Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Mike Huckabee

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Mike Huckabee presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Huckabee, M.D. (2008). America's Priorities in the War on Terror: Islamists, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Foreign Affairs, 87 (1), Jan/Feb. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudolph Guliani, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, and Bill Richardson.

I was surprised by Mike Huckabee’s robust, pugnacious, almost bellicose approach to international affairs. The main purpose of the essay seems to have been to project an image of strong Commander in Chief, and to that extent, the essay is successful. One would not expect a country preacher from Arkansas to suggest invasion of Pakistan, cutting off aid to Egypt, using “swift and surgical air strikes and commando raids” (mainly by the CIA) to eliminate terrorist cells, dramatically increasing the military budget to support the use of overwhelming military force. The trouble is, I didn’t find much of it convincing. It seemed to be an image-building piece, not a serious set of proposals.

Why do I feel that way? Because the essay is just too single-mindedly narrow and bellicose, naïve in its presumptions, and self-contradictory in its assertions. Huckabee has clearly done some reading up on international affairs, but instead of presenting any thoughtful and nuanced analysis, decides to show only how ready he is to push the button. It’s just not credible. On the other hand, if it really is exactly Mike Huckabee’s actual views on international affairs, then the essay is frightening.

The essay starts out with a wonderful homily in the form of an analogy about America. “Much like a top high school student, if it is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it is generous in helping others, it is loved. But if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised.” But quickly that sentiment is contradicted as the tough-guy doublespeak comes out: “At the same time, my administration will never surrender any of our sovereignty, which is why I was the first presidential candidate to oppose ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which would endanger both our national security and our economic interests.”

So there you have it: Speak softly but carry a big stick.

Huckabee emphasizes that we need to understand our enemy, the Islamic terrorists and their ruthless “theology and ideology.” He displays his knowledge of several noted Islamic terrorist writers to emphasize that the terrorists aim to establish a worldwide theocratic caliphate. While he conveys the point that the terrorists do not discriminate moral and political considerations, Huckabee leaves us wondering if he does, either. Some of his statements are not even comprehensible: “al Qaeda is seeking to replace modern evil with medieval evil.”

To his credit, Huckabee realizes that it is no good to export American values as if they were Coca-Cola. He acknowledges that moderate Islamic states may look more like benevolent oligarchies or tribal coalitions rather than constitutional democracies. That is a big contrast with other Republicans, such as McCain, Romney, and Guliani, and some Democrats, like Edwards and Clinton, who do not seem to understand that important subtlety.

On the down side, Huckabee’s understanding of what has happened recently in Iraq seems pretty naïve to me. He thinks that “Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq have turned against al Qaeda to work with us; they could not stand the thought of living under such fundamentalism and brutality.” An alternative explanation is that we bought temporary Sunni loyalty by supplying guns and money. Who those guns will be pointed at in the future is unknown.

Huckabee’s “Arab and Muslim policy” will be to find a course “between maintaining stability and promoting democracy,” and this is despite what he earlier cautioned about trying to export democracy. What would that middle course look like? “first destroy existing terrorist groups and then attack the underlying conditions that breed them: the lack of basic sanitation, health care, education, jobs, a free press, fair courts.” It is not clear why he believes that a well-functioning civil society would trump the vision of a seventh century caliphate. Does he think that terrorists are people frustrated at not having running hot water in their houses? He says “If we do not do the right thing to improve life in the Muslim world, the terrorists will step in and do the wrong thing,” a snappy sentence, but not one that connects with the theology and ideology of terrorism he emphasized earlier.

I commend Huckabee for declaring the need for “immediate” US independence from foreign oil. That dependence, in my opinion, is behind the whole invasion of Iraq and the “War on Terror.” He promises energy independence within ten years, by applying the usually mentioned solutions: nuclear, wind, solar, ethanol, etc. What he does not say is how this massive conversion will be financed or sustained. None of it will be cheap. Oil, even at $100 is very cheap by comparison. For a man who wants to abolish the income tax, he is remarkably tight-lipped about financing his initiatives. In connection with his energy policy, I can’t even guess at the meaning of this cryptic remark, “I want to treat Saudi Arabia the way we treat Sweden…”

Again without saying where he would find the money, Huckabee asserts that he will increase our military budget by 50% and stop using troops for nation building, instead using other (unspecified) government agencies to build schools, hospitals, and sewage treatment plants. He suggests that we should have sent 450,000 troops into Iraq, rather than the “light” army we did send.

He will not withdraw troops from Iraq, but rather stay the course until General Patraeus tells him what to do. That sounds pretty naïve to me. What about the political point of the whole invasion? Are the generals suddenly in charge of foreign policy too? Huckabee’s statement sounds like he sees the situation in Iraq in purely military terms, another very naïve point of view.

Huckabee quotes the administration’s standard slippery slope argument against withdrawal from Iraq. “Today, we face the dramatic downside: Iraq's centrality makes the country the perfect place for terrorists to create anarchy and have it spread. Those who say that we do not owe the Iraqis anything more are ignoring what we owe our own children and grandchildren in terms of security.” The same thing was said about Vietnam, but the sky did not fall then.

He supports the recent Turkish invasions into northern Iraq and chastises the Bush administration for not having encouraged them earlier. Again, this presents a gun-toting commander in chief without a wisp of nuance. Havent' we already endured one of those?

What if the Kurds start attacking American troops in retaliation now? That seems like a very high risk situation Wouldn’t it have been better for the US to route the PKK from Iraq itself? Or arm the Kurds to do it themselves, which they would, if, as Huckabee says, the PKK has little support among Kurds.

Huckabee rattles his saber at Iran, accusing them, without evidence, of being in cahoots with al Qaeda. He wisely cautions against war with Iran however, arguing instead that they should be “contained” with economic sanctions supported by Europe. He welcomes the administration's declaration of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as proliferators of WMDs and their armed forces as supporters of terrorism. He does not say how this bellicosity is helpful in any way, but claims that Democrats who object to it are deluded because “these moves are an attempt to use economic power instead of, not as a prelude to, using military power.” I’m afraid the logic there escapes me.

Huckabee would enthusiastically go forward with putting missile interceptor cites in Poland and the Czech Republic, as a defense against Iranian aggression. With stunning self-blindness, he blows off “Putin’s” objections as mere jingoism. Again I am left with a chilling question of whether this essay is theatrical posturing or genuine naivety.

Huckabee would reestablish diplomatic ties with Iran, but only if they make “concessions that serve to create a less hostile relationship.” Does that sound like the top high school student who is generous to others?

In Pakistan, “tough love” is called for. What is that? It seems to mean that we should just go ahead and invade the Northwest territories where al Qaeda is hiding. The next terrorist attack on the US will come out of Pakistan, Huckabee asserts.

Wouldn’t it be rather foolish to invade Pakistan, one wonders? Have we learned nothing? Not to worry, Huckabee assures us, “The threat of an attack on us is far graver than the risk that a quick and limited strike against al Qaeda would bring extremists to power in Pakistan.” That must have been an echo; I couldn’t have really heard that.

His more sensible Pakistan policy is to put some accounting controls on the billions of dollars of untracked foreign aid that we give Pakistan in an attempt to buy its loyalty, if not its acquiescence.

In a patriotic and theological flourish, Huckabee ends with this: “Our history, from the snows of Valley Forge to the flames of 9/11, has been one of perseverance. I understand the threats we face today. When I am president, America will look this evil in the eye, confront it, defeat it, and emerge stronger than ever.”

Staring down evil (should you be able to truly identify it) is no doubt an admirable passtime, but I would be horrified by Huckabee’s over the top bellicosity if I believed a word of it.

On the other hand, there is little or no mention of many of the other grave international threats facing our country, such as pandemics, nuclear proliferation, economic globalization, climate change, and many, many others., nor consideration of the roles of NATO and the UN, or the strategic use of foreign aid. The goal here was to rattle the saber and the saber has been duly rattled. I simply do not believe the American people are stupid enough to go take this message seriously.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bill Richardson

In the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Bill Richardson presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Richardson, B. (2008). A New Realism: A Realistic and Principled Foreign Policy. Foreign Affairs, 87 (1), Jan/Feb. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudolph Guliani, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

Richardson’s essay is an eye-opener. I knew the man had an impressive resume. Besides being Governor of New Mexico, he has also been a US representative, Ambassador to the UN, US Secretary of Energy, and has been nominated five times for the Nobel peace prize for negotiating release of political prisoners and hostages around the world. Even so, I was unaware of his ability to articulate such a clear, rational, and appealing vision of a national future. His essay is remarkable for its directness and lack of political posturing, waffling and pandering. He does not come across on the televised debates as a deep thinker, and since he is not one of the top tier candidates right now, he is easy to overlook. This essay might give him a breath of fresh air.

His primary message is that “ The United States needs once again to construct a foreign policy that is based on reality and loyal to American values.” Unlike most other candidates, he does not claim American moral superiority nor a God-given or historically destined mission to recreate the world in our own image. Instead, he suggests simply that we have the courage to live up to our own stated values. To do that we need to be willing “to seek and find common ground, to blend our interests with the interests of others… [and] rebuild our overextended military, revive our alliances, and restore our reputation as a nation that respects international law, human rights, and civil liberties.”

Richardson defines his foreign policy strategy as “a New Realism -- one driven by an understanding that to defend our national interests, ... we must, more than ever, find common ground with others, so that we can lead them toward our common purposes.”

