Saturday, May 17, 2003

A different approach

It would appear that most Americans (perhaps predictably) are holding on to the idea that the war to overthrow Saddam was justified, regardless of whether we find any WMD at all. I think it's time we on the left acknowledge the fact that Americans felt that overthrowing Saddam and making the lives of Iraqis better was a worthwhile goal in and of itself. Combined with the fact that many Americans probably felt the residual need to kick more ass after 9/11, convincing people that the war was unjustified is probably a losing venture.

Fortunately, this doesn't mean the administration can't be assailed for its failures. After all, the idea of sowing democracy is a fundamentally liberal idea, and it's time we on the left started assailing the administration not based on whether the war was justified (even if the timing sucked), but rather based upon how its been done and the fact that the administration lied.

For example: overthrowing Saddam was a fundamentally good idea; why did this administration feel the need to lie to the American People about it? Why did it trust in fundamentally flawed information? Is this administration so constitutionally dishonest that it can't even sell a justified war truthfully?

And why was the administration so inept that it couldn't sell the war overseas? Even worse: did our relations with countries we need to fight terrorism have to take such a hit? Does our leadership really suck so bad that (in the paraphrased words of Bill Maher) we actually lost a PR war to Saddam Hussein?

And even more importantly, why has Bush failed to make the most of this opportunity not only to improve American security (by failing to secure potential sources of radioactive material, WMD technology, etc.) but also to help the Iraqis improve their lives? Word comes today that the Bushies are planning to high-tail it out of Iraq as early as this fall. With talk of civil war in Iraq, this is no time to abandon that country like we abandoned Afghanistan so many years ago and are doing again. It will take years to do this right, and doing it right is our only realistic option.

We need to change the frame in which the debate is carried out. This isn't an issue of a justified or unjustified war; getting rid of Saddam was justified regardless, and most Americans see it that way. The issue is administration incompetence and truthfulness, and on that score they are vulnerable.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Where does the time go?

Well, folks, in case you haven't noticed, posting has become much less frequent as of late. The cause is scarce time in the day:I'm attempting to finish my master's degree and find a job. One must have priorities.

Not to worry. The biting, timely commentary you've come to expect isn't gone, just on a rather light schedule for now, and it will be for the next month or so. The foolishness and incompetence of the Bush administration isn't going to end any time soon, and posting will continue when possible.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Intelligence Failure

This morning's multiple bombing brings a number of things home, doesn't it?

It's obvious that our intelligence apparatus is broken -- the latest example, of course, is Hussein's MIA WMDs, which either were never there or are now (likely as not) on the black market thanks to failure to plan to secure them once the war was over. Considering the reluctance of the administration to release the 9/11 report, it's fairly obvious where that intelligence failure lies.

This is a fundamental incompetence that multiplies the danger this country faces on many levels, most seriously, of course, from al Qaeda.

Is Iraq better off than it was four months ago?

I suppose that depends upon what you mean by "better off". Evidently, Baghdad is in pretty bad shape:

Baghdad residents and U.S. officials said today that U.S. occupation forces are insufficient to maintain order in the Iraqi capital and called for reinforcements to calm a wave of violence that has unfurled over the city, undermining relief and reconstruction efforts and inspiring anxiety about the future.

Reports of carjackings, assaults and forced evictions grew today, adding to an impression that recent improvements in security were evaporating. Fires burned anew in several Iraqi government buildings and looting resumed at one of former president Saddam Hussein's palaces. The sound of gunfire rattled during the night; many residents said they were keeping their children home from school during the day. Even traffic was affected, as drivers ignored rules in the absence of Iraqi police, only to crash and cause tie-ups.

This is, of course, the other main rationale for the war: improving the lives of the Iraqi people (the first was WMDs, and that one's pretty much fallen apart).

Additionally, word comes this morning of a coordinated series of bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that killed nearly 100 people (including a number of Americans), and is possibly the work of al Qaeda. Clearly, it's rather premature to think that our war on Iraq has made Americans more safe (Bush, oblivious to the irony, grabbed hold of the incident to declare "the war on terror goes on!").

