" and "New Dems."

In each case, extreme positions on the war were not the only factor. Ardent hawks tended not to like Rumsfeld, regarding him as incompetent or even too reluctant-- Rumsfeld's apparent preferred strategy of liberating but not occupying Iraq, which was stampeded the Pottery Barn Fallacy consensus, may yet be vindicated by the failure of the occupation to avert the anarchy and civil war, the vague fears of which motivated the nation-building phase of the war (the invasion itself is independent of its aftermath and can/will be vindicated, or not, only at the ideological level, if your ethics is deontological, and/or in the much longer run, if your ethics is consequentialist)-- while Murtha was knocked out more for his corruption than because he's an anti-war firebrand.

The two defeats, however, serve as bookends of the centrist portion of the political spectrum, shrewdly comprehended, for once, by the political class. Whatever is the will of the American people, and that is far from clear, it is not represented by Donald Rumsfeld or Jack Murtha.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Iraqi blogger Zeyad has a long post of Iraqi blogger's reactions to Saddam's execution. The gratitude and joy at justice finally being done is visible in a lot of the posts, but there's also a lot of bitterness at the violence the country is suffering from now, and some don't think that Saddam's execution will do any good in practice.

Saddam's execution could affect the incentives facing other dictators, as I argued in "Iraq and the Police Principle" last year. (That essay didn't get much buzz, but I think it was a good one.)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Meanwhile, here's a tribute to the departing Secretary of Defense over at TCS:

After returning from Iraq in 2003, I found myself preparing to leave active-duty in 2004. For some reason, I encountered several interesting articles about Donald Rumsfeld and came to be pretty impressed with the guy. I don't mean his leadership style, or his decisions or anything like that. I mean personality-wise. He's got a great bio: elected to the House of Representatives at age 29, worked his way through Washington for nearly two decades before departing for the private sector. There he turned around two companies that were failing, and by all accounts, he did so with panache.

My boss became interested in Rummy too. We started to trade bits and pieces of information we encountered here and there. I told him I had read somewhere that Rumsfeld kept a an old tape deck in his office and when working late, would throw in a cassette of patriotic marches and pick up some dumbbells and do a few sets, just to get the blood flowing. My boss saw an interview on TV conducted at Rumsfeld's ranch in New Mexico. A lifelong friend, who was a successful businessman himself, said that Rummy has the energy of "five successful men." Another article I read noted that Rumsfeld doesn't sit at a desk, choosing instead to stand all day between two tall tables. Another noted his habit of frequently walking long distances to appointments in the capital, instead of hopping in his security vehicle - to the chagrin of his security detail. The man, while in his early 70s, would work 16 hour days, then routinely beat his subordinates at a squash game, then go home and spend his free time . . . writing a book for his wife about what a great person she is. I'm not making any of this up.

The meat of the article is an e-mail to Instapundit:

"The Military cannot change itself. Air Force screams at the Navy, Navy screams at the Army, and everyone screams at the Marines, and the Coast Guard continues to go on unfunded. Congress just sits squirms in its seat every time someone wants to do something simple like close an air force base, Private Industry? Oh sure that will work out fine, no self interest there, right?

"So what do you do? You get a man just exactly like Rumsfeld, who's been around forever, knows exactly what works and what doesn't work, knows where all the bodies are buried at every level of the chain of command and you let him loose by putting him at the top.

"Rumsfeld is uniquely and highly qualified to do exactly what he is doing. He is an institutional nightmare to the lifetime bureaucrat. Think of Rumsfeld as one of those CEO's that gets hired to turn around a company in bankruptcy court, or like Tom Peters without the PR team. This is not to say that the Military is 'bankrupt', but it has lost its way in some places. Do we really need a dozen more Seawolf submarines or should we have 50 more C-17s and C-5s? F-22's or MV-22's?, Airborne Laser Missile Defense or another 10 brigades of Marines and Special Forces? I don't know the answer to those questions, but I know better than to ask Admiral Chuck 'Seawolf' Hardmore if we need more Seawolf submarines.