He is scathing in his criticism of the Bush administration’s hypocrisy and incompetence in foreign affairs. He would send a clear signal to the world that “America has turned the corner,” by withdrawing all troops from Iraq (he doesn’t suggest a timetable) and re-engaging all nations in the region. There is no mention of how he would address the inevitable regional turmoil that would result. He treats withdrawal from Iraq as a foregone conclusion, something we simply must do before we can face the real threats to our well-being. (He mentions not a word about the Afghanistan war).

Six Threats to Our Well-Being
Richardson sees six global trends that are transforming the world, which will become severe threats to us if we do not address them head on. They are
1. Fanatical jihadism
2. Trafficking in WMD (especially nuclear proliferation)
3. Rise of Asian economic and military power
4. Reemergence of Russia as a nuclear player with large energy resources
5. Economic globalization
6. Global environment and health problems

These trends will present problems to us, Richardson says, and will require international and societal solutions, with the US, as the sole superpower, forced to provide leadership.

What would Richardson do about these problematic threats? Unlike other candidates, he does not attempt to provide micro-solutions by quoting dollar amounts, percentages of GDP, or numbers of soldiers. He is a big picture man, as the captain of a great ship should be.

Richardson’s big picture solutions include rebuilding alliances and commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation, which would involve joining and enthusiastically supporting the International Criminal Court. That would not only make the US accountable to others in the world, he says, but also would change the equation for perpetrators of crimes against humanity who now have nothing to fear. I am in need of a lot more persuading on this point. It is a noble sounding idea, but it is likely that within six months of joining, most US top officials would be in that court defending themselves against a worldwide chorus of allegations of international criminality. International law is a lot more fluid and open to widely variant interpretation than national law. Accountability is good, but this approach doesn’t sound practical.

With similar noble but impractical motivation, Richardson would expand the UN Security council’s permanent membership to include Germany, India, Japan, a Latin American country, and an African country. How he would do that, given the present security council’s absolute control of its own membership, is unstated. Nevertheless, I am pleased with his attention to reforming the UN rather than trying to sidestep it entirely to avoid accountability, as McCain, Romney, and Guilani suggested.

The US should always take the lead in ending genocide, Richardson says, because history shows that if we don’t, nobody will. Once again, his recommendation lacks specifics. He says only that the US should “do something” in Darfur.

The US should embrace the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, he says, but again, I would need more convincing. While it was scandalous for the US to reject it, in retrospect, it does not look like its goals and methods would have been practical after all. Still, there is probably some action the US could have taken, and still could take, other than just turning its back. A good faith effort would go a long way in the international arena.

“The United States needs to stop considering diplomatic engagement with others to be a reward for good behavior,” Richardson says, and start talking to people, echoing Obama’s diplomatic strategy.

Richardson strongly emphasizes the threat of nuclear terrorism, and I think he is right to be proactive about that. It is “the most serious security threat we face,” he says. He proposes that we build international cooperation to secure nuclear material worldwide, an idea also offered by Clinton. Richardson offers several other specific proposals for dealing with the threat of nuclear terrorism, including reducing our own nuclear arsenal. He has clearly given this topic a great deal of thought. He writes, “We are spending more than $2 billion per week on Iraq, but we are not doing nearly enough to protect our cities, nuclear power plants, shipping lanes, and ports from a terrorist attack.” Hear-hear!

“The top priority of the U.S. president must be preventing a nuclear 9/11,” he says. That is an unambiguous statement of priorities, and interesting in the way it goes beyond the fear of terrorism for its own sake, to the root of why we fear terrorism: it will only get more intense. There will not be another airliner flying into a tall building. Next time it will be nukes, Richardson is sure, and I suspect he is right. Put yourself into the mind of the enemy and that is the logical next step, either nukes or a biological weapon. Richardson demonstrates clear foresight in this analysis. I like the way he thinks here. Unlike Huckabee and most other candidates, Richardson’s goal is not simply to kill as many terrorists as possible, which is a knee-jerk reaction. Richardson thinks like a chess player, a move deeper than the obvious.

He would work with “difficult” nations like North Korea and Iran to deter nuclear ambition with alternative incentives. He cites the Libyan case as an example of how that can work. That effort would be combined with an ideological offensive against jihadism, not to promote the culture of Mickey Mouse and Starbucks, which is not appreciated everywhere in the world, but to communicate that ours is a struggle of civilization against barbarity, not a clash of civilizations. As McCain and Guiliani also emphasized, we need to present a vision of peace, respect, and prosperity as a viable alternative to terrorism. Among these, I would say respect is by far the most important. It is most lacking and most intensely desired by North Korea, Iran, Russia, and many other cultures. Compared to the cost of fighting wars, a little genuine respect is an inexpensive commodity for us to distribute.

In the Middle East, Richardson would work toward a two-state solution and ask Bill Clinton to serve as a full-time broker there.

Unlike any other candidate so far, Richardson sees US immigration reform as a vital foreign affairs policy, which it is by definition. Without touching on any of the hot button details, he says only that we need better border security and to work with reform-minded governments to alleviate the poverty that drives illegal immigration into the US. It is a grand vision, perhaps not practical, but again, at least he is facing reality. He does state that he would end the Cuban embargo.

Finally, like Clinton, Edwards, McCain, and many others, Richardson sees the necessity to fight against poverty worldwide as a matter of US national security. He would double our foreign aid, expand the use of generic drugs, and work to align the World Bank and IMF. “For a small fraction of the cost of the Iraq war, which has made us so many enemies, we could make many friends,” he says.

I thought this was a terrific essay, even if a bit lacking in details, because that is appropriate for delivering a big picture vision of the future and the intentionality behind it. Richardson doesn’t have the magical rhetorical skill of Obama, but he knows exactly what he stands for and what he wants to do, and he is capable of conveying that vision to an audience. It’s impressive. He is a long shot for the presidential nomination only because he doesn’t get the media coverage and he is not as photogenic as some other candidates, but on foreign affairs, he is electable.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Political Legitimacy

Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won 64% of the vote in recent Russian elections, assuring that his loyalists control the rubber-stamp Russian parliament. International election observers (most of whom were barred by Putin from the country), including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe, condemned the conduct of the election, calling it unfair and undemocratic (Telegraph.co.uk 12/3/07). The Economist called it a “sham election” (Economist 12/1/07).

Actually, Mr. Putin himself was not up for reelection, but only lent his name to the United Russia party packed with his people. Putin is actually not even a member of that party, but by associating himself with it and ensuring its victory, he can interpret the result as a referendum on his leadership and as a mandate to continue running the country even after his term as president expires next year.

How was it done? Small parties were banned from fielding candidates and also banned from forming coalitions. The minimum turnout rule was abolished so the vote would be valid even if hardly anybody voted. Opposition leaders were harassed, arrested, and had their bank accounts frozen. State-run television covered only Putin’s party. Opposition party rallies were violently broken up by police. Opposition leader and former chess champion Gary Kasparov, was jailed for five days and denied a lawyer, one week before the election. Charges of polling place obstruction and ballot box stuffing were widespread.

But the puzzling question is, why bother? What is the point of having a mock election? Why doesn’t Putin just consolidate his power and either continue to run the country from the sidelines, as Chairman Deng did in China in the ‘80s, or invalidate the constitution and continue as president. Nothing could stop him from either path. Or, most simply, he could have a free and fair election and win it using the state controlled media and its power of censorship. Why didn't he do any of those things?

Ostensibly, Putin wants to have the “legitimacy” of a popular mandate. But that raises two questions. 1. Why should he care about legitimacy? Lots of other dictators don’t have democratic legitimacy and they get along just fine. What does the mantle of legitimacy do for him? 2. Who is fooled into thinking he has achieved political legitimacy with a fraudulent election? The election observers were not fooled. Foreign governments are not fooled. The opposition parties are not fooled. Possibly the majority of Russian people will be fooled. But even if they are, the question cycles back to the first one: why does that matter?

I have the same question about governments that invent “pretexts” to invade other countries, as Germany did when invading Poland in 1939, Iraq into Kuwait, the U.S. into Iraq, or the Soviet Union on many occasions, or countless other examples. What is the purpose of a pretext? Why not just invade “Because we want to and we can.”

Are the perpetrators genuinely ashamed of their actions and thus need a cover story to save face? But the cover story is patently transparent, so what can it possibly hide or save? And if the perp knows the action is wrong, why do it in the first place? Or, if it is wrong and done without shame, why isn’t the reason simply “We want to invade for selfish gain, and we can, so we will.”

When the US invaded Iraq, the pretext of WMD’s was to deceive the American people and many foreign leaders too, presumably giving political legitimacy to the move. What would have happened if the US had dispensed with all that theater and just announced, “We’re invading Iraq now. Join in or stand aside.” Why did the government need “political legitimacy” to act?

In the US, to take such an action without the cover of political legitimacy would be at least immoral, definitely illegal, and would certainly result in the impeachment of the president. Since the pretext was effective, congress and the news media were duped, a veneer of legitimacy was achieved, and the president kept his job.

But that would not be the case in Putin’s Russia, which is only a pretend democracy and has no real need for political legitimacy. Putin faces no political risk from acting by fiat. So why did he spend so much effort constructing a see-through fig leaf?

