A Paradox

Washington Post: "Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a British military spokesman, said the Iraqi army maintained full control of the camp, even during the looting, and had managed to eject the thieves by early evening."

How do you maintain full control of something during looting? It seems to me that full control implies no looting, and that looting entails loss of control.

Incompetence and Israel

As you may know, a while back I cowrote an article with my colleague Sam Rosenfeld called "The Incompetence Dodge." The subject was folks who supported the Iraq War, then came to recognize it was a disaster, and then came to blame its disastrous nature on the ineptitude of the Bush administration. This, we argue, is a mistake -- a dodge -- an effort to avoid culpability for the fact that the basic concept and premises of the war were mistaken.

As several readers have pointed out, we seem to be seeing a new variant of this as Israelis sour on Ehud Olmert in the wake of the Lebanon War. In this instance, I think the case against the "incompetence" theory is even clearer. Lots of people around the world suggested that Israel's campaign was ill-advised. And, to the best of my knowledge, absolutely none of us who said that made any reference to Olmert's competence or lack thereof in framing our critiques. Then the war turned out more-or-less exactly as the skeptics predicted . . . skeptics who had nothing to draw on but a general analysis of the situation.


This Richard Cohen column reads almost like a joke. It's 1938! It's 1938! Appeasement! Appeasement! Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer, at a minimum, pull this schtick off with a certain rhetorical flair. Cohen doesn't even seem to be paying attention. In-depth diavlogging discussion of the use and abuse of historical analogies here.

In general, I'm against these kinds of analogies. Marx and Hegel aside history does not, in fact, repeat. Analogies to 1938 are especially pernicious. Adolf Hitler is, obviously, a very noteworthy historical figure and WWII a noteworthy period in world history. This is precisely because the things that happened during them time were extreme, weird, and largely unprecedented they idea that they're constantly recurring or likely to recur is odd.

Positive Reenforcement

Hey, check this out (emphasis added) in the Times:

“What matters is that in this campaign that we clarify the different points of view,” Mr. Bush said from the press secretary’s lectern in the White House conference center up the street from the Oval Office. “And there are a lot of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they’re wrong.”

In calling the opposition the “Democrat Party” Mr. Bush was repeating a truncated, incorrect version of the party’s name that some Democrats have called a slight, an assertion the White House dismissed as ridiculous.

Have you ever seen that before in our precious MSM? I don't think I have. Maybe if everyone agreed to write like that for a month or two the Republicans would have to knock that particular inane gimmick off.

Lessons Learned

I've seen more than one blogger note the irony of Kenneth Pollack and Daniel Bynum concluding their very pessimistic assessment of Iraq with the sentiment that "How Iraq got to this point is now an issue for historians (and perhaps for voters in 2008); what matters today is how to move forward and prepare for the tremendous risks an Iraqi civil war poses for this critical region." I seem to recall something or other about a "threatening storm" playing a role and I'll say nothing more on that.

The return of the Pollack/Bynum liberal hawk writing team does, however, remind me of a less well-known bit of Iraq-related writing they did back in 2003, "Democracy in Iraq" (PDF) published in The Washington Quarterly. They wrote the following:

Providing security is an essential task for intervening powers. Without internal security, the political process will be badly distorted if not entirely undermined, humanitarian relief becomes impossible, and economic recovery a will o' the wisp. Even in places where the transition to democracy has been rocky, such as Bosnia, a strong international presence has had great success in preserving the peace. The Australian-led effort in East Timor was even more successful -- if only because the situation was, in some ways, more challenging -- and could provide a good model for a U.S.-led effort in Iraq.

By leading a multinational force of initially at least 100,000 troops with a strong mandate to act throughout Iraq, the United States and its coalition partners will have an excellent prospect of ensuring the degree of security necessary for a successful transition to democracy. In essence, the goal for the U.S.-led peacekeeping force would be to ensure that no group or individual uses violence for political advantage. International security forces will reassure Iraq's Shi'a and Kurdish communities that repression at the hands of Iraqi Sunnis is at an end. Equally important, the presence of these foreign troops would reassure Iraqi Sunnis that the end of their monopoly on power does not mean their persecution and repression, minimizing their incentives to oppose the process. The presence of multinational troops could prevent small incidents from snowballing and thus could help create the expectation of peace within Iraq -- an instrumental factor in making peace a reality.