"That's why we are lucky to have him, and that's why everyone hates him, because in the end Rumsfeld will be remembered as the greatest change agent of all time."

I remain a skeptic of the anti-Rumsfeld conventional wisdom, and of the "incompetence" charge in Iraq.


Saddest thing I've read about the election:

The bums, or at least many of them, have been thrown out. And so the political conversation turns naturally to the question of what the Democrats will do now that they again share power with a Republican president. And while it may be too soon to fully answer that question, we saw enough during the campaign to be alarmed about one tendency in particular: economic nationalism.

Many of the Democrats who recaptured seats held by Republicans have been described as moderates or social conservatives, who will be out of synch with Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi. The better term, with props to Fareed Zakaria, is probably illiberal Democrats. Most of those who reclaimed Republican seats ran hard against free trade, globalization, and any sort of moderate immigration policy. That these Democrats won makes it likely that others will take up their reactionary call. Some of the newcomers may even be foolish enough to try to govern on the basis of their misguided theory.

Cue the scary music...

Here's a stupid take on the 2006 elections:

"THE presidency of George W. Bush ended last night."

No, actually, George W. Bush is still president. For two more years. It may be half-true that "the Democratic Party turned this election into a referendum on the president - and the president lost." But just because the Democrats ran against George W. Bush doesn't mean that people were voting against him. It won't help the Democrats any if they interpret the election that way.

My comment on the election: "Walls Are for Losers."

Hugh Hewitt agrees: "The anti-illegal immigration absolutists got their heads handed to them."

Nato writes:

It seems to me that protectionists are all over the political map these days. Are there really that many more protectionist Democrats than protectionist GOP any more?

Greg Mankiw is on the case:

Some of my best friends are Democrats. They often like to think that their party is good for international trade.

"Remember NAFTA?," they tell me. "Clinton was a Democrat, and he pushed the free-trade agenda forward."

Yes, but let's look at how he did it. The 1993 roll call vote in the House found 132 Republicans in favor of NAFTA, 43 against. Among House Democrats, there were 102 in favor, 156 against.

In the Senate, the same story. Among Republican senators, there were 34 in favor of NAFTA, 10 against. Among Democratic senators, 27 were in favor, 28 against.

Since NAFTA, the difference between the two parties has, if anything, grown larger. When the Central America Free Trade Agreement came up for a vote in 2005, the House produced 202 Republicans in favor, 27 against. The Democrats had only 15 in favor, 187 against.

Nato thinks that protectionism has become more bipartisan. The reverse seems to be the case: free trade has become a Republican issue. In view of last night's results, this is grim news.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


So says Nancy Pelosi, probably the next House Speaker since the Dems seem to have taken the House. I'll agree to that! A Dem takeover of the house probably means that millions of people will get civil rights.

Better yet, it looks like the Republicans will hold the Senate. Divided Congress. Cool!

Michael Barone voices a common meme:

Now, as then, they want to see American withdrawal even if that means defeat. Yet Iraq is plainly not Vietnam. There were more than 20 times as many American deaths in Vietnam as there have been in Iraq. And withdrawal from Iraq would be vastly more dangerous than withdrawal from Vietnam turned out to be.

I certainly don't think that withdrawal from Iraq would be more dangerous than withdrawal from Vietnam; rather, less so, both for us and the Iraqis. There could be a nasty civil war after we depart, but probably not on the scale of the bloodbath that swept Southeast Asia in the 1970s after we pulled out. It might even reduce violence, as most Iraqis seem to think it would (though I'd prefer not to take the risk). The likely outcome of the civil war would be an increasing Shiite ascendancy and more Iranian influence, which would spook the Sunni Arab states of the Middle East into becoming more cooperative with the US. More importantly, we don't have a major geopolitical rival like the USSR right now to be empowered by our weakness. Also we just can't lose the Iraq War once Saddam's dead: removing him from power was our #1 war objective, and only his restoration would be a true US defeat. (Unless you redefine what it is to "lose" a war, the way the Democrats are trying to redefine what it is to have a good economy.) As a result, Iraq's effect on our "credibility" won't be nearly as bad as Vietnam's was, regardless of the outcome.