The answer has got to be that most people are stupid. If that is right, then in the future, Putin will be able to act offended if his supposed “legitimacy” is questioned, and some crowd of stupid people will believe him, allowing him to negotiate with more strength than he otherwise would have standing alone. Is that the game?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is the White House Serious About Mideast Peace?

The Bush administration seems quite proud of the recent peace talks in Annapolis MD, between Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, with Syrian and Saudi delegates also in attendance. While this meeting was mostly a publicity stunt by a lame duck desperate for an honorable mention in the history books, I grudgingly admit that it may actually have rekindled a process that could lead to peace.

Even so, I am not seeing the intellectual engagement by the White House that is necessary to make this process succeed.

For example, I noticed a well-written letter to the editor in the Financial Times online (www.ft.com/home/uk, “Let's start talking about a single-state solution,” November 28 2007 02:00), that argued against a two-state solution in the middle east.

Martyn Turner pointed out that “The starting point for all previous talks has been the partition of the land into two states. This immediately creates problems, Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees being the two most obvious. It would create a Palestinian state comprised of two disconnected pieces of land, which would never be a viable state, especially since the connection would be controlled by Israel.” Turner therefore recommends a one-state solution, although he does not say what that means.

I think the geographic argument is valid. Like East Pakistan and West Pakistan, two disconnected terrains can probably not survive as a single political entity. We are already seeing the beginnings of a spinoff of Gaza into a state separate from the West Bank. So maybe a three-state solution will unfold from a two-state solution. That would not be so bad.

Turner implies that the problems of a two state solution (such as Jerusalem and refugees) are intractable and therefore not worth considering. I suspect Mr. Turner is not in the foreign service. Surely the status quo is intolerable, making any alternative worthy of consideration.

There are several ways Jerusalem could be divided or shared, none of them perfect, but none impossible. There have been divided cities before, such as Berlin.

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is correct to foresee that if refugees flooded Israel, they would soon outnumber Jews and a political rights situation would develop similar to that in apartheid South Africa, and eventually, Palestinians would control Israel. That logic seems impeccable to me, so there is no way Israel is going to open the door to Palestinian refugees, ever.

But other solutions may be possible: Reparations, relocations, compensation, etc. Israel is sitting on a lot of Arab land it acquired in 1967. A tradeoff is not inconceivable. There have been parallel refugee situations in history, not the least of which involved Jews returning to Europe after WWII.

I think the greatest barriers to peace are not these obvious issues. A more serious one is, do the Israelis have the political will to withdraw from the West Bank and abandon all those illegal settlements? That’s like asking Americans to agree on abortion or prayer in schools. I can’t see it happening. Can the Arab states restrain the fanatics who would continue to lob rockets into Israel? I don’t see such restraint happening either.

The big problems arise from ideological zeal, not the practicality of partitioning the geography. I am therefore not optimistic about this new impetus to peace. Nevertheless, no problem is utterly hopeless. Does the Bush administration have the motivation or even the intellectual capacity to address such problems creatively? There is no evidence of it.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Smart Power

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a Washington, D.C. think tank founded in 1962, “dedicated to the simple but urgent goal of finding ways for America to survive as a nation and prosper as a people.”

They have just released a report: A smarter, more secure America (online at www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/071106_csissmartpowerreport.pdf ), nominally authored by commission co-chairs Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, supported by 10 conservative and 10 liberal eminent committee members.

Even to a political cynic like me, this is a powerful, optimistic, hopeful report, very well written with intelligence and fairness. I hope every ’08 presidential candidate reads it closely. I urge readers to ignore news media summaries and just read the report itself.

The report begins by distinguishing hard and soft power: “To maintain a leading role in global affairs, the United States must move from eliciting fear and anger to inspiring optimism and hope.” That’s so-called “soft power.”

Hard power is guns and money.

By complementing U.S. military and economic might with greater investments in soft power, America can build the framework it needs to tackle tough global challenges. That’s “smart power.”

I hate the report’s slogan, “smart power” because it sounds so much like the recommendation your boss gives you when your department is oversubscribed and underfunded. “You don’t need to work harder. Just work smarter!” Not once has my reaction been to slap my palm to my forehead and exclaim, “If only I had thought of that!” Nevertheless, as political slogans go, “smart power” should go down easily.

The report starts with the observation that, “Americans are unified in wanting to improve their country’s image in the world.” That’s true (there are data to prove it), and it is also a good thing, for national pride indexes the cohesion of the polity. And yet I would say it is not important; mere egocentricism.

Noam Chomsky described a youthful epiphany in some interview I saw long ago, “It suddenly occurred to me, why do I care if my team wins?” Like sports fans’ affiliations, national pride is a feel-good, but not a consequential consideration for protecting America’s peace and prosperity. At least that’s what I would have said prior to reading this report.

The report makes the case that hard power, military and economic, is inadequate in the long run to sustain America’s influence in the world. We need also to invest in soft power, for our own benefit.

“The goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to prolong and preserve American preeminence as an agent for good. Achieving this goal is impossible without strong and willing allies and partners who can help the United States to determine and act on priorities.”

There is doublespeak in this assertion. We want to assure American preeminence in the world but we want to do it with allies who help us determine our priorities? How can you be preeminent if your priorities are set by a committee? That is exactly the criticism the Bush campaign leveled against Kerry’s internationalist views in the 2004 election.

Another problem is that foreign policy should assure that America is an agent for good. Who decides what is “good?” Why we do, of course! In other words, the goal of our foreign policy should be to trample all who do not agree with our values. Naturally we like to assume that our way is the best way. But that’s flawed, sociocentric thinking.

Surely we are more good than the Axis of Evil, or any number of other “evildoers,” but is America inherently more “good” than France? Turkey? Russia? Pakistan? Who says so? If we wish to dominate the world just because we want to, then let’s say so squarely and not hide behind some self-ascribed moral superiority. Sadly, the report starts out with a flawed foreign policy goal.

Even “preeminence” is doubtful as a goal. Where does it say that America should be preeminent in the world? Other countries might prefer other systems of government reflecting other sets of values. Why should the whole world look like us? Should we be preeminent in war, culture, the arts, finance, everything? That is megalomaniac vision to be feared, not embraced.

But eventually, the CSIS report gets beyond that naïve silliness (or political pandering) and lays out the real issue:

“Soft power is the ability to attract people to our side without coercion. Legitimacy is central to soft power. If a people or nation believes American objectives to be legitimate, we are more likely to persuade them to follow our lead without using threats and bribes. Legitimacy can also reduce opposition—and the costs—of using hard power when the situation demands.”

America happens to be top dog in the world at this moment in history. We are the Roman empire of our times. It won’t last; it never does. Civilizations rise and fall. But we should not waste our moment in the sun.

It makes sense to leverage our hard power with so-called soft power to be a model of the values we espouse. We can be forthright about our intentions to promote peace, prosperity, freedom, and human dignity in the world, but we can’t promote those values through hard power alone. We must do it by example, by living up to our own values, and by facilitative leadership, resulting in what the CSIS calls smart power.

The report says, this is “ an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions at all levels to expand American influence and establish the legitimacy of American action.”

The key word is “legitimacy.” In order to be influential in setting policy, we have to have moral and intellectual legitimacy. If you bully someone into agreeing with you, you get compliance, not consensus, and not legitimacy. We get legitimacy by listening respectfully and genuinely to others, compromising, and above all, by walking the walk. This is far beyond “carrot and stick” diplomacy. This is leading by example.

“We must strike a balance between the use of force against irreconcilable extremists committed to violent struggle and other means of countering terrorism if we want to maintain our legitimacy.”

The report acknowledges that “wielding soft power is especially difficult, however, because many of America’s soft power resources lie outside of government in the private sector and civil society, in its bilateral alliances, or through its participation in multilateral institutions.”

The last part of the report give numerous examples of what America should do to re-establish its moral and intellectual legitimacy in the world, for the purpose of developing the smart power we need to get others to work with us instead of against us. Some recommendations are starkly simple, like close the Guantanamo Bay detention center right now.

Others are much more sophisticated, long term, and farther reaching, such as placing extraordinary emphasis on global education, public health, fair trade, sustainable energy, and institutional transparency. The report admits that the U.S. would end up paying a disproportionate share for such initiatives, but argues that we would be the largest beneficiary of their outcomes.

Many of the presidential candidates have developed similar recommendations for their campaigns but without the convincing strategic rationale that the CSIS report provides. The result is a hodge-podge of candidate recommendations that are not well justified in US foreign policy.

Clinton and Edwards, for example, are keen on global education and health, but are not convincing in saying how those initiatives would serve US long term interests. McCain emphasizes free trade as a way to promote economic prosperity throughout the world, without linking that to an integrated foreign policy. He is much more interested in hard power.

McCain, Guliani, and Clinton all want to promote “democracy” throughout the world, without a clear vision of why that is a good thing to do. Obama is fully aware of the need to engage multilaterally to assure that US interests are well-served, but does not connect that to other elements of soft and hard power. All candidates will benefit from reading this report.

There are many interesting recommendations in the report, several that no candidate has addressed at all. They fall into five categories:

  1. Alliances, partnerships, and institutions: Rebuilding the foundation to deal with global challenges;
  2. Global development: Developing a unified approach,starting with public health;
  3. Public diplomacy: Improving access to international knowledge and learning;
  4. Economic integration: Increasing the benefits of trade for all people;
  5. Technology and innovation: Addressing climate change and energy insecurity.