UPDATE: Fortunately, it seems that far fewer were killed in Riyadh than were first believed: around 20.

Regardless, it is noteable that the Bush administration sold the Iraq war on the grounds that it would help to ensure American national security. Clearly, it failed (for whatever reason).

As always, time will tell. But the Dubya war credentials are looking more tarnished by the minute...

The practice of "Class Warfare"

According to this Washington Post story, Bush has made remarkable gains in promoting his tax cut:

Bush took another preemptive strike yesterday during a speech in Albuquerque when he told a small-business audience, "Oh, you'll hear the talk about how this plan only helps the rich people. That's just typical Washington, D.C., political rhetoric, is what that is. That's just empty rhetoric."

But much of the rhetoric on the issue has actually been the president's -- and polls suggest it has worked.

"Democrats are just scared to be accused of class warfare," a Senate Democratic tax aide conceded yesterday.

Peter R. Orszag, a Brookings Institution economist and critic of White House tax policy, gave Bush credit for what he called "a spin job" that used selective examples of lower-income families to convince many lower- and middle-income Americans that they have a stake in the tax cut's passage. Last week, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Americans now think the tax cuts are "a good idea," an increase of 10 percentage points in two weeks.

That gain is all the more remarkable because the president's original $726 billion tax cut plan -- and the smaller versions that passed the House and are under consideration in the Senate -- clearly do favor the affluent.

I must disagree with the Post's assessment. This is not remarkable--it is predictable, given the prior two paragraphs. With Bush the only one in front of the cameras addressing the issue of the tax cut, and the press treating the issue not from an informed reporting point-of-view but rather a he-said-she-said issue, Bush's folksy facade was bound to win some people over.

Democrats simply must stop being afraid of taking this guy on, if they want to win in 2004. But it's also important to be smart about it. Bush consistently uses certain one-liners: "I'm an outsider", "my opponents are using the rhetoric of class warfare", "I want you to keep your own money". It's time they started turning this stuff back on him, pointing out that Bush is one of the most political presidents we've ever had, that he's practicing class warfare, that it's all our own money, just like public education and health care is our own.

Let Bush accuse Dems of class warfare. If they're in front of the cameras every day accusing right back, it will make a difference!

Monday, May 12, 2003

Administration sets another record

Along with "most incompetent", "most ideologically driven" and "most brazenly, shamelessly political", it appears the Bush administration can now, proudly, add "largest deficit ever" to its tally of accomplishments:

This year's federal deficit should exceed $300 billion — the largest ever — as the government's fiscal outlook grew grimmer thanks to surging defense spending and declining revenue, the Congressional Budget Office said.

The new estimate by Congress' nonpartisan fiscal analyst comes as Republicans try to enact a fresh round of tax cuts they say will stimulate economic activity and generate increased federal revenue. Democrats say the tax reductions will be a boon to the wealthy and make the worsening budget picture even bleaker.

As do virtually all respected and competent economists, we might add (sorry to ruin the abdication of jouralistic effort in the above, but the record really needs to be set straight a little more often on this topic, don't you think?).

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Throwing pretense to the winds

Evidently, GOP'ers have decided to throw all pretense that they have any interest in the economy or the good of the nation at heart, and are shooting for tax cuts every year now:

White House officials have told allies they will attempt a new tax cut every year Bush remains in office, and there is already talk of another round. The ultimate target -- overhauling the tax code and sharply reducing the size of the government -- may never be achieved. But the incremental steps in that direction help to keep the Republican Party unified and the president in an unending debate with Democrats over the tax burden on Americans.

Coupled with the war on terrorism, which also is likely to continue indefinitely, the constant pursuit of tax reductions has the potential to give U.S. politics a new rhythm. With Bush perpetually fighting for lower taxes and constantly battling terrorists -- he describes Iraq and Afghanistan as "battles" in the larger war -- there is little room for government to discuss new spending programs that Democrats want.

It's really time that we stop approaching this issue as though Republicans, at some level, actually are interested in growing the economy. People, this isn't about the economy. It's about fanatical, lunatic extremist anti-government sentiment.