One more point. Kerry's gaffe line...

"You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

... is no less ignorant and offensive if you read it the way Kerry says he meant it, namely as an insult against Bush. For one thing, it's a childish cheap shot unworthy of a member of the US Senate. For another it's totally wrong. Not only did Bush get a Masters of Business Administration, but a lot of the people who worked for him-- PhD Condoleeza Rice, former SAIS administrator Paul Wolfowitz-- are intellectually brilliant people. If you think (unlike me) that the Iraq War was a crazy idea, the fact you have to explain is how a lot of very smart people fell for it.

Like most E.J. Dionne columns, "Conservative Identity Crisis" is half astute analysis, half spin. He points out:

All successful political coalitions have disparate elements. But the lesson of 2006 is that the last five years have aggravated every contradiction on the right to the breaking point: the religious conservatives against the libertarians; the neoconservatives against the foreign policy realists; the pro-immigration conservatives against immigration critics; the forces of big business against working class conservatives; compassionate conservatives against ... hmmm, how do you describe the other side on that one?

This astute point undermines another of Dionne's claims:

At the beginning of the 2006 campaign, the most popular charge in punditry was that Democrats were going to the voters with "no ideas." As the election closes, it's clear that the Republicans won the "no ideas" contest.

That's silly. Republicans don't suffer from no ideas, they suffer from too many ideas. There's some truth in the charge that Republicans no longer have a coherent governing philosophy, though. How do you forge an ideology, a rhetoric that can win the assent of such a diverse coalition?-- that's the challenge.

(My solution: purge the paleocons. Libertarians-- except I suppose those who want to impose gay marriage by anti-democratic Big Government fiat-- and theocons, social conservatives, neocons, and advocates free-market supply-sider economics should be able to fit in a Big Tent.)

The Democrats are, yes, the party of no ideas. Their platform, as Michael Kinsley notes, consists of a lot of handouts via tax credits. On the left, not the Democrats, not even the Kossack netroots but the actual ideological left, there are plenty of ideas, bestowed by generations of intellectuals-- Derrida, Foucault, Lacan, Marx, John Kenneth Galbraith, etc. But while intellectual rightism is a resource, intellectual leftism is a liability. Democrats have put it behind them; what's left is mostly partisan chauvinism, anything-but-ism, and opportunism.

And yet... the Democrats do still have some principles left; they understand that scapegoating illegal immigrants and building border walls is wrong. That alone is enough for me to root for them this time around.

Monday, November 06, 2006


Howard Dean's election manifesto, as it were, at USA Today.

Tuesday, Americans have a choice between staying the course and a new direction for our country. After six years of Republican leadership, some Americans may be considering doing something they haven't done in a long time. Vote for a Democrat.

No points for guessing that. A lot of conservative pundits at places like the Cato Institute, the National Review, and Tech Central are openly rooting for the Democrats. But it's because they're ticked off with Republicans, not because they are attracted to the Democrats or have much confidence in them. It would be SO nice if some Democrat would acknowledge that.

If you vote for a Democrat on Tuesday, we will honor the trust you put in us with a new direction for America.

Is voting for a Democrat the same as putting our trust in Democrats? Not necessarily. It might be a strategic choice: we don't like you, but under the circumstances you might do less damage in government than in opposition, and the Republicans might do more good in opposition than in government. Also maybe you'll learn something through the experience of being in power and quit being such dopes. It's worth a shot.

Isn't it time for a new direction in Iraq?

The American people deserve political leaders who will ask the tough questions and make smart decisions about our foreign policy and homeland security, not just tough talk around election time. Sixteen intelligence agencies agree that the Bush administration's failed Iraq policy is increasing terrorism around the world. Our brave troops have become occupiers caught in a civil war. Democrats are united behind a strategy of phased redeployment and benchmarks that make it clear to the Iraqis that they must take responsibility for the future of their country.