The weaknesses of the report are two. First, it does not give a clear explanation of the equation, hard power + soft power = smart power. It’s pretty obvious that if you provide people with humanitarian goods, they will like you and you will buy some soft power. But how does that integrate exactly with hard power? How would we improve “access to international knowledge and learning” in Iran, China, North Korea, Zimbabwe? That’s where the politicians need to flesh out the ideas in pragmatic ways.

Another weakness of the report is in the vagueness of many of its recommendations for developing smart power. For example,

“The United States should take a leadership role within international institutions to create a common principles charter outlining the principles of sound energy policies and practices that serve as the foundation for global energy security.”

That sounds nice on the ears, but if I try to understand what it actually says, I come up with nothing. Again, this is where the politicians need to step in.

The report was released almost one year to the day before the next presidential election, plenty of time for all aspirants to absorb it into their pores. We can only hope.

Friday, November 2, 2007

McCain on Foreign Affairs

In the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, John McCain presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (McCain, J. (2007). An Enduring Peace Built on Freedom: Securing America's Future. Foreign Affairs, 86 (6), Nov/Dec. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, Rudolph Guliani, and Hillary Clinton.

Unlike many of the other candidates’ essays, McCain’s is remarkably free of equivocation and vague hedging. He does sometimes use terms loaded with undocumented, implied meaning, which is a way to avoid saying directly what one means, but aside from those flaws, his message is simple: The U.S. should lead a consortium of democratic countries to isolate and bully those who do not see the need for democratic government and free market capitalism. In this regard, McCain’s message is similar to Guliani’s.

Like Clinton and Edwards, McCain is convinced of American exceptionalism. He quotes Alexander Hamilton: “We are a people of great destinies.” McCain states without qualification that the principles of the Declaration of Independence are “eternal and universal.” He quotes Truman: “God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose.” (I wonder how Truman would know that.) McCain swears that “We are a special nation, the closest thing to a ‘shining city on a hill’ ever to have existed.” He quotes Thomas Jefferson, saying that America is “the sole depository of the sacred fire of freedom and self-government, from hence it is to be lighted up in other regions of the earth…”

Some flag waving is to be expected from any presidential candidate, but I get the impression that McCain is not just gesturing here. He seems to believe deeply and without question that America is God’s chosen country; that it is our duty to proliferate the American Way across the world. That kind of talk gives me the creeps.

I have heard almost identical statements from Islamist extremists about their ideals. They also believe they are God’s chosen people. They also believe it is their duty to convert the world to their way of thinking and living. What is the difference, except we were born here and they were born there? McCain’s approach seems to be, “Well, it’s us or them, so let’s just make sure we prevail.”

This is such a primitive, absolutist world view that I think it qualifies McCain as “extremely dangerous.” I thought maybe Clinton’s flag waving could have been standard political gesturing to express sincere patriotism. Edwards’ flag waving was more disturbing because of its religious undertones. Romney’s was imbued with blind absolutism. In this respect, Guliani and Obama seem more rational to me than other candidates considered so far. Clinton, Edwards, and Romney worry me. McCain frightens me.

Basically, McCain would gather all the world’s democracies into a vast club to present a united front of values and economic and military force against terrorism. He is not perfectly clear who would be in this club, which he calls the League of Democracies. Members would have to be democracies, but he would exclude Venezuela because it does not embrace a free-market economy, and Russia because it isn’t “highly industrialized. ” In fact, McCain would kick Russia out of the G-8, but he would include relatively unindustrialized India. He would exclude the democratically elected Palestinian Hamas.

Like Guliani’s similar “International System,” membership in McCain’s club would be capricious, depending on who we like. It would include “all democratic allies or close partners of the United States,” he hopes. No consideration is given to whether others would care to join this exclusive Club of America. We found in the run up to the Iraq invasion that there were not as many volunteers as we had hoped.

The League of Democracies would, says McCain, be more flexible and ready to act “when the UN fails,” to fashion better policies and “take other measures unattainable by existing regional or universal-membership systems.” There is really no reason to believe that such a League would not bog down as the UN has. There is nothing special about the democratic form of government that assures peace and cooperation. Hitler was democratically elected, as was Salvador Allende, Hugo Chavez, Hamas, and nominally, even Putin. There is simply no evidence in history that democratic government is any more “peaceful” than any other form.

I think McCain’s proposal is a reaction of frustration to the UN’s impotence. Because of the UN’s structure, it is not easy to project American intentions through that body. Whether that is a defect or a virtue depends on your point of view. But if your goal is to have a united ideological, economic and military front against terrorists and political adversaries, it makes practical sense to do an end-run around the UN. Romney suggested NATO as the natural vehicle for that but McCain, like Guliani, would start fresh with a new organization.

McCain’s proposal for a League of Democracies sounds a little like a return to the ideological bloc structure of the Cold War. If you only talk to your friends and shut out your adversaries, you risk groupthink, and you lack the legitimacy and legality of a genuinely inclusive body like the UN. I’m not against a consortium of like-minded states to show solidarity against terrorist extremists, but it is dangerous to think it would be an alternative to the frustrating but legitimate machinations of the UN.

The War on Terror
McCain uses the administration’s militaristic slogan. Iraq is the war’s central front in the War on Terror, he says, neglecting to recall that there was not a single terrorist in Iraq before we invaded. Now that we have sufficient troop levels there, he says, we have “a realistic chance of success.” He does not define success, or “sufficient troop levels,” nor does he note that a troop draw-down is imminent. He also does not say that he would do anything different than “stay the course” to succeed in Iraq, not a promising strategy.

He does however explicitly list the horrors that would ensue if we pulled out of Iraq “preemptively.” (I puzzled over “preemptive withdrawal.” Does it mean that early withdrawal would preempt later success?) The horrors include, above all, allowing the Islamist extremists to believe they have been successful. Republican candidates in particular seem obsessed with what other people will think of them, more even than pragmatic results.

A “failed state” will provide “sanctuary” for terrorists, a civil war could develop (presumably worse than the one already ongoing), regional conflict could develop, and possibly genocide. Finally, withdrawal would mean an end to the prospect of democracy in Iraq. Some of these predicted consequences of imminent withdrawal are more plausible than others.

McCain complains that Democratic candidates who would withdraw troops right away are “courting disaster” by exploiting “the political winds at home, rather than the realities in the theater.” He overlooks the fact that the “political winds” represent the will of the people, a democratic principle he apparently disdains when convenient.

I agree with McCain though, that the Democrats have not revealed any “Plan B” for dealing with any post-withdrawal fallout, such as genocide. That is a serious criticism.

McCain claims there has been “progress” in Afghanistan although he doesn’t describe it, and says we need to significantly beef up the NATO forces and the Afghan National Army with more troops and weapons.

He would continue to work with Musharraf to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan, even though that effort has not yielded much success to date, and Musharraf is on the ropes anyway. McCain’s proposal is to make a “long-term commitment to the country” to enhance its “ability to act against insurgent safe havens.” That sounds like code for arms sales. Given the current political instability in Pakistan, adding more weapons to it might not be smart in the long run.

On Iran:
With nuclear weapons, says McCain, Iran would be “even more” willing and able to sponsor terrorism, which is to all but declare that they now do sponsor terrorism an alleged fact that has not been publicly documented. He suggests that Iran might even pass nuclear weapons to “one of its allied terrorist networks.” This is a pretty far-fetched, unsubstantiated suggestion. To me it sounds like gratuitous saber-rattling and fear mongering.

While military action against Iran remains “on the table,” McCain would implement unspecified tougher political and economic sanctions against the country in conjunction with unspecified allies, outside any UN framework. That does not sound like a well thought-out plan. What if, outside the aegis of the UN, we embargo Iran and then the Russians want to build a nuclear reactor there? Will we threaten them at gunpoint? Would that really work? The reason we work through the UN is to avoid that kind of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.

Maybe a better plan would be to make it very expensive for the Russians to do that, and then just plan now for dealing with a nuclear Iran in the future. At this point, I’d be more worried about Pakistani and North Korean nukes than non-existent Iranian ones. But McCain seems more concerned with “face” than pragmatics. “Tehran must understand that it cannot win a showdown with the world.”

Hamas must be isolated, McCain says as part of finding an enduring peace settlement. How would that happen? More arms sales! We must continue provide “needed military equipment and technology” so that Israel can maintain its “qualitative military edge.” That does not sound like a recipe for peace to me.

Cultural Conflict
One good idea is to put significant effort into building up moderate, rational Muslim populations. McCain would “employ every economic, diplomatic, political, legal, and ideological tool at our disposal to aid moderate Muslims – women’s rights campaigners, labor leaders, lawyers, journalists, teachers, tolerant imams, and many others…” That’s a smart strategy that could actually be useful, as Clinton and Edwards have also pointed out less emphatically. I would worry that such an effort would become merely an exercise in propaganda, because it is not clear how, exactly, one would “aid” moderate Muslims other than try to convert them to the American Way. At least Clinton and Edwards had specific proposals about education and public health. McCain suggests his strategy would to “nurture a culture of hope and economic opportunity by establishing a free-trade area from Morocco to Afghanistan.” Is free-trade actually the issue here? Would it include opium?