Note the pointed absence of a call for 300,000 or 400,000 or 500,000 troops. Rather, "at least 100,000" was said to be adequate. And if you look back at the record, you'll find that this was entirely typical of hawkish writing at the time -- the adequacy of a small force wasn't an eccentric Rumsfeldian view; it was held by almost all of the hawks, liberal or otherwise, who backed the war. The people talking about a much larger force were overwhelmingly invasion skeptics who were not so much calling for such a force than simply raising (warranted) questions about the feasibility of the mission.

Away We Go?

Jacqueline Massey Paisley Passey suggests:

I realize that some of you will find this post depressing because you’ll realize that you don’t qualify as a high quality man and thus won’t be able to get a high quality woman. You have a few options: [...]

2. Look in the developing world. If you’re literate with a home computer and an internet connection you are very wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Citizenship or legal permanent residency in a rich country makes you more attractive to women in poorer countries. Your value on the dating market is thus much higher there.

Cryptic Ned observes:
I thought her second suggestion was a good reminder. It's amazing that virtually anyone who's struggling in America could move to a town in the developing world and instantly have wealth and power w.r.t. everyone around him, and yet nobody does. Where's our conquering, settler spirit?
Some people, however, actually do do this:
Years ago there was a series of long posts on the Thorn Tree by an ex-pat in Alma Ata. He was amazing because he was completely upfront about being a despicable person. He was entirely aware that he was living up to the worst of himself; he’d resigned himself to the trap of living well in a third world country. He hated Alma Ata, thought it was an ugly soviet concrete city. He hated Russians and Kazakhs alike for being racist peasant gangsters. He was bored shitless at his do-nothing job for some aid agency. He despised himself for whoring, couldn’t remember the last time he’d fucked a girl who liked him or could have refused his relative wealth and power.

And yet, he knew he would stay as long as he could. He couldn’t resist the advantage he got just for being American; it was all too easy. In Alma Ata, he was important enough to include in the nightly drinking with the big boys. He was fucking more and more beautiful women than he thought he could even approach at home. He could live cheap and have a maid and a driver and eat well (except that he hated Kazakh food). He had no demands on him, no civic life in a land where he was an irrelevant stranger, no family to demand his attention, not even the daily chores of living.

Food for thought? Sounds like a bad dude. Surely this is the main theme of one of the many well-known vaguely contemporary novels I haven't read. If so, let me know, I think I'd like to read that one.

Why Does Politics Matter?

Paul Krugman writes that politics matters for the income distribution, citing the long-term trends in inequality and their close correlation with long-term political trends. Brad DeLong says he thinks this is wrong, political changes can and do have a large impact on after-tax income distribution but the trends show up strongly in pre-tax income. "I can't see the mechanism by which changes in government policies bring about such huge swings in pre-tax income distribution."

I note for the edification of readers that one thing I've learned since arriving in DC is that a difference of opinion on this subject is a major divide within the progressive economic policy community. Most mainstream economists -- including most liberals -- agree with DeLong. Politics and policy affect the secondary distribution (after tax and transfer) and what happens with the primary distribution is just out there. Leftier economists tend to say this is mistaken.

I would side with Krugman on this. The trend data is too striking to be ignored. If you have a phenomenon and are having trouble identifying the cause, the thing to do is to try harder to identify the cause, not assert that the phenomenon isn't happening. But what is the cause? I can think of some plausible stories.

Will: Kerry Was Right

George Will does the unthinkable and not only attacks George W. Bushs approach to national security, but even offers praise for John Kerry, saying he was right to say "that although the war on terror will be 'occasionally military,' it is 'primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world'" while his critics are engaged in a "farrago of caricature and non sequitur mak[ing] the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional."