"Phased redeployment" is a pretty non-transparent campaign promise. Non-transparent, and surely no different from what Bush is offering, indeed from what the strategy has been all along. We'll stand down as the Iraqis stand up. Etcetera. But hey, I agree, I guess. The message could be more cut-and-run than that.

Fighting terrorism

Isn't it time for a new direction in fighting the war on terror?

Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, and al-Qaeda has moved to a new location in northwest Pakistan.

So what are you saying? Invade Pakistan?

Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of the Taliban. Democrats want to increase the size of our Special Forces to destroy bin Laden and terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda. We want to ensure that our troops and agencies have the tools to stop future attacks.

Unless he's going to invade Pakistan, I think Dean was just kidding about the new direction in the war on terror. And no, it's not time for a new direction in fighting the war on terror. The war on terror outside Iraq is going pretty well. And maybe it would be apropos at this point to mention that there hasn't been an attack in five years. How about "we'll build on the Bush administration's success?"

And we won't take our eyes off of the growing threats in Iran and North Korea.

Uh... okay... What are you going to do about the growing threats in Iran and North Korea? Why not just say, "We don't have a clue what to do about Iran and North Korea?" The honesty of a statement like that would give me the first positive reason to vote for a Democrat.

We also need to keep our streets and communities at home safe. We will enact the bipartisan 9/11 Commission recommendations because it's time to inspect all cargo and lock down loose nuclear material and ensure our nation is prepared for disasters such as Hurricane Katrina — and the aftermath. We will ensure we properly equip our National Guard and first responders.

So this is all over the map. About the streets and communities, crime rates have already fallen a lot in the past decade. Safe from what? I don't like the "inspect all cargo" line: it sounds like protectionism in the name of national security. And is Dean trying to use rhetorical sleight of hand to make people think Hurricane Katrina was somehow a nuclear disaster? Or what?

Isn't it time for a new direction for our economy and the middle class?

No, no, no. The economy is booming. The economy is going up, so a new direction could only be-- down. And it's deeply sinister that the Democrats are trying to cultivate a victim complex in the American middle class. People who think they are victims do nasty things. The Germans felt like victims after World War I. The American middle class are not victims; they're among the most affluent people in the history of the world. Dean is a wicked man to say these things.

The harmful policies of the GOP have failed hard-working Americans. Republicans have waged a war on the family.

The old rhetoric of class warfare, framed in weird quasi-social-conservative garb. Ugly thinking.

The Bush economy has failed 80% of Americans, benefiting only the top 1%.


For most Americans, wages and incomes have slowed;

They've "slowed?" You mean, grown more slowly? Or what?

health care costs and personal debt have increased.

What are you going to do about health care costs, eh? Deregulation? Personal debt-- that's our affair, not the government's. My personal debt has certainly soared since Bush took office. By my own consent.

Home mortgage foreclosures are up; college tuition has skyrocketed.

Those greedy professors! And you know what-- most of them are liberal!

Control spending

We will end Republicans' deficit spending and restore pay-as-you-go discipline. We will restore the Republican cuts to Pell grants and other programs that make it easier for our kids to afford to go to college. We will protect, not privatize, Social Security.

Fuzzy math alert: Dean says he'll "end deficit spending" and then offers new spending, including ever-increasing handouts to affluent retirees. But the promise to "end deficit spending" is interesting nonetheless. Deficits aren't such a serious problem at the moment. The deficit is less than GDP growth, so national debt is decreasing as a share of GDP. Entitlement programs are still on track to break the bank in the long run... or maybe not, if productivity growth keeps the pace of recent years. Dean is taking an arch-fiscal-conservative position here that is out of step with his party's history. I like it if it's sincere.

Democrats respect hard-working families and the work it takes to make ends meet.

So do we all.