As would all other candidates, McCain would upgrade the size and equipment of the military, but he would also create whole new branches, such as an Army Advisory Corps and a sinister-sounding “new OSS” that would “deploy infiltrating agents without diplomatic cover in terrorist states and organizations.” He would increase the scope of Special Forces operations, language experts, interrogation experts, and set up a vague, post-conflict reconstruction ‘civilian surge’, and restore the defunct US Information Agency.” McCain claims that “we can afford to spend more on national defense” than we do. Maybe so, but every dollar must come from somewhere. Is he hinting at higher taxes? That seems unlikely, but he says no more.

I like some of these ideas, although I would be wary. My concern is that if you give a man a hammer, everything looks like a nail. A vast expansion of DoD can only lead to trouble. Obviously, the military is understaffed and equipment and ordnance must be replaced and maintained. But adding whole new DoD agencies and functions sounds pretty scary.

McCain may be on the right track in trying to describe how DoD needs to re-orient itself for the challenges of fighting terrorism. We do need explicit post-conflict capacity. We do need more, and different kinds of intelligence. But the old OSS eventually morphed into the virtually uncontrollable, hydra-headed intelligence behemoth we have today. We should learn from that.

McCain’s proposals here are attention-getting but he should have talked about what specific needs would be addressed instead of jumping right in with a new org chart. Notably lacking in the proposed re-vamp is any attention to law enforcement and judicial roles.

Nuclear Proliferation
McCain says that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is based on a mistaken assumption, that nuclear technology can spread without nuclear weapons eventually following. That needs to be “revisited,” he says. Non-nuclear weapons states do not have a “right” to nuclear technology. Clearly he has Iran on his mind, but it is a startling proposal. Who has the authority to grant or withhold such rights? It’s “close the door behind me” thinking. McCain also says that the IAEA should automatically suspend nuclear assistance to states that cannot guarantee they are in compliance with NPT agreements. There is a move worldwide to nuclear power and there would probably be few countries to sign up for such restrictions. I think Clinton’s proposal of building a monitored international fuel bank is a more practical idea.

Energy Policy
Slipping into his domestic agenda for a moment, McCain says he will unveil a “declaration of independence” from our reliance on foreign oil. To that I say, “hallelujah!” It could never happen with an oil president in office. The next president simply must show some awareness of the death grip around the country’s throat. McCain would promote conservation, new technology, alternative fuels, renewables, and so on. Nothing is mentioned about changing the very concept of the user-owned automobile, mass transit, or putting pressure on the auto industry. Clean coal is not mentioned specifically even though the US is rich in coal.

McCain would “greatly increase the use of nuclear power, a zero-emission energy source.” Nuclear has zero carbon emissions, but most people would also consider radioactivity a type of emission. Until there is a safe, economically viable technology for dealing with nuclear waste, the nuclear solution flawed and short-sighted. It is worth noting that the price of uranium has tripled in the last few years, foreshadowing a boom in uranium mining in Arizona, McCain’s home state (Arizona Republic, Jan. 2, 2006 ). Would we want to trade an oil president for a uranium president?

Democracy on the March
McCain waxes rhapsodic about democracy around the world, in Latin America and especially in Asia. And as emphasized by his proposed League of Democracies, democracy seems to be, for him, the key to a prosperous and peaceful world. But it is a mistake to equate “democracy” with economic freedom and prosperity, as a brief survey of world economies will reveal. If McCain’s main issue were that people must have the right to choose their own leaders, then his emphasis on democracy around the world would be appropriate. But I think his main concern is not a point about governance, but rather, to defeat terrorism and promote peace and prosperity.

Prosperity comes from capitalism, as China, India, and Russia have amply demonstrated. What about peace? That does not arise naturally from either democracy or capitalism, as Islamic extremists have repeatedly declared. Peace comes from a multitude of factors that McCain has not addressed, such as according people the dignity and recognition they crave; from an agreed-upon definition of justice; from freedom of expression; from ongoing dialog, and from other sources. I think McCain’s, and Guliani’s (and the present administration’s) emphasis on promulgating “democracy” arises more from self-aggrandizement than from an analysis of what it actually takes to find and maintain peace and prosperity.

McCain has ideas and a clear vision, and I appreciate that. Other candidates would do well to observe his ethic of calling it as he sees it, and should also sniff around his ideas. On the down side, McCain strikes me as a Cold Warrior, with a new uniform perhaps, but still ready to divide the world into us and them, and beat the other side down. That could be life-threatening for all of us. Maybe his “carry a big stick” philosophy is practical, but I would rather try for a more nuanced approach to international issues.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Clinton on Foreign Affairs

In the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Hillary Clinton presents an essay about what she would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Clinton, H.R. (2007). Security and Opportunity for the Twenty-first Century. Foreign Affairs, 86 (6), Nov/Dec. www.foreignaffairs.org). The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, John Edwards, and Rudolph Guliani.

Like Edwards in his essay, Clinton apparently believes that Americans are God’s chosen people, that we have the duty to spread the American way of life to all other people, whether they care to have it or not. Also like Edwards, Clinton seeks international respect and gratitude for American leadership in promoting what she terms, “The American Idea.” This messianic vision is deeply disturbing to me, and I believe it will be also to most world leaders. Societies are different, cultures and values are different, governments are different. It doesn’t make sense to assume that everyone should look like us. That is what the most extreme Islamic terrorists believe about themselves! It’s parochial, ahistorical, dangerous, and wrong, wrong, wrong. I did not expect Clinton go down this yellow brick road.

America is the richest and most powerful country in the world right now, like the Romans in their time and the Persians in theirs. This is our moment in history to be top dog. Responsibility does come with that. But for Clinton, “leadership” means to get all other countries to behave as we would like, using diplomacy of course rather than guns wherever feasible. But that’s lightly veiled tyranny, not leadership.

A second major disappointment in this essay is the dearth of ideas and specific proposals. Instead there is paragraph after paragraph of platitude and doublespeak, with just a few exceptions that I’ll get to in a moment. As putative Democratic front-runner before any vote has been cast, perhaps Clinton believes the nomination is hers to lose. In that case there is no percentage in saying anything unusual. It seems a shame to waste such a bully pulpit, but maybe her calculation is correct.

Clinton starts by lamenting America’s loss of status in the eyes of the world under the Bush administration. The rhetoric here is well-worn: snubbing of the U.N., unilateralism, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, ignoring the Israel-Palestine conflict, rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, and so on.

I happen to agree that those administration policies or inactions have been individually harmful, but what is Clinton’s specific complaint? Only that we have alienated allies at a time when we need global cooperation. That’s pretty tepid.

She yearns for the American “values, leadership, and strength [that] inspired the world for the last century.” Again there is an image problem in her view, when in fact that is the least important of all the challenges facing this country.

Clinton’s main concern is “to reclaim our proper place in the world…” presumably as God’s chosen people. Who voted for that? Nobody that I am aware of. That is a megalomaniacal vision, not a sober needs assessment. I find it frightening. I can only hope it is just boilerplate to recruit the mindless.

Her list of challenges facing the country includes the usual suspects: two wars, terrorists (she uses the propagandistic term, “war on terror”), nuclear proliferation, China, Russia, the Middle East, climate change and global epidemics. She fails to mention energy-oil, water shortages, growing population and how to feed it, and refugees. There is nothing about immigration, which by definition is an international issue. Some of these topics are taken up later despite their omission in the "challenge" list.

As would all other candidates, Clinton would rebuild the American military, although she offers no specific ideas about how, except to hint, intriguingly, that she would cancel the “Star Wars” missile defense program to fund a military upgrade.

Clinton is unquestioning in her belief that “the value of democracy will continue to inspire the world.” She is convinced that “The values that our founders embraced as universal have shaped the aspirations of millions of people around the world…” Odd then, isn’t it that not every country in the world has a democracy like ours, and many have no democracy at all? Could it be possible that democracy is not the panacea for the world’s ills? This idea is unthinkable for Clinton.

The War In Iraq
Clinton would end the war in Iraq. How? Safely, in a way that restores stability in the region, and engages countries around the world in securing Iraq’s future. Well, who could argue with that! How would it happen? She would convene a committee to draw up a plan to do it. When would it happen? In a deliciously ambiguous phrase, she says this committee would draw up a plan for withdrawal “starting within the first 60 days of my administration.”

It seems there is withdrawal, and there is withdrawal. Clinton would withdraw troops but order “specialized units” to remain and fight in Iraq, to combat al Qaeda and other terrorists. They would “also provide security for U.S. troops.” Troops? What troops? I thought they went home. Maybe not all did. These mysterious “specialized units” would also provide “training” for the Iraqis, and “some forces” would be left in the Kurdish areas. Hmm…

On the positive side, Clinton does realize that for long term success in the region, all the countries in the area must be engaged in stabilization efforts, from Turkey to Saudi Arabia. What is less clear is how all those players might be induced to work together better than they have so far.

Clinton is aware, as no other candidate has been in these essays, of the Iraqi refugee problem. Some 2.5 million Iraqis are now war refugees. Disturbingly, Clinton says it will take a “multibillion dollar international effort” to deal with that crisis, under the direction of the UNHCR. Again, few specifics are offered.

On Israel and Palestine, she would work to implement the basic idea that a Palestinian state would be established in exchange for full recognition of Israel’s right to exist. Great trick if you can do it. She mentions not a word about the Israeli settlements, the wall, refugees, or water rights.