A Football Dilemma

Watched the end of the Raiders-Vikings game and whaddaya know . . . football season is (sort of) here, ending the horrifying Summer Sports Nightmare brought about by the end of the World Cup and the way the Basketball World Championships appear to have been scheduled so as to make them impossible to watch in North America.

I'm ashamed to admit, however, that when it comes to the NFL I'm something of a sports bigamist. In NBA terms, my relocation to Washington, DC conveniently coincided with the Knicks stumbling from "disappointing" to Godawful and the Wizards rising from Godawful to "hey, this team is pretty good!" status so I somewhat shamefully shifted allegiances. I think, though, that this is an ultimately defensible move since I more-or-less plan to keep living in DC forever and in this day-and-age I don't think it makes sense to ask people to support the team in the town they grew up in to the exclusion of the town where they actually live. Giants-Redskins dual loyalties, however, is totally untenable. If they played in different conferences, it might work. But it's the same division. Last year, they managed to both make the playoffs and then not face each other in the postseason, which was a pretty ideal outcome from a bigamist perspective.

But I can't shake it. I hope Clinton Portis recovers smoothly, but I also hope Eli Manning keeps his shit together under pressure....

Seriously Serious

The Poor Man gets serious about mocking getting serious on terrorism.

Fluid Dynamics

Call me crazy, but I don't see what kind of sense a ban on liquid travel on airplanes is. To be sure, letting people carry soda or shampoo onto an airplane could (apparently) allow them to conceal an explosive. And a bomb going off on an airplane would be a very bad thing. But by the same token, a bomb going off on a crowded Metro or Armtrak car would be quite bad. Hell, a bomb going off on a crowded airport security line snaking back and forth as everyone waits to have their bags searched for offending liquids woud be really point. At some point, common sense needs to kick in.

Dynamic Scoring

Scott Winship has more up on the Prospect website about the ideological proclivities of the netroots. It occurs to me reading his article that it's worth keeping in mind that what "the netroots" is is, at this point, almost certainly something of a moving target.

Cohen's Clarity

Richard Cohen has his good days and his bad ones, but bloggers tend to only quote him on the bad days. Today is a good one:

I share the concern of what would happen to Iraq if the United States pulled out precipitously. I share the concern over what will happen if the United States stays. I share the concern of those who say that no matter whether it stays or goes the outcome will be the same. I especially share the concern of those who say that the Bush administration does not have a plan to disengage and that rather than confront the immensity of its mistake -- I pity Donald Rumsfeld if he should ever lose the gift of denial -- it thinks that this or that adaptation to new conditions will somehow change the outcome. It will not. The end was set at the beginning. It is better that it come sooner rather than later.

It's tragically difficult to get even people who think the right things about this to remember from moment-to-moment that this tragic farce is playing out day-by-day and shows all signs of continuing indefinitely.

Who Rules

Since it was a day in Iraq, a whole bunch of people died yesterday in Iraq. More surprising is the second paragraph of the AP rundown of the latest violence: "The attacks came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sharply criticized a U.S.-Iraqi attack on Sadr City, the area of Baghdad that's the stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia."

What's this all about? Is Maliki in charge of his country or not? Are we at war with Sadr's forces or is his political party represented in Maliki's cabinet? It's a both/and situation in both cases, it would seem, but it's hard to say what kind of sense that makes. It's also increasingly hard to say what the American strategy for Iraq is even supposed to be. Statements from the administration have become so incredibly nonsensical that you can't really peel beneath the propaganda and discern the core of what they're trying to say or do. Are our forces really going to be running around launching attacks against members of the Iraqi cabinet contrary to the wishes of the Prime Minister installed into office with our support? Jalal Talabini, Iraq's Kurdish President, also denounced the raid.

A War Bleg

Here's a question. Does anyone have any idea how much money Israel is spending on its invasion of Lebanon? Quite a lot, I would imagine, but I can't seem to find anything on this. Hezbollah seems to be a rather cheap organization -- the highest estimate I can find is $400 million per year, about the cost of a single F/A-22 Raptor.