We believe that strengthening the middle class is essential for a thriving economy that rewards work, opens the door of opportunity to all, and makes it easier for parents to devote time to their families. We will ease the burdens on middle-class Americans with middle-class tax fairness, increase the minimum wage and reverse Republican health care cuts.

"Middle-class tax fairness?" These are bully-words (we're "fair" they're not) but otherwise meaningless. Raising the minimum wage is stupid: people should be able to work for very low wages if they want to, or if that's all they can find.

We want to make a down payment in ensuring affordable health care for every American, and fix the Medicare prescription drug program.

Socialized medicine, or not? Amidst the obfuscation, it's impossible to tell.

We will protect Social Security so that every senior is ensured a retirement in dignity.

The idea that government welfare checks can provide "dignity" is a travesty. Have you gone to some of America's thousands of nursing homes, Dean, and seen old people babbling and drooling, forgotten by their families? Do they have "dignity" just because the government puts a check in the mail with their name on it every month?

We will enact real ethics reform in Congress.

Isn't it time for responsible, competent leadership and an end to the politics of deficits, divisiveness and deceit?

Our nation has become more divided and polarized with rhetoric and campaign tactics designed to drive wedges rather than find common ground.

I should be used to it by now, but it still amazes me that Howard Dean, of all people, has the nerve to complain about polarizing rhetoric. Can he possibly imagine that the polarizing rhetoric is all coming from the other side and he is innocent of it?

If the Republicans do make a last-minute comeback, as some polls say they might, one reason will be their relentless negativism against Republicans and in particular against Bush. This should have been really obvious. 60 million Americans voted for Bush in 2004. Yes, he's less popular now, but there's now benefit from attacking him. It just makes past Bush-supporters feel like you're attacking them. "Bush did some things right, and we'll build on his successes, and work with him to find solutions. We think we'd be more effective partners with him than the Republican Congress has been lately..." How could that not be a more effective campaign strategy than ongoing Deaniac hate-mongering?

The irony is that Dean offers very little real differences from Bush here. He doesn't propose a tax hike. The spending he offers is limited. His "phased redeployment" phrase doesn't make it clear that Democrats would do anything different in Iraq than what Bush and Co. are likely to do. He'll fight the Taliban; we already are. Yet even if he is unable to craft policy alternatives, Dean is set apart by his theological conviction that Republicans are sub-human.

Friday, November 03, 2006


I'm getting increasingly excited about the likely Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives. So is Larry Kudlow:

Nancy Pelosi told me last week on CNBC that the Democrats, if they take the House, will push for a balanced budget and spending restraint. She also said tax increases would only be a last resort...

Cheney noted that the administration has had to meet some "extraordinary" spending requirements. Yes, they have -- among them the high price of war and security in the long wake of 9-11. But here, supply-side policy once again matters: The deficit has dropped to a low percentage of GDP, historically speaking, thanks to the economic growth and revenues thrown off from the Bush tax cuts. Said Cheney, sounding very balanced-budget minded, "We have done a lot to exercise restraint in terms of spending."

So can we expect two years of Congress and the Executive Branch trying to outdo each other on spending control? Markets won't mind at all...

Adding all this up, key Democrats say they won't raise taxes if they take the House -- and if they do try, the president will be there with his veto pen. Think Grover Cleveland, who holds the American record for presidential vetoes. The Democrats also are at least talking spending restraint, as are Cheney and his boss. And not only is the veep saying no to new regulations, there could be bipartisan agreement that Sarbanes-Oxley has gone too far.

This could be the real message of the Goldilocks market: a Reaganesque policy mix of low tax rates, limited spending and less regulation. It would continue the greatest story never told.

On immigration, the political message from a Dem takeover would be spectacular. The Republicans pass a fence bill and immediately, just like that-- BOOM!-- voters give them the boot! The Pete Wilson lesson all over again. What's more, there are currently millions of people living in America who are locked out of the benefits of citizenship, who will likely get their civil rights within the next couple of years if the Dems take over. This is one place where Bush and the Dems could work together.