The War on Terror
Unfortunately, Clinton adopts the same fear-mongering propaganda that the Bush administration has used so successfully. “Terrorists cells are preparing for future attacks” she assures us. But to her credit, she understands that education, intelligence, and law enforcement are the crucial tools in combating terrorism, not invading foreign countries. But there is the short term awkwardness of people trying to kill us.

Also smart is her plan to ramp up crop-substitution programs in Afghanistan to deprive the Taliban of opium funding and the government of much of its corruption. I don't think there is any crop that can substitute economically for opium, but if farmers planted coffee or soybeans but we paid opium prices for it, that would be cheaper than fighting an interminable war.

About Pakistan, Clinton hints suggestively that state boundaries mean little when problems are regional on the ground. This hints at an agenda for covert operations.

In her capacity as senator from New York, she slips in a little domestic agenda by saying she would invest in first responders to provide interoperable communications, something that, amazingly, has still not been done. She would also safeguard the transportation of hazardous materials. She does not mention hardening of the ports and nuclear plants.

Talking to Adversaries
Back to foreign affairs, Clinton criticizes the Bush administration for refusing to talk to Iran about nuclear weapons, but does not actually say she would do anything different. She notes that if Iran were to completely acquiesce to all Washington’s demands, a not very likely scenario, then she would be prepared to offer in return “a carefully calibrated package of incentives.” Ah, diplomacy!

Nuclear Arms
Unlike any other candidate’s proposal, Clinton would reduce America’s nuclear arsenal and urge Russia to do the same. This is an easy promise to make, since most of the arsenal has aged out anyway, and new conventional weapons are almost as deadly as the old nukes. Still, it is a good initiative for setting the tone for nonproliferation.

She would also seek Senate approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, another fine gesture, although again, we do all our nuclear tests with supercomputers these days anyway. A more meaningful proposal is to establish an international atomic fuel bank to control access for peaceful uses. That could work.

Clinton offers multiple criticisms of Russia’s behavior, personalizing it to Putin, perhaps betting that he will be out of power by the time she gets in, not a bet I would make. What would be her stance toward Russia? To “make clear that our ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference.”

Well, nobody cares for “regional interference,” but that aside, Clinton paints a stark dichotomy: Russia can only be our partner if it rejects authoritarianism and adopts genuine democracy. But Russians like authoritarianism. Historically, they are accustomed to it. It works for them. Putin’s approval ratings are over 70% in Russia. Why should he adopt a democracy like ours? I think Clinton’s blindness to her cultural chauvinism is a serious flaw and a potential impediment to her effectiveness as president.

In one of the few really interesting and creative ideas in her essay, Clinton suggests that the U.S., China and Japan should join up to develop new clean-energy sources and energy efficiencies to combat climate change. China is well aware of its dependence on imported energy and of its dangerous carbon pollution problem. It might eagerly embrace a technology transfer from the U.S. and Japan in those areas. What we could expect in return is not said. But it is an idea that has potential and it could break the Kyoto Protocol standoff.

In a related idea, she proposes an international energy forum comprised of the world’s major carbon emitting nations, linked to the International Energy Agency, and to China and India. It sounds cumbersome, but it might get the right players talking about climate change and ecology.
Concerning Asia and India in particular, Clinton only avers that we must “cooperate on issues of mutual concern.” Hard to argue with that!

She has much the same advice for dealing with Latin America, although she is pointedly silent on the tricky international issue of U.S. immigration policy.

Clinton criticizes the African Union for not denouncing Zimbabwe’s Mugabe for his perpetration of economic disaster, but recommends only that we should “help Africans develop both the will and the capability to address their own problems.” Another not very incisive analysis.
She recognizes the threat of HIV/AIDS but does not associate it particularly with Africa. One interesting Africa policy is the suggestion that if there were a global system of carbon credits for curtailing pollution, “all of Africa can provide carbon credits to the West.” That would amount to massive foreign aid to Africa financed by Western businesses, not a model that has ever been tried, and not one likely to be well received in the Western business community. Creative, though.

Global Initiatives
In her second innovative idea (although it is actually similar to an idea of Edwards’), Clinton proposes an “Education for All Act” that would provide $10 billion over 5 years to train teachers and build schools around the developing world. Where this money would come from and how it would be distributed is not specified. In its outline it is a good idea, but without details it smacks of a hollow feel-good proposal.

A slightly more specific idea is for the government to work with NGOs and charities like the Gates foundation, (if they were interested in such collaboration), to “solve” problems like providing clean water, stopping HIV/AIDS and other diseases, strengthening labor and trade standards. She doesn’t have a specific proposal on the globalization of trade. There is probably nothing that can be said about that tropic which could not be excoriated by somebody.

Around the world in general, Clinton emphasizes that the U.S. must be clear about its position on torture, women’s rights, and human rights in general. As an American, I support the same values, but at the same time, I am aware that women don’t have too many “rights” according to the Quran, and it would be a bad mistake to stuff Western ideas up the noses of people who do not agree with them.

“Rights” of any kind are either declared or granted by someone in specific cultural contexts. Calling them universal does not make them so. I am against torture, slavery and human trafficking anywhere, but still, I would resist blanket condemnations and move quietly, with cultural sensitivity. Education, law enforcement, and economic incentives are the way to go, not public humiliation or nagging.

Clinton praises the fact that women are now more free in Afghanistan than they were under the Taliban. That is a good thing, but it came at quite a cost which we are not yet done paying. I’m just saying, think twice, act once when it comes to promulgating “rights” around the world.

Clinton closes with a 200 year old quote from Daniel Webster glorifying “the power of the American idea." Again I note that this American idea is above all, American. Not everybody sees things our way. Nobody else has our particular history and culture. If the most powerful nation on earth imposes its peculiar “idea” on the rest of the world, on the excuse that it is, after all, a “universal” idea, no good can come of it.

This was a deeply disappointing essay from Clinton. It was a lot bland noodles with just a few spicy sprinkles. I don’t expect the president to be an intellectual, but I do expect more self-awareness than this essay reveals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Bush Administration's Huge Tax Hike

The Bush administration, in its reckless pursuit of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without regard to cost, has unintentionally imposed an enormous new tax on the American public in the form of higher gasoline prices.

A barrel of oil is now about $88, close to its all time inflation-adjusted high of $90 right after the Iranian revolution of 1979. According to Reuters, this will translate into gas prices around $4 a gallon by next spring (http://www.reuters.com/article/reutersEdge/idUSN1544101020071015).

That amounts to a huge tax increase. We can’t not drive, so everybody must pay. Since it hits everyone indiscriminately, it is a flat tax, and that hurts lower income people most, because if it costs $80 to fill up the tank, that’s a whole day’s pay for a low wage worker, but only pocket money for a rich person.

The war in Iraq alone has cost more than a trillion dollars (www.nytimes.com/2007/01/17). Right now it is costing us about $200 billion a year, or more than $300 million a day.

Where does all that money come from? We borrow it by selling US Government bonds. These bonds offer a high rate of interest. I own a couple myself. They are a good deal, assuming I do eventually get my money back. Foreign governments buy the bonds in enormous quantities.

But lately, foreign governments have been less confident about the US’s ability to pay back all that debt. Faith in the US economy has declined, in part due to this mountain of debt. That decline translates into a weaker dollar compared to other foreign currencies. For the first time since I can remember, the US dollar is worth about the same as the Canadian dollar. Going skiing in Canada used to be a real bargain, with every US dollar buying well over a dollar’s worth of goods and services there. No longer.

There is more at stake than my ski vacations. Oil is priced internationally in dollars. If you are a seller of oil, an OPEC country, and the value of the dollar goes down, your profits go down, unless you raise your price, which they have done. Thus $88 a barrel and soon, $4 a gallon gasoline. Hence by reckless spending, the Bush administration has caused a huge tax to be levied on Americans.

Some people have argued that the invasion of Iraq was ultimately about oil. I don’t believe it was. If it were about oil, we’d have the oil now, or its income stream. But we don’t have anything to show for the adventure. I think the invasion was about egocentric self-aggrandizement, not oil, but indirectly, because of the war’s enormous cost, one result has indeed been about oil.

It took a certain number of body bags coming home to get the American public’s attention about the Iraq war. Amazingly, that took over two years. Now, despite intermittent grumbling, Americans are not paying attention to how their own government’s actions are putting an enormous tax on them. Will $4 a gallon gasoline get their attention? Even if it does, and I’m not sure it will, people probably will never link their pain at the pump to the wars. The causal chain exceeds the carrying capacity of the average American's mind.

But overall, there is a silver lining, for high priced gasoline makes alternative energy schemes look economically competitive. Solar, wind, wave, geothermal, photosynthetic algae, and clean coal start to look seriously attractive. (Nuclear remains vastly more expensive than any other energy source if you look at total cost including waste disposal).

Right now ethanol is all the rage as an alternative fuel. I have commented before in this blog about the folly of that. Ethanol will never be the solution, especially not ethanol from corn. That’s just the political money machine at work. Other ethanol stocks are not much more hopeful. Attractive alternative fuels include artificial petroleum (Economist: “Ethanol, Schmethanol” 9/27/07).

Every few election cycles for the last couple of decades, some suicidal politician has recommended a large tax on the price of gasoline, precisely to finance alternative energy. No political career has ever survived the outraged protests such proposals inevitably bring from the public.