There is some hope, though. The anti-government, anti-poor, anti-education, anti-elderly, anti-fair-chance sentiment of Bush and the GOP is completely at odds with the stated priorities of most Americans:

Bush's determination to push multiple rounds of tax cuts -- this year's cuts of as much as $550 billion and 2001's $1.35 trillion cut sandwiched smaller investment tax breaks in 2002 -- comes in the face of evidence that Americans are at best only lukewarm in their support. The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll found that, given the choice between tax cuts and spending on domestic priorities, the public favored spending by 67 percent to 29 percent. Asked to rank issues in order of importance, tax cuts ranked 10th.

Such extremism makes a second term for Bush less and less likely, and it also will make it easier, not harder, to reverse the tax cuts once the extremists are out of office.

In other words, the whackos are overreaching so badly that getting elected to dogcatcher should be a challenge in the future -- if liberals can get their act together.

Media consolidation

A new section on consolidation in the media has been added to the site here. Currently, this section includes maps and information on the Clear Channel media empire. More will be added as time goes on.
A sinking ship

You know, I think it's a mistake to give too much credence to polling results as the war wound down that said most people didn't care whether WMDs were found. I attribute such results to the same "rally around the flag" effect that resulted in the boost in war approval during the war.

As Calpundit has said,

After the war, the problems have grown further. No WMD has been found. No factories have been found. High ranking Iraqi officials have been captured, but they've revealed nothing. Perhaps more time is needed, but then there's this: the actions of the military have not been consistent with a genuine fear that Saddam's regime possessed WMD.

To wit: the Pentagon had only two MET teams ready to search Iraq when the war ended. They ignored known nuclear sites for a month. They have refused the help of UN inspectors, who would have provided much needed manpower, expertise, and international confidence in any findings.

Is this important? Of course it is. It's obviously important if the President of the United States lied or even seriously exaggerated about a threat in order to gain support for a foreign war, but it's important beyond that as well. Although seeing the end of Saddam Hussein is an unqualified good, this by itself is not enough. Any serious foreign policy must accept that there are many other actors on the world stage who are just as odious as Saddam Hussein, and we can't police them all. There must also be some credible threat to national — or world — security to justify a war of this kind, and WMD in the hands of an unstable dictator is exactly that kind of threat. It was critical as justification for this war.

Additionally, the administration's handling of postwar Iraq calls into question how much of a committment they have towards truly building a post-war Iraq that's better than the pre-war one. Is it a good thing that Saddam is gone? Of course -- he was a vicious bully. But could things be worse for the Iraqis than they were under his rule? Well, yes, they could.

IMHO, a hole the size of a Mack truck has just opened in the administration's national security armor. They were either incompetent or mendacious (or both). The only way to spin it is to avoid the subject, and I doubt that will work too well.

So much for the "smoking gun"?

Looks like the military group leading the effort to find Saddam's alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction (TM) is leaving Iraq after "scores of fruitless missions" has left the search completely frustrated:

Army Col. Richard McPhee, who will close down the task force next month, said he took seriously U.S. intelligence warnings on the eve of war that Hussein had given "release authority" to subordinates in command of chemical weapons. "We didn't have all these people in [protective] suits" for nothing, he said. But if Iraq thought of using such weapons, "there had to have been something to use. And we haven't found it. . . . Books will be written on that in the intelligence community for a long time."

Army Col. Robert Smith, who leads the site assessment teams from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said task force leaders no longer "think we're going to find chemical rounds sitting next to a gun." He added, "That's what we came here for, but we're past that."

Motivated and accomplished in their fields, task force members found themselves lacking vital tools. They consistently found targets identified by Washington to be inaccurate, looted and burned, or both. Leaders and members of five of the task force's eight teams, and some senior officers guiding them, said the weapons hunters were going through the motions now to "check the blocks" on a prewar list.

Additionally, word now comes that the post-war team of Americans assigned to handle Iraq is being shaken up after failure to restore vital services and order competently.

More on this soon, folks, but suffice it to say that these two stories, put together, amount to nothing less than a bombshell. The incompetence of this administration is literally staggering.

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