What about Iraq? I don't think Dems will rush for the exits, and if they try, Bush will gain in popularity because Americans aren't as war-weary as all that. Dems might be better-positioned to woo international support. Maybe jettison Rumsfeld... not that I necessarily buy the anti-Rumsfeld CW, but enough soldiers seem to hate him that it might be just as well to get him out of the way. Then there's Lieberman, set to win a new, unique, bipartisan mandate in Connecticut. Lieberman could play a real historic role here, the symbol to Democrats that they shouldn't be intimidated by the left-netroots into a hasty, premature withdrawal. It's risky putting the Dems in charge; they've looked pretty useless over the past couple of years. But it's worth the risk this time I think.

(It might be better to have the Senate stay Republican-- House/Senate gridlock is good!-- but it will be sweet sweet sweet to see Rick Santorum go down after his stance on immigration.)

I'm in a Muslim country right now. Around noon, and also in the evening, the haunting music of the call to prayer wafts over the rooftops and through the windows. I feel a little guilty saying this, as a Russian Orthodox, but I really like. It draws my spirit somehow...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


It hit me the other day: the answer to Iraq. Not the solution in a military sense. Not an answer to whether the war was right or wrong in 2003. But the solution at the political and ideological level, to the question: Now we’re here, what should we seek to do? It could be a campaign slogan, or the motto of a new Bush administration direction; it’s a goal towards which our plans should seek to be the paths.

Peace In Iraq.

This is a “radical centrist” position. It opposes the right, which wants to “stay the course” (“the course” being more war) or escalate (Kill Sadr! Invade Iran!). It equally opposes the left, which wants to pull US troops out of Iraq unilaterally, regardless of whether this leads to peace or not (it probably wouldn’t). The Peace In Iraq position is that we should whatever will stop the killing, whether it be staying, or going, or leaving some troops, or even sending more troops, or anything else.

We should talk to anyone who will talk. Talk to Syria and Iran. Talk to Muqtada al-Sadr. Talk to the insurgents, the Baathist revanchists. Talk to al-Qaeda if they’re willing. Talk to anyone who is killing people in Iraq. Figure out why they’re doing it and what it would take to make them stop; then try to satisfy as much of everyone’s demands as possible. If some people won’t talk to us, try to find someone—a tribal leader, a cleric, an envoy of Iran or Syria, anyone—who they will talk to, and talk to them indirectly. It may be impossible to find enough common ground among the various parties to stop the killing, but by all means, try.

Peace In Iraq is more important than justice. Many of those fighting in Iraq have blood on their hands—Baathist ex-torturers; civilian-murdering terrorist string-pullers—and they deserve to be jailed or executed, but never mind that. If we have to amnesty them, if we have to make deals that allow them to retire in comfort, so be it, just as long as they stop the killing.

Peace In Iraq is more important than democracy. What kind of regime emerges in Iraq—liberal democracy, an Islamic Republic a la Iran, some form of tribal feudalism, strongman leadership—is a secondary issue, as long as it stops the killing.

Of course, justice and democracy might help to secure Peace In Iraq. Punishing killers might deter future killers, and reduce the desire for vengeance. Elections may yet succeed in establishing a legitimacy deep and broad enough to create a societal consensus. But for the time being we should regard justice and democracy as tools only, tools for the achievement of Peace In Iraq, to be applied if useful, and if not, not.

We should drop the illusion of omnipotence. I suspect that while US military power was predictably sufficient to overthrow Saddam Hussein, establishing civil peace in the country afterwards is not the type of work that our military ever could have done, and the “nation-building” effort that followed the war was inherently naïve because we simply don’t have the kind of tools that can do that. (The war was worth it if and only if the inherent, inescapable risk of chaos and civil strife in the aftermath of liberation was worthwhile.) Whether or not that’s the case, at this point we clearly do not have the capacity to ensure Peace In Iraq; we must trust others. Above all, we should trust the Iraqi people by asking them to vote on whether we should stay. We should ask Prime Minister al-Maliki to hold a referendum with the following choices:

1. In the midst of the present crisis, Iraq calls on the international community and the multi-national forces in particular to assist it in its struggle with murderous terrorists.