Yet amazingly, the Bush administration has managed to double or triple the price of gasoline over just a few years. It is actually a marvelous political achievement that will do the country a lot of good in the long run. We should be thankful.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Independent Taiwan?

I love news stories that last for one day, or even half a day then disappear. I assume that government or money interests are successful in suppressing the information, even though that never works in the long run.

One such story that flashed by was on 9/27/07, when Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party passed a resolution asserting separate identity from China.

Taiwan has been occupied since at least 1600, first by Melanesians, then Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese people. It was a named province of China since 1885 but was lost to the Japanese ten years after that. Japan ruled Taiwan from 1895 to the end of the Second World War, when in 1945 the victorious Allies gave it back to China. When the communists took over China in 1949, the defeated Nationalists retreated to Taiwan, where they ruled for 40 years. Only in 2000 was the first non-Nationalist president of Taiwan elected.

The U.S. and most other western governments recognized Taiwan as “The Republic of China” snubbing the legitimacy of the communists on the mainland. Billions of dollars of U.S. aid poured into the ROC. But in 1971 the United Nations finally recognized “Red” China as “the” China, replacing Taiwan, which was unceremoniously bumped out of the organization. In 1979 the U.S. officially recognized the Peoples Republic of China as the “real” china, communist though it was.

When I visited “Formosa” (the Portuguese name for the main island), in 1979, I accidentally ruined my U.S. passport by getting a “Republic of China” visa stamp in it. It was not possible to gain entry into the PRC with that stamp in my passport, since the Chinese did not recognize the ROC as an entity that had the authority to give passport visas. Thus, my passport was “illegal” from the Chinese point of view.

In order to visit Shanghai and Beijing, I had to get a temporary, duplicate, “clean” passport from the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Then I was allowed to enter China, with one of the first groups of American tourists ever to do so. Never mind that it made no sense that an American was coming to China with a passport empty of visa stamps. How did I get to China if I had been nowhere else? But that little fiction was good enough for the Chinese, who let me in.

Movement toward political independence in Taiwan gained momentum shortly after the US recognized the PRC. By 2000, Taiwan claimed to be a sovereign state “equal to” the PRC. The PRC responded by conducting missile tests around the island, prompting president Clinton to send U.S. military ships to “monitor” the situation, causing the missile tests to stop.

When the Taiwanese government asserted separate identity from China last week, the mainland was understandably not pleased but reacted with clenched teeth.

A top Chinese official restated the PRC’s policy of “zero tolerance” for any kind of Taiwan Independence. He urged “all Chinese” to realize the country’s reunification (AP newswire, from Xinhua Agency, 9/27/07). The official also noted, “We will not allow anybody to secede Taiwan from the People's Republic of China by any means," (same source). He noted that the Chinese central government will stick to the "one country, two systems" principle adopted in Hong Kong and Macao.

China’s claim to its Taiwan “province” is just as valid as Israel’s claim to its cultural island carved out of Palestine by the Allied victors. Yet many Americans, myself included, would love to see an independent Taiwan. Its secession seems like an economic and political fact-on-the-ground. If the democratic and capitalistic Taiwanese do not want to be ruled by the PRC, what advantage would it be to China to force them into submission?

If Texas declared independence from the United States (as it has actually done in the past), would the federal government allow that? Not a chance. Texas would be forced, militarily and economically to remain in the union. It must seem the same situation for Beijing looking at Taiwan.

But if Taiwan persists in its quest to attain independence, what will happen? My guess is that China will invade. There will be a nasty fight but Taiwan will lose, with much bloodshed. The US will do nothing, because legally, China would be within its rights, and economically, China is more important to us than Taiwan.

The Taiwan leaders are probably betting that they could get away with a declaration of independence prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as China wouldn’t want to sully its moment on the world stage with a bloody invasion and the inevitable world criticism that would bring. But that view, while probably correct, is short-sighted. By 2009, when the Olympics are over, the Chinese would invade with impunity.

The Taiwanese might be calculating that in their brief springtime of freedom in 2008, they could form diplomatic and military alliances that would armor them against a Chinese attack in 2009. But what country would be stupid enough to walk into that trap? Alas, the U.S. has a strong record of diplomatic stupidity. I can only hope that behind the scenes planning for such stupidity is not the reason that news of this development is being kept so quiet.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Cynicism On Iraq

September 10, 2007

(Photo: Doug Mills, NY Times)

General Petraeus today delivered his much anticipated report to congress concerning the status of the war in Iraq.

According to his prepared statement (available at
http://media.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/documents/petraeus_preparedtext_091007.pdf ), here are the important points:

BEGIN QUOTES (chart and map labels have been added).

I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by, nor shared with, anyone int he Pentagon, the White House, or Congress.

The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.

The number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of the past 12 weeks.

Coalition and Iraqi operations have helped reduce ethno-sectarian violence, as well, bringing down the number of ethno-sectarian deaths substantially in Baghdad and across Iraq... The number of overall civilian deaths has also declined.

The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.

Progress has been achieved “in the security arena.”

“The number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of the past 12 weeks… with the numbers in the last 2 weeks the lowest levels seen since June 2006.”

“One reason for the decline in incidents is that Coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to Al Qaeda-Iraq.”

Coalition and Iraqi operations have helped reduce ethno-sectarian violence, as well, bringing down the number of ethno-sectarian deaths substantially in Baghdad, and across Iraq...

Iraqi security forces have also continued to grow.

In what may be the most significant development of the post 8 months, the tribal rejection of Al Qaeda that started in Anbar Province and helped produce such significant change there has now spread to a number of other locations as well.

The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more or less violently.

Map 1

Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology, and they concluded that the data we produce is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.

Chart 1: Iraq Attacks

The level of security incidents has decreased significantly since the start of the surge of offensive operations in mid-June, declining in 8 of the past 12 weeks, with the level of incidents in the past two weeks the lowest since June, 2006.

Chart 2: Iraq Deaths

As the next chart shows, the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, an important subset of the overall civilian casualty figures, has also declined significantly since the height of the sectarian violence.

Chart 3: Death Density

Chart 4: Death trends

To be sure, trends have not been uniformly positive across Iraq, as shown by this char depicting violence levels in several key Iraqi provinces.

Chart 5: Iraq Troops

As I noted earlier, Iraqi Security Forces have continued to grow, to develop their capabilities, and to shoulder more of the burden of providing security for their country.

To summarize, the security situation in Iraq is improving, and Iraqi elements are slowly taking on more of the responsibility for protecting their citizens. Innumerable challenges lie ahead; however, Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have made progress toward achieving sustainable security. As a result, the United States will be in a position ro reduce its forces in Iraq in the months ahead.

Chart 6: Recommended strategy:



This is an overall positive, persuasive report that documents mission progress since the surge began but paradoxically recommends troop withdrawals anyway.

The Opening Lie:

The explanation for that paradox, I believe, is that this is a White-house shaped, politically motivated report. In a carefully worded disclaimer, the general states that the written text has not been edited by, or even shared with anyone in the pentagon or white house. OK, that's probably literally true -- he did not share the final written copy with anyone. So what?

Written vs oral is a trivial distinction for a report whose content has been under intense discussion with both Pentagon and White House for weeks if not months. Why couldn’t he have told the truth, that he developed the report with the advice of his commander-in-chief and others? If he did not do that, then the commander-in-chief is seriously and dangerously negligent in his duties. It is an unnecessary misdirection that casts significant doubt on the credibility of the entire report.

Second Lie: Surge Effectiveness
In January of 07, the president ordered an additional 20 to 30K troops into Iraq to “stabilize” the situation and reduce the bombings and killings, in order to give the political process some time to work.

Has the surge been effective? General Petraeus thinks so. What is his evidence?

“The number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of the past 12 weeks… with the numbers in the last 2 weeks the lowest levels seen since June 2006”

Chart 1 plainly shows a downward trend in number of attacks since the 16th of June, 2007, to September 7th, a period of 2.5 months. No statistical tests are provided, but the eyeball analysis looks good, especially if you overlook the fact that the timeline on the horizontal axis is not uniform. In some months, there are two data points per month, while in others there is only one. Yet all data points are shown equidistant.

If a student turned in such a misleading graph in one of my classes, they would flunk. The effect of this misleading technique is to stretch and flatten the long tail of data to the left, and, since the last two months have only one data point each, to compress that period and make it look more dramatic than it is. Furthermore, July of 07 is represented twice, to make the peak of violence before the surge look stronger than it should.

Finally, we should note that there are no data for 2003, when the invasion took place and the civil war began. Omitting those data without explanation is arbitrary and misleading. What if the violence levels for that period were extremely low? Then the surge wouldn’t look so good, would it? Especially since there seems to be a down-tick in violence every August, at the peak of the sweltering summer. Maybe the current drop is just part of an annual cycle.

These are small graphical tricks or errors, but two factors make me believe they are intentional deceptions.
1. I can’t believe that a five star general does not have anybody on his staff that knows how to make a proper graph.
2. All the errors favor the administration’s desired outcome that “the surge has worked.”

The Third Lie: Iraqi Civilian Deaths

Chart 2 shows a clear hump and recent decline in Iraqi civilian deaths since November 06. Further proof of the surge effectiveness? Maybe.

But why is the timeline of the chart only the last year, when we have been at war there four years? Maybe if we could see the whole picture it would tell a different story. The overall trend might be flat.