2. Regardless of whether the war was right or wrong, Iraq can never be a normal, sovereign, democratic country while foreign forces fight on its soil, so we call on foreign troops to depart with all feasible speed, and to be gone within six months.

The referendum can be held with the following terms. If 75% or more of the votes cast are for withdrawal, we will exit the whole country as fast as is feasible. If more than 50% and less than 75% vote for withdrawal, we will exit from all provinces where a majority favored withdrawal, but in any province where support for multinational forces staying was greater than 50%, we will consider that support a mandate for our troops remaining as a safeguard against ethnic cleansing. This will be negotiated with local and national Iraqi leadership. If more than 50% of Iraqis nationally ask for continuing MNF support, we will remain in the country fighting terrorists and insurgents alongside the Iraqi forces, but we will ask the Iraqi government to hold future referendums on the subject annually in case the Iraqi public changes its mind.

Peace In Iraq is an ideal position for old hawks who now feel some doubts and guilt, but who don’t want to explicitly repudiate their past positions. At the same time it’s a position for liberals who may have opposed the war, but who either changed their minds, or else who believe that we can’t leave now. It’s a repudiation of realism but at the same time it may satisfy many voters as being more in the US’s national interest than either the right or the left alternatives. Peace In Iraq asks no one to repent of their past positions; we have more important things to do now than to figure out who was right and who was wrong, back then. It rejects the hateful hysteria of both Free Republic and Daily Kos.

Peace In Iraq tries to be chary in American lives—stop the killing means, among other things, stop the killing of American soldiers—but it does not make soldiers’ lives more important than their mission—which is what the cut-and-run position does, and which subtly repudiates the courage which makes American soldiers what they are, and which consists in valuing the mission more than one’s life.

On the American political scene, Peace In Iraq could have a “national unity” appeal. A physical civil war is raging in Iraq, but a mental civil war has been raging in the US for three or four years now over the same issue, and people are tired of it. It is a humane goal that people of all parties can rally behind.

On the international scene, one can only assume that a national push from the US for Peace In Iraq would be welcome. If foreign journalists and/or politicians want to portray it as a change of heart on the part of a chastened US, as repentance for our belligerent ways, as an effort to return to the international community, let them do so! We should make no effort to defend past positions; let present political actors save it for their memoirs to explain that no, Peace In Iraq was perfectly consistent with earlier policies. The UN and the Europeans could hardly help but endorse the Peace In Iraq sentiment, and they might even contribute money or troops or whatever diplomatic and moral support they can offer to the success of our new initiative.

Other Arab countries would wish the initiative success out of self-interest: they are terrified that disorder in Iraq will spread to their own countries. We would ask the Saudis, the Jordanians, the Egyptians to assist us as mediators in any way they could. (The lofty pro-democratic scruples that make us hold these regimes at arm’s length are a luxury we can’t afford for the moment.)

And in Iraq itself? It might indeed be hard to find a compromise that was acceptable to all the feuding parties on the Iraqi scene. Anyway, since that’s what we’ve been trying to do for some time now, it’s hard to know whether Peace In Iraq would have any practical effect. Yet I think it would. An openly declared willingness to deal directly with anyone who has power in Iraq might bring some actors to the table who don’t find it advantageous to participate in the democratic political process. To some extent we might be betraying our democratic allies by undermining their democratic sovereignty. But democratic sovereignty must rest on a foundation of a society that is able to peacefully co-exist and maintain order; given that that is absent in Iraq, real democratic sovereignty is not an option available to that country, yet.

Of course Peace In Iraq might fail. But we should give it our best effort. For the moment, to stop the killing should be our paramount, our only goal in Iraq; we should make this clear to ourselves, to the Iraqis, to the world.