What’s special about November 06, the peak of civilian deaths? Probably nothing except that it was a high point selected for the center of the graph to make the subsequent decline look more dramatic.

Without seeing a computed trendline showing that there is an overall down trend in the data shown it is not obvious that there is a downward trend. Overall, the chart looks more cyclical than down-trending to me.

Imagine a modified Chart 2 that only showed the data since June, 07 . That wouldn’t be such an impressive trendline, would it? Selecting arbitrary chunks of data to show, without explanation, means we cannot trust any of it.

Fourth Lie: Ethno-Sectarian Deaths

Chart three is complex, but its data source is the line graph in the lower left. That graph, of “ethno-sectarian” deaths suffers from the same flaws as the previous chart, namely, arbitrarily truncated data. For the same reasons then, the graph cannot be properly taken as evidence for anything in particular.

Nevertheless, I really like the look of the density charts shown in the other four sections of the graph. They seem to show a gradual diminution of deaths over time, almost like a wound healing up. It’s a great visual, and it’s almost convincing.

Again however, it is an arbitrary data set taken over an arbitrary time period, so it means nothing in itself. Furthermore, it is misleading in a new way, since representing the data on a geographical area means that any decline seems to be much more dramatic, since an area will reduce geometrically as the data upon which it is based drop arithmetically.

It’s like the relationship between a square’s width and its area. To get the area, you multiply the width times itself. That results in a much larger number, which, when displayed on a map, looks really big. It’s not illegitimate to represent data that way, but it is misleading for people who do not understand how graphs work.

Finally, we should note that the graph only shows “ethno-sectarian” deaths, not total deaths or US troop deaths or anything else. What the heck are “ethno-sectarian” deaths? It’s hard to say exactly, as this is custom Pentagon-White House jargon.

One gathers from news reports (e.g., Washington Post.com, September 2, 2006) that the term refers primarily to the activity of Sunni and Shiite death squads engaged in civil war.

“Ethno-sectarian violence” then would exclude all attacks on US and Coalition forces, attacks on Iraqi government troops or Iraqi government targets, or attacks by the US or Coalition forces on anyone.

We therefore have no idea from this graph what proportion of “ethno-sectarian” violence is of the total amount of mayhem going on in Iraq. To that extent, Chart 3 is uninterpretable.

Fifth Lie: Provincial Trends:
Chart 4 shows “violence trends” in four provinces of Iraq. Whatever “kind” of violence these data are supposed to represent, the key feature of these four graphs is the black arrows added, presumably to help you “see” the trends in case you couldn’t make them out.

Those are not legitimate, computed trend lines, or probably not, because if they are genuine, they would not be accurately positioned with their data. Therefore, I conclude they are just bogus propaganda overlaid on the data.

They also commit the same old error of being arbitrarily about the data they highlight. For example, I think a computed trend line for all the data of Salah ad Din Province would probably be about flat, showing no change overall. The two heavy black arrows are designed to divert your attention from that fact. It is classic misdirection.

The same could be said for the Baghdad chart. The other two, based on eyeball analysis, do seem to show trends, one down, one up.

The equivocal data overall and the heavy-handed attempt to manipulate it, make none of it credible to me, especially since we don’t even really know what the data represents, precisely (what kind of violence).

Sixth Lie: Iraqi Troops

Chart 5 shows Iraqi Security forces strength and capabilities. It is what is called a “stacked graph,” since each column is a stack of different data and the height of the column represents their sum.

The only dataset worth looking at, in my opinion, is the green set across the bottom, which represents fully independent Iraqi security forces. That data set shows essentially a flat trend since startup in April of 06 (data before then being negligible), and a high degree of variance. Essentially it says there are very few fully independent Iraqi security forces and what do exist, are unstable. Not an optimistic report.

However, the rest of the graph is made out to obfuscate that fact and look like an inexorable rising trend. The yellow bars, for example, are clearly expanding over time. What are they? “Iraqi lead with coalition support.”

What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that the Iraqi troops lead in all phases of security operations and the US troops just take orders from them? I seriously doubt that.

It could mean only that when there is a security sweep, the Iraqi troops have to break down the door first and get shot first.

We have no idea what the yellow bars mean. It may be possible to research that question further, but this is supposed to be an informative document on its own. Which it isn’t.

What about the orange bars in the graph? They were large, shrunk up severely in the middle, but now are growing again.

They represent “Fighting Side by Side.” Again, it is difficult to know what that means in terms of performance and effectiveness. It might mean only that American and Iraqi troops ride in the same trucks when they go out on patrols. The extremely high variability is not explained. The data are uninformative.

The red bars on the top of each stack represent Iraqi units that are “forming.” Basically that means they do not yet exist as functional units, so they are on this graph just to make the columns look like they trend up more than they do. They had no blue ink? The red is almost indiscriminable from the orange, another trick to manage the overall visual impression of the chart. Take off the red bars and you would have a very different impression from this chart. They are an overt manipulation of the visual appearance of the graph, and as such, dishonest, in my opinion. Another lie.

Seventh Lie: Recommended Strategy.
Chart 6 is so incomprehensible that barely rises to the level of a lie. What is the meaning of the five pointed stars? They are undefined.

What are the tiny numbers inside the stars? Also undefined.

What is the unit of the vertical axis? Undefined. (A student graph with an unlabeled axis gets an automatic flunk for the assignment, since that omission renders the graph totally uninterpretable). The horizontal axis, which did not copy clearly on my picture here, is just a single long arrow to the right labeled “Time,” no dates given.

The visual impression is clearly one of a stair-step downward over time. One can surmise that it is intended to show troop reductions over some indefinite amount of time, which could be anywhere from one year to twenty years. In any case, there will apparently always be at least 5,000 troops in Iraq, which suggests establishment of a permanent military base there, for blue and green activities, which are strategic and operational “Overwatch” functions; no leading, no partnering, no tactical ops.

To the extent that such a strategy is comprehensible, it is not believable. These remaining troops would essentially be “advisors” apparently, and probably would not even have to carry guns, since they would only be “watching over.” Not very likely. If the country did not need fully armored US combat troops, there would be no reason for any to be there.

The stacked bars show a large and rapid (within 6 months) reduction in US military leadership and combat partnering. In light of all the previous data shown, that is just wishful thinking, or acquiescence to the American public’s demand for an immediate end to the war.

Is there any reason to believe, as suggested, that Sunni tribal leaders will continue to cooperate with US forces in opposition to Al Qaeda? No.

In the first place, it is clear that the tribal leaders want only to re-establish their fiefdoms that
have been disrupted. Any “cooperation” with the US is purely tactical, probably bolstered by the fact that while cooperating, we give them guns and ammunition. Is there any reason to think that that dynamic will spread after the US pulls out or draws down? It might for a little while as we arm all tribes to the teeth in preparation for the forthcoming all out civil war. But eventually, that powder keg has to blow.

Conclusion: The Big Lie:
Nowhere in his prepared text did General Petraeus say exactly what the mission of the Surge originally was. He just jumped in and started talking about success and progress. Of course those terms are undefined and the whole report is meaningless in the absence of some criterion of success and some measure of progress against the desired goal state.

If the desired goal was, as stated repeatedly by the White House, to allow the Iraqi politicians sort out their governance problems, then judging from other recently released reports, this Surge has not been a success, and has not made any progress.

If we take the much narrower view that the purpose of the Surge was merely to suppress the level of violence in Iraq, then this report seems to document progress, but upon close inspection, actually documents nothing at all. It is not an honest report and so must be taken principally as an exercise of political propaganda. As such it is irrelevant to the truth of the matter, whatever that might be.

As for the recommendations at the end. (Chart 6):
You have to wonder, if the surge is so tremendously successful, as this report would have us believe, why pull out the troops and end it? Why not continue it for another year? Why not double its strength? Triple it? It makes no sense at all to argue that the Surge is just starting to be successful AND that it will be terminated within 6 months. How does that compute? Mission Accomplished all over again?

It computes only because we know from other sources that there are no more troops to send, the troops we have now are exhausted, and the political will to keep fighting is rapidly waning in the American public. Therefore, for political, not military reasons, the wonderful, successful Surge must come to an end quickly.

Interesting, too, that the first large force reduction will be completed by the summer of 08, just weeks before the Republican National Convention is held in Minneapolis. But surely that is mere coincidence.

Why couldn’t the General own up to the real reasons for the troop drawdown? Why does he have to pretend the situation is something other than it is? The built-in lies, omissions, misdirections and evasions, are why this whole report must be taken with a very large grain of
salt. It’s a political document not an honest report.

What about the early disclaimer, that two intelligence agencies vouch for the general’s data accuracy? That is probably true. But it says nothing about how the data are presented. As we know, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics…

As for the timeline for the pullout, Petraeus is adamant that no fixed timeline should be set. That sounds like a White-House echo to me. Yet against that politically dictated rule, Chart 6 shows visually a timeline of a 95% pullout within 18 months, almost exactly the amount of time that G.W. Bush has remaining in office. What an amazing coincidence!

If we are supposed to interpret Chart 6 as an honest representation instead of a lie, then that is what the visual data show. However, since the general denies that there is any fixed timetable, then we must take the final chart as uninterpretable nonsense, as he may have intended anyway.

Since everything else seems to be a lie in this report, I would put the lie to the final big lie and say that the general is hinting here that there is, in fact a timetable and it is 18 months for 95% pullout.

At least that IS some good news!